By Matthew Kresal
Patrick Troughton as Dr Who.
The introduction of the Daleks in Doctor Who’s second broadcast serial across the winter of 1963-64 solidified the series with UK television audiences, but changed the course of development. Despite, at least initially, being created to avoid the stereotypical “bug-eyed monsters” of 1950s science fiction, the series would come to embrace adding alien monsters to its science fiction stories. By its fifth season in 1967-68, virtually every serial would feature one. Among them were the Martian Ice Warriors, introduced in their titular six-part story. The following season, the last of the sixties and to be made in black and white, would see their return in another six-part serial. What audiences almost saw, and which fans would finally experience nearly 45 years later, was an origin story featuring Patrick Troughton’s Doctor encountering them on the red planet in their earliest days.
Every Doctor has a quirk.
Picture courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
Work on Lords of the Red Planet, as the proposed serial became known, began in early 1968, within weeks of the Ice Warriors debut serial completing broadcasting. Brian Hayles, who started writing for the series during the late Hartnell era before creating the Ice Warriors for the Second Doctor, was invited by the production team to submit an outline for another serial to feature them. This was a move that was driven both by their popularity with viewers and also by matters of economy, as the costumes already existed for the series to use.
Saving money on costumes.
Hayles’ storyline looked back thousands, perhaps millions of years, to their origins. Offering a science fiction tale inspired by fairy tales, it focused on the underground Martian city of Gandor led by royalty, a scientist responsible for creating the Ice Warriors, and a male usurper to the throne. By the time Hayles took the story to a scene breakdown, based on feedback from the production office, Lords of the Red Planet had taken on a more science fiction edge and had its villains become the female Zaadur with wider designs beyond the city. Yet, after the scene breakdown, the production team asked Hayles for an entirely different story, leading to 1969’s The Seeds of Death , featuring Ice Warriors taking over a Moonbase at the heart of a transmat system as part of a scheme to invade the Earth.
Speaking in the DVD extras for The Seeds of Death, script editor Terence Dicks noted that Lords of the Red Planet went unmade for a simple reason: the budget. Perhaps unsurprising, given the nature of the series in its final black-and-white season, which would lead to a change in format, seeing it becoming Earthbound with Jon Pertwee’s Third Doctor being exiled to Earth when the series entered the 1970s. A story focused on an expansive underground city might have been something that Hartnell-era production teams might have tackled, given the sheer ambition of many early serials, but production teams late in the decade were rarely willing to chaff at the limits of budget and BBC television studios.
Such ambitions were less of an obstacle in a different medium. In 2008, Big Finish Productions (the UK-based company producing audio dramas and spinoffs since 1999) began a new range of releases under the banner of Dr Who – The Lost Stories . Initially focusing on unmade stories from the era of Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor, the company’s attention soon turned to the unproduced scripts from the other Doctors. Hayles’ unmade serials for the first two Doctors would find life as part of the Lost Stories, with the release of Lords of the Red Planet coming out in November 2013, helping to mark the series’ 50th anniversary .
Lords of the Red Planet is amongst the most intriguing releases from the Lost Stories in that, unlike the cases of Masters of Luxor or the tales in the Lost Stories – The First Doctor boxset, there was no complete script to adapt from. That made this one of the occasions that popped up in the range where another writer would have to complete another’s work from decades before. That task fell to writer John Dorney who likewise faced the challenge of having two versions of Hayles’ storyline to build his script upon an underground Martian city and the rise of the Ice Warriors.
As Dorney discusses in the CD extras, he combined elements from both versions of Hayles’ submitted storyline. Something which also led to him having to sort out details that Hayles would have dealt with in a full script, including the motivation of Zaadur as a villain and building up the backstories more for the Gandoran characters. Dorney does commendable work building on Hayles’ work, to be sure, bringing it to full length.
But combining the two leave Lords of the Red Planet as an odd duck tonally. Something represented by the royal Veltreena on the one hand and the megalomaniac Zaadur on the other, feeling like they’re occupying different stories with scientist Quendril and the Ice Warriors linking them. At least until the penultimate episode when, in brief, sudden, and near brutal fashion, plotlines converge. While Zaadur’s motivations for what she does on Mars are nicely built, her ultimate plan isn’t, perhaps owing to it feeling like standard Doctor Who fare (not to mention a variation on the serial that took this one’s place on TV). Nor are Dorney’s efforts able to avoid the curse that afflicted many Doctor Who six-parters (including The Seeds of Death itself) in that Lords of the Red Planet feels padded out in its middle episodes, suggesting that there was a solid four-parter stretched out over too many episodes.
Yet, even with the script’s issues, Lords of the Red Planet works well as an audio production. Produced at a time before the company had embraced the idea of re-casting roles played by departed cast members (Troughton having passed away in 1986 while attending an American science fiction convention), the serial is presented instead as an enhanced talking book in the style of the First Doctor Lost Stories. In this case, companion actors Frazer Hines and Wendy Padbury (who played Jamie McCrimmon and Zoe Heriot, respectively) reprised their TV roles while serving as narrators, with Hines also voicing Troughton’s Doctor. Hines and Padbury, having done similar jobs elsewhere for the Companion Chronicles, were well versed in the semi-dramatic/semi-narrated format, with Hinese having a well-earned reputation among fans for his, at times, uncanny recreation of Troughton. Sadly, the latter isn’t on display much in this release, with Hines sounding more like himself doing Troughton’s mannerisms than his usual offerings, which offer a closer vocal match. He had Padbury fare better recreating their TV roles and narrating, both nicely recreating their younger selves vocally while using their present day voices for narration, effectively so throughout.
Something that neatly separates Lords of the Red Planet from First Doctor Lost Stories (reviewed elsewhere on this blog) is that it leans more into dramatised sections. There’s an expanded supporting cast here, allowing the actors in returning TV roles to focus on their work elsewhere. Among them are two children of the Troughton-era cast; his son playing Quendril and Padbury’s daughter Charlie Hayes playing Veltreena. Both Troughton and Hayes do well with the material given, even if Hayes (who had played meaty roles elsewhere for the company’s Doctor Who output) isn’t given much to work with. Abigail Thaw fares better as Zaadur, playing the villain to the hilt, but never going too far over the top while capturing the quality of many Classic Who villains that everything was going well until the TARDIS showed up to wreck their plans.
Of course, this is an Ice Warrior story with a significant presence here. A fact that meant Nicholas Briggs, who has voiced many Doctor Who monsters on TV and audio in addition to his work as a writer/director/producer for Big Finish, was tasked with bringing a small army of them to life. It’s something that Briggs proves more than up to the task of doing, particularly in breathing (or, in the Ice Warriors’ case, hissing) life into the likes of the Igor-esque Ice Warrior prototype Risor or the first Ice Lord Aslor. Whether playing these roles or rank-and-file Ice Warriors, Briggs brings a solid performance to the microphone, making it easy to imagine these massive, lurking creatures in their monochrome heyday.
Even with the strengths of its narration and supporting cast, Lords of the Red Planet isn’t entirely a lost Doctor Who classic. Though its central ideas are solid in looking at the origin of one of the series monsters, the execution comes across as lacking, at least in the format of a six-episode serial. Despite that, the strengths of the production are apparent, and Lords of the Red Planet remains an intriguing curio with a vision of the green warriors’ origins on the red planet.
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Matthew Kresal is author of the SLP book Our Man On The Hill.