Another day, another recon. But at least we managed to claw our way through it.
To extract maximum enjoyment from this installment, please activate the following audio file whenever Sue speaks. Trust me, she can’t get enough of it.
Sue: Ooh, that’s new.
Me: Proper Doctor Who titles.
Sue: He looks drunk.
Me: He looks magnificent.
Sue: No, he looks like a drunk who’s been arrested and had his mug shot taken. It’s not a good look.
Me: This is an incredibly iconic title sequence.
Sue: Shame about the font.
Me: Yes, well…
Sue: It looks like Times New Roman. Is that the best font they could come up with? It looks like something they tacked on at the end when they were in a bit of a rush.
Me: I’m sure there’s a good reason for it, but you’re right, it’s not the best logo the series ever had. But it’s not the worst either, but that’s some way off.
Sue: I feel a bit sorry for Hartnell. He should have had his face in the titles. It doesn’t seem fair.
And then a refrain that Sue will repeat throughout this story get its first airing.
Sue: What is that awful noise?
Our heroes find themselves on a futuristic colony that is run like a huge holiday camp. But beneath the pleasant exterior, something doesn’t feel quite right, a fact highlighted in the images of jackbooted police running up and down corridors.
Sue: Oh look, it’s a gang of Tesco Tonys. That can’t be good.
Our heroes are taken to a beauty parlour, and for a moment Sue believes they have permanently fixed Troughton’s shambolic approach to fashion and hygiene (“That’s better!”), but it doesn’t last long and Troughton quickly reverts to his usual scruffy self (which drives Sue mad). Meanwhile, Ben is lapping it up, treating the experience as if he’s on an expensive foreign holiday.
Sue: Going to the Med back then would have been a big deal, a real luxury. This probably looked very aspirational back then. Now it looks like The Only Way Is Essex.
Me: It’s not that horrific. Not yet.
Suddenly, a picture of a man’s face appears on an enormous screen and a booming, friendly voice rings out, welcoming our heroes to the colony. Sue isn’t fooled for a second.
Sue: So this is basically 1984 meets Hi-De-Hi? Am I close?
The Doctor is suspicious too, and he decides to investigate further.
Sue: Seriously, Neil, what is that bloody noise?
Me: Have you recognised who’s doing the narration for this recon?
Sue: No. It doesn’t sound like Peter Purves, I know that much.
Me: It’s Colin Baker.
Sue: Oh yes, so it is. Hang on a minute, why is he saying “the Doctor did this” and “the Doctor did that”? Wouldn’t it be better if he said, “I did this” and “I did that”? They missed a trick there.
Me: You mong.
The Doctor and a malcontent called Medok break the colony’s curfew and go off in search of giant insects. It doesn’t take them very long to find one.
Sue: What am I supposed to be looking at?
Me: A Macra.
Sue: Is that supposed to mean something to me?
Me: You’ve seen the Macra before. In a David Tennant episode. It was the one with the talking cats and the giant crabs.
Sue: How can you remember this stuff?
Me: How can you forget this stuff? It had talking cats and giant crabs in it! How much more memorable does it have to be?
Sue: How do we know it’s a giant crab? Assuming it even is a crab. I’ve tried squinting at it and I still can’t make it out. There’s no sense of scale. It could be six feet or six inches. I don’t know if that’s the recon’s fault or the director’s. It was either terrifying or ludicrous. I really can’t tell.top
Sue: This bloke is very good. He’s definitely been in stuff.
Me: Peter Jeffrey? I believe the producer offered him the role of the second Doctor but he turned it down.
Sue: He’d have been good. He’d have looked a lot smarter for a start.
Ben, Jamie and Polly head for bed and as they sleep, a hypnotic, droning voice urges them to conform.
Colin Baker: Jamie was tossing restlessly…
Sue: Was he really, Colin? Now there’s a recon I’d like to see!
Me: You’ll have to form an orderly queue behind Joe Orton.
Sue: This reminds me of The Prisoner. The happy facade; the brainwashing; the annoying PA announcements.
Me: They both aired the same year.
Sue: I think I’m starting to drift off myself.
Me: A soothing voice imploring you to fall asleep in the middle of a 1960s recon is definitely a recipe for disaster. I think we may have stumbled across a genuine cure for insomnia.
