Doctor Who Season 6 (1968-69) Review // Recommendation

The protagonist,

Public Domain

The protagonist, "The Doctor", played by beloved character-actor, Patrick Troughton

J. L. Ilai, Contributing Writer

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I’ve been a committed fan of Doctor Who for quite a number of years. I’ve watched plenty of the shows from various eras. While many are familiar with Doctor Who’s existence, they’re less likely to be aware of the series that aired from 1963 to 1989, often called the “Classic Era”. Barring exceptions, the original series and the revival are quite different. Despite loving the show and having watched various stories across the whole run, I never watched the entire series due to the amount of time and money that that would require. In 2017, I decided to watch all of the stories in order, starting from the beginning. I wen through the first four seasons and most of season five before burning out on the stuff. I needed a break. More recently I decided to continue where I left off, with the end of Season 5 and then Season 6 and onward. While I considered reviewing the first five seasons, my memory had faded and I didn’t want to rewatch them so soon. What was in the unseen era of the show was far more intriguing.

Season 6 was the end of many things; notably, the 60’s era. Things would change considerably for Season 7. There are many things that feel like they’re intended to bridge the gap between the first five seasons and Seasons 7+. One story in this season, The Invasion, was made to test a new formula which would be adopted in Season 7. In a sense, this season could be considered the start of the Classic era that is best known. The Doctor and his companions, Jamie and Zoe, are the main cast this season and they’re considered by many to be the best line up. A lot of the most beloved line ups are after this season.

Please Note: In the classic era, stories were divided up into multiple episodes, in a serialized fashion. Most stories ran the length of a typical movie. At the time, once a TV program had aired, the shows would not be considered worth anything, so many were destroyed. Fortunately, numerous episodes have survived due to surviving copies happening to be here or there. The audio to every episode exists and missing episodes can be enjoyed with varying methods of adding the visual element. Stories here with missing episodes will be noted as such. A stories episode count in general will be noted.

The Dominators (1968) – Five Episodes

As a lover of silly B-Movies, I really enjoyed this. Episode One very much satisfied the crave for the silly, as well as introducing the various characters in sensible ways. The rest of the serial left sensibility for the most part. Cully’s crewmates had very little to do with the plot. It would’ve made sense for them to all just be one character. Cully should’ve referred to them or do anything other than forget they exist, which sadly happened. The council (which feels ripped straight from the Star Wars prequels) come off as ridiculous and they suddenly stop being in the story. Cully and The Dominators change personalities at points, seemingly so the plot can move the way the writers want. The positives are frequent, though. The drama is very good and it’s great seeing the characters learn the environment so they can use it to their advantage. The scenes with the two Dominators fighting is great, though sadly those scenes don’t really add to the overall plot. This is exceptionally irritating as this could have easily been tied to the conclusion of the serial. The cliffhangers were mostly very good.

This had more good than bad, though the bad is annoying. I would highly recommend this to lovers of B-Movies and cheesy movies. It’s not bad, but it has some bad in it to keep one laughing!

The Mind Robber (1968) – Five Episodes

Interesting to rewatch a story I watched so long ago. I noticed on my IMDb page that I gave every episode of this a 10/10. Oh how times have changed!

Episode 1 felt new to me. I was disappointed to learn that it was tacked onto the adventure at the last minute, which you can tell. It was cool, but uneventful. It does have a little to do with the serial and the set up works better than one might think. I was annoyed at The Doctor acting buffoonish. It was unnecessary and out of character. Episodes 2 and 3 consisted of lots of time wasting and nonsense, as if everything that could be done was added in without coherence. To my surprise, the last two episodes made it all (mostly) work. Elements from the previous Episodes in the serial came back and added to the ending. The Doctor is used amazingly well and it’s some of his best scenes. The last episode is one of my favorite single episodes of the series. It’s a tight little adventure that has a little of everything. The cinematography is very sharp.

This is good, but very uneven in quality.

The Invasion (1968) – Eight Episodes, Episodes 1 and 4 are missing

Exceptionally good acting is on display here, especially from Kevin Stoney, who really knocks this role out of the park. The atmosphere of the story paints a very sharp narrative filled with tons of suspense. There’s a scene where the monster was given feelings. I thought it would be silly, but it was handled beautifully well. It’s probably one of the best scenes in the season. The first seven episodes build very well, but the final episode drops the ball. There’s plenty of good, but it seems like perhaps no one knew how to end the story.

The Krotons (1968-69) – Four Episodes

This serial has lots of value as a camp Sci-Fi movie, but it has very little anywhere else. The plot moves along with the lamest plot contrivances. It uses the mocked cliché of the villain explaining their plan to someone. Speaking of which, the villains look and sound ridiculous. I was pulled out of the story as I couldn’t stop thinking of how silly they were. Numerous elements, such as character’s and subplots, serve little to the plot, such as anything to do with the characters of Vana and Thara. The ending felt very rushed to top it all off.

