TV Reviews

Robot of Sherwood: Review by Eddie McGuigan

Robot of Sherwood

Review by Eddie McGuigan

Robot of Sherwood

Now this is an adventure that will split opinion, that’s for sure.

Clara asks the Doctor to take her to see one of her heroes – Robin Hood! The Doctor, of course, knows there’s no such person as Robin Hood, but, to amuse himself and humour Clara he takes her to Sherwood Forest in 1190 AD… and runs slapbang into Robin Hood and his Merry Men! Not only that, but in a sunny and green Sherwood there’s about to be an archery contest, but is it a trap for Robin by the dastardly Sheriff? Of course it is, but neither Robin or the Doctor can resist. (more…)

Series 8 Reviews: Into The Dalek. By Eddie McGuigan

Into The Dalek

Review by Eddie McGuigan

WARNING

CONTAINS MILD SPOILERS

A Doctor isn’t a Doctor until he’s met his most dreaded adversaries, and Steven Moffat always throws a new Doctor at them pretty early on.

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Series 8 is no exception as before the coffee is even cold the Twelfth Doctor comes face to face with the Daleks. (more…)

The Skaro Review – Deep Breath

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The Who team has gone all out with Deep Breath, with world tour, cinema release (in Scope aka 2.35:1 ratio no less) and dedicated DVD/BluRay release. But is Peter Capaldi’s first episode worth a gasp or a sigh? (more…)

The Time of the Doctor – Review by Eddie McGuigan

eddie mcguigan, doctor who, face to face, matt smith, time of the doctor, peter capaldi

In A Tale of Two Cities, itself somewhat allegorical for the Smith era, Dickens pens the line “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times”, and this, to me, sums up the “Moffat” era, so far, pretty concisely. 

Russell T Davies may not have suited all of the people all of the time, but his Doctors and tenure were, on the whole, consistent. You knew what you were getting and you either bought into it, or you didn’t. And you can’t ask fairer than that.

Steven Moffat on the other hand has had an era blighted by change and necessity. Huge swathes of arcs had to be dropped due to budget cuts, consistent writers and directors not used due to, ahem, other reasons, a myriad of producers came and went and the series itself was split in two, then in pieces, then over two years. Matt Smith hasn’t had a fair run at the Doctor for his regeneration story, and, as a result, there’s been no momentum running up to it. This negates a lot of motifs that were available to RTD for Tennant and Eccleston’s swansongs that, whilst used by Moffat for Smith’s, didn’t have the same impact. A stuttering and highly protracted series seven had the best and worst add on – the fiftieth anniversary special – which, whilst filling that remit very adequately, took away from what usually would be happening – thirteen episodes, week after week, leading to a Doctor leaving and a Doctor beginning.

Of course, it can be argued too that David Tennant left after a series of specials, and this is true, of course, but at least he was afforded the time to breath, with things being bled into the series from Easter and leading up to a big, splashy, two hour double header.

Matt, and Steven, had a bare 60 minutes to go epic, tie loose ends, end a Doctor’s life and introduce a new one, and, by having to use series 7 to run up to, not this, but The Day of the Doctor, it almost felt that the idea was to quickly finish this stuff off, get rid of Matt and start again. That’s unfair to Steven, and, more specifically, Matt.

Matt Smith has been a wonderful Doctor. He’s layered it, he’s found new nuances, he’s been surprising, funny, sad, moving and a hero. He’s echoed the past and rebooted the future. He truly has been a Doctor we will all remember fondly. He deserved better.

The Time of the Doctor strives hard to give him better, by indulging the story deeply around the Doctor – this isn’t a story about anyone else other than how one man will live for centuries just to save one little town, and, again, Matt’s Eleventh Doctor underlines just how important and faithful he is to the iconography of the series as a whole. But, by having to run up, and little time to tell the story, Steven Moffat gives us the best and worst of him all wrapped up in a Christmas cracker. 

