Obituary: George Cole

“The world is your lobster”

George Cole, who has died aged 90, was a man of considerable skill and panache in his character performances. In many ways he was a jobbing actor – work came his way and he took it, which he would remark on in tones which suggested that this explained any flops in his career. It did not really explain the way he lit up any film he was in and that the overwhelming majority of his work justifies a return visit – or, indeed, several return visits.

He was born in 1925 to a mother, and remained non-specific about the details of this mother even in his autobiography, which was published when he was 88. She handed him over for adoption and he regarded his adopted parents as his mother and father. Acting always seems to have been of some interest and he said he wanted to do that at his careers interview, but it fulfilled a particularly valuable opportunity to get out of the apprenticeship at a butcher’s that the Board of Trade man gave him instead. After walking out of his unsuccessful careers interview, he saw the advert for actors for a musical called The White Horse Inn on Friday, auditioned on the Saturday, caught the train to Blackpool that afternoon, told his parents (in that order – “Have gone on the stage, will write”) and failed to turn up at the butcher’s on Monday. So a star is born. There is an alternative universe where Minder was a flop and an unknown Morden butcher died 20 years ago reflecting on how nice it would have been to do a few stage roles.

While he was away on tour with The White Horse Inn his father died. Subsequently he was taken under the wing of a formidable character actor called Alastair Sim, who (with his wife Naomi) sort of adopted Cole from his adopted parents. Sim cleaned up Cole’s Cockney accent (which ironically would bring him his two greatest roles, but being able to suppress it confidently avoided risks of typecasting) and provided him with early experience. He would go on to recall Sim’s way of teaching him where the front of a tree is (what front?). War then intervened, but in 1944 he was cast in the Lawrence Olivier film version of Henry V as “The Boy”; his youth at the time and subsequent longevity gained him the status of the last surviving actor from the film. It was a film ordered by Winston Churchill to encourage morale, so counted as a sort of military service.

His post-war experience was initially quiet and unmemorable; it was a string of Alastair Sim vehicles which got him on his way. For The Happiest Days of Your Life in 1950 he portrayed the only person that a headmistress could get through to at the Ministry of Education – the boiler stoker. This was followed the next year by Laughter in Paradise – a rather larger role as a quiet and unassuming bank clerk that entailed carrying about a fifth of the film. It also featured Audrey Hepburn in one of her earlier roles. 1951 was a good year for starting a career – he also appeared in Lady Godiva Rides Again as a boyfriend. Joining him on the cast list for that were Diana Dors, Sid James, Joan Collins and Ruth Ellis – the last being more notable in legal circles than acting ones, after she got angry with her boyfriend a few years later, shot him dead and was duly hanged.

Laughter in Paradise is a much happier film, with certain stock characters from late 1950s and 1960s British comedy. Most notable is the gap-toothed rich caddish Terry-Thomas character – played by Guy Middleton. Joyce Grenfell is being very proper as usual. Alastair Sim puts in his usual silent comedy performance. Everything ends ludicrously.

Sim did a film of A Christmas Carol under the title of Scrooge that year; Cole was the obvious candidate for Young Scrooge while Sim looked terrified at the Ghost of Marley. Sim had a very large face; it conveyed a great deal of emotion through big eyes and a puzzled tone. Cole’s expressions were much smaller, sharper and keener, better suited to peering from behind things nervously. It was in this peering capacity that he appeared shortly afterwards in one of the characters that will define his career.

In the wake of their production of The Happiest Days of Your Life, Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat decided to do another public school-based production based on the cartoons of Ronald Searle. Searle had created a girl’s school called St Trinian’s, where the parents had horns and tails, the teachers had an air of perpetual alarm or aloofness and the girls brought weapons to games classes – and missed the bit about “unarmed combat”. He drew himself as the Founder and came to visit the cartoon school in the back of a horse-drawn hearse. In 1953 he rounded off his drawings by announcing that St Trinian’s had been destroyed in an incident caused by experiments in nuclear fission. It was a blow from which the school was not intended to recover (“the building fund has been embezzled anyway”).

