The Doctor and Clara are ready for a long overdue holiday. However, as in all adventures involving the Doctor, there’s a slight hiccup. Whilst carrying out work on the TARDIS, he has wiped his own memory and it’s up to Clara and the Doctor’s 1200 Year Diary to teach him who the Doctor is.
And so starts the first real opening salvo in the BBC’s celebration of fifty years of “Doctor Who”. Granted, we have had “The Science of Doctor Who” with Professor Brian Cox which tenuously linked real universe science with the fantastical Whoniverse and the “Monsters and Villains” weekend which was basically ten selected episodes around the Top Ten voted monsters and villains… out of a selection of ten, but this was the first real link up programme which is a real celebration of the fiftieth anniversary.
From “An Unearthly Child” to “The Name Of The Doctor”, you are taken on a two hour history tour of the Whoniverse taking in the keystones of the programme – the TARDIS, the companions, the monsters and villains and, most importantly, the Doctor himself alongside linking narrator Russell Tovey, aka Alonzo Frame himself from the episodes “Voyage Of The Damned” and “The End of Time (Part Two), and various actors from the series including Peter Davison, Paul McGann, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy, David Tennant, Katy Manning, Louise Jameson, Sophie Aldred, Noel Clarke and Karen Gillan plus celebrity fans such as impersonator Jon Culshaw, the band McFly, former Blue Peter presenter Konnie Huq and comedian Al Murray, along with lead writer and executive producer Steven Moffat.
There have been programmes which have done the delving into the programme’s history, whether it be programmes like “30 Years In The TARDIS”/”More Than 30 Years In The TARDIS” which took the programme and really looked at the behind the scenes history as well as the on-screen detail in somewhat fine detail (certainly for a programme that lasted roughly an hour on the original transmission and ninety minutes on the extended VHS/DVD cut); or programmes like “The Doctor Revisited” or “The Essential Guide” which serve as a “jumping on point” for newer fans.
What “The Ultimate Guide” does is strike a balance by acknowledging the programme’s history in a relaxed fashion which shows how the on-screen aspect of “Doctor Who” has progressed, evolved and changed from its beginnings in 1963 into the fantastical show that we know and love today.
Through mini-features on each of the actors who have portrayed the Doctor, you do get a sense that although these are eleven actors bringing their own interpretation to the role, there is development and cross pollination in each of the portrayals from Hartnell through to Smith which demonstrate that they are all portraying one man.
But, the features on the evolution of the series doesn’t just concentrate on the Doctors. There’s commentary on how the role of the companion changed with the times – not only for the female actors who took the role from the traditional image of the “screamer” and feed for the Doctor and moved the companion’s billing to equal to if not, at times, higher than that of the Doctor and the roles of the male companion, which was unfortunately curtailed really to Mickey, Jack, Rory and one off companion Adam. (Where were the likes of Ian or Jamie?). Plus, there were points on foes like the Daleks, the Cybermen, the Master and how some of the Doctor’s traditional foes have evolved into allies – such as the Ice Warriors, Strax and Madam Vastra.
Whilst some fans may not be too happy with the format of this programme, this “talking heads” documentary had a difficult task. It had to distill fifty years worth of a television history into two hours, whilst serving as an introduction to people who may only have become a “Whovian” recently, and maintaining an interest for people who had a casual interest for the show.
Granted, there were also points where I was questioning which “celebrity fans” were actually the genuine article. I mean, where were the likes of Rufus Hound or even “Number Twelve” himself, Peter Capaldi? That said, what I could not doubt was that there was enthusiasm by all the guests interviewed.
Whilst it may not have been perfect, and let’s face it could you really cram fifty years into two hours and call any eventual programme “perfect”, the time flew by and it maintained my interest throughout. (Plus, it wasn’t the complete dog’s dinner that was the 1991 documentary, “Resistance Is Useless”… a talking anorak, I ask you).
A great way to start off anniversary week itself.