This is Not a Review Blog

(46 comments)

That's something I say on a regular basis - that what I do here isn't primarily to discuss what Doctor Who stories are good or bad, but to discuss what's interesting about them and to tell a story out of them. And that's very important to understanding the blog.

But that doesn't mean I don't have opinions, and since Gallifrey Base is running weekly mini-forums going over the history of Doctor Who a few years at a time, I've been entertaining myself by actually bashing out short reviews of individual stories. So I figure why not compile them here. So in honor of my moving from cleaning up the Hinchcliffe era entries to making another pass over the Hartnell stuff, here's my short reviews and ratings for the Hartnell era.


An Unearthly Child: Fairly marvelous. The caveman bits get unfairly slagged off because they stop being fundamental bits of the series mythology, but only because they’re fundamental bits of the mythology of a series that never got followed up on. The show that’s about the sheer terror of the TARDIS and the untrustworthiness of the Doctor isn’t one that would have run for fifty years, but it’s a damn sight better than most of the rest of Season One. 7/10

The Daleks: The first cliffhanger, and the shot where the camera pulls away from the TARDIS crew to reveal a room full of incomprehensible things. We have now exhausted the good parts of The Daleks. But holy GOD those two are good parts. 3/10

The Edge of Destruction: One of two stories in the first season that outright work. Its worldview is very strange - it feels more 1960s than anything else in the first two seasons save maybe The Space Museum - but it creates a fascinating collage of classic science fiction and surrealism. David Whitaker remains one of my absolute favorite Doctor Who writers. This is just a wonderful piece of television. 8/10

Marco Polo: I complain about the pacing on most of the first season, but this one takes the cake - seven episodes of meandering in search of a plot structure. This is in the period where the show was a serial that would spin its wheels fruitlessly for a random number of weeks before moving on to a new premise. By the standards of Saturday teatime entertainment merely tolerable. By the standards of something to watch voluntarily fifty years later, a car crash. 2/10

The Keys of Marinus: Unwatchable - everything that’s wrong with a Terry Nation script at one time. 1/10

The Aztecs: Hard to believe this was by the writer of Marco Polo. Everything that story gets wrong, this one gets right - it’s immaculately structured, and with so many dramatic character beats. Along with The Edge of Destruction, the two stories from the first year that really, unequivocally work. 9/10

The Sensorites: The pacing is, as with most of the first season, shot to hell. But the moments of pure charm really stand out. This is where Doctor Who first starts to act like the series we know, and while it’s miles from “working” I’ll never understand why people prefer Marco Polo, The Reign of Terror, or, God help me, The Daleks to this. 6/10

The Reign of Terror: A hot mess, and the point where Susan’s character thuds unsatisfyingly against the wall. The “oh no, I feel nauseous, I shall go to the guillotine after all” scene is one of the most painful in Doctor Who’s history. 3/10

Planet of Giants: This may be the first properly average Doctor Who story, although Jacqueline Hill is astonishingly good in it, and the effects are fantastic. Pacing’s shot to hell, though - losing an episode was the best thing that happened to this story. 5/10

The Dalek Invasion of Earth: Oh, I want to like it, I really do, but it blows every good idea it has in the first two episodes and peters out to a dreadfully unsatisfying conclusion enlivened only by Susan’s departure. Understandably influential, but it holds up absolutely terribly. 6/10



The Rescue: A story in which a man in a rubber suit is revealed to secretly be a man in a rubber suit. All comments about how obvious the resolution is miss the fact that absolutely nothing in the previous year of Doctor Who has come anywhere close to preparing us for the possibility that a man in a rubber suit might be anything other than a monster. Meanwhile, another obvious monster is just Vicki’s pet, Sandy. At two episodes the problems of pacing that plague much of the 1960s are erased, and instead we get what is very probably the best done story of the Hartnell era. 10/10.

The Romans: The trouble with a 1965 farce is that very little of it is still funny today, while the overtly rapey elements of Barbara’s plot are actively unfunny. Easy to see why it’s beloved by fans of a certain age, and fans with regard for the cinematic tropes this is playing off of will enjoy it, but for the most part this is thoroughly average. Watch the first and last few scenes and skip the middle. 5/10.

The Web Planet: Tat Wood and Lawrence Miles critiqued it as looking like television from the 1920s, missing the fact that there’s no such thing as television from the 1920s, and thus that The Web Planet is a fascinating look at what the silent sci-fi films of, say, Georges Méliès would look like if transplanted to television. In an era where strangeness was an aesthetic virtue unto itself, this manages to look like nothing else before or since. It’s the one Hartnell era story it’s still possible to experience as the grainy trip to a strange other world that the series was in 1965. Indispensible and classic. Yes, it’s slow, but so is everything in this era. Not everything this era is so full of fascinating moments. 10/10.