The next year (while Searle went off to draw Molesworth and St Custard’s for Geoffrey Willans’s error-riddled skool tail) Alastair Sim played Clarence and Millicent Fritton in the big screen adaptation, The Belles of St Trinian’s. On many levels it is a rather innocent film. Guy Middleton has escaped from the Ministry of Education with a fellow school inspector and they are now the gardener and fencing master (although still trying to draw their Government pay). In Happiest Days of Your Life he had been betting on the horse Windsor Cottage, which played a leading role in Belles. Joyce Grenfell was excellent as a put-upon police sergeant; Richard Wattis did his civil servant routine trying not to think about his missing inspectors; George Cole was… well…

Flash Harry was a rather good role; close to the girls, directing their activities and being forgotten by the headmistress:

I’m not absolutely sure… It could be Harry – a boot boy, who I engaged in 1940. Of course, he was only 12 and didn’t have any moustache then but… well, apart from that I see no reason why it couldn’t be Harry.

For reasons not entirely clear, her school owes the bank £4,000 and she has resorted to writing post-dated cheques (for 1959).

References to the Americans building airbases in the Middle East give it a certain currency today; horse racing is still popular too, though the inspectors would have been carted off to prison.

Harry returned for the 1957 installment Blue Murder at St Trinian’s, for which Alastair Sim’s role was somewhat reduced owing to Clarence Fritton having vanished and Millicent Fritton being in prison. Harry has been left in charge of the school (ineffectually aided by the Army), so he takes himself off to see who he can marry off to Prince Bruno in Italy. Lionel Jeffries plays the con-man this time, with a good bit of rubbing against Harry and a rather dim view of the school:

Your mother and I could perfectly well have afforded one of the better public schools after that marvellous job she pulled off at Lord What-sis-name’s.

The Pure Hell of St Trinian’s was weaker in itself, although the line about Herefordshire (“Fire engines raced to the scene from four counties – Essex, Middlesex, Bedfordshire and Herefordshire!” – “Herefordshire? Surely you mean Hertfordshire?” – “No, no, they rang the wrong number”) would be worth watching it for were it not in the prologue and therefore not even necessary to wait for. Cecil Parker keeps his end up as a manipulative person of dubious background; Irene Handl is perfect as ever; Cole meets our expectations for Harry.

Cole’s last appearance as Flash was in The Great St Trinian’s Train Robbery, opposite Frankie Howard and Dora Bryan; he has been elevated from boot boy to “Chairman of the Board of Governors”, though retains his theme tune. He rounds off his career as Flash crammed onto the footplate of an “Austerity” saddle tank locomotive in his flash suit, along with a group of schoolgirls in ties, short skirts and tights, chasing Frankie Howard, Reg Varney, Cyril Chamberlain and gang (in another Austerity, much rebuilt with plywood) and being pursued in turn by a “Thumper” diesel train stuffed with police officers and some puzzled regular passengers. Meanwhile a Wickham railcar sailed up and down the other running line, loaded with the teaching staff and falling over two girls breaking speed records on a pump trolley. Anyone intrigued as to what happened to the Doctor’s granddaughter Susan will be relieved to see that she ended up in 1966, working as a French teacher at a disreputable school which collected back fees at the gate of open days.

Cole benefited from a certain amount of luck. He was arguably too old by the time the fifth St Trinian’s film was made  (Wildcats of St Trinian’s, 1980) to appear as Flash opposite Sheila Hancock as the new headteacher, with a new generation of young actresses (like Suzanna Hamilton, of Swallows and Amazons and 1984) to administer. He was, however, also far too busy. Joe Melia took on the poisoned chalice of being in a film so unsuccessful that 1950s “B” movies and deservedly-forgotten Ealing Studios films (along with, let’s be fair, some very good ones) have beaten it to be released on DVD. Wildcats has no plot to speak of, except something about trying to make fun of trade unions, a lot of girls running around and Thorley Walters looking stressed. There’s a laugh. Somewhere. It was a very sad end to Frank Launder’s brilliant career as a comedy director.

