Tag: Time Lords

Doctor Who: 999 “You need a Doctor…” – Nine of the Ninth

The Ninth Doctor's Ninth Anniversary

9d ann square

Nine of the Ninth Doctor’s best moments on the ninth anniversary  of his arrival… Yes, the anniversary was on Wednesday the 26th, but new Doctor Who’s all about Saturdays, just as it should be…

IT SEEMS LIKE JUST A FEW DAYS SINCE THE 10TH ANNIVERSARY OF CHRISTOPHER ECCLESTON’S CASTING AS THE DOCTOR… AND IT WAS. And sure as that Type-40 TARDIS is still stuck as a Police Box, just over a year later he made his first appearance on prime time BBC1. The build-up was lovely if a little understated, fuelling long-term and fair weather fans alike as they grasped for snippets of the theme song and story hints as this new leather jacketed character leapt around shouting “Do you want to come with me?” “We already are” we might have all shouted in unison if we weren’t asking “When the hell are you going to start?” instead.

It was unclear then (though it never should have been) how or if this Doctor would fit in. Would it really be the same Doctor, linking directly to the classic series? Would some elements change? Would the show be rebooted, chucking off millions of hours, pages, CDs, strips of continuity..? Sure enough, was screened on 26th March 2005. And it didn’t really answer any of those questions. True to the classic series, we’d have to wait…

So as after respite from last November’s Whovember, what better time to get back on that British wagon train to the stars: The Ninth Doctor’s top nine.

Astonishingly not all of these are from The Parting of the Ways, still I consider, by way of massive hint, the new series finest hour.

9. Rose – “Run”

A rare remake

A great entrance, and no doubt something showrunner Russell T Davies had thought about at length. Like his 9d - ann1successor, current showrunner Steven Moffat, Davies must have toiled over this for years. It was crucial that this Doctor stepped out of his Police Box just as fully-formed (yet mysterious) as he had when he emerged in the fog of Totter’s Lane in 1963. Here the scrap yard was replaced with a department store, the granddaughter replaced with a, frustrated but ambitious London teenager.

And the story, brilliantly, was lightly drawn from Classic Who’s greatest writer Robert Holmes. Yes, he created The Sontarans, much of the Time Lords, the Master… But the Auton mannequins sat motionless on the high street, the personification of Hitchcockian suspense… Until they surprise a Bobby… Were one of his best. Here they make for a rare remake for the series (only bested in content by the underwhelming Silurian debut) and why not? A strong build-up of tension (broken only by Graham Norton) and then that hand in the dark…

8. The End of the World – “I’m a Time Lord, the last of the Time Lords”

And then off for chips

I pondered that Time Lord moment, but in the context of the show nine years and seven seasons on, it sticks out a mile. The show’s all about the Time Lord, but not the super Time Lord.

In Rose, you may strain to hear the dying Nestene Consciousness scream “Time Lord”…  But here he said it.

Yes, the moment from that second episode has to be executive producer Julie Gardner’s favourite. That speech to Rose, that confession… Those keywords checked off in the midst of commuters all unaware how this figure had saved them, their descendants, their ancestors many, many times… And then off for chips. ”You think it will last forever…” It’s another moment that Moffat impressively managed to expand during the anniversary. Back then he was the impossible alien. Now he was discovered. It was the concept that the show would be built on…

7. Bad Wolf – “Would the Doctor please come to the Diary Room”

A light start to a pivotal episode

Popular Culture can’t ignore itself. This light parody checked all the boxes, managing to involve Davina but not aping the reality behemoth too exactly or too much (see the disappointing Dead Set for that). Davies, quite rightly a long-term fan of Big Brother had hinted at some kind of Who/Big Brother parody for some time. But here it was a light and familiar start to pivotal episode.

For Big Brother critics it was a particularly dicey move, but nine years on while Trinny and Susannah-style fashion shows and The Weakest Link have disappeared from the schedules… Big Brother’s back to its heady heights. Alongside Doctor Who.

6. The Unquiet Dead – “At such a cost, the poor child”

The Doctor’s darker hue

After the disposable plot setting of Rose and the nonsense whodunit of the majority of The End of the World, The Unquiet Dead did far more than establish a present, future, past season template. It really hinted at what Doctor Who could do while making a good stab at the horror that has always been at the heart of the show. It wasn’t perfect… Often criticised for being a light attempt at a classic story, later period pieces would add more spectacle and of course, this is this episode that supposedly lost us Eccleston.

But there are highlights, not least the Doctor’s darker hue, his fallibility and the hard decisions that should be woven into every story. Death is a heavily woven into Who’s fabric of course, coming every episode – but as the mid-70s and mid-80s showed, it needs to be handled correctly. The Unquiet Dead did that and also, it premiered on my birthday. Darker Who on my birthday. Fantastic. But it would get better…

5. The Empty Child – “Nobody here but us chickens”

An irresistible mystery

Mark Gatiss’ The Unquiet Dead had stoked some Who horror flames, but its zombie-ghost facade was cartoonish compared to this. Negating ghosts, period celebrities and zombies Moffat’s first Who classic had a comfortable two episodes to ramp up the pressure, the mystery and the horror. Here the Ninth Doctor has time alone to stalk around a mystery.