All the worlds in Moffat’s Christmas Specials have been the same – dark, twinkly, snowy, smokey, a Victoriana concentrate screaming CHRISTMAS!!! at us, and this one, which turns out of course to be Trenzalore, is no different. It’s more Christmassy than Chrissy McChristmas, this most Christmassy man in all of Christmasshire, so much so that the town is actually called Christmas. This allows Steven to indulge in some not so subtle puns – the man who stayed for Christmas, the man who saved Christmas, oh I wish it could be Christmas every day… and, with the unChristmassy summer-shoot of The Runaway Bride very much in my mind, I’d day, perhaps, less is more. It was just too, well, Christmassy…

As well as that, of course, we have three and a half years of convoluted plot points to get through and tie up, but, since Steven was a) making it up as he went along b) changing his mind half way through c) scuppered by dropped stories, split seasons and budget what we got was a starter of continuity soup which will probably alienate Gran and Uncle Peter who’d be sitting there, digesting their sprouts and wondering what the Christmas Pudding is going on. 

But a regeneration episode isn’t made for everyone else, it’s made for us, and it’s how we fans perceive these episodes that matter.

There are some great concepts in here. The Doctor aging to death to save one little town as well as his whole planet is wonderfully Doctor Who, the juxtaposition of both is mouthwateringly exciting, and Matt’s play on it – a barely conceivable flicker in his eyes when he realizes he’s walked into the Final Trap, is brilliant. But then, Matt’s perfomance from start to finish was a video reel of everything he’s every done as the Doctor, from socially awkward, to hero, to geek, to ancient old man, all wrapped up in a bow for us to enjoy with one last flourish of his gawkish sonic screwdriver. Matt was, as always, superb, and, on this occasion, relegated Jenna Coleman to a perfectly serviceable but pretty generic Impossible Girl of a companion just saying “why Doctor?” a lot. Nothing wrong with tradition, and of course, she’s redeemed in her final appeal to the crack on Amy’s wall, now, not holding Prisoner Zero, a giant eye, deleting Rory from history or eating Weeping Angels, but holding the Time Lords, saved, as we know, in Day of the Doctor (it really is a catch all crack in Amy’s wall, isn’t it?).

The carnival of monsters we get too, is a little self indulgent, but it IS Christmas, and it IS a swansong, so what the hell (nice mention of Tereleptils, incidentally). The most effective, of course, as always, was the underused Weeping Angels, and it was a nice conceit to use them in a snow storm. Worst used – the Sontarans. Moffat really hasn’t a clue about them, does he?

At the end, naturally, we’re left with the Daleks, who smell blood. Again, though, another plot point is conveniently rewritten in an instant with their Asylum memory wipes being rebooted in a throwaway line, and, to be honest, quite right too.

The Papal Mainframe is an intriguing idea as was the reason for the Silents, and all credit to Moffat for bothering to clear up that little mystery. We still didn’t find out who the voice in the TARDIS river heard was did we?

The regeneration itself was an odd thing and will probably jar with some fans. His joy at receiving (what we’ve discovered is) a “complete new life cycle” (echoed nicely with the Doctor still having the Master’s Seal of Rassilon from The Five Doctors), was a punch the air moment, as was the Daleks’ destruction and fear. The final vignette with Matt in the TARDIS was beautifully played by Smith and Coleman, and it was heartbreakingly beautiful to see Amy back, and, of course, her (sorry I spoiled it ages ago!) “Raggedy man” comment. Matt looks so lost in scenes like that. To get a final bite at saying goodbye after the spectacular regeneration effect earlier was fitting, but it also meant that the new Doctor, Peter Capaldi (who looks INSANE by the way!) didn’t get much time to stamp any personality on the role other than to confirm hair style and accent – another little nod at the Doctor picking an accent from his companion (having just heard Amy). The snap change though was a bit jarring – surely there could have been another way to do that, other than to scare the bejesus out of us and Clara?

So, The Time of the Doctor was indeed the best and worst – of the Moffat era. It encapsulated everything you’ll enjoy – Matt Smith, timey wimey plots, clever retconning, myth-pushing revelations – with everything you won’t like – “old” friends we’ve never heard of, not so clever retconning, weak monsters, confusing contradictions, wasted opportunities – but perhaps on this occasion though, rather than grab the churlish branch, we can allow the self indulgence (which is no more that Tennant’s tear filled “I don’t wanna go” snotfest), and simply celebrate Matt Smith, who has been a superb Doctor and is absolutely going too early.

