Final Thoughts: Classic Doctor Who Rewatch

Heads up, folks; this is a long one.  The alternative was to split it up over a few days and a few posts, but we all have things to do, so we’ll just put it all up at once.  Here we go!

eight classic doctors

Eight months ago, give or take, I started something that was, for me, pretty ambitious. I decided to watch all of the classic series of Doctor Who. It was a lot to take on; I’m not good at following through and completing a series, even if it’s all available for streaming at once. I can’t count the shows I’ve attempted and then quit halfway. But Doctor Who is different, I told myself; it’s the show of my childhood, and besides, I had already seen the entire revived series to that point (or almost anyway; I held off on a bit of Series 8 for my girlfriend to catch up, and likewise with Series 9). So I decided to give it a try.

Where it all began.

Where it all began.

Now here we are, eight months, twenty-six seasons and one movie later, and it’s over. I missed a collective total of about thirty minutes, I think; there was a single episode (not a serial, just one part) I couldn’t locate, plus about seven minutes missing from another. Of course many of the early episodes are only available in reconstructions, but I was able to find recons for all of those missing episodes. So, I wanted to put together a final thoughts post for the series, and see what people think. I appreciate all the comments (and karma) from the previous posts; this fandom is great, no matter what anyone outside it may say, and the discussion is what I was after most of all. I’ve learned a lot about the series just from the conversations that have resulted, and it’s convinced me to give Big Finish and the various novels a try, as well. If this gets a little long—and who am I kidding, I know myself, of course it will—I’ll split it into parts, but I’ll post them as quickly as I can. (If you’re reading this on my blog, some of what I’ve just said may not make sense; I’ve posted these reviews on Reddit.com’s /r/Gallifrey subreddit, as well, and some things are specific to that site.) With that, let’s get started!

First doctor companions enemies

My very first observation as I started this rewatch is that the series has changed immensely since William Hartnell was the First Doctor. I suppose I expected that, given that the show is fifty-three years old; but I wasn’t expecting it to have changed in the ways I saw. It’s gone from being a somewhat-educational children’s show to being a family show with adult overtones; but it’s more than that. The Doctor we first met was not a nice guy, nor likeable. He really wasn’t even the hero of his own show—that would be Ian Chesterton. (All respect to Barbara and Susan, but it was the 1960s—women weren’t often the heroes of anything on television. They were great, and I liked them, but they existed to support Ian, mostly.) The Doctor was there, basically, to put Ian and Barbara and Susan into a bad situation every week, and occasionally offer a solution. Nowadays that would never fly—he’s the Oncoming Storm, the Madman with a Box, Time’s Champion, even the Time Lord Victorious. He’s the star of his show, now.benpolly

It might be tempting to say that that change happened with the revival, but it was happening long before that. I’ve theorized as I watched—well, it’s not so much a cohesive theory as just an observation—that there’s a visible pattern of growth to the Doctor as the series goes on. Every incarnation adds to his character, makes him something new—he doesn’t just change, he increases. The First Doctor was hardly the Doctor at all for most of his life. He became the Doctor, I believe, in The War Machines. I’ve talked about this a few times before, and I can’t claim total credit for the idea—sorry, I’ve lost the link to the original post that inspired the idea—but my headcanon is that the Doctor didn’t consider himself to be the Doctor until he met Ian and Barbara. (The short version is that Ian mistakenly calls him Doctor, and he lets it stand so he won’t have to tell them his real name; eventually he sees noble qualities in Ian that he wants for himself, and takes the name on as a promise to himself to live up to that example. Then, later, his name leads to the use of the term for a healer—it’s a bit of a paradox, but hey, this is Doctor Who, paradoxes are what we do here.) I think the turning point onscreen is when he faces down the War Machine in the street, willing to sacrifice himself if necessary to save the others—but confident that he can meet the challenge.

The War Games

And then, not long after, he regenerates. Patrick Troughton is the Doctor right from the start, there’s no doubt about it. For him, growth means learning not to let things go to his head. He’s just learned all this confidence and taken on this self-assigned responsibility; now he has to be humble. And the Second Doctor is definitely humble. He does all the things that a class clown does: He’s self-effacing, he uses humor to redirect attention, he’s always evaluating everything and everyone. He moves from passive to active: He’s not just a wanderer in time anymore; instead, he’s getting involved, making things happen. And he cares, far more than the first Doctor ever did. My first memory of the Second Doctor—before I started this rewatch—is from The Mind Robber, with the Doctor running through the Land of Fiction, frantically searching for Jamie and Zoe because he’s so utterly worried about what might happen to them. He comes across as sullen, sometimes, simply because he worries so much.

Doctor Who the seventies

And then, he gets caught. The runaway gets dragged back home to an as-yet-unnamed Gallifrey. His companions get their memories removed—what a waste!—and get sent home, and he is forced to regenerate again. In Patrick Troughton’s place, we get John Pertwee, the Third Doctor. Further, he’s banished to Earth; the newly-named Time Lords pull out parts of his TARDIS and parts of his mind so as to keep him there. He’s immediately scooped up by UNIT, so he’s not homeless or purposeless; but his wandering days are over for now. This Doctor is the responsible one, but it chafes him to be that way. He wants to be free, but he has to learn patience. In the meantime, he’s calm, dignified (mostly), and smooth. He’s cared for his companions before, but this is where he learns to love humanity in general; when he first lands, he looks down on them. He knows he’s smarter, knows they’re not on his level. But by the time he gains his freedom back, he doesn’t look down on them anymore—in fact, his opinions are reversed; in Planet of the Spiders, he’s happy with his friends and companions, and looking down on himself for his own foolishness. It’s humility, but a different kind of humility from that of the Second Doctor: He knows he’s not infallible.

The Android Invasion 1

All of that seems to go right out the window when Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor comes on the scene. Several times I’ve called this his adolescent phase. He’s the rebellious teenager here. He’s no longer content to meet his responsibilities; he wants to get out and see the universe. He spends a lot of episodes trying to run from duty, whether it be to UNIT, the Time Lords, the White Guardian, or his companions. He works on his TARDIS the way some teenagers soup up their cars. He gets so rebellious that he has to have a nanny, essentially, to keep him on track, and so Romana joins him. He’s changeable and moody and high-strung and unpredictable. He’s faced with huge decisions and freely admits he isn’t ready to make them. Genesis of the Daleks shows his immaturity (where rather than make the right decision, he more or less blunders into it); it’s not until The Armageddon Factor, when he dismisses the Key to Time, that he begins to grow out of it. And then, near his death, he gets Adric, and becomes something of a mentor to him. I feel like that relationship is what leads him to subconsciously choose the pattern of his next incarnation. He dies doing what he never could have done at the beginning: being a real hero, sacrificing himself for not just those close to him, but the universe at large.

Season 21 10

Peter Davison’s Fifth Doctor takes that mentoring aspect and cranks it up to eleven. Young though he appears to be, he’s the fatherly type; he treats his companions less like friends and more like family, or like his own children. Adric’s death in Earthshock breaks him, and he becomes a little harder afterward; but instead of giving him a dark side, that hardness just makes him try that much harder to be the protector, the mentor, the leader. This is the phase of his life where he becomes, as Ohila will later say to the Eighth Doctor, the good man. He finds something of an equal in Nyssa (though it’s never a romantic relationship), but she ultimately leaves out of goodness—she chooses to stay behind on Terminus to help the survivors of Lazar’s Disease. He takes Turlough under his wing, and saves him; he tries to do the same with Kamelion, but fails. It hurts him quite a bit when Tegan leaves; he tries to make it up with Peri, and ends up dying to save her.

Trial 13

I want to say that Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor came as a reaction to something about the Fifth Doctor. I want to say that, but I can’t. I labored over the question of why he should be the way he was—at first at least—but I just couldn’t come up with a satisfactory answer. It just seems that when you’re changing personalities with every regeneration, every once in a while you get a dud. It’s almost a reset, a throwback to Tom Baker, but with the bad qualities exaggerated and the good minimized. How often do you get a Doctor that tries to kill a companion? Not often. That, at least, is how he starts out. But if this were elementary school, I’d give the Sixth Doctor the award for “Most Improvement”. The change between the beginning of his (admittedly short) era and the end is just amazing. While he never stops being arrogant, it goes from unapologetic and vicious to self-aware and, well, able to laugh at himself. While he started out thinking of himself as being supremely capable in any circumstance, he really wasn’t—think of all the times he was outwitted by his circumstances, or the times he tried and failed to fix the TARDIS. Yet, by the end, when he learns not to focus on himself as much, he really IS capable—it’s almost like a bit of humility unlocked his abilities.

And then he’s unceremoniously dumped by the BBC. Oh. Well, that’s not good.

Season 26 10

Sylvester McCoy, as the Seventh Doctor, didn’t get the benefit of any buildup whatsoever. He had to step into the role and be the Doctor with no in-universe preparation. He met that challenge; no other Doctor has so immediately been the Doctor. From the minute he wakes up in the Rani’s lab, he commands the role, and never looks back. That’s literal as well as figurative; he’s the only Doctor never to be involved in any capacity in a multi-Doctor story, at least in the classic series. As far as the classic series is concerned—and with its end approaching—he is the pinnacle of the character: Capable, smart, mysterious, caring, wise, powerful, cunning. He meets his match in Ace, who is likewise the pinnacle of what a companion should be: Energetic, realistic, versatile, adaptable, happy, devoted, and above all else, human. With them, we get some of the best stories—and we get the difficult task of closing out the series for cancellation. Somehow, it all comes together perfectly.

movie 11

It’s unfortunate that the Seventh Doctor dies as he does—in gunfire and pain—but one thing that was NOT unfortunate was Paul McGann’s selection as the Eighth Doctor. This Doctor is the hinge on which the classic series turns, paving the way for the new series; and as such, he’s a little of both. He’s a survivor, but also a lover, at least to some degree. He puts thought into what it means to BE the Doctor—and he takes a stand accordingly. He dies trying to balance those aspects of himself, fighting destiny all the way to the end—and in his ashes is born the War Doctor. We’ll talk more about him somewhere much further down the road.

old and new dw

I made a point as I watched of looking for similarities and connections between the classic series and the revived series. Many of those, I pointed out as I came to them. It was interesting to see how plot points reappeared, and how relationships and personalities in one series mirrored those in the other. I suppose it’s inevitable that a five-decade series would repeat itself, but it’s uncanny sometimes; clearly the writers didn’t plagiarize, but they hit the same notes just the same. It never feels repetitive, somehow; instead, it just goes to make these characters feel like real people, with real personalities that stay consistent from one appearance to another. That’s no small feat, considering that there have been dozens (if not hundreds) of writers, and that it was almost certainly unintentional.

ninth doctor 2

One specific connection I looked for was the various ways in which later Doctors drew inspiration from earlier Doctors. I didn’t research the subject; I know some modern actors have spoken about how they designed their portrayal, and in at least one instance (Ten with Five from Time Crash) it’s actually canon; but I didn’t look into that. These are just my guesses and opinions based on what I saw of the characters. With that said, Nine doesn’t owe much to anyone—or rather, he’s a little bit of everyone. That makes perfect sense, considering he’s a brand-new Doctor, fresh off the Time War, and in a sense the first of his line. He had to carry the weight of the revival single-handedly, and so it made sense for him to show a little something from everyone—the harshness of Hartnell, the energy of Troughton, the severity of Pertwee, the willfulness of Tom Baker, the paternalism (sometimes) of Davison, the mercurial whims of Colin Baker, the determination of McCoy, and the responsibility of McGann. His costume didn’t even relate directly to anyone; it was something new, although we would eventually find that it relates to the War Doctor.

time crash

Ten, of course, owes much to Five; that much is official within the series. He gets his wit from Four, but his attitude toward his companions is all five—in fact, his companions themselves have a lot in common with Five’s companions. Rose is his Adric (though it eventually went to romance more than mentoring); Donna is his Nyssa; Martha is his Tegan, right down to the “I can’t do this anymore” departure; and Wilfred is his Turlough. Astrid Peth, in her one appearance, is his Kamelion—the one he tried to save, but failed; or you could make the same observation about Lady Christina de Souza, as she was both hero and villain.

eleventh doctor 1

Eleven owes his characterization to the Second Doctor, but also—oddly—to the Sixth. Bear with me. He shares Two’s general humor, many of his mannerisms, his flawless loyalty to his companions, and his calm self-assurance (which admittedly is the ONLY thing calm about him). At the same time, he has a proud and arrogant streak that is pure Six; sometimes he’s even as fickle as Six. He also has a scene at his tomb that parallels Six’s scene at his ostensible tomb in Revelation of the Daleks, though Eleven’s attitude about his impending death is much more mature than Six’s (and understandably so). Having a few audios with Six under my belt now, I see the way that character grew offscreen, and I can’t help thinking that Eleven is what Six might have been if he had had to face the Time War.

twelve and one

Then there’s Twelve. I’ve been vocal in various comments sections about my disappointment with the Twelfth Doctor thus far. I have the utmost respect for Peter Capaldi; his acting chops are second to none. What I don’t like is the direction the character has taken, mostly due to Clara Oswald. With that said, it was harder to nail down influences for him; but I feel like he mostly owes himself to the First and Third Doctors. He shares One’s disdain for his companions, or in his case, companion; I don’t mean that he hates Clara, but there is a lot of rivalry there, and also some looking down on her when he feels she’s inadequate. (It’s only fair, I guess; she does the same to him.) He also has One’s arrogance and willfulness, though it’s not as pronounced as, say, Six. He shares Three’s flair and fashion sense (sometimes anyway), love for tinkering, chafing at restrictions (Three toward the Time Lords, Twelve toward Clara), and sense of responsibility toward Clara and toward UNIT.