From a telephone that shouldn’t work to a door side encounter with classic ‘haunted’ house tropes. This Doctor is caught in an irresistible mystery, that instantly tests his instincts. “Ain’t nobody here but us chickens” he says, laughing sever-so-slightly nervously as he’s torn between protection and running.  Failure to do either would be dereliction of the Doctor’s mantle…

9d - ann24. Dalek – Eye to Eye

The lone Dalek concept was a left perfectly by the Classic Series

To think that there was a chance that Daleks wouldn’t appear in that first series, or at all… After pondering that, it’s worth considering this story with its back-up aliens. The Toclafane would later show up in the series three finale as the chilling coda of humanity.

As it is, this loose adaptation of Big Finish’s Jubilee and penned by that play’s author Rob Shearman himself, improves with every viewing. A siege story in the classic sense, this meeting of aliens must be one of Who‘s most watched moments. The lone Dalek concept was a left perfectly by the Classic Series, and perfectly set up by the Alien comparison.

In hindsight the last the Doctor saw of his copper nemeses were some ravaged Dalek shells as he grafitti’d Gallifrey with “No More”. Both species were destroyed… And then, the last remaining members of each came face-to-face in near-future Utah. The Doctor at his most vengeful, a Dalek at its most duplicitous… The ultimate destroyer and then unstoppable force but not always the way you think.

And to start, a fan pleasing surprise. A wonderfully simple, empty cyber head, oddly a Revenge of the Cybermen iteration … the Cybers almost met the new Doctor first… if only they’d stuck with that classic design a season later.

3. The Doctor Dances – “Just this once, everybody lives!”

A true fan wrote this

The myth of the Doctor being the most dangerous man in the universe took five seasons to grow, but it was clear from the beginning that his travels were fraught with danger. After seeing more than a few characters, not least in The Unquiet Dead fall foul of his intervention… Or solution… This was joyous. A true fan wrote this and packed the plot with hard science-fiction to boot.

2. Bad Wolf – “Rose, I’m Coming to get you…”

This was about the Doctor and his companion.

Arguably the greatest moment in modern Doctor Who. Packed with promise and its unavoidable recall to the 9d - ann3Time War. Jumping forward to the cliff-hanger resolution, imagine those Dalek missiles hurtling against a fleet of fully manned TARDISes during that war, weapons and crafts zapping through time zones while in fully manned console rooms Time Lords fly this way and that, regenerating in an endless domino effect around a central console… But of course, this wasn’t really about the Time War.

This was about the Doctor and his companion. Many co-travellers have brought the Doctor back into the fold, ever since the original crew quite reasonably created him. Oddest of all is the most recent, where despite a pleading afterword from Amy Pond, it took a mystery as deep as The Impossible Girl to pull him back in. Again, with recent hindsight, Rose is the Doctor’s first companion since he lost Cass in *that* crash on Karn… Eight or so years before we saw this Doctor’s origins, the show had recovered its confidence and swagger.

The pitch is never better – it’s simple and effective: the Doctor is happy to warn them: he’s going to storm into the heart of the Dalek ship and rescue Rose. Because that’s what he does.

1. The Parting of the Ways – Saving Bad Wolf

What was Bad Wolf’s cost?

As 2013’s The Time of the Doctor showed once again, Bad Wolf is a concept too good to be constrained by one season. There’s no doubt that such a light arc benefitted from coming in the first series, but it was the fantastic pay-off that made it.

Having taken a holiday while plot arcs took a firm grip on television science-fiction, New Who had time to unfold mysteries one by one. Bad Wolf, as light as a line of dialogue, a glimpse of a German bomb, or a smudge of graffiti scattered across a few episodes was perfect fodder for Whovians. No arc since, certainly not recent complications, would recapture that simple delight.

But in the end, what was Bad Wolf’s cost? The Daleks survived, Rose as well… The true cost was the Ninth Doctor. A short, rather miserable existence that wouldn’t know the redemption of the 11th Doctor (nor temporarily the 10th). Locked in a war with the Daleks, his only comfort was that the Daleks were destroyed once and for all.

It’s very unlikely we’ll see the Ninth Doctor again, thank goodness we’ll never forget him.  Three Doctors and seven series on, his departure isn’t showy or nostalgic – his regeneration really is fantastic.

TIMEY-WIMEY:  Read the Ninth Doctor Whovember for the missing Slitheens 

Doctor Who: Multiplicity – “He can wear whatever face he likes!” (Whovember #2)

Second Doctor Whovember Jokertoon

2D

A glorious end to the classic Whovember viewings as the anniversary hat is put on for a selection of six stories.  Multi-Doctor stories are woven into the fabric of the show and when it comes to Doctors plural, there’s one common link – the Time Lord who made regeneration possible – the Second Doctor. 

#2: Six Multi-Doctor Specials… The Three Doctors, The Five Doctors and The Two Doctors (with special cameos by Dimensions in Time, The Light at the End and The Day of the Doctor.

UNTIL SOME LATER FELLOWS CAME ALONG, THIS YEAR’S 50TH ANNIVERSARY WAS ALL ABOUT THE SECOND DOCTOR.  The timely rediscovery of missing episodes put him firmly at the centre of the build-up – And why not?  He’s the man who made it possible, who introduced the Time Lords, who banished straightforward historical romps, who meant that there could be undeniably, more than one Doctor.

Beyond the “before history” of the First Doctor, he’s the Doctor who gave us the first real continuity conundrum, with the potential of a missing season dreamt up based on countless paradoxical references and continuity blips.  As the only iteration to bring his mop top to every multi-Doctor story so far he’s had had plenty of chances.

