One of the most endearing monsters from Doctor Who lurched on to our screens 50 years ago this Saturday (30th September, 1967). It was the first part of a six week serial that seems intent on living up to the elusive nature of its namesake.
After a four week sojourn in The Tomb of the Cybermen, The Doctor (Patrick Troughton), Jamie (Frazer Hines) and Victoria (Deborah Watling) continued their Season Five adventures in 1935, Tibet - which looks exactly like Nant Ffrancon in North Wales. This was where we met The Abominable Snowmen. In between Troughton’s fur coat and the wee timorous beasties, you’d be forgiven for remembering they were Wombles.
The Abominable Snowmen was scripted by Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincon who would work on two further serials for Doctor Who. Haisman had worked on Dr Finlay’s Casebook, Emergency Ward 10 and would also write scripts for The Onedian Line, Howard’s Way, Jane and the subsequent movie Jane And The Lost City. Lincoln had appeared as an actor in shows such as The Avengers, The Saint, Man in a Suitcase and The Champions and would gain notoriety as co-author of The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail which inspired Dan Brown’s novel, The Da Vinci Code. He was not involved with the law suit against Brown but described the author as “a bit naughty.” Lincoln also scripted a number of tv documentaries, some exploring themes from Holy Blood.
The Doctor arrives in Tibet convinced of a hearty welcome, but a savage death has pushed the paranoia levels of explorer and anthropologist Edward Travers (played by Jack Watling, supposedly to the surprise of his daughter, Deborah). Recent deaths haven’t pleased the occupants of a nearby Detsen monastery either.
Despite the savage nature of these deaths indicating a creature of great strength, The Doctor is suspect number one.
Of course, The Doctor didn’t do it. And neither did the real Yeti. But there are some furry robot doppelgangers lurking on the hills, operated by the disembodied Great Intelligence via some spooky control spheres. These metallic balls glide eerily across the ground with malevolent purpose. The Intelligence also has its mits in local holy man Padmasambhava (Wolfe Morris).
And didn’t we love the scares and thrills back then. Unfortunately, five of these six episodes were dumped or lost in that Seventies purge when it seemed like archive television had no future. Finding them might be equivalent to locating a real Yeti. The soundtrack remains (and can be purchased) but only episode two exists as a televisual experience. It is on the Lost in Time DVD set and on The Troughton Years VHS tape. You will find a few reconstruction efforts on YouTube.
One last curiosity. The character of Ralpachan is played by David Baron, a name previously used by playwright Harold Pinter. Apparently it isn’t Pinter.