Troughton: The Paternal Magician
(Posted by Craig in HTPBDET’s absence)
My sister was always a temperate, sweet and beautiful girl and the death of my brother, her twin, younger than her by a minute or so, affected her profoundly. Not in any classic way: her grief turned into energy, determination and a kind of fierce devotion – to him, to enjoying her life and making sure she seized every moment to live.
I saw her on and off, for short periods, when my mother came to visit, as my sister was living with Mother, while Father had gone North with my remaining (older) brother to his Mother and elder Brother to cope with his own grief and guilt.
It was a fractured time for us all but my Nanna held it all together. I did not see Father much at all, for over a year, although he wrote every week. Short letters, awash with pain and self-hatred, but always with kind words for my lost brother and good wishes for me and my Nanna.
My mother was, I think, the hardest hit, but also the one who strove not to show any sign of weakness, emotion or loss. But she adored my sister, my brother and I, and she just wanted everything to be as close to as it had been as it could be – but that needed Father, and he was temporarily lost. On reflection, my older brother bore quite the brunt of my younger brother’s death – he was with Father through his darkest time and missed a lot of “being young and carefree”
My brother was an ambivalent Doctor Who fan – he did not mind it, loved the female companions with a breath-taking lack of discernment, and both scoffed and cheered at the “science” and the concepts. He would eventually become a civil engineer, so the seeds were already sown. But he was my brother – and he knew how much I and our lost brother had enjoyed it, so he never – ever – squashed my enthusiasm.
My sister took to ballet with a frenzy of determination and was obsessed by it. She practised for hours at a time, every day. Mother fussed and worried but my sister said she was dancing for my brother. And that was that.
Nanna watched the whole of Power of the Daleks with me. Sometimes, in the scariest parts, such as the Dalek rampage towards the end, rather than just hold my hand, she would pick me up and sit me in her lap. I am not sure which of us was more scared…I think it is for that reason, because otherwise it is entirely bizarre, that I always associate static electricity with talcum powder. The Daleks used static electricity in the same way Nanna used talcum powder and the two notions were fused forever in my young mind from those six shared silent half-hours.
With my father absent, I turned to the Doctor’s new face for emotional and manly guidance. Troughton had black hair like my Father but otherwise there was no similarity, although Father could play the Flute. But he would not be seen dead in a bow-tie and was slightly vain, so always well turned-out.
So I absorbed Troughton, like a sponge absorbs water. I saw how he dealt with people of all kinds – with an equanimity that was admirable. Soldier, sailor, barmaid, rich, poor, lofty, uneducated, religious, feeble, scared, brave, tall, thin, fat, short, arrogant, mischievous, alien, human, insane, smart or dumb – whatever and whoever they were, this Doctor treated everyone equally. He watched carefully, preferred to keep in the background, out of the way so he could work out what was going on and then find the best way to get done that which he thought should be done, usually by coaxing or manipulating others into action.
I became very focused on the story of Power of the Daleks, because my Nanna found it disconcerting and suspenseful. Over tea, after each episode, we would talk about what had happened and what it might mean and what might happen next. And what my brother would have liked.
We developed our favourite guest characters and wondered whether any of them would travel with the Doctor. Janley was our pick so when she was exterminated by the Daleks it was a bitter blow, like a friend had been killed.
Years later, I realised that this was all a tactic on my wise Nanna’s part. She got me to deal pretty comprehensively with my brother’s death through various Doctor Who notions: telling his photograph the on-going story, preparing me for the death of other characters in the series and then discussing that death and what it meant and how it felt. I didn’t know how she knew early on that I would like Janley, but she did; nor did I know how she knew that Janley would die, but she did. And she prepared me for it and she led me through it, but she also made me love the story more – because she made me see the virtues and defects of the different characters and she made me discuss them, look for clues about who was good, who was bad, who was evil, who was misguided, who might betray the Doctor or Polly or Ben.
So, throughout Power of the Daleks three things happened simultaneously: I became fascinated by the notion of storytelling and acting, I became aware that there were certain types of people and you could, with attention, work out which type any given person was, and the Doctor became my substitute father and my play-acting alter ego.
They were heady times. Life-affirming and life-shaping.
My Nanna was immediately drawn to Jamie in Highlanders and so was I. There was just something about him which was appealing and we both decided he was likely to die horribly. Like poor Janley. So, we were doubly thrilled when he not only survived but joined the TARDIS crew.
Change was everywhere. It was truly exciting. For about thirty minutes each week, as the days shortened and the darkness seemed internal and external, Troughton shone the light.
