“Looney.” “Stupid.” “Too silly.” “Crazy.” Those were some of the words used by children to describe the new Doctor, as reported in the Audience Research Report on Part One of Robot. Of course, after four and a half years of the authoritative, dignified Third Doctor, the arrival of the wide-eyed figure with a manic grin was something of a culture shock. Doctor Three had been perhaps the most human of Time Lords, his UNIT duties making him part of the Earth establishment. Although he had visited a few alien worlds, he had been an English Doctor, a Doctor of the Home Counties.
But Doctor Four was no establishment figure. Robot, a story which attempted to fit the newly regenerated Doctor into a Third-Doctor-shaped hole in a UNIT adventure, proved that. It was a necessary story, a comforting mix of the old and new to ease in this very different Doctor, but afterwards things went off in a whole new direction. However, although the Fourth Doctor took us into space and into the far future, humanity was still the focus of the show – in fact, more of a focus than it had been during its many years on Earth.
Glimpses of this theme could be seen even in Robot. The robot intended to destroy all mankind except for Sarah, the one person who had treated it like a person, not a machine. And, as the Doctor pointed out, its being “capable of great good, and great evil” made it nearly human.
It was the Doctor’s arrival on space station Nerva that brought humanity to the forefront. This far-future ‘Ark’ carried humans who were to be the future of their species after solar flares destroyed the Earth. “Homo sapiens. What an inventive, invincible species… They’re indomitable!” the Doctor remarked as he discovered the cryogenically preserved survivors. Even when taken over by the insectoid Wirrn, humanity still won out. The Doctor appealed to the swarm leader who had once been a human, Noah, and it was the last vestige of humanity deep within Noah that led him to destroy the Wirrin and save the Earth. It was human nature that gave hope to the human race.
The human race would be put to the test again in the next story, The Sontaran Experiment. Field Major Styre of the Sontaran G3 Military Assesment Survey had lured a group of humans to Earth so he could perform tests on them prior to a Sontaran invasion of the galaxy. He concluded that Homo sapiens had little resistance to physical stress; they were totally dependent on organic chemical intake for their energy supply; they had a fluid dependence; they had little resistance to immersion in liquids, and they were also highly susceptible to fear. Humans should have been no match for the strong, fearless, disciplined Sontaran – and yet they were… Of course, the humans had the intelligence and cunning of the Doctor on their side, but it was the expressions of humanity that really won the day. It was brave Harry who saboutaged the Sontaran ship. It was the compassion of Erak and Krans that saved the life of Vural – which in turn led to Vural’s heroic sacrifice, saving the life of the Doctor. Mere might had nothing on humanity.
The villains of Genesis of the Daleks and Revenge of the Cybermen had something in common – both had once been human(oid) and had sacrificed the perceived weaknesses of that condition to gain strength and power. The original purpose of the Kaleds’ research was to ensure the survival of their race, but Davros perverted it to create ‘the ultimate creature’, one that he could use as a weapon. And by robbing those mutated Kaleds of human emotion such as pity, Davros brought about his own destruction.
Revenge of the Cybermen pitted the Doctor against once-human metal monsters who had replaced their organic bodies with mechanical parts. But human ingenuity had triumphed over cyberstrength in the Cyberwar many years earlier, when the human race exploited the Cybermen’s weakness to gold. The Cybermen who came to Nerva Beacon planned a second campaign – but they made the same fatal errors as the Daleks and Sontarans. Like the Daleks, they thought the elimination of emotions gave them an advantage over humans. Like the Sontarans, they thought they were more efficient without humans’ physical weaknesses. Like both, they were wrong.
However far from Earth the Doctor travelled, however far into the future he went, the message of this season was clear. The thing that gave the greatest hope to humankind was humanity itself. The Doctor was wrong in what he told Sarah on the Nerva Station: it wasn’t irrational at all that humans were quite his favourite species.
1. “You think I might attract attention?” After trying on the costumes of a Viking, the King of Hearts and a Pierrot, the Doctor – much to the Brigadier’s relief – settles on his familiar coat, hat and scarf. Robot Part One
2. “Experiment seven. Subject female. Project – resistance to fear.” Held captive by the sadistic Sontaran Styre, Sarah watched in horror as her bonds turn into a snake… The Sontaran Experiment Part Two
3. “They say people who fall from great heights are dead before they hit the ground… I don’t believe that… do you?” One of the worst instances of cruelty comes not from the inhuman Daleks, but from a Thal. Genesis of the Daleks Part Three
4. “Harry Sullivan is an imbecile!” The Doctor fails to appreciate Harry’s attempts to rescue him from a rockfall – as he’s strapped to a booby-trapped bomb at the time. Revenge of the Cybermen Part Four