Monday, 26 August 2013

The Seven Doctors

Those of you who follow me on Twitter will be more than aware of the fact that this year I’m doing what I’m calling a “Whoathon” – namely watching every episode of Doctor Who during its golden anniversary year. I’ve recently completed watching all of the episodes from the classic series, and so in this post I’m going to pick a favourite story from each of the first seven Doctors. Of course, these will be my personal favourites – if you’re a fellow Whovian you may well disagree with some of my choices! (If so, please do share your views in the comments.)

Right then, here we go...

The First Doctor (1963-66) – William Hartnell
For the first Doctor I’m going to choose The Dalek Invasion of Earth (1964). The Daleks made their first appearance in the second Doctor Who story, and they proved to be so popular that they were quickly brought back for a rematch with the Doctor in this second season story. The adventure starts in London, with the Earth already under the control of the Daleks. The Doctor teams up with some resistance fighters, and then slowly makes his way to Bedfordshire where the Daleks have set up a mine...

This story is notable for being the final regular appearance of Carole Ann Ford, who played the Doctor’s granddaughter Susan. The Doctor deliberately leaves her behind on Earth, as she had found love and he felt it was the right thing to do.

(One other thing that is notable for me are some of the places mentioned. I live in Harrow in north London, and this is the only Doctor Who story to mention locations in Harrow. There’s one scene where Barbara says to the resistance fighter she’s travelling with that she thinks they’re currently somewhere between Stanmore and Edgware – both of which aren’t far from where I live...)

The Second Doctor (1966-69) – Patrick Troughton
My choice for the second Doctor is The Moonbase (1967). This was the second story to feature the Cybermen, after their first appearance in Hartnell’s last story The Tenth Planet (1966) just four months earlier. The Doctor finds himself on the Moonbase, which is used to help regulate the Earth’s weather. The Cybermen, seeing the Earth as a threat to their survival, have infiltrated the base...

The story is four episodes long, although, sadly, episodes 1 and 3 are missing from the BBC’s archives. However, it’s been reported that it will get a DVD release in October with the missing episodes animated to the original soundtrack.

This story contains what I feel is one of the best, and properly scary, cliffhangers in the series at the end of episode 2, where one of the Cybermen in the base is discovered (although it is slightly spoilt by a very wobbly table...).

The Third Doctor (1970-74) – Jon Pertwee
My choice for the third Doctor is Inferno (1970), which was the final story of Pertwee’s first series. The third Doctor had been exiled to Earth by the Time Lords, and therefore had largely Earth-bound adventures for his first few seasons. This left the writers trying to find interesting stories for him. Some had felt that the only stories they could do would be alien invasions, and mad scientists. This could be broadly considered as a “mad scientist” story, but it has the additional twist of seeing the Doctor travelling to a parallel dimension.

The story concerns a drilling operation, the aim being to penetrate the Earth’s crust. The Doctor is borrowing power from their generator to try and fix his TARDIS, and in doing so ends up on a parallel Earth. Here, there is a similar drilling operation going on, only they’re further along with their drilling. They succeed in penetrating the Earth’s crust – with devastating results...

This story is seven episodes long, and was the final story to be made at this length. Throughout the classic era Doctor Who was made on a very tight budget. One way the producers dealt with this was to have longer serials – they could justify the expensive cost of a large set and costumes if they were going to be used over seven episodes instead of just four. However, this often led to stories going on for too long, which is why the seven-episode format was abandoned. That said, I would say that Inferno is the exception to the rule, as it works really well as a seven episode story. The first two episodes help to set up the situation without dragging on; we then have four episodes in the parallel dimension, which is almost a self-contained story in itself; and then there’s a final episode back in our dimension which neatly wraps up the story.

The Fourth Doctor (1974-81) – Tom Baker
Having played the role for seven years (the longest serving Doctor to date), there’s plenty to chose from in the Tom Baker era. My choice is Genesis of the Daleks (1975) from Tom Baker’s first season. Writer Terry Nation was asked if he could do an origin story for the Daleks, and so here we see Davros for the first time. Whilst the story doesn’t contain a huge amount of Dalek action, it does contain a great plot.

The Doctor is sent to Skaro, home planet of the Daleks, by the Time Lords. His mission is to either prevent them from being created, or to alter their development so that they become less aggressive creatures. Is has been said that this story marks the first event of the Time War that has often been mentioned in the new series.

At the time of the Doctor’s arrival there is a great war raging on Skaro between the Thals and the Kaleds (“K-A-L-E-D, why that’s an anagram of – how very interesting...”). The war has reached a stalemate, with neither side being able to make a breakthrough. Resources are scarce, as each side fights for survival. Kaled scientist Davros believes he has the answer that will ensure that his race survives, only he has far greater ambitions than just that...

It has often been said that the Daleks were intended to be reminiscent of the Nazis, something which comes across very clearly in this story, with the Kaled’s operating very much like the Nazis, and Davros being the all powerful leader. Those who are against Davros find it hard to remove him from power...

Of course, as we know, the creation of the Daleks ultimately wasn’t prevented. The Doctor must surely have gone on to regret his actions in this story...

The Fifth Doctor (1982-84) – Peter Davison
This was a tricky one, as I was torn between two stories. In second place was the concluding part of the Black Guardian trilogy, Enlightenment (1983), but for my first choice I’ll be going with the popular option of The Caves of Androzani (1984), which was Davison’s last story.