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We fans of the show are fond of declaring a certain Doctor to be “MY Doctor”, and that’s fine; I’ve done it too. Now that I’ve seen them all, I thought I would try to rank them according to my preferences. This ranking isn’t any kind of evaluation of their qualities; it’s strictly a ranking of who I liked, most to least, though I may make a comment or two along the way. I’m including the new series Doctors as well, because it’s a short list, and I feel like it’s best judged with everyone included.

  1. Tenth Doctor—David Tennant. I didn’t expect him to unseat Tom Baker, but what can I say.
  2. Seventh Doctor—Sylvester McCoy. I was surprised at just how good he was. The series ended in good hands.
  3. Fourth Doctor—Tom Baker. I grew up watching him, and he was always the standard for the Doctor, in my opinion. I was surprised and a little disappointed to see him slip in my personal rating.
  4. Eleventh Doctor—Matt Smith. He gets a lot of controversy among fans, but I thought he was great.
  5. Third Doctor—John Pertwee. Just a great performance all around.
  6. Fifth Doctor—Peter Davison. I wanted to be more impressed with him, and he wasn’t bad; but he wasn’t as good as I expected at first.
  7. Ninth Doctor—Christopher Eccleston. Great guy, great Doctor, but all too soon gone.
  8. Second Doctor—Patrick Troughton. I liked him, but for reasons I can’t pin down, I had trouble following a lot of his episodes.
  9. Eighth Doctor—Paul McGann. Just not enough material to rank him higher, though what we have is pretty good.
  10. First Doctor—William Hartnell. It was a different time; the First Doctor is easy to respect, but hard to love.
  11. Sixth Doctor—Colin Baker. Such a victim of bad writing and bad politics. I really feel like he would have done much better with more time.
  12. War Doctor—John Hurt. Great performance, but very little screen time.
  13. Twelfth Doctor—Peter Capaldi. Yes, I know, placing him last is controversial. I hope he’ll improve with a new companion. I have high hopes for him next series.

tenth doctor 1

So, there you have it—if I can call anyone “my Doctor”, it’s David Tennant.

Not a perfect list, but closest I could get. From top left: Susan, Barbara, Ian, Vicki, Steven, Dodo, Polly, Ben, Jamie, Victoria, Zoe, the Brigadier, Liz, Jo, Sarah Jane, Harry, Leela, K9, Romana I, Romana II, Adric, Nyssa, Tegan, Turlough, Peri, Mel, Ace, Grace, Rose, Jack, Mickey, Martha, Astrid, Donna, Jackson Lake, Lady Christina, Adelaide Brook, Wilfred, Amy, Rory, River, and I really don't know who that last one is.

Not a perfect list, but closest I could get. From top left: Susan, Barbara, Ian, Vicki, Steven, Dodo, Polly, Ben, Jamie, Victoria, Zoe, the Brigadier, Liz, Jo, Sarah Jane, Harry, Leela, K9, Romana I, Romana II, Adric, Nyssa, Tegan, Turlough, Peri, Mel, Ace, Grace, Rose, Jack, Mickey, Martha, Astrid, Donna, Jackson Lake, Lady Christina, Adelaide Brook, Wilfred, Amy, Rory, River, and I’m unsure, but I think that last one is supposed to be the personified TARDIS.

Finally, companions. As this list is considerably longer, rather than talk first about the various companions, I’ll just put this in ranking order, and make comments along the way. If you’ve read this far, congratulations! But this last part is likely to be the longest—the Doctor has had a lot of companions. As with my Doctor ranking, I’m including NuWho companions as well. I’ve mostly followed the Wikipedia list, but with a few exceptions for totally arbitrary reasons: I’ve left out Mike Yates and Sergeant Benton because they only appear with the Brigadier for the most part, and lumping them together with him doesn’t really change his ranking. I’ve included Chang Lee even though he was technically a companion of the Master, because he ultimately sided with the Doctor and was mostly inseparable from Grace Holloway. I’ve listed the two versions of Romana separately because the performances were very different; by the same logic, I’ve combined the two K9s into one entry. I didn’t include Jackson Lake because he (for all practical purposes) functions as a separate Doctor, complete with companion of his own; or Adelaide Brook, because she more or less traveled under duress, and clearly did not want to be with the Doctor. I also have left off incoming companion Bill, since we don’t know anything about her yet. In every case, I’ve tried to give the most complete name that I can; in some cases a surname wasn’t given onscreen, but has arisen in other materials. I’m using the versions that can be found on the TARDIS wiki. In total, using this ranking, there are 46 companions; 15 are male, 29 are female, and 2 are robotic. So, without further adieu, here’s my companion ranking.

  1. Ian Chesterton—First Doctor. I have a lot of respect for Ian. He’s a good man, even before the Doctor proves himself to be one as well; and he set the pattern for many companions to come. I would love to see William Russell reprise the role in a few episodes of Class, as Ian is hinted to be on the Board of Governors for Coal Hill School.
  2. Dorothy Gale “Ace” McShane—Seventh Doctor. I earlier described her as the pinnacle of what a companion should be, and I stand be that. She was fantastic in every regard.
  3. Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart—Second, Third Doctors, plus several cameos. Possibly the most loyal of all companions, in the sense that his loyalty existed in spite of having a clear view of just how crazy the Doctor could be. Every single appearance onscreen is great. Has a wit that cuts like a knife.
  4. Jamie McCrimmon—Second Doctor. More episodes under his belt than any other companion, and I’m still angry that he had his memory wiped. He’s the only companion to ever be present for a Doctor’s entire run (with the exception of Clara, if Series Ten goes as planned).
  5. Donna Noble—Tenth Doctor. Hands down, my favorite NuWho companion, and just as tragic at the end as Jamie. She was the one true equal in personality that the Tenth Doctor ever met.
  6. Nyssa of Traken—Fifth Doctor. If Donna was Ten’s equal, Nyssa was Five’s. They both essentially give up their life with the Doctor for the sake of saving people, though Donna doesn’t know it. Nyssa was the loyal, stable one while Adric and Tegan—and later, Turlough and Tegan—were fighting it out.
  7. K9—Fourth Doctor, and a cameo with Ten. A companion’s companion, literally, in that he ended up with Leela, Romana, and Sarah Jane in various incarnations. I loved K9 as a kid, and still do; his obliviousness and bluntness plays perfectly against Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor.
  8. Elizabeth “Liz” Shaw—Third Doctor. She didn’t get enough credit, and didn’t stay long enough. She was a much better match for Three than Jo Grant ever was, though he would never have been able to be paternal toward Liz like he was to Jo.
  9. Wilfred Mott—Tenth Doctor. Wins the award for “most lovable companion.” He summarizes how the rest of the universe relates to the Doctor—they want to trust him, but they can’t keep up with him, and in the end, they just want to survive and live a good life.
  10. Leela—Fourth Doctor. It always bothered me that the Doctor treated her rather badly, when she didn’t deserve it. Still, their relationship wasn’t all bad, and she was loyal and strong to a fault.
  11. Sarah Jane Smith—Third and Fourth Doctors, plus a cameo and two spinoffs. If I had only had her classic run to look at, I would have ranked her lower; she’s fairly whiny and weak. She gets a great redemption, though, in School Reunion and in The Sarah Jane Adventures.
  12. Dorothea “Dodo” Chaplet—First Doctor. Likeable, fun, and energetic. Her tenure felt very short to me.
  13. River Song—Tenth, Eleventh, and Twelfth Doctors, with suggestions that she met them all. River generates a lot of controversy, but I always liked her, even when she was being infuriating.
  14. Romana II—Fourth Doctor. Lalla Ward is the definitive Romana. Once the character and the Doctor learned to get along, they made a great team (and of course their real-life relationship added some chemistry, both good and bad).
  15. Vislor Turlough—Fifth Doctor. He’s another who gets some criticism, but I liked him once he stopped acting like a spoiled child and started standing up for himself.
  16. Jack Harkness (just as a companion, not based on his Torchwood performance)—Ninth and Tenth Doctors. Jack has a unique gift for grasping the situation instantly and adapting to it. A good man to have in a fight, and of course he’s charming as can be. Early Jack is almost more interesting than his Torchwood portrayal.
  17. Martha Jones—Tenth Doctor. There’s only one Martha, and I’m so glad she didn’t end up in a relationship with the Doctor. She turned out much better for walking away.
  18. Susan Foreman—First Doctor, plus a cameo. Susan gets a bad reputation because she was poorly written, but I always felt like the character had so much potential. I want to see her come back and get a regeneration scene while Carol Ann Ford is still with us.
  19. Zoe Heriot—Second Doctor. Zoe gets credit for matching so well with Jamie. They were a great duo, and together they perfectly balanced the Second Doctor. I wish she had stayed longer.
  20. Victoria Waterfield—Second Doctor. This was always going to be a difficult role to play; she was essentially a teenager with PTSD. Nevertheless, the role was executed well.
  21. Jo Grant—Third Doctor. I gave Jo a lot of flak in my reviews, but she turned out fine; I was just feeling burned by the loss of Liz Shaw. In the end, she made a great choice and picked a great cause when she left the Doctor. She grew on me over time, but I admit to thinking she was stupid at first.
  22. Harry Sullivan—Fourth Doctor. Harry is one of those incidental companions who never chose this life; he’s just along for the ride. He absolutely makes the most of it, though, and isn’t scarred by it at all—kind of a rare thing among companions.
  23. Adric—Fourth and Fifth Doctors. Not the first death in series history, but the most traumatic. He had a great arc, with considerable growth…and then, dead. Just like that.
  24. Romana I—Fourth Doctor. I liked Mary Tamm’s performance, and though I also liked Lalla Ward, I was sorry to see Romana regenerate. She was excellent at reining in the Fourth Doctor.
  25. Mel Bush—Sixth and Seventh Doctors. Mel was the best thing to happen to Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor. After the doom and depression of Peri’s final appearances, Mel was a breath of fresh air, and it clearly made a difference to the Doctor. Her performance was good enough that the transition to Ace felt like a handshake between friends rather than a change of watch.
  26. Tegan Jovanka—Fourth and Fifth Doctors. Tegan loosened up considerably after leaving her job; it was a great direction for her character. Unlike many companions before her, she didn’t leave because she missed home, or found other involvements; she left because of the horror of what life with the Doctor could entail. I compared her to Martha Jones in that regard, and I still think it’s a fair comparison.
  27. Grace Holloway—Eighth Doctor. Such a short performance, and unfortunately we’re not likely to get her back in any capacity. She may not have been a good long-term match for the Eighth Doctor, but she was certainly what he needed at the time.
  28. Chang Lee—Eighth Doctor. An excellent counterpoint to Grace. Had the show persisted, I could have seen him becoming another Adric. A good kid in the wrong place at the wrong time.
  29. Mickey Smith—Tenth Doctor, though also present around the Ninth. Often rejected from lists of companions, but I feel that’s unfair to him. He had a difficult path to walk, watching Rose reject him in favor of the Doctor, and yet still focusing on the bigger picture of saving the world (two worlds, actually!). He ended up with Martha, and I can’t imagine a better ending for him.
  30. Rory Williams—Eleventh Doctor. It’s difficult to tie yourself to a person with a very strong personality, but there’s no question about his love for Amy. I felt a great deal of sympathy for him. He could teach the Doctor a thing or two about being a good man.
  31. Craig Owens—Eleventh Doctor. And now, here’s an everyman! It may be a bit stereotypical, but Craig played the part perfectly. I’m not sorry he only had a few appearances; making him a regular would have ruined him, and that’s a fate I don’t want to think about.
  32. Amy Pond—Eleventh Doctor. I wanted to hate Amy for a long time. She ordered the Doctor and Rory around constantly, and just made life miserable. Then we got Clara, and I realized I never knew how good we had it with Amy. She’s by no means a bad character or a bad person, but she’s headstrong to the point of death, possibly literally. She did improve with time, though.
  33. Astrid Peth—Tenth Doctor. Earlier I called her Ten’s Kamelion, because of her short term and her death. Also like Kamelion, she had been manipulated by a worse villain, but she absolutely made good on it.
  34. Vicki Pallister—First Doctor. Vicki was quiet and unassuming, and basically just there—and for her, those were good things. She made no demands, just quietly worked and helped and served. I really appreciated her for that.
  35. Steven Taylor—First Doctor. I recall commenting that Steven was the victim of having his parts written initially for someone else. As a result, his character was all over the place. It’s a pity; he had the makings of greatness, but he just never had the chance to shine, being caught in the middle of things.
  36. Barbara Wright—First Doctor. I only ranked her low because she was the victim of her time. A female character in 1963 was pretty much doomed to do a lot of screaming and make a lot of bad decisions. Her heart was in the right place, though, and she had some good moments.
  37. Lady Christina de Souza—Tenth Doctor. We’re reaching the point where characters just don’t have enough material to rank them higher (well, with a few upcoming exceptions). Lady Christina deserved a redemption story arc, but she never got the chance to get it.
  38. Rose Tyler—Ninth and Tenth Doctors. I’ve been very hard on Rose over the years, mostly because of her love affair with the Doctor. While I’m not of the camp that says the Doctor should be asexual and anti-romantic, seeing this eighteen-year-old child fawning over him was just sad. She had a lot of good moments, but mostly they were the ones that didn’t involve the Doctor. We do owe her something for being the first companion of the revived series, but I feel like she squandered it.
  39. Perpugilliam “Peri” Brown—Fifth and Sixth Doctors. Poor Peri. She started out happy and hopeful, and then the Doctor tried to kill her. She never recovered from it. For the rest of her tenure, she’s a trauma victim; she’s paranoid, easily frightened, distrustful, and whiny. I hated that for her. It was almost a relief to see her go.
  40. Ben Jackson—First and Second Doctors. I’m ranking Ben and Polly (you never get them separately) low chiefly because I don’t remember a lot about them. They came and went fairly quickly, and though they were present for some good stories, they didn’t make much impact on me. Otherwise there’s nothing wrong about them.
  41. Polly Wright—First and Second Doctors. Polly didn’t even get a last name onscreen, which tells you more about her character than I could say in a paragraph. She was definitely underused.
  42. Clara Oswald—Tenth, Eleventh, War, and Twelfth Doctors, with cameos with all of them. Yes, I’m ranking her low. She’s the only companion ever to inspire me to rage. I will give her credit for her early appearances with Eleven; from Asylum of the Daleks to The Name of the Doctor, she was fantastic and compelling. The “Impossible Girl” storyline was great, and had a great resolution, introducing the War Doctor as well. After that, she took over the show and turned the Doctor into her lapdog. I’ve ranted extensively about this in other places, so I’ll let it go for now.
  43. Katarina—First Doctor. Just too short a term to say much about her. She was in over her head to begin with. However, she did make a noble sacrifice in the end, thus becoming the first companion death.
  44. Sara Kingdom—First Doctor. Has the dubious distinction of being the second companion to die in the same episode as another. She could have been a good character, given enough time; and she was the first enemy to then become a companion.
  45. Adam Mitchell—Ninth Doctor. I kept him on the list because the idea of an evil companion is fascinating, but let’s be honest, he’s slimy and despicable.
  46. Kamelion—Fifth Doctor. Ranked last for his severe underuse. It’s not his fault; it’s hard to use a prop when no one knows how it works. Unfortunately he came and went with barely a blip on the radar, although The King’s Demons is a good—if insane—story.