I remember particularly the scene from Underwater Menace where Troughton exposed Zaroff’s idiotic scheme to blow up Atlantis – it remains one of the most subtle and powerful pieces of acting I have ever seen from material that was, frankly, not that good.
At school, my friends and I would always recreate the week’s episode in the playground on Monday lunch. All the tough boys wanted to be Ben or the Daleks or the authority figures, straws were picked (always hesitatingly) to see who would be Polly but no one ever wanted to play the Doctor. They all did not like Hartnell’s new face and thought he was “wrong”. So, week after week I played the Doctor.
I don’t know that I was ever happier at school than during those three years.
My mother and sister came to visit the weekend Moonbase began. My sister delivered a ballet recital for one which finished about ten minutes before kick-off and so there was pandemonium in the house: Nanna whipping up scones and pots of tea, Mother sorting out ironing and my sister going over steps she was unhappy with from the recital, me on the sofa, literally, waiting for the TV to warm up properly so the signal is best and drumming my fingers on the wooden edge of the bookcase next to the sofa harder and harder as time marched on inexorably. My anxiety levels were high – could the noise not just stop please?
As the BBC Announcer readied audiences for the new adventure, three things happened at once: my sister wailed she wanted to practice more, my mother wanted to iron and wanted the television turned off (She did not like the new Hartnell face or, really, the entire premise of the programme and, partly, I think, she worried about how much I was wrapped up in it) and Nanna arrived with scones, tea, cream and jam.
The theme tune started up.
My sister: I want to practice.
Mother: Turn it off. It’s time for scones and conversation.
My sister headed for the TV. I started to cry.
Nanna: Sit down. (To my Mother) I watch this every week with him and his brother. (To my sister) Your brother. (To my Mother) Your son. We are going to watch this week too. Now. Quiet. Sit. Eat and drink. Quietly.
She took her place next to me, put me on her lap, patted the sofa for my sister to join us (which she did) and turned her attention to the screen.
And in silence we all watched the Doctor, Ben, Polly and Jamie start their adventure on the Moon.
No one ate anything or drank anything. My mother stopped ironing when Evans was shown to be the victim of the “spiderlines plague” (as we called it) and sat next to Nanna, my sister scurrying to her lap. Everyone screamed at the final reveal of what must have been a Cyberman but did not look like one.
What followed was the happiest night we had had as an almost together again family. Lots of chatter, fresh tea, how, what and why questions and suggestions. After a little while, my mother started crying and we all asked what was wrong. She shook her tousled hair and said, beaming, that she had not been this happy – and normal feeling – for a while. She was not a demonstrative women, Mother, but there and then she kissed and hugged my sister and I and squeezed us hard.
That night she sat looking for the TARDIS in the stars with me and she joined in the report to my brother’s photo, braiding my sister’s hair all the while. Nanna was very happy that night.
When she tucked me into bed that night, after Mother and my sister had gone, she asked me how I felt about the Cybermen.
Me: They are scary.
Nanna: I love them.
Nanna: Don’t worry – they won’t kill the Doctor this time.
Me: How do you know?
Nanna: Your brother won’t let it happen.
Mother watched all of Moonbase, and on the weeks she did not visit, she wrote to me about what had happened and what I thought. Nanna and I would discuss our thoughts and she would write for me, although she made me write at least three paragraphs myself.
I still have most of the letters. Sometimes, when I am missing my parents, missing my Nanna, I watch/listen to Moonbase and re-read the letters in between the episodes. It is unbelievably uplifting.
This is why Moonbase never features in any list of my favourite stories: it is unique. It has a place in my heart and mind which transcends notions such as good or bad television. It think it was just remarkable.
I got into a world of trouble when Macra Terror started: I dropped my cup of tea in shock when the opening titles changed and suddenly Troughton’s face swirled up and then dissipated. I was so excited I am reasonably sure a tiny bit of wee escaped into my underwear. Nanna was annoyed (about the tea, I don’t think she noticed the other) but could not stop smiling at my excitement.
Macra Terror scared me and so did Faceless Ones – both, weird and unusual stories but gripping. My mother quipped after part five of Faceless Ones:
“Well, I guess a flight overseas is off the agenda then…”
“Why?” I asked
My Mother and Nanna just laughed at me. It was years before I worked out why.
Ben and Polly’s departure took me by complete surprise. I loved them. And yet, I knew I liked Jamie more, but I wasn’t sure why. Somehow, he made the Doctor more complete. Ben and Polly were a team, and the Doctor and Jamie were a team – but together all four were also a team. I was sad to see them leave.
