Weighing in at an impressive 800 episodes, Doctor Who has been entertaining audiences for the past 50 years. Yet, despite this vast backlog of content, I know next to nothing about the actual series. For that reason, I’ve decided to watch this unusual show from the beginning, to discover the source of its unique appeal. Come with me as I tackle this daunting sci-fi phenomena from the very beginning in The Complete Doctor Who.
Warning: the following contains spoilers
Last time, we got our best best episode yet. It had solid direction, a decent script, and was driven by a genuinely off-putting threat. This week, not so much.
Now, far be it from me to talk smack about Terry Nation. Dude created the Daleks after all. But, I think we can all agree that sometimes even the most reliable people still occasionally fall asleep at the wheel. And on that note, I give you…
Episode 3: The Screaming Jungle
We start on a pretty promising note, with Susan sinking to the ground, reacting to some horrible noise with her hands clamped over her ears.
Stranger still, no one else can hear what she’s reacting to. It’s an effective image, one of those great “what the hell’s happening moments” that hooks you in from the start.
Oh, and a quick note before we go any further, the Doctor’s completely absent this week, leaving us with Ian, Barbara, and Susan, along with Altos and Sebetha, their two tagalongs from last time.
So, as Susan descends into her usual hysterics, Ian says screw it and takes off exploring, leaving Barbara the unenviable task of trying to calm Susan down.
They have a little heart to heart, then just as Susan’s starting to level off, they get attacked by a bunch of vines. Susan flips out again, while Barbara insists that the plants couldn’t very well be attacking them because, well that would be crazy right? Totally out of place in a rational world ruled by robots and time lords.
Having just fought off a bunch of killer plants, Barbara does what any sane individual would and plunges into the jungle alone. Instead of more killer vines though, she hits a dead end guarded by what appears to a statue of Snagglepuss.
Sitting on top of the statue, Barbara finds the micro-key, but when she climbs up to grab it, the statue goes into full-on Fratboy mode and decides to grope her while the whole wall turns into a secret door.
That’s right, ANOTHER secret door. What is it with this scriptwriter and hidden panels, does he get a bonus for each one he works into the story?
Meanwhile, Ian gets back with the others and begins a frantic search for a way in. He also finds the micro-key lying on the ground. Only thing is, it’s not actually the micro-key, but some kind of cheap forgery.
After far too long, Ian puts two and two together and realizes maybe he should just do like Barbara and climb up on the statue since that’s what triggered it in the first place. Sure enough, soon as he hops aboard, the statue gets all grabby and Ian finds himself on the other side of the wall. As he steps out, we get what is easily the best moment of the episode, in which he steps on a secret panel, causing a nearby statue to try and kill him with an ax. Then, just at the last moment, Barbara warns him and he ducks out of the way.
As the two of them compare notes, they stumble upon yet ANOTHER immobile door. Ian goes off to look for a way in, but as soon as he leaves some shabby old man just straight up opens the door, letting Barbara in.
She makes it all of four steps, then gets captured by a net.
Meanwhile Ian has found a pretty handsome pickaxe, but when he goes to pick it up, SURPRISE, a set of iron bars slams down behind him.
Oh, shame on you Ian, falling for the old pickax on a chain bit.
Then, because there really haven’t been enough booby traps yet, a spiked ceiling beings lowering itself toward Barbara.
The shabby old man steps in and stops it and they share an exposition-laden conversation where she reveals to him that Arbitan sent them to retrieve the keys.
Ian breaks out of ax jail and comes running just in time for old Shabby to get strangled by a plant.
The old man lies down, begins ranting about the jungle, then promptly dies after spitting out a random selection of numbers and letters.
Poor old Shabby, your dirty clothes and unkempt facial hair will never be forgotten.
Except by Ian and Barbara who pull a blanket over his head, then immediately proceed to ransack his place looking for the micro-key.
They fumble around for a while in his lab when they’re interrupted suddenly by a series of strange whispers. Then, the jungle comes alive and starts attacking them through windows.
In the midst of all this, Ian works out that the man’s dying words were a chemical code. They find the key inside a vial marked with the same code. Then, they zip off with their time dials and find themselves in the midst of some arctic climate. And that’s where it ends?!
Seriously, what the hell is going on with this episode? Was it written using madlibs? The elements just seem to have been thrown together at random. From killer plants to booby traps to a weird old man who dies literally moments after being introduced and none of it’s ever explained. We do get some vague dialogue concerning a nature enhancer, but that’s about it. Why does the jungle whisper? Who is the old man and why is he out here in the middle of nowhere? And while we’re at it, where does he get those fantastic traps?
Sadly, Mr. Nation can’t be bothered to tell us. Instead, Ian and Barbara spend roughly twenty-three minutes trying to circumvent not one, but two locked doors. Not exactly the stuff of great drama.
Maybe the Doctor was right to sit this one out.
Well, tune in next time for The Snows of Terror, featuring whispering flakes of killer snow or something.