While St Trinian’s was on – not necessarily making Cole much money, as Launder and Gilliat never had much money left over for actors and Cole reckoned most what there was went to Sim – he picked up the role of David Bliss in the radio sitcom “Life of Bliss”, of which a handful of episodes survive and were repeated last summer. Cole considered that the best role was the bloke playing the dog. (Not to be confused with the Bliss family in Noel Coward’s Hayfever, who are anything but clean and wholesome.) There was also The Green Man – opposite Sim again, with Sim playing a wonderfully mad assassin and Cole a vacuum cleaner salesman who makes a mess of a nice young lady’s house so he has something to demonstrate with before discovering that she has no electricity (and that it’s the wrong house). Terry-Thomas is now playing Terry-Thomas and Arthur Brough is running hotels in the days before he went on to sell clothes.

The film Cleopatra was a large-budget affair which called for the talents of everyone who was anyone plus a few more people on the side, so Cole appeared in it – alongside such names as Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor and Rex Harrison – as a chap called Flavius. If nothing else, being in one of the grandest epics ever made filled in time. The plot was a simple one – girl meets boy, girl meets other boy, first boy gets murdered, second boy is done in by first boy’s nephew, girl persuades snake to poison her, end credits – and already moderately well-known. Some of the sets were borrowed to save money on making Carry On Cleo. Notably Cole was not in any of the Carry On films – a remarkable achievement shared with Sim. Both floated around the more serious edge of comedy, drifting into drama, rather than the bawdy seaside humour of the Kenneth Williams/ Charles Hawtrey end of things. He did, however, appear opposite Sid James in various films – aside from Lady Godiva there was also his role as an incompetent criminal alongside Bernard Bresslaw and Joe Melia in Too Many Crooks. This was something of a name-studded film, where familiar faces roll out of every corner – Terry-Thomas being robbed, John Le Mesurier looking puzzled over a magistrate’s desk, Sydney Tafler desperately trying to invent defences on the spot and Nicholas Parsons being friendly. There was also a joke about changing hearses in mid-stream. A clip from the film was recycled for an electricity advert a few years ago.

In the wake of Train Robbery and the general collapse of the British film industry Cole went back to theatre and combined it with television work. Sim and he largely pursued separate careers for the 1960s; Sim died in 1976. There followed a decade of general work and bringing up children. His first marriage collapsed and he mentioned it once – to say he wouldn’t speak further of it – in his autobiography. His second was very successful and survived until his death.

In 1979 ITV was looking at providing Dennis Waterman with a vehicle that was a bit fresher than his previous one, a relatively short-lived show called The Sweeney, which also starred John Thaw (perhaps better known as Inspector Morse – another crime drama, which ITV has generally been good at). Cole appeared in one episode of The Sweeney, playing a character called Dennis Longfield. For its replacement the scriptwriter Leon Griffiths produced a show based around a modern spiv and his pet heavy, or “minder”. The spiv, when he didn’t need someone to carry things for him or look like he’d bash interfering people over the head, would hire this minder out to other people and thereby provide variety for plots. Griffiths took inspiration from the sort of places that he occasionally found himself in, such as one where a load of rather heavy blokes sat around the bar and gruffly told him that they worked in removals. The executive producer, one Verity Lambert, selected Cole of the part of the spiv. There was some disagreement. Dennis Waterman wanted someone else. But Lambert had form at creating long-running TV shows (over 50 years for one rather notable BBC affair created early in her career) and Cole it was. The heavy was Terry McCann. The spiv was Arthur Daley. The show was Minder.

Minder warrants a chapter of its own in Cole’s autobiography, for obvious reasons. It ran for 107 episodes, 11 series and 15 years; it appeared at around the same time as Margaret Thatcher’s premiership, was held to epitomise some of the seedier elements of the 1980s and lasted slightly longer. It generated a great deal of work in making commercials, for which he was very well paid for a day of filming. It remarkably survived the departure of Dennis Waterman – the two remained friends as Daley continued being minded by someone else. It also featured a most amusing incident when Waterman persuaded Cole to do a Christmas record. The show was a hit – so this was a bit of an inevitability for the record.