The Crusade: Lurking behind the quality episodes is a shambles of an overall plot that is one of the later gasps of the “Doctor Who as an ongoing serial instead of as discrete stories” approach. It thus watches rough today, though probably isn’t helped by two missing episodes. One that it’s easy to see why is good, but somewhat harder to actually enjoy. 8/10.

The Space Museum: Episodes 2-4 go off the rails, yes, but not so far off the rails as to be unmanageable, and it is in many ways the story Vicki always needed to have. The Barbara/Ian/Vicki team is my favorite Hartnell crew, and I really fail to hate any of their stories. This is clearly weaker than those that came before, but in a very easy-to-like way. And episode one is marvelous. 6/10.

The Chase: I read it redemptively, and stand by its interesting content on a thematic/metaphoric level, but other than the gobsmackingly good scene of Ian and Barbara’s departure, this is unwatchable, if at times rather lovable. 2/10.

The Time Meddler: There’s much fun to be had here, but everything about how it’s presented now undermines that. The great version of this story is the one in which a historical that looks like it will someday be called The Saxons gets completely invaded by the Monk. The version where we know that up front and watch it as the first appearance of another Time Lord is, on the other hand, faintly tedious. 8/10.

Galaxy Four: A story that unambiguously shoots for “average Doctor Who,” so we may as well just give it the rating it’s looking for and go home. Lovely direction and design, though. Glad we can see an episode now. 5/10.

Mission to the Unknown: Neat, if inscrutable on many levels. It’s a story nobody ever goes looking for except out of a sense of completism. Because of that it does quite well for itself, as it’s better than you’d expect and, more to the point, different than you’d expect. 6/10.

The Myth Makers: Cotton’s two stories are absolutely marvelous, but this is the one where the sudden turn to bleakness after three episodes of comedy works the best, crashing as it does into the bleakest epic of Doctor Who. Points off only for a truly crap departure of a truly great companion and, secondarily, for the cynicism of the whole thing. 8/10.

The Daleks’ Masterplan: Cynical and often downright mean-spirited, the show cannot actually handle a story of this moral complexity. This is where Hartnell functionally ends as a Doctor, reduced to running around chasing the plot and unable to respond to any of it meaningfully simply because neither character nor actor are built for this sort of story. Some truly classic individual moments, but mainly a disaster. 4/10.

The Massacre: So much is lost by having to rely on the audio of this story. The parts people love are understandably brilliant, but when you remember that this is the fourth story in a row to end with a horrible and senseless massacre it just leaves a bad taste in your mouth and makes you wonder if John Wiles actually likes Doctor Who. This is the capstone to a staggeringly bleak run of episodes. Hartnell’s final monologue is nice, but mainly in that it’s the last time he gets to do anything remotely like it. On its own merits this story might be quite good, but it’s hard to extract it from the dire context. 6/10.

The Ark: Racist tripe about subhuman dark-skinned people and how they need white people to watch over them. The first two episodes are at least well-made, but the back half is a structural trainwreck. 2/10.

The Celestial Toymaker: Easily the single worst Doctor Who story ever, and that on its own merits. Add the racism and you need numbers below 1. 1/10 because that’s where the scale leaves off.

The Gunfighters: Hilarious, whimsical, full of mad and wonderful ideas, and the first Doctor Who story since The Myth Makers to feel like one. The received wisdom that this is one of the worst stories ever outdoes The Twin Dilemma as the most unfortunate legacy of Doctor Who in the 80s. 9/10.

The Savages: Lovely ideas, and a needed tonic after two appallingly racist stories. (It is, of course, meant to be a race reversal story where the whites are enslaved and we realize how horrible we’re being.) Steven gets the best companion departure to date in that it’s actually set up. How has nobody ever written a story following up on him? Still, it’s all a bit pedestrian and hard to get excited about. 6/10.

The War Machines: Easy to see why people liked it, but it’s been done so much better so many times that it’s hard to figure out why anyone would opt to watch this particular iteration of the contemporary Earth story, and the cynicism of how Dodo is written out is hard to avoid. 5/10.

The Smugglers: As straightforward an example of the historical romp as exists. I’m still unconvinced there’s anything interesting to say about this story. (Note that I used it as an excuse to talk about the Target novelizations.) 5/10.

