Paul McGann though guys. Am I right? AMIRIGHT? I am. Sadly this ill fated feature length pilot was the 8th Doctors only proper TV outing and it was unfortunately, not very good.
McGann is fantastic in this, make no mistake. He was flirty and funny and mad and had all the makings of a great Doctor. He was also forced to work with what someone who never watched Doctor Who thought a Doctor should look like. The result was a step up from the question marks and bright colors of the 80s costumes, but still a little silly for 1996.
A lot of the problems people had with it at the time are admittedly, not real an issue with the hindsight of the modern series. Kissing a companion? He does that every other episode these days. Riding a motorbike? The Doctor rode one up a building just last series.
This doesn’t make up for the fact that it’s riddled with problems though. In an odd attempt to make it gritty we have The Doctor being gunned down by a street gang and The Master breaking a woman’s neck. Needlessly violent, quite frankly. The way The Master is handled is another issue.
Why is he able to turn into a living pile of goo? We may never know. Why do The Daleks of all things, accept requests all of a sudden? No idea. Why, why, for the love of God why is The Doctor half human? We’re probably better off not knowing.
Thankfully, Paul McGann has been afforded a chance to prove himself with a superb range of audio stories and more recently with his surprise appearance in The Night of the Doctor. Still, it just makes one wonder… what might have been if the 8th Doctor got his own series and Doctor Who stormed the 90s?
It’s hard to remain objective when writing about your all time favorite Doctor. However, I’ll try to exercise some restraint. McCoy is the first Doctor I can really, properly remember watching. My dad started us on a watch through the entire show when I was quite young, but towards the end of that first go through Who, I have so many distinctive memories of the McCoy era (mostly being scared shitless by the Curse of Fenric and Ghost Light).
So Remembrance is really my first Dalek story (growing up a Who fan in the 90s was tough). I still absolutely adore everything about it, from the fifties setting to Daleks blowing each other up, even more so now. My added knowledge appreciates the subtle references to the very first Doctor Who story, An Unearthly Chld.
But removing my rose tinted shades, is it actually any good? Well, yeah. This was the time when Doctor Who was finally starting to get back on its feet and get really good again. The trouble was, most people had stopped bothering with a show they thought was about dodgy sets and grown men in stupid costumes acting silly.
McCoy is on form here, his seventh Doctor had moved away from the clownish berk that he was in his first series and has begun to develop into a thoughtful, brooding, slightly menacing Doctor. His companion Ace is also the first companion to show real signs of developing and a result is a well rounded, likeable character. A refreshing change of pace from Bonnie Langford.
The story itself is slightly confusing, with two separate Dalek factions battling it out over some ancient Gallifreyan artefact but it does’t matter. The kid in you will always leap at the chance to see Daleks blowing the shit out of each other. It’s also the first episode to show the world that they can indeed go up stairs, silencing all those smart arsed little pricks.
We also have a brilliant last episode reveal of Davros, who over time has become so batshit mental that he’s now convinced he is in fact a Dalek, and his confrontation with The Doctor is still a fantastic moment. It’s easy to see why The Daleks become scared of The Doctor, here, he coolly faces down their emperor and tricks them into blowing up their home planet. McCoy. Rocking the Dark Doctor decades before it was cool.
No one knew that this would be the last Dalek story of the classic series, but really, it was the perfect way for The Doctors most popular enemies to bow out. Also, one last time, Daleks. Blowing each other up. That’s worth the ticket price alone guys.
Well you’ve gotta feel bad for anyone who’s expected to play an authoritative, centuries old time lord while wearing a clown costume, haven’t you?
To the casual observer, Colin Baker was the start of the end for Doctor Who. Not so. Baker himself did a fantastic job (you need any more proof, listen to his Big Finish audio plays where he has some classic stories). Doctor Who fell apart for a number of reasons but Baker was most definitely not one of them.
Mark of the Rani is an example of some of the strange choices made by the writers at the time. Why did The Rani have a device that could turn people into trees? Why did the Rani’s TARDIS look like a tantric sex dungeon? Why was The Master standing in a field dressed as a scarecrow all day on the off chance that in all of time and space the Doctor would go past there and then? We may never know.
Colin Baker makes an interesting Doctor. Not as young as Davison but still younger than the rest, and yet the closest Doctor we’ve had to Hartnell since Hartnell himself. His grumpy, unpredictable and brash nature had all the makings of a truly great Doctor, if only he’d had some better stories and a more sensible outfit.
