Doctor Who Audio Drama Review: Smoke and Mirrors

Disclaimer:  In the near future, I’ll be changing the way these Doctor Who-related posts are made.  I hope to have an announcement post by tomorrow, but in the meantime, if you are following this blog via social media, you may see two of today’s post, coming from two different blogs.  That’s by design, and should only affect posts made today and tomorrow.  After that, it will return to single posting.  More on that tomorrow!

Posting a day early because I’ll be unavailable to post on Friday. Will also make my rewatch post a day early, tomorrow, for the same reason.

We’re back, with another Doctor Who audio drama review! We’re continuing our look at the eleven-volume Fiftieth Anniversary series, Destiny of the Doctor, produced by Big Finish in conjunction with AudioGO. Today we’re listening to the Fifth Doctor’s contribution to the series:  Smoke and Mirrors, read by Janet Fielding and Tim Beckmann, and written by Steve Lyons. Let’s get started!

Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not listened to this audio drama!

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While attempting to take Tegan to Heathrow airport for her flight attendant job, the Doctor diverts to London in the 1920s (the specific date is not given). Tegan, Nyssa and Adric are of the opinion that the Doctor has once again failed to pilot the TARDIS properly, but for once they are wrong; he has followed a psionic distress call received via the telepathic circuits. It leads them to a fairground, and an old and famous friend: Harry Houdini.

Tegan is suitably impressed, and thrilled to meet the renowned escape artist and illusionist. The reference is lost on Nyssa and Adric, but even they are caught up in his charisma; and when he knows more than he should about Tegan, they are intrigued. Houdini plays it off, however, and diverts to another matter: He has come to the fair to debunk its fortune teller, who has inexplicable abilities of her own, but he has not been able to do so. Now he wants the Doctor’s help.

Something is not right, though. Houdini seems intent on drawing information from the Doctor which he should not have, regarding his own future and the workings of the TARDIS. Before it can be addressed, however, the group is split up; Houdini and the Doctor go to check out the fortune teller, and the three companions find themselves inside the fair’s menagerie.

The Doctor and Houdini don’t find the fortune teller, but they do find something else—her crystal ball. It proves to be no ordinary prop. The Doctor recognizes it, and refers Harry back to a previous adventure they shared (in the Doctor’s first life, along with Ben Jackson and Polly Wright) in which they encountered the Ovids, beings of pure thought. The Ovids used crystal spheres to communicate and influence the world; spheres just like this one. And this one is already in use.

In the menagerie, the companions are menaced by animals that have been released from their cages, including a tiger. Adric runs, leading the tiger away from the others, giving them time to try to escape. Tegan shouts for the Doctor, but to no avail. Adric is rescued, however, by a group of fairground workers and performers; but it is short-lived, as it becomes clear that they are under some kind of mind control. They escort him to a theater on the grounds. Meanwhile, Nyssa also has an odd encounter, with a man wearing the face of her lost father: The Master. He takes hypnotic control of her, and forces her to abduct Tegan and bring her to the theater as well.

The Doctor tries to make telepathic contact with the sphere, and is successful, though it hurts him. As he is about to make progress, he is interrupted by the image and voice of a young man wearing a bow tie—the Eleventh Doctor. He tells the Fifth Doctor that he will soon be tempted to destroy the sphere, but he must not. Instead, he must return it to its rightful owners, the Ovids. At the same time, he is interrupted by Tegan’s scream, which the sphere has also picked up; he realizes that they are in danger, and he has failed to help them. The Doctor and Houdini hurry toward the theater; but Houdini stops him and takes him captive. He places the Doctor inside a crate that is intended to be used in his famous underwater escape trick, and tells him that he has met an old friend of the Doctor, who revealed to him that the Doctor has manipulated him and withheld information. It’s all a lie, of course; and the Doctor recognizes the source as the Master. Nevertheless, in an effort to persuade the Doctor to tell him more, Houdini pushes the crate into the water…and watches as the Doctor fails to escape.

On the theater’s stage, Adric is seized by the Master, but he cannot see him. In the struggle, he sees a mirror propped up on the stage, and realizes that the Master is visible in the mirror, and their reflections are struggling. It defies science, but there’s little time to think about it, as he struggles to break free. Tegan intervenes, and sees the situation, and starts to throw a chair to break the mirror; Adric shouts at her to stop, not knowing what effect it may have on him. Instead, she throws the chair at the spotlight that is trained on the mirror, creating the reflections; it breaks, and the Master vanishes.

