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
And there, on a Saturday evening on BBC One in 2013, was William Hartnell as… The Doctor. Excuse my language but fuck me that was enough to make me explode with joy. After fifty years, finally getting a glimpse of the moment The Doctor decides to run off with a type 40 TARDIS and see the universe was something truly special for me.
And it only went and got better. We saw Doctors one through seven, including that strange moment in Dragonfire where for some reason, Seven decides to crawl down a cliff. I think I’d already decided this was a perfect episode from that 50th montage and that was only the bloody pre credits sequence.
Of course, some of the meshing of archive clips worked better than others, but when you’re watching your childhood colliding with the present day of your favorite program, who really cares?
The Name of The Doctor managed to set up everything that needed to be set up for the 50th shenangins all while answering some questions that have been around for years and still managed to be an enjoyable, witty and in places quite chilling episode.
Did the big question, the Doctor’s name get revealed? No. Of course, it was never going to be answered in a straight forward “my name is…” way and frankly anyone with a fundemental understanding of Doctor Who would have known that from the off. Moffat is a fan and as such knows full well that is a question we never need to hear the answer to.
And if you were expecting an asnwer, it’s hard to have felt shortchanged from this gem of an episode. River’s final farewell was truly quite heartbreaking, seeing The Doctor’s assertion that he hates goodbyes is a deeper glimpse into who he is than his name could ever tell us.
Some might gripe at lack of explanation towards why The Doctor could see and touch River, I couldn’t care less when the payoff was such an emotional scene and that line “God knows how that must have looked”. It would be a shame if this was River’s last appearance but she couldn’t have gone out on a better note.
Matt Smith was firing on all clyinders once again, showing anger, heartbreak and at times, genuine fear. The scene where he found out he had to go to Trenzalore was quite unsettling. This is not how The Doctor is supposed to be and Matt Smith played it perfectly, not too much and not too little emotion.
Strax, Vastra and Jenny still need their own spin off series, that much will never change. I admit I was watching this episode in the fear that one of them would bite the dust and that horribly chilling scene where Jenny realised she had been murdered set the stakes very early on. Frankly, I don’t know what I’d do without my favorite Dinosaur/Victorian Maid Lesbian Crimefighting Couple. Although Strax is genuinely brilliant, his comedy did detract from the drama at times, which felt a little frustrating.
I think Jenna Louise Coleman’s character has come under a lot of unfair criticism this series. She’s constantly been brilliant in my eyes and to be honest I never could really stand Amy Pond. Sorry, world, but I just think Clara is miles ahead.
Some reviews have complained that since we haven’t known Clara that long, her sacrifice doesn’t mean as much. I would argue that surely it means that much more? If she hasn’t known The Doctor that long and is willing to tear her very existence apart to save him, I think that’s pretty big.
Incidentally, The Doc and Clara’s chemistry was great here. Maybe it’s because Clara finally saw a deeper side to The Doctor, but they really seem to care about each other much more in this one. Although I am glad River wasn’t sidelined so The Doctor could canoodle with Clara as I initially feared.
There isn’t too much to say about The Whispermen and Richard E Grant. Grant is always brilliant and hopefully we haven’t seen the last of him and while the Whispermen looked creepy as hell, they didn’t really do much besides… whisper. Not that cool.
Oh yeah, introducing John Hurt as The Doctor? Jesus Christ, November 23rd cannot come fast enough.
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.
November 23rd 2013 marks fifty years of possibly the world’s most popular and enduring Science Fiction program: Doctor Who.
Only one other television program has celebrated fifty years of glory: Coronation Street. Let’s face facts, it’s going to be far more exciting to watch the fireworks Who showrunner Steven Moffat has planned for the 50th birthday of an alien who can travel anywhere in space and time, than it was to watch the 50th of a show about cobbled streets and misery.
This aside, fans are positively chomping at the bit to find out just what is in store for the show as it hits the big 5-0.
We already know about the Mark Gatiss penned drama depicting the series’ inception, and the BBC’s plans for an actual, feature length special episode to be aired on the 23rd, as well as shown in UK cinemas in 3D.
What we don’t know, is what is actually going to happen in the special. Plot details elude us completely. Will we see The Master? The Daleks? The Vervoids? Probably not the Vervoids, but here’s what we kind of know already (sort of).
There have been strong rumours that somehow, all eleven incarnations of The Doctor are to be included.
This is possible in that this is usually the norm for the Doctor’s anniversary bashes, with the Three Doctors and The Five Doctors marking his 10th and 20ths respectively.
This is also slightly less possible, in that the first three actors to have played The Doctor are dead. Of course, Richard Hurdnall fooled everyone into thinking he was First Doctor William Hartnell with a cunning disguise (similar hair) for the 20th. Maybe with some CGI and studio trickery, it will be possible to bring these Doctors back to life in some capacity.
For now, there have been absolutely no concrete details. Moffat has kept tight lipped on the whole thing, as has Matt Smith. At this time, we can only speculate on which companions, monsters and even Doctors might pop up.
Filming for the 50th special begins in Spring and series 7 part 2 airs in the UK at the end of March.