Goodnight, Raggedy Man.

The Day of the Doctor – Review

It’s very easy to get washed away in the emotion of everything from Saturday night, and wax lyrical about the best episode of Doctor Who ever, the game changer, the one that made a difference, so I thought it might be a better idea to review this episode after a couple of watches and a couple of days. 

The Day of the Doctor is very much what I’d expected from Steven Moffat, who’s retconning wibbly wobbliness is more important than actual character development usually and The Big Concept more important than plot, but, to be fair, Moffat managed to straddle both these disciplines fairly well with this episode, and, let’s be under no illusion, the pressure on him (94 countries, 15 difference languages, 1500 cinemas, 3D, similcasts blah blah blah) must have been huge.

Did he deliver? Well yes, he did. Is it the best episode of all time? Well, no it’s not. 

Cleverly, and that’s a word that should be attached to the end of the words Steven and Moffat, managed to undo the terrible deed the Doctor had allegedly done between meeting Grace Holloway and Rose Tyler, as well as bringing the idea of the Doctor’s final regeneration to the fore with new Doctor Peter Capaldi (very definitely described as “the thirteenth” here), AND the hint that Galllifrey – and therefore the Time Lords, Rassilon and the Master – are all still out there somewhere, without rewriting the angst RTD had wrung out of the his tenure as show runner. Along with that, he managed to tie in a gag from The Shakespeare Code and another from End of Time, whilst, also, allowing events in that episode to play out without affecting the events in this.

But that’s not all. He also brought back not one but two Doctors and, to many, a well loved actress, as well as referencing all the Doctors, the series history AND making it an episode of Doctor Who which, like The Three Doctors, sends the Doctor off in a new direction.

That’s no mean feat, to be fair, and hats off to him for doing it and wrapping it in a (fairly) neat bow at the end, with plot points explained, angst lifted and time line intact.

Well, almost. Let slip by Steven in interviews was the ever changing nature of his script, as he had to adjust it as various elements changed. That was definitely the case with Terrance Dicks’ The Five Doctors, but why was it the case with this?

Christopher Eccleston is my guess, the fabled in-it-now-he’s-not moment led to Steven having to hastily rewrite that “third” Doctor. This is where he made the biggest mistake, but, at the same time, had the biggest inspiration.

John Hurt owned the role immediately. He was clearly the Doctor, he spoke the same as the others, despite some curmudgeonly moments, and nailed the part. Whether he perhaps should have been made of steelier stuff, as hinted at in Night of the Doctor, is debatable, because one can argue that the Doctor’s character will out regardless of the incarnation, but he was convincing as the Doctor, and one who had seen stuff he shouldn’t have, and done things he regretted. So, whilst getting proper class to fill in the role so clearly written for the Ninth Doctor (and a mouthwatering prospect of Christopher Eccleston in that role is tantalisingly never going to come to pass), Steven should really just have gone down the line one and got Paul McGann to play the part of the “war Doctor”. His romantic, airy incarnation corrupted by the horrors of war would have been an extraordinary thing to behold, and, as seen (as if we needed reminded) in Night of the Doctor, Paul McGann definitely has the acting chops for that.

Not involving the previous Doctors too was also a mistake, especially as he did include the scenery chewing Tom Baker who proves, once again, he absolutely is and always will be THE Doctor. Despite the fan lead debate as to who, how and why he’s there, his scene with Matt Smith showed how powerful he is and how long a shadow he’s cast, but it also highlighted the fact that the other Doctors weren’t there. I can’t believe it would have taken much effort to write little cameos in for Colin, Peter and Sylv, all of whom were desperate to take part, and it seems a bit churlish to have one without the others.

The Doctors who were there though, were superb. It’s always fun to watch Doctors compare against each other, and one thing that struck me about 11 and 10 (or is that 12 and 11 now?) was actually how similar they are, which again only lead to underline the lack of fun we could have had listening to say Sylv and Colin, like we did with Jon and Pat.

