I’m a sucker for Pat Troughton…
Guest contributor Ryan O’ Connor examines some of the firsts to come from Troughton’s era.
It’s always a difficult thing, when a much-beloved actor passes away. Today marks the anniversary of such a most unfortunate occasion: the death of Patrick Troughton on the 28th of March, 1987. The man who would one day go on to play the very first successor to William Hartnell in the increasingly-notable role of the Doctor had already performed in a multitude of roles in cinema and television, including his stint as Robin Hood (the first man to play him on television, to boot). However, it would be his performance as the Doctor (naturally) that made him a true icon, bringing the delightfully buffoonish Second Doctor to our screens and indeed our hearts; a true legend of the series that has become a worldwide phenomenon.
Note the above phrase, however. The very first successor to Hartnell. With the somewhat-tumultuous history of Doctor Who being what it is, it’s often an interesting exercise for fans that began watching in a later era to go back and, quite literally, observe the mythology and rules (so to speak) of the show being constructed as it goes along. The era of the Second Doctor is quite notable for that, originating quite a few of the many elements that would later become defining points of Doctor Who itself.
So, to remember and celebrate Patrick Troughton (my favourite of the classic Doctors, incidentally, as will likely become apparent) on this day, I thought it would be most appropriate to go back and take a look at some of those most notable firsts, to see just how much of what we now take for granted was brought to the table by this man and his Doctor. Without further ado, let’s get right to it.
The Sonic Screwdriver
I seem to recall that there’s a moment in The Tenth Planet, swansong of the First Doctor, where his companion Ben Jackson alludes to the utter absurdity of trying to deal with the deadly Cybermen by using basic tools like a screwdriver.
Oh Ben. How wrong you were!
The tool that has become more akin to a hyper-tech magic wand than anything else over the course of Doctor Who’s long lifespan would come into play for the first time in the Second Doctor’s run. Debuting in the serial Fury of the Deep and appearing only sporadically over the course of the Troughton era, the screwdriver (at this stage little more than a simple penlight in terms of appearance) was used for very simple tasks such as opening panels, a spot of impromptu welding and even (to the shock of many) as an actual screwdriver. That, of course, had to wait until Troughton’s finale, but it’s rather amusing to look at in hindsight. One of many ways in which the Second Doctor set the tone of the series to come, all merely by using such a minor gadget, little more than a curio.
The Time Lords
The importance of this one, of course, really can’t be overstated. While a member of the Doctor’s still-unnamed species had appeared during Hartnell’s run in the form of the Monk, the race themselves remained mysterious, nebulous. Suddenly, the finale for Patrick Troughton’s Doctor, the epic titled The War Games, came around and delivered what I believe to be one of the finest moments in the show’s history. The Doctor and his companions are trapped, utterly without hope, by the War Lords and their forces, stranded with massive numbers of time-displaced beings and unable to bring them home. With all options tried and failed, the Doctor is forced to enact his final resort: summoning the Time Lords. They make their impact in grandiose fashion, utterly eradicating the serial’s villains from history, dispatching Jamie and Zoe back to their own times with no memories intact, and subsequently forcing the regeneration of the Doctor, all in one episode.
To see the dread on the Doctor’s face (which really couldn’t have been portrayed any better than by Troughton’s famously expressive performances) as he realises he must bring his people forth makes the debut of the Time Lords (and, somewhat less notably, a still-unnamed Gallifrey) an incredibly potent reveal, and as said above, easily one of the most important in Doctor Who history. This one didn’t so much go down in the history books as it did write them.
Other Aliens and Monsters
Of course, the Time Lords don’t get all the fun. Whilst the Daleks and, to a somewhat lesser extent, the Cybermen had of course debuted over the course of the First Doctor era, Troughton’s run saw quite a few notable species make their first appearance on the Doctor Who landscape. His own people, of course, have been mentioned already, but there was certainly something of a who’s who (if you’ll pardon the expression) list to go with them.
Firstly, of course, it was Troughton’s era in which the Cybermen truly began to become their own entity. Clashing with them multiple times, they could almost be seen as the Second Doctor’s signature foe. Stories like The Invasion and Tomb of the Cybermen, aside from being good contenders for top stories in the show’s history, made an enormous impact by showing the scope of their “civilisation”, with ancient plots, a great necropolis, small and scurrying Cybermats, and a new, eerier-than-ever aesthetic. These Cybermen stories still provide inspiration for writers even today, Nightmare in Silver and the Dark Water/Death in Heaven two-parter being particularly-notable and recent cases.
Also debuting were foes and ideas for foes that would later recur such as the Ice Warriors, the Macra, the first “good” Daleks, and even the Great Intelligence in a story arc that seemed like so little at the time, but would later be expanded on quite heavily in Matt Smith’s run.
This is the big one on this list, and arguably the reason why Patrick Troughton could be seen as the most important Doctor. The First Doctor was a grumpy, occasionally bitter grandfather figure. He was amusing, certainly, and had a notable charm about him that made him easy to watch thanks to Hartnell’s portrayal, but he was irascible and arrogant about his intelligence.
The Second Doctor changed that. Troughton’s portrayal brought a light-heartedness, a willingness to joke and mess about as the Doctor that we hadn’t seen up to that point. He was still brilliant and intelligent, that’s undeniable, but he began the trend of playing the fool (and doing it wonderfully) to throw others off. This Doctor, rather than keeping most of his companions at arm’s length, very much enjoyed their company and showed clearly that they were no mere companions; they were friends.
He had many an idle trait to display his clownish nature, from his classic “cosmic-hobo” clothing to the recorder he would play when he decided he didn’t have anything he wanted to say at that moment. It was Troughton’s portrayal that made the Doctor a most unconventional genius indeed, and that is something that every Doctor since has drawn upon in a huge way. Some Doctors (the Fourth, the early-years Seventh, the early-years Eighth) have done this quite obviously, some (the Third, the Sixth, the Ninth, the Twelfth…odd, that) less so, and occasionally (the Eleventh) they’re a straight-up homage to this most venerable of Doctors. Patrick Troughton shaped the idea of what the Doctor is just as much as William Hartnell did, and that’s something that continues to this very day.
So, there we have it! I’m sure there are some firsts I’ve left out (I chose not to talk about the concept of regeneration given its still-shaky nature at the time, but it’s an equally-fascinating one), so please do discuss away in the comments! Ultimately, this is all about celebrating, remembering and indeed honouring one of the men who was utterly instrumental in the formation of sci-fi’s greatest juggernaut, and about looking back over the career of a man who had nothing but enthusiasm for the show we all adore so much and brought that enthusiasm to the screen every single moment he was on it.
Gone but never forgotten, Patrick Troughton lit up and changed the show that brought our bizarre community together and, by extension, changed the lives of so many Whovians, myself very much included. As a great man once said, “that’s the exciting thing, that nobody in the universe can do what we’re doing,” and that’s down in no small part to Troughton and the lovable buffoon he played.
Posted on March 31, 2015, in Uncategorized and tagged BBC, Cardiff, Change, companion, cosmic hobo, Doctor, Doctor Who, doctorwho, Patrick Troughton, regeneration, Second Doctor, The Doctor. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.