Thursday, May 30, 2013

Season 3 Overview

Mavic Chen (Kevin Stoney, left) views the Doctor
(William Hartnell), The Daleks' Master Plan
The third season of Doctor Who was one of great upheaval behind the scenes, upheaval that nearly derailed the series. It was a season that saw management directly interfere in the series to the point where it lost the show runners, where the leading man's health began to deteriorate to an untenable state, and where viewing figures began to suggest that perhaps the public was becoming tired with adventures through time and space.

And yet, the third season saw a run of stories that are amongst the most bold and assured of the Hartnell era. From the epic Dalek space opera to comedic historicals to the surreal adventure battling The Celestial Toymaker to the slick action oriented War Machines, the third season saw the series demonstrating that Doctor Who could truly tell any kind of story it wanted. Indeed it was arguably the uncertainty behind the scenes that was responsible for the flexibility of the stories this season.

Incoming producer Innes Lloyd
Starting with The Myth Makers, Doctor Who had a new producer, its first since original producer Verity Lambert. John Wiles was an experienced television writer who had been trailing Lambert for months. He had an excellent working relationship with story editor Donald Tosh, and both men set about attempting to make some changes to the format of the series. Due to the way the series was produced, plans for a large part of the third season were already in place when Wiles took the reins, including plans for a 12 part Dalek serial. Wiles thought this serial so immense that it was unwieldy and would be difficult to realise, but could do nothing about it. So, he instituted a rule for the remainder of the season that all remaining stories be no longer than four parts. He wanted to push the show into a more sophisticated sphere, attempting to make the stories darker and more complex.  He also wanted to give the Doctor companions that more accurately reflected the youth of England, and draw them from different social strata. He and Tosh encouraged directors to take more chances, do things a little differently than had been previously done.

At almost every turn, Wiles was frustrated in his attempts. William Hartnell, already in poor health and increasingly difficult as a result, clashed with Wiles repeatedly. Hartnell was fiercely devoted to Lambert and the vision of the series that he developed with her, and doggedly resisted any changes attempted by Wiles. Their working relationship was never cordial, and as time went on, grew increasingly fractious. Hartnell's health was also getting worse, causing him greater difficulty in remembering his lines and keeping up with the punishing production schedule. Eventually, Wiles made a case for the replacement of Hartnell to BBC management, proposing that when he reappeared at the close of The Celestial Toymaker, he could simply be portrayed by a different actor. This request was rebuffed.

Wiles and Tosh also originally intended Dodo to be a reflection of the swinging sixties, a modern companion with a cockney accent and the free-wheeling attitudes of the time. But BBC management insisted that all characters speak "BBC English" and requested she be toned down. As a result, Dodo never fully gelled as a character after having all her personality stripped away.

Frustrated at being unable to put his stamp on the series, and tired of clashes with his leading man, Wiles resigned after completing The Massacre of St. Bartholomew's Eve. Donald Tosh, in a show of support and solidarity, resigned as well. Innes Lloyd stepped in as producer and Gerry Davis took over as script editor for the remainder of the season.

Lloyd was a respected producer of outside broadcasts, handling state events as well as sporting events. Davis was young writer with a solid mind for science fiction. While the remainder of the season was already largely laid out, a change at BBC management resulted in more receptive ears at the top, ironically allowing them to institute the exact kinds of changes that Wiles struggled in vain to achieve.

Incoming Story Editor Gerry Davis
They dismissed Jackie Lane, whose Dodo character never truly worked out, in favour of creating the exact types of companions Wiles and Tosh wanted for Dodo in the first place.

Looming over all of this drama was the fact that viewing figures were beginning to sag. After The Daleks' Master Plan, audiences seemed to trail off, dropping from nearly ten million viewers down to, in some cases, nearly five. Although the series could hardly be expected to consistently reach the number it hit at its heights, it was clear it needed something to rejuvenate it.

By the end of the season, it finally became clear to everyone that William Hartnell simply couldn't continue in the series. After The Smugglers (a story completed at the end of the third season, but held over as the first story for Season 4) was completed, it was decided a change would be made after all. But Lloyd and Davis didn't simply want to have an actor play the same character. They wanted to do something even more radical, something that in the future would guarantee that Doctor Who could live forever…

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