Saturday 20 May 2023

Countdown to 60: "Indomitable!"

We are all used to the big series opener / epic series finale way of working in television these days. This is another of those practices which had been going on for ages in the US. 
In series such as The X-Files, Star Trek: TNG / DS9 / Voyager, Supernatural or Buffy, the series opener was usually the outcome of the previous series' finale. As far as the networks were concerned, leaving fans on a cliff-hanger was guaranteed to get them watching when the new series began.
The only drawback for this style of programming is when the decision is made not to renew. Luckily I read a few of the sci-fi magazines and websites, and know if a series has been axed - so can avoid wasting my time watching a series which I know will end on a never-to-be-resolved cliff-hanger.
Doctor Who can often go with a more low-key series opener, but since it returned in 2005 it has always made sure of an epic series finale - and we only get a cliff-hanger when we know that it will lead somewhere.
Things were different during the "classic" era. 

When it came to Season One, they weren't actually sure where the run was going to end. At one point it might have been with The Sensorites, whereas The Dalek Invasion of Earth would be the more obvious end-point. A big Earth invasion story, the return of a popular monster, the departure of a companion, and no throw-forward to the next story.
Planet of Giants made for a terribly weak first new story for Season 2 - and The Chase was the other obvious choice to have ended things, with more Daleks and the departure of Ian and Barbara.
The "shape" of Season Four is particularly odd. The Smugglers is another weak opener - and non-fans are amazed to learn that the very first change of Doctor took place at the end of the season's second story. These events are obviously held back for special occasions these days.
At least you could point to The Evil of the Daleks as a suitably epic finale.

Another oddity of the classic era was its production blocks. Barry Letts liked the old custom of recording an episode at the end of a block, which would then be held over to form an early show of the next season. (In the monochrome era, this was always the first story, as they didn't make them out of sequence until Season 8).
Carnival of Monsters was recorded straight after The Time Monster, and The Time Warrior was recorded straight after The Green Death.
Planet of the Spiders and Robot actually overlapped production. This coincided with a change in production teams.

In the same way that Spearhead from Space was a transitional story - the first Pertwee, the first colour story, the first story of the 1970's, the first story of Season 7 - it was produced by the Troughton era's Derrick Sherwin, and it was made in 1969. Barry Letts didn't take over until the following story, and even then it had been set up entirely by his predecessor.
So it is with the end of the Letts era. Robot may be the first story of Season 12, and the first of Tom Baker's tenure - but it is very much a Letts-UNIT story. You could swap Pertwee for Baker and he wouldn't look out of place.

For many, the real Tom Baker-Philip Hinchcliffe-Robert Holmes era begins with The Ark in Space - and within that it is the scene where the new Doctor and his backroom team set out their stall.
The Doctor has clearly had a soft spot for Earth and its people from the start. We first met him during an extended stay in London (at least 5 months according to Susan) and we hear of many earlier visits to the planet throughout its history.
We then see him visit Earth in other historical periods, and in the present day, on many, many occasions. The Time Lords note his fascination with the planet and so decide that it's the best place to exile him. All but four of his companions were from Earth, or descended from Earth people.
Later, he'll hold more of a cautious attitude towards the human race's expansion into the rest of the galaxy, even questioning why he likes us so much, but for now he is impressed:

"Homo Sapiens. What an inventive, invincible species. It's only a few million years since they crawled up out of the mud and learned to walk. Puny, defenceless bipeds. They've survived flood, famine and plague. They've survived cosmic wars and holocausts, and now here they are amongst the stars, waiting to begin a new life, ready to outsit eternity. They're indomitable. Indomitable!".

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