50 Years of The Madman In The Box

Hi to the lovely girl, and boy, geeks out in the Interweb.

Well, unless you’ve either been living under a rock or have been living on desert island, you’ll know that “Doctor Who” will be returning to our screens on 30th March with “The Bells of Saint John”, the first episode of “Season 7B” or “Season 7, Part 2”.  It is also the first episode of 2013, “Doctor Who”‘s fiftieth anniversary year.

As a primer for this half of the new season, I’ve decided to do a run down on “Doctor Who” stories that I have enjoyed, they’re either classics or overlooked gems.  The only rule, two stories for each of the Doctor (except for Paul McGann who only had one on screen adventure in the role).  So, take my hand whilst I take charge of this fandom version of the TARDIS and take you on my version of “The Trip Of A Lifetime”.

 

William Hartnell: “The Edge of Destruction” and “The Aztecs”

I’m probably going to have Whovians screaming, ‘What about “An Unearthly Child”, or “The Daleks”, or “The Tenth Planet”?’, but bear with me whilst I present my case.

Up to “The Edge of Destruction”, The Doctor is a very different kettle of fish to the adventurer and hero we have come to know and love.  The character was selfish, distrustful and secretive… and that’s not including the fact that he, in essence, kidnapped his first two companions, along with being a potential murderer of a caveman in “An Unearthly Child” and deliberately sabotaging the TARDIS in “The Daleks”.

The turning point as to how we perceive The Doctor comes at the end of the story which sees the TARDIS crew facing increasing paranoia and their collective destruction, the crew come together to make a family unit – The Doctor and Susan, both inexplicably clever and technologically advanced, Ian Chesterton, brave and straight talking whenever it was required, and Barbara, the heart of the first TARDIS crew whilst being intelligent and brave in her own way.  This coming together becomes the template for the majority of the groups of people who are nicknamed “Team TARDIS”.

 

My second choice for Hartnell’s run as The Doctor is “The Aztecs”, an early historical story in the programme’s history, but an important one that sets a major rule for the series that is referenced up to the present day.  The premise of the story is that Barbara has been accidentally mistaken as a reincarnation of an Aztec god, Yetaxa.  She seeks to use this to bring about the end of human sacrifice and maintain the Aztec civilisation.  The Doctor knows that tampering with major historical events is dangerous to the timelines and seeks to dissuade her from this course of action, in which he succeeds thanks to the nature of the Aztec civilisation.  In essence, “The Aztecs” sets up the theory that time has “fixed points”, and the destruction of the Aztec society is one of these “fixed points”… plus The Doctor gets unwittingly engaged thanks to a drink of chocolate.

 

Patrick Troughton – “The Tomb Of The Cybermen” and “The War Games”

I’m little restricted in my reference of the Troughton era and given that there are few fully existing stories in the BBC archives, there were a few up for consideration.

“The Tomb Of The Cybermen” went down in the folklore of early 1990’s “Doctor Who” fandom as being equivalent to finding The Holy Grail.  Here was a story that was completely missing from the BBC archive which was found in Hong Kong, but it’s not just a classic for that reason.  Troughton gives a carefully nuanced performance in this story – part clown and part grand master chess player.  He wrong foots Klieg’s band of merry Logicians, the Cybermen… and at times, the audience by seemingly bumbling into trouble and traps, but it was really The Doctor laying down traps against his varied opponents.

In addition to the main plot, this story is the official starting point of Deborah Watling’s time in the series as companion Victoria Waterfield (after being rescued in the previous story, “The Evil Of The Daleks”).  Within the story structure of “Tomb”, Watling builds a great partnership with fellow companion Fraser Hines (in the role of long-running companion Jamie McCrimmon) and Troughton, particularly in a scene where Victoria talks about her new life as an orphan and TARDIS traveller to The Doctor, whilst he lets her in on a little tidbit about his family.

 

“The War Games” is an overlong story in its ten episode, four hour duration, but it has a major revelation.  The third season story, “The Time Meddler” introduces us to a member of The Doctor’s own unnamed race in the character of The Meddling Monk.  No other members of The Doctor’s people were shown until “The War Games” which gives us The War Chief, another member of The Doctor’s unnamed race… but hang on, The Doctor can’t solve the problem of humans being kidnapped and being made to fight wars in different time zones all on his own. Cue Episodes 9 and 10 and *Fanfare* The Time Lords make their debut as an all-powerful race who solves the problem of the War Games… oh, and as thank you to The Doctor, they put him on trial for using his abilities to interfere in the affairs of other planets, change his face and exile him to 20th century Earth (except when there was a need to keep things interesting by giving The Doctor his ability to travel in time for the sake of plot) for the next three seasons.