The Zygon subplot though, sadly, didn’t really work. Despite being pretty well identical to their original appearance, they were half the monster they were then, perhaps due to the lack of emphasis put on them. Terror of the Zygons allowed them to breath a bit, whilst this went for the spectacular. Some creepy moments (Osgood in the Under Vault for instance) was wasted with unnecessary gore (Kate’s transformation) and the whole thing was left dangling. Perhaps deliberately.

I sound like I’m complaining, but I’m not. The pros outweighed the cons in this episode, and really did send the series in a new direction without destroying what has gone before it. One can’t help wondering if a Doctor without regenerations really, really NEEDS to find Gallifrey tout suite, to gain himselves some new lives.

Matt, David and John were superb, as you’d expect, and the banter was good. It’s nice when Doctors get on, and odd when they don’t, given the circumstances. The gags worked, the plot was very tidy, and the guest stars all did what the had to. I’m a big concerned however that with Osgood and Malcolm Kate is just recruiting Doctor fangirls and boys as UNIT staff these days.

This was a suitable anniversary episode. It delivered on all the levels it was meant to. For the Not We’s it was probably confusing enough for us to be smug but spectacular enough for them not to care. The Time War scenes – and the thirteen Doctors at the end – was a punch the air moment.

Day of the Doctor made me very proud of our little show. It’s come a long way. Yes there were things missing that you’d expect to see in a special, but Steven Moffat only had a limited time, budget and plot and had plenty to fit in. Day of the Doctor delivered. 

The Golden Years – 2003-2013

Doctor Who – The Golden Years
2003 – 2013

by Nic Ford

 

And so to the fifth decade of the Doctors’ reign, and possibly the greatest change seen by the series. After forty years of greatness slowly petering to a halt – at least via television broadcast – suddenly the announcement came that the series was to return.

Whatever your view of the modern series – a steaming pile of dingos’ do-do, or a more sane appreciation [that’s enough of the controversy – ed] – it’s incontrovertible that the announcement of the show’s return in 2003 sparked huge excitement amongst we and not-we alike. Similarly, the news that it was to be show-run by TV writing legend Russell T Davies, and that it was going to star Christopher Eccleston did nothing to belie the impression that, this time, it was going to be done properly. Doctor Who back where it was meant to be: at the fore-front of modern, funded and well-produced drama. The roster of writers was equally impressive, with TV script and Who royalty such as Moffat – himself to go on to show-run – and Shearman on contract.

And it didn’t disappoint (look away now, Tony). Visually, the show was stunning and far in advance of anything that had been attempted in its name before: sumptuous, and full of colour. And the scripts themselves – forty-five minute self-contained stories, with the occasional two-parter, as befits modern TV drama – were extremely well received by the public in general (if not all the fans). To the extent that in less than a season, Who was back as the most popular series drama on British television, and then some.

Of course, there was some trepidation in the Who camp. For a start, it was nothing like certain that the formula would still work. And of course, if it did work, it would spell the end for the likes of Big Finish and their little audio empire.

In fact, the reverse was true if anything, with the popularity of the TV series boosting sales and recognition of Big Finish exponentially. With CBC co-production money for the first series, and increasing sales around the world as the years passed, Who became a truly international phenomenon: to the extent that it some quarters it is now considered to have moved beyond being a British production, with America seen as the main market. Utter nonsense of course: but slightly born justified in at least being considered a possibility by the bottom line in BBCWW’s order book.

And so seven seasons came and went, with new Doctors Tennant and Smith – and Hurt, of course – following in Eccleston’s footsteps, and the Whoniverse growing in status and fame year on year on year.

Which brings us inexorably to today: a celebration that is not just the culmination of fifty years, but declared to be the beginning of the next fifty.

Personally, I can hardly wait.

The Golden Years – 1993-2003

Doctor Who – The Golden Years
1993 – 2003

By dhookham

 

The mid 90s was a time of significant change for Who fandom – VHS had meant wide availability of stories that previously had existed only as Nth generation copies in fan bookcases. Many fanzines were moving towards more professional publication standards – DWB was partway through a transition to being a more general science fiction magazine. Tapezines were largely on the way out and new Who material largely centred on the novels and DWM.

