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Month: August 2018
Welcome to Episode 199…
The DWAS kick-off the fundraising for the Hartnell Heritage Plaque and a bunch of new writers and directors announced for Series 11.
Moody Dalek Tat this week brings us… Big Finish announce their 20th Anniversary celebrations with upcoming special releases across 2019 and 2010, Series 19 is getting the restoration and blu ray set treatment, last year’s The Sarah Jane Adventures convention The Attic is coming to dvd and blu ray and Character finally put up the Bill Potts figure from a lifetime ago.
“The Lost Boy” Review
We’ve come to the end of Series 1 of the SJA and it’s been amazing so far. Adam and I have loved watching these, most of them for the first time. Does this series closer round off the series nicely or are we left feeling a little, er, lost?
Thank you for joining us for 199. Next week it’s our 200th episode! Our review will be the Fifth Doctor’s story – Earthshock. Have a great week and until next time – Allons-y!
Red Planets kicks off what seems to be a Seventh Doctor end of the year for Big Finish. Not only is he getting a series of adventures with Ace, Mel, Hex, Klein, Iris Wildthyme and Panda, he is also getting another boxset featuring the return of Chris and Roz! For us fans of the Seventh Doctor, it is going to be a real treat!
Perhaps of all the Doctors in Big Finish’s catalogue, it is the Seventh Doctor who is most used to alternate realities it is the Seventh, particularly with the problems caused in Colditz and Elizabeth Klein.
Una McCormack has decided to go back and revisit the idea of alternate timelines with Red Planets, a story in which Mel and the Doctor are trying to explore the strange new Republic of Mokoshia and where Ace tries to help a wounded man get over the Berlin wall with documents which will help stop an all-out war.
London, 2017. Except… it isn’t. Berlin, 1961. But it isn’t that either. Not really. Not in the timeline the Doctor knows. Something is very wrong. While Ace tries to save the life of a wounded British spy, Mel and the Doctor must get to grips with the modern day socialist Republic of Mokoshia. For Mel it feels strangely familiar and ‘right’, which makes the Doctor feel even more uneasy.
Soon, a message from a dark and blood-soaked distant future is on its way… But the Doctor will have to act fast to stop this timeline becoming reality.
And with Ace stranded in an alternate 1961, will saving the Earth end her existence?
The first thing that will strike you about Red Planets is that it works brilliantly as a gritty thriller. Perhaps it might have been on television as a black and white-noir serial with imaginative camera angles, the sort of thing that The Happiness Patrol was supposed to be. At first, the new society that the Doctor and Mel find themselves in doesn’t seem all that bad. There is peace, happiness and prosperity for all. There is even a space programme up and running with the first rocket of astronauts about to reach Mars.
As the characters begin to scratch beneath the surface, however, we see that communism has spread throughout Europe and anything but compliance will have fatal consequences, something the Doctor knows about when he vocally makes his knowledge and disapproval known.
A great way McCormack makes this story different to all the other alternate universe stories is that Mel seems to remember this wrong version of history. To her, this is the way the world has always been. She amps things up with the fact that the Doctor and his companions are separated and with the way that Mel quickly accepts the curfew and the fact that Queen abdicated in 1966 only adds to the overall sense of unease.
McCormack pens what will probably be the tensest opening two episodes in Big Finish history. She introduces Colonel Marsden, someone who you don’t know where he stands and who is all too easily ready to accept the Doctor, thanks to some stolen, what we assume, UNIT files. We quickly learn that knowledge of the Doctor goes much higher and the Doctor soon has to deal with some shady individuals.
Elliot Levey gives a particularly strong and enjoyable performance as Marsden, a character who quickly shows his true colours. McCormack writes his character brilliantly and his conclusion is really shocking.
Looking past the future events, let’s turn to the past with Ace stranded in 1961 trying to keep things on track. It is her story that held the most interest for me, feeling a lot more fleshed out than those segments in 2017 and that is only right given how her actions will interact with the future. For all intents and purposes, this is a story where Ace gets to be the Doctor, she even gains her own companion in the form of Tom, a man wounded trying to climb over the Berlin Wall. It is his story that we follow, even if we don’t know it, to begin with.
Tom is played excellently by Matt Barber. He brings a real sense of how uneasy this time and place was back in 1961. In the real world, the brink of another war seemed imminent. With the Cuban missile crisis and America’s fears of the Cold War, things seemed very desperate indeed. Barber brings out excellent, that feeling that enemies were everywhere, allowing his scenes to be some of the tensest listens I’ve ever had!
The main cast is on top form too. Sylvester McCoy is always excellent as the Doctor, Big Finish has really allowed his incarnation to shine. He always had a handle on the darker elements of this character and once again, he allows them to shine here. Bonnie Langford is another Big Finish miracle. Even though she doesn’t get that much to do here, she is a large part of the story and is far removed from the screamer we got on television. I always look forward to a Mel story from these music masters and Red Planets is no different.
Sophie Aldred is always excellent too and that doesn’t change here. She is brilliant and her scenes with Matt Barber are aided by the chemistry the pair had. I am looking forward to her being in the remaining three of four 7th Doctor main range audios. And I can’t wait to hear her in the upcoming Class Audio Series!
Una McCormack is a writer I would love to hear more from in Big Finish. She had such an excellent handle on all the characters here and I would love her to tackle a different TARDIS team! She takes the aged topic of alternate timelines and made it feel brand new again. Red Planets will stand as one of the best releases of this year!
Overall, this is a thrilling opening to the multitude of Sylvester McCoy audios we are being treated to this year!
London, 2017. Except… it isn’t. Berlin, 1961. But it isn’t that either. Not really. Not in the timeline the Doctor knows. Something is very wrong.
While Ace tries to save the life of a wounded British spy, Mel and the Doctor must get to grips with the modern day socialist Republic of Mokoshia. For Mel it feels strangely familiar and ‘right’, which makes the Doctor feel even more uneasy.
Soon, a message from a dark and blood-soaked distant future is on its way… But the Doctor will have to act fast to stop this timeline becoming reality.
And with Ace stranded in an alternate 1961, will saving the Earth end her existence?
Written By: Una McCormack Directed By: Jamie Anderson
Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor), Sophie Aldred (Ace), Bonnie Langford (Mel), Matt Barber (Tom Elliot), Elliot Levey (Colonel Marsden), Genevieve Gaunt (Anna / Commander of Phobos Mission), Max Bollinger (Sokolov), Chris Dale (Mission Control / Voice of Map / George / Television Announcer). Other parts played by members of the cast.
Producer: Nicholas Briggs Script Editor: Guy Adams Executive Producers: Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs
In the two and a half years that I’ve been a Doctor Who fan, I’ve managed to see a number of stories from each Doctor and even completed a few eras along the way. However, I always found myself steering clear of the First Doctor. That is, until very recently…
To give some context, I first delved into to Doctor Who in January 2016 with the Tom Baker story ‘Robot’. I’d been well aware of the show for years and had even been a huge fan of the Sarah Jane Adventures. This, and the fact I’d seen part of ‘The Face of Evil’ a few days earlier, heavily influenced which eras I focused on. I made my way through the Tom Baker and stopped at ‘The Invisible Enemy’. At that point, I began to pick stories at random from the Third, Fifth, Ninth, Tenth, Eleventh and Twelfth Doctors. Shortly afterwards, I added the Sixth and Seventh Doctors into the mix. But what of the 1960s Doctors?
I can’t remember which story it was, but I was somewhat put off 1960s Doctor Who after watching part of a Troughton story. I adore his Doctor, as well as his companions, and there are Second Doctor stories I love – ‘The War Games’ being a favourite of mine. However, I’ve never been a massive fan of that era’s stories as a whole. Therefore, I assumed the Hartnell era was going to be the same, and I simply didn’t look into it.
