Last night, Jane & I clicked on to BBC to watch the Doctor Who documentary, Doctor Who – the Ultimate Guide. It was a great way to spend the evening, going through the Doctors and Companions that were part of my growing up. The re-boot has captured a new, younger legion of fans, and that may explain the Doctor Who related polls that constantly put new series Doctors & Companions in the top 5 lists and so on. To me, it’s a mystery that the current crop – I think with the exception of David Tennant – are favoured over “classic” Doctor Who, but times move on. New Whovians who have been watching the last few years will – like me (and people of my age) – have THEIR Doctor. So, to many David Tennant will be hard to beat. Same goes with Companions, with Rose coming out on top.
I’ve enjoyed the re-boot, with some of it coming as a surprise. Billie Piper didn’t fill me with anticipation when she landed the part of Rose, but she was indeed a very pleasant surprise as the Doctor’s companion. It helped that she was alongside 2 great Doctors. Chris Eccleston was excellent, but David Tennant was even better. Piper had a good chemistry with them both, and the scene in which Rose left the Doctor was a real tear-jerker. What was a huge surprise was Catherine Tate, aka Donna Noble. I wasn’t a fan of Tate’s show, and almost dreaded her time with the Doctor, but it was excellent. There was no romantic link between the Doctor and Donna, as it should be with Doctor Who. The companion is there to represent us. We want them to be asking the Doctor the questions we would ask. For me, its still the best partnership of the re-boot. Unfortunately, Matt Smith has been a bit disappointing for me, and I never took to Karen Gillan. Hers (and Arthur Darville, who I liked as Rory) was another lump-in-the-throat moment.
But “my” Doctor was Tom Baker. As a child in the 70s, Doctor Who was a huge part of my life. Saturday evening was a really high point of the week when a new episode of the Doctor appeared on our screens. The format was a good one – a short episode with a cliff hanger as part of a 4 or 6 part story. Modern attention spans seem to demand a much quicker, snappier delivery of stories, but not much beats the format of the original series. Jon Pertwee was a great Doctor (in my top 3 with Baker & Tennant) but it was the quirky portrayal of the Doctor by Tom Baker that did it for me. He was superbly partnered by the wonderful Lis Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith, and Ian Marter as Harry Sullivan. It was much simpler then. No complex back stories, as their has been with Clara. Just battling the bad guys, with Sarah Jane getting into danger, and the Doctor winning the day.
The Doctor was definitely portrayed as a character aloof from human existence, but a keen observer of it nonetheless. Despite his humanoid form, there was no doubting he was different from us, and as a result was much better placed to observe humanity. Tom Baker did it brilliantly, and with both humour and solemnity. It was Baker as the Doctor who appeared in what remain my favourite stories, although Blink and The Pandorica Opens of the new series are up there too. The story arc that began with the Ark in Space then finally ended with Revenge of the Cybermen (via The Sontaran Experiment) was for me a golden period for Doctor Who. Thrilling battles with the Doctor’s most bitter enemies. But it was a story in amongst those that will forever stand out for me – Genesis of the Daleks. The Daleks (and Cybermen) were an enemy that were decidedly frightening for a 6/7 year old. It was YEARS before they are now considered “cool” by younger viewers. Even when Baker & Lalla Ward’s Romana fought the Daleks on Skaro in Day of the Daleks, the impending appearance of the Daleks was still a scary moment – to an 11 year old!
Genesis of the Daleks explored the Doctor’s deeper thoughts and showed that he does indeed have a conscience. Sent to Skaro by the Time Lords to destroy the Daleks, it turned out he couldn’t do it. The Dalek’s survived, but so did the Doctor’s humanity. I’ve watched it (of course I’ve got it on DVD!) with the boys, and Daniel in particular loves it. But of course, its just a one-off story for them, and not a part of their childhood as it was for me. As a result, Sarah Jane Smith will always remain untouched as the Doctor’s finest companion. Lis Sladen’s untimely death makes her last scene with Tennant’s Doctor even more poignant. Given the chance to see the people he most cared for, the Doctor saw Sarah Jane one more time, and I think he realised he cared for her most. At least, I like to think so! It was such a sad moment to see it again.
Other Doctors and Companions have struck a chord with me – I did like Peter Davison, who, like Matt Smith, had the unenviable task of following in the footsteps of a great Doctor. On balance, I think Davison did a better job, but Matt Smith did eventually grow into the role. There have been dozens of companions, but while none will ever match Sarah Jane, there have been some noteables for me. Ian Marter accompanied Sarah Jane, and was excellent, as was Liz Shaw & Jo Grant. Tegan Jovanka was also a favourite in Tom Baker’s latter years as the Doctor.
This week has been an opportunity to wallow in some of the finest science fiction television has ever seen. Its British Sci-Fi’s finest hour, and its been wonderful to be reminded of what it meant to me as a child. The boys have slowly gotten into it, and they now have their favourite Doctors. Matthew is a Matt Smith boy, while Daniel is a David Tennant lad, but we’re all looking forward to Peter Capaldi taking the role. He’s what Doctor Who needs – an older Doctor who will act as a father figure to his companions. I hope he is portrayed once again as the aloof observer of humanity. I think now the boys are fully aware of the Doctor, Capaldi will become “their” Doctor. After 50 years of the greatest time traveller we’ve known, its good to know that the Doctor will be loved by a whole new generation.
Have a happy 50th Doctor!