Cliffhangers: Second Doctor 2

invasionYesterday we looked at some Second Doctor cliffhangers, particularly the ones that flowed naturally from the Hartnell era, and I mentioned at the end of the article how the common base-under-siege format of the Troughton era allowed for a new kind of cliffhanger: the moment where the monster breaks into the base.

The final Hartnell story was the first base-under-siege (The Tenth Planet) but hadn’t yet learnt how to do this kind of cliffhanger.  Instead there is a standard monster reveal for the first cliffhanger, and then the Cybermen invade the base mid-episode.  But look what happens in The Moonbase: the first episode ending is the traditional monster reveal, with a “phantom piper” menacing Jamie, and then the second episode ends with a Cyberman jumping out from the bed where he has been hiding.  Note how this is not quite the moment that the base is compromised.  After all, we have already seen a Cyberman inside the base at the end of the previous episode, but it functions as the moment where everyone realises that the enemy is within the gates, and monster comes face to face with hero.

Later examples are much more straightforward.  In The Abominable Snowmen we see the control sphere heading off to reactivate the yeti inside the monastery, but that is the second episode cliffhanger, and then we have to wait an entire episode for the Yeti to come to life and menace Victoria, at the end of Episode 3.  We have already seen Victoria being menaced by a Yeti – that was at the end of the first Episode, doubling up as the monster reveal, but that was inside a cave on the mountainside.  This time the Yeti is inside the monastery, raising the threat level.  By The Web of Fear everyone is really getting the hang of this kind of cliffhanger, with the Yeti attacking Travers in the Ops room at the end of Episode 3, and then the fungus infecting the lab at the end of Episode 5.  Fury from the Deep utilises the enemy within the gates cliffhanger straight away, with seaweed coming through the vents in the oxygen store to menace Victoria.

The monsters-inside cliffhanger is not the only new idea the Second Doctor era comes up with, although the basic categories of (1) danger, (2) monster reveal, (3) game-changer, will continue to hold.  Towards the end of the  Hartnell era we had an attempt at something different, a kind of cliffhanger where the Doctor is doing something odd or mysterious, or perhaps has some kind of a plan we are not aware of.  So the question that keeps us wanting more is this: “what is the Doctor up to?”  Our best example of this was in The War Machines, with the Doctor facing off against one of the machines while everyone else takes cover.  We get a similar situation in The Mind Robber, with the unicorn attack (“No, stand still!”, Episode 2), and a much stronger example in The War Games, with the Doctor apparently betraying his friends at the end of Episode 8.  But right at the start of the Troughton era we get an evolution of this method, at the end of the second episode of The Power of the Daleks:

I am your servant.  I am your servant.  I am your servant.  I am your servant.  I am your servant.

So in contrast to the familiar question of what is the Doctor up to, this is posing the question: what are the monsters up to?  The Daleks are familiar to us, and we don’t expect them to be behaving like this.  A similar thing happens again at the end of Episode 5 of The Evil of the Daleks, with a friendly Dalek taking the Doctor for a ride (somebody please find that episode!).  There is no immediate threat at this point, but the monsters are doing something so out of character that it works as a strong hook for the next episode.

The Power of the Daleks also gives us some examples of a kind of cliffhanger that will be used repeatedly throughout the Troughton era: the villain’s plan progresses and the threat gets bigger.  So in Episode 3 we get the reversal of Episode 2, with the Daleks showing their true colours and chanting “we will get our power”.  Then at the end of Episode 4 we get the conveyor belt of Daleks, and finally the Dalek army goes on the attack at the end of Episode 5, chanting “Daleks conquer and destroy!”  Those last two examples are also doing something different as well, but before we get to that let’s just illustrate how frequent the raise-the-stakes cliffhanger is within the Troughton era, with a selection of examples:

  • The Macra Terror 2: the Macra drags the controller away, taking complete control of the colony.
  • The Abominable Snowmen 5: the foamy corporeal form of the Intelligence spills out of the cave onto the mountainside.
  • The Enemy of the World 2: Salamander sets off his natural disaster and demonstrates the weakness of his opposition.
  • The Invasion 6: the Cybermen come out of the sewers and march on London.
  • The Invasion 7: the Cyber planner declares that all life on Earth will be destroyed by a bomb.
  • The Seeds of Death 3: a pod swells up inside T-Mat Control.

…but I also want to divide some off into a secondary category, because they raise the stakes but in a subtly different way.  I already mentioned two of them.  So what connects these?

  • The Power of the Daleks 4: the conveyor belt of Daleks.
  • The Power of the Daleks 5: the Dalek army attacks.
  • The Moonbase 3: the Cybermen army marches on the base.
  • The Faceless Ones 5: the Doctor is surrounded by Chameleons.
  • The Ice Warriors 2: Varga is going to reactive the other warriors.

They are all about the threat multiplying.  You’ve seen one monster, now let’s see how the Doctor deals with an army.  The budget can’t always deliver, but oh well.

Cliffhangers don’t always have to be about danger or monsters, and that was the lesson that was really learnt during the Troughton era, illustrating the point that there was much more to the Second Doctor stories than monsters and bases under siege.  The Troughton era also pilots a new kind of cliffhanger where the plot simply moves onto the next stage, a pivotal point in the narrative.  Generally this is where we find out the next bit of the mystery.   There are a couple of these in The Faceless Ones, with the passengers disappearing (Ep 3) and the plane heading off into space to rendezvous with a satellite (Ep 4), and at the end of the Troughton era the new technique has been maintained, with the Romans attack in The War Games in particular (Ep 2).  But Season Six in general is remarkably inventive, bearing in mind this is the season that includes a cliffhanger ending that shows the TARDIS being destroyed (The Mind Robber 1), Jamie and Zoe being fictionalised by crushing them inside a book (The Mind Robber 4) and Jamie hiding in a crate with a wriggling Cyberman (The Invasion 3).

The two final cliffhangers of the Troughton era are of course completely amazing.  At the end of the ninth episode of The War Games we get a game-changer / stakes-raiser / mysterious-danger / can’t-get-back-to-the-TARDIS / Doctor-and-companions-danger cliffhanger, combining together several techniques, and finally the ultimate game-changer of them all: the Doctor’s forced regeneration and exile to Earth.  We’ll find out where that leads us… next time.   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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