Fast forward to July 2017 – the First Doctor is back. It was clear from the ending of ‘The Doctor Falls’ that he would be joining the action from ‘The Tenth Planet’. Therefore, I decided it would be wise to watch the story in preparation for the Christmas Special. I’m sorry to say that I only made it partway through episode 2.
My favourite Doctor Who stories tend to be those set in the past, or in present-day Earth. From what I had seen, 60s Doctor Who was very much full of heavy science fiction and space-based adventures which I’m not usually too fond of.
Another issue was the character of the First Doctor himself. Friends and internet lists had told me he was always grumpy, rather generic and one of the least likeable incarnations. However, I had been told the same about Colin Baker, who is now one of my favourite Doctors. So perhaps there was some hope…
I should mention that I was already very familiar with the portrayals of both Richard Hurndall and David Bradley. ‘The Five Doctors’ is one of the Doctor Who stories I have seen the most. I absolutely love it, and part of that does come down to Richard Hurndall. He puts in a great performance (rather than an imitation) and gives Peter Davison a run for his money. In retrospect, however, he is perhaps a bit too abrasive. He doesn’t really have the loveable charm that Hartnell had. Bradley meanwhile, is a bit too mellow for me. There isn’t enough authority behind his line delivery and there is not a ‘Hmmm’ to be found. This is, however, nothing when compared to his abhorrent sexism. One really has to wonder what Steven Moffat was thinking. It was a great disservice to not just the character of the First Doctor, but the Classic Series in general. I noticed several people saying afterwards how it had put them off going back to watch the original run, which is a real shame.
Then, in May of this year, something rather wonderful happened. That something was of course ‘Doctor Who on Twitch’. This time, there was no excuse; I just had to sit down and watch the First Doctor live.
I absolutely loved the first part of ‘An Unearthly Child’, but found the three subsequent parts and the two following stories to be rather dull. While I was disappointed, the original TARDIS team were what made the episodes watchable. Thankfully, things picked up on the second night for me with ‘The Keys of Marinus’. It was at this point that I began to question all I’d been told about Hartnell’s Doctor. He wasn’t overly abrasive at all, but rather humorous and, thanks to his doddery mannerisms, extremely endearing. In a time when the show was very much an ensemble piece, the Doctor actually provided a great many comical moments. I was also glad to see many historical stories; ‘The Aztecs’ in particular stood out to me and has definitely become a favourite. ‘The Dalek Invasion of Earth’ is my overall favourite, however. It was great to see the Doctor deciding to stop the Daleks, showing how he had evolved into a true hero after meeting his companions. Many say Hartnell doesn’t feel like the Doctor we know today, but after only a few stories I didn’t doubt him at all.
It wasn’t just the Doctor I warmed to. I found all of his companions to be very likeable and every line-up worked very well. However, Ian and Barbara, in particular, stood out to me, and in those early stories, they really carry the show. By the time the marathon reached ‘The Chase’, I’d become so used to the First Doctor, Ian and Barbara that their exit hit me very hard indeed. The Doctor watching them in London 1965 through the Time-Space Visualiser gets my vote for the saddest Who moment of all time.
However, their departure does give the Doctor the chance to more fully emerge as the star of the show given he was the only original character left. When the time came for the First Doctor era to end on the stream, he had become one of my favourite Doctors and as such, I was very sad to see him go. I almost feel like ‘Doctor Who On Twitch’ was damage control for ‘Twice Upon a Time’. I was one of many, many people who were falling in love with this Doctor for the first time and he was certainly the incarnation which left the most impact on the chat.
Of course, that would not be the last time we’d see him during the marathon as he does, of course, make a very limited appearance in ‘The Three Doctors’. This is a story that I’ve seen countless times but it became all the more special after having finally seen many First Doctor stories. His final line is very poignant, and given he passed away only two years later, it’s all the more heartbreaking.
“Though considering the way things have been going, well, I shudder to think what you will do without me.”
The moral of this story is ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’. I’ve found this to be true of many things when it comes to Doctor Who; I am, for example, a great fan of ‘Time-Flight’. It’s always better to find out for yourself rather than simply making assumptions, or following fan consensus without all of the facts. The First, and indeed the Sixth Doctor would really benefit from this. Thankfully, ‘Doctor Who On Twitch’ has given the First Doctor a lot more attention and in a way, I’m glad to have discovered the character through that event. It’s a testament to William Hartnell that 55 years on, his Doctor is still attracting new fans.
Doctor Who is 55 years old this year, it’s a television institution and, aptly, acts as a time machine, a way for us to delve into the history of British telly or chart shifting social and cultural attitudes. These shifting attitudes are often at the heart of many recent fan arguments, such as the one that kicked off (in as much as an argument between fans of a long-running science fiction programme can “kick off”) on Twitter this Monday.
At the heart of this heated debate wasn’t the merits of remastering Time Flight in high definition, nor was it (thankfully) the inclusion of the show’s first writers of colour contributing to series 11. The ignited touchpaper was a well written, considered and informed editorial by Doctor Who Magazine editor Marcus Hearn (himself half Chinese) about this month’s Time Team feature, in which they watched The Talons of Weng-Chiang. This sparked some bellowing loud-mouths on social media to call him incredibly patronising, demand he be sacked and more of the tedious sorts of censorious behaviour exhibited by people who claim to be progressive whenever an alternative view to their own is uttered.
This speaks to a much wider, more troubling trend which is probably best discussed somewhere else, so let’s stick to the editorial for now. It praises the new Time Team for their fresh perspective on classic Doctor Who and merely states that he disagrees with them sometimes. You know, like rational human beings sometimes do. He also points out the story’s tonal touchstones in Victorian literature, horror cinema and 1970’s television as key points to consider when viewing a story which is, let’s not forget, over 40 years old.
Whilst the Time Team clearly weren’t aware of these, they still enjoyed the episode, a fact that seemed lost in most of the bickering. Firstly because why let facts get in the way of a good argument and also because, I expect, many of those piling on hadn’t received the magazine as early as the rest of us.
The fact remains that the Team enjoy The Talons of Weng-Chiang too, they love the writing, the costuming, the cinematography and direction. They love how hands-on Leela is, they love how hot Leela is. (Oh! So racism is wrong but overt sexualisation is fine is it, woke millennials?) In short, they enjoy Talons of Weng-Chiang just as much as the rest of us do, with some reservations in the form of its portrayal of the Chinese as villains. To use an old movie cliche, the young, hip Time Team and older fandom? We’re not so different, you and I.
Social media websites like Twitter feed on division, they make large amounts of money by dividing groups of people into opposing forces, entrenching them in these sorts of never-ending binary arguments. With 55 years of material to argue over and a fanbase that is increasingly diverse in age, gender and ethnicity, Doctor Who is a veritable Voga for Jack Dorsey, his Twitter colleagues and their various advertising partners. If our beloved show and its hero has taught us anything over the past half-century, it’s that we shouldn’t let people like that succeed. So, let’s all take a deep breath, respect each other’s opinions and leave the heated debates about whether £50 is too much to spend on a boxed set that really only has HD Kinda going for it to the various local Doctor Who groups or university societies around the world.
Well, that was a little bit serious, wasn’t it? There’s an old tradition of the unicorn chaser, a pleasing palette cleanser following an upsetting internet experience. So allow me to end this week with a couple of stories that affirm my belief that, as fans, we have much more in common with each other than we think.
Due to a recent move, and my chosen career options not being as bountiful as I had hoped, I’ve taken to working in a well-known entertainment store. A week or two ago I served a twelve-year-old girl who was buying a copy of Time and the Rani on DVD. “Wow, that’s a bold choice you’ve made there.”
She smiled and replied that “…this is the only one you’ve got that I haven’t bought yet and since it’s Sylvester McCoy’s first story I want to see it.”
