Cliffhangers: Second Doctor 1

zaroffIt’s down there, in the darkness, in the pipeline, waiting.

Last time we looked at the First Doctor cliffhangers, and identified three main ways to end an episode leaving us wanting more: placing somebody in danger, the monster reveal, and the game-changer.  There are also various subsets, such as somebody telling us the plot in some way, usually doom-laden.  The above example is a Troughton episode doing just that, a quote from Van Lutyens from the second episode of Fury from the Deep.  It is an iconic example, but more often the tell-us-not-show-us cliffhanger tends to be weak.  Later in the same story we get this, much more contrived example, from the Doctor:

It’s begun. The battle of the giants.

This technique tends to be more effective when it is a monster or villain saying the doom-laden words to end the episode, such as the Daleks (“We will get our power”, “Any delay will result in death… there will be no delay”) or, I suppose, Zaroff (“Nothing in the world can stop me now!”).  At its most contrived, the say-it cliffhanger occurs between stories, such as the fourth episode of The Underwater Menace:

I’m very sorry, everybody, but I’m afraid the TARDIS is out of control!

This feels very much like a holdover from the Hartnell era, and there are lots of those to start the Troughton era.  I have mentioned when writing about the individual stories that the first few Troughton stories are examples of throwing the Second Doctor into First Doctor situations and seeing how he handles them in contrast.  This is extended to the cliffhangers, which tend to be familiar approaches from the Hartnell era.  Our very first Troughton cliffhanger is what we identified as a bit-of-a-monster-reveal, right back at the beginning of the Hartnell era, most famously with the Dalek plunger, but also with the caveman’s shadow that functions in the same way.  Here we get a Dalek mutant scuttling across the floor at the end of the first episode of The Power of the Daleks.  The Highlanders gives us very traditional cliffhangers for all three episode endings, and they are all the same idea: some kind of danger to the companion.  So we get Polly falling into the animal trap and somebody with a knife appearing overhead (Ep 1), Trask throwing a man overboard and threatening the same fate to everyone else, including Ben (Ep 2) and then Trask finally carrying out his threat and throwing Ben overboard with his arms and legs tied up (Ep 3).  The Underwater Menace continues in the same vein, with Damon about to inject Polly (Ep 1) and Thous turning the Doctor and Ramo over to Zaroff and his guards (Ep 2).

Note how that last example is a threat to the Doctor rather than his companions, something that becomes much more rare during the Troughton era.  I suspect the writers generally realised that it is an ineffective kind of cliffhanger, because we know the Doctor will always get out of the situation.  That leaves the only point of the cliffhanger as one that poses the question of how exactly the Doctor will get out of it, rather than if he will get out of it.  But when the writer has only a very obvious answer to that question there’s not a lot of point in it all.  A few other examples can be found in The Faceless Ones (the Doctor trapped in the Chameleon Tours office, with gas being pumped in – Ep 2), The Tomb of the Cybermen (Klieg firing the gun – Ep 3) and The Space Pirates (the Doctor caught in the rocket blast from the Liz79 – Ep 5).  To pick a couple of examples that really illustrate the pitfalls of this kind of cliffhanger, we have the bomb going off right by the Doctor at the end of the first episode of The Web of Fear, where it is obvious it has been contained by the web, or this, from The Ice Warriors:

VARGA: You are standing in the airlock of this spacecraft. Unless you answer my questions within ten seconds, I will take atmospheric pressure around you down to zero.
DOCTOR: But if you do that my body will explode.
VARGA: One, two, three, four.

So the tension is built around whether the Doctor will (a) die, or (b) answer Varga’s questions.  Bearing in mind he can’t die, what do we think might happen next week?

David Whitaker finds a clever way to make the Doctor/danger cliffhanger work, in The Enemy of the World.  At the end of the first episode the Doctor attempts to impersonate Salamander for the first time, leaving the question hanging for a week of whether Bruce will buy it or not.  Then, a the end of the third episode, Whitaker gives us the same thing but the opposite way round.  The penny finally drops for Bruce that somebody is impersonating Salamander, but this happens in the absence of the Doctor, so we are now one step ahead of the game, with knowledge of a threat to the Doctor that he is not himself yet aware of.  This is the old literary trick of dramatic irony.

So apart from the genius of Whitaker, the threat to a companion tends to be marginally more effective than the threat to the Doctor, and this will continue to be one of the mainstays of Doctor Who for the entire classic run.  The Troughton era starts to use this kind of cliffhanger more sparingly, and try other, more interesting things instead, but there are still plenty of examples, including:

  • Jamie confronted by Kemel (The Evil of the Daleks 3)
  • Victoria entering the sanctum (The Abominable Snowmen 4)
  • Jamie and Zoe in the path of meteorites (The Wheel in Space 5)
  • The Quarks firing on the Survery building, with Zoe inside (The Dominators 2)
  • Zoe menaced by an Ice Warrior (The Seeds of Death 4)
  • Milo shoots Jamie (The Space Pirates 2)

…but the Troughton era quickly finds a useful variation on the theme, and it is one that flows naturally (but not entirely) from the base-under-siege format, and I’ll call it this: Trapped!  The one that most people would probably remember is from The Invasion, with Jamie, Zoe and Isobel in the sewers between a group of Cybermen and a mad Cyberman.  Other typical examples can be found in The Macra Terror (Jamie trapped in a shaft by the Macra) and The Web of Fear (Jamie and Evans trapped between the web and the Yeti).  Also flowing naturally from the base-under-siege format is a particular kind of cliffhanger that shows us the moment where the monster breaks into the base.   But we will look at some examples of that, along with some very inventive new kinds of cliffhangers, tomorrow…   RP

About Roger Pocock

Co-writer on Author of Editor of
This entry was posted in Cliffhangers, Doctor Who, Entertainment, Random Chatter, Science Fiction, Television and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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