Setting the Standard

Nov
22

Review of The Five Doctors (#129)
DVD Release Date: 05 Aug 08
Original Air Date: 25 Nov 1983
Doctors/Companions: Five, One, Two, Three, Four (cameo), Tegan, Turlough, Susan, the Brigadier, Sarah Jane, Romana II (cameo)
Stars: Peter Davison, Richard Hurndall, Patrick Troughton, Jon Pertwee, (Tom Baker), Janet Fielding, Mark Strickson, Carole Ann Ford, Nicholas Courtney, Elisabeth Sladen, (Lalla Ward)
Preceding Story: The King's Demons (Five, Tegan, Turlough, Kamelion)
Succeeding Story: Warriors of the Deep (Five, Tegan, Turlough)

With tomorrow's anniversary of the show's beginnings, I felt now would be an appropriate time to look back at a different celebration of its history. Though this year we mark fifty-four years since the show's inception, 1983 was merely twenty, and the Powers That Beeb decided they couldn't let such a large, round number go unnoticed.

Here in the post-fiftieth-anniversary era, we think of that celebration as having pulled out all the stops, but really, it was The Five Doctors that set the standard. And while, like Moffat, JNT didn't get everyone he wanted to participate, he nonetheless pulled together a remarkable cast, including—in a way—all five incarnations of the Doctor who had appeared up to that point.

While First Doctor William Hartnell had (just barely) managed perform a part in the tenth anniversary story The Three Doctors, he was already eight years dead by the time this next milestone rolled around. Rather than exclude his Doctor entirely, though, JNT simply recast Richard Hurndall in the role, much like David Bradley has taken over the same in the modern era. But much like Eccleston for the fiftieth, Tom Baker could not be convinced to reprise his own Fourth Doctor (reportedly because he thought it was too soon).

Undeterred, JNT simply used footage from the unaired story Shada (new release pending in January '18—watch this space for a review), and trapped Four and Companion Romana II in the time vortex, preventing them from joining the others in the adventure proper, without excluding them outright.

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Confession #116: I Dig the New TARDIS Team

Nov
08

In the past week or so, several (shall we say) less-than-awesome things have been making news in Whovian circles (e.g., Nicholas Pegg getting fired from DWM, the public revelation that someone well-known in the US con community is a sexual predator, and the death of Dudley Simpson). It made me glad I had some happier news to discuss here. Sometimes it pays to be late to the game...

I'm referring, of course, to the two-and-a-half-week-old news that there will once again be a crowded TARDIS when Thirteen begins her tenure at the controls. In a press release on the official website, the BBC announced that there would be three regular cast members accompanying the Doctor on her travels (as well as someone in a "returning [recurring] role").

Even putting aside the fact that I think a larger cast can make for more interesting character interactions, and thus better stories overall, I love the way that it recalls TARDIS crews of old. When we first met the Doctor fifty-odd years ago, he traveled with his granddaughter and two humans who eventually became friends; Susan, Ian, and Barbara remain one of my favorite TARDIS teams.

Similarly, I know a lot of folks who became fans during the Fifth Doctor's run. He, too, traveled with a posse (Nyssa, Tegan, and Adric). I can't help but think that reminding those fans of their favorite era by stuffing the TARDIS with a variety of friends for the Doctor might tempt them to give this new version of the show a try, even if they've been more reluctant of late.

Of course, as someone who has been wholeheartedly on board these past three seasons anyway, I'm probably not the right person to ask about how to bring back disgruntled older-era fans. Instead, I'm going to look ahead to the coming changes and celebrate them, because I think we've got some really exciting possibilities in the works.

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No Need to Gild the Orchid

Oct
25

Review of Black Orchid (#120)
DVD Release Date: 05 Aug 08
Original Air Date: 01 - 02 Mar 1982
Doctor/Companion: Five, Tegan Jovanka, Nyssa, Adric
Stars: Peter Davison, Janet Fielding, Sarah Sutton, Matthew Waterhouse
Preceding Story: The Visitation (Five, Tegan, Nyssa, Adric)
Succeeding Story: Earthshock (Five, Tegan, Nyssa, Adric)

It's time to throw a little love the Fifth Doctor's way, as he is currently the most under-represented (percentage-wise) in my reviews. And, since I was short on time, why not start with a nice, quick two-parter?