Evil of the Daleks started a run of stories (til the Dominators blip) I think is the best in the history of the programme. Troughton was effortlessly outstanding, mercurial and gentle – but decisive, fierce and masterful when he needed to be. I know he is thought of as the Cosmic Hobo – but to me he has always been the Paternal Magician.
Evil of the Daleks set a very high bar and converted a lot of school friend Troughton sceptics. For weeks we played Dizzy Daleks after school. And recreated the moment when the Doctor was sent through the archway to be given the Dalek factor. Evocative stuff.
During the break between seasons, my other Grandmother died. And so my immediate family were altogether for two weeks dealing with that. It was odd but comforting to be altogether, but my father was not quite ready. His grief was too all-consuming. He found it hard to look at my sister and not see my brother, her twin.
But, unknown to me, Nanna intervened. I still don’t know what she did or said, but on the night before she and I went home, Father came out to look at the stars with me. He said nothing – but that ten minutes spoke volumes as we scanned the heavens together. He cried – an impossible thing for a child to deal with, seeing their Father cry. All I could do was cry too. So there we were, crying silently, looking at the stars, searching for the TARDIS, which, at that moment seemed the greatest source of hope and healing anywhere.
And then three weeks later, Father and my older brother came back to live at our home and I had to leave my Nanna and rejoin my family. I was torn a little but Nanna told me firmly she would always be there, with me, and that she would watch Doctor Who and we could write to each other about the adventures.
The thing that is often forgotten these days is that in Troughton’s time, as in much of PG Doctor Who, by and large, the programme was televised when it was dark or getting dark outside – and so it was just that much easier for the stories to be downright scary and totally engrossing. At least, that is how is remember them. Just thrilling.
In episode three of Tomb of the Cyberman, this famous exchange occurs between the Doctor and Victoria:
The Doctor: You miss him very much, don’t you?
Victoria: It’s only when I close my eyes. I can still see him standing there, before those horrible Dalek creatures came to the house. He was a very kind man, I shall never forget him. Never.
The Doctor: No, of course you won’t. But, you know, the memory of him won’t always be a sad one.
Victoria: I think it will. You can’t understand, being so ancient.
The Doctor: Eh?
Victoria: I mean old.
The Doctor: Oh.
Victoria: You probably can’t remember your family.
The Doctor: Oh yes, I can when I want to. And that’s the point, really. I have to really want to, to bring them back in front of my eyes. The rest of the time they… they sleep in my mind and I forget. And so will you. Oh yes, you will . You’ll find there’s so much else to think about. To remember. Our lives are different to anybody else’s. That’s the exciting thing, that nobody in the universe can do what we’re doing.
On the following Tuesday, I received a postcard from my Nanna which simply said:
I have that postcard still. I look at it pretty much every day – and remember.
What followed then was just a riot of new alien menaces, wonderful characters, exciting situations and death, death, death. People died a lot – which made the need for the Doctor’s intervention all the more acute. The Cybermen, the Yeti, the Ice Warriors, Salamandar, the Yeti again, the Seaweed creature and the Cybermen – the journey with Victoria to Zoe was a glorious ride.
The Yeti stories really captured my imagination. I wanted a Yeti of my own! Web of Fear had me on the edge of my seat for six weeks and still represents a high water mark in story-telling for me.
I really liked Victoria, and she featured in most of my all-time favourite stories, but I adored Zoe from the get-go. And she seemed a more perfect fit with the Paternal Magician. She challenged him intellectually in a way which neither Jamie nor Victoria could do; she was bossy, funny and fallible. And Troughton responded by fathering her in a different way.
I never forgot this. When my children came, it wasn’t Doctor Spock I turned too, but Doctor Who. Troughton showed me how to have fun with children but not indulge them or spoil them; how to identify and play to their individual strengths; how to help them with their perceived weaknesses and let them feel part of a team; how to be firm but kind; how to get along easily with others but always to be aware of the possibility of danger or betrayal; Web of Fear showed clearly the dangers of keeping information from them, of not trusting them. How to be their friend and their protector. But always with geniality. No harsh words.
Victoria was a gentle simple soul torn from her family, her home, her time zone by the Daleks, her father slaughtered by them. She was broken when her journeys began and the Doctor set about fixing her. She was usually scared and worried, but she was plucky and determined too and her sense of adventure improved as she went along, helped no end by Jamie falling in love with her. But, in the end, it was just too much and she needed normality. And the Doctor knew that leaving her behind after Fury From The Deep was utterly the right thing to do for her. It was the most moving farewell to a companion to date.