At the time, 1993-2003 seemed like a wilderness – the show had been off the air since 1989, and in those years before the Internet, there was a dearth of ‘new’ information available, with fans left to look backwards with little or no prospect of new visual material likely. However, despite this, the decade managed to become one of several false starts and the accompanying dashed hopes.

The decade started with some promise as the BBC produced a documentary celebrating the 30th anniversary of the show, including comments from Alan Yentob suggesting there were still senior people within the BBC who held some affection for the show that had once been held in such esteem by the Corporation.

After four years off-air, an official BBC-made anniversary special in 3D didn’t seem like something we could hope for back in 1993. However, ex-Producer JN-T somehow managed to call in sufficient favours to make this happen, including filming on the East Enders set. Featuring all the living Doctors, monsters galore and companions from every era of the show, CGI being used to recreate Hartnell and Troughton, and Daleks and Cybermen on the streets of London once more, this might have been so many things, but the scope of the vision was limited by the capabilities of the time (And for those who think hyperbole is a recently invented concept, the ‘state of the art’ 3D technology rendered the First and Second Doctors as floating Spitting Image heads).

1996 saw a proper return for the show, with the TV movie obtaining a respectable audience of 9m in the UK – more than sufficient to launch a series from, had it been a BBC-only initiative. Unfortunately, as a co-production, the BBC’s partners needed to see substantial local performance in the US, and with that being seen as disappointing, a series was not forthcoming, though the circumstances surrounding the TV movie cast a shadow over the BBC’s own attempts to restart the show for several years.

Whilst Universal continued to hold some rights to TV Who following the TVM, these remained unused and eventually expired in 1997 and reverted to the BBC. Nothing further happened until the arrival of Mal Young at the Corporation, who was keen to bring the show back as a flagpole to Saturday night viewing. Unfortunately, the notion the BBC had to make a Who film continued to put the brakes on its return to television. However, this was the time when RTD had his initial meetings, and the wheels of the Corporation continued to turn slowly.

After seven years of Virgin publishing new Who novels, the BBC decided to pull licenses back in house at the time of the TV movie, and started to publish their own range of original novels. Whilst these received some adverse feedback, they were largely written by the same stable of authors as the Virgin novels, and tended to continue to push the boundaries of the show’s format.

Outside of the television realm, after a successful run of Benny Summerfield material, Big Finish obtained the license to produce officially sanctioned new audio plays featuring Doctors 5-7, and started with a multi-Doctor adventure “The Sirens of Time”, leading to a successful run that continues to this day, and has branched out into a multitude of genre shows.

Although it had not been a continuing series for a decade, Doctor Who was still a popular icon with the British public, and the idea that it might occasionally pop up in some form or other as part of a charity event was not beyond possibility. This turned out to be a ~half-hour story for Red Nose Day 1999, written by Steven Moffat (who would later go on to write the next multi-Doctor charity sketch) and featuring many of the fan favourite wishes for Doctors (Rowan Atkinson, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Grant and Richard E Grant), which both treated the source material with respect (Rowan in particular played the role totally straight), and gently poked fun at some of its foibles and oddities.

When Peter Salmon was replaced as Controller of BBC1 in 2000, there were fears that the impetus would fade away; but his successor, Lorraine Heggessy proved to be even keener to bring the show back in some way, making several statements to that effect, though usually citing rights issues as the delaying factor.

Whilst work continued behind the scenes to find a way to bring the show back, the outside world saw little progress on the TV front. Meanwhile, Big Finish continued to turn out their range of ‘Classic’ Doctor stories, including notable titles such as “Spare Parts” and “Jubilee” (elements of which were subsequently retooled into the new series’ “Dalek”).