There is some good, Episode 1 is quite sharp and creates sharp atmosphere. The other episodes have fun little adventures which work well on their own. The Doctor is written quite well and his plan in Episode 4 is simple, yet clever. I was very interested in what the characters were thinking and doing, such as with Eelek and Selris. We get a decent amount of that. I think every episode here is good as they work well by themselves, but the overall package is quite disjointed. This seems like it was designed to work as ‘watch one episode a week’. I would recommend to those that want dumb entertainment, but a story like The Dominators does that much better.

The Seeds of Death (1969) – Six Episodes

A very good adventure. This feels like a movie cut up into sixth, which is a good thing. One big annoyance is how different the beginning and end feel. In Episodes 1 and 2, we learn of Eldred and Radnor’s history. It’s very interesting, but it’s all dropped soon after. What’s the point including as much as they did? What’s the point in focusing on it? Fewsham and Phipps start out as very important characters, but they suddenly lose relevance as well. What the heck!? The serial succeeds in its story. It never misses a beat and is hard to look away from. All the members of the TARDIS crew are utilized. The villains are actually quite scary and their ominous presence adds a lot.

The Space Pirates (1969) – Six Episodes, Episodes 1, 3-6 are missing

Can you say… too long? This tale dragged quite a bit! Similarly to The Seeds of Death, it just forgets its own story at points. In the beginning, they bothered to give the character of “Warne” an actual personality for the first two episodes, only for him to be background decoration for the rest of the serial. The main villain, Caven, is absent from Episode 2, as if the writer’s just forgot about him. Stories like this would work better if everyone is in every episode. It’s important to know what people are up to and see how they react to what’s going on. Infamously, the main characters have a minimal role in many of the episodes (Namely Episodes 1, 2, and 6). It’s kind of jarring to shift from the main story to them doing minimally related things in Episode 2.

This serial works best when it’s just being fun. Episode 3, the most competent episode, is a fun runaround that keeps pace. Episodes 1 and 4 do an alright job of setting up and paying off little story threads. They’re fun. It’s fun seeing our heroes run around a little mine shaft in Episode 4. It’s fun seeing the Space Pirates in Episode 1. Though these three episodes are held back by the blandness of the story as well as plot conveniences. When certain characters fall down a mine shaft at the end of Episode 3, you can hear them yell for quite a while. In Episode 4, it’s revealed that it was just a few feat! The Doctor pulls out a tuning fork in Episode 4, with the explanation being that he just has it. Can you say “contrived”, kids? And to think that I just mentioned the two best episodes.

Episodes 2, 5, and 6 are paint-by-numbers to an absurd degree. It’s horribly boring to just see the blandest, most cookie-cutter Sci-Fi you can think of. “I am the villain and I want to do villain things!” A highlight in the story is the character of Milo Clancey, whose silly nature of being combined with his accent make him a joy to watch. To quote the TARDIS Wikia, “he was a wildcat prospector who dressed as if he’d just walked off the set of Bonanza.”

Overall, a very poor story with a little bit of entertainment in it. It’s not worth the slog for a little bit of Fool’s Gold.

The War Games (1969) – Ten Episodes

Ending with a bang is putting this mildly. The epic scale has rarely been attempted in the 60’s era. I thought for quite a while about how to discuss this one without spoiling it. Honestly, I don’t think I can. Even if I just said what the story is, it would be a spoiler. Thus, this will have a spoiler section, but first I can say a little…

The camera movement is very sharp. It cleverly emphasizes the scene. A character will have a sharp line of dialogue and the camera will move in the perfect way, such as zooming in on that actor or panning to the reaction of another. I want to say that the directing as a whole is good, but there are several very poor fight scenes. Many Doctor Who stories feature deaths which seem like a waste of time. Perhaps the only reason for their inclusion is to show the seriousness of the threat, but it’s annoying as one can only wonder why anyone should care about the guest cast if they’re going to be killed so pointlessly. This story has only one such death. All the others fit in the story perfectly. Finally, the acting is some of the best in the show. One truly believes that they are what we learn they are. Their expressions and opinions are clear on their faces. This story sadly has numerous little issues that I can only discuss by spoiling what’s happening.

SPOILER SECTION

Episode 1 details our heroes appearing in World War 1 and being captured by the British army. It is too long and too divorced from the rest of the story. It does do some things well. Characters such as Smythe, Carstairs, and Jennifer are developed well. The only big sign of a Sci-Fi element is Smythe’s glasses. Whenever he puts on the glasses, he says something to someone and their mind is scrambled, they then agree with him. He uses this ability to get the Doctor sentenced to death. The Doctor and his team coast through this episode.

Episode 1 ends with a firing squad taking aim at the Doctor and a gunshot is heard. Episode 2 starts with the reveal that someone elsewhere fired at the firing squad. The Doctor manages to escape. One can theorize that they’re part of the resistance, which the audience learns of in later episodes. The convenience of the scene is hair-pulling to put it nicely. The Doctor gets around in this story and gains information by acting like he’s a hot shot. This is funny and works well with the seriousness that’s occurring. I wonder if he’s taking a note from his coasting in Episode 1. Our heroes convince Carstairs and Jennifer that there’s something fishy occurring. This leads to a joke where Carstairs compares a video screen to a Cinematograph. I found that quite funny.