The “noise abasement society” is typical of the Daley-isms which made up a good portion of the show’s comedy (along with Daley’s attempts to sell things, what he was trying to sell in the way of knock-off goods – series 2 episode 5 featues water-damaged umbrellas – and the general incidents of being just on the wrong side of the law). Daley’s pledges of things like his “sainted mother’s grave” (his mother was “alive and well and living in Frinton” according to Terry) make up a nice line, as did the constant references to his usually unseen wife as “‘er indoors” but “the world is your lobster” and other such terms filled out his pompous character. Cole never saw what it was that anyone else saw in Daley, but this was a long way from the Independent’s careful mangling of remarks on this in his autobiography to suggest that he hated playing the character. In fact he rather enjoyed it. A picture of him as Arthur Daley appeared on the cover of said autobiography, though the cigar is airbrushed off. For its title, Cole went with The World was my Lobster.

After Minder life became less high-profile, but he remains a figure where to two generations the name is instantly recognisable – for two different roles. The political comedy-drama An Independent Man took up some time. There are other roles out there for old men showing off wisdom, grouchiness or general age. He returned to the theatre. Russell Brand played him in the first St Trinian’s reboot; for the second the girls looked after themselves in the face of the immense threat of an invasion by The Doctor.

As is occasionally the case, he proved sufficiently long-lived that the Guardian obituary also has a note that the obituary writer has died since compiling the obituary. Cole himself never stopped working to the end. The news articles on his death are in a disconcertingly large number of languages – spivs do not just appeal to the British. He leaves his second wife, four children and a naturally very upset Minder co-star, although few of his St Trinian’s co-stars are still around. (The French teacher is one of a handful of exceptions.) The Internet Movie Database, at the time of his death, had him down to play “Cyril” in the upcoming film Road Rage. Precisely how this will now work out is unclear. Meanwhile, St Peter has another star name for this year’s pantomime.

George Cole, born Tooting 22nd April 1925, died Reading 5th August 2015.


Obituary: Leonard Nimoy

“Live Long and Prosper”

Which he did. Leonard Nimoy, who has died at the old age of four score years and three, led a busy life as the actor who portrayed one of the most iconic characters of 20th century screen and the director who oversaw the presentation of this character in two major motion pictures. It was interspersed with relative bit parts in The Man From UNCLE and Mission Impossible – for which the British 1980s satirical TV show Spitting Image produced a send-up describing him as “not Spock at all – oh no! – someone completely different”.

Leonard Simon Nimoy was born in 1931 in Boston, Massachusetts (not Lincolnshire), in the United States of America to Orthodox Jewish parents. He later attributed an understanding of what it meant to be different to the area being predominantly Catholic. He was a child infused with sufficient curiosity to peer out during the sections of the synagogue service that the worshippers were supposed to close their eyes for and see the rabbi showing a strange hand gesture involving holding up an open palm with the fingers held in a V shape, two on each arm. He trained his hand to use it. It made an interesting symbol for his television character.

His film career began while he was still in the Marine Corps of the United States Army and appeared in an instructional video. It was followed by a long line of obscure parts in films that were either B movies or have sunk with sufficient lack of trace that they might as well have been. Then in 1964 he appeared opposite William Shatner in the television series The Man from Uncle – Shatner was the man and Nimoy the villain from the wrong side of the Iron Curtain.