“Are you a big McCoy fan then?” I asked.
“I like him, but I prefer Tom Baker”
“Aaaaah, don’t we all”
Then, a couple of days ago, a man came to the till with his two children, placing a copy of Twice Upon a Time and The Ambassadors of Death on the counter. Not to put too fine a point on it, he looked like exactly the sort of man who would be buying early Jon Pertwee DVDs. “Ambassadors of Death, that is an underrated classic right there” I said to the man.
“Oh really? It’s not for me, he’s the Doctor Who nut” he replied, pointing down to the 8-year-old boy standing next to him, who beamed up at me and exclaimed, “I LOVE Doctor Who!”
As much as we may fall into the trap of pointing fingers at “woke millennials” for their refusal to unwaveringly enjoy classic stories without noticing some more questionable elements, it’s worth remembering those kids, that we have eleven new episodes on the way, that we have a brand new writing and directing team and that this show we all adore is still very much with us for all of us to enjoy.
There will be no battle here.
What really annoys you? What really grinds your gears?
For me, people who don’t listen or ignore you and people who chew loudly. Working in retail, I also don’t appreciate people who like to tell me how to do my job, people who are rude or think they’re entitled. People who try to blame me for their mistakes. The list could go on and on! (I’m not a misery, I promise!)
What would you do if you could control that if you could shut people up, if you could make them stop, if you could punish them for the wrongs they’ve done against you? That is the subject that Instant Karma chooses to discuss. How should we vent that anger? Should we do something healthy or should we try to control them? Imagine if you could force them to be silent! Would you do that? Imagine that just by looking at them, they would shut up for one second. Could you really do it?
Toshiko Sato is on a mission, something to get her away from Torchwood for a while. Following readings from an algorithm she set up looking for strange events, she is led to a self-help group.
There are strange forces and powers surrounding her there, people are using their anger and frustrations against others. But people are getting hurt and the leader doesn’t care.
Tosh finds herself falling further and further in with them until one day there is a tragedy. What seemed like something harmless now has to be dealt with. But Tosh doesn’t want Torchwood involved. She doesn’t want people running in guns blazing. This is something that needs quiet tact and Tosh is just the person…
Instant Karma is one of the latest Big Finish Torchwood releases and it is a dark, provocative and thought-provoking piece of fiction. Taking on the usual format for these releases, it features one member of the original cast, this time Naoko Mori as Tosh has to explore the darker corners of power and how looks at how absolute power corrupts absolutely.
For a Torchwood story, the set up is surprisingly simple. Presumably following on from the series one episode Greeks Bearing Gifts, Tosh has fallen out slightly with her teammates and is looking for things to do on her own. She is the perfect candidate for this mission then, unlike Jack who would gun them all down, she has the perseverance and dignity to deal with this case.
Naoko Mori is on fine form as Tosh, effortlessly bringing the character back to life. She always was one of my favourite characters on the show but she never really got time to shine, unlike the rest of her teammates, so a solo outing for her is something that I looked forward too.
Sharing the limelight are her other two co-stars for this piece, Jonny Dixon and Sara McGaughey put in some terrific performances and the trio work excellent together. None of them, for one moment, make you feel like this is something that isn’t real. Surrounding the trio is a very poignant story about the nature of power. As the story rattles along, Tosh finds out more and more about her co-star’s backstories and finds herself in increasing danger. But in typical fashion, she doesn’t allow any of this to stop her from completing the mission and like many Torchwood episodes, the ending isn’t just black-and-white.
What is particularly interesting is that this story comes from THREE authors. David Llewellyn, James Goss and Johnathan Morris. This is where one wishes that this story had come with some bonus extra interviews. It would have been very interesting to see how these three tackled such a story with an hour-runtime.
As well as exploring power, the story also touches on elements of anger, righteousness and revenge before becoming a powerful exploration at the nature of loneliness. How in hell three authors managed this without treading on one another’s toes or over-elaborating. And it never feels rushed. We find out the truth of the situation, at the right time for Tosh to find out.
The exploration of power in literature is nothing new and, these days is something that has been overdone. But here, those elements feel brand-new and exciting again. Llewellyn, Goss and Morris have taken power back to its roots.
At the end of the day, ‘power’ is in the hands of the everyday person. If you can do something, does that always mean you should? In these modern times, with the world the way it is, that is something that needs to be explored again.
Instant Karma also features some strong direction from Lisa Bowerman, someone who, as well as being one of the best actors at Big Finish has quickly become one of their finest directors. Bowerman always manages to get fantastic performances out of her cast and Instant Karma is no different as there isn’t a lacklustre performance from anyone. Congratulations should be given to all.
You might have guessed that I certainly enjoyed Instant Karma. Everything about it was excellent. The themes and tones from the writers, the strong direction and the fantastic performances. Toshiko was always one of my favourite characters from the original series and so long as Big Finish keeps giving Naoko Mori strong scripts like this, she always will always burn the brightest in the Torchwood Hub.
Imagine. All those people. The ones who make each day that little bit harder. That little bit more unbearable.
Imagine if you could silence them. Just by looking at them.
I mean, just imagine. If you could do that. To all the people who annoy you. Would you do it?
Torchwood contains adult material and may not be suitable for younger listeners
Written By: David Llewellyn, James Goss and Jonathan Morris Directed By: Lisa Bowerman
Naoko Mori (Toshiko Sato), Jonny Dixon (Simon), Sara McGaughey (Janet), Duncan Wisbey (Jolly Otter), Simon Ludders (Policeman), Ross Ford (Chav), Liz Sutherland-Lim (Daphne). Other parts played by members of the cast.
Producer: James Goss Script Editor: David Llewellyn Executive Producers: Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs
Doctor Who has always had cliff-hangers. Their the famous shock moments at the end of an episode, intended to get the audience back for the next week. During its classic run, every story was split up into normally, four-six episodes. Each week, the audience needed to come back so the producers would end each episode with a scary or shock moments.
As with many things in the Doctor Who universe, the cliff-hangers have divided fans since the sixties. Some are instant classics, some of which will be on this list and some are widely considered to be the worst. But everyone has their favourites like everyone has their favourite Doctors and Companions, Monsters & Villains.
The following list is my own favourite cliff-hangers. Their moments that shocked me, surprised me and made me want to watch the next episode. For me, these are some of the finest moments the show has to offer. Not everyone will agree with this list and I wouldn’t expect you too, these are my moments.
Are you ready?
Here we go…
10. The Talons of Weng-Chiang – Episode 3
One of the earliest stories I ever had the pleasure of watching was The Talons of Weng-Chiang. When I was a lot longer, I didn’t see some of the things that date it nowadays, the racist comments that have to be taken in historical context, the casting of a British actor as someone from China and the giant rat.
In fact, the giant rat still doesn’t bother me, not as much as the episode of The New Avengers, Gnaws, which saw Steed, Purdy and Gambit come up against a giant rat in the sewers.
Episode 3 of this story sees Leela having hunted Weng-Chiang back to his lair and has swapped herself in place of a cleaner to be his next sacrifice, waiting for a moment to strike, she pounces on the false god. It is a quick fight where he quickly gains the upper hand and Leela has no choice but to flee into the sewers, despite Weng-Chiang having left a gigantic rat on guard.
The Doctor, on the other hand, intends to kill the rat, armed with his Elephant Gun, (made in Birmingham), he heads into the sewers, leaving Professor Litefoot waiting for his return. He hears the rat squealing in delight and someone splashing about. Around the corner runs Leela, she stops in astonishment, not expecting to see the Doctor here. But those few seconds are vital, she is knocked to the ground and is set upon by the rat, gnawing at her legs and body as she screams in agony…
I’m not sure what makes this moment of the finest from the show in my opinion but I think it is the conviction of the cast. The rat, though it doesn’t bother me, does look incredibly silly but Louise Jameson sells it, this is a giant animal that is mauling her. It will eat her alive if she doesn’t escape. And the look on the Doctor’s face as he looks on, reading his gun, knowing he can’t do anything is brilliant. It is a real, “How will they get out this moment!”.