The Tenth Planet: There’s so very much wrong with it, but thankfully the wonderful perversity of what’s right with it outshines it. The Cybermen have never been better, and for all its absurd plotting it does a breathless thriller miles better than The War Machines did. Hartnell gets a fantastic swan song, and episode four is the greatest cliffhanger in Doctor Who history. 8/10.

Comments

Alex Antonijevic 4 years, 6 months ago

Despite not being a review blog, none of those scores surprised me based on the posts you wrote. Your opinion still comes through pretty strongly.

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Philip Sandifer 4 years, 6 months ago

Well, that's probably good - I mean, I certainly don't try to hide my opinions, at least not in most cases. But they're also not the point, and I'm certainly not prone to numerical ratings under normal circumstances, so I figured if I was banging them up on Gallifrey Base I may as well port them over here.

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Anton B 4 years, 6 months ago

'The Keys of Marinus' is certainly one of those stories that are much better in my childhood memories than in reality, however I feel there is some potential for a redemptive reading. The most interesting element are surely the Voord. That eery name that suggests both void and word, the way they are presented as both monsters and Spy-Fi secret agents with their acid-sea faring one-man minisubs worthy of 'Stingray' or 'The Man From Uncle'. Surely they are also the first contenders for the 'man in a rubber suit is actually a man in a rubber suit' trope? Indeed more disturbingly the first example we see is in fact only an empty rubber suit; presenting the intriguing possibility of an 'empty' monster until we realise that, shockingly, the man inside has been disintegrated by the acid because his suit is torn. I also enjoy Grant Morrison's later latercomic strip attempted retcon of the Voord as progenitors of the Cybermen. Then there is poor old Arbitan on his island of tech in a sea of acid who has endangered his own daughter and who inveigling our own shipwrecked crew into his own ownAlchemical schemes is a worthy echo of Prospero. The subsequent key-quest begins intriguingly with the perception filter gimmick but does rather peter out, however, it is surely the inspiration for the 'Key to Time' season?

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Ross 4 years, 6 months ago

Before this blog taught me how to enjoy 60s Who again, Keys of Marinus was the only Hartnell-era serial I found watchable. For its other sins, it has the massive advantage of the fact that stuff actually happens in it, on a fairly regular basis, for almost all of its running length (It falls apart a bit at the late-middle, of course, as they all do).

I also tend to point this out as the one and only respect in which the Cushing films outshine their source material: they tell two hours worth of story in two hours, rather than padding it out to three

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Anton B 4 years, 6 months ago

The Cushing films continue to improve with age. I've gone from childhood grudging acceptance of their technicolor sugar-rush take on my favourite show's monochrome moodiness to cherishing them as an adult like an indisposable keepsake and though Peter Cushing wasn't *my* Doctor he presented a worthy alternative and peculiar pre-echo of regenerations to come. They've certainly been an influence on Moffat's tenure
if only for the blueness of the Tardis with its backlit white painted window frames and the 'Power Ranger Daleks'.

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Reinder Dijkhuis 4 years, 6 months ago

Now if only he'd give those Daleks some lava lamps, we'd be golden.

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Jesse 4 years, 6 months ago

I actually thought you liked that bleak streak better than you apparently did.

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Jesse 4 years, 6 months ago

By the way: Am I *supposed* to be hearing the title of this post as a Public Image Limited song, or is that just me?

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Arkadin 4 years, 6 months ago

I have an irrational fondness for Keys of Marinus, but I haven't actually seen it. It's probably better that way.

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jane 4 years, 6 months ago

*must not make list*

How fascinating -- I didn't realize how much Phil despised Keys of Marinus. But this is surely one of those stories I've internally retconned thanks to the Target novelization, which is a pretty spiffy read. And I'd never seen The Chase before the redemptive reading here, so I found it a lot more interesting than a 2: it really does work at a meta level. I much prefer seeing it as a self-conscious work, even if that means giving Terry Nation more credit than he probably deserves.

Or maybe he does deserve it -- after all, he unloads the "man in a rubber suit" joke a year before Whitaker, although not nearly as well told.

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jane 4 years, 6 months ago

I think he liked how his imagined 60's audience would have reacted better than he liked the material itself.

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T. Hartwell 4 years, 6 months ago

Basically all the Terry Nation stories are what surprised me based on the blog- especially Keys of Marinus and Dalek's Master Plan, both of which I thought you liked a good deal more than it turns out.

I am curious, though, as to what your scores for the films would be in relation to the serials they're based on.