His tall, solid features with a face readily shaped into a permanent frown made him excellent for portraying alien or semi-alien figures and he was accordingly cast in Gene Roddenberry’s new pilot for television network NBC – a 50-minute episode called The Cage which Roddenberry intended to launch a series called Star Trek. Nimoy’s alien was a character called Spock, who had pointy ears, upwards-pointing eyebrows, a severe haircut and an interest in science. The pilot was written off as “too slow” with NBC also taking exception to the presence of an alien – particularly an alien with devilish pointy ears – and a woman. Roddenberry was allowed to substitute a faster pilot which ended with a violent fight in which the Captain’s top was torn and in which the woman played a reduced role – a quid pro quo for the retention of the alien, complete with pointy ears. The Captain – James T. Kirk – was played by William Shatner. The alien’s emotional tendencies were played down. Star Trek – and Nimoy’s career as a major actor – was born.

Having produced this second pilot, Where No Man Has Gone Before, which broadly established various Star Trek themes, NBC thoughtfully replaced it in the running order with episode 6 (which Nimoy thought little of) and moved it back to third for broadcast. The Cage was sliced and diced into the double-part 16th story, providing a sort of backstory for Spock and dealing with the problem of expensive footage that NBC had no wish to broadcast by the simple expedient of broadcasting most of it. It eventually appeared as a full episode in 1989.

Aside from the occasionally-smiling portrayal in The Cage Spock was not a character that offered great emotional range by and large, but there were odd occasions when the character was allowed to break out from raising a pre-raised eyebrow and variously remarking “Interesting” or “This is illogical, Captain”. Towards the end of the first season the spaceship USS Enterprise went into orbit around a planet where the flowers caused people to lose their inhibitions. It particularly affects Spock, who spends one scene hanging from the branch of a tree with a massive grin on his face while his captain shouts at him. Nimoy enjoyed such episodes, which apart from anything else alleviated the massive emotional strain of getting into character as a man who had no emotions. He was still something of a hit with a lot of fans, many of whom regarded him as the actual star of the show. And the series was heavily reliant on its fans, who read up with care on where NBC planned to hide it in their schedules each week as part of an effort to stop people watching it.

With the success of Star Trek giving them due prominence, Shatner and Nimoy both tried their hand at singing. Shatner’s effort at the Beatles’ Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds has what can only really be described as a certain notoriety. Nimoy, by contrast and while still equipped with Spock hairstyle, provided a lively answer to the pub quiz question as to “What links Bilbo Baggins and First Officer Spock?”

After three seasons of about 25 episodes each, NBC cancelled Star Trek and the cast went on to other things. The show went into syndication, which essentially meant that rather than being stuck on NBC once on a week it could be seen on any network in the world that fancied paying the syndication fees at whatever time said network wished to broadcast it. In 1987 the Chicago Tribune suggested that the original three seasons of Star Trek – complete with Nimoy’s eyebrows and minus his singing voice – has been on somewhere in the world on a daily basis since syndication of the show began. Not everyone chose to broadcast every episode. While much of the first series is enjoyable and the second series contains The Trouble With Tribbles (which is one of those episodes that feels like it would be iconic as a stand-alone drama) the third series features several episodes with reduced Point and unnecessary violence (including an episode devoted to randomly torturing characters on a black set, which at least had the benefit of saving on the props budget). The attempt to satirise the world’s apartheid systems makes for appropriately uncomfortable viewing, but this does not necessarily make for great television. Most of these episodes were not broadcast in Britain as part of the BBC’s presentation of the series. It made an interesting contrast with the BBC’s home-grown science-fiction programme – Doctor Who had been given a more current setting, a leading female character and did its exterior filming in quarries rather than Mid-Western deserts.

Nimoy was never quite sure what to make of this success; one argument for not casting younger (under 50) actors in major productions is they develop a horror of being typecast. (Older actors seem to be less worried. Observe the difference between the younger lead actors in Doctor Who, who mostly quit after three or four years, against one of the oldest, William Hartnell, who appreciated the work and had to be levered out. Not that it necessarily does the younger actors any good, but they do it anyway.) Nimoy became rather too good at distinguishing himself from his creation (and Spock, with his neck-pinches, hand gestures and expression, was as much Nimoy’s as the producer’s or the scriptwriters’), titling his 1977 autobiography I Am Not Spock. If he hoped that the ensuing controversy would merely promote book sales, he might have been well advised to have done promotional charity abseils instead.