9. Pyramids of Mars – Episode 1
Pyramids of Mars was the first Doctor Who story I ever saw, watching it in class at school during the themed Egypt Week. I was a little confused at first but the cliff-hanger for episode 1 has forever been ingrained in my psyche.
The Housekeeper, Ibrahim Namin has been looking after the priory belonging to Marcus and his brother Lawrence Scarman. But he has been a servant for Sutekh, an ancient Egyptian evil who has awoken from his prison and is longing for an escape.
Calling the servitors, lumbering robotic mummies, a sarcophagus begins to hum and glow with power. Kneeling, Namin sees a figure in the distance, coming closer down the tunnel. He believes it to be Sutekh. The figure steps out of the tunnel and sets about killing him.
“I am the servant of Sutekh. He needs no other…”
There is something so gloriously disturbing about this moment. Namin’s shoulders are smoking and his screams display some real agony. But I think it is the blank look on Scarman’s mask that makes the moment. You almost know he is dead and he doesn’t care about pain.
That might have been a little strong for someone who was in Junior School at the time but I didn’t care. It was a marvellous moment and the moment that cemented me as a fan of the best show in the universe.
8. The Time Meddler – Episode 3
After three episodes of seeing the Doctor, Vikki and Steven chasing a mysterious monk around a little settlement in 1066, the end of episode 3 finally sees his identity revealed.
While he still goes by the name, The Meddling Monk, we learn he is actually a member of the Doctor’s people. Not named on screen at the time, the Monk is a Time Lord, looking to cause trouble. Looking around his monastery, Vikki and Steven look behind an altar.
“Its a TARDIS. The Monk has a TARDIS.”
The TARDIS is exactly the same set but it is made up differently, there are different objects on display and the Monk even smugly mentions how much better his is to the Doctor’s Type 40. But it still falls victim to the Doctor’s meddling and the Monk is left stranded on the coast in 1066, just as the Saxons invaded.
It is quite a shocking moment, not only because next to Susan, the Monk is the first member of Time Lord society we see but because he also claims that the Doctor gave him the idea. While the Doctor travels around the universe fighting evil, the Monk can’t really be classed as truly evil. He is doing what he believes is right to make the future best for everyone. But his meddling with established history is proving to be too much of a problem. In 1965, the sight of a second TARDIS must have been a real shock.
7. Remembrance of the Daleks – Episode 1
It had been a long-running joke that the Daleks couldn’t climb stairs. The joke had been used so much that the Doctor very often escaped them by climbing up ventilation shafts or other vertical apparatus. In Remembrance of the Daleks, the Seventh Doctor does the same thing.
Exploring the basement of Coal Hill School, the Doctor and Ace come across a Dalek Transport pad. It begins to activate and the Doctor sends Ace out for her own safety. Ace comes across the school headmaster, someone who has been taken over by the Daleks and who knocks her to the ground. Bolting the door, he leaves the Doctor to the mercy of a Dalek guard.
“You are the Doctor! You are an enemy of the Daleks! You will be exterminated! Exterminate! Exterminate! Exterminate! …”
The Doctor, having bolted up a staircase, obviously believing to be out of the range of his greatest enemies, hammers on the door only to turn around hearing a strange noise. To his shock and horror, the Dalek is hovering up the stairs.
What sells the moment is the look on Sylvester McCoy’s face, the Doctor has never seen them flying before, not when they are coming up after him. And there is the shock factor. Never have the Daleks flown before. In 1988 fans wouldn’t be watching it for the strings holding the Dalek up or looking at how it wobbles a little unsteadily. Even today, watching the classic Dalek serials, this one still has that ability to shock.
6. An Unearthly Child – Episode 1
It was the moment that shocked and frightened the viewers on November 23rd 1963. The TARDIS having taken off because the Doctor effectively kidnaps Ian and Barbara has landed on some rocky outcrop. The light is flashing and then a strange deformed shadow falls across it.
You can imagine how confused or frightened viewers would have been. Never before had something like Doctor Who been on screen. After the terror of the title sequence, they had been thrown into the relative normalcy of a school setting, two teachers talking a rather strange student called Susan Foreman. They then find out her given address is a junkyard.
Fearing for Susan’s safety they decide to follow her, (something the show wouldn’t get away with if they tried it now). Going into the junkyard they find a familiar sight, a blue police box, that seems to hum with power. Then a strange old man arrives, rummaging through the rubbish. Susan calls out from the Police Box. Fearing she might have been kidnapped, they barge inside the TARDIS.
“A Police Box, standing in a junkyard. It can move anywhere in time and space…” – Ian
Inside is astonishing, the box seems to be bigger on the inside. The Doctor chuckles and sets the controls to take off, Ian and Barbara have seen too much, he has to take them with him. He is on the run from his own people and can’t risk word spreading of where he and Susan are.
The next time we see Ian and Barbara they are lying unconscious or dead on the TARDIS floor. Outside, they appear to have landed on a rocky outcrop where a shadow appears.
After twenty-minutes of terrifying television, viewers were left wondering who or what that shadow belonged too for a whole week. It was the cliff-hanger that kicked them off. If it hadn’t worked, then the show wouldn’t have been the same. They pulled it off and the rest, as they say, is history.
5. BAD WOLF
I have to admit that Christopher Eccleston was never my favourite incarnation of the Doctor. But, one has to remember that when the show came back, I would have been in Year 4 at school. I remember very little about those earlier days, even though I do have some memories and got the DVD’s a year after they came out.
It was only recently, on a re-watch that: One – I got a new appreciation for Eccleston’s Doctor, making him one of my favourites since the show came back and Two – I saw just how good some of those stories were. I think out of that first series, it was only, The Long Game that I found particularly weak.
And then we came to Bad Wolf, a story that will age very badly, in fact, it already has, my sister had to ask me who Trine-E and Zu-Zana were. But that ending is just superb.
“I’m going to rescue her. I’m going to rescue Rose Tyler from the middle of the Dalek fleet. And then I’m going to save the Earth and then, just to finish off, I’m going to wipe every last stinking Dalek out of the sky! Rose? I’m coming to get you…” – The Doctor
This is a terrific speech, aided by some excellent performances from Eccleston and Billie Piper. But it is also the very end when the Daleks prepare for the coming battle, that you realise just how outnumbered they really are! It is definitely one of the strongest cliff-hangers of the modern series and deserves its place at number 5.
4. The Daleks – Episode 1
It was one of Doctor Who’s first make-or-break moments. Writer, Terry Nation had been hired to create a seven-part story, set in the future on an alien planet for a balance against the previous story. His creations, The Daleks, captured the imaginations of the British Public from the moment their iconic sink-plungers hit our screens in 1963.
The moment is legendary. Splitting up to explore the strange new city they have discovered. Barbara, looking down a corridor, suddenly notices that a door has come down behind her trapping her in. She hammers on the door before she realises how useless it is. Then she turns around and sees a sink-plunger heading towards her.
While it might seem like a silly moment in the history of the show, it is actually one of the most important. Had the Daleks never worked, Doctor Who wouldn’t have come back for a second series, let alone have survived 50+ years. It’s excellent fun. While many might wonder why this cliff-hanger is placed at number four, The Daleks is a pivotal moment in Doctor Who’s expansive history.
3. Earthshock – Episode 1
Earthshock, along with Genesis of the Daleks was one of the very first stories I had on DVD. Christmas 2007 saw my Nan and Granddad, giving them to me, along with Spearhead from Space, with that dodgy Auton shot on the cover. I cherished them, I’ve still got them, the only versions I possess.