There isn’t an awful lot I can say about Mark of the Rani mostly because I’m doing these reviews for the 50th so I want to be kind.
It’s a decent enough romp, even if it really doesn’t make that much sense. Honestly though, if you want a classic sixth Doctor story, go check out his Big Finish stuff. It’s really, really good. Seriously.
The fifth Doctor smacks of missed potential to me. It’s not that he ever had any really awful stories, they were all pretty solid. It’s just that he was plagued by an overcrowded TARDIS which meant none of the companions ever really had much to besides bitch and moan (and occasionally get possessed or try to kill The Doctor).
So what happens when we declutter the TARDIS and give Peter Davison just one companion to deal with? We get the best Doctor Who story ever. Fact. The downside? It’s Davison’s swansong. Typical.
The Doctor and Peri land on Androzani minor, take a poke around and then… well it’s all downhill for the pair from there. They’re both immediately poisoned and swept along by events beyond their control. In this episode they’re kidnapped, shot at, beaten, imprisoned… This is par for the course on Doctor Who but it never felt so urgent before.
A lot of this is down to the superb direction of Graeme Harper. Everything in this episode just felt so real, so gritty and surprisingly for an episode of Doctor Who in the 80s, actually well lit.
This story sums up Peter Davison’s Doctor as the fallible, human one of the bunch. He is completely helpless to control events for this entire story. He’s barely the hero of the piece (not that this story even has a hero) and scrapes through on luck.
Of course, he sacrifices himself in the end to save Peri and also has that badass moment where he commandeers a ship and crashes it back onto the planet to save his friend, all the while staving off a regeneration. So in that respect, we see Davison at two extremes. The vulnerable Doctor we’ve come to know and then this desperate, almost savage side of the fifth Doctor that we have never seen before.
I could talk about Caves for hours, but considering these are meant to be mini reviews, I’ll leave it here;
Caves of Androzani was the absolute peak of the classic series, which makes it all the more frustrating that it all went downhill from there (which had nothing to do with Colin Baker or Sylvester McCoy, so shut up). An episode that still stands up even today, fast, dark, gritty and action packed, this was modern Doctor Who years before Chris Eccleston came on the scene.
Jon Pertwee – Spearhead From Space (3rd January, 1970)
I don’t think that this episode particularly sums up the third Doctor’s era, far from it in fact. However, this tale stands out for me as a landmark in Doctor Who in general because it was the first ever episode to be shown in colour. Has science gone too far?
When my dad started us on our run through all (surviving) Who episodes I was really, really young. So young that there was a lot about the Hartnell/Troughton eras I couldn’t remember. What I can remember though, is perking up a hell of a lot as soon as things turned colour.
Of course, nowadays, I have no problem with something being in black and white, but you can’t blame a 90’s kid for being a little bored with such a limited palette.
But that’s besides the point. Spearhead is a cracking Doctor Who tale in its own right. It radically changed the established format of the show, exiling The Doctor to Earth (for some reason the west country) to work for UNIT as its chief scientific advisor.
What this gave us was a radical departure from adventures in space and time and quite a large cast of recurring characters thanks to the Doctors static setting.
And Jon Pertwee’s Doctor perfectly reflected his situation. From this very first episode he’s trying to escape. Cavalier and clearly always vaguely bored with everyone, we are never in any doubt that this is a man who does not want to be here.
While he isn’t exactly the kindly uncle that Troughton was, he’s far from the stern old man model that Hartnell portrayed. Pertwee gives the character an exuberance and a youthfulness, dashing through corridors and infiltrating bases (mostly on his own). He clearly hates the fact he’s now essentially working for the government and even turns down being paid for the job at the end of the story. An argument could be made that the Third Doctor was the “Hippy Doctor”.
While this Doctor had a number of fantastic companions, this episode (re)introduced us to his constant unofficial companion. The fantastic, fan favorite, irreplaceable Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart. All pomposity and fake moustache. He and The Doctor have an explosive chemistry that is a joy to watch at all times. Basically, when one is a dick, the other has no problem calling him out on it and it’s brilliant.
Aside from introducing to a slew of new regulars, this is a notable story in that we see The Autons for the first time in what is still their most chilling story. Nothing will ever match the cold, shocking and brutal nature of the scene where shop window dummies come to life on the high street and straight up murder a bunch of people. This is the first time Doctor Who took something mundane and every day and made it really frightening.
A landmark episode in respects to the entire legacy of the show, Spearhead From Space showed us just how much Doctor Who could change, and yet still be unmistakably the same show it was with William Hartnell at the helm.