The last thing I wanted to mention are my favorite serials for each Doctor (or the first seven, anyway—not enough material for choice with McGann, really). Someone had asked about this; I tried to get into it season by season, but really ran out of time in most cases. Anyway, for better or worse, here were my favorites for each Doctor, and a bit about why:

  • First Doctor: The Space Museum. I know, it’s an odd choice, especially when I’ve talked so much about The War Machines. But favorites aren’t just based on seminal moments in the series; they’re based on how enjoyable they were. This serial gets a lot of flak for various reasons, but it was fun to watch, and it created a few ideas that have shown up again in surprising places, like the idea of a mind probe device, or the idea of being out of sync with time. And Hartnell is at his funniest here, which is awesome.
  • Second Doctor: Oh, man, so many good choices. Patrick Troughton really is the Doctor who defined the role. But when all is said and done, I’d choose The Tomb of the Cybermen. It’s full of iconic scenes and moments, and brought the Cybermen back from what seemed like the dead after the end of The Tenth Planet. In some ways, Cybermen have always been scarier than Daleks; all a Dalek can do is exterminate you, but the Cybermen can make you one of them, and steal away your humanity.
  • Third Doctor: Inferno. Again, probably an uncommon choice, but hear me out. Here you get the Doctor in extremis; he’s alone, in a hostile world, racing the clock, feeling the burden of not one but two worlds, with no TARDIS, no companions, no UNIT—and he wins. Yet, even as he wins, he loses some people he would rather have saved, and it’s clear he’s not perfect, and he can’t do everything. Also, it’s a bit downplayed, but there’s some suggestion that the Leader in the inferno world is the Doctor, or rather, what he would have become had he accepted one of the forms the Time Lords offered him in The War Games.
  • Fourth Doctor: Again, so many choices! But I’m going with The Face of Evil. Not only did it introduce Leela, but it also showed us just what happens if the Doctor has to go up against himself (or rather, the computerized version he left behind). It’s an irresistible plot, and one that would be mined again under the Eleventh Doctor (Nightmare in Silver). This is one from my childhood, too, so there’s some sentimentality there as well.
  • Fifth Doctor: I’m tempted to say The Visitation just based on the awesome Richard Mace, but the rest of the story wasn’t that strong; and it cost us the sonic screwdriver. So, I’ll go with Kinda. There’s not much to hate about it; the Mara are a great and unique villain; Tegan is fantastic here; and it is dealt with chiefly due to the relationship between the Doctor and his companions, which is the essence of what the Fifth Doctor is about. I didn’t enjoy Snakedance quite as much, but it was also a great complement to this story.
  • Sixth Doctor: No, I’m not going to say Trial of a Time Lord; that would be cheating. If it were going to be that season, I’d break it down into its parts. Actually, in general I do prefer that season over the preceding one; but for an individual story, I’m going with Revelation of the Daleks. It’s the first place where the Sixth Doctor really started to come into his own, and Davros is one of my favorite villains.
  • Seventh Doctor: Battlefield. No hard decision here. Yes, I know it was rated low, but this is my list, so there. It’s the seventh Doctor at the top of his game; UNIT and the Brigadier still at the top of theirs; an actual battle scene, which is something we rarely ever got in UNIT stories for some reason; a great take on the King Arthur legends; Ace being fantastic; and Bessie, who we all know is my one true love. Just kidding. Still cool to see the car again, though.

So, there it is. Twenty-six seasons, one movie, eight Doctors, thirty-two companions (classic series), one hundred sixty stories, and one blue box—classic Doctor Who in its entirety. There’s far more that could be said, and has been; after all these years, there’s no bottom to this well. Still, this rewatch has given my thoughts on these decades of stories; now, what are yours? This has always been about discussion, and I love seeing everyone’s thoughts and reactions. Feel free to comment!

Season 26 feature

Some future plans: I’ve already begun an occasional series of reviews of the Big Finish Doctor Who audio dramas, and I intend to continue it. It won’t have anything near the regularity of this series; it will just be as I manage to listen to the audios. That series is open-ended; I don’t have a goal in mind, as Big Finish is constantly adding new material. Nor will it be in any particular order; as they add materials for all Doctors, it’s not practical to take them in numeric order as I did with the television series. As I can get my hands on the novels, I may do the same with them; but that series is likely to be even more infrequent than the audios. I have given some thought to continuing with a rewatch of the revived series, and I may do that; but I don’t want to get it mixed up with /r/Gallifrey’s official rewatch series, so I may wait a bit and title it differently. If I do continue, I won’t do an entire season in a single post; there’s just too many stories per season for that. I’ll probably do about three episodes per post.

Doctors banner

Thanks for reading! I’m glad this series was well received, and I look forward to everyone’s comments.

 

All seasons and episodes may be viewed on Dailymotion; links are below. Note that these links are not the individual serial links I have previously posted, but rather, links to the entire collected seasons, arranged by era. For convenience, I have included links to the revived series as well.

The First Doctor, William Hartnell, 1963-1966

The Second Doctor, Patrick Troughton, 1966-1969

The Third Doctor, John Pertwee, 1970-1974

The Fourth Doctor, Tom Baker, 1974-1980

The Fifth Doctor, Peter Davison, 1981-1984

The Sixth Doctor, Colin Baker, 1984-1986

The Seventh Doctor, Sylvester McCoy, 1986-1989

The Eighth Doctor, Paul McGann, 1996, 2013

No episodes dedicated solely to the War Doctor have been produced; however, to make up for it, I’ll give you something special: the fan film created to promote the War Doctor charity anthology, Seasons of War

The Ninth Doctor, Christopher Eccleston, 2005

The Tenth Doctor, David Tennant, 2006-2010

The Eleventh Doctor, Matt Smith, 2011-2014

The Twelfth Doctor, Peter Capaldi, 2014-Present

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End of an Era: Classic Doctor Who Rewatch, Season Twenty-Six

At long last, we’ve done it! We’ve reached the end (or almost, anyway) of our Classic Doctor Who rewatch! I say “almost”, because my plan is to include the 1996 television movie with this rewatch, and also to make a “final thoughts” post (or possibly two, if it gets too long). Today, however, we’re looking at the twenty-sixth and final season, with Sylvester McCoy’s Seventh Doctor. Let’s get started!

Let this be our last battlefield!

Let this be our last battlefield!

It’s goodbyes all around, as we open with Battlefield, and say goodbye to UNIT. It’s Carbury, England, in the year 1997 (coincidentally, the year I graduated high school), and strange happenings are afoot. It’s Doctor Who’s take on the King Arthur legends, but oddly, it doesn’t deal much with Arthur at all; he’s seen to be in stasis, and then at the end, it’s revealed that he was dead all along, and his prophesied return was just hype. Instead, we deal with Morgaine and Mordred, plus a number of knights in their services, and a summoned demon called the Destroyer. Helping the Doctor and Ace is the loyal knight Ancelyn (I really hope I’m spelling these correctly…); and the Doctor, as it turns out, is Merlin. Of course there’s a catch: He himself doesn’t remember being Merlin, as—it’s suggested—those events are still in his future, and even in a different regeneration.

Gotcha!

Gotcha!

There are some great moments: Ace pulling Excalibur and playing Lady of the Lake; Bessie making a reappearance; and Morgaine meeting Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart for the first time, at the business end of his gun. Oh, did I mention him? Yes, the Brigadier makes his final classic appearance here! He’s retired now, from both UNIT and his teaching career, and happily married to his second wife, Doris (not Kate’s mother); but he is recalled by the new head of UNIT in Britain, Brigadier Winifred Bambera, who is NOT prepared to deal with the Doctor. (Nicholas Courtney will reprise the role in The Sarah Jane Adventures episode Enemy of the Bane; and after Courtney’s—and the character’s—death, he’ll be revived in Cyberman form in Death in Heaven, for one final salute.)

Season 26 3

The Doctor’s darker side begins to show here, as he is quite ruthless regarding Morgaine and her troops. He makes frequent references to his past, and even to his future. The serial contains the final scene in the TARDIS interior; the console room is darkened during the scene. Behind the scenes, this was because the wall flats had been accidentally junked after last season; the walls seen here were hasty, cheap replacements, and the lights were dimmed to hide the reality. This scene gives us the “across the boundaries separating one universe from another” line, which was used in the “freezing Gallifrey” scene in The Day of the Doctor. On Earth, the Doctor uses his and Liz Shaw’s now-outdated UNIT ID cards to get himself and Ace inside the perimeter; but it doesn’t work as planned, leading to the Brigadier’s recall.

Goodbye, Brigadier! And RIP Nicholas Courtney.

Goodbye, Brigadier! And RIP Nicholas Courtney.

For reasons unknown to me, this serial is the lowest rated (in original run) of the entire classic series. It’s quite a shame; I thought it was a great story, and a lot of fun to watch. It was a little sad to watch the Brigadier’s final appearance; but it was good to see that UNIT is in good hands.

What an odd house.

What an odd house.

An oddity of this season, and something not seen since the Third Doctor, is that nearly the entire season occurs on Earth. For Ghost Light, we travel back to 1883, to Ace’s hometown of Perivale, and specifically to the large house called Gabriel Chase. We learn that, in her own time, Ace burned this house to the ground, due to an evil presence she felt there. That presence proves to be an incorporeal alien called Light, who, when defeated by the Doctor, dissipates into the house. It’s the story of three aliens from the same mission, each of which has very different plans for the Earth and its inhabitants. It’s a bit of a protest against the idea of evolution, as all three aliens react to the concept in different ways. In the end, Ace must face down some of the literal ghosts of her past.

Even the ghost wonders what he's doing in this story.

Even the ghost wonders what he’s doing in this story.

This serial was the low point of the season for me, and I found it a little hard to maintain my interest. To be fair, it’s the only serial I didn’t care for this season. In tone and subject matter, it’s very reminiscent of the NuWho episode The Unquiet Dead. Interestingly, it’s the final serial to be produced; the order of the season was reshuffled during production. As a result, the following serial has Ace mentioning “an old house in Perivale”; this was supposed to be foreshadowing, but was negated by the switch.

Wow, you guys don't look so good.

Wow, you guys don’t look so good.

We’ve been building up to it for three years, and now we get some answers in The Curse of Fenric. The Doctor and Ace arrive at Maiden’s Point, a secret military base in Northumberland, in May 1943. It’s hard to believe now, but this is the first (and only classic) serial to be set in World War II; it will be followed by several NuWho stories, including The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances, Victory of the Daleks, and Let’s Kill Hitler! The enemy is Fenric, an ancient evil who is established in spinoff media to be a Great Old One, one of several beings from a previous universe (similar to the Animus from The Web Planet and, possibly, the Celestial Toymaker). The Doctor fought Fenric in the third century, and using a chess gambit, imprisoned him in the Shadow Dimensions (interfacing with our world via an oriental flask). Here, at long last, he escapes and challenges the Doctor again; and he doesn’t come alone. He brings with him the Haemovores, vampires from a terrible alternate future of humanity, who are led by the Ancient One, a hideously mutated and powerful Haemovore from the future.

Bad touch! Bad touch!

Bad touch! Bad touch!

Fenric, as it turns out, has been manipulating the Doctor’s path via the people around him. It was Fenric who caused Ace to be transported to Iceworld, and who enabled Lady Peinforte to time-travel in Silver Nemesis. (The chessboard in that episode was also intended as foreshadowing.) Those individuals, plus several others present in this story, are “Wolves of Fenric”—descendants of an individual who was touched by Fenric’s curse, and thus they can now be manipulated by him. Ace, in fact, establishes her own timeline here by saving the life of a woman named Kathleen and her baby, Audrey…who turn out to be Ace’s grandmother and mother, respectively. Fenric’s manipulation is matched by the Doctor, however; the Doctor let’s his darker side show when he insults Ace to break her faith in him, allowing the conflict to come to a resolution. Though he makes it up to her later, it was a cold trick to play on her, especially given that he couldn’t have known it would work out as it did, with the Ancient One turning on Fenric and destroying them both.

Uhh...anyone want to help us out here?

Uhh…anyone want to help us out here?

The backdrop for all of this is the creation of the ULTIMA machine, a codebreaking machine loosely based on the real-life Enigma machine, the German enciphering device broken in large part by Alan Turing. It’s a decent idea; however, a part of the plot is that the Soviets intend to steal the machine from the British. That makes little sense to me, as the British and the Soviets were allies during the war. Still, we can handwave it, given that this is a fictional universe. In the end, there’s much more that could be said—it’s a complex plot and a convoluted serial—but we’ll move on. I will say that I greatly enjoyed this story, and was sorry to see it end.

