The second season of a show is often where it starts getting good. The actors have settled in, the writers all have an idea of what is going on and what works is clear.
Unless, you’re dealing with a show like Doctor Who, where the cast chops and changes frequently. In Season 2, all three original companions left and the show changed script editors (a role just as important as producer back then) twice. So, it is fair to say that things are a bit uneven.
This 39-episode season (in fact, the first two stories were filmed in the first production block and held back) is the best survivor of the six black-and-white seasons, with 37 episodes surviving intact.
Planet of Giants (3 episodes, all available)
The first story set on modern Earth, this one involves an error on landing and the crew becoming miniaturised. This idea was one of those considered for the first story and rejected – perhaps it should have stayed that way, because no-one really likes this one. In fact, it was originally recorded as four episodes and the last two parts edited down to one, with the other material totally junked.
The Dalek Invasion of Earth (6 episodes, all available)
The late Jon Pertwee, who played the Third Doctor, once remarked that a Yeti in Tibet is less scary on one “sitting on the loo in Tooting Bec”. That is to say that bringing an alien menace into the everyday world can be more effective than the affairs of a bunch of aliens far from Earth. Some of the best stories and scenes have taken place in ordinary surroundings.
The title of the story is a bit of a misnomer – when the characters arrive, sometime after 2164, the Daleks, who yell “Exterminate” for the first time here, have already conquered Earth. In a story that sees Daleks roaming London streets and doing Hitler salutes (remember the Second World War was still in many people's memories), the sink-plunger crew hit the big time.
The story ends with Susan falling in love with a resistance fighter and not sure whether to stay with him or look after her grandfather the Doctor, has the latter make the decision for her, locking her out of the TARDIS and taking off. The last part doesn’t really happen after this, but Susan is not the first companion to fall in love with someone she’s just met and leave as a result.
The arrival of the pepper-pots was just what the show needed to turn it from interesting into a smash hit. After “The Daleks”, an encore was inevitable and the creatures would appear in two stories a season for the next three (but then take a break until Season 9).
The wave of popularity was massive. Comic strips, toys galore, a stage play and two colour feature films would follow - remakes of the first two stories starring Peter Cushing as a human Doctor, which are not considered canonical. Terry Nation went to America and attempted to get a Dalek-based TV series going, but it fell through for various reasons before even reaching the pilot stage.
The craze eventually ended around 1967 and the ratings would not go back up to the 1964/5 levels until we got into the Tom Baker era.
The Rescue (2 episodes, all available)
A two-part character piece that is rather well done, involving a crashed spaceship whose survivors are terrorised by a monster. This one introduces Vicki (last name not given on screen, Pallister in the spin-off media) who joins Team TARDIS here.
This appears to be the first time the Doctor leaves the parking brake on – the ship is seen “materialising” (first use of that term too) with the distinctive sound effect. That effect, BTW, was realised by scraping a key on a piano string and looping it over itself a few dozen times.
The Romans (4 episodes, all available)
The crew go on holiday in Rome in 64 AD. You can guess what’s going to happen. A story that combines high farce (including a scene where the Doctor convinces an audience of his lyre playing skills without playing a single note), low puns and some quite serious stuff about life in the Roman Empire, this one is well remembered and liked.
The Web Planet (6 episodes, all available)
Someone randomly chancing on a re-run of this one might wonder if they’d taken something illegal by mistake – this is trippier than some of Moffat’s stuff. A tale where every character bar the regulars is a giant creepy-crawly of some form, this is what Top Gear calls “ambitious but rubbish” – especially by modern standards with the costumes involved.
The Crusade (4 episodes, only 1 and 3 available)
A 12th century set historical set in Palestine and revolving around one of the “holy wars” that Christianity and Islam fought around that time over the possession of Jerusalem. Haven’t experienced this work.
The Space Museum (4 episodes, all available)
A story that opens timey-wimey style with the TARDIS “jumping a time track” and the crew seeing themselves as exhibits in a futuristic museum, which they then realise they have to prevent by engineering a revolt.. It’s an intriguing idea, which then fails utterly in the execution, although there are some amusing moments
The Chase (6 episodes, all available)
The second Dalek appearance of the season, in which the Daleks develop time travel and chase after the team in another multi-location story. It’s a run-around and a curate’s egg of a story, notable for three things:
1. The departure of Ian and Barbara, who ultimately use the Dalek time machine to get home.
2. The arrival of Steven Taylor, a stranded astronaut, who stows away on the TARDIS (along with his toy panda, Hi-Fi). Taylor was played by Peter Purves, who would later become a Blue Peter presenter
3. A clip of The Beatles appearing (due to licensing issues, this is not on the Region 1 DVD release).
The Time Meddler (4 episodes, all available)
The show’s first “pseudo-historical” and the first time we encounter a Time Lord not the Doctor or Susan – the Meddling Monk. Arriving in 1066, the team discover that said Monk wants to change the course of British (and by extension human) history.
With a show nearly fifty years old, it is the case that a few of the key figures are no longer with us. Every week or so, Doctor Who news sites post the obituary of one guest star or another. The first three Doctors have all died – Hartnell passed away in 1975.
Insects only applies to segmented creatures with six legs.
Mixture of good and bad.