After a stint as a master of disguise on Mission: Impossible (and those prosthetic ears would take some hiding) he returned to the character of Spock for a 1979 film logically called Star Trek. When he was persuaded back for a second film, it was on the basis that he would be killed off and a suitably-affecting death scene resulted. Spock was subsequently revived and Nimoy directed the next two films before the original cast began to be wound down (and, in the case of Shatner’s Captain Kirk, killed off rather more permanently) as characters from various subsequent Star Trek series were elevated to prominence.

Nimoy provided a summary of his Star Trek years in 1982 in a rather memorable programme presented entirely by himself.

After his 1987 divorce he produced a second autobiography, under the title of I Am Spock, which acknowledged on its cover the connections with his famous character and, in many ways, alter ego. He continued directing films and in 2002 produced a book of his photographs of women, under the title of Shekhina. It is intended as a demonstration of the glory of God’s creation.

The Star Trek franchise was rebooted in the 21st century and Nimoy duly reprised his role – albeit as a version of Spock who has fallen back in time to provide some form of guidance to his younger self, now portrayed by Zachary Pinto. Pinto has a rather rounder face than Nimoy’s, though this does in many ways merely serve to emphasise the youthful element. It was as this “Spock Prime” that Nimoy made what was to be his final film appearance in 2013’s Star Trek Into Darkness, opposite Pinto, Christopher Pine (who played William Shatner) and Benedict Cumberbatch. Although Spock was not his first major character, there was still a certain poetic aptness to this.

The wonders of modern technology, somewhat advanced beyond Star Trek‘s flip phones and 3½” floppy disks, allow world-renowned actors to utter meaningful last statements to the farthest corners of the globe without having to go through their publicity agent. Nimoy signed out from Twitter in thoughtful mood on the 23rd of February 2015:

“A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. Live Long and Prosper.”

Leonard Simon Nimoy, born Boston Massachussetts 26th March 1931, died Bel Air, Los Angeles, 27th February 2015.

Seasonal Area November 2013 (and Doctor Who)

The Seasonal Area for November 2013 will shortly be archived owing to it nearly being time for the December image.

Penhow is rather a nice area, so some effort will be made to procure a bright sunny image for a later date. As opposed to one taken on a day when it was necessary to wade home up a mile-long stretch of lane that thought it was a canal. (The picture below has appeared on here before, but is used as a demonstration of general conditions at that time last year, having been taken on said day.)

Penhow 1 JPG___…___

It appears entirely possible that one upshot of the BBC’s 50th anniversary celebrations for Doctor Who will be a lot of people going out to see what the two most-featured former Doctors were like in their prime.

No. 8 has only previously cropped up in one TV episode, several books and a radio series. The radio series is rather impressive. It makes for magnificent viewing and the Eighth Doctor’s long-standing companion, Lucie Miller, is exceptionally well-cast. There is a certain fun for fans of said radio series in seeing both an upsurge in interest in the Eighth Doctor of late and the rapid development of the career of one Miss Sheridan Smith, who plays Lucie Miller with aplomb and is apparently at least as good in rather a lot of other things.

But the Eighth Doctor Adventures are inclined to be very much behind the sofa listening, even if hiding behind the sofa isn’t much use when the show you’re hiding from was never visual in the first place, and can be exceedingly dark. The overall story arcs are a little weird – Lucie is dropped in the Tardis by the Time Lords for a witness protection programme, but is being pursued by a Headhunter. Other Time Lords drop by from time to time. Later the Doctor ends up changing his companion with the aid of a job advertisement that someone else placed. His Granddaughter visits for Christmas and the Tardis is duly taken over by a manic creature that mangles the time and space arrangements.

The tales leave this member of the audience feeling uncomfortably, if thrillingly, chilled.

No. 1, by contrast, is inclined to be a distinct oddity. Much comment has been made about how similar the show is to those dim days of the first half of the 1960s and so how anyone can go back there and pick it up without trouble. This is debatable.