Season 26 10

Finally, we come to Survival, the last and final serial of classic Doctor Who. It’s an apt name, I’ve always thought, as the series went into “survival mode” after this, living on in novels and comics and—later—audio dramas. It’s the final appearance of the last of the three great perennial enemies of the Doctor: The Master. (We’ve already said goodbye to the Daleks and the Cybermen in season twenty-five.) For this serial, we return to Perivale, but in the present day (1989, that is); I think it’s fitting that the series should end with a contemporary story, as that’s how it began. (Or I should say, almost contemporary; it was broadcast in November and December of that year, but the visible setting appears to be late summer/early fall.) Interestingly, the serial itself doesn’t state that it’s 1989, though context makes it likely; confirmation of the date is found in the New Adventures novel, First Frontier.

A colder, more deadly Master.

A colder, more deadly Master.

The Master, it seems, is trapped on an unnamed planet; his TARDIS is nowhere to be seen, so presumably it has been lost. It’s a unique world; it has the power to transform its inhabitants into feral, catlike Cheetah people, and in very short order. The Master himself is infected with this transformation, visible in his now-catlike eyes and fangs. He is able to send Cheetah individuals to Earth, but can’t leave himself. Once there, they hunt and abduct humans as prey, teleporting them back to the Cheetah world. He seeks the Doctor for assistance in escaping; if successful, he will carry the planet’s contagion everywhere he goes. The planet is tied to its people; their violence is reflected in the planet’s geological violence. The situation is complicated when Ace, too, is infected. She is freed when the Doctor returns her to Earth, along with some of her kidnapped friends. The Master, too, escapes, but is intercepted by the Doctor and transported back to the planet, where they fight their final battle. In the end, the planet breaks apart, and the Doctor escapes, leaving the Master ostensibly to die.

Season 26 13

Of course, we know that he doesn’t die; he’ll be seen again as early as the television movie. That film uses the cat-eye motif as a symbolic connection to the end of the series, as the Master himself is free of the contagion by then. (In fact, he frees himself of it, and gains a new body, in the aforementioned First Frontier.) However, this is Anthony Ainley’s last on-screen appearance in the role, as he does not appear in the movie.

Goodbye, Doctor, and goodbye, Ace.

Goodbye, Doctor, and goodbye, Ace.

There are some great moments in this episode. Ace, commenting on the Master’s connection to the Doctor, asks the Doctor, “Do you know any nice people? You know, ordinary people, not power-crazed nutters trying to take over the galaxy?!” (Which, in my opinion, pretty much sums up all of the Doctor’s old relationships…) All the Doctor can say is “I don’t think he’s trying to take over the galaxy this time…” There’s a great moment where the Doctor asks Ace where she wants to go, and she simply says “Home”…then, seeing his crestfallen face, she adds “You know, the TARDIS!” And of course, there’s the famous final monologue, which I’ve included below. It was written by Andrew Cartmel, and dubbed over the final scene; notably, it was recorded on November 23rd, 1989, 26 years to the day after the premiere of Doctor Who. I can’t think of a better way to go out.

“There are worlds out there where the sky is burning, where the sea’s asleep and the rivers dream, people made of smoke and cities made of song. Somewhere there’s danger, somewhere there’s injustice, and somewhere else the tea’s getting cold! Come on, Ace — we’ve got work to do!”

"That's my fetish!"

“That’s my fetish!”

This story, naturally, has some “lasts”, in addition to those I’ve already mentioned. It’s the final of only three serials to be filmed entirely on Outside Broadcast Video (the others being The Sontaran Experiment and The Curse of Fenric) and the final of five to be filmed entirely on location (the two previously mentioned, and Spearhead from Space and The Greatest Show in the Galaxy). It’s the last to use the most recent opening and theme; the last to use the TARDIS prop that had been in use most recently; and the last to feature the Doctor’s face in the opening until NuWho’s The Snowmen, with Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor. Notably, one of the supporting cast Lisa Bowerman (playing the Cheetah person Karra) will go on to voice Bernice Summerfield, a popular companion and spinoff character in the audios. Overall, it’s a great story, with a great and menacing take on the Master; despite being the televised equivalent of a furry convention, it’s a great way to end the classic run.

Next time: The Wilderness Years, and the 1996 television movie, in which we meet Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor! See you there.

Dimensions in Time 1

Bonus: I took a few minutes and watched the 1993 Children In Need special, Dimensions in Time. It’s twelve minutes of glorious nonsense, and I won’t dwell long on it, since it’s almost universally deemed to be non-canon. Taken in that vein, it’s a nice little coda to the series; it features all of the Doctors (with Hartnell and Troughton appearing only in still cameos, as they were both deceased by this time) and a laundry list of companions: Susan Foreman, Victoria Waterfield, Liz Shaw, Mike Yates, Sarah Jane Smith, Leela, Nyssa, Peri Brown, Mel Bush, K9 Mark I, Romana II, and the Brigadier. It’s rather short; its two parts run five and seven minutes respectively, with about five minutes of framing broadcast that featured John Pertwee. Its villain is the Rani, who brings her own companion, named Cyrian. Her plan involves pulling the various Doctors and companions from their timelines; as a result, the Doctors and companions keep randomly switching places, creating some odd pairings. The Rani’s “menagerie” includes a Cyberman and a Time Lord; the Daleks would have appeared, but the scenes were deleted due to a dispute with Terry Nation’s estate. There are some references back, including the “Doctor Who?” and “When I say run, RUN!” running jokes, and an appearance by Bessie. The special was a crossover with the show EastEnders, which I have often heard of but have never seen, therefore those jokes were lost on me. (Interestingly, it’s that show that most strongly makes this special non-canon, as Army of Ghosts makes it clear that EastEnders is a television show in the DW universe.) There was a phone-in voting element to determine the outcome of the story; scenes were filmed for the losing option as well, but never used. Overall, however, it must have been a success, as it raised 101,000 pounds in one night.

All episodes can be viewed on Dailymotion; links are below.

Battlefield (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4)

Ghost Light

The Curse of Fenric (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4)

Survival (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3)

Dimensions in Time

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The Long Goodbye: Classic Doctor Who Rewatch, Season Twenty-Five

We’re back, with another season of our Classic Doctor Who rewatch! It won’t be long now, as we approach the end of the classic series. Only one more season to go after this! (Three more posts, however; I intend to do a post for the 1996 TV movie, and also a wrap-up post.) This week in Season Twenty-Five, we begin to say our goodbyes to some old friends—or rather, some old enemies. Let’s get started!

The Doctor, Ace, and a Special Weapons Dalek

The Doctor, Ace, and a Special Weapons Dalek

We get right to it with Remembrance of the Daleks. It’s the final appearance of the Daleks in the classic series, and also the final installment of the “Davros arc” of Dalek stories which began with Destiny of the Daleks way back in Season Seventeen. It does something unusual for the classic series: It begins with a cold open, showing us the Dalek ship approaching Earth. The story immediately takes us full circle, all the way back to the beginning, by landing the Doctor in late November 1963 at Coal Hill School and Totter’s Lane, right back where it all began. Specifically, it’s November 29th and 30th, 1963, just six days after the First Doctor kidnapped Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright—and six days after the real-world premier of Doctor Who. Interestingly, there’s a bit of meta-reference there; at one point we hear a radio announcer mention a new episode of the “science-fiction series Doc-“ only to be cut off by a scene change. In fact, this episode is full of references to the show’s history, making it a “remembrance” not just of the Daleks, but of the entire series:

  • Ace sees a French Revolution text in Coal Hill School, like the one Susan read in An Unearthly Child;
  • The Doctor references his time as Lord President;
  • The Daleks (Imperials, to be precise) have control again of Skaro; the Daleks use a transmat;
  • The Doctor builds a jamming device and refers to having done so on Spiridon;
  • The Doctor makes veiled references to the as-yet-nonexistent UNIT;
  • The renegade Daleks use a human child in their battle computer, a trick they learned in the Movellan War;
  • Several people make references to, and describe, the First Doctor;
  • The Doctor refers to the events of The Dalek Invasion of Earth, which is still almost 200 years in the future.

For fun, there’s even a reference—from our perspective—to NuWho, as the headmaster of Coal Hill thinks the Doctor is there to apply for a job as the Caretaker.

Get 'em, Ace!

Get ’em, Ace!

This is the earliest occurrence, to my knowledge, of the Daleks making incursion on Earth, or at least until time travel shenanigans get rolling in the Time War. They do possess time travel at this point, however, as both factions clearly used it to get to 1963 (and in fact it figures into the plot—both factions want to take the Hand of Omega back to their own time). The Hand of Omega—the stellar manipulator used by Omega to create the Eye of Harmony—is the macguffin, or rather (as TVTropes puts it) the magnetic plot device of this story. It’s intelligent to some degree, able to parse and obey voice commands; that’s not unreasonable, as we’ll see that feature again in other Time Lord technology this very season, and we already know it’s true of TARDISes and of the Moment. The First Doctor took it with him—stole it, really—when he fled Gallifrey, and after carrying it for awhile, he intended to bury it on Earth before Ian and Barbara changed his plans. Here, he returns and actually completes his burial, but it’s short-lived. (The cemetery looks to be the same as the one seen in Death in Heaven, but I have no way to verify.) The Daleks want it for various purposes: the Renegades want it to defeat the Imperials, and Davros’s Imperial faction wants it to destroy the Time Lords and supplant them. In the end, the Doctor lets Davros get away with it, but with a deception: he has programmed it to destroy Skaro’s sun, then return to Gallifrey. Skaro is destroyed, and the Daleks are—for now—defeated. (Of course it will be rebuilt, as referenced in both the TV movie and several places in NuWho.)

Davros, you make for a goofy emperor.

Davros, you make for a goofy emperor.

There’s a famous scene of Ace damaging an Imperial Dalek with a bat that has been charged up by the Hand of Omega. The bat is used thereafter to kill the mutant inside, and to destroy the transmat device. In the course of all this, it becomes clear that the Imperial Daleks have been cybernetically augmented. Davros himself is not revealed until late in the story, when it becomes evident that he is, in fact, the Dalek Emperor, with a unique casing for his degraded body. We also get a brief appearance by an Imperial Special Weapons Dalek. This season is also the actual beginning of the previously-mentioned Cartmel Masterplan, and to that end, the Doctor lets slip at the end that he may have been involved in the creation of the Hand of Omega. Overall, it’s a great send-off for the Daleks.

The Kandy Man.

The Kandy Man.

The Happiness Patrol takes us back into the future—specifically, the 24th century, on the human-colonized planet of Terra Alpha. The premise is simple, but farfetched: unhappiness is illegal and enforceable by death. Still, we’ve seen a lot of untenable dystopias, so we’ll let it slide. Allegedly the story is an allegory for the leadership of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, but I don’t know enough about her term to comment on that. I do see that it’s essentially a rebellion story, with the overthrow of a corrupt and hyper-legalistic government, which is something that Doctor Who does well. It’s somewhat rare in that, usually, the Doctor supports the removal of a tyrant, but not the overthrow of the entire form of government; here he does exactly that. Someone commented recently that this story and Paradise Towers are essentially the same, and there are definitely similarities: the closed environment, the maniacal dictator, the killer robot(s), the rebellion movement, and so on. Personally, I think The Happiness Patrol wore it better.

Helen A and the Stigorax. Hard to tell, I know, but Helen is the one on the right.

Helen A and the Stigorax. Hard to tell, I know, but Helen is the one on the right.

The tyrant in question, Helen A, uses the sadistic Kandy Man robot to enforce her will and carry out executions. (I use the term “robot” loosely, as he appears to be actually made of confections.) It’s a goofy villain, but very malicious. She also has and uses a vicious pet, the Stigorax, to hunt down escapees; the Doctor refers to having encountered one on 25th-century Earth, though we have not seen this onscreen. He also refers back to Invasion of the Dinosaurs, saying that the Brigadier had encountered a Tyrannosaurus and Pterodactyls.

I've seen that girl in the poster somewhere...

I’ve seen that girl in the poster somewhere…

Earth itself is a bit of a backwater at this point, and not a nice place to live, as stated by the census taker Trevor Sigma. That’s to be expected in a time of rapid expansion; one would expect power centers to shift extensively throughout the galaxy. Trevor Sigma himself is a bit silly, a very Douglas Adams-like parody of a civil servant (unfortunately not actually written by Adams). Oh yes, and the TARDIS gets painted pink. ‘Nuff said.

Season 25 7

It’s back to Earth for Silver Nemesis, specifically to Windsor, England, 1988. (There are also some scenes in the year 1638, and in South America.) Having said goodbye to the Daleks, we now say goodbye to the Cybermen, with their final classic appearance. We also introduce a secondary villain: The time-travelling Lady Peinforte, who comes forward in time using black magic (and, unbeknownst to everyone at this point, a bit of a nudge from a more ancient evil—but that’s next season!). Peinforte, the Cybermen, a group of Nazis—this story has everything!—and the Doctor and Ace all converge on Windsor in search of something rare: a crashed comet and its cargo of the living, deadly, Time-Lord-created metal known as Validium. The Doctor and Peinforte have some history with it; she found it in her own time and made it into a statue of great power, and the Doctor put that statue on the comet and sent it away. The Cybermen want it for how it can augment their own power; they intend to use it eliminate humanity and turn Earth into a new Mondas (unsurprising, as this story takes place just two years after the destruction of Mondas at the hands of the First Doctor). In the end, the Cybermen are defeated by the Validium due to the Doctor’s cunning; Lady Peinforte dies when she merges with the statue.

Well, this is awkward.

Well, this is awkward.