 

Jon Pertwee – “Terror Of The Autons” and “The Three Doctors”

The Pertwee Era officially began in 1970, but it really became the era of “The U.N.I.T. Family” a year later with this sequel to Pertwee’s debut story, “Spearhead From Space”.  “Terror” takes the existing central cast members of the Third Doctor, Nicholas Courtney as Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart and John Levene as Sergeant Benton and builds upon this framework by introducing Richard Franklin in the role of the Brigadier’s second-in-command, Captain Mike Yates, Katy Manning in the role of The Doctor’s assistant, Jo Grant, and last, and definitely by no means least, Roger Delgado in the role of Time Lord genius and general all-round supervillain, The Master.

Alongside the introductions, you get the return of the Nestene Intelligence along with their Auton foot soldiers and new methods of invading the Home Counties with suffocating daffodils, killer troll dolls which activate by heat and a sofa that swallows up people with a snap of the fingers.  No doubt it was chilling back in 1971 and still has it’s impact 42 years on.

 

“The Three Doctors” is a choice based mainly on sentimentality, but also on the significance of it being the first anniversary “special”.

My first remembrance of seeing “The Three Doctors” was back in 1981 (when I was nine years old) as part of “The Five Faces of Doctor Who” season in the run up to Peter Davison’s first season as the Doctor.  It was great to watch the first three Doctors on screen together (albeit with William Hartnell’s scenes pre-recorded) alongside Jo misquoting “I Am The Walrus”, Sergeant Benton basically down-to-earth about seeing the inside of the TARDIS for the first time and the Brigadier believing that the universe of anti-matter was Cromer, rather than the obligatory BBC quarry.

Yes, the Gel Guard soldiers are a bit rubbish in comparison to today’s standards and the main threat isn’t given real gravitas in comparison to his later return (I don’t want to give away spoilers), but really that isn’t the point of this four parter.  “The Three Doctors” is full of colour, noise and dizzying silliness – kinda like a kid’s birthday party.

 

 

Tom Baker – “Genesis Of The Daleks” and “City Of Death”

People think that the Time War which was engrained into the mythos of the Ninth and Tenth Doctor’s eras started just before Christopher Eccleston took up the mantle of Gallifrey’s favourite rebel.  Wronnnnng!!!

The first salvo in the Time War was fired back in 1975 when the Time Lords intercept the Doctor’s travels and send him, along with his companions Sarah Jane Smith and Harry Sullivan, literally to the genesis of the Daleks to avert their creation and, along with the birth of the metal terrors, introduced viewers to probably one of the more of the Doctor’s more challenging and chilling villains when it comes to ideology in the form of Davros.

The interrogation scene where the Doctor and Davros debate initially as scientists, only for it to change tack and become a scene where Davros justifies the use of biological warfare as a means to an end is chilling to the core, especially for a family television programme, and is sold by the performances of Tom Baker and Michael Wisher, the onscreen creator of Davros.

This story has great performances all round and if you want to look at a major piece of the Doctor Who mythos, both classic and NuWho, I would recommend that you give this story a real go.

 

“City of Death” is the opposite end of the spectrum to the super-serious “Genesis Of The Daleks” as the programme goes abroad for the first time, something that has become an increasing in regularity since the programme came back in 2005 with stories like “The Fires Of Pompeii”, “Planet Of The Dead”, “Vincent And The Doctor” and “The Angels Take Manhattan” all adding stamps to the Doctor’s passport.

Set, and partially filmed in the city of Paris, viewers are treated to a story filled with threat, in the form of Scaroth, last of the Jagaroth race, portrayed with elegant villainy by Julian Glover, who was previously in the Hartnell story “The Crusades” as Richard The Lionheart and who would go on to appear as General Veers in “The Empire Strikes Back” and Kristatos in “For Your Eyes Only” shortly after his appearance in “Doctor Who”, along with glamour in the form of Catherine Schell, former Bond woman and star of Space:1999, in the role of the Countess Scarlioni, and comedic heroism in the form of pugilistic detective, Duggan, portrayed by Tom Chadbon.

The script was credited on screen to “David Agnew”, an alias for initial scripter David Fisher, along with producer Graham Williams and script editor, and genius behind The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, Douglas Adams.