I disliked Episode 2’s cliffhanger where the Roman army attacks the protagonists, but when it’s continued with Episode 3, it works quite well. We learn that there are different time zones where different wars are being fought. This includes the 30 Years War, the American Civil War, and many others. The Doctor goes to Smythe’s office looking for a map of all the war zones. He correctly guesses that it’s in a locked safe. When it’s blown open, it’s sitting in there. Couldn’t Smythe have done more to protect the map? Why not put things on top of the map to obscure it? What if someone stole the safe? There’s numerous conveniences in the story, but the most awkward is when Carstairs is firing at soldiers and the others drive off without him. I know he was covering them and wanted to be left there, but he was very useful and it’s out of character for The Doctor. We learn that Smythe is part of a group, The War Lords, that is monitoring the war zones. The soldiers were planted by them. This is a clever way of explaining how everyone survived the predicament. Carstairs is captured by them.

The next few episodes reveal that there’s brain scrambling technology is being developed and it’s used on Carstairs. The Doctor discovers it and cleverly learns of it. He corrects what happened to Carstairs. Jamie meets a resistance movement that knows of the different war zones. In one of the stories weakest aspects, the character of Jennifer leaves part way through. What’s the point in giving that character the development she got if she’s going to leave so suddenly? An American Civil War soldier more or less takes over the role she had been filling. Jennifer could’ve been given most of the soldier’s dialogue without an issue. The character also fills the role of another Civil War soldier who got killed in the only lame death in the whole story. Both Civil War characters were equally knowledged of what was going on. How frustrating! Jamie is later injured with The Doctor and Zoe seeing it. They saw the gun he was hit with kill people. Both don’t seem to bothered by that. I can understand that perhaps the Doctor didn’t think it so, but Zoe doesn’t think like the Doctor.

Numerous silly fight scenes occur, as well as continuity errors. Such as little details in a scene changing between shots. There are great dialogue scenes, such as one where Zoe asks the Doctor how he knows the foreign machinery of the Villain’s so well. We see Smythe again after several episodes. He is about to have the Doctor shot, but realizes he can’t. The acting is superb. Awkward editing after his Oscar moment lessens the impact of it. He later gets killed in an effective scene. The War Lord, who is monitoring things, is uncaring. The Doctor and The War Chief later have a conversation where we learn that they’re the same species and that Chief is trying to get the best warriors by watching them fight. They both discuss their detachment from their species.

The scale gets more intense, before peeling back very well. The last two episodes focus more on the character’s relationships. The Doctor realizes that the only way he can save everyone is by contacting his race… the Time Lords. The War Chief and The War Lord, the only other Time Lords we see so far with any dialogue, are not happy with this and won’t go down without a fight. These last few episodes are very well executed. The Three Time Lords attempt to escape. The War Chief, who has acted mostly like he is control, is killed while terrified of his people and of dying. The Doctor and friends attempt to escape in Episode 9’s cliffhanger, with great tension and scoring. His escape attempt fails in the following episode’s beginning. All the soldiers are sent back to their time effortlessly by the Time Lords. The Doctor and The War Lord face trial. Neither face their sentence without an escape attempt. The War Lord is killed by the Time Lords. I like the comparison between The Doctor and The War Lord. Both make attempts to escape, but they more or less are unsuccessful. The Doctor’s last escape attempt seems more for the sake of his companions. It’s like he’s accepted his fate, but will give it one more try for his friends. The Doctor’s portrayal is at its best here. We see him determined to be free, but also give up and accept his fate. The Doctor gets an emotional goodbye with his companions before they’re forced to return home. That emotion really hits. The Time Lords force the Doctor to be exiled to Earth for his crime of interfering in other planets by involving himself. The Time Lords had only used time travel to observe places, but the Doctor wanted to actually do something. He’s portrayed as small and weak here.

I bring up so much of the story to emphasize the themes. Everyone thinks they’re high and mighty, but they’re pawns. The soldiers in the war are accomplishing nothing and their monitors all get killed. Even the Doctor isn’t immune from this. Characters like Carstairs shift and change. We see their perspectives and learn of them. Many parts are flawed, but it’s so worth it to get to those last few episodes, which are masterfully good. Characters like The Doctor and The War Chief are on different sides, though they’re race is the same. Both think they’re right, but they’re under the thumb of the Time Lords. The soldiers mirror this. They’re different sides of the same race, but the Generals are aliens in disguise, they’re controlling things. There’s plenty of running around, but it leads to the deaths of many.

OVERVIEW (NO SPOILERS)

This season is a bit of a mixed bag. Some stories are fantastic, like The Invasion and The Seeds of Death. Some are poor like The Krotons and The Space Pirates. There’s not much of a theme for the season. The main characters go on their adventures and we see what the writers can come up with. A small theme is that every story in this season seems like it wants to be an epic. They vary in how well they succeed at that. The Doctor’s attempts to save the day are successful, but in the end he fails to resolve it himself and must pay the price by being exiled to Earth. It’s the end of an era, but it opened the door for a new one.