There are several random but noteworthy things about this serial. It’s the 25th anniversary special, and the only anniversary special thus far to NOT be a multi-doctor story; hence the “silver” in the title has a double meaning. Also as a result, it was set on November 22 and following days, 1988, and also began its initial broadcast on November 23, 1988, the literal 25th anniversary of the series. It’s the first introduction of the phrase “Doctor Who?” as a question; the question is given some importance (and of course not answered), but that thread will not come to fruition until NuWho under the Eleventh Doctor. There’s a painting of Ace in Windsor Castle, but the Doctor says the events that spawned it have not yet happened (and as far as I know, never happen onscreen). The Doctor claims to know the queen, but doesn’t actually recognize her. He carries a fob watch, with some apparent link to the TARDIS, as it notifies him of moments of peril; however it doesn’t seem to be the same as the fob watch that works with a chameleon arch. I have mentioned before that a later version of the Cybermen should have had the Seventh Doctor in their footage of past encounters; that is due to this serial. Of course they couldn’t, in a real-world sense, as this story had not yet been filmed. Still, at this point they recognize the Doctor, and understand that his face has changed, even though this is a very early encounter for them. Stranger still: These cybermen are definitely a more modern variant, despite being refugees from the destruction of Mondas. And last, there’s a funny moment when the Doctor and Ace encounter two thugs tied up in a tree (courtesy of Lady Peinforte); he asks who did this to them, and they retort “Social workers!” Or maybe it’s only funny to me, as I’m a social worker for my day job. I guess you had to be there.

The Gods of Ragnarok in their true forms.

The Gods of Ragnarok in their true forms.

We close up with The Greatest Show in the Galaxy, the serial which held the record for longest title (six words) until NuWho’s The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe (seven). It’s set on the planet Segonax, at the Psychic Circus. The date is unknown to us, but not to the Doctor, as he comments that the robot he sees at the outset is common to that part (and by extension, time) of the galaxy. We are introduced to a new villain (villains?), the Gods of Ragnarok. The Doctor states he has fought them all through time, but again, it’s not something we’ve witnessed. Here, they masquerade as the audience of the circus, and secretly control the performers to increase both the spectacle and the number of deaths—for secretly, they feed on entertainment.Season 25 10

Sylvester McCoy, already an accomplished performer, learned a number of new performance tricks for this serial, as it gave him a chance to showcase his skills. He had a close call in Part Four, as well; during the scene of the arena explosion, the crew over-rigged the explosives, causing his clothes to actually catch fire. However, he walked away calmly despite the risk, as he knew there would only be one take—proving Sylvester McCoy is cooler than I will ever be. The character called Mags is secretly a werewolf; like Lady Peinforte in the previous serial, this is another link in the slowly-building arc that will be resolved with next season’s The Curse of Fenric. As well, the character of Whizz Kid was written as a parody of Doctor Who fans, much like Osgood in The Day of the Doctor (but much less kindly).

Back to the beginning.

Back to the beginning.

All in all, it wasn’t a bad season. It was clear that the lion’s share of the effort went into the Dalek and Cyberman serials; the other two aren’t as interesting, in my opinion. Still, they’re not bad, and I couldn’t find much fault with them. I found The Happiness Patrol to be the weakest serial of the season, partly because its premise was difficult to believe, and partly because of all the candy. Both the Daleks and the Cybermen got a decent send-off, and I really enjoyed the return to Totter’s Lane and Coal Hill. Only one of the three major recurring villains—Daleks, Cybermen, and the Master—remains to be seen off, and we’ll get to him next season in the very last serial of the classic series. Ace continues to be a great companion, and the Doctor continues to be intriguing even as his character darkens a bit (though not as dark as I had been led to believe). There is some melancholy to be had, as we know we’re nearing the end; I don’t know how much the production team knew at the time, but of course they were constantly living in the shadow of cancellation, and it shows. Still, overall, it’s an enjoyable season.

Next time: We say goodbye to UNIT, the Master, and that mysterious villain we’ve been building up to: the ancient evil of Fenric! And, oh yeah, we wrap up the classic series. Just little things, you know. See you there.

All episodes may be viewed on Dailymotion; links are below.

Remembrance of the Daleks (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4)

The Happiness Patrol

Silver Nemesis

The Greatest Show In The Galaxy

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At Sixes and Sevens: Classic Doctor Who Rewatch, Season Twenty-Four

We’re back, with another season of Classic Doctor Who! We’re approaching the end today as we meet the Seventh Doctor, Sylvester McCoy. Only three seasons (and a television movie) left! Let’s get started!

Sorry, Colin. Wish you could have been there.

Sorry, Colin. Wish you could have been there.

Seasons from this point forward—or actually, from last season—will be the shortest they’ve ever been, with only four serials each. Unlike last seasons, Season 24 is not a single cohesive story, although we will see the beginning of a loose arc that will take us all the way to the end of the classic series. We open with Time and the Rani. Right away, it’s different from any previous regeneration story; Colin Baker declined to return and film the regeneration after being treated rather badly by the BBC. We open on the TARDIS under attack from an unknown source; after taking a few hits, we find the Sixth Doctor (played by McCoy in a wig with his face turned away) and Mel lying on the floor of the console room. The Rani, with a henchman, enters, and takes the Doctor away; when he is rolled over, his face has already begun to change. (The reason for the regeneration—the radiation from the attacking weapons, which is toxic to Time Lords but not to humans—isn’t stated here, but has since been revealed in a Big Finish audio.) Mel is left behind in the TARDIS, which has crashed to the surface of the planet Lakertya. The date is completely unknown.

A classic outfit.

A classic outfit.

It’s a better regeneration than most for the Doctor; although he does have some amnesia, it’s not nearly as total as it usually is—he remembers himself and Mel, the Rani, and Gallifrey, and he has more energy this time. He’s not pleased with himself at first; he comments to Mel (or to the Rani in disguise as Mel), “You don’t understand regeneration, Mel. It’s a lottery! …and I’ve drawn the short plank.” (Later, in The Day of the Doctor, the Tenth Doctor will make a similar, and snide, remark to the Eleventh Doctor.) He tries the outfits of all but the First Doctor, before settling on his trademark jacket, pants, suspenders, pullover, and hat. He claims at one point that he and the Rani are both 953 years old; and given that it’s a precise number that is sort-of backed up by the Rani, I think this is probably accurate. It’s also probably the last accurate count of the Doctor’s age that we will ever get.

Yep, that's a giant brain.

Yep, that’s a giant brain.

The Rani is seeking intelligent minds throughout history—including Einstein and the Doctor—to capture and use an asteroid composed of “strange matter” (a real-world concept, despite the hokey name). Properly obtained and used, it would allow her control of history. She uses the violent Tetraps and the subjugated Lakertyans to carry out her plans, and disguises herself as Mel to manipulate the regeneration-addled Doctor. (The Lakertyans remind me a lot of the Nox from Stargate SG-1.) Her ambitions seem to have grown quite a bit since her last appearance; at the same time, her methods have gotten a bit more ridiculous. Surprisingly, it very nearly works. This is her final appearance in the series so far, although a possible return is often speculated by fans.

Is that a lightsaber?!

Is that a lightsaber?!

Several things stand out about this serial. We return to 25-minute episodes here; the rest of the classic series will be an even split between three- and four-part stories. There’s a new title theme and sequence, the final of each for the classic series; the title sequence represents the series’ first foray into CGI. It’s a bit hokey, but cutting edge for its time. There’s a prop on the table at one point that I could swear is a lightsaber—maybe a nod to Star Wars? Andrew Cartmel joins the series here as script editor; next season, he will initiate the now-infamous “Cartmel Masterplan” for revising the creative direction of the series. I won’t go into the details here—that topic has been beaten to death elsewhere—but it would have represented a significant new chapter in the show’s lore, especially regarding the origin of the Doctor. The plan ultimately failed, not for creative reasons, but because the series will soon be cancelled. My thought on the matter is this: Had it been carried out, I would have accepted it as canon with no issues, as would most fans. It’s only in the face of contradictory canon that the debate arises. I’m happy with how things turned out, but I like to think I’d have been happy with the Cartmel plan too. Of course it lives on today in some novels, mostly, especially Lungbarrow, which I haven’t read but want to. Only slightly related: Does Andrew Cartmel ever age?! Photos of him in the 1980s and 2007 are practically identical. Maybe he’s a Time Lord!

Andrew Cartmel in the 1980s (left) and 2007 (right). The man is immortal!

Andrew Cartmel in the 1980s (left) and 2007 (right). The man is immortal!

We meet up with the Doctor and Mel again in Paradise Towers. The date is assumed to be about 2157, though evidence for this is thin. There’s also confusion about the world on which the titular Towers exist; it may possibly be Earth, but may instead be on another world called, alternately, Kroagnon (for the designer of the Towers) or Griphos. I’m guessing it’s the latter possibility, and that the planet is a human colony world, not too isolated, as the Towers were originally seen as a sort of resort town. Here, they are in disorder and disrepair, with minor gang warfare among its younger inhabitants. The gangs refer to themselves as “kangs”, and divide based on color, specifically Red, Blue, and Yellow. There are also Caretakers, the police force in nominal control of the Towers; “Old Ones”, the elderly inhabitants of the Towers; and some very murderous cleaning robots which are at least nominally under the control of the Chief Caretaker. The Towers hide a secret: all its middle-aged inhabitants, some time earlier, were taken away to fight in an off-planet war, leaving only the very young (who became the Kangs) and the elderly, as well as a few Caretakers. But there’s a greater secret yet: Kroagnon, the designer of the Towers, is still alive, and ruling from the literal shadows with an iron grip. It is him that the Doctor must find and depose for the sake of everyone in the Towers.

We all know Red Kangs are best Kangs.

We all know Red Kangs are best Kangs.

It’s a good time to mention, I think, that we never actually get an origin story for Mel. After her first onscreen appearance in The Trial of a Time Lord, she should have been returned home by the Doctor and allowed to meet him in order; and offscreen, she most likely was. Unfortunately, the firing of Colin Baker and the subsequent, abbreviated regeneration scene eliminated the possibility of seeing that first meeting onscreen. I haven’t confirmed it, but I imagine that the event has been covered in novel or audio form. Mel doesn’t seem to rank high in popularity of companions among viewers, but I like her; she’s far more capable than poor Peri ever was. Nothing seems to faze her, though she can scream with the best.

Welcome to 1959!

Welcome to 1959!

We return to Earth for the only confirmed time this season in Delta and the Bannermen. ( I understand that the title is a play on the name of a band, but it wasn’t one that I was familiar with.) The story takes place in South Wales in 1959; surprisingly, it’s the only story of the classic series to be set in Wales, whereas Cardiff is a frequent location in NuWho and Torchwood. Short scenes also take place on the embattled planet Chumeria and at Toll Gate G715. It’s not known where (or when!) the toll gate is located, but “Nostalgia Trips”—which utilizes time travel—leaves from there, so I would place it in the far future. This is not the last time Doctor Who will play with the idea of aliens touring Earth in anachronistic vehicles; NuWho does something similar with the starship Titanic in Voyage of the Damned, and with the Orient Express in Mummy on the Orient Express, though that one doesn’t travel to Earth.

The Chimerons take off.

The Chimerons take off.

Delta is the last of the Chimerons, the native inhabitants of Chumeria. They are the victims of genocide by the militia-like Bannermen. She escapes in a stolen Bannermen ship, moments after her partner is killed, and flees to Toll Gate G715. From there—and coinciding with a visit by the Doctor and Mel—she hides among a group of alien tourists on their way to Earth, 1959. She’s carrying a secret: an egg which will soon hatch into a fast-growing Chimeron princess. On Earth, the Bannermen arrive and attack, forcing the Doctor and Mel—along with several human allies—to defend Delta and the baby. In the end, the Bannermen are defeated, and Delta and the princess flee to plead their case in court for the preservation of their race. She takes with her a human named Billy, who has begun to transform into a Chimeron.

The Bannermen, looking stupid, if you ask me.

The Bannermen, looking stupid, if you ask me.

It’s never made clear what court body Delta appeals to, but as it seems to have jurisdiction over multiple races and worlds, it’s possible that this could be construed as an early reference to NuWho’s Shadow Proclamation. As well, I couldn’t help wondering if the transformation arch used by the alien tourists is somehow related to the Time Lord chameleon arch, another NuWho concept; it doesn’t seem unreasonable to think that this version may have inspired that one. Unfortunately, it’s not enough to save the aliens, as they are blown up by the Bannermen. In fact, a lot of people die needlessly in this serial; I haven’t seen all of the Seventh Doctor’s episodes yet, but this story may well have the highest body count of his term. Interestingly, it’s been a LONG time indeed since we had a three-part story in the 25-minute format; the last one was 1964’s Planet of Giants, with the First Doctor.

The gang's all here!

The gang’s all here!

We close with Dragonfire. The setting is the planet Svartos, circa 2,000,000; the date is not stated, but it is seen to be Sabalom Glitz’s home time period, and we know from The Mysterious Planet that he hails from that era. Specifically, the events here occur at Iceworld, a trading colony (and secret starship) on the cold side of the tidally-locked planet. Mel departs in this serial, choosing to stay with Glitz and keep him in line; it’s a fine departure for her, and probably makes both of their lives much more interesting. She’s replaced by Dorothy Gale “Ace” McShane; Ace’s full name isn’t given onscreen, but has been well established in spinoff media. We do confirm here that her first name is Dorothy. She comes from 1980s Earth, and was transported seemingly randomly to Iceworld by a timestorm. (In a couple of seasons, we’ll find that this was not random at all.) It’s interesting to see Mel and Ace “hand off” the companionship, especially given that they are the final companions of the classic series; this is something that rarely happens in NuWho. The story is also Glitz’s final appearance, and I wish him well.

LITERAL handoff. Goodbye, Melanie; hello, Ace!

LITERAL handoff. Goodbye, Melanie; hello, Ace!