Within the space of four episodes, you get a plot which deals with an alien being attempting to use time travel technology to avert the destruction of his people, along with starting life on earth, along with a plot to steal the Mona Lisa from the Louvre and a diversion to Florence at the time of Leonardo Da Vinci.  “City Of Death” is a demonstration that threat along with humour can work hand in hand.

 

Peter Davison – “The Visitation” and “The Caves Of Androzani”

“The Visitation” is a “pseudo historical” story from Peter Davison’s first season in the role and one of the stronger stories from Season 19.

The premise of an alien race attempting to deliberately interfere with, or in the case of “The Visitation” accelerate, the course of a specific piece of known human history had dated back to “The Time Meddler” in 1965.  “The Visitation” takes the idea of an alien race, The Tereleptils, using an engineered version of the Bubonic Plague to wipe out the human population as its key storyline.

Alongside this, you have mind controlled villagers, an android made up to resemble the traditional symbol of “Death” including, at one point, the android grabbing a scythe from a frightened villager, a gentleman highwayman and actor, Richard Mace, portrayed by “On The Buses” actor Michael Robbins, and a climax which works well with the historical setting of the plot.

 

“The Caves Of Androzani” is not only Peter Davison’s most celebrated story in his time in the role of The Doctor and has often been voted as the best story in the history of the programme.

For those who haven’t seen it, this particular story sees The Doctor and his companion, Peri, arrive in the middle of a war between Sharaz Jek, a man who has a stranglehold on the supply of a drug called Spectrox which has life extending properties and who has been deliberately left for dead in a boiling slide and as a consequence disfigured, and Morgus, a crooked industrialist who funds the Androzani war effort and the criminals in equal measure.

As the events of the story progress, both The Doctor and Peri are fatally infected with Spectrox Toxaemia and are engaged in a fight for survival on two fronts – from the infection and the war taking place around them.

The acting in this story is fantastic, Davison and Nicola Bryant, in the role of Peri, being matched against Christopher Gable in the formidable role of Sharaz Jek, John Normington in the role of the villainous politician and industrialist Morgus, Maurice Roeves delivering a strong and suitably nasty performance as hired thug Stotz, Martin Cochrane as military general Chellak, and Robert Glenister in the twin roles of Salateen and his android duplicate.

The plot moves rapidly thanks to a script written by former script editor Robert Holmes and has what must rank as two of  the best cliffhangers in the programme’s history (Parts One and Three).

As for the regeneration, given the time when this specific story was made with the Doctor and companion relationship being significantly more chaste than what we expect from “Doctor Who” nowadays, it’s as emotionally charged as the regenerations in “The Parting Of The Ways” and “The End Of Time”.

 

Colin Baker – “Vengeance On Varos” and “Revelation Of The Daleks”

Given the inconsistent quality of the stories afforded to Colin Baker in his on screen time as The Doctor, something that has been redressed in his audio stories with Big Finish.  However, there are two stories which his Doctor is given a real opportunity to shine.

“Vengeance On Varos” is a parable on the violence of television and the way that television can be seen as an influence on the masses.  Forget “Big Brother” or “The Hunger Games”, “Varos” shows a society where the people have become desensitised to the violence served up to them with executions being shown on screen and voting on the fate of the Governor being mandatory.

But, the biggest impact of “Varos” is the introduction of Sil, a wonderfully repellant performance by actor Nabil Shaban who, with his mashed up sentence structure and sibillant laugh, created a villain who is remembered fondly despite that he only had two stories in the programme’s history.

 

“Revelation Of The Daleks” follows the dark vein of Season 22 with a story set on a planet where funerals are the stock in trade.

Colin Baker gets his best opportunity to portray the complexity of the Sixth Doctor’s character with a story where Daleks are created from geniuses, as with the future version of Clara/Oswin in “Asylum Of The Daleks”, and people who are not worthy of being elevated to the level of a Dalek being turned into “concentrated protein” foodstuffs (as in the film “Soylent Green”).

There are colourful characters such as the pompous funerary director Jobel, portrayed by Clive Swift, and his assistant Tasambeker, portrayed by Jenny Tomasin, the nobel knight Orcini and his less than clean squire Bostock, portrayed by William Gaunt and John Ogwin, the ice queen industrialist Kara and her simpering sidekick Vogel, portrayed by Eleanor Bron and Hugh Walters, and Alexei Sayle giving a suitably comedic and dramatically balanced performance in the role of the DJ.

