Doctor Who: Reading the Lost Classic Season 4
106 episodes from the '60s era of Doctor Who are missing. The Second Doctor's run was especially hard hit by the wiping policy of the BBC to conserve money and space rather than preserving tapes they felt had no more commercial value. Only five stories from Troughton's era exist in their entirety, with animated reconstructions used to complete a sixth, "The Invasion."
"Ben! Polly! Look! I found an error! The Sonic Screwdriver appears in The Faceless Ones when it's not supposed to show up until Fury from the Deep!
One season in particular, Season 4, has the sad distinction of being the only classic era season of which not a single full story has survived. Which is a shame because it is arguably one of the most important seasons in the show's history. It featured the first regeneration, the introduction of the Cybermen, what was at the time supposed to be the final death of the Daleks, and the beginning of Jamie McCrimmon's record breaking run as a companion. The writers of the modern series borrow heavily from it with good reason.
The rumor is that this may no longer be the case. Word from Bleeding Cool and other sources states that as many as 90 lost episodes have been found recently, and will be announced at the 50th Anniversary in November. This is addition to the fact that's we've started recovering episodes from space. No, really.
But even without the episodes it's been possible to "watch" Season 4 in a way. Some episodes exist and are easily available on the Lost in Time boxset. Complete audio recordings from all the serials survive and have been wedded to telesnaps from the sets by Loose Cannon. These are free to watch on YouTube. One story, "The Tenth Planet," will see a rerelease later this year with an animated re-imagining of the final episode.
For me, Season 4 has always been a literary experience. Almost every single serial of Doctor Who saw a novelization printed by Target Books, and these slim volumes are a wonderful way to delve into one of the most influential and amazing seasons the show has ever seen. I made it a personal project to recreate Season 4 in literary form, and now you can follow in my footsteps.
Terrance Dicks maybe the most prolific writer in Doctor Who history. He was the script editor during Patrick Troughton and Jon Pertwee's eras, wrote episodes such as "The Horror of Fang Rocks," contributed to pretty much every single line of spin-off original novels, and adapted more than 60 episodes for novelization. Some of the adaptations were pretty bare bones and dry, but no one knows the scripts better than old Uncle Terry.
The Smugglers picks up right after "The War Machines," with Ben Jackson and Polly Wright stumbling into the Tardis to give the First Doctor a key he had dropped in the course of stopping an out of control robotic mind. Initially, the Doctor is reluctant to pick up two new companions, but he's long since gotten to like having the company. The Tardis lands in 17th Century Cornwall, and the three are quickly caught up in a pirate smuggling ring that involves multiple murders.
"The Smugglers" isn't a very highly acclaimed serial, but Dicks' novelization is brilliant. Ben and Polly are incredibly playful companions who are perfectly at home using their wits to overcome superstitious locals. It's one of those stories that reminds you why William Hartnell was so fantastic in historical settings, as he finds himself right at ease playing a sort of wandering conman to outwit the brutal pirates and corrupt bureaucrats he comes into conflict with. More than anything else, it shows the changes that the First Doctor was going through at the end of his life, and he warms to Ben's courage and Polly's wit almost immediately.
Used on Amazon for just $1.46.
Gerry Davis is the man that gave us the Cybermen, but for some reason he was never really able to translate them into novel form very well. The Doctor, Ben, and Polly arrive in 1986 Antarctica where a space tracking base is suddenly invaded by Cyberman from the lost twin planet of Earth, Mondas in our first encounter with them.
Davis is great with bringing to life the atmosphere of the cold, remote base, and it's easy to forget if you've just watched the modern series that the original Cybermen could be both unstoppable metal horde and uncanny stealth fighters at the same time. When portraying the raw menace the Cybermen pose the novel is at its best.
Sadly, it tends to come at the expense of some characterization, and we have little of the easy camaraderie of The Smugglers to work with. This robs the all important first regeneration of real clout.
This is one of the recent reprints, so new copies go for less than $7!