All is not saved, though. In rage, the Master starts to use the Ovid sphere to release massive amounts of electricity through the fairground, setting things on fire and destroying buildings. Houdini catches up with the companions as they try to escape, but they are cut off. Suddenly the Doctor returns, and reveals that he picked Harry’s pockets for his lockpicking kit, using that—and his Time Lord ability to bypass respiration—to escape the trap. He had suspected Harry was not himself all along. They make their way back to the fortune teller’s booth, the Doctor explaining that the Master was never corporeally there at all; he seems to be still trapped in the collapsing dimension where they last saw him (Castrovalva). Instead he was using the sphere to exert his will remotely, and even project himself. He locates the sphere, and is tempted to destroy it—just as promised—but instead, he makes contact with it to try to soothe it and end the energy discharge. It isn’t enough, however, and Tegan joins the link, adding her own thoughts to bring the crisis to an end.

As the smoke clears, the fairground workers awaken from their trance, having no memory of the last twelve hours. Houdini convinces them they have been unwitting participants in an experimental new act, which seems to satisfy them. He again attempts to persuade the Doctor to let him see inside the TARDIS, but is gently rebuffed, and admits that it’s better to make his future than to know it. As the Doctor and companions leave, Tegan again asks to be taken to Heathrow, but the Doctor tells her they must first make a stop: To return the sphere to the Ovids.

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There is a very narrow range of episodes, all in Season 19 of the classic series, within which this story must fall. It must be after Castrovalva, as the Master is still trapped there, and before Earthshock, as Adric still lives. As well, there is no room for an extra story between Four to Doomsday and Kinda, as Nyssa is ill between those episodes. Also, the Doctor comments that he has recently lost his Sonic Screwdriver, which occurs in The Visitation; therefore the story can only occur between The Visitation and Black Orchid, or Black Orchid and Earthshock. I favor the former, because it is hinted that Houdini is the first historical character Tegan encountered with the Doctor; although Black Orchid’s noble characters are fictional, in this universe Tegan would consider them real, and therefore she has not met them yet. The Visitation is also a historical setting, but with fewer noteworthy pseudo-historical characters, and at any rate we have already established that that story is already past. I should comment that it’s rare that we can pin down an audio’s placement so exactly; usually we are left with only an approximation.

The Doctor has had past encounters with Harry Houdini, enough that they consider themselves friends. All of those appearances have been in novels, which I have not read yet. Interestingly, one of those encounters—the first, from Houdini’s perspective—was with the Eleventh Doctor, whom he pointedly does not recognize here. It’s possible, I suppose, that he was advised to play dumb when dealing with earlier incarnations. One reference in particular, to Houdini and the First Doctor’s encounter with the Ovids, has not been seen in any medium as yet, and seems to have been created specifically for this story.

Above all else, this story is about Tegan. Although she’s not the center of the action, she is definitely the central viewpoint. It serves as a bit of a redemption for her character, as Tegan was historically portrayed as a glum, fretting individual; here, she escapes that mold a bit, and becomes very happy for awhile, so much so that Nyssa even remarks on the change. She also is crucial to both defeats of the Master here, breaking the spotlight and calming the sphere. I’ll admit to ranking Tegan in the middle of the field of companions—26 out of 46—when I ranked them; but that by no means indicates that I dislike her as a companion, and in fact I always felt some pity for her, as she was surrounded by otherworldly geniuses. This story is a nice break from that, and gives her some better footing.

Janet Fielding is a decent reader, though she doesn’t try for the voices the way that some previous readers have done. It’s a fair trade-off, however, as the Fifth Doctor has fewer vocal distinctives than his predecessors. The voice actor for Houdini, Tim Beckmann, is great, and comes off as smooth and charming even when revealing Houdini’s bitterness (as caused by the Master).

The visits from the Eleventh Doctor continue to become more explicit with each passing story in the series. Again, the Doctor recognizes him as a future incarnation, and even seems to have some idea that it is the Eleventh Doctor, specifically; he makes an offhanded comment about having “another life or six” to go. Oddly, this is a completely TARDIS-free story; the crew are not seen entering, leaving, or piloting the ship. It’s a good entry—not quite as fun as Babblesphere, not quite as morbid as Vengeance of the Stones, or as technical as Shadow of Death, but still very enjoyable.

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Next time:  On Monday Tuesday Wednesday (thank you, Christmas), we’ll look at Main Range #15, The Mutant Phase; and then on Thursday, we’ll return to Destiny of the Doctor with Trouble in Paradise, featuring the Sixth Doctor and Peri! See you there.