Patrick Troughton-Tomb of the Cybermen (2nd September, 1967)
Regarded by many Who fans as one of the best Doctor Who stories of all time, you need only watch Tomb to see why it’s just so acclaimed.
In classic Who tradition, it blends wildly disparate genres with a remarkable ease. Classic horror fuses with just a touch of whodunnit murder mystery, except instead of a haunted house or resplendent mansion, we have an ancient alien tomb.
The set design is fantastic. While by today’s standards it isn’t up to much, the moody tombs and mysterious rooms seemed labyrinthine when I was kid, and even today I still get that feeling. The grainy black and white only adds atmosphere.
Of course, Patrick Troughton steals every scene as The Doctor. His eccentric uncle act is a very different take than Hartnell’s stern grandfather. Hartnell may have started a fifty year legacy, but Troughton ensured it by absolutely selling the concept of regeneration. At this point, The Doctor is a complete mystery and the show has a delightful unpredictability to it.
The Doctor here is very much a clear inspiration for Matt Smith’s bumbling Doctor (Smith watched Tomb after getting the part and loved it). He’s wily, yet fallible and clearly cares about his companions, both of which he has very different relationships with.
He and Victoria clearly have a uncle/niece affection for one another while he and Jamie have a humorous Laurel/Hardy thing going on and an infectious chemistry that makes every scene they share infinitely watchable.
The Cybermen here are frankly the most terrifying they have ever been in the shows entire history. Freakishly strong and disturbingly human looking, their monotone drone of “you will be like us” still sends a shiver down my spine.
Decades later and Tomb of the Cybermen boasts a moody atmosphere, genuinely terrifying monsters and a Doctor giving a stellar performance. Classic Who, done 100% right.
What with The Day of Doctor airing on our screens in less than three weeks now, I decided it was time to pull my finger out and actually write something to do with Doctor Who again.
So I decided that the best thing to do was to take my pick of episodes for each incarnation of The Doctor. Episodes that I feel define that particular version, and give them a kind of mini review (all culminating in a review of Day of The Doctor, of course).
Where better to start than the very beginning of it all?
William Hartnell – An Unearthly Child (23rd November, 1963)
Totters Lane. What was intended to be a simple junk yard to set the scene has transcended into the stuff of legend for Whovians. Referenced in various episodes and even featured in the brilliant new trailer for the 50th, it sets the stage for where it all began.
Tucked away, hidden in the midst of piles of rubbish and rusted trinkets is an old police box from the 1950s. To the people of 1963 this was already a fast fading relic but Doctor Who has ensured that the TARDIS has become a consistent icon throughout its 50 years.
From the off, viewers are roped in by the mysterious phone box but before we get a chance to glimpse inside, we’re taken to a typical secondary school. Two young (and quite handsome) school teachers discuss an unusual student that they have in common. The obviously kind pair resolve to visit her at her home, despite her warnings that her grandfather would be less than pleased with this.
A bizarre police box in a junk yard and a strange young student who is reluctant to let anyone in. It’s the theme of the unusual tucked away in the everyday that Doctor Who has carried in its DNA from day one and it’s just as evident here.
From here, the school teachers Ian and Barbara finally meet The Doctor. That’s when everything really kicks off. Confused as to why Susan’s home adress leads them to a junk yard, their attention is drawn to the phonebox which appears to be humming. An altercation ensues and they get inside.
While the original TARDIS interior might not be as grand as we’re used to these days, it remains an elegant design that has aged beautifully. We also have to consider that at the time, this was an absolutely massive plot twist. We don’t bat an eyelid as The Doctor dashes in and out of his ship these days but if anyone says they saw that coming back then, they’re lying.
William Hartnell absolutely sells The Doctor. We aren’t meant to like this man. He’s a very different breed from the other ten men who came after him and while he eventually becomes the hero we know and love today, this Doctor is frankly, a bastard. It’s brilliant.
Hartnell is a cold, calculating and unsettling presence that only works because of his companions. Susan is the only blood related family member of The Doctor that we ever see and like Hartnell, she is a different breed from any companions we know today (and not just because she calls him grandfather). Susan and The Doctor are on the run together. He hasn’t just picked her up and she hasn’t just tagged along. There’s clearly a bond there and Susan is smart, capable and resourceful. A template for every Who girl that follows.
Ian and Barbara are there to make the Doctor seem more alien. They can discuss this bizarre old man and for the viewers a clear us against them divide is created (at least at first).