It was an accident at first of course, that tradition of the multi-Doctor story.  The Three Doctors may have started the tenth season of the show, but it was broadcast almost a year before the tin anniversary itself.  It was dreamt up as more of an attempt to out-do Day of the Daleks, the season opener a year before.  Somehow though, it set a trend that would see multi-Doctor tales and anniversary years intertwine.

The Three Doctors (Season 10, 1972/1973)

The Three Doctors was certainly one way to start a season with a bang.  An episodic serial sat within the tenth season, it’s been described as a pantomime and for all intents and purposes, yes it is.  From the bright colours, squabbling, humour and shouty pantomime dame, sorry, Omega.

Perversely, it set a number of odd patterns within multi-Doctor stories.  In barely any do viewers get the number of Doctors that they were expecting.  Here it’s far more the Two Doctors than The Three Doctors.  Due to William Hartnell’s ill health he appears briefly but memorably and only ever on a video screen having been trapped in a time eddy in the adventure.

These The Three Doctors are not only the three originals, but also the most bickering of the Doctors incarnations.  We never see that level of inter-Doctor rivalry between any other Doctors, although each of them display their various levels of disdain and dismissal.  It almost necessitated a splintering of the original three, something that would become a tradition in its own right from The Five Doctors all the way along to Big Finish’s 50th anniversary adventure The Light at the End.

Another curious tradition is the reverence the First Doctor carries from his successors.  They may grumble, but he borders on having a greater knowledge or certainly rationale than his older versions. Certainly his problem solving is carried off with great authority.  Perhaps this is a primacy rule in Time Lord society, perhaps because the First Doctor had the longest life…

It’s not made clear that previous Doctor’s forget this story, although that idea would be loosely suggested later – with the exception of the Doctor seemingly on a concurrent time stream (the latest – Fifth in The Five Doctors, Sixth in The Two Doctors and 11th in Day of the Doctor).

The Time Lords presented here are certainly an extension of those seen earlier, but not totally at odds to the over-bureaucratic race of prudes that Robert Holmes would create in The Deadly Assassin. Predating Day of the Doctor, it’s not the High Council of Time Lords that dictate play here.  Instead they’re floundering amid their strict, un-bending roles and it takes a maverick hope to get them out of a total black out.

In the story itself, the Doctor is chucked into it before the Time Lords triple his efficacy – the old coincidence meets message to the Time Lords.  While the First Doctor is picked up in some form of time capsule, the Second Doctor rather interestingly fades into the Third Doctor’s TARDIS (“I’m just a temporal anomaly).  Presumably this appearance and the capsule are equivocal with a TARDIS dematerialisation but it’s not a trick that’s seen again.  Similarly, the “Connection” head-shaking method the Doctors use for rapid telepathic conflab is never seen again – although it does have a successor in the Eleventh Doctor’s method of quick information discharge.  The method of the Second Doctor’s arrival also precludes companions, although that’s something that UNIT personnel can more than make up for.

Of course, the scale of the adventure had to be huge and warranted a huge rule to break: The First Law of Time.  That’s the rule that forbids a Time Lord from meeting his earlier self.  Of course while I say Time Lord, it’s a rule imparted by the Time Lords that applies to anything and anyone, for the very good of the universe.  It’s not linked to generations, but any temporal difference.  Robert Holmes would have some fun dismissing Doctor meets over a decade later with a casual “it’s inevitable”.  It is strange that one exact season on from Day of the Daleks the far more devastating Blinovitch Limitation Effect is over-written by a law that sounds far more legal than physical.

Special mention must also go to Omega himself.  It’s only fitting.  In a world of rather weary and staid Time Lords, he’s a breath of fresh air – just look at the poor beardy-Lord in need of a good regeneration at the control panel on Gallifrey.  The wannabe tyrant’s costume isn’t quite explained away, but leads to a neat and rather off-structure reveal.  Omega clearly is far heavier in the Time Lord mental stakes than the Doctor(s). Madness is only to be expected and his random scenery stomping shouts of “What is this!?” is later matched by the Ali Baba Rassilon of The Five Doctors.  Those Ancient Gallifreyans certainly had far more fun.

Omega has a prescience that’s rather necessary for the plot.  While he may well have developed a way to observe the Time Lords in the millennia following his disappearance, he seems all to conscious of the fact that he’s become a bit of a legend.  Perhaps most perplexing is his quick comprehension of regeneration and crucially, the First Law of Time.  It’s quite possible that regeneration and the Rassilon Imprimatur was developed concurrently with Omega’s stealer engineering, but had the Time Lords developed the Laws of Time prior to gaining time travel?  That sits uneasily with other tales, including The Five Doctors. You may have thought that alongside having a great deal of fun and spoiling Minyans, the Ancient Time Lords made quite a few mistakes first.

The Three Doctors bring big concepts that befit such an adventure.  The brilliantly bizarre transportation of UNIT HQ after the strange invasion sits alongside the subtler set-pieces like the Brigadier’s long overdue arrival in the TARDIS.  But then there’s the story itself.  Full of black-plot-holes it may be, but the concept of travel beyond the event horizon, relativity, faster than light-speed travel and anti-matter matched with a core-concept denouement make for strong sci-fi stuff.

It’s impressive that what could easily become another Frankenstein homage is left alone.  Omega’s in much more of a mood for laying out his victory feast than creating creatures he can have a chat with.  Jelly’s rather crucial here.  It’s not only the personification, rather oddly, of antimatter – but at one point the Second Doctor offers round a jelly baby!  He really was a trend-setter.