The villainous Kane is using Iceworld—along with a mercenary force composed of mind-altered captives—to seek vengeance on the homeworld that exiled him. To that end, he needs the “dragonfire”, a jewel found in the body of the dragon that imprisons him, which serves as the power source for Iceworld’s engines. He doesn’t realize, however, that in his long imprisonment he has outlived the world he seeks to destroy. Without spoilers, I’ll say it doesn’t end well for him; and Sabalom Glitz takes control of Iceworld.

Okay, maybe ONE spoiler.

Okay, maybe ONE spoiler.

The dragon looks much like a Xenomorph from the Alien series. Iceworld itself, on the inside, strongly resembles the Lunatic Pandora location in the videogame Final Fantasy VIII, with its crystalline hallways and open spaces. There’s a scene with the Doctor dangling from a railing by his umbrella; this scene was recycled for one of Clara Oswald’s fractured lives in The Time of the Doctor, though of course we don’t see her here. I can’t help feeling that Ace is what Clara should have become; she’s lively and ambitious with regard to the extraordinary life she lives, but it doesn’t seem to corrupt her or bring out her worst qualities, as it did with Clara. (Apologies to anyone who is a fan of Clara.) She does have the habit of calling the Doctor “Professor”, which seems to annoy him. Although the BBC once promoted this serial as the 150th television story, it’s only that if you count The Trial of a Time Lord as four stories instead of one. In my post I listed the parts separately, but for the purpose of counting I am listing them as one story, which seems to be consistent with most other counts. By that reckoning, this is the 147th story (or 148th if you count Shada).

Nice of you to drop in, Doctor. Feel like hanging around awhile?

Nice of you to drop in, Doctor. Feel like hanging around awhile?

Thoughts on this season as a whole: The contrast between Six and Seven is startling. While it took me an entire season to begin to see Six as the Doctor, Seven was the Doctor from his very first line. Sylvester McCoy owns the role right out of the gate, as few before him have done; there’s no adjustment period. I enjoyed Mel’s performance, but I really like Ace; she’s the ideal companion for the Seventh Doctor, and their performances complement each other perfectly. (Being a season ahead in my viewing, I can say that it continues to get better.) After years of a feeling of tension throughout the seasons, these episodes seem very easy to watch; I’m going through them almost too quickly. Seeing Sabalom Glitz one more time was nice, and I’m glad he gets a bit of the redemption that the Sixth Doctor said he deserved. As far as dislikes: I didn’t care for the way the regeneration was handled, of course, but I do feel that the production team did the best they could with what they had to work with. The Rani was goofier in this serial than in her previous appearance, tree mines notwithstanding. Other than that, I really didn’t have much to say in the way of negatives. It’s a good season, and almost felt like a vacation.

Next time: Saying goodbye to some old enemies! See you there.

All episodes may be viewed on Dailymotion; links are below.

Time and the Rani

Paradise Towers

Delta and the Bannermen

Dragonfire

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The Trial of a Time Lord: Classic Doctor Who Rewatch, Season Twenty-Three

We’re back again, and a little early this time, with our Classic Doctor Who rewatch! Ordinarily I post about a week apart, but with the end of the classic series approaching, I’m trying to catch my posts up to my viewing. Today we take a look at something new and experimental for its day: Season twenty-three, also known as The Trial of a Time Lord.

The Doctor's day in court.

The Doctor’s day in court.

The Doctor is no stranger to standing trial; this is at least his fourth trial. (For those keeping count, he was tried and convicted as the Second Doctor in The War Games; he briefly stood trial for assassination as the Fourth Doctor in The Deadly Assassin, but managed to wiggle out of it; he was tried and sentenced to death in a gross miscarriage of justice as the Fifth Doctor in Arc of Infinity; and now here we are again with the Sixth Doctor.) Here he’s being tried for interference with history and violation of the laws of time. His remaining regenerations are at stake; this adds a little weight to the foreshadowing of death in last season’s Revelation of the Daleks. Something is different this time, however: There’s a new Time Lord serving as prosecutor, and he seems to have something personal against the Doctor. He calls himself the Valeyard, or “learned court prosecutor” in old Gallifreyan; and he has secrets of his own.

The Inquisitor and the Doctor

The Inquisitor and the Doctor

This season is a bit of an experiment for its day; unlike any season before it, it’s one long story arc—in fact, technically it’s one long story, period. Officially it was only ever titled The Trial of a Time Lord; however, for production purposes it was broken into four parts, which each got an unbroadcast title of its own. I’ll use those titles here for the sake of organization, but when it comes to counting serials, I’ll stick with what has historically been the most popular reckoning, and count the season as one story. It’s worth mentioning that the 45-minute format was abandoned, and 25 minutes again became the standard; this seasons consists of fourteen 25-minute episodes. Based on number of episodes, this season is a bit abbreviated from the past lengths; however, fourteen episodes will be standard from here on out.

Doctor, meet Drathro.

Doctor, meet Drathro.

Part One, covering episodes 1-4, is titled The Mysterious Planet. It opens with the TARDIS being drawn onto a space station, which quickly is revealed to belong to the Time Lords. The Doctor emerges, sans companion, and finds that he has been placed on trial again. He declines a defense attorney, and chooses to speak for himself in response to the Valeyard. We don’t know the date for any of the trial sequences, other than that it is in the “Rassilon Era”, and after the events of The Five Doctors from the point of view of Gallifrey; the Doctor was named Lord President in that story, but has since been deposed (again) for dereliction of duty. The Valeyard begins his attack with footage from the allegedly-incorruptible Matrix of one of the Doctor’s recent adventures with Peri, on the planet Ravolox in approximately the year 2,000,000.

They seem to be getting along better.

They seem to be getting along better.

We don’t know how long it’s been since the preceding story, but Peri is far less adversarial toward the Doctor (she’s still whiny though). Big Finish, of course, has taken full advantage of this indefinite gap, filling it with stories. We get a new supporting character, the criminal Sabalom Glitz; he’s a decent and likeable guy regardless of his illicit career path. He borrows the Brigadier’s famous line: “Five rounds rapid should do the trick.” (The Brigadier’s daughter, Kate Lethbridge-Stewart, will do the same in Series Nine’s The Zygon Inversion.) The planet Ravolox turns out to be a displaced Earth; it was moved by the High Council to hide some shady activities of their own. It’s presumable that the Earth is later returned to its original location, but we don’t actually see it happen; as this story is used as part of the prosecution’s case, it doesn’t end as well as they typically do. The story does become a commentary on the value and definition of life through the Doctor’s arguments with the homicidal robot Drathro; and it introduces the concept of “black light”, which can serve as a power source. Its menacing service robot is very reminiscent of the War Machines from the serial of the same name. We get a new rendition of the title theme this season, though the visuals remain the same. Interestingly, the footage of the TARDIS being pulled to the station is the final footage in the classic series to be shot on film (though the sequence will be reused throughout the Trial season); all the rest will be shot on video.

Jabba the--wait, no, wrong series.

Jabba the–wait, no, wrong series.

Having laid the foundation of his case against the Doctor, the Valeyard continues his testimony in Part Two, Mindwarp. This part takes us to Thoros Beta, the homeworld of Sil and the Mentors; Sil was last seen in Vengeance on Varos. This story is about a century after that; the Valeyard, using Earth years, places it rather circuitously in 2379. I couldn’t help feeling that this story would have done better as an audio; it’s the first televised story of which I’ve ever felt that way. The story centers on the Mentors’ efforts to find a new body for their leader, Kiv, who is dying due to a mutation. They are oppressing a nearby humanoid race, led by the warlord King Yrcanos; the man himself is being used in experiments, but escapes and overcomes his conditioning.   Thwarted, Kiv settles on Peri as a substitute.

Peri, or should I say, Kiv?

Peri, or should I say, Kiv?

This, therefore, is Peri’s exit serial, as she is seen to die, first by being displaced from her own body by Kiv, and second by being shot in Yrcanos’s attack on the Mentors’ lab. It becomes apparent as well that the Time Lords manipulated circumstances to ensure that the attack would succeed and kill everyone in the lab; they are unabashed about this, and state that it was to prevent a far worse disaster. However, Peri isn’t usually counted among the companions who have died; more on that later. Meanwhile, back at the trial, it’s becoming increasingly obvious that something isn’t on the level, as the Valeyard rests his case.

Welcome aboard, Mel!

Welcome aboard, Mel!

The Doctor takes up his defense in Part Three, Terror of the Vervoids. Again using the Matrix, he shows footage from the Hyperion III starliner in the year 2986 (clearly stated by the Doctor). Oddly, it’s an adventure from the Doctor’s personal future; though the Matrix is non-linear with regard to time, and therefore contains these records, it seems strange that the Doctor would be conversant with something that hasn’t happened to him yet! But no one in the courtroom thinks this is strange at all, or even mentions it. Stranger still, we get a new companion without any introduction: Melanie “Mel” Bush, of Pease Pottage, England. (Seriously, who names British towns?) We will never get her introduction on screen; ideally, it would be shown next season (more on that in a moment), but with Colin Baker’s unexpected exit, the opportunity was lost. Spinoff material has since covered that gap. However, it is clear that THIS adventure is not near the beginning for her, as she is familiar and at ease with the Doctor in a way that Peri never managed to be.

Enter the Vervoids.

Enter the Vervoids.

The story itself is of the Vervoids, plants that take over host populations, and in fact are an intelligent species of their own when fully grown. However, they spread like wildfire, displacing entire species; and as such they constitute a hazard to Earth and other planets. The Doctor is forced into destroying them—and thus, the Valeyard twists the Doctor’s defense into a new accusation: That of genocide, which is punishable by death. However, the Doctor argues that the Matrix can be manipulated.

His last time in the console room, and she makes him exercise. Hmpf.

His last time in the console room, and she makes him exercise. Hmpf.

This story includes the Sixth Doctor’s final scene in the TARDIS console room. He doesn’t appear there in the finale, and doesn’t return next season. Or rather, I should say, it’s Colin Baker’s final appearance there; the Sixth Doctor, on the cusp of regeneration, does briefly appear there next season, but is played by Sylvester McCoy.

The Doctor faces himself as the Valeyard.

The Doctor faces himself as the Valeyard.

We finish up with Part Four, The Ultimate Foe, which takes place in its entirety aboard the space station and in the Matrix. It’s only two episodes instead of four, the shortest of the season. We pick up right where we left off, with the Doctor asserting that the Matrix has been altered, and the Valeyard and the Inquisitor denying it; in fact, they summon the Keeper of the Matrix as a witness to its incorruptibility. They are almost immediately countered, however, by the appearance of Melanie Bush, Sabalom Glitz, and an unexpected third party: The Master. He speaks from inside the Matrix, giving the lie to its incorruptibility, and states that he is not the one who changed the records, although he did send Mel and Glitz to assist the Doctor. He explains that the Valeyard IS the Doctor, or rather, an amalgamation of the Doctor’s darkest aspects, arising from somewhere between the Doctor’s twelfth and final incarnations. (Interestingly, with the advent of a new regeneration cycle in NuWho, this greatly widens the possibilities! A History of the Universe, without any NuWho materials to review, actually predicted this possibility; it states, “Note also that the Master says “twelfth and final”, not “twelfth and thirteenth”, leaving open the possibility that the Doctor will survive the end of his regenerative cycle.”) He wants the Doctor’s remaining regenerations for himself. Exposed, the Valeyard flees into the Matrix itself, where the Doctor follows.

STILL not an altruist.

STILL not an altruist.

Of course, the Master, being the Master, is not doing this out of the goodness of his heart. He considers the Valeyard a greater threat than even himself, and he will brook no competition. At the same time, with both being the Doctor (in one sense or another), he’s okay with them killing each other, or with either one of them killing the other. From his point of view, it’s a win either way. Aside from that, he has broadcast the proceedings, causing the common people of Gallifrey to unseat the High Council; he intends to take control of the planet in their absence. Unfortunately, the Valeyard has similar plans, and in addition, he also plans to kill everyone in the courtroom. The Doctor, Mel, and Glitz, from inside the Matrix, must thwart all of these plans, and defeat the Valeyard in a final confrontation. (We do see that he survives at the end, disguising himself as the new Keeper of the Matrix.)

The moment of truth!

The moment of truth!

Some items of interest: The hands in the sand within the Matrix are similar to the hand mines on Skaro in The Magician’s Apprentice/The Witch’s Familiar, and I suspect may have inspired that scene. Overstimulation can render a Time Lord catatonic and open to hypnotic suggestion, which is not too farfetched, but seems like a serious weakness. The Doctor intends to return Mel home at the end so he can meet her in the proper order, but it’s not seen whether this actually takes place, as Colin Baker was unceremoniously fired by the BBC between seasons. (He was offered the chance at a regeneration story, but denied the opportunity for a third season, therefore he declined to film the regeneration, and by default, Mel’s origin story as well.) Peri is seen to have survived, with the footage of her death having been a manipulation by the Valeyard; she has since married King Yrcanos, and never returns home, but at least she survives. (Spinoff materials have since made her fate quite muddled.) Sabalom Glitz is quickly one of my favorite supporting characters; he reminds me a great deal of Richard Mace from The Visitation, who was fantastic. At one point the Doctor claims to be over 900, as several later incarnations will also state. And finally, this is the final appearance of the Time Lords as a society in the classic series. They’ll get a few more mentions, and the Doctor is traveling to Gallifrey at the beginning of the 1996 movie, but they will not actually appear again onscreen until the revived series’ The End of Time.