A lot of the set-up of Doctor Who is the result of work during the Second and Third Doctors’ eras – especially the tentacled alien in every story, the rapid pace and the striking opening episodes. If one chooses to revisit the 1963-4 season some eight stories present themselves. The doyenne is interesting, not least because the only “aliens” are the Doctor and his granddaughter. Aside from the famous opening episode, the rest of the story takes place in a gloomy studio and features a demonstration of early mob rule. The Doctor makes to brain someone with a rock. Several other people get brained with bigger rocks. Between brainings the story is slow and occasionally frustrating.

The second story, which for these purposes we will call The Mutants, features two of the greatest cliffhanger endings in Who (one of them literally a cliffhanger) and showed how tightly-paced it was by losing about half its length with no obvious side-effects when it was turned into a film starring Peter Cushing shortly afterwards.

The third (two episodes titled The Edge of Destruction and The Point of Disaster) is peculiar and the outcome harder to follow than any of Steven Moffat’s. The fourth (Marco Polo) is a travelogue story which expended enough budget for two stories and so was duly wiped. (This is an odd feature of Who‘s history – up until about 1975, it is possible to tell the big-budget dramatic set-piece story of any given season – with the exception of The Dalek Invasion of Earth in Season 2 – because it has been removed from the BBC’s archives and destroyed. A full-colour reconstruction of Marco Polo floats around on Youtube; since the original story was actually in monochrome and this wonderful colour portrayal wouldn’t have been put together if the tale had survived in video form perhaps something good balances the loss.)

The fifth story, The Keys of Marinus, was made on what was left of the budget after Marco Polo and a spot of imagination is required to gloss over the odd more obvious technical hitch. But Keys is put down far too much. In many regards it’s the first non-prototype Who story and sails off to see what it can find. We see vastly more of Marinus than of any other planet before or since – arguably more than is seen of Earth even – with an entertaining and daring plotline sweeping through cultures, ideals and politics via some cheap sets and whatever could be found in the costume storage cupboard. Honestly, an ice block guarded by Crusaders? Except when the Crusaders find they’re stuck on the wrong side of a chasm there’s a delightful demonstration of a key problem with plate armour and big helmets. A puzzled knight is hilarious to watch. Less hilarious when they hack your front door to pieces, of course.

The sixth story is The Aztecs and represents a brilliant piece of 1960s drama – but it’s not conventional Who. The seventh, The Sensorites, is tepid and the Sensorites (although referenced in a 2008 episode about the Ood) are not an altogether engaging race. The eighth and final story of the first season, The Reign of Terror, is the only Season 1 story other than Marco Polo with missing episodes – these have now been restored in an animated format.

In essence, don’t drop into Season 1 expecting to find quarries in every exterior scene (there are something like three exterior scenes in the whole series, all of them in The Reign of Terror – a field and two country lanes) or Cybermen lurking in every corner (they weren’t invented until 1966). There is a very heavy bent towards exploring historical themes, which continued (to a certain amount of underlying rebellion from the production team at this high-level educational policy – a story broadcast in Season 2 and set in the Roman Empire is distinctly played for laughs) until the purely historical adventures were killed off in favour of more science fiction early in the Second Doctor’s run and Who became consistently recognisable as the show that it is today – Cybermen, quarries and all.

The First Doctor does however finish Season 2 by getting the first encounter with another Time Lord – the complicated backstory kicks off early folks – and Peter Butterworth does a magnificent job with the semi-comic role. Appropriately, when the Eighth Doctor finally re-encounters the character on radio (not before time) another comedy performer took the part in the form of Graeme Garden. (Who should really be given a chance to show it off on television at some point.)

So both of these little-touched Doctors are worth exploring – but not with an expectation of meeting a precise match of the show loved by Tenth and Eleventh Doctor enthusiasts, who may be a trifle disappointed at the lack of enthusiasm by the Doctor. Or at least exuberant enthusiasm. The things the First Doctor will do to get his own way in the first three stories are generally terrifying…