But, the most notable performance is that of Davros, this time portrayed by Terry Molloy, who is the most colourful of the cast.  He changes the direction of a character previously seen as a bit of a ranter into something more subtle with a dark humour befitting the story, one example being a scene where the Doctor questions the validity of people eating “their own relatives”, to which Davros replies that he didn’t tell people because it could create “consumer resistance”.

 

Sylvester McCoy – “Remembrance Of The Daleks” and “Survival”

In my mind, “Remembrance Of The Daleks” SHOULD have been the official story for the Twenty-Fifth anniversary season.  Instead, this honour was granted to “Silver Nemesis”.

“Remembrance” takes the programme back to its roots with The Doctor and his companion Ace, portrayed by Sophie Aldred, returning to the two main locations of the programme’s opening story – the Coal Hill School where Ian and Barbara were employed, and the totter’s yard where the First Doctor hid his TARDIS in the opening story.

Within the space of four episodes, the viewer is treated to a small Dalek war in one of London’s districts, the return to the mystery behind The Doctor’s background, and a storyline underpinned by the Daleks’ nature as a race that believed in racial purity – something that is mirrored by the racist tone of a group of humans employed by one of the Dalek factions.

In addition to the main plot, you also get one of Sylvester McCoy’s finest moments as The Doctor with his delivery of a monologue where the character doubts the validity of his interference in events and likening it to dropping a pebble or a boulder into a lake with the uncertainty of the resulting waves matching the uncertain results of his actions.

 

“Survival” will go down as the last of the classic Doctor Who stories and it’s a bit of a watershed in more ways than one.

As with “Rose”, “Survival” primarily revolves around the companion, rather than The Doctor, with Ace’s rebellious and proactive nature being likened to the survival instinct of the Cheetah People and the story’s main villain, The Master.

Another area where this story echoes that of “Rose” is that it returns Ace to her surroundings in Perivale with friends standing outside shops and accepting donations against hunting and even a return to her childhood roots.

By the end of this story, you will be left with the thought that on the one hand it was the right time for the programme to finish, whilst on the other you are left wondering what could have been achieved if the double act of McCoy and Aldred had been given their chance to complete their era.

 

Paul McGann – “The TV Movie”

1996… He was back and it was “about time”.  After seven years away, The Doctor returned to our screens, this time the programme was co-produced by the BBC and Universal Studios with filming taking place in Vancouver.

At first, The TV Movie was seen as the best thing since sliced bread with the return of The Master, a regenerated Doctor and a vibrant relationship with a one-off companion, only for the plot holes and an over-abundance of continuity strands from the classic series to be seen after repeated viewing.  One constant throughout though was the fantastic performance delivered by Paul McGann in the role of The Doctor. From the character’s rebirth through to his embarking on new adventures, McGann gave his interpretation of the role a sense of fun and humour which would have been a joy to see on screen.  However, this was not to be as the “backdoor” pilot wasn’t picked up to go into a series.  The Doctor’s future lay elsewhere in books, comics and audio adventures.

 

 

Christopher Eccleston – “The Unquiet Dead” and “Dalek”

2005… and The Doctor makes a successful return to television.  In Christopher Eccleston’s only series in the role, he has made quite a few episodes that have gone on to become classics in their own way.

“The Unquiet Dead” is one of those episodes that I enjoyed due to the fact that it drew on the classic traditions of a pseudo-historical story, whilst adding in a dash of horror in the dead coming back to life thanks to the Gelth, the first major reference of the effects of The Time War, and real moral dilemma in the relationship between The Doctor and Rose in that The Doctor believes in the Gelth using the bodies of the deceased as transport and Rose’s objections to the situation.

Alongside this, although we didn’t know this at the time, you have one of the starting points for the Cardiff branch of a little organisation called “Torchwood” and a time rift that will figure large in that programme.

 

“Dalek” was oh so nearly the “programme that wasn’t” due to rights issues.  However, thank goodness for the BBC and the estate of Terry Nation for facilitating the resurrection of “Doctor Who”‘s number one baddie, and to Robert Shearman for taking the script for his Big Finish audio story “Jubilee” and changing it into a cracking thriller where the eponymous Dalek becomes a really big threat.