By the end, two brilliant things have happened.  The villain’s been defeated by his own hubris and the Brigadier’s gone almost the whole adventure thinking that the Doctor simply changed his face to a previous model.

A pelting little homage to 10 years, there’s even a bit of time for dream-scape Venusian Akido, and you can’t say fairer than that. (though quite what the Second Doctor was doing during that section is anybody’s guess…)  And when it comes to creating a super-deranged Time Lord villain in the show’s tenth year, omega’s not a bad stab at it.  A villain of pure will, a Time Lord myth not involving vampires – it’s just a shame that Omega never quite reached his potential.  Although there’s always the new series…

The Five Doctors (Special, 1983)

One of my first DVD purchases, how over-used that clip from The Dalek Invasion of Earth looks now… But still, it is very good.  Similar to its use on the recent An Adventure in Time and Space though, I can see the token reference but it does slightly diminish the other actor(s) playing The First Doctor.

The Five Doctors had a rather tortured production with Robert Holmes’ initial The Six Doctors script eventually getting the better of him.  Some of those ideas would be picked up in his script for The Two Doctors a few years later, but in 1983 it was left to the inimitable Terrance Dicks to step into the breach.  Casting ‘issues’ further tortured the production – with one Doctor deceased and one declined, the team were back in The Three Doctors territory.  With the First Doctor recast (rather well), further companion shuffles mean that the Second Doctor is once again rather hard done-by in terms of assistance, although he at least gets some banter with the Brigadier.

The canon part?  Well, when are these Doctor’s from?  The Second Doctor is clearly doing slightly more than bending the First Law of Time when he visits a Brigadier clearly established to be in the Fifth Doctor’s time stream a few stories earlier.

Much has been made of the Third Doctor having some apparent pre-cognition of his future beyond his regeneration.  While some theories about regenerative memories are confusing (This is a post-regeneration Third Doctor!?) it’s far more likely that… Sarah’s hand signals are enough to prompt him.  That in itself is astonishing considering that she survived that terrible cliff fall…  The Third Doctor is wonderfully casual about his next self (surely two iterations who wouldn’t have got on).  But if he’s not a post-regenerative version (as Day of the Doctor’s Great Curator may very well be), when are these Doctors from?  They look far older than when they regenerated (pick, pick, pick – it’s the time differential you know…).  In the case of the Second Doctor, we know that there’s an adventure involving The Terrible Zodin taking place in the Brigadier’s future, likely with multiple Doctors and that’s significant – She must be the premier never seen Who villain… But maybe there are further clues to that in the Second Doctor’s next appearance…

With no Omega (he’d popped up a few stories before) it’s left to a rather sad reversal of a known character.  The idea of regeneration lying behind Borusa’s devilish turn is an interesting one, although must make for a very paranoid society (“You never know what you’re gonna get!”).  Perhaps it’s more likely in a Time Lord like Borusa, who speeds through his regenerations like fish fingers dissolving in custard (that would happen)..

Having established a new Time Lord elite just the season before, it seems a bit wasteful to squander it all.  It wouldn’t be corrected either.  When the Time Lords next returned they’d be anonymous jurors…

Another tradition is continued in this Time Lord biopic.  It’s implicit that the Death Zone was active when after the Time Lord’s mastery of time travel.  They were certainly a nasty bunch at the beginning of that, despite their care in establishing Laws… And re-establishes that the Doctor/ Time Lord’s involvement with Cybermen massively predates that of the Daleks.  Still, the Game of Rassilon (Rassy himself, settling into being a nicely ambiguous figure in Gallifreyan-lore) is a simple device to get as many companions, Doctors and monsters together as possible.

Perhaps the worst miss?  The light greeting Susan receives from the Fifth Doctor is pretty much all the acknowledgement she gets from the other Doctors!  While recognising the Dark Tower is the most overtly Time Lord (or Gallifreyan) thing she’s ever done the Doctor’s granddaughter soon settles into the role of simpering companion.  Perhaps she’s used up all her regenerative juices and there’s just none left for her ankle…

With the demands of such an endeavour and the problems that it encountered during its production, it’s rather unsurprisingly that the end result is a bit of a bloody shambles.  In many ways, it’s pretty damned awful actually.  Compared with some of the finer moments of Who – recent and soon to happen plots included – it’s frothy, plot-holed nonsense, far ropier than The Three Doctors.  But then again, it’s The Five Doctors and it’s a feature-length 20th anniversary special.  And for that reason it’s fantastic.  But the flip-side of that celebration is that such acceptance forces awkward inconsistencies into Doctor Who canon.  I won’t touch on the fact that it premiered in the United States first…

The Two Doctors (Season 22, 1985)

At last a multi-Doctor story where the Time Lords don’t appear.  Or do they?  They may just be a little more ominous about their absence than the story suggests (Holmes would pull of a similarly effective trick with Ravalox in The Trial of a Time Lord the following season all you The Deadly Assassin haters…)

For once we do get the right number of Doctors – not a Doctor more, not a Doctor less.  Not that it isn’t left until the final part for them to meet…

The broadcast structure at the time hides the fact that this is Colin Baker’s only six-part story.  While much of it is padding, it’s effective – particularly the stomping around the future space station.  While his creations, the Sontarans, may have been forced on writer Robert Holmes, he still manages to rinse out some lovely science fiction and time related points, some picked up from his aborted Six Doctors script.

