TV Lists

Doctor Who: The Second Doctor – The Best and Worst

Continuing our look over the era of Doctor Who, we come to perhaps the most important Doctor of all. With William Hartnell forced to leave the role due to ill health, the production team strived to find a way to continue the show. They mooted multiple ideas including returning the Doctor into a different body in the conclusion of ‘The Celestial Toymaker’ (1966), but ultimately created the concept of regeneration and the Doctor being able to change his face at the point of death.

The Second Doctor was a bold and risky move in the 60s and could have easily sunk the show were it not for Patrick Troughton’s stellar performance; a performance that has since become the template for the character of the Doctor. Arguably every Doctor from Tom Baker onwards has followed the groundwork laid out by Troughton, including the Fifth, Seventh, and Eleventh Doctors, the actors of whom have all named Troughton as their inspiration for the part.

Playing the role from 1966 to 1969, Troughton’s incarnation often came across as a bumbling fool, a space hobo who saved the day by accident. Yet under the surface, he was always scheming away to calculate a victorious outcome. The second incarnation could equally be timid and get worked up in high-pressure situations, a side which completed the character.

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Of course, this era is one of the most iconic, with countless fan favourite monsters, from the Daleks and Cybermen to the Macra and Ice Warriors, which is in no small part to the dynamics of the show’s leads. While the companions cycled through and formed different bonds with the Doctor (Victoria like a daughter, Zoe like an equal, for instance), there was one who made this stretch of stories. Frazer Hines’ Jamie McCrimmon is one of the most adored companions and it’s easy to see why. Appearing in every story bar one, the bond that the Doctor and Jamie share is one of the most wholesome and loved in the entire franchise, a friendship that continued outside of the work environment between Troughton and Hines.

Like the First Doctor, the Second has an abundance of missing episodes, more than his predecessor even, which can hinder the effect of Troughton’s very physical portrayal. Yet with countless animations and surviving audio tracks, his Doctor can continue to be more appreciated than perhaps he would have been otherwise, and allows his era to still be enjoyed to full effect. An era full of danger, friendship and horror, you’d be a fool to not invest in the Second Doctor’s run…

The Best

5) ‘The Enemy of the World’ (1967-68)

© 1967 BBC Studios.

‘The Enemy of the World’ is a highly unconventional story, not just for the 60s, but really in all of Doctor Who.

Saddled in the middle of the famed Monster Season, threats from other worlds are eschewed in favour of a James Bond-esque spy thriller that would become more common in the years of the Third Doctor. A story that never had much love attached to it, its rediscovery in 2013 has allowed a new lease of life and appreciation that has redeemed it in the eyes of the fans as a lost classic and deservedly so.

Like ‘The Massacre’ (1966), the villain is a double of the Doctor, but thankfully they play a much more significant role in proceedings. Indeed, the Doctor takes a back seat for the first few episodes, allowing Troughton to fully relish in the role of Salamander with his accent and his greed.

And once we get to the final few episodes and they begin pretending to be each other, the fun doesn’t let up, right until the rather abrupt ending confrontation between the lookalikes…

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4) ‘The Web of Fear’ (1968)

© 1968 BBC Studios.

Picking up right after the closing moments of ‘Enemy’, ‘Web’ is a much more traditional story to the era.

A sequel to the previous year’s ‘The Abominable Snowmen’ (1967), here we get a fun base-under-siege romp in familiar locations and fluffy yet threatening monsters in the Yeti.

However, this story is much more notable for being the very first appearance of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, here a colonel, who would go on to be one of the most loved characters of the show and play a defining role in the succeeding era to Troughton’s.

It’s a real shame the meeting happens off screen and an ever further shame that the specific episode, episode three, is the only one still missing from the archives after the return in 2013. Even without the importance it holds, ‘The Web of Fear’ is still one of the best examples of the base-under-siege format, that never lets up over its six episodes.

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3) ‘The Tomb of the Cybermen’ (1967)

© 1967 BBC Studios.

Often regarded as one of the best stories of the original run of Doctor Who, ‘Tomb’ deserves the title.

The Cybermen had proved a great success, and still are to this day, but they’ve perhaps never really been done better than here.

The serial provides iconic imagery such as the emergence of the Cybermen from their tombs, and features some of the best designs of the villains in the show.

And yet, amongst the horror and parallels to Egypt, there’s time for the quieter moments, notably the Doctor and new companion Victoria’s conversation in part three about her dead father. Sometimes getting flack for the racist depiction of Toberman, if you can get past that element of the 60s storytelling, you’ve got all the making of a stone (metal?) cold classic..

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2) ‘The Faceless Ones’ (1967)

© 1967 BBC Studios.

Likely a controversial and unexpected choice, ‘Faceless Ones’ falls under the radar.

It features the departures of companions Ben and Polly. They barely appear and have no bearing on proceedings and as such doesn’t have any hugely notable points of discussion. And yet it’s still a brilliant story.

The airport setting is used to full effect, while the Chameleons are a suitably creepy menace that have so much potential to them. The stars here are undeniably the duo of Troughton and Hines, along with companion of the week (originally intended to be a full-time friend) Samantha Briggs. The three of them have fabulous chemistry and really excel throughout the six-episode runtime.

This is a story I really believe could have a re-evaluation if discovered, much like ‘Enemy’, and one that really benefits from having an animation released. An underrated gem.