A lot younger then than I am now, I must admit that much of Genesis went straight over my head. By I fully understood Earthshock and had a cracking time watching it. Although the DVD cover gives away which villains made their shocking return, in 1982, the Cybermen had been away for several years, with Tom Baker having faced them before in Revenge of the Cybermen.
“Destroy them! Destroy them at once!” – Cyber-Leader
That ending for episode one is one of the greatest shock moments in the history of the show. With the Cybermen having been absent from our screens for so long, many fans had only heard of them from the Target Novels or various information books. You can imagine the excitement for the fans, short and long-term in 1982.
It is a moment that still stands up today, watching the entirety of that first episode, there are subtle little hints at who the true villains are. Watching it in 2007, I had seen the Cybermen in the previous series of 2006. But even though they feature on the cover of the DVD, it is still a real moment. The music and then David Banks speaking and the tight and claustrophobic direction from Peter Grimwade make it one of the best moments in the entire history of the show
2. The Caves of Androzani – Episode 3
The Caves of Androzani is heralded by many, not only as one of the best stories of the Classic Series but of the entire show in general. And it is with good reason, there are some fantastic performances from the regulars, Peter Davison and Nicola Bryant, some great villains, Sharez-Jek, Morgus and Stotz.
One of the greatest moments, that encapsulates the whole idealism of the series happens at the end of the third episode. The Doctor, taken from Peri is being transported to Androzani Major but he manages to get control of the ship and crashes it into the surface of Androzani Minor.
“Not a very persuasive argument actually Stozy because I’m going to die soon anyway, unless of course I can find the antidote. I owe it to my friend to try because I got her into this. So you see, I’m not going to let you stop me now!”
It is an epic moment from Davison and one of the best written moments from Robert Holmes who delivered one of his bleakest stories here. What makes it even better is that at the beginning of the story, we see the Doctor fighting off the regeneration so he can save Peri.
Caves works so brilliantly in my opinion because it proves how awesome the Fifth Doctor actually is. He works brilliantly in the darker stories because he is so optimistic and full of hope. Put him in an environment where they will get stripped away from him and he proves himself to be a Doctor you don’t want to cross.
1. The Tenth Planet – Episode 4
The Tenth Planet is a special story for a number of reasons. One is that it introduced the Cybermen to the series and secondly, and most importantly, it introduced the concept of regeneration to the series. Visibly weak, the First Doctor is relegated to the background for much of this story, going for little naps or simply not being there, leaving his companions, Ben and Polly to do a lot of the action.
When he does appear, he does advance the plot a great deal. But with his ongoing health problems getting worse by the day, William Hartnell had no choice but to relinquish his control of the TARDIS to someone new.
“It’s far from being all over…” – The Doctor
How right he was, it was far from being all over. But at the same time, it was cutting it close. William Hartnell had been the Doctor for a long time. He was the only incarnation around at the time and the idea of changing the leading man was almost unheard of. But then the producers brought in the Time Lord trick of regeneration, Doctor Who’s greatest experiment to that point.
The Doctor collapses, Ben and Polly rush to his aid, he lays on the floor and is surrounded by strange light. The TARDIS appears to help him along and then it is all over, a younger man is lying on the floor. And Patrick Troughton took over the title role.
It is a historic moment, with the fourth episode still missing, we are lucky to still have the original footage of that first regeneration.
Had Patrick Troughton not been as brilliant as he is, Doctor Who would not have survived any longer than The Evil of the Daleks. The Tenth Planet deserves a lot more recognition than it gets and that final moment deserves to be at the top of my favourite cliff-hangers!
So there we have it, my favourite cliff-hangers from the whole series. It might come as a surprise that there aren’t any more Modern series moments on this list. But I find that so many of them have copout moments in the concluding episode that it steals from the moment in the first place. I’ve always loved the Classic series and I think it has some of the greatest moments in the show’s entire history. And its cliff-hangers are just superb.
In the future, I might write a feature of my least favourite cliff-hangers which should be interesting. Looking at my list I’m compiling now, there certainly are moments which will no doubt shock some! But remember that these are my preferences and I respect everyone else’s opinions, of which I’m sure you all have your own.
Feel free to tell us your favourite cliff-hangers either in the comments below or on the social media links!
The cat who walks alone
I don’t really enjoy the process of declaring my big birthdays (although my work colleagues, unfortunately, have thought otherwise much to my embarrassment) but Colin Baker celebrated his 75th birthday a couple of months ago so I have to say hip-hip hooray for making it thus far and many more years to follow. I saw him at a DWAS (Doctor Who Appreciation Society) event a couple of years ago when there was an unveiling of a blue plaque for Jon Pertwee and he is always an enthusiastic ambassador for the show despite the fact he got treated very shabbily for his original TV run. Looking at the 6th Doctor era I realise that I have hardly ever gone back to this doctor since I stopped watching videotapes. Season 22 wasn’t preserved on my VHS tapes and I never really felt a need to go back to the era until recently. Why? It’s difficult to pinpoint just one thing.
Is it that he was such a deliberately physical and character contrast to Peter Davison’s doctor? Peter represents when I became a super fan as opposed to just enjoying the programme with Tom Baker. The 5th doctor was a sensitive, curious, genial (young-looking) scientist interested in fair play, cricket and had the air of an Edwardian. He became conflicted if he had to consider the responsibility of an immoral act such as killing Davros. The 6th doctor, however, was different, a volatile character right from the start: He wasn’t entirely predictable, He dressed completely bizarrely, Pompous and boastful he had a manner prone to sarcasm. His era was characterised by a Doctor more than willing to get stuck in physically, criticised for its ‘violence’ and he was the doctor that went on hiatus. It felt time that I should confront my mindset about the 6th Doctor and reassess his era again.
A characteristic of this doctor is he is very much the explorer and I like that the 6th does actually travel in space and time taking Peri and Mel to different planets and locations and doing general discovering. This is part of the fun of the classic series for me. There isn’t an overemphasis on being on Earth which the Davison era indulged in a fair bit.
“I’m perfectly proud of the work I did- Colin Baker “
It takes a few episodes to warm to his Doctor, but you can see Colin Baker working really hard. He leads from the front and I don’t think lets up on his energy at all through his time. What has really surprised me rewatching the 6th Doctor is that Colin Baker is a good actor especially in the earlier stories, far better than Sylvester McCoy in my opinion if we are only comparing their first seasons.
Eric Saward has said on the DVD special features that the series always came out of drama not the children’s department, that he admired the stories under Philip Hinchcliffe and that he wanted stories to be darker. This is mostly done in two ways with the personality of the doctor being more alien and the use of more graphic blood and horror in Colin Baker’s first series especially in “Attack of the Cybermen” and “Vengeance on Varos”. Colin’s Bakers first full season didn’t do poorly in the ratings which were roughly around the 7 million viewers mark despite the ‘violence’ complained about from moral guardians such as Mary Whitehouse. Is the violence unsuitable for the show? Personally, I think it’s okay. Here’s why.
Season 22 offers a timely issue driven set of stories exploring different dystopias. Nodding discreetly at the themes of the George Orwell book 1984 the season is about rallying against violence, dictators and the suppression of the strong individual. The horrific conversion of Natasha’s father into a Dalek surely highlights the ultimate conquest of the individual by the Daleks. The Great Healer then tops it by making dead people into protein food! “Vengeance on Varos” has a strong anti-violence message which went unnoticed. To show the violence as people enjoying torture for its own sake in a Big Brother-style event and to fight against it is surely the point. The killing of Shockeye in ‘The Two Doctors’ by the Doctor, with arsenic, whilst unexpected, seems somewhat deserved if you consider Shockeye killed Oscar in cold blood. He would have also killed Peri or Jamie without a qualm. The violence is for the most part in context to the story although I would agree with comments from the Doctor such as “Forgive me if I don’t join you’ after the acid bath in ‘Vengeance’ or after the death of Shockeye the ‘just desserts’ comment is probably a callous note too far. But it presents for a more challenging Doctor that contrasts with the 5th Doctor’s hesitation.
