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Frighten the Children Quaintly

Season 5 by Appointment

by Jason Towers

First Appeared in Burnt Toast#8, 1991

Doctor Who -- Fifth Season (1967-8)
The Tomb of the Cybermen
The Abominable Snowmen
The Ice Warriors
The Enemy of the World
The Web of Fear
Fury from the Deep
The Wheel in Space
(Evil of the Daleks)

The discovery of several "lost" episodes of The Ice Warriors in 1988 seems to have sparked a resurgence of interest in Season 5. Fresh reviews and articles have been written about single stories, and about the season as a whole. Fans who saw it at the time have shared rosy reminiscences. The season's gone from an obscure group of Black & White stories to, according to some fans, the best season ever [1]. Of course that's just an extreme of opinion, but certainly Season 5 is now regarded as -- at least -- a very good season.

It's reputation may seem mysterious, in light of the dated B&W seasons surrounding it. They're far from the zenith of televisual experience. I've yet to see a B&W story that completely avoided being quaint, and, for that matter, slow. Just checking the episode lengths of Season 5's stories is enough to suggest the present day viewer would be in for a hard slog. So why the enduring notoriety? Well, it seems the key lies in furniture. Season 5 was archetypical Behind-The-Sofa material.

As Bryan Robb put it in DWM#149, "To the general public black and white Doctor Who is often a faint memory of a scary TV show they watched as children". DW has always been scary from time to time, but Season 5, with six of its seven stories trading on tension and fear, was the first season aimed at consistently frightening the viewer [2]. The season was instrumental in getting the show its reputation. The scare tactics were deliberate; the production team acknowledged the new image of DW in the publicity trailer for The Web of Fear, which was broadcast at the end of the previous story. The Doctor warned the viewers about the Yeti, saying "they are just a little more frightening than last time". The whole season was.

The word that keeps popping up in connection with Season 5 is claustrophobia. The infamous claustrophobic atmosphere arose from situations in which the protagonists were confined, unable to get away from the monsters. It was the essence of nightmare. To extend the metaphor, it was a recurring nightmare -- because "the [plot] was so good they used it six times! Well, when you're on a good thing, stick to it." [3] Peter Haining's Doctor Who: A Celebration sums up the much-used plot as "...traditional Doctor Who: the goodies are heavily under siege and engaged in a battle of wits against an encroaching alien menace -- a battle they are losing until the arrival of the Doctor."

In five instances, soft pink humans found themselves confined in a remote monastery, a snowbound weather control outpost, an underground railway, an oil refinery, and a space station. They were isolated by choice, doing a job in some sort of installation, and the monsters were invaders. So as well as capitalising on the instinct to run away from danger, the scenario struck a chord with another fundamental human fear: the violation of home. If you're not safe where you belong, where are you safe?

In the sixth instance, The Tomb of the Cybermen, the protagonists were foolish enough to trap themselves in the place where the monster lived. Although Tomb lacked the siege element, it compensated by having the monsters already inside with the victims... in more ways than one. The Cybermen were harmless while frozen, but none of the Logician party could be trusted not to release them. The situation was one of constant tension, rife with suspicion and distrust. To make it worse, the viewer was only too aware of the danger the Logicians underestimated.

Variations aside, the plot these stories have in common can be traced back to The Tenth Planet; the first Cybermen story, and the blueprint for the "claustrophobia" tales. The Tenth Planet was so well received that it was remade in Season 4 as The Moonbase (to ensure the Cybermen were as popular in their second appearance as their first). The cynics might say it was remade six times in Season 5, to the point were it has arguably become the style of story for which DW is best known.

By 1967, DW was aimed at a teenage audience rather than at "intelligent eleven-year-olds" (sic). The historical stories had been phased out, in favour of SF. And, in particular, monsters. Both of the Season's producers, Innes Lloyd and Peter Bryant, were great monster exponents; Lloyd believed monsters were the main reason for DW's success, and Bryant is quoted as saying "I love the monsters in the show and as far as I'm concerned we can never get enough of them." [4] Season 5's increased horrific content (horrific by the standards of the day) led to criticism in the press, and a call for the reclassification of the show. One writer said of The Ice Warriors "It is just too frightening for some children." Even violence entered the picture, with Tomb in particular being taken to task over certain scenes, such as the infamous Cyberman disembowelling. The protests were over-shadowed by victory in the ratings, and the peak of the Second Doctor's popularity. It's a testament to the Season's impact that the two new monsters it introduced, the Yeti and the Ice Warriors, became two of the all-time greats. In fact, the Yeti proved so popular that they came back after a break of only two stories, to appear twice in their inaugural season. The tried and true Cybermen also appeared twice, cementing their position as the Second Doctor's prime opponents. The Ice Warriors were joined by the Weed Creature from Fury from the Deep, and the Daleks appeared in the repeat screening of Season 4's Evil OTD [5]. It's fairly clear why S5 will always be known as the Monster Season, and Troughton as the Monster Doctor.

I've never seen Season 5 (!). But then, as the sinister Editor said when he asked me to write this article, "nobody has". Season 5 is almost completely lost. Funny how the most fondly remembered stories are the ones that haven't been seen in years ... or vice versa.


[1] This seems like a good point to mention there are people who thought An Unearthly Child 1 was the best DW ever, and that it's gone downhill since then.

[2] Okay, so there's a seventh story, The Enemy of the World, which was the black sheep of the family. While the other six were scary monster stories, Enemy was an evil dictator/secret weapon adventure, without an alien in sight. Since Enemy came at the midpoint of the season, it's been suggested the point of it was to give the viewer's nerves a rest! At any rate, its style jarred with the rest of the season. Consequently, it may well have been the first Oddball story.

[3] Season 5, by Andrew Holliday, Chameleon Factor#53, April 1990.

[4] Quoted in Doctor Who: The Key to Time, by Peter Haining.

[5] This repeat is considered part of Season 5, because the close of The Wheel in Space was a direct lead-in to it. See p35 of DWM#143 for more information, and a rather useful chart.


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