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1) ‘The Power of the Daleks’ (1966)

There really are a multitude of stories that almost made the top five. ‘The Invasion’ (1968), ‘The War Games’ (1969), ‘The Evil of the Daleks’ (1967), The Mind Robber (1968)… But ultimately, ‘Power’ is the victor.

Potentially the story that’s had the most riding on it, it had a lot to balance. Telling a good narrative, using the Daleks to full effect and, of course, introducing a brand-new Doctor. Broadcast only a week after ‘The Tenth Planet’ (1966) aired, episode one wastes no time in getting right into proceedings.

Half the time is spent on establishing Troughton’s Doctor in a brilliant fashion, the rest in on setting up the story. Even if it didn’t have the weight of the show’s future on its shoulders, ‘Power’ is still a phenomenal story. David Whitaker knew how to write the Daleks better than perhaps anyone else ever has, and here he delivers his magnum opus.

From the ‘good’ Daleks and the Doctor’s suspicions, to the utter bloodbath of part six it never lets up. The final classic story I ever watched, I couldn’t have done much better than this. Easily one of the best Doctor debuts ever put to screen.

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The Worst!

5) ‘The Krotons’ (1968-69)

© 1968 BBC Studios.

‘The Krotons’ has garnered a lot of flak over the years, some deserved, some not.

But ultimately the problem here is that there’s just not a lot that happens. A very basic plot is coupled with a story that drags even over four parts and just fails to entertain.

The design of the Krotons is at least one that stands out from their crystal heads to their skirts, just ultimately there’s not much to say here. The first script of veteran Who writer Robert Holmes, you wouldn’t know it from the quality.

At least it got a claim to fame with the first use of the HADS system…

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4) ‘The Dominators’ (1968)

‘Dominators’ suffers from many of the same issues as ‘Krotons’.

While the Troughton years are a peak for the show as a whole, it’s also verrrry formulaic and that can either be a joy or a hindrance. And when you got yet another rocky planet with trundly robots oppressing a people, it was the latter.

The Quarks are iconic villains designed as a replacement for the Daleks, but from the dull pacifist society refusing to do anything for five episodes, to the monotone Dominators with their ridiculous shoulder pads, it isn’t a good time.

The most worthwhile note was probably the ending leading into the much, much better ‘The Mind Robber’ (1968)…

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3) ‘The Wheel in Space’ (1968)

© 1968 BBC Studios.

There’s a lot wrong with ‘Wheel’ and yet also very little wrong with it.

It’s a harmless yet long story and episode one does one of my favourite things of just having the TARDIS crew explore for a while, but the bulk of the story just is not very good at all.

Zoe is very unlikeable here, thankfully mellowing out later on, and the Doctor’s absence for an episode really hinders the plot. Often Jamie can carry a Doctor-less episode, but here the story is screaming out for Troughton to return from Holiday.

The Cybermen themselves are also weirdly portrayed, their voices in particular making them sound very ill. Couple this with the could-have-been of Daleks Vs Cybermen (something that would eventually happen in Doomsday (2000), and the story just feels like a waste of time.

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2) ‘The Space Pirates’ (1969)

The worst stories of the Second Doctor all share similar issues hence the slightly repetitive notions listed in this segment.

But ‘The Space Pirates’ undeniably owns them the worst of them all.

For a start, the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe get very little to do, the actors taken up with filming for ‘The War Games’ (1969), and the cast that take their place are entirely forgettable. From a receptionist who does nothing bar betray the TARDIS crew, to Milo Clancy the weird space Texan, there’s hardly anything to praise.

Part one is also one of the most repetitive episodes in the whole show, the first half being the exact same thing over and over. He may be a beloved writer, but Robert Holmes and clearly not cracked the art yet…

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1) ‘The Highlanders’ (1966-67)

Much like the First Doctor list, this falls to a matter of preference.

Pure Historicals have never been my forte, and this is one of the worst of the lot.

Despite introducing Jamie, the story has barely any hold on entertainment at all. Even Troughton getting to play dress-up for an episode does nothing to elevate proceedings and just ends up becoming an all-round dull time.

The fact it’s completely missing soils it even more, and it’s ultimately a clear example of just why they retired the Historical format once this story was concluded…

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Below is listed the best book and audio stories for the Second Doctor. As with the previous list, comic stories for this incarnation are very hard to come by and mostly reside in TV comics from the 60s, but next time we’ll be able to properly get into it…

Best Book: The Murder Game

I confess to not having read an abundance of novels for the second Doctor, but for my money, Murder Game is the best of the lot.

I’m always a sucker for murder mysteries, and for hotel settings so combining the two really helps perfect this story.

The Selachians are serviceable villains and go on to have a few more appearances but they’re not the meat of the story.

A rare case of a novel for just the Second Doctor, Ben and Polly, it’s well worth a purchase.

Best Audio: The Morton Legacy

There’s quite a few to choose from here but I’m going to go for The Morton Legacy.

Perhaps an unconventional choice to those who’ve heard it, it’s almost a pure historical (ironically to my earlier statement) but one that keeps the listener gripped throughout at a decent pace.

Hines excels as usual on double duty as Jamie and the Doctor, while Elliot Chapman as Ben really honours the late Michael Craze. Just an all-round good time.

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