The doctor’s personality – Modern and old parallels?
The thing is the character of the Doctor, like fashion trends, does go in cycles. In many ways, the arrogance of the 6th Doctor mirrors the haughtiness of the 1st Doctor before being with Ian and Barbara softened him. The 1st had that self-important attitude in the first few stories considering the Timelords a mite more advanced, than the infant in timescale, the human race, just starting out (from the primordial swamp) on the journey of crawling towards the stars. If I were to find a modern parallel, the Peter Capaldi era probably bears the most similarity with Colin Baker’s. Both Colin and Peter followed the youngest Doctors of their eras and they were both coincidentally actors who first appeared in Doctor Who playing secondary characters who then became the Doctor. Colin Baker played Head of the Gallifreyian Guard Maxil in ‘Arc of Infinity’ and Peter Capaldi played Caecilius in ‘The Fires of Pompei’. The prospect of following the youngest actor does seem to have meant both times that there was a shift to a less ‘cuddly’ persona. Colin Baker joked that he shot the previous incumbent (Peter Davison) to be able to take his role!
The 6th and the 12th have shared characteristics in that they both played Doctors with a rather acid humour initially unlikable, who were designed to get softer as they went on. Capaldi’s Doctor by his third series had gone through a character arc to become a much less alien persona from the one who started, a man more knowledgeable, more at ease with himself from the ‘am I a good man angst’ of his first series It was a flawed journey admittedly for the actor, due to poor writing flip-flopping his doctor from series to series but eventually he settled down. The 6th Doctor doesn’t feel to me like he reached his full potential on TV. Whilst he isn’t the shortest running Doctor on television (that is the eight Doctor now) he only did twelve stories which seem hardly anything nowadays and it’s not enough time in classic Who to see a complete character arc.
Any dream will do?
The appetite for a more alien doctor was probably there and a brave idea, however, it was poorly executed with some decisions within the production team which don’t make sense to me. The most obvious is that awful garish multi-coloured coat which seems like a big pointy arrow above Colin Baker’s head yelling ‘don’t even bother to take the show seriously anymore ‘. In my head every time I see the coat it morphs into Jason Donovan, he of Joseph and Neighbours fame, who breaks into ‘Any Dream Will Do’ song moment. Do you visualise that as well? Maybe it is only me. It detracts and distracts from the main actor’s performance. I know it was the 1980’s, the era of leg warmers and parachute pants but that John Nathan Turner desired that multi-decorated monstrosity and deliberately had it made the worst design it could be is a little unforgivable really.
Forgive me if I don’t join you
I understand the coat is probably a representation of the 6th Doctor’s boisterous personality but I do rather wish they had kept the blue cape worn in ‘Revelation. Daleks’ or used Colin Baker’s preferred black velvet suggestion.
Be my best friend?
Another decision I do question, which is probably going to make me unpopular but was Peri really the right companion for the 6th? This is definitely nothing against the actress Nicola Bryant but more about the characterisation of Peri. The 6th’s brash personality seems to foster bickering and the antagonistic nature of the exchanges between Peri and the 6th Doctor became so tiresome in their first season. The 6th doctor can be arrogant and pompous but having Peri constantly snipping at him cynically just doesn’t add anything to the stories. The relationship felt unstable, not always a comfortable one. I understand why it was written that way as Peri had to try to keep him grounded but as a viewer, it’s not really enjoyable or entertaining to watch them arguing.
Peri, it feels doesn’t always enjoy her adventures and I did wonder why she didn’t just stay on Earth after ‘Attack of the Cybermen’. She seemed to work better with the 5th Doctor where he felt a more protective connection to her. Peri and the 6th Doctor’s relationship really doesn’t improve until ‘The Mysterious Planet’ and Peri leaves in the next story ‘Mindwarp’. In ‘Mindwarp’ the doctor was shown to turn on a captive tied Peri, partially affected by Crozier’s mind probe and is pulled then away by the Timelords before he can make any amends and save her which adds a slightly bitter end to their friendship.
Introducing Mel in “Terror of the Vervoids” gives a refreshingly different dynamic that I do enjoy. The Doctor seems much more relaxed in himself, content to just be travelling. Bonnie Langford was yet to grow into a naturalistic’ actor and she is quite theatrical let’s be honest. Too exaggerated for television. But despite all her highly vocal ‘screamer’ credentials she brings with Mel an inquisitiveness that works really well with the 6th Doctor’s natural curiosity. Mel brings a positiveness just lost with Peri and it’s a shame she doesn’t get more time for us to understand who she is with this Doctor. This is one of the weaknesses of Colin Baker’s era that the companions are underdeveloped. This is really redeemed in Sylvester McCoy’s era with Ace as we get a much more thought out deliberately well-rounded person.
Scheduled to fail?
Looking at the 6th Doctor’s personality there is nothing to say a regeneration has to be easy and I liked ‘The Twin Dilemma ‘ as a concept. The initial sharpness of his character which brings back the alienness after the charming and amiable 5th Doctor is refreshing. But where the 6th Doctor is written as almost psychotic trying to strangle Peri feels like a misstep. Perhaps the mistake is then compounded to allow that forcefulness of his character to go on past the first story. It doesn’t give the viewers a character back, by the end of that story, that they know and recognise. Hindsight is a great thing and if the production team could go back they would probably change the decision to have the Twin Dilemma at the end of the 21st season. The Twin Dilemma came’ straight after one of the best-regarded stories by fans ‘The Caves of Androzani’ and let’s be honest the ‘monsters’ are poorly realised as a design (giant slugs who look a bit hokey in design). As the 21st season closed it left a lasting initial impression of this Doctor and viewers had to wait ten months for the next series to see the character again where he was still arguing with his companion.
“What precisely do you do in there?” “Argue, mainly.”
The 22nd season was overshadowed by Michael Grade’s decision to cancel the series. Due to public outrage, this was then changed to putting the series on hiatus for 18 months but at that time, I think as fans we were all stunned. The potential was there for good stories with new interesting villains, Sil, the Borad, the Rani, Mentors and we had the twist of a sharper alien doctor but the production values, unfortunately, didn’t match the advances in media technology. Micheal Grade recently appointed new BBC1 controller, despised science fiction generally and the show saying that it was ‘awful, outdated and a show for ‘a few pointy-head Doctor Who fans’. The show made the most of location filming, but the studio work suffered a general feature of 1980’s Who which was bright lighting and static set-ups and it did look cheap at times.
Michael Grade acknowledges he wanted to kill the show off at the time. He had cancelled John Christopher’s Tripods production and had tried to cancel Blackadder after its first season when the viewing figures were low as he had very definite ideas of what he wanted to spend BBC money on in what was a financial crisis for the Corporation. EastEnders had just started and was a huge commission of episodes to produce. Michael Grade also felt the money, which came out of the drama budget, could be better spent on other productions. Many reasons were given why the show needed to be cancelled. The move to a mid-week slot and 45-minute episodes hadn’t worked, it was as a show too violent, the production team had stopped striving for excellence etc. Not all true in my opinion.
Was the series showing a lack of imagination after twenty-two years? Maybe relying on the show’s past glories with stories covering Cyberman and Daleks, old doctors and companions could be seen as weak writing as the series wasn’t catering for new or casual viewers. Attack of the Cybermen is probably the worst example of being for the fans requiring some understanding of what occurred on Telos in ‘Tomb of the Cybermen ‘twenty odd years previously. As a fan, I enjoyed the references to the past even if the script is a meandering hotchpotch of separate storylines which take ages to come together but for the less invested viewer, I could see how it could be a turnoff.