All audio dramas featured in this series may be purchased from Big Finish Productions; link to this story’s purchase page is below.  This and many other selections may also be found on Spotify and Google Play.

Smoke and Mirrors

Destiny of the Doctor

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A New Doctor for the Holidays: New Doctor Who Rewatch, "The Christmas Invasion"

We’re back, with our new Doctor Who rewatch! Last week we finished up Series One, with the Ninth Doctor. Today we begin the Tenth Doctor’s tenure, with the 2006 Christmas special, The Christmas Invasion! We’ll also take a look at the brief Children In Need charity special which bridged the gap between Series One and the Christmas special. Let’s get started!

As a reminder, each series in the new show tends to have considerably more stories than the classic seasons; therefore we’re splitting each series into parts of approximately three episodes each for the sake of length. Today is an exception, as we’ll look at the Christmas special by itself.

Spoilers ahead for anyone who has never seen this episode!

The Children in Need special opens with a recap of the regeneration scene from The Parting of the Ways. The Tenth Doctor arrives—marveling at his new teeth—and tries to pick up right where the Ninth Doctor left off, setting course for the planet Barcelona. Rose isn’t having any of it, though; regeneration is a brand new concept to her, and she doesn’t believe that this is still the Doctor. She suggests he was switched out, or transmatted away, or even that the new Doctor is a Slitheen in a skin suit. He explains quickly, and to back up his claims, he reminds her of mutual memories of their first meeting. (This is a little unusual; typically regenerations have left him with at least a minor amount of memory loss, if only temporarily.) While this sets her mind at ease, she is still in shock, and wants to go home. He sets course for December 24, 2006, and heads for the Powell Estate (Rose’s apartment building). However, he suddenly starts to act erratically; regeneration energy wisps out of his mouth, and he seems to be in some pain and mania. Rose suggests finding Jack Harkness to help, but the Doctor brushes it off, saying Jack is busy rebuilding Earth after the Dalek attack. He throws the TARDIS into high speed, and warns her it is crashing. The cloister bell sounds, giving weight to his assertion.

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The Christmas Invasion picks up immediately, on Earth. Mickey and Jackie each here the TARDIS arriving and come running; it does crash, though not catastrophically. The Doctor stumbles out and greets them, then passes out; they don’t recognize him until Rose explains, and even then they find it just as hard to believe as she did. They set him up in bed in Jackie’s apartment to recover.

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Meanwhile, Britain is making history. Its Guinevere One space probe is on approach to Mars. Harriet Jones, now Prime Minister by a landslide victory, is making a speech about it—but is interrupted when the video feed cuts off. The probe has been intercepted by an unknown alien race. Harriet goes to UNIT—the agency’s first appearance in the new series, though it was mentioned in World War Three–and begins to oversee efforts to deal with the crisis. She summons help from an agency called Torchwood, of which she is not supposed to be aware. The feed is re-established, and they get their first glimpse of the aliens, who call themselves the Sycorax—and declare humanity their property.

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While the Doctor recuperates, Mickey and Rose go out for some last-minute Christmas shopping, and discuss—or rather, dance around—their future and relationship. They are interrupted by an attack by androids dressed as Santa Claus; they flee back to the apartment in the chaos. As they explain to Jackie, Rose notices a Christmas tree that wasn’t there before. Jackie tells them it was anonymously delivered—and suddenly it comes to life and goes on the attack. Rose manages to awaken the Doctor just in time for him to destroy it with his sonic screwdriver. Outside, he sees the Santa robots watching, then disappearing in a transmat beam. He explains that they are like pilot fish, accompanying a larger threat; they have come for him, because he is brimming with regeneration energy, which they could use to power their technology. However, Rose has awakened him too soon, and he is still sick from regeneration; he passes out again.

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Harriet confronts the Sycorax, via a rough translation program worked out by UNIT. She warns them that Earth is armed and will not surrender. In retaliation, the Sycorax take control of a third of the population, sending them to the tops of buildings and other structures and preparing them to jump off. UNIT works out that it is done via blood control, and only affects type A+ blood, of which a sample was included among other items on the Guinevere probe. Harriet makes a public broadcast about the situation, and implores the Doctor to come to Earth’s aid. Watching it on television, Rose realizes that the TARDIS is not translating the Sycorax footage, because the Doctor is unconscious and therefore out of the circuit. Harriet and her associates are then transmatted aboard the Sycorax ship to discuss surrender.