In fact, in many ways, The Two Doctors feels like the jumping off point for the Virgin New Adventures and Missing Adventures ranges.

Even with the casual dismissal of the First Law of Time and similarly sketchy disposal of temporal displacement, the Second Doctor’s appearance here is one of his most interesting.  What a wonderful thing that Patrick Troughton enjoyed The Five Doctors so much that he volunteered to come back.  While his character does look noticeably greyer than he did in The Five Doctors, a timing for the adventure is almost given.  The TARDIS crew have dropped Victoria off, so in season terms it would clearly takes place during the first portion of Season Five.

The horribly confusing element comes from the fact that the Doctor has been dispatched, with companion no less, on a mission for the Time Lords. It’s this total contradiction of the The War Games that led to speculation that there was a Season 6b – a suggestion now taken to be as near as possible to canon. Of course, this builds on his presence in front of Time Lords in both The Three Doctors and The Five Doctors (The First Doctor too). It also helps explain – or doesn’t at all if you think about it – how the Second Doctor knows that Jamie’s memories were wiped when the Dark Tower tried to deceive him in The Five Doctors.  There’s also the small fact that the Second Doctor’s TARDIS looks a lot different in this adventure.  (There’s one of the oddest things – that the adventure starts off with the Second Doctor in flight, in black and white – not the greatest reflection on the Sixth Doctor).  As a recruit of the Time Lord’s Celestial Intervention Agency, it seems a fair enough explanation for the Second Doctor getting his hands on a Stattenheim remote control device that the Sixth Doctor can’t remember.

Surely the only feasible explanation is that following the War Games (or just before the end), the Second Doctor and Jamie are used as agents by the Time Lords, during which they pick up Victoria again and all the Second Doctor’s multi-Doctor stories take place.  Phew.  Presumably they knew that a sentence would be carried out at the end of this, but were happy to become agents anyway.

It does raise a few neat points – that, while part of the civil service establishment, the first Doctor undertook various diplomatic missions for the Time Lords.  There can’t have been that many.  And it’s not worth considering how that Gallifreyan timeline fits in with these advanced non-humans of the third Zone.  While it’s imperative that little is revealed about the Doctor, Holmes continues to build up Time Lord civilisation– this time bringing the Rassilon imprimatur and murky levels of observation and control to temporal intrigue.  It wouldn’t be a multi-Doctor story, nor an anniversary nod, without a little addition to the myths of Rassilon, Omega and the Ancient Gallifreyans.  As usual, and as would be picked up in his next and final script for the series, there are few Who writers who can dig out such dark aspects from the Time Lords.

Sure, the Jamie as marooned and feral beast plot may be overlooked, but Holmes doesn’t overcook it.  It makes for a mean and neat line running through the piece, accompanied by the staple computer versus intruders and simulated deaths.  The Androgums are a wonderfully sketched primitive species, mainly down to casting, but Shockeye also highlights some of the series’ faults.  The death of Oscar is all very well and Hamlet, but it’s also shockingly violent.  Unfortunately, Holmes and Saward’s agenda just fed the show’s critics.

On the whole, the Two Doctors is considered favourably in the Sixth Doctor’s short run.  It’s a solid and fascinating story, even if it could have made an easy four-parter and the Seville filming is rather unnecessary.  It’s a shame that the Doctors don’t see more of each other, but that allows for companion swapping and an easy sense of menace.  No fading out of existence here, it’s all down to Colin Baker’s performance.   And when the Doctors do meet it’s a bit of a delight.  Few Doctors lend themselves to mangling tenses and pronouns like the Sixth Doctor and in that initial “snap” meeting – just catch the quick glance that the Second Doctor flashes over his successor’s coat.  Patrick Troughton, a delight as ever.  In fact we’re rather lucky to have The Two Doctors at all – and at least it claimed a prize figure when Holmes, rarely, adapted it to be the 100th TARGET novelisation.

Dimensions in Time (Special, 1993)

Special or, maybe, travesty.  But, there is a lot to forgive in John Nathan Tuner’s only Doctor Who script.  Sadly, one of those is not the plasticine heads used to cover the passing of Messrs Hartnell and Troughton.  The most explicable thing is the time hole that the Rani traps the first two iterations in… But best not look at that logic too carefully.  The canon of Eastenders and Doctor Who co-existing in the same universes has been subsequently ruined by the fact that many on the Square watch Doctor Who on Christmas day.  That’s a shame – because surely the Doctor’s one of the few people who could deduce what Mitchells and Brannings watch on Christmas Day when Eastenders is on…

The Light at the End (Big Finish 50th Anniversary Special, 2013)

Big Finish’s 50th stab actually brought all the Doctors (up to their last, the Eighth) together.  As such, the polished and finely produced production extolled the best and the worst of Big Finish’s take on the Time Lord, particularly since the series returned to television.  A combination of fiction-physics and time rams, hyped far beyond the classic television series’ remit, it’s not really the most inclusive tale.  The first three Doctors are present and correct and in a surprisingly effective homage to The Three Doctors, they’re kept rather at arm’s length, boxed up and packed off to bicker and squabble between themselves.  It’s not surprising that it’s the range’s flagship Doctors Four and Eight are thrown together in the first instance, but they certainly don’t get straight down to insults, even when Five, Seven and – particularly Six – turn up.  Lovely stuff, but we had to leave a simpler take on The Five Doctors to Peter Davison and the BBC Red button after the 50th anniversary’s main event…