By the 23rd season where you could see shoots of a warmer Doctor emerging it was too little too late for the career of the show for reasons that were mostly political than due to the performance of the main actor. The hiatus had happened leaving a bad taste in the mouth. Eric Saward and John Nathan Turner also fell out behind the scenes. Eric Saward hadn’t agreed with Colin Baker being made the new Doctor or the look of the doctor and it has been suggested maybe took out his frustrations through the writing making the series violent. Perhaps a fresh approach, with a new team, should have been ushered in but the show wasn’t being supported by BBC management. The 23rd season was cut back to 14 x 25 minutes episodes and the format of a trial was a little too close to real life events and quite risky. It is a series that gives me mixed feelings. There are definitely parts to enjoy in Trial of a Timelord but it was clearly beset by problems at times with changes in the writing style making it feel inconsistent. The Valeyard is written as a pantomime villain on a par with the Master although Micheal Jayston adds as much menace as he can muster. Some of the court scenes at times with the Doctor calling the Valeyard ‘the Stackyard, the Brickyard’ seem so juvenile and underdeveloped that it pulls the concept of what should be the battle of equally matched rivals down a deep hole and never really recovers.
Terror of the Vervoids is a perfectly serviceable story although the logic of the Doctor improving is a little odd when he is seen to consider genocide as a solution. The finale of ‘The Ultimate Foe’ had to be quickly re-written by Pip and Jane Baker, as Robert Holmes died and his final segment was unfinished. Eric Saward had had enough and quit Doctor Who refusing to share what he had written. I have to be honest the ending written doesn’t do anything for me. The fairground atmosphere and a gigantic machine to defuse at the end of an epic 14-episode story is such an anti-climax and poor payoff for the dedicated viewer who sat through every episode. Colin Baker couldn’t save a hastily written conclusion even with his usual energetic performance. Every doctor has a moment that defines his character i.e. Tom Baker has his ‘do I have the right’ moment in Genesis, the 1st has his speech after Susan leaves in ‘Dalek Invasion. Colin Baker’s doctor due to his forced departure never gets his moment. His deserved moment I mean (not being only remembered for trying to strangle his companion) Although I enjoy the speech in ‘The Ultimate Foe’ when the Doctor discovers the secrets around Ravalox and rails against the Timelords as nothing happens to them as punishment it becomes a missed opportunity for any plot development going forward. It is meant to be the revelation of the series alongside the identity of the Valeyard but doesn’t really work. Peri was given a happy ending and Colin Baker was removed leaving a clean slate.
Reviewing the sixth doctor’s era has been more enjoyable than I thought it would be, despite the flaws. His era came at a time when the show was under scrutiny from management and one can only imagine how he might have been developed further but for the forced decision to get rid of him. He will always be the Doctor who went on hiatus on TV and never came back for his regeneration. I must admit I never was quite sure if I liked his performance on the first transmission but sometimes these things grow on you. If you choose to dismiss the Sixth Doctor you are missing out on watching an interesting performance. He is a challenge to like at times but never boring. I really appreciate Colin Baker a lot more as the 6th Doctor now than I ever did. His era isn’t perfect by any means but as the Doctor, he really gives his all to the programme which is all you can really ask for.
Mark Donaldson finds Sydney Newman’s vision of Doctor Who harnessed to great effect in the latest volume of Big Finish’s The First Doctor Adventures.
Once David Bradley was canonised, Hurndall-like, as the modern version of the First Doctor in Twice Upon a Time, the first volume of a new set of adventures appeared online minutes after Jodie Whittaker fell towards Sheffield. The First Doctor Adventures was an interesting experiment slightly let down by an inauthentic feeling appearance by a new, earlier incarnation of the Master revealed to us as if we’ve known the character for 47 years rather than meeting him for the very first time.
Aside from an allusion to a beautiful bit of poetry penned by Russell T Davies, The First Doctor Adventures Volume 2 strives for tone and authenticity rather than references to the show’s future, harking back to a time when, perhaps, Doctor Who was at its most odd, inventive and indeed, brutal.
The first story, John Dorney’s The Invention of Death is exactly the sort of grounded-in-reality sci-fi story Newman wanted the show to achieve, whilst also featuring the most out-there alien culture since The Web Planet (Which, given the chronology, hasn’t happened yet).
Following a rather lengthy TARDIS scene which feels more at home in the Colin Baker era, the TARDIS materialises on the planet of Ashtallah where the Doctor and his friends encounter a race of androgynous, unicellular amoebas. These strange lifeforms, potentially difficult to realise with modern CGI, let alone a 1960s BBC budget exemplify where Big Finish’s strengths lie. The audio medium allows them to create such strange, strange creatures and Dorney really unleashes his imagination here. Due to their unique biology, the Ashtallans do not fear death and spend their lives in idle play and one of their games proves dangerous for a member of the TARDIS team in a particularly grizzly cliffhanger. There are two outliers, Sharlan and Brenna, who have evolved beyond this idleness and instead embrace science and discovery, a historic moment which provides a sublimely Doctorish moment of wonder played to perfection by David Bradley. He sometimes struggles to capture the First Doctor’s more mischievous side but does a terrific job of conveying his scientific and inquisitive nature, strengths which are called upon throughout this adventure.
The Invention of Death, therefore, is about scientific discovery and of the price paid in pursuit of progress. It is a story that talks about genetics and debates big existentialist ideas such as the purpose of death. If this had aired in the 1960s, you could imagine it inspiring formative and educational discussions between parents and children about loss and bereavement. Although, a Saturday teatime slot may have denied us the hilarious and wonderful scene of Ian and Barbara giving Sharlan and Brenna a crash course in sex education, which would have been a great shame indeed.
The other key aspect of Newman’s original vision of Doctor Who was the historical adventure serial and, on the surface, Andrew Smith’s The Barbarians and the Samurai seems like it sits alongside such classics as The Aztecs or Marco Polo. Separated from the TARDIS and each other in a country that forbids Westerners, the Doctor and Barbara are captured and held prisoner by the local daimyo, who is plotting a power grab with his mysterious red samurai. Ian and Susan, meanwhile, are rescued by a local peasant who’s rather handy with a sword.
And yet, exciting as Japan in the seclusionist Tokugawa period is, there is a sense that Smith’s script is ticking off various tropes associated with the 60s historical; Barbara delivers reams of expository historical facts? Check. The Doctor survives by ingratiating himself into the court? Check. Ian is called upon to dress in local garb and have a bit of a scrap? Check. Barbara is forced to put up with sexually threatening advances? Check. Ultimately, the only new thing about this historical story is the setting. Which is no criticism, feudal Japan allows for some quite extraordinary set pieces which will certainly blow the cobwebs out on your morning commute. The daring raid on an arms shipment and the climactic battle sequences are realised in a way that evokes not only 1960s Doctor Who but a Loose Cannon reconstruction of a lost classic.
Of course, it’s impossible to fully recreate the Hartnell era for obvious reasons, The First Doctor Adventures is an approximation which, for the most part, succeeds. It’s churlish to point out that the actors were originally cast as the actors playing Ian, Barbara, Susan and Dr Who rather than the other way around, but it works because those actors had to inhabit these fictional characters too. David Bradley and Jamie Glover perfectly capture the mutual, if slightly grudging, respect that the Doctor and Ian have for each other whilst Glover and Jemma Powell capture the tender friendship between Ian and Barbara even if it is written more as a will-they-won’t-they romance in The Invention of Death than it ever was in the show itself.
