Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Season 5 Overview

From L to R: Deborah Watling, Patrick Troughton,
Fraser Hines in Fury from the Deep
Midway through the production of Season 4, producer Innes Lloyd was keen to move on from the series. He felt he had contributed all he could to Doctor Who, and wanted to take on other challenges. Although he was responsible for simplifying the series down to a more straightforward action-adventure format, he and script editor Gerry Davis were also responsible for a number of successes. He had successfully overseen the introduction of a new lead actor, had enlivened the series with a focus on pacier, action oriented stories, had established a budget conscious format with the base-under-siege formula,  and had correctly seen that the monsters, always one of Doctor Who's strongest assets, could be emphasized even more heavily. All of this resulted in season 4's ratings improving dramatically over its run from an average of around five million viewers at its beginning to around seven at its end.

With Lloyd's departure, Davis was asked to take over as producer, and though he initially flirted with the idea, he too decided to move on in 1967. Davis' successor as story editor was Peter Bryant, and Bryant was also considered as a possible producer of the series, getting some experience throughout the fourth season. Bryant also brought Victor Pemberton on board to assist him in his editing duties. As the fifth season began, Bryant was given the opening story The Tomb of the Cybermen, as a trial run to see how he would perform as producer, with Pemberton temporarily elevated to script editor. With this story seen as a huge success, Lloyd began actively grooming Bryant as his successor.

Producer Peter Bryant
Lloyd and Bryant decided to move away from the fourth season's format of more four-part stories in favour of a fifth season of predominantly six-part serials. While this did offer storytelling advantages, the decision was primarily budgetary, the idea being that costs spread across a longer single story meant a greater quality to the sets and costumes. This fit in with Lloyd and Davis' favouring of the base under siege stories, which of course resulted in an even greater adherence to that format for the fifth season.

With The Enemy of the World, Lloyd left the series, and Bryant took over as official producer, but Pemberton had by this point decided not to take on the script editing duties and returned to freelance writing. Bryant would hire another former actor and freelance writer, Derrick Sherwin, to fill the post. Sherwin would bring with him a fellow writer to act as assistant story editor, a writer who would go on to leave an indelible impact on the classic series, Terrance Dicks.

No matter who comprised the production team of the fifth season, they all faced a considerable challenge. The final story of the previous season, The Evil of the Daleks, was meant to give the Daleks a huge send-off from the programme. Dalek creator Terry Nation was trying to sell American networks on a Dalek TV series, and wasn't giving permission to the BBC to use them. This meant that the series was, for the first time, not allowed to bring back their most sure-fire audience favourites. To fill the gap, the production team decided to build upon the growing popularity of the Cybermen, using them to open and close the season. They also decided to attempt to develop new fan favourite monsters. By and large, they were successful, with the Yeti and the Ice Warriors each resonating with viewers in strong serials.

Incoming Script Editor
Derrick Sherwin
This focus on replacing the Daleks led to a season dominated by monsters and bases under siege by them. While the format had its benefits from a production stand-point, those same benefits (small cast, one setting) quickly become over-familiar and tiresome. One or two of these types of stories per season works very well. Having every story except one be a base under siege story is a very bad idea. By Fury from the Deep, it's fair to say that viewers must have been sick to death of that format, and may have even wondered if the series had run out of ideas. It's true that there are some classic base under siege stories during this season (The Tomb of the Cybermen, The Web of Fear) but they work mostly because of some interesting storytelling within the conventions of the format and because of some excellent direction. The remaining serials of the season work less well, but when they do work it's because they experiment within the rigid format to varying degrees of success.

Having said all this, overall season 5 is immensely enjoyable. The main cast of Troughton, Hines and Watling have genuine chemistry, and though the punishing production schedule is beginning to take its toll on Troughton, this is the season where he gives his most consistently brilliant performances. He and Hines remain one of the best pairings the series ever saw, and while I've never been a huge fan of Victoria as a character, that's largely a question of taste, and Watling does a great job throughout.

There's a fun quality to the endless parade of monsters throughout the season, even if it does start to feel repetitive by the close. It's like a scary carnival where every destination reveals another beast to jump out and scare you. I'd never want all of Doctor Who to be like this "Monster Season", and I certainly bemoan the limited format they use, but it's fun to battle the Cybermen, then the Yeti, then the Ice Warriors! For kids, this must have been a blast to watch.

At the end of the day, it's the stability and consistency of the season that makes it work, even as it makes it tiresome. Gone are the wildly experimental days of the Hartnell era, but it's replaced a familiar tone that allows the viewer to sit back, relax, and enjoy a few good scares as the Doctor saves the day. This stability and consistency was not long-lived however, and the upcoming season would be one of the most chaotic and tumultuous in the series history, one that would nearly lead to the cancellation of Doctor Who.


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