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Rose, Mickey, and Jackie get the Doctor aboard the TARDIS, but are unable to pilot it. The Sycorax have discovered the TARDIS, however, and transmat it to their ship, leaving Jackie behind. Rose steps out—unaware of the transmat—and is captured, as is Mickey, who spills a container of tea onto the machinery by the Doctor’s unconscious form. The Sycorax take her for the owner of the TARDIS, and decide that she will speak for Earth. She tries to bluff, making them ridicule her—but suddenly, the TARDIS begins translating again, and Rose realizes the Doctor is awake. He throws open the doors of the TARDIS and joins them.The Doctor takes charge of the situation, and explains that nutrients from the vaporized tea aided his recovery. He quickly figures out the blood control situation, and shuts it down, freeing the hostages on Earth. He then orders the Sycorax to leave; and when the leader refuses, he grabs a sword from one of the guards, and challenges the leader to formal combat.

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The Doctor is no slouch with a sword. He forces a change in venue, taking the combat onto the outer deck of the ship, overlooking the city. It appears he will lose; the leader cuts off his hand. However, he is still close to his regeneration, and the residual energy causes a new hand to grow. Stunned, the leader is taken aback, and the Doctor presses the attack, and defeats him. He offers the leader a chance to live, and again tells him to leave the Earth and never return. The leader agrees; however, as the Doctor walks away, the leader tries to stab him in the back. The Doctor forces him off the edge of the ship, and he falls to his death. There will be no second chances.

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With the humans and the TARDIS transmatted back to London, the Sycorax ship departs. However, Harriet orders Torchwood to destroy it; they carry out the sentence with a large superlaser. Enraged, the Doctor turns on Harriet, and after castigating her—much as he once did the Brigadier, when UNIT destroyed the Silurians—he tells her he will destroy her career with just six words. He walks away, but whispers into her aide’s ear, “Don’t you think she looks tired?” This sets off a storm of controversy that soon—within days—results in her downfall via a vote of no confidence regarding her health.

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The Doctor celebrates Christmas with Rose, Jackie, and Mickey; but then he must leave. It looks as though Rose will stay behind; and then, having fully accepted that this truly is the Doctor, she chooses to go with him.

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Although there are some minor plot weaknesses—the Santa droids, for one, could just as easily have been eliminated with no change to the overall plot—I always felt that this story constituted a good, strong introduction for the Tenth Doctor. David Tennant is an excellent choice for the role, and indeed, for many fans, has become the definitive version of the Doctor. Like many of his predecessors (and also Matt Smith after him), he needed no adjustment period; there was no series of shaky early episodes leading up to him owning the role. He simply WAS the Doctor, from the very first moment. The story also establishes an excellent tradition: the annual Christmas special. It’s been argued that the First Doctor had the true first Christmas special, with The Feast of Steven, episode seven of The Daleks’ Master Plan (now unfortunately lost to history, although reconstructions exist); I can agree with that, but this is where it became an annual tradition, as the classic series had no other such episodes. A second tradition began here as well: that of Doctor Who’s involvement with the Children in Need fundraising efforts. The brief interlude that precedes the Christmas special adds only a little to the story, but adds much to the social impact of Doctor Who. Also, beginning with this episode, David Tennant is credited as “The Doctor” rather than “Doctor Who”; this change was at his request, and mirrors a similar change in the classic series under Peter Davison.

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Several running jokes occur in this story. Jackie makes the classic “Doctor who?” joke upon seeing the Doctor’s new face, although she says it in earnest. The TARDIS crashing has become a bit of a running joke, occurring in connection with every new series regeneration with the exception of the War Doctor’s regeneration into the Ninth Doctor (as far as we know anyway; we don’t see the immediate aftermath of that regeneration. However, the TARDIS even crashed with Eight’s regeneration into War, though admittedly not under its own power). The Doctor for the first time (of many) expresses his desire to be ginger. Most conspicuously, there’s the running joke regarding Harriet Jones; every time she introduces herself, the listener responds with “Yes, I know who you are.” This includes the Sycorax leader, albeit via the translation software. This will continue through her final appearance and death in The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End.

Yeah, it's...not going to end anytime soon.

Yeah, it’s…not going to end anytime soon.

Rose’s reaction to the regeneration is perfectly understandable, given that the Doctor only told her about it seconds before it happened. In this moment, the companion is truly an audience surrogate, as many fans who had not seen the classic series would not have known what was going on. Her eventual acceptance of the new Doctor is not assured until the end; unfortunately, her choice of the Doctor again, here where it seemed like she should give him up, only serves to drive a bigger wedge between herself and Mickey, who is not as over her as he previously led us to believe.