The Day of the Doctor (Special, 2013)

Alas, the Second Doctors only appearance in this year’s biggest special is near the end, from stock footage… But what a scene, what a ‘Moment’.  All 13 Doctors working together, wilfully allowed to dodge the Time Locked fate of Gallifrey, breaking every possible Law of time and setting their final self (until The Time of the Doctor) and his successors a pleasing  conundrum.  Day more than ever gets to grips with two inherent puzzles around multiple-Doctor stories.  It is the past Doctors who have no or muddled memory of multi-Doctor stories, while the current time stream Doctor (latest – although Capaldi’s interference muddles it slightly, who’s complaining!) retains (records) the memory.  In Day it’s more interesting as the guilt we’ve seen the Doctor carry since the Time War (John Hurt’s War Doctor clearly regenerating into Christopher Eccleston’s) was simply assumed.  He remembered the moment, but had no idea that he’d chosen not to – there’s no suggestion that Day is writing a reversal of that original decision.  It’s takes slightly too much assumption on the side of the audience, but then that’s a Moffat standard.

The appearance of the Great Curator at the end must sit squarely with the infamous Morbius flashbacks – wonderful fan fodder.  There’s every suggestion that it’s a future Doctor, although I find the idea of a alternate Fourth slightly more engrossing – that a personality could retire, rather than a far distant Doctor who’d returned to an “old favourite”.  As Russell T Davies may say, that’s he’s the 508th Doctor…

And so the Second Doctor is even further removed from the current – although, thankful for small mercies, his cameo is much better than The Five Doctors grab seen in The Name of the Doctor.

As time spirals on and over 50 years and the Doctors suddenly reach 14… There’s little chance that the Second Doctor’s future appearances will be more than those brief cameos.  So much hope must lie with the quest to rediscover his missing serials.  Still, with so many classic adventures lost and following his near-takeover of the 50th anniversary with The Web of Fear, there’s certainly life left in the Cosmic Hobo yet.  He always carried more hope than most.

TIMEY-WIMEY:  Read on for the Third Doctor’s era-ending tangle with the Daleks in Whovember #3!

Doctor Who: The 17 Year Itch – “In the fight for survival, there are no rules” (Whovember #8)

Eighth Doctor Whovember Jokertoon

8D

A sad but pivotal turn in the classic Whovember viewings as it reaches the alpha, omega and nothing else in-between… Of one of the best loved Time Lords, that difficult Eighth…

#8: Doctor Who: The Movie, a 17 year break then, The Night of the Doctor.

AH, WHAT IS THERE TO SAY ABOUT THE EIGHTH DOCTOR? Sadly, he’s only there because no one really wanted him.  Had a series ensued from his American reboot pilot, we’d no doubt be raging about the canonicity.  Not only would there be strong reservations about the Eighth Doctor’s role, despite his canon regeneration, but it would certainly have changed or destroyed that 2005 revival.

In a way, Paul McGann’s barely seen but popular Doctor was a sacrificial lamb.

As it happened, we won a vibrant new series that’s more popular than ever because his stab at TARDIS control failed.  Now he’s firmly lodged in the BBC DVD range, long forgotten as a potential American property and somehow formed one of the best bits of the 50th anniversary.  Who would have thought that 17 years after first regenerating, the Eighth Doctor would improve…  Well, we should have had more faith.

The Movie (1996)

The Movie, for all its faults is still a very good looking production.  It’s probably my most watched opening, with the TARDIS vortex cut-aways that still look stunning.  The old joke about the classic seasons’ fragile sets may be unfair, but the US budget gave us scenes not come near since the opening few seconds of The Trial of a Time Lord.

The hindsight that comes with the show’s successful revival is the real problem here – incorporating regeneration into the first third.  Regeneration is an extraordinary and bizarre concept.  It’s absolute genius, but it’s also intangible.  I’ve now idea when I became aware of the concept or saw multiple Doctors and realised that they were the same person.  Somehow it just happened – and I certainly had no Ben and Polly style companions to ease the transition in the late 1980s.

But here, it’s the voice over of Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor that welcomes us to the story as we see a strangely un-garrulous Seventh Doctor potter around.  The script and settings are riddled with menace.  About the Doctor’s mission, “It was a request they should never have granted?” we’re told.  Really?  Why, because the Master ended up falling into the Eye of Harmony?  Because Earth temporarily went a little off-molecule and nobody noticed?

Still, director Geoffrey Sax ramps up the atmosphere in the opening scenes.  The scenes of the x-rays, mixed with the strobe-laced pan of the ambulance, backed by the static of radio is effective, as is the rather lovely slow-motion opera escaping Grace.  Slightly clichéd, but done well.

There are strange Who aberrations littered around, including the marvellous new stellar-cartography console room – so TARDIS and yet not quite.  The Seventh Doctor uses a classic sonic screwdriver before he even speaks, for the first time.  Like the console room, he’s a bit of a composite himself.  A huge, sentimental composite.  This jazz loving Doctor is happy knocking back jelly babies, reading Well’s The Time Machine while he nips back, ridiculously or fortuitously to Rassilon-era Gallifrey.  When there’s an emergency, something that strangely disconcerts him he doesn’t even check the scanner before leaving his ship….

That prolonged set-up sets things up, rather clinically.  The TARDIS is a normal-sized police box, it is invincible, the Doctor really can be two different people.