An Unearthly Child introduces us to a cold, ruthless Doctor. Perhaps the most fascinating take on the character in my opinion, as well as introducing us to three supporting characters in a seamless fashion that all ties up nicely. The only reason it has a score of seven in the title is because despite the fact the first part of the serial is so tight, the TARDIS soon takes off and we have to sit through a load of shit about cavemen. Dull.
Next Time: The Tomb of The Cybermen
In what can only be described as a piece of spot on casting, Peter Capaldi has today been unveiled as the 12th Doctor, set to take over from Matt Smith this Christmas.
Capaldi is no stranger to Doctor Who, having appeared in David Tennant story Fires of Pompei (which strangely enough also featured Karen Gillain before she was Amy Pond) and the brilliant Torchwood: Children of Earth.
After the youthful Matt Smith, it should make a refreshing change to see an older gent in the TARDIS, although you can already smell the Tennant/Smith fangirls’ tears hitting their diaries. On top of all of this, Capaldi is a bloody fantastic actor and I for one can’t wait to see what he brings to one of the most iconic roles in television.
Now let the costume speculation commence!
So by now we all know that David Tennant and Billie Piper are coming back for the half century bash, along with the bloody Zygons (which I will never get bored of telling people) and the good old Brigadier’s Daughter. I for one, don’t believe we’ve had half the news and so here are ten more things that need to happen. I’m a greedy fan. Sue me.
Oh, he’s said he isn’t taking part… I don’t care. The 9th Doctor is the reason Doctor Who is back on our tellies and so popular. He was dark, funny and genuinely scary at times and one season was nowhere near enough of him frankly. Kidnap his family, buy him his own island. I don’t care, just get the bloody 9th Doctor back for this.
I think they’ve become slightly overused of late, but it wouldn’t be the 50th without an appearance from the shows first and most iconic monsters. They don’t have to drive the entire plot either, just a Five Doctors style ten minute scene would do. Provided it doesn’t involve The Doctor tricking it into firing at a mirror. Jesus.
Because Ace was fucking brilliant, I don’t care what anyone else says.
For my money, one of the best Doctors. That he only got one shot to play The Doctor on screen is criminal. If there was ever a chance for the 8th Doctor to get some more (well deserved) screen time, for the love of God, this is it. Of course, it helps that his Doctor was given a new look a year or so back and that he recently refused to rule out appearing…
Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. If nothing else, it would be a nice tribute for the late, great Liz Sladen who we all know is going to be sorely missed in this very special episode that she should have (and I imagine would have) been a part of.
The Original Theme Music
Because screw looking to the future. I want the ethereal, simple and beautifully haunting 1963 score over the top of today’s magnificent CGI opening sequence. That, or the McCoy era theme. I always loved that one. I think I have a problem.
References a Plenty.
It’s been 50 years. I want Jelly Babies, long scarfs, cricket bats, Kamelion, the Eye of Harmony, Susan, Pease Pottage, Mike Yates, question mark lapels. Hell, name drop Adric. I’ll take it all. I am a reference whore.
The First Three Doctors
I know they’re all dead. However, they need to be included or acknowledged in some way, be it past footage or studio tomfoolery or whatever. If not Two and Three then at the very least William Hartnell needs some love as the man who started a fifty year and eleven man legacy.
A Decent Story
The Five Doctors was great, but if we look at it critically.. it wasn’t. A handful of characters were relegated to sitting around the TARDIS and we actually had to watch that when we all wanted to see how the actually action was moving along. Don’t get me wrong, I love The Five Doctors. But I want the 50th story to be a classic in its own right.
ALL THE DOCTORS
I know I’ve covered some already, but there you go. I love David Tennant and I am thrilled he’s coming back. But the way I see it, we have them all back or we have none of them back. I don’t think the fans give a shit if they don’t look how they used to. That’s been written away in the past. If it was ever going to be done and completely justified, it would be this extraordinary time in Who’s life. The Eleven Doctors. Make it happen, Moffat.
An image has been released today of the redesigned Ice Warriors, a classic Doctor Who Monster which last appeared on the show in the 70s.
The iconic foes have long been topping lists of old enemies fans want to see back and now the wish has been granted.
They’re set to feature in an episode set on a submarine written by Mark Gatiss who has written several past episodes of new Who.
The new design remains mostly faithful to the original, with only the removal of the strange (and pretty stupid, to be honest) hair and the lego like claws have been replaced with hands.
Doctor Who will return to UK screens on the 30th of March.