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
Hi everybody. Still with me? Good. After last episode I wasn’t sure, but it appears that all twelve of you are still here.
I think it’s safe to say last episode was not the show’s finest hour. There was a killer jungle, tons of booby traps, and a scraggly old man who died seconds after making his debut. It was heavy on weirdness, remarkably light on narrative coherence and to top it all off the Doctor didn’t even bother showing up. Fortunately, after last week’s plot by way of madlibs, writer Terry Nation scales things way back, giving us a solid episode with much tighter plotting.
Quick note, no Doctor this week either. Apparently, William Hartnell was on vacation and they just decided to write him out for a few weeks. Go figure.
Serial 5, Episode 4: The Snows of Terror
Having teleported away from the killer jungle, Ian and Barbara find themselves stranded on the side of a cold, desolate mountain. As the frigid climate gets the better of them, they promptly pass out in a patch of unconvincing snow.
You might be asking why they don’t use their travel dials to just port someplace new, but considering last episode featured a whispering jungle, let’s just agree to go with it.
She comes to several hours later and finds herself in a small cabin. Which seems like pretty much the best thing that could have happened given the circumstances. Then she meets her savior.
Cue Dueling Banjos.
Now, just in case you were beginning to feel some small twinge of guilt for judging the man by his appearance, he quickly shatters that by going into full-on perv mode, rubbing Barbara’s hand to, um, restore circulation.
Then he asks if she’s afraid of him. When she answers no, he offers the following ice breaker, “Last year I broke the back of a wolf with my bare hands, I’m Vasor.” Which has got to be, hands down, the best pickup line of all time.
Vasor steps away for a moment–presumably to go check his stock of Rohypnol–and Barbara goes over and awakens Ian.
Vasor returns with two bowls of warm liquid and Ian thanks him for saving them from the cold.
“The wolves would have eaten you first.”
Oh, Vasor your wit is as boundless as your beard.
For some reason that doesn’t stop the conversation dead in its tracks and they keep right on talking. Vasor mentions a stranger helped him bring them both back to the cabin and Ian and Barbara figure out that it must be Altos. They also terse out the fact that Susan and Sabetha are in a cave somewhere in the mountains.
Hearing that, Ian goes into full on action hero mode, trading his travel dial to Vasor for a fur cloak and bag, then plunging out into the snowstorm alone, leaving Barbara in the grip of a potential serial killer.
Ian may be great at many things, but a master of subtext he is not.
With Ian gone all of three minutes, Vasor marks the occasion by getting even more sexually aggressive.
“We’re alone, eh?” In case that was too subtle, he follows it up by pointing out “The door will keep anything out…or in.”
Then, stopping just shy of donning a T-shirt with the words “Registered Sex Offender” across the front, Vasor gets up to clear away the dishes.
With him gone, Barbara finds the other micro-keys in a drawer and realizes Vasor stole them from Susan and Sabetha.
When she confronts him with it, Vasor begins to attack her, taunting her that Ian won’t be returning.
Sure enough, out in the cold, Ian finds Altos.
After helping to revive him, Ian realizes that the bag Vasor gave him is full of raw meat. Wolf howls sound in the distance, and the two embark on a mad dash back to the cabin, getting there just in time to stop Vasor from doing things I’d rather not think about.
Now that the cat’s out of the bag concerning their other companions, Ian forces Vasor to take them to the cave where he left Susan and Sabetha.
Cut to that very same cave where the two girls search for resources, stumbling down a cavern that leads them further and further into the mountain.
Ian and crew show up and take the exact same path, despite Vasor’s warning that the cave contains demons.
Eventually, the girls stumble on a rope bridge suspended over a chasm and after climbing across, they discover a passage guarded by four immobile men in medieval armor.
That’s just about the time Ian and friends catch up to them, but in the excitement, they lose sight of Vasor who drops the rope bridge behind them, stranding them on the other side of the chasm.
Back in the guard room, they find the next micro-key suspended in a thick block of ice set between the frozen warriors.
Surprise, a nearby valve heats up the ice, causing it to melt.
With that settled, the group sets about rebuilding the bridge by lashing together a series of logs.
Meanwhile, inside the cave, the ice has finally melted giving them access to the key. Unfortunately, it also brings the guards back to life who, like any good, God-fearing men from the Middle Ages, respond by stabbing everything in sight.
Susan gets across the makeshift bridge, pulls the rope bridge back up and the others escape. Ian drops the bridge behind him stranding the knights of Stabbington on the other side
Meanwhile, back in his cabin Vasor is bathing in the afterglow of a day well spent. Five deaths, one near rape and it’s only Tuesday.
Alas, Ian and company show up moments later to crash his pleasant evening. They take back their travel dials, along with the other micro-keys, just as the mysterious knights begin hacking away at the outside of the cabin.
Then, in his final moment of treachery Vasor takes Susan hostage, only to earn a sword through the chest. The group teleports away, just as the killer knights break through the door.
From there we cut to what appears to be a department store sales floor. Ian is there alone, standing before a glass case with an unconscious man lying next to him on the ground. Ian takes a step toward the case, only to get coldcocked from behind. The attacker puts a club in Ian’s hand, then goes over to the glass case and steals a jewel from inside, tripping an alarm and leaving Ian to take the blame. It’s a hell of a cliffhanger, one that makes me genuinely curious where this is all going.
Hats off this episode to Francis de Wolff as Vasor. Normally, the guest stars on this show deliver two kinds of performances, overblown and wooden. No matter what they’re playing, they all sound the same.
De Wolff’s another beast entirely, a solid character actor that nails the appropriate sense of seediness.
It’s funny that after 24 episodes of the crew crossing swords with aliens and killer robots, the first truly menacing villain is a stocky, bearded redneck. I guess it goes to show that the more grounded you make things, the better it works.
Good pacing this time around too. The episode really chugs along without any of the usual narrative dead ends or exposition dumps. I guess technically it doesn’t really make much sense. Who are those knights and why is the key encased in ice? Still, in terms of mood and pacing, it’s one of the strongest episodes so far.
Well, that’s if for now. Tune in next week to find out if Ian will survive the Sentence of Death. Oh, and who knows, one of these days the actual Doctor might put in an appearance again too, you know, seeing as how it’s his show and all.