And then, the savage cut to a dead fish eye sums up the rather uncomfortable mash of styles – uncomfortable in Who terms that is.  We’re not in child-focussed historical adventure here – we’re in action adventure.  The shoot-out that the Doctor steps into barely felt realistic at the time but it certainly felt violent.  And with one ba-ding, the Seventh was over.  Well, after a particularly long and sadistic theatre scene. We obviously absolutely have to believe that the Seventh Doctor is dead.

Strange that there’s so many historical nods and yet very little explanation.  It’s baffling to new viewers and mildly offensive to Doctor Who fans.

The emphasis is on “mildly”, but of course, there are many parts of The Movie that can get a Whovian frothing at the mouth.  The Dalek voices, the Dalek concept of trial (well, they do have a legislative arm…), the Doctor’s roots, the peculiar suggestion that the TARDIS is unique, the Eye of Harmony laying at the heart of the Autumnal Cloister room… The Master.

McGann’s mention of the regenerative limit isn’t enough to overcome the peculiar fate of the Master.  His default xenomorph setting can be explained away of course.  I mean, for over a decade he’d just sat in a humanoid body that he’d borrowed, taking a fair battering along the way.

There was initial speculation that the Master’s eyes (and black skin?) were a reference to his fate at the end of Survival.  They are however, clearly intended to be snake-like – suggesting that his slimy form is indeed, yep, a snake.  Yes, he is evil.  Biblical as ever, even when he turns into Captain Black. His plot may be hokey and confusing; especially when he pops out to get changed into fine Gallifreyan finery.  But some lines like “I’ve wasted all my lives because of you, Doctor…” is quite a compelling.

Many parts of this characterisation are a bit off, but that’s about as irrelevant as research was to Eric Roberts.  Overall, this Master is quite valid.  Robert’s master chews scenery while channelling Khan.  Anthony Ainley had a similar approach.  During the ‘Bruce you’re sick’ – ‘Thank you’ exchange, this Master looks far less ridiculous after seeing what John Simm did with the character.  This Master’s refusal to accept the Doctor’s help was something else later picked up in the New Series.

There are some nice touches in there, such as his adopting the Doctor’s ‘English’ accent.  Also, his pathetic response to a fire extinguisher, odd literalism and Time Lord correction of Grace’s grammar and Freud knowledge is fantastic.  But then… He spits poison gunk.  Well, presumably so.  It burns Grace, but then later both stupefies (kills) and allows the Master a route to possession.

Perhaps most significant is the master’s ability to just appear in the TARDIS.  Twice.  Surely an editing issue, that could have been or perhaps was overcome in the original script.

The Master’s hypnotic control is as great as the Delgado version.  And then with the unnecessary “I’ve always hated this planet” he proves he really is a right bastard by sacrificing both Grace and Change Lee dead.  He may have stepped up his homicidal tendencies, but it’s easy to see why.

In the end, the Master doesn’t help himself, but it looks a lot like the TARDIS rejects him.  And not just because he lacks, ahem, some human DNA.  After that, rather strangely, it eats him.  The Eye of the Harmony is now not just a route to the original black hole, it’s an engine and the TARDIS’ mouth!

In the slightly Superman: The Movie type way, the healing of Grace and Lee again looks far better in the regenerative-energy soaked years of Davies and Moffat.  “What a sentimental old thing this TARDIS is” the Doctor says.  He should wait until he meets her…

On the flipside of that eternal struggle of good and evil, the producers clearly needed to match the class of their production with a Doctor of class.  With Paul McGann they lucked out.

Unlike the generic, pointless garble that McCoy has to contend with McGann really gets to wrap his new tongue around a lot.  It’s not a promising start. Despite the Frankenstein juxtaposition, he undergoes a rather unspectacular regeneration (so much more quickening than New Series impressive after 17 years) and wakes with amnesia.

It’s funny how strange it is that this Doctor regenerated in America as opposed to, well, Androzani or even Hertfordshire. And those first words are not classics…  But still, it may be an obvious analogy, but that juxtaposition with the 1931 Frankenstein makes the regeneration make sense.  What else is Frankenstein but a regeneration story, but still it doesn’t quite capture the idea of a hero… Like much of the film, the idea of the hero and villain is strangely garbled.

But when de-shackled of amnesia, McGann’s is an immediately attractive Doctor.  Bewildered, hopeful, high pitched, squeaky, insightful – he’s a bundle of vitality and energy.  He relishes life, but isn’t a Doctor who’s afraid of making noise to get his point across.  Before reminiscing about Puccini in a heartfelt way – “It was so sad…” – the Doctor finds his costume in the hospital just like Spearhead from Space and The Eleventh Hour, but this time aided by New Year’s Eve… And in doing so, he’s hoisted straight back to the Edwardian era.  Amid some Gallifreyan reminiscences, moments like the shoe scene are brilliant.  He has the same the mercurial and transient interest, ignoring the big things but over-interested in the seemingly banal.  It’s the same as it’s ever been – stretching right back to the First Doctor.

And all the time he says, putting himself at the polar extreme of the Master “I love humans. Always seeing patterns in things that aren’t there.”  Perhaps the biggest change is his belief in coincidence – far removed from his fourth incarnation – although he shows the same predilection to being knocked unconscious.