2003 was a year when the BBC finally decided to move on from Paul McGann – there seemed no likelihood of any continuation from the TV movie and a fresh start was perhaps called for. Like buses, though, fresh starts don’t always come along in ones. The first was in the official fully-animated Doctor Who story “Scream of the Shalka” where Richard E Grant was introduced as a rather sarcastic ninth Doctor who kept a robotic Master (played by Derek Jacobi) in his Tardis (with a bit part played by some Tennant chap). Had circumstances been different, further such stories would have followed, with the show’s official future moving to web-based animations.

But then, on September 26th 2003, everything changed… Doctor Who was returning to TV once more…

The Golden Years – 1983-1993

Doctor Who – The Golden Years
1983 – 1993

By AndyJWS

 

83-93 – Change my dear – but not the kind you were expecting!

As 1983 hit, Who was flying high, and the sense of change was already in the air following the departures of Adric and Tegan.
The series marked its 20th anniversary year by having a returning enemy in every story, and begun by having Tegan rejoin the TARDIS crew in Arc of Infinity, which also took filming overseas to Amsterdam for the first time since City of Death. The companion complement briefly returned to three with the introduction of would-be assassin Turlough, though it ultimately wasn’t long before Nyssa left the TARDIS behind (as well as a good deal of her clothing) in Terminus. The anniversary itself garnered a 90min special featuring three Doctors, one imposter and a use finally for bits of Shada footage, and the Target release followed the very next day in an impressive turnaround by Uncle Terrance!

Into its twenties now, and the show increased the darkness quotient – to such an extent that Tegan finally left because of the ever-increasing death count. There was a feel of all change in the latter part of the season, with subsequent stories seeing the departure of both Turlough and Kamelion, and then the Doctor himself as Peter Davison bowed out in The Caves of Androzani. One very turbulent regeneration later and Colin Baker landed with a bang, trying to strangle Peri early into The Twin Dilemma after mistakenly assuming her responsible for his new costume. Despite being a generally weak post-regeneration story particularly in its placement at the end of the season, it did not impact Attack of the Cybermen which kicked off 1985 in a new 45-minute format to strong viewing figures and even a (albeit briefly) repaired chameleon circuit. This first foray into the longer episodes had mixed success, the pacing often feeling like two 25-minute episodes stitched together. The increase in brutality, though, increased further and the season was notable for its levels of bloodthirstiness with the Sixth Doctor’s cyanide-ing of Shockeye in The Two Doctors probably the most directly vicious act we’d seen from the Time Lord since threatening to brain a caveman in 1963!

And then, the unthinkable. Production was suspended for a year and the offset of transmission shift to September meant it was 18 months before the series returned, spawning fan outrage and the release of Doctor in Distress, which even included a pre-Oscar-success Hans Zimmer on synthesizer (making a change from oing for Gold in his BBC work). Ironic really that even in spite of this 1985-6 saw more new Who than will have been transmitted in 2012-3 with nary a sniff of a charity single! The Trial of a Time Lord was the first full-season arc since The Key To Time, and saw a reversion to the 25-minute format yet retaining a reduced number of episodes (only one more than the Season 22) effectively halved the output. That said, kicking off with what is still one of the most impressive effects sequences on British TV was a good start before shaving Peri’s head and revealing that she was not dead as Mindwarp indicated but married to Brian Blessed. One only hopes she had earplugs!

One unfair firing later, and it was time for another regeneration, and changes in production team and unclear direction filtered through to Sylvester McCoy’s first season as the Doctor – there are flashes of his and script editor Andrew Cartmel’s plans, but they were often swamped by clowning and dissolution of ideas. It didn’t help that there was so little character detail or development for Bonnie Langford’s Mel, so when she left to redeem Glitz by the screaming-and-carrot-juice method and Sophie Aldred took the TARDIS as Ace things started looking up.

This continued into the next season which started on a high with Remembrance of the Daleks – a story that created one of TV’s greatest Tropes, the Crowning Moment of Awesome, based on Ace’s baseball bat attack on an Imperial Dalek. The silver anniversary of the show was marked, maybe unsurprisingly, by a Cyberman story, but despite its entertainment value its similarities to the aforementioned Dalek story diminish it somewhat. Both stories started dropping hints that the Doctor was more than just any other Time Lord, and this concept was developed further the next year. The character of Ace also saw significant advancement through the stories, and her maturation and easy chemistry with the Seventh Doctor made them an excellent partnership that only worsened the blow when the show did not get picked up the following year and the Doctor Who Production Office shut down completely in August 1990.