The Trial of a Time Lord

The Trial of a Time Lord

This season is much tighter and better all around than the previous season. It’s the high point of Six’s tenure for me; I hate to admit it, but I never could really see him as the Doctor until this season. Mel is a much more likeable companion than Peri, though I understand that she doesn’t rank high on lists of companions; I expected her to be annoying, but she really wasn’t, except for that high-pitched scream she uses so often. I do wish we could have had her origin, but I understand other sources have provided it. Michael Jayston was fantastic as the Valeyard; he’s everything I would expect from an evil Doctor—calculating, passionate, anger barely held back, and possibly a bit crazy too. There’s a popular theory that says that the Metacrisis version of the Tenth Doctor will become the Valeyard, and it certainly fits; by his original regeneration cycle, that’s about as close to “between twelfth and final” as one could get, and I unashamedly would love to see that happen—David Tennant, I think, bears enough resemblance to Michael Jayston in body shape and facial shape that he could play the role. Still, the character has appeared again in other materials, and if he doesn’t reappear onscreen, it’s good to know the character wasn’t left hanging.

Next season: The Seventh Doctor takes the stage! See you there.

All episodes can be viewed on Dailymotion; links are below.

The Mysterious Planet

Mindwarp

Terror of the Vervoids

The Ultimate Foe

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Sixth Sense: Classic Doctor Who Rewatch, Season Twenty-Two

We’re back, with a brand new Doctor! Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor is on the scene in season twenty-two of our Classic Doctor Who rewatch. Let’s get started!

The Doctor gets violent.

The Doctor gets violent.

We’ve reached the point of maximum controversy in classic Doctor Who history. Season twenty-two was heavily criticized for a number of reasons, which I think contributed heavily to the general low opinion of the Sixth Doctor’s era. A few important changes occurred this season; and though they were later rolled back, the damage was done. First, this season changed from the standard “4 episodes/25 minutes” format (or at least, most commonly four episodes) to “2 episodes/45 minutes”. The series experimented with this format once in the previous season, but now made it the standard; it was not well received at the time, although of course in the modern series 45-minute episodes have always been standard. Second, this season ramped up the violence, which was badly received given the longstanding nature of the series as a family show. The first serial in particular, Attack of the Cybermen, was held up by executives as an example, and used in their arguments for cancellation of the series.

Season 22 2

Peri and the Cryons.

Attack is set on Telos, sometime after Tomb of the Cybermen, and on Earth, contemporary with the broadcast. The Telos portions aren’t precisely dated, but estimated to be around 2530, about 65 years after Tomb. From the Doctor and Peri’s perspective, it’s shortly after their previous adventure on Jaconda (The Twin Dilemma), probably within a day or so. In the course of (shoddily) repairing the Chameleon Circuit, the Doctor returns to 76 Totter’s Lane for the first time onscreen since An Unearthly Child; this will happen again with the Seventh Doctor, and several times in the revived series (and of course the new spinoff, Class, is set at Coal Hill School, in the vicinity of Totter’s Lane). The circuit will, in fact, change the TARDIS’s appearance a few times, but it will be broken again by the next series (the actual breaking occurs offscreen). Here he encounters the Cybermen of the future, who have stolen a timeship; they want to go back and destroy the Earth in 1985, one year prior to Mondas’s destruction waaaaay back in The Tenth Planet, but they can’t control their ship very well. With the Doctor in range, they want the TARDIS instead. Covertly aiding them in this venture are the Cryons, the original inhabitants of Telos; if they succeed, the Cybermen will never have come to Telos, and the Cryons can keep their world. The Cryons are not true villains; they’ll take any solution to the Cyberman problem, and so they readily switch sides and work with the Doctor. They bring with them an unstable mineral that spontaneously explodes in warm temperatures.

Terror is a bad look for Peri.

Terror is a bad look for Peri.

Peri is very scared of the Doctor here, and continues to behave as such for a long time to come. It’s very sad; she never really seems to recover from her assault at his hands in the previous story. She states that the Doctor’s memory isn’t right; and indeed it isn’t, as he calls her by various companion names. We also get a return of the treacherous Lytton from Resurrection of the Daleks, who has since been living as a petty criminal on Earth; he takes advantage of the Cyberman incursion to get himself offworld and back to the future, but in the end gets himself cyber-converted and killed. He’s not a shallow villain at all, and the serial treats him well; he’s opportunistic, but secretly also undermines the Cybermen. In this story we also see—for what I think is the first time; if I’m wrong, please let me know—partially converted humans. This will be more common in NuWho and Torchwood.

Sil, the Governor, and the Doctor.

Sil, the Governor, and the Doctor.

I had seen Vengeance on Varos before, and somehow had it in my head that it was a Fifth Doctor story. It’s one of the better Sixth Doctor serials, though, and I enjoyed it the second time around. After a series of breakdowns (mostly attributable to the Doctor’s clumsy incompentence), the TARDIS is forced to land on Varos, a world that is the only source of Zeiton-7, a valuable mineral required to repair the TARDIS. Peri says that she’s from 300 years before the time of the Varosians, placing it probably in the 23rd century; a straight 300 years would be 2285. The Doctor and Peri stumble into a political/commercial struggle, as the alien Mentor Sil, a representative of the Galaton Mining Corporation, seeks to take control of Varos and obtain the Zeiton-7 for vastly under-market prices. (“Mentor” is the name of Sil’s species.) The planet’s Governor opposes him, but not without consequence; the world’s barbaric government-as-entertainment system brings punishment to him for every unpopular decision. We get an early glimpse of such punishment with the torture of the rebel Jondar at the beginning; it’s very reminiscent of the torture of the Ninth Doctor in Dalek.

Can't you just picture these two laughing on a balcony?!

Can’t you just picture these two laughing on a balcony?!

This serial contains a couple of interesting characters in the private citizens Arak and Etta. They serve as a sort of Greek chorus for the story, never interacting with anyone but each other, and providing commentary. I jokingly called them the Statler and Waldorf (of Muppet Show fame) of this story.

Gallifreyan Class Reunion?

Gallifreyan Class Reunion?

The Mark of the Rani introduces another controversial character: the Time Lady called the Rani. She’s a classmate of the Doctor and the Master, and in fact her second appearance in a few seasons will reveal that she’s the same age as the Doctor. (Given her mostly-evil personality and her status as a renegade, it makes one wonder what the Academy was teaching those years!) She rules a world, making her in one fell swoop more successful than the Master; and indeed, he comes to ask her for assistance. The Rani is a bit campy, and there’s been much argument among fans over the years as to whether she should ever come back; in fact, every Time Lady of any significance in NuWho has had some early debate as to whether she would prove to be the Rani.

The Rani's very cool TARDIS.

The Rani’s very cool TARDIS.

This story, set in Killingsworth, England, in the early 1820s, is the first since The Gunfighters to feature an actual historical figure, in this case Lord Ravensworth and George Stephenson. (The King’s Demons came close, with King John, but it wasn’t actually him being portrayed; rather it was Kamelion impersonating him.) All other historicals since then have been historical in settings and events only. It’s a fairly straightforward story; the Master wants revenge on the Doctor through changing Earth’s history, and the Rani wants to further her own projects on her planet. To do this she requires a chemical that is produced in human brains; the process of procuring it causes the titular mark, and also disastrous side effects of personality. The Doctor thwarts them both, as he usually does. It’s not a bad story, but it has its silly moments; as a fellow fan pointed out, the mines that turn people into trees are pretty ridiculous. A couple of TARDIS oddities: The Doctor’s TARDIS key fits the Rani’s TARDIS, which is odd; however, it seems that her TARDIS may be the same model as his (with a heretofore-unseen desktop theme), so it’s not totally impossible. As well, she has a remote control for recall of her TARDIS, of which the Doctor is jealous. (More on that in the next serial.)

Doctor, meet Doctor.

Doctor, meet Doctor.

Just two seasons after The Five Doctors, we get another ratings boost, I mean, multi-Doctor story, with The Two Doctors. The Doctors in questions are the Sixth and the Second; in fact there’s a nice tribute to the Second Doctor’s era in the opening scene, as it begins in black-and-white and fades to color. Jamie is the companion present with the Second Doctor; Victoria gets a mention, but she has temporarily left the TARDIS to pursue a learning opportunity. As the original TARDIS console room is long gone, the prop used here is the most recently-replaced prop, from the Fifth Doctor’s first two seasons; the budget would not allow a rebuilding of the original prop. Still, it’s different enough for a bit of a retro look.

Now here's a fashion statement for you!

Now here’s a fashion statement for you!

This story is set on Earth and the alien space station Camera in 1985; the villains lack time travel, therefore the two locations must be at the same point in time. This helps explain why it’s the Sixth Doctor who feels the effect of the Second Doctor’s torture and potential death; he’s the only Doctor who—by chance—is present in the same time period when it happens. Given an actual death and enough time, the others would have felt the effects and ceased to exist, as well. This is similar to how the Eleventh Doctor onsite at the moment is the one who feels pain when the Great Intelligence enters his time stream in The Name of the Doctor. Also, there’s an interesting bit early on where the Doctor talks about not having synchronized yet. It seems this is a rare glimpse of what it’s like when he has had a multi-doctor encounter, with unsynchronized time streams, and therefore lost memories, but now the memories begin to sync up for his later self. Although we know this happens, we’ve never really seen it happen.

Companion, meet companion.

Companion, meet companion.

The Doctor makes an actual kill in this story, which is very rare; often people die during his involvement, but he kills with his own hands in this story. He gives cyanide to the Androgum Shockeye. In fact there’s a high body count in general in this serial, as only the two Doctors, Peri, Jamie, and one civilian survive. It was for that violence that the serial was criticized, but there’s an actual plot hole as well; the Sontarans want the Doctor’s Time Lord symbiotic nuclei because it gives the Time Lords enough molecular stability to travel through time, but that ignores the fact that many others of various species have been seen to travel safely through time. In fact, NuWho will give the lie to this idea completely by having Strax, a Sontaran, travel through time (or at least it’s implied that he does so on multiple occasions). Oh, and that TARDIS remote of the Rani’s, of which the Doctor was jealous? The Second Doctor has one. Why the Sixth Doctor would not remember this—or even still own the device!—is a mystery.

Welcome aboard, Mr. Wells. It's always like this, I promise.

Welcome aboard, Mr. Wells. It’s always like this, I promise.

Timelash gives us an homage to H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, in that Wells is a character in the story, and clearly is posited to have drawn inspiration from this adventure. It’s set on the planet Karfel in the far future; the date is totally unknown, but, continuing the homage, A History of the Universe places it in 802,701, the same year as the Morlock scenes in Wells’ novel. There are also scenes in Scotland, 1885; this is the other end of the titular Timelash, a sort of spacetime tunnel. It’s the exceedingly rare case of a historical figure in a non-historical story; something similar will happen with Queen Nefertiti in Dinosaurs on a Spaceship.

An old familiar face on the wall...

An old familiar face on the wall…

This story is a strange thing: it’s a sequel to a story that never happened. That is, it makes frequent reference back to a visit to Karfel by the Third Doctor and Jo Grant, but that story was never recorded. Therefore it relies heavily on info-dumps and references. It’s not a good plot device; this story ranks consistently very low, often just above the universally-reviled The Twin Dilemma. It’s another take on the Loch Ness Monster story, as the Borad is banished back in time; it doesn’t actually conflict with the series’ previous take on the legend, as the Borad (in a spinoff story) dies prior to the arrival on earth of the Skarasen. On the plus side, the Sixth Doctor, in his better moments here, is much like the Tenth; and the TARDIS has safety belts! Detachable ones, at any rate. We’ll only ever see these again with the junk TARDIS in The Doctor’s Wife.

Fake Davros, real Dalek.

Fake Davros, real Dalek.

We end with what will prove to be the penultimate Dalek story of the original series. Revelation of the Daleks picks up sometime after Resurrection of the Daleks, therefore after the 38th century at least; the actual date is unknown, though some conflicting estimates have been made for the entire “Davros cycle” of stories. We do know that Davros, having survived the Movellan virus, has had time to build a new army of Daleks, the so-called “Imperial” Daleks, using the population of nearly-dead individuals housed in the Tranquil Repose cryogenic facility. Also we know that the mainstream Daleks—hereafter called “Renegade” Daleks by Davros—have reoccupied Skaro, as I proposed waaaaaaay back in their very first appearance in The Daleks, most likely reabsorbing or destroying the remnant of more primitive Daleks that had long occupied the Dalek city there. (Remember that the scenes on Skaro in Destiny of the Daleks didn’t represent an invasion force, but rather, an expedition to find Davros; they likely never approached the city, which is separate from the Kaled bunker where Davros was buried.)

Davros can fly?!

Davros can fly?!

For the first time, we see a Dalek—and Davros as well, with his chair—levitate unassisted. From this point on, it will be a standard feature for the Imperial Daleks, and for all Daleks in the new series. Another reference for the future: we see Daleks in the sewers under Tranquil Repose, which I suspect may have inspired the Dalek sewer scenes in The Magician’s Apprentice/The Witch’s Familiar. We see as well that Davros somehow knows the Sixth Doctor’s face, although he’s never met him before; oddly, the renegade Daleks don’t. It works in the Doctor’s favor though, as the renegades arrest Davros, but let the Doctor go free.

Glass Dalek? It's a bold strategy, Cotton.

Glass Dalek? It’s a bold strategy, Cotton.

The Doctor sees his face on a statue here, implying that he is buried there at some future point in his own life. It’s the Sixth Doctor’s face, and he takes it to mean that he will never regenerate; given that his regenerations are at stake all throughout the next season, it makes for a neat bit of foreshadowing. Of more interest to me is his reaction; he’s clearly very afraid to die, and doesn’t handle it well. There’s a clear contrast with the way he reacts to his tomb as the Eleventh Doctor; I think the difference is simply one of age, maturity, and resignation. As Eleven, he knows he’s on his last life and therefore death is, to some degree, imminent; as Six, he knows he has a lot of life ahead of him, and he rebels against dying.Season 22 16

I’ll speak more about this in my wrapup post at the end of my rewatch; but overall I’m not thrilled with this season for the Sixth Doctor. It’s clear that the character and the actor are fighting an uphill battle with the writing staff. I understand that each Doctor must be different, but choosing to make this one effectively spoiled and self-centered essentially handicaps the character. In addition, I think I could have overlooked some of that if there had been a good companion; but Peri is just incredibly whiny. Even as she does, at last, start to warm up to the Doctor again, she seems able to do nothing for herself. Nicola Bryant and Colin Baker play their roles impeccably; but the characters leave a lot to be desired. This is disheartening, to me; I WANT to like the Sixth Doctor. There is some hope on the horizon, however, with my viewing being a bit ahead of my posts, I can say that he does get better next season. We’ll be back then, with the Doctor’s latest trial…see you there.