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There are a number of connections to other episodes here; some of them are connections to future stories which had not yet been written. “Sycorax” is the name of the witch in The Tempest; the Doctor will later unwittingly give Shakespeare the idea by name-dropping the Sycorax. He can analyze blood by taste; he has previously demonstrated the ability to analyze substances in this way, although the blood is a first. He is a skilled swordsman, as were the Third, Fourth, and Fifth Doctors before him; we last saw this in The King’s Demons, against the Master. Harriet makes a meta reference; she says the video signal may have been hijacked by kids, which is an allusion to the Max Headroom Signal Intrusion incident in Chicago in the 1980s. During that incident, a showing of Horror of Fang Rock was interrupted and hijacked. UNIT is re-introduced, after being referenced in Aliens of London/World War Three; it was last seen in Battlefield, and seems to have had a budget increase since then. The TARDIS’s translation ability was introduced via the Fourth Doctor long ago, but is expanded on here. The Santa droids will be used again by the Racnoss Empress in The Runaway Bride. Torchwood gets a very direct reference, which will lead into its introduction onscreen later in the series, and its spinoff as well. The Doctor’s severed hand will be seen again on Torchwood, as well as in Utopia and Journey’s End. The Doctor mentions a “great big threatening red button” which he is compelled to push; this will eventually resurface as a reference to the Moment in The Day of the Doctor, adding some depth to his offhanded comment. There are parallels between the Sycorax and Faction Paradox, especially with regard to blood control and the wearing of bone; however my knowledge of Faction Paradox is too limited to comment further. As well, a recently-released short story, The Christmas Inversion, takes place in the midst of this story, in which Jackie Tyler meets the Third Doctor.

Doctor Who TV series starring Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant, Matt Smith, Billie Piper, Karen Gillan, Freema Agyeman, Catherine Tate, Alex Kingston, Jenna Coleman, Paul Kasey, Nicholas Briggs, Arthur Darvill, Noel Clarke, John Barrowman - dvdbash.com

Most interestingly, this story sets up a chain of terrible events which will continue all the way through the Tenth Doctor’s life. The severing of his hand, and his deposing of Harriet, will eventually lead to the rise of the Master as Harold Saxon, and to the eventual death of the Tenth Doctor at the end of the Master’s plans. For more information, check the continuity section of the TARDIS wiki’s entry for this story.

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Overall, I liked this story. I felt it has something for everyone—plenty of classic references, the beginning of a new story arc, a good follow-up to Series One, and a hopeful introduction to Series Two, as well as a fair bit of setup for Torchwood. While there have been more popular specials, this one still holds its own.

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Next time: We launch into Series Two with New Earth, Tooth and Claw, and School Reunion! See you there.

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

Children In Need Special

The Christmas Invasion

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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Eighth In Line: Classic Doctor Who Rewatch, Movie Edition!

Welcome back to our Classic Doctor Who rewatch! Although technically we’ve finished the classic series, we’re not quite out of the woods yet. This week, we look at the first major attempt to revive Doctor Who onscreen, the 1996 made-for-television movie. Intended as a pilot for an American revival of the series, it’s an interesting look at what Doctor Who might have become on this side of the ocean…and a case study in what doesn’t work, as the series wasn’t picked up. Let’s get started!

"Sylvester, remember the first law of time! We're not supposed to meet!"

“Sylvester, remember the first law of time! We’re not supposed to meet!”

We open with the Seventh Doctor, Sylvester McCoy, now at the end of his life cycle. He’s a changed man since his last appearance in Survival; he seems to have left his scheming days behind, as well as his companions (no Ace to be seen here). He’s quiet and calm, and clearly a bit weary; he’s also carrying a sonic screwdriver again (Lungbarrow states that it’s Romana’s, though it doesn’t look like hers). His TARDIS has changed too, in the most drastic redesign we’ve ever seen; it’s dark and comfortable in a very Victorian way, with its parlor and its wood-grain console and its vaulted ceilings and arches. (I’d describe it as “steampunk” if there was any evidence of steam-driven technology; there isn’t, but it certainly has that feeling). Ace’s final lines in Survival described the TARDIS as “home”, and this TARDIS is clearly the Doctor’s home; he’s at ease here as we’ve never seen. He’s on a mission; the Master, having at some point escaped the Cheetah world, has been captured, tried, and executed by the Daleks, and the Doctor—at the Master’s request—is bringing his remains home to Gallifrey.

