In the previous articles in this series we looked at some of the First Doctor cliffhangers, and we have covered the most obvious approaches: the ones that reveal the monster and the ones that place the Doctor and/or his companions in danger. A natural extension of the latter approach is to place somebody else in danger, which has to be done with some degree of care. There is little point having a cliffhanger which is all about whether a guest character will survive or not, if that character has not been established sufficiently for that to matter, and inevitably examples of this kind of episode ending tend to be relatively weak. In The Sensorites we have Carol kidnapped, but that happens at the end of the fifth episode, so she is well-established at that point. Then, at the end of the third episode of The Smugglers, a knife is thrown into Kewper’s back and Polly screams at the sound of a gunshot. This works on several levels, but mainly it is just a lot of violence going on. Cliffhangers often work on multiple levels. Sometimes there can be a threat not just to an individual person but also an entire planet, with examples of those kinds of cliffhangers in The Dalek Invasion of Earth and Galaxy 4.
That last example brings us onto the third really big category of cliffhangers during the Hartnell era. Not everything is about a monster reveal, or somebody in some kind of immediate danger. Galaxy 4 provides us with what I will term the game changer cliffhanger:
STEVEN: Why is that that? The Drahvins did say fourteen dawns.
DOCTOR: Two dawns! Tomorrow is the last day this planet will ever see.
Our first strong example of this is the fourth episode of The Daleks, when it is revealed that the fluid link is still in the city. In The Space Museum, the Doctor and his companions gain a physical presence at the end of the first episode. Another game changer that completely subverts the danger-cliffhanger is the fifth episode of The Chase. The Mechanoid actually rescues the Doctor and his companions; without it they would be at the mercy of the Daleks, so this is a moment of salvation. But the story is moving on to something different and the robot’s motivations are mysterious. Probably the best-remembered game-changer cliffhanger is at the end of the third episode of The Time Meddler, and it’s a stunning one, functioning as a game changer for the entire series, not just the individual story:
It’s a TARDIS. The Monk’s got a TARDIS!
In The Massacre we get two game changers: the reveal of the Abbot and at the end of the story the Doctor kidnapping Dodo, echoing the very first cliffhanger ending. The cliffhanger between stories tends to be a very specific form of the game-changer. The approach is generally to tease the next story, such as the Daleks turning up at the end of The Space Museum, or Garvey chanting “I must kill” at the end of Galaxy 4. The end of Mission to the Unknown is particularly unusual because it is a game-changer (the Daleks are putting together a super team of universe conquerors) that doesn’t get picked up again for a month. The Sensorites ends with a very contrived game-changer:
DOCTOR: Since you are so dissatisfied, my boy, you can get off the ship. At the very next place we stop, I shall take you off myself, and that is quite final.
The game changer cliffhanger often changes the game in one very specific way: we have reached a moment of resolution within the story, and then the cliffhanger pulls out the rug from under our feet and says “it’s not over yet”! The definitive example is the second episode of The Ark, with the Doctor and his companions taking off in the TARDIS, arriving back in the same place unexpectedly, but a different time, and the big reveal of the Monoid statue. The example mentioned above from The Daleks, with the fluid link still in the Dalek city, works on the same level, as does the third episode of An Unearthly Child with the Doctor and his companions unable to get back to the TARDIS. The Chase has a weak version where it seems to be trying to do this, but just reiterates that the Daleks are going to keep on chasing the Doctor through time, at the end of the second episode, having resolved all the Aridius stuff. The Celestial Toymaker ends with a red herring example, fooling us into thinking the story is not over when it had appeared to be resolved, with the Doctor in pain after chewing the Toymaker’s sweet.
A subset of the game-changer is simply the threat level getting bigger, such as the second episode of The Tenth Planet with the Cybermen ships on their way to invade. Towards the end of the Hartnell era we get two stories that are generally considered to be ahead of their time, foreshadowing the Troughton era: The War Machines and The Tenth Planet. Both of them have good examples of a cliffhanger that is a mystery surrounding the Doctor. At the end of the third episode of The War Machines the Doctor stands up to the War Machine when everyone else is taking cover. This is far more than just a danger to the Doctor. He is doing something brave and mysterious, and obviously has some kind of a plan. It asks the question of the viewers: what is going on with the Doctor? Then in The Tenth Planet we get the ultimate example of this, with the Doctor’s regeneration. Now that’s a cliffhanger.
…but it’s not necessarily the most audacious episode ending in the Hartnell era. We also get this moment, at the end of the seventh episode of The Daleks’ Master Plan:
Incidentally, a Happy Christmas to all of you at home!
The fictional world of Doctor Who collapses in on itself when the Doctor breaks the fourth wall. No, that’s a cliffhanger!
Next time we’ll be looking at the Troughton era and… wait, what’s that? Aaarrrghhhh no! What’s that sink plunger doing there? How many dawns do we have until the next article? Hey, you at home looking at your screen… nooooooooooooooo! RP