Written by popular Doctor Who writer Robert Holmes, the Doctor and his companion Peri find themselves on Androzani Minor. It is the only planet which produces Spectrox, which can help to extend life. However, contact with it in its unprocessed form is deadly, something with the Doctor and Peri unwittingly do. Added to this there is a war going on, with Sharaz Jek in opposition to the authorities, and who the Doctor and Peri run into. The Doctor has to try and get the antidote – the milk from a bat that lives deep within the planet – before it’s too late for him and Peri.

He succeeds in saving Peri’s life, but he was only able to get enough milk for her, which results in him having to regenerate. The fifth Doctor essentially sacrificed his life in order to save the life of his companion. (It’s a shame that this notion was slightly undermined in the next story, The Twin Dilemma (1984), where a confused sixth Doctor tries to kill Peri in one scene.)

The regeneration scene at the end of the story is, in my opinion, the best one in the entire history of the show, with the Doctor’s companions willing him to live, but the Master encouraging him to die...

The Sixth Doctor (1984-86) – Colin Baker
During the latter half of the 1980’s Doctor Who was going through a turbulent time. The show was taken off the air for 18 months in 1985, and after the following season BBC executives insisted that Colin Baker was replaced as the Doctor, otherwise the show wouldn’t be recomissioned. As such, there aren’t many Colin Baker stories to choose from, which I think is a real shame. By the end of his time in the TARDIS I felt his Doctor had really found his feet. His final season was the 14-part epic The Trial of a Time Lord (1986) which was good, but would have been absolutely fantastic if the final two episodes had done a better job at tying up the series (there were numerous problems with the writing of these final episodes – original writer Robert Holmes sadly died before completing them, and there were serious disagreements between replacement writer [and Script Editor] Eric Saward and producer John Nathan-Turner, which resulted in Saward leaving the show, and Pip and Jane Baker being brought in to hurriedly write a final episode). Had Colin Baker been allowed to carry on as the Doctor after the Trial season I’m sure there would have been some great stories to come.

But out of the stories we do have for the sixth Doctor, my pick is Vengeance on Varos (1985) (The Trial loses out due to the poor ending). Varos is a world where its leader can be killed on screen if he loses a vote, and torture and executions are regularly broadcast. Also present on Varos is the villainous Sil, played by Nabil Shaban, trying to broker a trade deal, but one which hugely favours him. (Sil proved to be popular character, who would return the following year in the Mindwarp section of the Trial, and I hope he makes a reappearance at some point in the new series...)

One interesting aspect of Vengeance on Varos are scenes involving a married couple, who witness the events of the story unfold on screen. At no point in the story do they meet the Doctor, or even interact with any other character. At the end of the story they see that they are now free – but they don’t know what to do with their new found freedom...

The Seventh Doctor (1987-96) – Sylvester McCoy
I have memories of watching the McCoy stories as a child back when they were first broadcast, and so this era of the show was quite nostalgic for me. For his second two seasons (of three) McCoy’s Doctor had a great companion in Ace (played by Sophie Aldred), and it is a real shame that the show was cancelled when it was, as it would have been great to see her character arc reach a conclusion, which was planned to take place in Season 27.

That said, my pick of the seventh Doctor stories goes to Paradise Towers (1987) from McCoy’s first season. Granted, some of the acting in this story isn’t the best (particularly regarding the character Pex). But what makes this story stand out for me is the setting. It is set entirely within a giant tower block on an unnamed world. Most of the able bodied men have left to go and fight in a nameless war. Left behind are girl gangs known as Kangs, the Resis (residents), and the Caretakers. The building is in a state of anarchy and disrepair – and people are slowly disappearing. And there is the question of who, or what, is in the basement...

This story also had machines known as the Cleaners, and the image of them would stick with me for years afterwards, and are what I first think of when I think about the seventh Doctor era.

All Time Favourite Episode
I couldn’t write a blog post about my favourite Doctor Who stories and not mention my all time favourite episode from the entire history of the show, which is the tenth and final episode of The War Games (1969). The War Games itself was an overlong story, about humans from different eras being plucked out of time and made to fight in order for an alien race to build up a supreme army, with the help of a renegade Time Lord. However, the final episode on its own really does stand out. Throughout the series up until this point we didn’t know much about the Doctor’s own people, only that he had fled from them. In this story he’s left with no option but to call on their help, but in doing so they catch up with him, and force him to return home.

It’s the first time we hear his people referred to as the Time Lords, and the first time we see Gallifrey (although it’s not named as such in this story). The Time Lords put the Doctor on trial, where he is sentenced to be regenerated and exiled on Earth, and his companions sent to their own time and place, with the memories of all but their first adventure with the Doctor erased.

The tenth episode of The War Games was the last regular episode for second Doctor Patrick Troughton, Frazer Hines (who played Jamie McCrimmon), and Wendy Padbury (who played Zoe Heriot). It was also the last episode to be made in black and white. I feel it has a really powerful atmosphere and impact, and it truly marked the end of an era within the show. Here’s a clip from the end of the episode:

So, there you have it. These are my picks of the best story for each of the original seven Doctors. (I can’t really say much about the eighth Doctor as Paul McGann only got the opportunity to play the Doctor on screen once, in a story I feel wasn’t all that great.) My Whoathon will be continuing with the new series, which I hope to complete in time for the 50th Anniversary Special in November.

If you’re a fellow Whovian, what are some of your favourite classic Doctor Who stories?

Next Week: The Adventures of Gamesmaker Karl

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