This Doctor also seems supernaturally aware of space and time.  Not exactly the Time Lord walking in eternity, but it pre-figures aspects of the New Series.  Perhaps however, judging by the Master’s abilities, he’s using his telepathy.  Many of these strands would have no doubt become clear if a series had been commissioned.

Perhaps of most interest is the balance brought by the Movie’s companions.  Both Time Lords gain an assistant by half way through, but these are not typical human accessories.  The Master’s need for Chang Lee is highly debatable – unfortunately both he and Grace hinge around that daft human eye plot necessity…

Of the two, it is unsurprisngly Grace Holloway that’s of most interest. It is Amazing Grace, the surgeon, who effectively killed the Doctor on their first meeting during the extended ‘he’s an alien’ section.  It could have been fatal – as he says, it’s the anaesthetic that almost destroyed the regeneration.  The process is taken to the height of life and death, so it’s fitting, as well as comedic, that his companion is a Doctor in her own right.  Of course, that would be returned to in Series 3 of the New Series, though in an arguably less compelling way.

And then… Then she turns him down.  A rare, and thanks to the lack of commission, brilliant way to leave it.

Let’s just gloss over the kiss that looks so innocuous these days.  He remembers and in doing so he remembers that he loves life.

The big problem of the TV Movie is of course not a problem at all.  The Doctor isn’t half human, no matter how many times it’s said here.  The Doctor lies and that is it.  In no way canon.

The film brings Americanisms to the Doctor Who universerse, many of them unavoidable in an advanced-science-fiction conscious network – tellingly the description of the Chameleon circuit as a cloaking device – while the higher budget brings other inevitabilities like the motorbike chase and the Batman Forever style atomic clock.  But some things shine through, like the glass-bending (though, think of what was happening to other parts of the world, to champagne glasses – it’s early morning in the UK by then after all) – the “Yeah, they say that on my planet too” lines and the way that the Doctor threatens himself with a policeman’s gun.

And so The Movie ends with a vibrant new Doctor but no new companion.  Grace would have no doubt returned, but there seems to be one slip in the strange, slightly corny ending.  The new, vibrant, refreshed Doctor keeps the Console Room desktop, listens to the same song and resumes the same reading as his predecessor.  “Oh no, not again..” – that’s something that we’re not used to a new Doctor doing…

But certainly, there were many things right with The Movie.  It may have been judged a failure in the United States, but the ratings in the UK – equivalent to the best of the New Series – meant that the BBC couldn’t ignore it…  it’s really  where modern Who started,…

But when it came to the new series, the Eighth Doctor was nowhere to be seen…

The Night of the Doctor (50th Anniversary Special, 2013)

When that title was passed along to the BBFC, I thought it could only be one thing.  that didn’t stop me being delightfully surprised when ‘that’ reveal happened.  Eight years into that new series, when show runner Steven Moffat was faced with the daunting task of managing the 50th anniversary, he wanted to make the show’s absence mean something.  How twisted that he used the one rogue, budgeted moment of hope in those 17 years to push it home.

For a list of surprises (delights), basically a mini-review whoop –  to be found in the mini-episode I rustled up when it was surreptitiously released read here.

What a great surprise, and so much more than a fan-pandering one.  They may have clamoured for the Eighth Doctor’s regeneration for years, but when it came, it still left the same number of regenerations unresolved…  There was an extra Doctor who would take the story on, but this was a fitting send off for the most missed Doctor.

It was clear that time had moved on, with the Eighth Doctor wandering the universe for some years.

McGann works perfectly with Moffat’s dialogue.  The enthusiasm is modified, the wit sharper, the confidence a little more suave than bouncing spaniel.  Still able to shout with exactly the same tone as when he came in, but this Doctor is more universe-weary.  Quite some time of his life spent resisting against the Time War and helping where he can…

His costume isn’t as dramatically different as it first appears.  The waistcoat and cravat are there.  It’s more faithful than the revised Big Finish (and BBC sanctioned) costume – though it’s difficult to tell if his sonic screwdriver is the new Weta-designed one…

But of course what’s most important is the crucial context that he adds to his incarnation in a few short minutes.  Astonishingly he enhances the character while making canon much of his off-screen life.  By name-checking companions, he pushes his Big Finish adventures into the Whoniverse, all the way up to the rather good Dark Eye.  The long years of Radio times and Doctor Who magazine comic strips remain ambiguous, as do the far more canon-opposing range of BBC (and a couple of Virgin) books.  It’s not surprising that there have been calls for more live action adventures of this Time Lord.  But with the insertion of the Big Finish audios into the canon, it means that there will be new Eighth Doctor stories for years to come and no need to disrupt the incoming Twelfth…

It started with a companion killing and then rejecting him, it ended pretty much the same way. “Physician heal thyself” are fine last words for this Doctor, far better than his opening… But it does sum up that this is all far less than this rather brilliant Doctor deserved.  Barely over an hour of screen time.

He’s not the only Doctor who could have done with more time.  Most, if not all of them actually.  There are those who should have stayed longer – Troughton, Davison and now Smith.  Then there are those who didn’t have the chance.  It’s a shame for McCoy and Colin Baker but with McGann, it’s a tragedy.

Still, all the 50th Anniversary needed – as New Series focussed as it had to be – was a bridge to the classic series.  The Eighth Doctor – far from the Lazenby of the Time Lords – was that bridge.  And it worked wonderfully.  Physician, consider thyself healed.

TIMEY-WIMEY:  Go back to read about the First Doctor’s legacy in Whovember #1!

%d bloggers like this: