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Doctor Who class notes: What I learned about the Second Doctor, Cybermen and the BBC

Syracuse Post-Standard culture reporter, Katrina Tulloch, continues her "class notes" coverage of Who Class with key takeaways from the first public offering of the course in the spring of 2015.

Tulloch writes:

SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- Last night's "glancing" snowfall deterred few from attending Doctor Who class at Syracuse University.

Before the lecture and between the screenings, Professor Anthony Rotolo passed out prizes (like a 3D-printed Dalek!) for the best class tweets and best cosplay costume.

Rowan Montgomery of Clay, N.Y. won a recorder (like the one the Second Doctor plays) for dressing up like the Eleventh Doctor, complete with tally marks on her face to fight the Silence. Nice work, Rowan, and keep it up, Rowan's parents. You're raising your kid right.

Every week, I post three cool things I learned in the #WhoClass, for the pop culture junkies and Whovians out there. Geronimo!

First Regeneration, Second Doctor

Approaching the mid and late 1960s, "Doctor Who" rose swiftly in popularity. Change was in the air and the term "Dalekmania" was coined about the same time as "Beatlemania." Daleks even graced the cover of "Radio Times" in the U.K.

With the show's popularity came a parade of new producers with plenty of new ideas. Rumors swirled among both staffers and viewers that William Hartnell was too old and sick to keep playing the Doctor.

"It became clear the show would not progress with [Hartnell]," Rotolo said. "On set, he didn't have lots of friends."

Remarkably, the writers and producers killed off Hartnell's Doctor, but the show wasn't canceled. In 1966, there were no day-after recaps. There was no live-tweet analysis. There was no context for the Doctor's death.

"They didn't know what that moment would become to the series," Rotolo said. "All they really did was recast the part. They needed a sci-fi way to deal with it."

The producers' "sci-fi" solution was to hire a new actor.

Patrick Troughton took over the lead role, and played the Doctor completely differently from 1966 to 1969. He's a younger, recorder-playing Doctor who accessorizes with plaid pants, a bow tie and sometimes a cape.

"It's not just a new Doctor, it's a new show," Rotolo said.

Hartnell played the Doctor like a stern, old man. He's a grandfather, whisking away his young granddaughter on adventures. The relationship reflects that of "The Wizard of Oz" and Dorothy, or Prospero and Miranda in "The Tempest."

Nicknamed the "Cosmic Hobo," Troughton's Doctor is impish, playful and funny. He teases and outwits his enemies. Traveling with this Doctor is fun...and voluntary. Companions join because they want to.

For the first time, the Doctor's companions during the regeneration (Ben and Polly) serve as the continuity between Doctors. They help explain why the Doctor looks and acts differently.

In the "Tomb of the Cybermen," there's a moment when Troughton's Doctor asks his young companion, Victoria, if she's happy. A much warmer, caring relationship develops between the Doctor and his companion, like a father and daughter or student and mentor.

Contrastingly, when companions Ian and Barbara say they want to go home, Hartnell's Doctor calls them idiots.

Troughton was heralded as brilliant. He's been called the father of the modern Doctor, since all portrayals ever since have been influenced by him.

The BBC drops the ball

Sadly, much of Troughton's "brilliant" work doesn't exist for us to watch.

Lots of early "Doctor Who" episodes are lost because the BBC didn't keep them. In the 1960s and 1970s, they destroyed or taped over original film or videotape copies to save space or money. As one classmate tweeted, "The BBC forgot back up to the Cloud."

"There was no such concept of reruns or streaming at that time," Rotolo said.

This was regular practice for companies to destroy programs after airing them. How could the BBC have known this little sci-fi series would develop such a rabid fan base in the next five decades?

Luckily, many copies were recovered from outside sources, like overseas broadcasts. Some shows have even been pieced together using parts of footage, audio (recorded by fans) and transmission photos called tele-snaps, which served to boost portfolios for actors and producers.

Remember, this all happened before VCR recording.

With those pieces, the BBC commissioned animators to fill in the blanks. We watched one of those animated episodes in class, called The Tenth Planet. It's the introduction of a frightening new villain which went on to become nearly as iconic as the Daleks.


The Cybermen, a race of cyborg villains, first appear in The Tenth Planet serial. They're responsible for the First Doctor's "death" and regeneration.

When the Cybermen first debut, they're terrifying. Rotolo puts them on par with the Weeping Angels, a notoriously frightening "Who" monster introduced in 2007.

The Cybermen are humanoid, but alter themselves until they have few, if any, remaining organic parts. They retain human brains, but become horrifying shells of what they once were, devoid of all human emotion and values.

They capitalized on the threat of mixing man and machine at a time when prostheses or "spare-part" surgery was developing rapidly.

In class we watched the episode "Tomb of the Cybermen." It was thought to be lost, then recovered in 1990s. Eleventh Doctor Matt Smith noted Troughton's performance in this episode as a direct influence for his own interpretation of character.

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