GeekPlanetOnline's resident Doctor Who Correspondent Martin Thompson takes a deeper look at the adventures of a mad man in a box, along with his friends, foes and fandom. With over fifty years of rubber monsters, changing faces, dented police boxes, exterminations and pointed goatees to look at, he has more than a few things to say on the subject...
Welcome back to the second part of my Ben and Polly watch through. Unfortunately the terrifying blob on the scanner turned out to be a bit of marmalade and not one of Omega’s gel guards as first thought.
Anyway, on to The Underwater Menace and two episodes out of four of this serial actually exist in the archives. This tale sees the new TARDIS team finally start to gel as they find the lost city of Atlantis and uncover plans to raise it by Professor Zaroff, whose bold statement, "Nothing in the world can stop me now!" has gone done in Who villain history. The costumes look a bit shoddy, especially the bushy eyebrows on the men, and the fish people who enjoy their own swimming sequence. I also imagine a scene featuring Polly about to be surgically turned into a fish person gave many a child nightmares. This is another fun, if inconsequential, runaround (literally as there is a wonderful chase with the Doctor through the market place).
The Moonbase is another story that has only two episodes of four remaining, but it has seen the benefit of two animated episodes for the DVD release. Since it was the second outing for the Cybermen and another that featured them attacking a vital and internationally staffed base, it has been compared to The Tenth Planet, but for my money it was more enjoyable. The Doctor has calmed down from previous stories and even delivers a wonderful, and well-known, speech about the evils of the universe needing to be fought. This is a very creepy and atmospheric story, which is helped by the black and white filming, and there are some great cliffhangers. Since Jamie is still new, the script doesn't seem to know what to do with him apart from providing a rival to Ben for Polly's affections (the two almost come to blows) and another pair of hands to help with the Cybermen. Polly comes up with a great (literal) solution to defeating them too and it’s one that feels right for the character.
The Macra Terror sees Jamie do possibly the most sensible thing that a companion has ever done while exiting the TARDIS - come out swinging a baseball bat. Around this time, each serial ended with a cliffhanger into the next and previously we had seen a giant crab claw lollop into view on the scanner. This story sees the travellers land in a seemingly idyllic colony, however it keeps the population docile with hypnotic gases while giant crabs leech off their resources. Interestingly, this serial was broadcast only a few months before The Prisoner would deal with a similar concept on a larger scale. Again, no episodes exist and it’s a damn shame because Michael Craze gives a cracking (and very creepy) performance as the hypnotised Ben. It was also nice to see a snippet of footage of the Macra prop in action.
And so to the end and The Faceless Ones, which sees the crew arrive at Heathrow airport on the same day Ben and Polly left. A busy day for the Doctor as no less than three stories are set on the same day (20th July 1966). The Chameleons are a great alien race and the shot of one at the end of the first episode is really eerie. It's in this serial that Patrick Troughton and Frazer Hines really gel as a team and they have a great time together. There’s a mystery for the Doctor to solve and a great supporting cast here too, especially Pauline Collins as fiery, Scouse proto-companion Samantha Briggs. Sadly for Ben and Polly they don't get much of a send off as they are captured by the Chameleons for most of the serial and of course grab the chance to get back to London since they were in the same place and time for once. Their departure rests a little uneasy with modern eyes as the Doctor suggests that Polly will now “look after” Ben, implying marriage between the two. It's easy to forget, knowing how much death and destruction follows the Doctor around, that at this point we are still having jolly adventures in time and space. As they depart, the Doctor and Jamie head off in search of the now missing TARDIS and new adventures.
Ben and Polly are another couple, like Ian and Barbara before them, about whom people like to speculate whether they ultimately married, and in truth it could have gone either way. They shared a unique adventure together in the TARDIS that no-one else would even believe, let alone understand, so to find that one person with the same experiences would doubtless bring you together or at least form a bond for the rest of your life. On the other hand, with terrors like the Daleks, Cybermen and Macra about you may want to push it to the back of your mind and not be reminded of it every time you look at your spouse. It would also be perfectly understandable that after seeing Ben's darker side (albeit under hypnosis) in The Macra Terror, Polly wouldn't want anything more to do with him knowing what he is potentially capable of. This has been explored elsewhere in genre TV. For example, in Angel, Fred and Wesley broke up when the latter was under the influence of sexist psycho Billy Blim. More recently, Outlander saw Claire being abused by her beloved husband Frank's vile ancestor (and spitting image) Black Jack Randall. Could she ever share a bed with him again without reliving it all?
The main show has never given an explanation about what happened to Ben and Polly, however in spin off The Sarah Jane Adventures’ story Death of the Doctor, the journalist reveals that she's tracked down many past companions and that the duo have set up an orphanage in India. Despite being a largely overlooked companion team, they have continued their adventures in novel, comic and audio formats. Anneke Wills has also voiced other characters for Big Finish audios including Lady Louise Pollard, mother of Eighth Doctor audio companion Charley Pollard. Sadly Michael Craze died of a heart attack in 1998 so he never got to reprise his role, however in 2015 they recast it with Elliot Chapman stepping into Ben Jackson’s uniform for further stories.
Ben and Polly themselves may not be the best characters that the show has ever concocted, but they were still very watchable. Ben was the latest in the show’s line of action men and although he gets short tempered at times, he never strayed into being unlikeable with Michael Craze giving a great performance throughout. Polly is another companion who, like Jo Grant after her, gets unfairly lumped in with the stereotype of the screaming Who girl but she proved herself to be much more. It’s easy to forget that she’s just an ordinary Chelsea girl taken away and put in impossible situations. Polly often comes up with solutions beyond Ben fighting his way out. Above all, they were a fun team with little of the weight of responsibility on their shoulders that later companions had.
For the recreations of these classic episodes, I turned to You Tube and in particular those by the company Loose Cannon. The recreations are mainly the soundtrack set to the telesnaps taken of each production, although Loose Cannon threw in a few extra things such as lights on the Daleks' heads blinking when they were talking and the inclusion of existing footage even if only a few seconds. Indeed, it can be a bit jarring after watching so many static photos to suddenly see the screen leap into life. At first I wondered if I would be able to keep track of the story but I soon got into the swing of it.
This turned out to be a very enjoyable experience and one that I will be repeating for the rest of the missing stories. I would also recommend any fan give it a shot and perhaps you may discover a lost gem.