The Original Doctor is Back!

Our house is a house that loves its science fiction. I’ve enjoyed that
genre since I was old enough to watch TV and read books. Some of that I’ve
successfully passed on to my children as Daniel now loves Star Wars. He
enjoys the movies, and loves playing Lego Star Wars on the Wii. But for me,
my first – and enduring – sci-fi love was Doctor Who.

The re-boot of Doctor Who has been fantastic – so much so that David
Tennant is almost up there with Tom Baker as my favourite Doctor. But I
still pine for the original Doctor Who, which was a huge part of by
childhood cultural experiences. It was an exciting time with a movie-length
story being split into 4 to 6 parts. With each week ending with a
cliff-hanger, it really built up anticipation for the next week’s episode.

Tom Baker, the fourth Doctor, as I’ve said remains my favourite. He really
brought an unpredictable eccentricity to the role and made it his own. Jon
Pertwee – Jane’s favourite – was the first Doctor I can remember on TV,
although I’ve read plenty of books featuring the first two Doctors. I’ve
seen the odd story featuring Patrick Troughton, and of course the first
ever story broadcast was re-broadcast in full recently during the 50th
anniversary celebrations.

Imagine my delight last week when Jane discovered that original Doctor Who
was being broadcast on the Horror Channel! Two episodes a day from 8.50pm.
Its now where Sky+ HD is coming into its own, and all stories are now being
recorded to be watched – and re-watched – at leisure. Yes, the production
may not be as polished as the current Doctor Who is, but then that was part
of its charm. As a child, the Doctor’s enemies – particularly the Daleks,
Cybermen and Ice Warriors were terrifying. The Cybermen in particular were
frightening because the appeared human, but were most decidedly ice-cold
automatons. Current Cybermen just look like big robots to me, and are now
seen as being cool!

The stories are being broadcast out of sync – we started with a Patrick
Troughton story, which was immediately followed by a Jon Pertwee story.
That’s the most minor of grumbles though, although I’d love it if the
Horror Channel broadcast the Ark in Space/Sontaran Experiment/Genesis of
the Daleks/Revenge of the Cybermen story arc consecutively. They remain my
favourite Doctor Who stories. But it was wonderful to see Patrick Troughton
as the Doctor. Perhaps the very early Doctors are forgotten – it was 45+
years ago – so its easy to forget how good they were. Troughton’s Doctor
introduced us to legendary characters like Brigadier Alistair
Lethbridge-Stewart, while Jon Pertwee brought us Jo Grant and the greatest
companion of them all, Sarah-Jane Smith (and Harry Sullivan of course.)

This week has been great though. The Seeds of Death, featuring the Ice
Warriors, has been followed by The Daemons, featuring the wonderful Roger
Delgado as The Master. If you’ve become a fan of Doctor Who since its
re-boot, don’t pass up the opportunity to see where it all begain. Without
William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton, Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker, there
wouldn’t be a Doctor Who today. For me, the series record has been enabled,
and I’m going to fill my boots on the original Doctor.

Back to the Future with Doctor Who

The dust is settling on the brilliant The Day of the Doctor (https://theworldofneil.wordpress.com/2013/11/23/emotional-day-of-the-doctor/) where we were treated to a wonderful episode written purely for long term fans of the Doctor. Zygons, Daleks, Tom Baker, all 12 Doctors in their TARDIS rushing to save Gallifrey – it was for us, the fans. I’ve heard grumblings from on/off fans, or people tuning in just for the 50th anniversary episode that they couldn’t follow a lot of the references. That’s a shame but Steven Moffat shouldn’t feel in any way guilty about that. This was for the fans who have kept the show alive for 50 years. We were thanked for that support, and how!

But the Doctor, as always, moves on and we have the Christmas episode to look forward to. And what an episode it should prove to be. Some of Christmas shows have disappointed somewhat – the episode with Katherine Jenkins was quite poor in my opinion, but the trailer I saw yesterday had Daleks, Cybermen, The Silence AND Weeping Angels. It’s a recipe for thrills that should perk us all up on Christmas Day. The tag at the end of the trailer, Silence Will Fall is ominous. With John Hurt’s The War Doctor lining up with all the other Doctors at the end of The Day of the Doctor, we were tipped the wink that Peter Capaldi will be the 13th Doctor and that the regeneration mystery would be addressed. But what I’d completely forgotten was David Tennant used 2 regengerations – one of course to regenerate into Matt Smith – one of those being a regeneration to save himself in Journey’s End. So of course, with John Hurt being #9, Chris Ecclestone being #10, David Tennant being #11 and #12 that makes Matt Smith #13! Well Mr Moffat, your hand is forced! Naturally there will be a way round it as we know we’re getting Peter Capaldi next year. It will be interesting to see how Steven Moffat pulls it off, as he’d previously made it clear the Doctor would be limited to 12 regenerations.

