Jo has been Tardis shopping. After picking out a few…well, quite a lot, actually – of his “groovy outfits”, she emerges to find an empty control room. She checks the scanner and atmosphere, while the door mysteriously opens, unsolicited.
Wandering out in search of the missing Doctor, she discovers the Tardis has landed in a long abandoned research center filled with skeletons in lab coats…
Regular Third Eye readers are likely aware that my main Doctor is Jon Pertwee.
While his era ended well before my time and discovery of the series with Tom Baker reruns back in the early to mid 80’s, even the barest of exposure back in those hoary days of yore (our PBS station briefly aired Pertwee’s Three Doctors and Green Death before transitioning to the more current Peter Davison run) was enough to sell me.
Unfairly maligned by some quarters as the “sellout” who worked hand in hand with “the Man”, the reality of the situation was something quite different.
Forced by the Timelords into exile on Earth, the Pertwee Doctor was very much a man caged. Boxed in by directorial aegis to a present day, familiar locale milieu, this was not the time travelling, universe spanning Doctor the others were free to live as. While each and every one of them displayed an inordinate fondness for the big blue marble and third planet in orbit of Sol, his was the only one to be forcibly grounded – and this applies in both senses of the term.
He did not join forces with the military out of a sense of duty, jingoism or a great love for the petty workings and powerplay maneuvering of governments. Neither did he ever tolerate or endorse the blustering bull in a china shop use of force as some warped “solution” to problems.
He railed incessantly against warfare and the malfeasance of corporate industrial types, many of whom were the direct villains of the piece or pawns of The Master’s many schemes.
He was constantly butting heads both loudly and vigorously with bureaucracy and chain of command of all stripe, vilifying even those who eventually came to be close personal friends for their propensity to shortsightedness and bullheadedness.
The inability to see the bigger picture or one’s place in the grand scheme of things was a constant source of often violent frustration, resulting in (at best) incessant sniping and snide sarcasm, and more often, direct opposition to any possessed of such a limited and generally inane worldview. He had little patience for the thickheaded and small minded.
And perhaps most importantly, a fact that critics of the Pertwee run tend to miss: he never joined them at all.
His was a man motivated to a strong extent by expediency – his overarching aim was to repair his Tardis console to remove the restrictions placed on it by the forces of (Gallifreyan) officialdom. And if British officialdom was the (rather loose, more or less hands off) means to provide him the tools to accomplish this, then he was going to utilize that tool to it’s fullest extent, make no mistake.
But his was a highly independent and often tenuous association. Beyond the necessary equipment and locale, he also demanded an assistant, which he got (twice). When he needed an “in”, he utilized the name drop of his effective ‘partners’. He also got muscle, backup and assistance in investigation in the course of his affairs as needed. In return, he played the role of unofficial “advisor”, protected more or less by his relations with one man, Brigadier Lethbridge Stuart – whom he’d already met and worked with in a nigh-identical capacity in his Pat Troughton incarnation, mind!
If this is “working for” or being “under the thumb of” officialdom, then it’s certainly my idea thereof – I get what I need from you in every respect, and maybe I’ll give you a spot of assistance or advice in return. Quite a working relationship!
As with the eventual progression of the Colin Baker incarnation, Pertwee’s Doctor softened along the way, from the bristly, resentful and directly oppositional role he played in the earlier Liz Shaw era serials to a much warmer, more dashing figure who would become the centerpiece of a sort of ersatz family.
While the Avengers feel of Pertwee’s swashbuckling “man of action” take on the Doctor is more than apparent (and much welcome as counterpoint to his more cerebral leanings), it is primarily this aspect that viewers tend to walk away with from his tenure as Timelord. With the Brig, Sgt. Benton and the fallible Captain Mike Yates, Pertwee and his expanded circle of effective companions wound up being quite close and familial, with bouts of genuine emotion between the actors behind the scenes playing out more obviously than one might expect before the cameras.
And at the center of this paradigm shift was Katy Manning, whose loveably earnest but often dizzy Jo Grant provided not only eye candy (Manning was not only cute, but the most fashionable of all Doctor Who companions – only Mary Tamm’s Romana, with her elegant 1930’s Hollywood numbers, even came close) but a locus that brought out the protective instincts in the otherwise testosterone-centric UNIT/Doctor pairing. Every male in the cast can be seen looking after her throughout the run, and few so much as Pertwee’s Doctor himself.
And in return, she brought a feminine warmth and wink-of-the-eye soft heartedness that saw straight through the bluster and humanized each and every one of them. Let’s face it: was even the much beloved Jamie as much of a cuddly teddybear as Benton…Yates…the Brig…or Pertwee himself, in the end? Then go back and watch those first six stories with Caroline John’s Liz Shaw, which for all their other merits, are markedly brusque and icy cold. It all comes down to Jo, in the end.
