Hinchcliffe & Holmes
Guest contributor Will Brown explains why this era is often considered among the finest in the show’s history.
Naturally for a show that has graced our screens for half a century, Doctor Who has had several producers, script-editors and, later on, head-writers. Each of them have brought with their position their own perspective of what the series should do and aspire to be, resulting in numerous styles. These easily define the television series into different periods, some far more successful than others. Easily one of, if not the, highest regarded era is the tenure of Philip Hinchcliffe and Robert Holmes, producer and script-editor respectively, between the years 1975 and 1977, encompassing seasons 12 to 14. This article aims to explain why many fans, I being one of them, adore this period.
The Fourth Doctor
Certainly one of the more significant reasons for this deep appreciation was Tom Baker’s portrayal as the Doctor’s fourth incarnation. Baker gave an immensely enjoyable and endearing performance, that has definitely stood the test of time, perhaps becoming the definitive Doctor and the one to ‘beat’, as it were. I highly doubt this legacy could have happened without the solid foundation this era lay down for Baker’s later four seasons.
Baker is, and by quite some distance, my all-time favourite Doctor. In the role, he managed to bring an unadulterated enthusiasm and energy. Baker has since stated that he was not playing a part, but rather saying the lines as himself; this really shows, as never does he feel fake or forced, at least during the Hinchcliffe-Holmes era. He could easily switch between farcical and angry in an instant, displaying a wide range of different emotions. This bohemian eccentric was great to watch on screen. With such a strong actor at the helm, Doctor Who was allowed to flourish like it never had before has not done since.
But what exactly is the Doctor without his trusted companions at his side? In spite of the fact that this era has a grand total of three full-time travellers in the TARDIS, they are some of the best remembered among dozens of others.
The most notable of these assistants was Sarah Jane Smith, played by the late Elizabeth Sladen, who had originally been introduced in Jon Pertwee’s final season. She had been a good companion during the Third Doctor’s era, but here she became a truly great one. Sladen was endlessly relatable as Sarah Jane, being strong and determined throughout all her efforts, but with a vulnerable side, as well as being occasionally belittled by the Doctor. What also helped is that Baker and Sladen had great chemistry, their on-screen alter egos having a friendship bordering on romance.
This contemporary journalist was hugely contrasted with the savage Leela, played by Louise Jameson, a member of a tribe devolved from a human research crew. It also marked a stark departure from the modern-day companions of the seventies up until that point. Although she lacked an understanding of the universe around her, Leela could easily defend both herself and the Doctor. Through the Doctor’s guidance, she became more well-reasoned and knowledgeable, proving to be a worthy ally of his.
These two companions rather overshadow the navy doctor who treated the Doctor in his post-regenerative insanity, even being tied up at one point. I am, of course, referring to Harry Sullivan, who served in this companion role for only six stories, all with Sarah Jane. Despite being a bumbling fool who often gets into trouble, Ian Marter underplays these particular weaknesses and creates a credible character. His superb interplay with both the Doctor and Sarah Jane was also an absolute joy to watch.
When I think of the Hinchcliffe-Holmes era, several original foes and species immediately spring to mind: the Wirrn, Davros, the Zygons, Sutekh, Morbius, the Krynoid, Eldrad, the sandminer robots, Li H’sen Chang, Mr Sin and Magnus Greel. The period was a gold-mine of truly great one-time baddies which have been deeply explored and expanded in other media. It all boils down to the concept and execution in the end. The idea of the Krynoid, a plant that consumes animals, is simply fantastic, and the image of the Fourth Doctor succumbing to the torture of Sutekh confirms the enemy’s might and strength is unforgettable.
The era also had stories featuring returning villains, although Hinchcliffe and Holmes moved away from this approach after season 12. The amazing Genesis of the Daleks charts, well, the genesis of the Daleks and The Sontaran Experiment depicts the torturous acts commited by a warrior of Sontar. Whilst these stories were ‘dignified’ appearances, Revenge of the Cybermen is quite frankly embarrassing. But camp Cybermen were just a blip in the midst of excellence.
All of the prior factors play a major part, but none more so than the stories that make up not just this era, but Doctor Who itself. Many fantastic, deep, dark, thought-provoking stories, some of which can easily be found in the mid-seventies. It is quite possibly the most consistently brilliant run of stories in the show’s television history, despite the incredibly rare sub-par story (the aforementioned Revenge being it). Almost every story here is a stone cold classic, and even those that are not perhaps among them (The Android Invasion or The Masque of Mandragora are good examples) have many merits to be found.
It would be rude of me not to make some recommendations for those deprived of their Hinchcliffe-Holmes goodness. Genesis of the Daleks is some of the greatest television I have ever seen and, apart from the clams and the odd bit of padding now and then, is astonishing. The Seeds of Doom takes some classic sci-fi tropes and crafts a magnificent tale from it. The Talons of Weng-Chiang is a gritty murder mystery that introduces everybody’s favourite group of Victorian investigators of infernal incidents, Jago and Litefoot. There are several others, but that is the cream of the crop and the absolute peak of Doctor Who, for me at least.
As you can probably tell, I highly implore you to explore the gothic show that was Doctor Who for three years, as it is a tour de force in storytelling, featuring a handful of the most-loved serials of all time. I just hope you enjoy it as much as I have. (doctorwhotv)
Posted on July 26, 2015, in Uncategorized and tagged BBC, Doctor, Doctor Who, doctorwho, fandom, phillip hinchcliffe, Robert Holmes, Sarah Jane Smith, Tom Baker. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.