Goodbye, Master! ...wait, that never works.

Goodbye, Master! …wait, that never works.

(For fun and some additional insight, at about the same time as watching this film, I read Marc Platt’s Lungbarrow, the well-known and controversial novel dealing with the Doctor’s family and origins, which is set immediately preceding the film, and in fact leads up to its events. I won’t discuss that lead-in here, but I may put up a separate review post for the novel.)

"Snake" is not a good look for you, Master.

“Snake” is not a good look for you, Master.

As in any dealing with the Master, things aren’t that simple. A Time Lord’s remains carry his or her mind until it can be uploaded to the Matrix; and the Master is far from finished with this world. He causes a disturbance in the TARDIS, which disrupts its flight and allows his now-disembodied form to escape the urn; the TARDIS makes an emergency stop in San Francisco, Earth, New Year’s Eve, 1999 (or actually, judging from the time span we see, late night on Dec. 30th). Just in time for Y2K! But, no. At any rate, the Doctor steps out of the TARDIS…and into a gang battle. He’s immediately shot several times, and appears to be dying. Gang member Chang Lee gets him to the hospital…and the Master hitches along with the EMTs.

The Doctor, Chang Lee, and Grace Holloway in the TARDIS.

The Doctor, Chang Lee, and Grace Holloway in the TARDIS.

At the hospital, cardiac surgeon Grace Holloway operates on the Doctor; but due to his alien circulatory system, she unintentionally kills him. While she’s dealing with the fallout of his death, he’s in the morgue…and regenerating: Paul McGann takes the stage as the Eighth Doctor. He’s unusually strong—he batters the morgue door off its hinges—but his regenerative fog is worse than usual; the anesthesia has affected him, not only delaying his regeneration and making it more difficult, but giving him pretty severe amnesia as well. Pondering his identity, he steals some clothes from a locker (in the finest tradition, as established by the Third Doctor) and slips out of the hospital…only to run into Grace again.

The Master gets a companion?!

The Master gets a companion?!

From this time on, it’s a battle to recover his memory, outwit the Master, and get his TARDIS flying again, all with Grace in tow. Meanwhile, the Master hasn’t been sitting still. He’s taken the body of Bruce, one of the EMTs (and killed Bruce’s wife, who really didn’t deserve this); and he’s returned to the TARDIS and coerced Chang Lee into helping him capture the Doctor. He’s a consummate liar, even in this form; he convinces Chang that the Doctor is the villain here, who has stolen HIS body and TARDIS. It comes out that what he really wants are the Doctor’s remaining lives. He uses Chang to open the TARDIS’s Eye of Harmony, which has the power to transfer his consciousness into the Doctor’s body; only a non-Gallifreyan can open the Eye. In the course of this he makes the shocking discovery that the Doctor is half-human; later the Doctor confirms this, and states that it’s on his mother’s side (though that detail may have been facetious). Finally, at the stroke of midnight, Grace restores power to the TARDIS and overcomes the Master, and frees the Doctor, who sees the Master pulled into the open Eye of Harmony…and the battle is over.

"I'm not wearing any pants...I mean, I'm half human. Yeah, that's it."

“I’m not wearing any pants…I mean, I’m half human. Yeah, that’s it.”

There’s a lot on which to comment in this movie. Perhaps most notably, there’s the controversial idea that the Doctor is half human. Who knew that a few little lines would spark so much argument over the years? I’m unsure what the writers were thinking, but it WOULD go a long way toward explaining the Doctor’s love for Earth and humanity, so there’s that. Still, it runs counter to everything else we’ve ever seen about the Doctor (and if you’re a fan of the Cartmel plan and Lungbarrow, it’s an outright impossibility, as the Doctor would have been Loomed without parents instead of born). Later episodes in the revived series would play with this idea, especially in Series Nine with the idea of the Hybrid—a product of two warrior races, sometimes suspected to be humans and Time Lords. The Series Nine finale, Hell Bent, would even come right out and say that this is one of the suspected possibilities for the Hybrid; when Ashildr makes that allegation to the Doctor, he doesn’t deny it, but waves it away as irrelevant. Personally, I think that (as much as we can say that Doctor Who has a canon at all) the concept isn’t canon; like other hints of the Cartmel plan from the last few seasons, it’s a possible direction for the show that failed and was soft-retconned out. I do acknowledge that a regeneration doesn’t have to produce a Gallifreyan body, and also that the Time Lords can change the anatomy to match another species (as seen in Human Nature/The Family of Blood and Utopia/The Sound of Drums), therefore a single regeneration could make a Time Lord half human; but not by birth, and not “on his mother’s side” in this case. However, I choose to think of it like the Cartmel plan: While I’m happy with the direction things ultimately went, I like to think I would have been okay with this had it been made canon for the series. It’s not worth getting angry.