When the Doctor wakes Polly before her conditioning can take hold, he notices a sweet smell in the air.
Sue: Have they been pumping marijuana into the room? Now that’s the kind of holiday camp I’d like to visit.
Me: I’m surprised you haven’t mentioned Polly’s hair yet.
Sue: You sexist pig!
Me: People need to know!
Sue: It’s very Vidal Sassoon but it doesn’t really suit her. It looks too severe; it’s not doing her any favours.
Polly and Jamie manage to resist their conditioning (and we’re not talking about hair care here), but Ben falls for it completely.
Sue: I’m not surprised that Ben has turned to the dark side. He’s a young solider who is used to following orders without questioning them. And at least it gives him something interesting to do for a change.
Polly runs off in a huff, upset by Ben’s new, aggressive personality, and she runs straight into a Macra. Luckily, Ben still has the presence of mind to help her.
Colin Baker: Ben started beating the monster relentlessly…
Sue: You know, I’m sure that the person who wrote Colin’s narration was taking the piss.top
Sue: Patrick Troughton has a very soothing voice. It doesn’t fit his face but he’s lovely to listen to. He’d be great on the radio.
When the Doctor gives himself 11/10 for working out a complicated equation, we are both amused and charmed by Troughton’s mischievous performance.
Sue: The Doctor is getting some very good lines in this. It’s a very good script. But what the hell is that noise? Is that supposed to be music or a sound effect? I can’t tell anymore.
Me: Nothing else sounded anything even remotely like this on television back then.
Sue: I’m not I’m surprised! It’s terrible. Who’s responsible for it?
Me: Dudley Simpson.
Sue: Again? How many stories does he **** up before they sack him?
Jamie manages to escape from a gas mine (“The marigolds and leather apron is an interesting look”).
Colin Baker: Jamie moved back along the shaft…
Sue: Seriously, how is Colin doing this with a straight face?
The cliffhanger predictably involves Jamie running into yet another Macra.
Sue: It’s probably best that we can’t actually see this.top
Sue: Sometimes, I amuse myself by imagining Matt Smith saying the same lines as Troughton’s Doctor. And nine times out of ten, it’s really easy to do.
Me: He’s much more engaging than Hartnell ever was.
Sue: Yes, definitely.
Me: So you finally agree? Troughton is better than Hartnell?
Sue: I am starting to warm to him, yes.
It took us a while but we’ve finally made a breakthrough with Troughton. That it arrives in the middle of a recon says a lot, I think.
Jamie stumbles out of the clutches of the Macra into something far more sinister and horrific – a room full of cheerleaders. Jamie is mistaken for an auditionee and he is forced to dance his way out.
Sue: It’s turned into Glee now.
Me: I bet Frazer Hines is relieved that this episode doesn’t exist.
Sue: The producer loves to humiliate the male companions, doesn’t he? First Peter Purves and now this. I bet Ben is shitting himself.
The rest of the episode passes in relative silence (although we are both disappointed when we discover that it’s a giant crab doing all the talking, and not a conditioned human), and when the Doctor and his friends are trapped in the pipe room, with deadly gas engulfing them, we are both gripped.
Thankfully, Ben overcomes his conditioning and he manages to save the day, blowing the Macra to smithereens in the process.
Sue: I knew he’d come good in the end. He’s like Billy Mitchell (if Billy Mitchell dressed as a dental technician) and he’s got a heart of gold. That’s definitely Ben’s best story so far.
The colony has been freed from tyranny and a joyous celebration ensues. The Doctor joins in. He is wearing a majorette’s helmet.
Sue: That’s the worst hat yet. Even Matt Smith couldn’t get away with a hat like that.
Before the colony can appoint the Doctor as their new leader, our heroes dance their way out of the colony.
Sue: I’d have loved to have seen that. What a shame.top
The Final Score
Sue: I enjoyed it. The Doctor is starting to take control and I like that. The script was pretty good too. I’ll give it a very respectable -
Sue: I’m not convinced it would have been better if it actually existed. I don’t think they would have pulled the crabs off.
Me: You’re starting to sound like Colin Baker, now.
The experiment continues…