Zoe, on the other hand, was a tricksy, smarty-pants, gorgeous minx – and she knew it and her sense of adventure, once awoken by the events of Wheel in Space, was almost as great as the Doctor’s. More Jamie’s wee sister than yon lover lassie, she was a force to be reckoned with and he was unafraid to challenge the Doctor’s views, assumptions or decisions. Not since Ian and Barbara had there been a dynamic close to this one. It was captivating – and each of Troughton, Padbury and Hines savoured every moment and seemed to have the best time making their trio shine with polished ease.
When Invasion came around, I was unfeasibly excited: Cybermen, a malevolent human, a link to the Moon, insane Cybermen, the march down the steps near St Paul’s, the return of the Brigadier and the establishment of UNIT, Benton, Zoe destroying Vaughn’s computer and calculating the missile trajectory which would destroy the Cyberfleet, an invisibility switch for the TARDIS, Troughton jumping in the air as bazookas were fired, Jamie trapped in a pod with a writhing, awakening Cyberman. It was eight weeks of utter joy.
I don’t know when it was, exactly, but round about this time Troughton’s decision to retire from the role was announced. It shattered me.
But, at almost exactly the same time, two other extraordinary things happened. First, my Nanna organised a meeting, for afternoon tea, with Pamela Davey who played Janley in Power of the Daleks. She was an old friend of my Nanna, through her mother, and that was why Nanna had known about Janley’s role and fate in Power of the Daleks. Janely mesmerised me with stories about Troughton on set, how he acted, the choices he made and how he rehearsed. Listening to her was as foreign and exotic an experience as landing on Vortis. But it set my heart racing.
The second: Nanna told me that she had signed me up for Drama school. I was to go and learn the craft, the underpinning notions, the techniques, the skills – my Nanna decided that she would pay for that, because she wanted me to get to grips entirely with the world which so captivated me through Doctor Who.
I can remember being light – headed, almost giddy with incomprehension. My fantasy word with the Doctor came clashing into juxtaposition with the real world of acting, drama and the concept of theatre. Afternoon tea with Janley changed everything in my life – again.
I have written elsewhere on these pages about War Games, but it is, in many ways, impossible to adequately express what it meant at that time to discover there were Time Lords and War Lords and a War Chief; that the Doctor was a Time Lord who had run away from his home because he people would not help those who needed help, who would not fight evil wherever it was found; that the Time Lords could slow time down, could erase people from Time as if they had never existed and could execute the Doctor: see Regeneration
And then he was gone. Troughton, my Doctor, gone – forever. Or so it seemed.
It is wrong to say that I experienced more grief over the loss of Troughton than I did over the loss of my own brother, but it is true that the way I dealt with losing my brother was by investing in the Second Doctor. And losing him shocked and profoundly disturbed me, especially as I lost Jamie and Zoe too.
It seems childish, silly and impossible to believe, thinking about it at this distance, and yet…it is true. The Time Lords executing Troughton nearly put me into a spiral of depression.
But Nanna had seen it coming and the moment was prepared for.
Being at drama classes meant that the others there were excited about the change, about what the possibilities for a new Doctor might mean. They wanted the change because of the opportunity it offered.
I was confused – quite lost really. Conflicted, certainly.
Then a truly magical thing happened: The Six Wives of Henry VIII was broadcast – and there was Troughton, alive and kicking, looking something like the Doctor but actually completely different. His Thomas Howard had nothing to do with the Second Doctor – he was ruthless, politically motivated, self-serving and hideous. Amazing!
This was January 1, 1970, 6 months after War Games ended and two days before Spearhead from Space started. (I think that is right anyway)
This defined “real acting” for me. Troughton epitomised it – he might be one man but he could create wildly disparate characters that pulsed with truth and insight.
So drama classes took on a new importance. A new frisson. A new hope.
I said that Hartnell had taught me self-confidence and a real sense of right and wrong. Troughton built on that in every sense. But his special gift was to demonstrate the joy that a proper zest for travel, for friendship and for standing up for what was right could bring. To always look for the best in any person or situation. And, of course, to inspire a career in theatre and television.
Encouraged by that meeting with Janley, and with my Nanna’s urging, I wrote to Troughton care of the BBC. I wanted to tell him what his Doctor meant to me, how he had helped me.
He wrote back – spidery handwriting on blue paper, a letter full of self-deprecation but profuse with thanks for believing in “the story of my Doctor”. He sent me four photos too, all of which he had autographed and on which he had inscribed personal messages.
It meant so much to receive that thoughtful and kind reply.
But, truly, what else should I expect from the Paternal Magician?