Overall, this is an entertaining boxed set which evokes what was so unique and captivating about those early years of the show. It’s impossible to get William Hartnell, Carole Ann Ford, William Russell and Jacqueline Hill into a recording studio together to relive their glory days, but with a cast as talented and up to the task as this and scripts that provide a fresh spin on an old format like The Invention of Death, then it’s good to know that the First Doctor’s future is in safe hands.
It can’t be easy to be Doctor Who Magazine. The 21st-century incarnation of the show is 13 years old, which means that there’s a whole new generation to cater to alongside its core audience of fans of a certain age. It’s why we now have regular features on cosplay (keep an eye out for next month’s Pigbin Josh tutorial) and it’s also why the Time Team has regenerated. For the uninitiated, the Time Team were a group of fans who rewatched Doctor Who from the beginning, providing DWM readers with a running commentary. The most recent iteration of the format finds a group of “new” fans with an average age of 22 watching selected episodes of the show linked together by a theme. In a recent issue (DWM 527) the theme was “Gallifrey” with The War Games Part Ten, The Deadly Assassin Part One and Hell Bent on offer.
Of the three episodes, The Deadly Assassin Part One received the most criticism. Whilst in recent years it has become beloved, named by David Tennant as his favourite classic story and narrowly avoiding a spot in the Top 20 stories of all time, it can’t be easy to be The Deadly Assassin. Robert Holmes’ 1976 story has had a controversial history. The infamous drowning Doctor cliffhanger attracted the attention of Mary Whitehouse and eventually led to executive producer Philip Hinchcliffe being replaced by Graham Williams on the following series. The serial also attracted the ire of Doctor Who Appreciation Society president Jan Vincent-Rudzki, who pored over the story’s canonical inconsistencies in forensic detail. The manner of Vincent-Rudzki’s review is reminiscent of the sort of furiously pernickety YouTube videos from the likes of CinemaSins.
For example, he points out that “Elgin said that premonition does not exist. Yet the Doctor had them in ‘Time Monster’, ‘Frontier In Space’, ‘Evil of The Daleks’ and ‘War Machines’.” Some of his points do chime with the thoughts of the youthful DWM Time Team 42 years later. Both he and professional David Tennant impersonator Jacob Dudman find the 70s Time Lords to be dull and uninteresting when compared to the all-powerful omnipotence of The War Games.
One of the few things that didn’t upset Vincent-Rudzki about The Deadly Assassin was the lack of female characters identified by the Time Team. A point that Steve Buscemi gif made flesh, Benjamin Cook identifies as a dubious honour shared with 1965’s Mission to the Unknown. Whilst it’s more problematic for Terry Nation’s futuristic Dalek Cut-Away not to feature any powerful female representatives of the seven galaxies, the lack of women in Holmes’ Gallifrey set political thriller is sort of the point.
Influenced by Richard Condon’s novel The Manchurian Candidate which, incidentally, features the complex female character of political manipulator Mrs Iselin (played by Angela Lansbury in the John Frankenheimer movie of 1962), The Deadly Assassin has no roles for women. It’s not helped by the fact that this is the only story in the 1963-1989 run where the Doctor travels solo. That being said, if Sarah Jane had stayed on then The Deadly Assassin would probably never have existed given that it was written to prove to Tom Baker he couldn’t carry the show alone.
Whilst Holmes is on record as finding inspiration from the outdated structures of academia (which was hardly a bastion of prominent progressive gender roles in the 70s either) in how he realised the Time Lords, there is a sense that the political situation in the UK was also a factor. In March of that year, much like the Lord President of Gallifrey, Prime Minister Harold Wilson had resigned. This occurred soon after his re-election with an incredibly slim majority of three MPs. What followed, dramatized in James Graham’s terrific play This House, was the beginning of two and a half years of hard-fought battles to vote bills through parliament. The succeeding Prime Minister Jim Callaghan’s former private secretary Lord McNally refers to this period as a “state of permanent crisis”, or as Robert Holmes once wrote, perhaps it was the “most dangerous crisis in their long history”.
The situation would worsen over the years, with ill and infirm party members being drafted in to participate in crucial votes. Within this landscape, it’s tempting to view the Panopticon and the various Time Lord chapters as an allegory for Westminster or the House of Lords. The reporter, the old boy’s network, the chapters (colleges) as indicators of status seem as outdated and over the top as the braying mobs at Prime Minister’s Questions or the pomp and circumstance of the opening of parliament.
Which brings us back to the issue of the lack of female characters. In the October 1974 election, a total of 27 female MPs were elected to parliament, representing 4.3% of the House, a number which, admittedly, is still higher than the overall cast of The Deadly Assassin. The Labour government had one female MP in their cabinet and the Conservative party was led by Margaret Thatcher with only one other female MP in her initial cabinet, Sally Oppenheim, shadow secretary for prices and consumer protection. Two women in political positions and the other in one of politics’ most prominent roles. One small step for diversity, but the giant leap is still a decade or two away. Indeed, on the Doctor’s home planet, we have to wait until 1983 before Chancellor Flavia takes the reins of Time Lord government, paving the way for President Romana in various spin-off fiction.
Given that, it’s not surprising that Holmes’ view of Gallifrey is of a crumbling patriarchal society in need of a good shake-up. Whilst it’s almost certainly not an endorsement of either Thatcher or feminism (you need female characters to do that), it is railing against a situation which is very much the making of, predominantly, old white men.
The story Holmes is telling is of a once grand institution which has become riddled with corruption and general malaise. The United Kingdom itself was in a similar situation, facing financial rather than the moral bankruptcy of the Master, with inflation at 20% and a commitment to cuts in public spending following a $4bn loan from the International Monetary Fund. The days of Britain as a superior imperial power were long gone and perhaps Holmes sees the once omnipotent Time Lords, now reduced to idleness, ancient tradition and a need to mythologise their past as a metaphor for the United Kingdom in the 1970s. In Brexit Britain, The Deadly Assassin is perhaps as relevant as it has ever been.
All of which is rather a long-winded way to appeal for a bit more context when approaching classic Doctor Who. Doctor Who on Twitch was an absolute blast and proved that there is very much life in the old dog yet with which to appeal to the woke online streaming generation.
Whilst the observation about a lack of female characters is a legitimate and pertinent reaction to the story, a lot of the Time Team’s responses felt incredibly superficial. Sure, the feature is supposed to capture gut reactions to Doctor Who and you shouldn’t need to spend your increasingly rare free time researching 1970s British politics to enjoy an episode. However, the beststories contain thematic heft underneath the surface which is why we have so many excellent podcasts, academic essays and indeed, Doctor Who Magazine itself to revisit these adventures.
There’s more to watching The Deadly Assassin than guessing what Hogwarts house the Doctor would be sorted into, categorically stating that the 1970s Time Lords are dull, as if that isn’t the whole point, or bemoaning that it contradicts what has gone before. In that regard, it’s comforting in these difficult times of venomous reactions to a Christel Dee convention appearance that the fans of 1976 and 2018 often have more in common than they realise. And there will always be some idiot who rises to the bait and writes over a thousand words on why they’re both wrong. Ain’t fandom great?
Welcome to Episode 198…
The DWAS to honour William Hartnell, series 11 wraps filming and a quick update on the BBC court case to sniff out the mole who leaked a series 11 clip a few weeks back.
New Doctor Who Magazine Special – The World of Doctor Who, we’re getting Fourth Doctor stories at Big Finish until at least 2021 and the full soundtrack to The Five Doctors is up for pre-order.
Often viewed as a poor story in series 1 of Torchwood, how do we view this “Lanto in love with a part converted woman” episode written by our now Who showrunner Chris Chibnall? Happy smiles or floods of tears?
Thank you for joining us for 198. It’s the Eleventh Doctor’s turn next week with Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS. Have a great week and until next time – Allons-y!