In some ways it was the end – but in others the moment was prepared for, carrying the Whoniverse from strength to strength. As WH Allen was taken over by Virgin, so the novelisations got a higher word count and Ben Aaronovitch’s translation of his story Remembrance of the Daleks was a tide change in depth and expansiveness. In addition, 1991 saw the beginning of a new original range of novels called The New Adventures, aimed at both an older age range and allowing for stories with depth, ambition and content beyond that of the limitations of television. Beginning with a quadrilogy of stories spanning from ancient Ur through Nazi Germany to the far future and even into the Doctor’s mind, these like televised stories may not have been consistent but soon showed some impressive new talent like Paul Cornell and Mark Gatiss who were to become more familiar to Whodom in years to come. As 1992 drew to a close and Ace fell in love, then stormed away, these were coming at a rate of one every two months – it was expensive sure, but it was still a great time to be a Who fan. The show may have been off the air, but the air was ripe with possibility – and the only thing that could be predicted was change!

The Golden Years – 1973-1983

Doctor Who – The Golden Years
1973 – 1983

By Alan

1973 saw the show on the cusp of significant change. Its 10th anniversary had seen the first reunion of all the Doctors, albeit hampered slightly by Hartnell’s illness. It would however establish a fun adversarial relationship between the incarnations that would follow in subsequent meeetings. The story would also see one of the final pieces put in place for a shift back to the show’s original format, as the Time Lords lifted the Doctor’s exile, leaving him free to wander once more.

However the show would not immediately embrace it, allowing the Doctor to travel, while still retaining his ties to the UNIT family. However the final shift in the show was around the corner. With the sad death of Roger Delgado, and Katy Manning leaving the show, the pieces were also in play for another regular to leave as Mike Yates would betray the team and later attempt to come to terms with his actions. With so much change in the air, it was perhaps no surprise that Jon Pertwee would signal his desire to leave the show. But coming off of what would be one of the most popular and stand out runs in the show’s history, the production team couldn’t possibly realise that a show-defining run would be just around the corner.
Casting the then virtually unknown Tom Baker as the Fourth Doctor alongside returning companion Sarah Jane Smith, the production team would put together one of the most popular pairings in the show’s history. With his iconic long scarf a happy accident, Tom would become the popular image of Doctor Who, arguably up until a certain Mr Tennant donned his trainers.

With a new Doctor in place and a new production team coming in, the show returned very much to basics, with the first season seeing the Fourth Doctor head off into the stars once more, and combat several popular returning enemies including the classic Genesis of the Daleks that introduced the villainous Davros, who would return to blight the Doctor throughout the rest of the show. With producer Philip Hinchcliffe and script editor Robert Holmes running the show, a darker more gothic feel would help to define the Fourth Doctor’s era and is still held up as one of the finest runs in the show to date.

Tom Baker’s lengthy run on the show would also allow the difference in production team to highlight different aspects of his Doctor. From the gothic era of Hinchcliffe and Holmes, we’d have another attempt at a season long storyline with the Key to Time. An experiment we’d see replicated less successfully in the 6th Doctor’s time. The eccentricity and comedy would then be cranked to maximum in the Douglas Adams giving us the sublime City of Death.

With Douglas Adams exiting the show, it was all change as Doctor Who reached the 1980s. There would be a new incoming script editor, Christopher Bidmead, and a new producer in the form of John Nathan-Turner who would stay in the position until the show was taken off the air. Their pairing brought another new take to the show, with JNT determined to shake up the show, and being very aware of branding and merchandising, Tom’s outfit went from something put together, to an obviously designed costume. New credits, and a radical new version of the opening theme saw in the fourth Doctor’s final season, which with Christopher Bidmead’s script editing saw a desire to focus on more science fiction concepts. This would remain into the Fifth Doctor’s first season, which saw the Doctor himself radically altered.