Besides its length, the other advantage of delving into Black Orchid is the fact that it is a "pure historical," one in which there are no science-fictional plot elements (aside from our heroes' presence outside their own time, and the brief use of the TARDIS to hop between locations). It is, in fact, the first pure historical since the Second Doctor's second outing in The Highlanders (more than fifteen years prior), and the last to be broadcast on TV to date.

However, some have suggested that new showrunner Chris Chibnall might bring back the pure historical (an idea I wholeheartedly support). Reviewing how such a story can work—and work well—is thus a fine exercise.

Our story begins when the TARDIS brings her crew back to Earth in June of 1925, where strange things are afoot at the Cranleigh family manor. As has often happened, the TARDIS crew walk in at just the right time for a case of mistaken identity to take hold, though this time there's a twist—not only is the Doctor taken to be the anticipated replacement cricketer, but Nyssa is the spitting image of Charles Cranleigh's fiancée Ann.

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Confession #115: I'm Considering Cutting Corners

Oct
11

My daughters have continued to expand their Doctor Who horizons in the past few months (we're currently on a Seven-and-Ace kick), which has led them to a broader awareness of my own fannish activities. The last time I mentioned some breaking guest news from Gallifrey One, for example, one of them pouted, "I really want to go to Gally..."

It dawned on me last weekend that although getting them to Gally with me is unlikely to prove financially feasible any time soon (flying roughly 2000 miles isn't cheap for one, let alone three or four—never mind the cost of lodging, food, and souvenirs), we have a local Doctor Who con (CONsole Room) where they could dip their toes into the experience.

So I wandered over to the CONsole Room site to see what the con might have in store for my girls, should we decide to go. At this early stage (we're still seven months out), there isn't a lot of detail to be had. However, there is a headliner who's been announced, and having seen her myself at Gally, I can vouch for her being a great guest: Neve McIntosh (a.k.a. Madame Vastra). I bet the girls would love her.

Except they currently have no idea who Vastra is.

Now I'm in a bit of a pickle. I have been trying hard not to force any viewing on my kids, because I want them to want to watch my favorite show, rather than to feel pressured into it, thereby enjoying it less. I've presented some options throughout the Classic/pre-Hiatus run, and let them choose among those curated offerings. My reasoning is sometimes peculiar, but so far they haven't come away disliking anything, even the more esoteric and oft-disparaged serials.

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A Series of Unfortunate Events

Sep
27

Review of The Ultimate Foe (#143d)
DVD Release Date: 10 Oct 08
Original Air Date: 29 Nov - 06 Dec 1986
Doctor/Companion: Six, Melanie "Mel" Bush
Stars: Colin Baker, Bonnie Langford
Preceding Story: Terror of the Vervoids (Six, Mel)
Succeeding Story: Time and the Rani (Seven, Mel)

The final (one might even say "ultimate") story of the Sixth Doctor's tenure was riddled with unfortunate circumstances. Perhaps most blatantly, writer Robert Holmes—widely considered one of the best of the Classic era, and the one who penned Episodes 1-4 of The Trial of a Time Lord (TToaTL)—took ill and died before completing Episode 13, forcing Script Editor Eric Saward to finish it off.

Making matters worse, BBC executives still weren't seeing eye-to-eye with the Doctor Who team. The show had been put "on hiatus" between Season 22 and TToaTL (Season 23), and things were not really looking up despite the renewal. With producer John Nathan-Turner (JNT) also at odds with his script editor, it's amazing anything ended up on screen at all.

Saward had agreed to write Episode 14 as well as finishing its predecessor, but things with JNT deteriorated enough that Saward eventually walked out, leaving JNT to do Saward's script editing job while Pip and Jane Baker, who had written Episodes 9-12, stepped in to complete the season. No matter how many notes a writer leaves, no other writer can produce something that looks just like what the original creator had in their head. And to be blunt, Pip and Jane Baker are no Robert Holmes. The resulting episode is uninspiring at best.

When one adds in all this context regarding the production to the retrospective knowledge that Colin Baker would be forced out of the lead role before the next season, the overall effect while watching The Ultimate Foe is like of standing outside Pompeii with the TARDIS on Volcano Day. One feels pity for the poor souls trapped in this hopeless situation, knowing just how it ends and that you can do nothing to save them—and that doesn't make it any prettier to watch.

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