Beginning of the End

Nov
23

Review of Destiny of the Daleks (#104)
DVD Release Date: 04 Mar 08
Original Air Date: 01 - 22 Sep 1979
Doctor/Companion: Four, Romana II
Stars: Tom Baker, Lalla Ward
Preceding Story: The Armageddon Factor (Four, Romana I, K-9)
Succeeding Story: City of Death (Four, Romana II)

By the time Season 17 rolled around in late 1979, Tom Baker had been in the role of the Doctor for nearly five years and was beginning his sixth and penultimate season. His Companion Romana, having been shunted back into the more traditional "either scream or listen attentively as the Doctor talks" role from the "intellectual equal and foil to the Doctor" originally advertised, lost her appeal for actress Mary Tamm. The production team apparently felt there was still plenty of story left in the character, though, as they decided to make use of the fact that Romana is a Time Lord (or Time Lady, depending on who is speaking and when) to allow her to stay on with a different actress in the role.

Thus we open the season with one of the most famous scenes in Lalla Ward's on-screen stint as Romana (usually referred to as Romana II, to distinguish her from Tamm's depiction, Romana I): her regeneration. Contrary to the way we have always seen the Doctor regenerate—only under duress/when his current body gives up, and with no choice in the outcome—Romana has apparently decided to regenerate for kicks and grins, trying on new bodies much as the Doctor tried out harlequin or Viking outfits. Thus the writers lampshade the fact that yes, we just saw Lalla Ward as a different character at the end of last season; she's Romana now.

For the time being, Baker still appears to enjoy the role, perhaps not least because the adventure involves not only the Daleks but also Davros, a character introduced to the canon during his first season (in a story that's now widely considered among the best ever). It certainly also had to help that he and his new costar were attracted to each other (Baker and Ward were famously involved, though their actual marriage lasted only sixteen months); going to work every day with your honey has to put an extra spring in your step (at least until one or both of you start finding the scripts regrettable...).

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Confession #106: I'm at a Loss

Nov
10

I had something else planned for this Confession, but in the days leading up to the US Presidential election, all thoughts of blogging left my head, and now that potential post no longer feels like the right thing to post today.

So I guess what I have to say instead is only peripherally related to Doctor Who. I like to think that the Doctor stands for equality and justice for all people, no matter their color, religion, species, or other identity. I like to think that he calls us to do the same, inspired by his example—including when he messes up.

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Operation Brain Candy

Oct
26

Review of The Ribos Operation (#98)
DVD Release Date: 03 Mar 09
Original Air Date: 02 - 23 Sep 1978
Doctor/Companion: Four, Romana I
Stars: Tom Baker, Mary Tamm
Preceding Story: The Invasion of Time (Four, Leela)
Succeeding Story: The Pirate Planet (Four, Romana I)

Of all of Tom Baker's season openers, I think The Ribos Operation has to be my favorite (though Terror of the Zygons is strong, too). There are any number of details that contribute to my affection for this particular story, and I'll try to outline some of them below, but it probably doesn't hurt that it's the first installment of a series-long arc—the first ever.

Having cut my Whovian teeth on the modern era, a full series story arc seemed natural to me in my early fandom days. I knew when I started watching pre-Hiatus/Classic Who that the traditional style was serialized one-offs, so it's not that I found that format unusual or off-putting. However, when I got to Season 16 (also collectively known as The Key to Time), the familiarity of a longer arc felt comfortable and made it easy for me to settle in for the long haul.

The early minutes of the first episode are thus necessarily spent setting up the whole season. We are introduced to the White Guardian, who takes the Doctor and his TARDIS out of time and charges him with recovering the six segments of the Key to Time in order to restore order to the universe. We also meet the new "assistant" with whom said Guardian has saddled the Doctor: Romanadvoratrelundar. This young (though mature, at "nearly 140") Time Lady is quickly established as the intellectual equal (if not superior) of the Doctor, having graduated with a "triple first" from the Time Lord Academy (and looking down her nose at the Doctor for "scraping through with 51% at the second attempt").

In contrast, the Doctor's vastly more extensive experience proves to give him the advantage over his rather naïve new Companion. While she can analyze a situation based on surface evidence, he knows how to sniff out duplicity and when to trust his gut. Unfortunately, this sets the stage for Romana to be something of a dupe, but her overall charm and poise keep her from falling completely into "bumbling sidekick" territory.

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Confession #105: I Don't Believe in Looming

Oct
12

Recently I stumbled across some old episodes of the TV show "Who Do You Think You Are?" Here in the US, the show has been running for eight seasons; the UK original is going on thirteen. Among the celebrities who have traced their roots on the UK version are David Tennant and several other actors associated with the program in one way or another (e.g., John Hurt, Mark Gatiss).

When I got to the US episode on actress Ashley Judd, I was startled to discover that she and I share a 10-great grandfather (making us 11th cousins). That triggered my genealogy bug again, and for the last few days I've been poking around to see if there are any new records to be found online since last I looked.

This was all in the back of my head, then, when I sat down to think about what to blog about next. Was there a way to bring genealogy into a discussion of the Whoniverse (spoiler: there's always a way)? Having discarded ideas about discussing characters like Kate Stewart (daughter of Brigadier Alastair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart) or our favorite UNIT scientist Osgood (some relation to the UNIT sergeant of the same surname?), I decided to focus on the Doctor himself.

Enter looming. For those of you who may not have read (or possibly even heard of) the Virgin New Adventures (NA) series of novels, these books continued the Seventh Doctor's story after the final televised adventure Survival. Two of these novels (Cat's Cradle: Time's Crucible and Lungbarrow) included revelations about Time Lord history and how their biology was altered so that they could not reproduce sexually. Instead, new Time Lords are "loomed," or reproduced on special bio-engineering machines from extant genetic material, and "born" as adults.

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An Air of Casual Horror

Sep
28

Review of Horror of Fang Rock (#92)
DVD Release Date: 04 May 10
Original Air Date: 03 - 24 Sep 1977
Doctor/Companion: Four, Leela
Stars: Tom Baker, Louise Jameson
Preceding Story: The Talons of Weng-Chiang (Four, Leela)
Succeeding Story: The Invisible Enemy (Four, Leela, K-9)

By the opening of his fourth season (Season 15), Tom Baker was well entrenched in his role as the Doctor. The Fourth Doctor's first two Companions (Sarah Jane Smith and Harry Sullivan) had left him nearly one and two years before, respectively (The Hand of Fear, Sarah Jane's final story, aired in October 1976; Harry left the TARDIS at the end of Terror of the Zygons in September 1975), and for the second half of Season 14 he had been traveling with his latest Companion Leela.

One could thus reasonably expect Horror of Fang Rock to be rather standard fare—par for the course, as it were. In some ways it is (it's got some quintessential Who-y elements), but it others it is superior (especially compared to the rest of the season, which has several unfortunately weak stories). I have not watched Fang Rock as often as many other serials, and I was pleasantly surprised at how much more enjoyable I found it than I'd remembered.

Of particular note was the relationship between the Doctor and Leela. It is commonly known that Baker was rather nasty to his co-star Louise Jameson while they were working together (though they have since smoothed things over, and I've heard Jameson herself say that they are great friends now); however, whatever was going on behind the scenes doesn't appear to have bled over onto the screen (at least not in a way that is out of character). Granted, there is still tension between the Doctor and Leela about her being a "savage," but it has become somewhat more of an old saw or inside joke between them. The characters obviously respect and depend on each other as well as caring about each other a great deal.

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