It’s not surprising that the Troughton era is, in effect, reduced to a celebration of Troughton’s acting, and for the most part, this is a dramatic improvement over the standard narrative prior to this. It is, like the Hartnell era, still entirely about leading up to the present day – the main hook for Troughton is that Matt Smith based his performance on him. This is put up front and trumpeted. So celebrating Troughton for his acting is necessarily about glorifying the present.
All the same, it’s not wrong. And it’s worth contrasting with the previous official narrative of the Troughton era, in which Season Five was the high point of it because it had all the monsters. Sure, the Ice Warriors get center stage for a bit in what is, in hindsight, blatantly just a teaser for Cold War (with Moffat reflecting that we never see the actual Ice Warriors), but the previous take on the Troughton era where he was the clownish Doctor and it was good because it had Yeti isn’t even alluded to.
Instead we focus on Troughton’s acting, which is fitting, because it really is extraordinary, in a way that holds up today. He’s astonishingly subtle and meticulous. He always was. And Tennant’s statement that every Doctor is really just doing variations on Troughton now is absolutely true. And it’s a triumphant moment to see Troughton himself get the credit for that, because he genuinely deserves it. He invented the part of the Doctor as we know it today.
The problem, if you think it’s a problem, is that there’s nothing to replace the celebration of the monsters. The Troughton era becomes almost entirely about glorifying Troughton’s performance. Of course, this isn’t entirely unfair. The era played the base under siege card too many times, and didn’t do enough brilliant and weird stuff. It’s not that the bases under siege were bad, but the mix was off on the era. And, of course, there’s the problem of what survives in the archives (or possibly of what Phil Morris has turned over) that makes it tricky to valorize any particular part of the Troughton era except for Season Six, which is the toughest to glamorize in many ways.
Not that they don’t give it a good try with an impassioned defense of Zoe that, watching it, also feels overdue. Moffat speaks with genuine conviction of the way in which Zoe was a triumph for young female audiences because she was made so competent, and it’s true. She may have gotten gratuitous catsuit ass shots, but she was a bolder character than the show had tried with the female companion since Susan petered out.
(Also hilarious is John Barrowman’s account of being excited to see Jamie debut and enthusiastically telling his mother there was a Scotsman on Doctor Who, since he would have been doing that from inside the womb.)
But for all of this, there is something frustrating about where the narrative focus ends up. The selected story for showing after this special was Tomb of the Cybermen, because of course it was. It really is hard to complain too much – for all the story’s faults, and they are numerous, it does have some good visuals. Perhaps more to the point, it’s pretty solidly acted. The script’s naff and the casting’s a bit racist, but everyone is trying on the day, and that really does help. Moffat admits to some of the faults in his introduction (though, of course, not the racism), and, look, I recognize I’m being a grumpy old man about Tomb of the Cybermen.
It’s just that The Mind Robber was the right length too. And that’s the thing. The official narrative is at least getting the high point of the Troughton era right, which is to say, Troughton himself. But the top-line executive summary required by a half-hour special can’t really encompass the fact that Troughton’s material was uneven, and so goes for the simplest triumph it has instead of emphasizing the weirdness. It’s a better Troughton era than “the monster era” lets it be. But it’s not allowed to be quite as good as the Troughton era itself was.