I really want to solely focus on one scene of this story and that’s the scene where The Doctor first meets his arch enemy.  Christopher Eccleston REALLY sells the fear that The Doctor faces in the story and the Dalek changes from a thing of humour seen in adverts for products such as “Kit Kat” into a credible threat on The Doctor’s life.  Add to that, there’s another interesting switch in The Doctor’s moral character once he finds out about the Dalek’s inability to kill in that he switches from victim to soldier, albeit an unwilling one, and almost taking pleasure in the fact that the Dalek is well and truly in his “sights”.

 

David Tennant – “School Reunion” and “Human Nature”/”The Family Of Blood”

“School Reunion” will very much be a fan favourite.  When I found out that Elisabeth Sladen and John Leeson were returning as Sarah Jane Smith and K-9, I did “fanboy” a wee bit.  After all, Lis’s portrayal of Sarah Jane was very much engrained into my early childhood years, along with watching her on videos and DVDs in my adulthood.

This episode perfectly recaptured that sense of it being a “love letter” not only between the classic and NuWho eras, but between the Doctor and his former companion, and between the programme and its fans.

In addition to that, the story acts as the first step on the foreshadowing to the eventual fates that befell The Doctor and Rose in “Doomsday” with the scene where Rose challenges The Doctor on his treatment of previous incarnations.

 

“Human Nature”, along with the story’s second part, “The Family Blood” took one of the most beloved books in Virgin’s “Doctor Who New Adventures” series and builds what was, for me, the most romantic story in the programme’s history.

Through the plot device of The Doctor becoming human, you get to explore a side of the character in that The Doctor can fall in love, but he can’t allow himself that aspect of life because of his age and adventuring lifestyle.

This aspect comes in sharp focus near the end when “John Smith” has to make the painful choice of, in effect, having to be “executed” to allow The Doctor to live again.  David Tennant acts that scene out, not only through the words on the page but through his whole person and I defy anybody not to be moved by his performance.

Plus, the “Chameleon Arch” sets up the central premise of “The Master Trilogy” that rounds off Series 3 of the revived series.

 

Matt Smith – “Vincent And The Doctor” and “The Doctor’s Wife”

“Vincent” is the episode that the “Hot Cute Girly Geek” herself, Mendy, knows as being my personal favourite in the Matt Smith era so far.

The programme has tackled The Doctor meeting various noted historical figures, but none of these was as personal as his visit to meet noted artist Vincent Van Gogh.

Richard Curtis’s script sensitively tackles an issue that still needs addressing in society in depression and mental health in general.  This is allied with a fantastic performance not only by Matt Smith and Karen Gillan, but also by Tony Curran in the role of Vincent himself who uses his acting palette to paint a fully rounded character in his highs when he meets Amy and, in a sense falls for her, and the lows not realising how good he is as a painter.

But, the real highlight scene of this story was when The Doctor and Amy gives Vincent the gift of seeing how beloved his work eventually became.  The mixture of Curtis’s script, the emotive acting along with Bill Nighy’s monologue about how Professor Black sees Vincent’s work and the musical choice of “Chances” by Athlete all come together in one great scene… and I’ve never been able to listen to that song in the same light again.

 

“The Doctor’s Wife” is a story title that lives long in the programme’s history thanks to former producer John Nathan-Turner putting the story on a planning board as a red herring.  What Neil Gaiman gave us is a real love letter to near fifty years of the programme’s history by exploring the relationship between The Doctor and his one constant companion, the TARDIS herself.

Suranne Jones perfectly embodies the TARDIS’s “soul”  by vocalising her relationship with The Doctor and his various companions over the last fifty years.  The bickering between Jones and Matt Smith is akin to the relationship between a married couple and a mother and petulant son, but it’s that final goodbye scene that really wrenches at you as she manages to say the one thing that she has always wanted to say in a single word… “Hello”, whilst Matt Smith is reduced to a crying boy, something that will return approximately eighteen months later following the loss of his friends, The Ponds.

Speaking of The Ponds, they also get the chance to shine thanks to their treatment by the House entity, making the fact that Rory keeps dying in the series as a sick game whilst they are pursued by an Ood in a deadly game of hide and seek.

 

And there you have it, my faves leading up to eight more new stories next weekend and a fiftieth anniversary story in November.

I’ve loved the series since I started watching it due to its ability to tell diverse stories, and I’ll probably keep loving it whilst it remains in production.  Thank you, Doctor, for taking us on the Trip of a Lifetime.

 

 

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One thought on “50 Years of The Madman In The Box

  1. WOW!!! Tons of research!!! THANK YOU!!! It’s going to take a while to read. If you know of anyone I can ship to in UK, we can try that????
    Lots of love, Emily

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