Grace, you should probably see a doctor about those eyes.

Grace, you should probably see a doctor about those eyes.  (By the way, the tool she’s carrying, and the briefly-glimpsed tool kit it came from, are identical to the one briefly seen way back in the Fourth Doctor’s era, and depicted in the Tardis Technical Manual.  Score one for continuity!)

The Master is able to take over a mind (Grace’s, in this case) more thoroughly than ever before, and without any direct interaction; Chang refers to it as possession, and it’s seen to even affect her physiology, most notably her eyes. His stolen body is degrading, as we see when he pulls his fingernails off; this is inconsistent with his theft of Tremas’s body in The Keeper of Traken, as he kept that body for years, possibly even longer than its normal lifespan. He clearly still has the cat eyes from Survival, and they persist into his new body as well; I had previously stated that this is mostly symbolic, as the novels establish that he was already free of the Cheetah contagion, but the movie makes it clear that he actually has them, as seen by onlookers. Clearly the movie, at least, disregards the novel continuity. People have often criticized Eric Roberts’ portrayal of the Master, but I didn’t mind it. He’s pretty wooden at first, but he loosens up throughout the film; this makes perfect sense when you consider that he’s in a new body and growing slowly more acclimated to it. His ruthlessness is also a bit out of character for the Master, whose schemes usually have a bit more finesse; but I think we can chalk that up to desperation on his part, as he’s trying to avoid death. While his portrayal may not make sense for a long-term role, it’s perfect for a Master in extremis. (One unanswered question: How did he get into the TARDIS without a key? The key was in Chang’s possession at the time, and it seems unlikely that he found the spare, used it, and put it back.)

Not-so-shiny new TARDIS!!

Not-so-shiny new TARDIS!!

The TARDIS is impressive. I like the new console room, and I feel like we would never have gotten all the wonderful “desktop themes” of the revived series without this one to inspire them. When sitting there, the Doctor is reading H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine; this is a throwback to several jokes in the classic series: The Master reads that very book in one of his earliest appearances; Wells appears in Timelash; and every book the Seventh Doctor reads onscreen has “time” in the title somewhere. The Eye of Harmony is, for the first time, seen to be aboard the TARDIS. I don’t know what the intention of the writers was—did they intend for this to be the actual Eye, as in, the black hole that constitutes the Eye? At any rate, they set a precedent of establishing that TARDISes contain a subset of the actual Eye (the “Prime Eye”, if you will) which links to the Prime Eye and draws out power from it. The loss of Gallifrey allegedly broke this connection, which is why the TARDIS in the revived series can run out of power and must be recharged at the Cardiff rift; it’s that subset of the Eye that must be recharged, and that we see in Journey to the Center of the TARDIS.

The kiss that stunned a million fans.

The kiss that stunned a million fans.

The Doctor himself has an unusual relationship with time here. He is able to see things from Grace’s past and future despite having never met her before. He’s a far cry from the Eighth Doctor we’ll see in the audios and in the mini-episode The Night of the Doctor, but we can probably attribute this to his recent regeneration. He’s flighty and excitable, where later he will be confident and strong. In addition to the controversy over the “half-human” statements, there’s controversy from another quarter: he has his first onscreen kiss, or kisses, to be precise, when he kisses Grace. It came as a disturbance to many fans who felt that the Doctor should be asexual and non-romantic, as he had always been portrayed; but as a result, we get his later romance with Rose Tyler. As well, we know he had a family in the past, so it’s more likely that he does have a romantic side, which he has just suppressed for the duration of the classic series.

"Amazing Grace", as her coworkers call her. No, really.

“Amazing Grace”, as her coworkers call her. No, really.

Grace is usually considered a companion of the Doctor, although she doesn’t do much traveling in the TARDIS (just a day back in time, really). She chooses not to travel with him at the end, and of course he won’t stay with her. There have been conflicting statements that, had the series been picked up, Grace would or would not have returned as a regular companion; she does persist in some comic strip stories. Unfortunately, due to licensing complications, she is not available for use by Big Finish in their audio dramas; nor is Chang Lee, who is more of a companion to the Master than the Doctor. Chang is not a bad guy; he’s just misled by the Master. He too leaves at the end; the Doctor just casually hands him half a billion dollars in gold dust! And we wonder where the Doctor gets his money.

