“There’s only one man in England who can take over, and that’s Patrick Troughton,” is what William Hartnell reportedly said with regards to his successor as the Doctor. 46 years old when he started in the role, Troughton was known as an experienced character actor; not wanting to simply copy Hartnell’s Doctor, his interpretation of the character was described as a “cosmic hobo”, more casual, eccentric and dishevelled-looking than Hartnell. Following his first brief on-screen appearance at the end of The Tenth Planet, the Second Doctor’s first full adventure – Episode 1 of The Power of the Daleks – aired on 5th November 1966.
The Second Doctor’s era consisted of 21 stories and 119 episodes. Unfortunately, 53 episodes are currently lost, having been deleted from the BBC archives with no copies having yet been found elsewhere; they can be watched only as reconstructions with audio and stills. Only seven of the Second Doctor’s stories can be watched as actual moving episodes in their entirety: The Tomb of the Cybermen, The Enemy of the World, The Dominators, The Mind Robber, The Krotons, The Seeds of Death and The War Games.
Notable firsts for the Second Doctor’s era include the first appearance of the Ice Warriors (who constantly made me feel uncomfortable with their asthmatic breathing), the Doctor’s first use of his sonic screwdriver, and the introduction of the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce (UNIT), an organisation intended to oppose extraterrestrial threats on Earth. Nicholas Courtney – who had a small role in The Daleks’ Master Plan during the First Doctor’s era – would make his first appearance as Colonel Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart in The Web of Fear; Lethbridge-Stewart would go on to become a Brigadier, a commander in UNIT, and an important recurring character in Doctor Who. The War Games saw the Doctor’s first (unwilling) on-screen journey to his home planet; the planet itself was not given a name at this point, but the Doctor’s people were referred to as ‘Time Lords’ for the first time.
Accompanying the Second Doctor for almost his entire journey was an 18th-century highlander named Jamie McCrimmon (played by Frazer Hines, who was actually from Yorkshire, though his mother was Scottish). Jamie holds the record for appearing in more regular episodes than any other companion – no less than 113 – though due to the different format of the revived series, Clara Oswald, Amy Pond and Rose Tyler surpass him in terms of numbers of regular stories.
Tired out from the demanding filming schedule, and wanting to avoid being typecast, Patrick Troughton elected to leave Doctor Who after three years in the lead role. He made his final regular appearance on 21st June 1969, the final episode of The War Games, in which the Time Lords forced the Second Doctor to regenerate and exiled him to Earth for breaking their non-interference laws. Troughton would end up returning to the show and reprising the role of the Second Doctor three times: in The Three Doctors in 1973, The Five Doctors in 1983, and The Two Doctors in 1985. On 28th March 1987, while attending a science-fiction convention in Columbus, Georgia, Troughton died of a heart attack in his hotel room, aged 67.
Honestly, I didn’t find the Second Doctor’s era to be quite as good on average as that of the First Doctor. There were many stories that I just didn’t find especially compelling; even The Tomb of the Cybermen and The War Games, both of which are generally well regarded by Doctor Who fans, didn’t do much for me personally. Nor did this era seem as imaginative as Hartnell’s. An awful lot of the stories revolve around some sort of base, with a team of humans ranging from helpful to annoying to part of the furniture, being attacked by monsters; this type of story has survived into the modern era, but here, it was used often enough to become repetitive. And while modern fans complained about the Daleks appearing too often when Russell T Davies was showrunner, the same could be said for the Cybermen in Troughton’s three seasons; they are the main villains in four of his 21 stories.
I found the Second Doctor to be good fun at first; both in his darker, more cunning moments, and in his quirky, eccentric ones, such as playing the recorder, or disguising himself as a German and a woman (not at the same time) in The Highlanders. But in later stories, he seemed to lose his charm, becoming all business and sometimes quite hard to deal with. At the end of The Web of Fear, for example, he loses his temper at his companions for inadvertently thwarting his plan to destroy the villain for good, even though they had no way of knowing about this plan and had every impression that he was about to have his brain drained.
Ben (Michael Craze) and Polly (Anneke Wills), the companions that Troughton inherited from his predecessor, still didn’t leave much of an impression in their subsequent adventures, aside from Polly going back and forth from competent to helpless depending on who was writing for her. The aforementioned Jamie was a safe and reliable companion for the Doctor and the audience: loyal, headstrong, and able to adjust to different surroundings incredibly well considering his 18th-century origins. Following the departure of Ben and Polly, the Doctor and Jamie adopted Victoria (Deborah Watling), who sadly was more of a drip than any female companion before her. Victoria was so soft and fearful that in her final adventure, Fury from the Deep, the sound-sensitive monster is defeated using the unbearably intense (and frequently heard) sound of her screaming. And while she liked the Doctor and Jamie well enough, she didn’t enjoy the actual adventures, with exciting and exotic experiences failing to make up for her life constantly being threatened. After spending much of Fury from the Deep complaining about this point, Victoria chose to leave the TARDIS behind. It’s not hard to understand why such a character doesn’t work too well as a Doctor Who companion. Thankfully, Victoria’s successor, Zoe (Wendy Padbury) was both more cheerful and more useful with her genius mathematics skills.
My Favourite Second Doctor Stories
The Power of the Daleks: I like the Daleks a lot better than the Cybermen, and this is a good story for them – they employ their more devious side here, gaining the trust of a human colony by pretending to serve them, while secretly building their army behind the scenes. The civil conflict going on within the colony only makes things more difficult for our heroes, and the story more twisting and interesting.
The Faceless Ones: This story, involving faceless aliens kidnapping tourists to steal their identities, feels more like something from later years with its mostly Earth-based setting, and the tense intrigue as the Doctor, his companions and a few other characters try to figure out what’s going on.
The Evil of the Daleks: This story was supposed to be the Daleks’ swan-song in Doctor Who itself, as their creator, Terry Nation, was trying to get them a spinoff on American television. Obviously things didn’t turn out that way, but The Evil of the Daleks would have been a worthy send-off; the Daleks themselves are used in fresh new ways (e.g. being influenced by ‘Human Factor’) and both the Doctor and Jamie are able to show off their best qualities.
The Mind Robber: An adventure where the Doctor and his companions are transported to a world populated by fictional characters was always going to be fun. One curious thing I noted was that it refers to Rapunzel as a princess, making this change from the original fairy tale decades before Disney’s Tangled did so.
My Least Favourite Second Doctor Stories
The Underwater Menace: The only thing that this story has going for it is the villain, a scenery-chewing mad scientist who wants to destroy the Earth (his own planet, no less) for no other reason than because he can.
The Wheel in Space: Boring, boring, boring. It’s six episodes long, but has just about enough story for two.
The Space Pirates: This story has far too much waffling, and is difficult to follow, not helped by the poor sound quality that makes much of the dialogue unintelligible.