All episodes may be viewed on Dailymotion; links are below.

Attack of the Cybermen

Vengeance on Varos

The Mark of the Rani

The Two Doctors

Timelash

Revelation of the Daleks (note:  this video is missing about seven minutes in part 1)

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Changing Times: Classic Doctor Who Rewatch, Season Twenty-One

After some delay, we’re back, with Season Twenty-One of our classic Doctor Who rewatch! This season, we will say goodbye to the Fifth Doctor, as well as a few companions. Let’s get started!

Season 21 1

Sea Devils and Silurians all together now.

The Doctor, Tegan, and Turlough return to Earth’s future in Warriors of the Deep. (Kamelion is also along for the ride, but we won’t see him again until the season finale; his vulnerability to manipulation causes him to hide in the TARDIS most of the time.) It’s 2084, and the Second Cold War is underway; we don’t get the names of the superpowers at war here, and more curious yet, we don’t know which side to “root for”. It’s mostly irrelevant however, as the real problem is the Silurians. They return again, this time enlisting help from their Sea Devil cousins to take over Sea Base 4 with its armaments; they plan to use it to precipitate an actual war on the surface which will eliminate humanity from the planet. Spoiler alert: Once again, it ends badly for them, with all individuals being killed by a gas that targets only reptile biology. Really it’s a wonder they don’t just wage mass war on us, as they get annihilated every time they encounter us.

Season 21 2

Always a bad ending for these guys.

This would have been a particularly dark and suspenseful story for Doctor Who, had writer Johnny Byrne had his way. He drew his inspiration from the dark, somewhat decrepit look of the sets of the Alien movies. However, he was overridden with regard to the design, and the brighter, cleaner look that was selected did much to override the suspense. I feel that’s unfortunate; and in a sense I suppose the BBC agreed, as scenes from this story were later used (among others) by BBC executives to push for cancellation of the show. At any rate, we do get a few good lines; there’s an early occurrence of the “When I say run, run. Run!” line that pops up a few times in NuWho, and also, the Doctor expresses a rare moment of dissatisfaction with his TARDIS (“I should have exchanged it for a Type 57 when I had the chance”). Overall, the story is a bit reminiscent of NuWho’s Cold War—one of my favorite stories—with the Cold War backdrop and the reptilian villain (an Ice Warrior in that case).

Season 21 3

What have I gotten myself into?!

We remain on Earth for The Awakening, traveling back to Little Hodcombe, England, in 1984. At Tegan’s request, the Doctor is taking her to visit her grandfather; such familial contact will be more common, and sometimes integral to the plot, in NuWho. We can be fairly specific with the date; it’s on or about May Day, May first, as Tegan is to be crowned the Queen of May at the end of the reenactment of the Battle of Little Hodcombe. It’s a two-part serial; as well, though it’s not the final two-parter of the season, it is the final two-parter of the Fifth Doctor era to be filmed in the 25 minute format. (More on this later.)

Season 21 4

The Malus

The story shares some important elements with The Daemons, but oddly, it all appears to be completely coincidental (an apparently-supernatural being in a church which turns out to be of alien origin, ending with the destruction of the church). In that respect, it shares some elements with NuWho’s Vincent and the Doctor (a superior story, in my opinion, and one of the revived series’ best). The villain here is the Malus, a creature that arrived on Earth in 1643 in a crashed probe; the sending species, the Hakol, were planning an invasion, but never followed through. The Malus exploits the people around it for psychic energy, which is increased through the war games it inspires. We see a new costume for the Fifth Doctor here, which is only minimally different from the original.

Season 21 5

Frontios takes us both out into space, and into the far future. Exactly how far is a matter of some confusion; A History of the Universe, with only Classic series information from which to work, places it after 10 million AD, similar to The Ark, as the scenario is similar. However, it doesn’t gel with events seen in NuWho. Turlough reads off the console that humans fled Earth because of a collision with the sun—not solar flares, but a collision—which is definitely an established event, but NuWho places it in approximately 5 billion AD (The End of the World). Further complicating things: the TARDIS console states that “time parameters [have been] exceeded”, and the Doctor states that they are on the outer limits [presumably of time], having gone too far into the future. To me, that indicates that they are near the end of time. It’s also known that that was the intent of the production team; they have stated they intended to leave the TARDIS destroyed and remove it from the show completely, leaving the crew stranded at the end of time. Of course they didn’t follow through, but there’s no reason the timeframe can’t stand. With all of that said, I’d place the story much later, near the end of time, but prior to Utopia (Utopia/The Sound of Drums) and the world seen by Orson Pink (Listen). Of course this gives the lie to Cassandra (The End of the World) being the last pure human; but many stories have since done that, and it appears she was just simply wrong. The universe is a big place, after all.

Season 21 6

Group photo!

Whew. That was a mouthful. The villains here are the Tractators, non-humanoid aliens which control gravity and related forces. They once attacked Turlough’s home planet, which has been hitherto-unknown; the events were enough to cause racial memories, which now awaken in Turlough. They seem to require living minds of others to execute their will, similar to the Eternals, but via a different mechanism. This story sets us up for Turlough’s upcoming return home in Planet of Fire.

Season 21 7

Stick ’em up!

Resurrection of the Daleks is the oddball of the season, in that it is only two parts, but the episodes are forty-five minutes long (artificially broken down and re-edited for international broadcast, which is the version I was able to watch). This episode leads to an entire season of forty-five-minute episodes in the following season. It proved to be an unpopular change, and was revoked with Season 23. This story is a sequel to Destiny of the Daleks, in which Davros was captured and imprisoned; it is now ninety years later. The best I can say is it occurs somewhere between 4500 and 5100; there are varying estimates, but nothing definite for either story, or the one which will follow in Season 22. I enjoyed this story quite a bit; it’s a good Davros story, and as well, I felt it looked unusually crisp and modern, more like a NuWho story.

You called for us?

You called for us?

The TARDIS begins the story caught in a time corridor, which is under the control of the Daleks. They want to rescue their creator, Davros, from his imprisonment; they are suffering from a virus that was the final weapon of the Movellans in their stalemated war, and they want Davros to cure it. (Ironically, a species-specific disease is usually a Dalek weapon.) We get the first indication here that the Daleks really do not respect Davros; he is forced to use treachery to take control of them. He also plans to supplant them with a new Dalek race, created from his own DNA; he won’t succeed here, but does so in the future in The Stolen Earth. Failing that, he uses an injectable agent to control both Daleks and humans; the Daleks who result could be said to be the first of the later-revealed Imperial Daleks, loyal to Davros. Meanwhile, the Daleks have been led by a Supreme Dalek, the first such that we become aware of. The Daleks have discovered time travel by now, and seem to have done so in the past ninety years; if they had it in Destiny, they would probably have plucked Davros from the collapse of his bunker rather than digging him out at the end of his entombment.

Season 21 9

As for the Doctor’s involvement: The Daleks have developed a technology to duplicate individuals. They intend to send a duplicate Doctor to Gallifrey to assassinate the High Council. If Genesis of the Daleks could be considered the opening salvo of the Time War, this could be considered the long-delayed counterstrike. Although I’m sure it was not planned as such, it’s really a clever plot arc, given that it spans years of broadcast time. We get a new and effective minor villain in the Dalek sympathizer Gustave Lytton, who—surprisingly—survives at the end; and we finish on a sad note, as Tegan leaves the Doctor at the end, having had enough of the carnage in his wake.

A great turning point for everyone.

A great turning point for everyone.

If Resurrection is the oddball, Planet of Fire is the turning point of the season. We see the end of Turlough and Kamelion’s story arcs; the return of the Master; and the entrance of new companion Perpugilliam “Peri” Brown, the first American to join the TARDIS crew. (She’ll be followed in that tradition by Grace Holloway and—depending on your point of view—Canton Everett Delaware III.) We begin on the island of Lanzarote in May 1984, and proceed to the planet Sarn in the same year. The Fifth Doctor, nearing the end of his life, exchanges his cricket jumper and coat for a waistcoat, at least temporarily.

Goodbye, Turlough (and Kamelion too)

Goodbye, Turlough (and Kamelion too)

Turlough finally has to face up to the reality of his homeworld, Trion. He had been a junior officer on the losing side of Trion’s civil war, and was banished to Earth; his father and infant brother were exiled to Sarn, which had long been a dumping ground for Trion’s unwanted individuals. His father has since died; his brother, bearing a mark of exile, was raised as a Chosen One by the natives. The Trionians have long kept the volcanic activity in check; but since the war they have not done so, and the planet will soon destroy itself. Its fate is not fully described in the end. Turlough, however, is pardoned and permitted to return home.   Kamelion, meanwhile, falls under the control of the Master again, forcing the Doctor to kill him at his own request. His death and Turlough’s departure marks the end of seven years of non-human companions (beginning with K9 Mk I); as well, Turlough is the final male companion of the classic series. Only three more companions—Peri, Mel, and Ace—remain in the classic series.

Season 21 12

Is he dead?! Of course not!…I think.

The Master had shrunk himself in an accident involving his Tissue Compression Eliminator. He seeks the healing numismaton gas on Sarn to restore himself, and in fact finds it; however the Doctor traps him in the gas flames, and he appears (erroneously of course) to burn to death. His final line has prompted much controversy; he says “Won’t you show mercy to your own—“ and is cut off. The writing staff intended him to say “brother”, a revelation indeed! However they kept it vague; and later continuity makes it clear they are not related. I like to think he might have said “oldest friend” or something to that effect.

Farewell to Five

Farewell to Five

We reach the end of the Fifth Doctor’s life in The Caves of Androzani, one of the classic series’ most famous and popular serials. It really is an excellent story; and in my opinion, it should have been the season finale. It takes place on Androzani Minor in an unknown year (all estimates are based on VERY scanty evidence). The Doctor is traveling only with Peri now. They quickly become embroiled in a battle for control of the hyper-valuable spectrox gas; however, the gas is a double-edged sword, as overexposure causes spectrox toxaemia, to which both the Doctor and Peri fall victim. They acquire the bat milk which is the only antidote; but the Doctor unintentionally spills half. He gives the remainder to Peri, sacrificing himself and sparking his regeneration. It’s a grim ending, and the introduction to a contentious and arrogant Doctor; there are no real winners here.

Regenerating again.

Regenerating again.

There’s a great crash scene, with the Doctor at the controls of the ship in question; it’s a bit reminiscent of The Night of the Doctor, although the Doctor survives. His celery is finally explained; it turns purple in the presence of certain gases to which the Fifth Doctor is allergic. In the end, the Sixth Doctor gets an introductory scene with actual dialogue, which had never been done before. In my opinion, this is also the only good story for Peri as a companion; more on that in a moment.

The infamous strangulation of Peri.

The infamous strangulation of Peri.

We end the season—awkwardly, I might add—with The Twin Dilemma. It’s not a good beginning for the Sixth Doctor; the story is sluggish and badly written, and should never have been the finale (though it would have been okay as a season opener). It consistently ranks low in viewer polls, in contrast to Caves; a well-known Doctor Who Magazine poll placed Dilemma last and Caves first. It’s set in the year 2310, though this is not firmly established onscreen; several sources, including the novelization, give this date, and it seems correct, as a monitor onscreen gives the date of a preceding event as “12-99”, probably December 2299. The Sixth Doctor, having just regenerated, appears insane, or at least Peri thinks so; she has good reason, as he tries to strangle her to death. This infamous scene set the tone for their relationship ever afterward; she spends the rest of her tenure behaving like a victim of severe trauma, being very paranoid and unstable. It’s an incredibly sad turn for her. He continues to torment her, as well’; he is arrogant and capricious, though I will admit that he will calm down a bit next season.

Azmael, before his death.

Azmael, before his death.

The villain is Mestor, an alien gastropod, who wishes to conquer the galaxy by spreading his eggs. To accomplish this, he wishes to destroy the planet Jaconda in an explosion. The titular Twins, Romulus and Remus, are geniuses he kidnaps to make the necessary calculations. He is aided by the Time Lord Azmael, who is on his final life, and who formerly (and oddly) ruled Jaconda. However, Azmael’s servitude is forced; and he betrays and kills his master by forcing a regeneration, thus also killing himself. This one detail, however, is valuable; it does much to justify how the Eleventh Doctor, dying at Lake Silencio, could be seen to start to regenerate despite being on his last life.

That's a big uniform to fill, Six. I hope you're up to the task.

That’s a big uniform to fill, Six. I hope you’re up to the task.

Some thoughts on the season overall: The high point, for me, was Resurrection of the Daleks; I’m a diehard Davros fan, and I thought this serial sees him at his devious best. Lowest for me was The Twin Dilemma, for reasons I’ve already described; I have high hopes for Six, but he’s not off to a good start. Peri had much promise, and I was glad to see her arrive; but I know she will not end well, and that’s disappointing. It was a good wrap-up for Turlough, and even for Kamelion; not so much for Tegan, but I respect her for walking away as she did. Her exit foreshadows that of Martha Jones in NuWho, I feel. Overall it wasn’t the best run for the Fifth Doctor, but his exit could not have been better—short of being the season finale, that is.

Next time: The Sixth Doctor! See you there.

All episodes may be viewed on Dailymotion; links are below.

Warriors of the Deep

The Awakening

Frontios

Resurrection of the Daleks (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4)

Planet of Fire (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4)

The Caves of Androzani

The Twin Dilemma

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