For lack of another place to put it, I’ll say it here: Gallifrey is stated by the Doctor to be 250 million light years away from Earth. It’s the closest to an actual, real-world location we’ve ever had.

movie 11

Overall, I enjoyed the movie. (I admit that I don’t often find great fault with any episode, so take that as you like—it’s entertainment, and I enjoy it.) It’s certainly different from the series; it feels very Americanized, but I can’t easily define what that means in context. The filming techniques, the pacing, the dialogue—it’s all subtly different. Still, “different” doesn’t have to mean “bad”; and any differences in the behavior of the Doctor and the Master can be attributed to the extremity of their circumstances here. While it’s certainly not the most complex plot in Doctor Who history, it helps to remember that this was a pilot for a series; it’s meant to showcase the acting, the design, and the potential of the series, not necessarily the complexity of the plot. Had it persisted, it certainly would have deepened at some point. It’s interesting to think about what might have been, had the series continued in America; but I’m happy with the outcome we got. I can’t help feeling that it wouldn’t have persisted as long as NuWho has, or added so much to the lore of the show. Still, it’s a great little story, and it gave us some valuable screen time for the truly excellent Paul McGann, which led to his long history in the audio dramas. For that, if nothing else, we owe the movie a debt of gratitude.

"I'm a Doctor...but probably not the one you were expecting."

“I’m a Doctor…but probably not the one you were expecting.”

Bonus: I know it’s not part of the classic series, but I also wanted to include a brief review of The Night of the Doctor, McGann’s other onscreen appearance. This mini-episode came as a very welcome surprise during the lead-up to the Fiftieth Anniversary Special in 2013, and gave us the other end of the Eighth Doctor’s life: His entry into the Last Great Time War, and his regeneration into the War Doctor. As this is the last bit of screen time the Doctor gets before the new series opens (at least, until the special came and showed us Gallifrey’s last moments), it’s worth a quick look.

Not Karn!!! Anything but that!!!

Not Karn!!! Anything but that!!!

The Doctor has been avoiding the war, and helping out where he can, which is perfectly in keeping with his character. He tries to rescue a young woman named Cass from a crashing gunship; but when she discovers that he is a Time Lord, she refuses to deal with him, choosing to die instead. Die she does, as does the Doctor, when the ship crashes…on Karn.

"It's very nearly over."

“It’s very nearly over.”

We haven’t seen this planet, or its Sisterhood, since The Brain of Morbius. Here the Sisterhood is less rigid in their rituals, but they take their purpose very seriously: they are the keepers of the Flame of Eternal Life, or as the Doctor puts it, “the Flame of Utter Boredom”. They revive him, but only briefly; they can save his life, but they won’t force it on him. We meet the high priestess Ohila (her name is a tribute to Ohica, the high priestess from Morbius); and watching her trade barbs with McGann is pure gold. McGann is at the top of his game here; no more the flighty, chaotic Eighth Doctor of the movie, he’s now seasoned and in control of himself and his wit. My opinion is that this short, seven-minute episode has the highest concentration of great dialogue to be found anywhere in the series, both classic and new.

Regenerating at long last.

Regenerating at long last.

This episode does much to represent the utter terror of the war in just a few lines—“You haven’t finished yet, some of the universe is still standing.” “Who can tell the difference anymore?” “She didn’t miss much [of the universe]; it’s very nearly over.” Further, the war does something new: it gives the Doctor the only true death he’s ever experienced—the death of the man he chooses to be. Giving in to Ohila’s request—that he join the war, and end it—he takes the elixir, and regenerates; the Doctor dies, the Warrior is born. It’s his apology, not just to Cass, but to the universe, and to himself. Dying, he acknowledges his companions from the Big Finish audios (but oddly, not Grace Holloway), thus giving his adventures there an added degree of canonicity. At the end, he serves as body double for John Hurt’s War Doctor, with a manipulated bit of stock footage giving us the young War Doctor’s face; this makes him one of only two actors, with Sylvester McCoy, to play two different Doctors. In all, I find this episode to be a great and vital piece of Doctor Who history, and one of the best overall in terms of acting, dialogue, and emotion. It’s simply fantastic.

Next time: Final thoughts, and future plans! See you there.

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

Television Movie, part 1

Television Movie, part 2

The Night of the Doctor

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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 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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