Of course, Christmas will bring an end to the Matt Smith era. On balance, he’s been a fine Doctor, although for me his time as the Doctor was offset by Karen Gillan’s Amy Pond, who I didn’t take to at all. The introduction of Clara has been a godsend for me, and Matt Smith’s last few episodes have really come alive for me and reminded me what a good choice Matt was for the Doctor. He’s had some great times in the TARDIS, and really hit the high point for me with his performance in The Pandorica Opens. His on-screen chemistry with Alex Kingston was terrific, and I hope Peter Capaldi carries on the great relationship between the Doctor and River Song.

What does excite me is the prospect of a return to a more traditional relationship between the Doctor and his Companions. I wasn’t too happy with what Steven Moffat did with the relationship between the Doctor and Amy, and I suspect that Peter Capaldi’s Doctor will be more of a father figure to the head-strong Clara – Jenna-Louise Coleman has been excellent so far, and I hope she has a long journey with the Doctor. She’s got a huge responsibility along with the Doctor of course now, as its their task to locate Gallifrey and bring it and the Time Lords back into time. The scene is set for the start of the Doctor’s 51st year with the search for Gallifrey, and the prospect of the home of the Doctor being used as a setting for full episodes. Its been a long time since the Doctor has been home and he’s overdue at the Panopticon. The updated vision of Gallifrey was exciting and it will be great to see how the current writers visualise the Capitol. After The Day of the Doctor, I’m with Steven Moffat’s programme once again, and can’t wait to see his continuing vision of the Doctor’s future.

Emotional Day of the Doctor

For 40-odd years or so, I’ve loved Doctor Who. The build up to the 50th anniversary episode was mixed for me though. I’ve not liked some of the things Steven Moffat has done with the Doctor, so my excitement has been tinged with apprehension. But the last week has swept me along, and I was so excited about The Day of the Doctor. But, would Moffat do it justice? Well, I needn’t have worried.

The story was an excellent one, with a superb mix of the Zygons (from one of my favourite storied featuring the “Dream Team” of Tom Baker, Lis Sladen, Ian Marter and Nicholas Courtney) and the Daleks (it had to be.) Moffat’s re-visiting of the Time War was a masterstroke and again it demonstrated how the Doctor is better than us. He may be alien, but time and time again, he displays such humanity (refusing to commit genocide against the Daleks?) that we can only dream of being as human as the Doctor. Maybe it removed the thread of guilt that’s been running through the show since its reboot, but refusing to destroy the Time Lords gave us a beautiful scene.

David Tennant, Matt Smith & John Hurt put in absolutely magnificent performances. The mix of humour and drama was a balancing act brilliantly performed by Steven Moffat. There was brilliant chemistry between the three doctors, which was added to be a fine performance too from Jenna-Louise Colman. She reinforces the Doctor’s conscience and you knew he was going to do the right thing.

But what made tonight so special for me was the memories it evoked of Doctor Who for me. The scene with the Doctors returning to Gallifrey with all Doctors – along with an enticing appearance from Peter Capaldi – was the first moment that a lump began to develop in my throat. I have so loved all the Doctors I’ve known since a 4/5 year old first tuned in to Jon Pertwee’s Doctor.

Then Moffat pulls the masterstoke. With the Time War ended, and the Time Lords surviving, its down to the Doctor to bring Gallifrey back into time. But before Matt Smith goes off  on his final adventure, we were given a moment I’ve been waiting 32 years for. Seeing Tom Baker as the Doctor one more time finally brought tears to my eyes I’m not ashamed to say. To me there will never be a Doctor like him. Thank you Steven Moffat for that moment. It was beautifully bittersweet.

The wonderful tribute to the Doctor was capped off by a lovely piece in the closing credits where we saw all 12 Doctors together. It was just too emotional, leading to more tears. The fiftieth anniversary tribute to the Doctor was over, and I was overwhelmed. I had feared that perhaps Steven Moffat wouldn’t deliver a fitting enough tribute. Well, he didn’t just deliver a fitting tribute. He went the extra mile to bring us laughter, tears, suspense and memories. Thank you Mr Moffat, and thank you to the BBC for delivering an evening that left Whovians everywhere breathless with excitement. Here’s to another fabulous 50 years of the Doctor.

50 Years and Counting. The Doctor Goes On.

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!