Putting aside his physicality and touches of derring-do for the time being and speaking with admittedly subjective undertones here, it is Pertwee’s Doctor, not Baker’s (and certainly not, as some would have it, Tennant’s!) who was the true sine qua non of the role.
With his keen intellectual bent, pronounced sensibility of social justice and the willingness to stand up and fight for it, alongside a brusque impatience for officialdom and those too stupid to see a problem for what it is (and deal with it accordingly), Pertwee’s Doctor was both haughty and street level, icily logical and passionately emotional, alien and human all at once.
He was the one Doctor you knew you could count on to get things done – there were no hidden agendas or subtexts (unless you count his desire to break the shackles of the Timelord exile – and even then, when he finally was able to travel through time and space again, did he not spend much of his remaining tenure right back on Earth, with UNIT?)
Say all you will about Troughton’s farewell to Jamie and Zoe…Tom Baker’s to Sarah Jane…Davison’s “brave heart, Tegan”. The single most emotional moment in Who was Pertwee’s farewell to Jo at the finale of The Green Death. Moreover, it carried…you could see the effects on the man and his character throughout his somewhat uncomfortable run alongside Sarah Jane. It was his parting gift to Jo from the aforementioned episode, in fact, that caused his eventual death and regeneration (in Planet of the Spiders)! How profound a loss was that? Can you in all honesty name another companion departure resulting in quite this level of impact?
And so we come to this month’s installment of The Companion Chronicles: Ghost in the Machine, featuring Katy Manning returning to essay the role of one of my personal all time favorite companions, Jo Grant.
Katy has been involved with Big Finish before, of course, but mainly playing a rather different role: that of the ditzy, somewhat brassy Iris Wildthyme, who travels time and space in a flying hippie van. From the little I’ve heard, it’s pretty silly, if good fun for those so inclined – but a very different animal than Jo.
Author Jonathan Morris comes up with an interesting conceit for Jo’s solo adventure here, which also serves as de facto explanation for the soliloquizing narration so often demanded by the Companion Chronicles line. The absent Doctor (who she discovers in an apparent state of suspended animation outside the Tardis) leaves behind a tape recorder and a vague note, which Jo takes to mean that he wants her to record her movements and experiences.
But why is there a more sinister “second voice” on playback, which seems to keep altering the recording…perhaps even responding to what she says?
This is yet another eerie, claustrophobic tale similar to Spaceport Fear, but exponentially moreso, with Jo alone in the dark, sealed in underground within a very Resident Evil-like milieu of scientific experiments gone wrong.
There are aspects of earlier Big Finish favorites like The Whispers of Terror and The Demons of Red Lodge’s ‘Entropy Composition’ story, but Ghost in the Machine takes a right turn into pure horror territory, making it a perfect offering for Halloween.
Interestingly, this one’s directed by none other than Louise Jameson (that’s right, Leela herself!) in what I believe to be her first directorial effort. If so, the lady is certainly off to a promising start.
Regular music/sound design contributors Richard Fox and Lauren Yason deliver another round of creepy musique concrete mixed with more standard string quartet arrangements – it’s never in your face, and sets the appropriate mood.
Without giving too much away about the plot itself, suffice to say that Ghost in the Machine gives a new and unintended meaning to that old corporate slogan, “is it live, or is it Memorex?”
For those of us who’ve lived through those times, Morris’ script brings back a strong taste of the 70’s, 80’s and early 90’s, calling to mind the simultaneous wonder and horror of the magnetic recording medium and the problems inherent to a fragile, limited lifespan storage format.
It’s fascinating concept sci-fi/horror, clever in the sense where you have to scratch your head in admiring disbelief, wondering who the hell would think of this stuff… but once heard, it all seems so perfectly obvious, you have to wonder how no one had tried this before.
Damian Lynch delivers a respectable performance as the deceased research scientist Benjamin Chikoto, but his take on Jon’s Doctor isn’t quite there. While Morris certainly appears to have scripted some of Pertwee’s more typical mannerisms and quirks of language, Lynch’s delivery is neither clipped or aggressive enough to approximate the elder statesman’s gravelly tones. It’s just too clean…too nice.
Katy herself, while obviously a good four decades on from her youthful lark with the Barry Letts production of Who, clearly still recalls and relishes the role of her salad days, and this comes very much across in her work herein. There’s a bit of back and forth with both Manning and Lynch trading voices and such, but that’s more detail than I care to delve into in this forum – we have to leave some delights for the listener to discover, after all.