50 years ago, William Hartnell, Verity Lambert, Sydney Newman and others perhaps unknowingly unleashed so much more than just a television program. They let loose a cultural icon, a legend, a modern fairy tale that has spanned decades and captured the hearts and minds of many generations of fans.
Day of the Doctor is a piece of television that has been fifty years in the making, make no mistake. Possibly the most anticipated and hyped piece of television ever, the all important question is, did it deliver?
Thankfully, God yes. Day of the Doctor was thrilling, funny, heartbreaking, scary and exciting. It was nostalgic without dwelling on the past and forward thinking without alienating the long time fans. If anyone else could come up with a better story for the 50th, I’d genuinely like to see it.
The story was a fairly typical Steven Moffat timey wimey affair. The three Doctors all had their own separate adventures which tied in together beautifully.
Matt Smith’s started with a fantastic reference to Totters Lane and Coal Hill, two key locations in Who lore and quickly delved into an adventure with mysterious paintings and UNIT. It was only right to reference such an important group in the 50th and The Brigadiers daughter afforded the next best thing to the great Nick Courtney himself. She’s also a fantastic character in her own right, which helps.
David Tennant’s return was a thing of absolute joy as we finally saw what happened with Queen Liz and got a mini adventure with The Zygons (who looked fantastic). Seeing Ten interact with Eleven was hilarious, as The Tenth Doctor, with all his swagger looks disdainfully at the flappy awkward clumsiness of The Eleventh.
And then there’s John Hurt, who finishes off the trinity of Doctors for this episode. His war Doctor was played artfully, a vague menace lurking underneath those tired eyes and a weariness, yet still with that mad Doctor spark. Finally seeing The Time War playing out was a dream. Daleks killing and exploding all over the shop in such excess and on such scale was brilliant.
Throwing Hurt into the mix with Tennant and Smith made for some fantastic scenes. Hurt obviously representing the old guard as he questioned much of what the two young Doctors did. Hurt disgustedly asking, “Timey Wimey?” to Tennant’s sly “I don’t know where he got that from” was a particular highlight.
Then we had the game changing ending, a fanboy baiting sequence in which twelve (or was it thirteen?) TARDISes blitzed through a Dalek fleet to save Gallifrey. See? The classic Doctors were in there after all (kind of). And Gallifrey falls no more? A brilliant move. Seeing the Doctor finally find a way to move on with the whole Last of the Time lords schtick is refreshing and should make for an interesting ark in the next series.
Finally, it would be remiss of me to end this review without mentioning (but not in detail) two masterfully subtle cameo appearances. One of which looks firmly and excitingly to the future while the other was a beautifully done nod to the past.
After 50 years, The Doctor has finally stopped running and is genuinely out there to find something. Day of the Doctor was nothing short of a perfectly balanced, thrilling adventure that seamlessly sets up the future of the show while paying tribute to the past. Here’s to another 50.
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.
As if it could really be any other story for Tom Baker. Of course this isn’t to say that Baker hasn’t had his fair share of classic tales (his era is still looked upon as the pinnacle of Who by many) but this is a defining story for both The Doctor and his greatest enemies, possibly the most iconic alien life forms in modern culture, The Daleks.
For the uninitiated, Genesis of the Daleks is basically an origin story for Skaro’s metal monsters. The Time Lords send the 4th Doctor, Sarah and Harry on a mission to destroy the Daleks before they’re properly created (fun fact: this move has since been referred to as the first shot of the Time War).
What follows is a stone cold classic adventure, apart from the giant clam (yes, really). This was early on in Tom Baker’s tenure as The Doctor and an encounter with The Daleks was a defining moment for a Doctor even back then. He’s on top form here, all wide eyes, mad grins and complaining to military officers about the lack of tea or coffee.
Harry and Sarah Jane are two fantastic companions that, with The Doctor form the strongest trio in the shows history, Ponds be damned. Unfortunately, Sarah spends the majority of this story apart from the others, climbing up missile silos and befriending mutants.
But what’s most important here is the brilliance in which we find out how Daleks became Daleks. Terrifyingly, they once looked human. Called Kaleds, (imaginative) they were locked in a devastating war and even before they jumped in pepperpots to destroy the galaxy, it’s clearly established that they were horrible nazi bastards.
Of course, this episode also introduces us to Dalek creator and king prawn lookalike, Davros. Pretty much an equal to The Doctor, the fact that he was batshit crazy and power mad was absolutely terrifying. Think Hitler crossed with a really angry Dalek and you come close to what Davros is.
Does the Doctor destroy the Daleks, like the Time Lords asked? Well, considering all subsequent Dalek tales you can guess not. In one of the most important scenes in Who history, The Doctor is given the chance to wipe them out forever and chooses not to. He reasons it will make him no better than a Dalek. Nearly four decades on and people still debate the Doctor’s choice in this episode.
A murky moral area, an unbeatable Doctor/Companion combo and a chilling origin story for Doctor Who’s most popular enemies makes this an absolutely iconic story. If you like Doctor Who, you need to watch Genesis.
SPOILERY SPOILERS OF A SPOILING NATURE.
Well the score may be suffering from a slight bias because Paul motherf**cking McGann is finally back playing The Doctor on our screens. A moment I have waited for since 1996 personally.
While five minutes isn’t nearly enough for McGann (a web series will do nicely, thank you) he still manages to exude a charm and exuberance, now topped off with a massive dollop of cool because he isn’t stuck with a ridiculous costume or stupid wig.
Clearly tired and changed by whatever’s happened with the Time War so far, we’re afforded a nice insight into how awful things are. The Doctor’s would be companion claiming there’s no difference between Daleks and Time Lords anymore sums it up and justifies why The Doctor would essentially give up being The Doctor (a very unsettling moment).
There’s also a handful of nice references to McGann’s Big Finish adventures (rightly so) as he namedrops Charlie and Lucy, among other companions.
And of course we finally have an official name for Hurt’s Doctor; The War Doctor. The glimpse of him here shows him to be a much younger man. I imagine the implication is that he’s been in that incarnation for a long old time.
Night of The Doctor sets up the 50th anniversary bash in an intriguing way, but most importantly, it let the 8th Doctor have another hard earned crack at the whip. About time.
Watch it here, baby.
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