Now played by Peter Davison, the Doctor was now a younger, more vulnerable figure in what seemed a deliberate contrast to Tom Baker’s authoritative portrayal. It was perhaps a gamble at the time, casting an actor already well known for All Creatures Great and Small, however Peter’s formidable acting talents saw him mining a new area of the Doctor’s personality, a take commonly referred to as being an old man, trapped in the body of a young man. A portrayal that would be echoed years later by one Matt Smith.

With the new Doctor firmly in place, the show continued to change, being controversially moved from its traditional Saturday teatime slot, to twice a week on week nights. The casting of the new Doctor also brought with it problems with the TARDIS team, which had grown considerably over Tom’s final story, and the production team now found themselves juggling 3 companions alongside the new youthful Doctor. A format that perhaps worked when the Doctor was played by an older actor, especially given Hartnell’s wavering health at the time, however now quickly showed problems as scripts had to find things for all the characters to do (even if it was “be ill” for an entire story). This would lead to a story containing two of the biggest shocks in some time for the viewing audiences, as Earthshock would not only reintroduce the Cybermen, not seen in many years, but also kill off Adric in dramatic style.

As the TARDIS team slimmed down, the role of the companion was subjected to a twist, as Nyssa left the show, to be replaced by Turlough, a not-entirely willing agent of the Black Guardian sent to kill the Doctor. His attempts and deal with the Black Guardian would form the basis for another loose trilogy in for the show. However as the dust settled, the stage was set for another meeting of the Doctor with his past selves…

Me, You And Doctor Who

For those of us who are fans of the DVD series extras, Matthew Sweet is a sign post to excellence. If he is writing or presenting one of the documentaries that follow our classic series adventures, you know you’re getting intelligent, detailed, accurate and affectionate storytelling about the behind the scenes of Doctor Who.

For the Fiftieth Anniversary, Matthew writes and presents the Culture Show Special, Me, You And Doctor Who, and I’m pleased to say, along with a few thought provoking points, we get the same loving and clever narrative that we do on the DVDs.

Matthew takes us from the early days of Who – and in a climate where many of the older Doctors are feeling ignored in the BBC’s own celebrations – and he talks about the origins of the programme, citing not as you’d expect Sydney Newman but staff writer and forumulator of Planet of Giants CE “Bunny” Webber as the grandfather of the programme we all love. It’s an interesting and compelling argument he makes, along with the delightful classic director Richard Martin and one that will no doubt be debated and researched further.

Each Doctor and era is highlighted (although there are a few name checks missing – no mention of Terrance Dicks, Philip Hinchcliffe or Robert Holmes for instance), and each is given ample time to be looked at in a sideways and intelligent way. Malcolm Hulkes leftie leanings are not news to fans, for instance, but it’s interesting to see how a right wing concept is coloured by left wing writings. It’s maybe one of the reasons the Doctor appeals to most people.

The programme is studdied with interviews new and old, with archived material from Douglas Adams and Delia Derbyshire (who’s own sad history is not ignored) to some bespoke set pieces, most thrilling of all is Mark Ayres and Matthew recreating the music of Weng Chiang. 

The Doctor’s dark past isn’t ignored either, and whilst some might say in celebration we don’t really need to talk about this, Who fans won’t thank you for patronising them, and Matthew knows this, as he talks about John Nathan Turner’s more nefarious revelations, Who overstepping the violence mark or being paused and then cancelled.

Professional fans like Gary Russell, Paul Cornell and Rob Shearman share their genesis with old fanzines and audio productions and there are some glorious clips, not least of which are rare glimpses of The Web Planet.

Matthew clearly loved Doctor Who as much as we do. And he loves it warts and all, which might scare newbies but which, to us old timers, is part of the rich tapestry that makes this programme so special to us. I personally can’t think of anyone better to look intellectually at why Doctor Who is such a huge cultural phenomenon, and I found myself moved during this proper celebration.

The more churlish might bemoan some huge omissions –  no Sarah Jane, no Brigadier, no K9, no Cybermen – but in the hour afforded to him Matthew has created a fans love letter, and I for one won’t be the churlish amongst us on this most special of weeks.

Bravo.

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