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T. Hartwell 4 years, 6 months ago

I've only ever seen Daleks: Invasion Earth 2150, but to this day I'm still amazed the steam guns weren't ever actually utilized on the show.

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Pen Name Pending 4 years, 6 months ago

Well, I'm not of a "certain age" and I loved and laughed at The Romans, and it's probably my favorite Hartnell story in terms of rewatchability (there's a reason my DVD want list starts with The Rescue/The Romans set, if only because The Mind Robber is on Netflix). Yes, the rape stuff was uncomfortable, but I thought the rest was very clever. That said, I also love The Chase for being absolutely ridiculous. But all hail Barbara/Ian/Vicki!

I generally don't like rating TV that is 50 years old, or assigning numbers to stand for something for that matter, but I have a feeling you gave The Web Planet a 10/10 just because no one else would. I love it visually like you do, but I could never get engaged with the actual plot.

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Philip Sandifer 4 years, 6 months ago

I find assigning numbered ratings to a long list of things an absolutely farcical task, and will freely cop to the Web Planet's 10/10 being performative on my part. As is insisting that The Celestial Toymaker requires an off-the-charts low score instead of just giving it a 1 and moving on. Or slagging The Daleks with an eye-catching 3/10 when I could readily have justified all the way up to a 6 without compromising any critical integrity. (3 being about the bottom of the range that isn't self-evidently unreasonable.) They're a fun medium to play with, however, and play I did, while remaining basically sincere.

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Jesse 4 years, 6 months ago

I actually would have given a 10 to The Gunfighters, and not just for performative purposes.

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Bennett 4 years, 6 months ago

As Doctor Who fans revel in pointless statistical information, it may be of interest that I calculated the Spearman's rank correlation coefficient of Phil's Hartnell story rankings* compared to their rankings according to the Mighty 200 poll as -0.02, indicating the two are almost perfectly unrelated. Which is the way it should be really. As has been covered on the blog, the Mighty 200 is largely a fan fallacy, and for the Hartnell stories doubly so.

And yes, I do want the time I spent calculating it back.

*For equal scores, I took the liberty of using review tone as a tie-breaker.

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James V 4 years, 6 months ago

I'd more or less agree with a lot of these ratings. Some I'd disagree with (I adore both "The Time Meddler" and "the Romans), but then, I don't read this blog to change my opinion of a story, (though that has happened. Notably with "The Rescue" and "The Celestial Toymaker") but simply to gain a new perspective on it.

I'd definitely agree that most of the Nation stories are a bit of a slog, (I do love Invasion of Earth though) and staunchly defend the Peter Cushing movies in that regard. When I imagine the adventures that the Doctor has actually had, I tend to just, in those cases, picture the movies, but with the proper 60s TARDIS crew. And I certainly can't blame Moffat for co-opting those Daleks. The Daleks have rarely been cooler than they were in those movies.

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encyclops 4 years, 6 months ago

I've finally seen (most of?) the first Cushing movie thanks to Rifftrax, and I must say all of the heckling is richly deserved. Maybe I'll find something about them charming once the shock has worn off, but "Ian" alone is so insufferable as to scuttle the whole thing, and Cushing himself isn't much better. The best part of it for me was the riffing when "Susan" is motioning to "Ian" what to do with the Dalek camera.

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dprisoner 4 years, 6 months ago

"The Web Planet: Tat Wood and Lawrence Miles critiqued it as looking like television from the 1920s, missing the fact that there’s no such thing as television from the 1920s"

But there was Television in the '20s. (http://www.bairdtelevision.com/firstdemo.html), and at 30 lines resolution and static shots, it wasn't terribly exciting...

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Anton B 4 years, 6 months ago

Like I said it's all about the Voord. Now I'm going to have to re-read Phill's post on Keys of Marinus just to see what specifically gets his goat about it

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Anton B 4 years, 6 months ago

I'm hearing it too.

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Spacewarp 4 years, 6 months ago

Well I like the films so much I made a Tardis model!

http://www.spacewarp.co.uk/who/Cush36.jpg

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JJ Gauthier 4 years, 6 months ago

Wow, I really thought you liked Masterplan more than that. Maybe my own love of the serial influenced that, though - it is my favorite Hartnell, despite lacking may favorite crew (Ian, Barbara, and Vicki, of course).

Thanks for writing all this! While Eruditorum is obviously about other things, it's great to see what you really think, so to speak. Most of it simply confirms what you suggest in Eruditorum, but it clears up some of the ambiguities in whether or not you actually, you know, liked certain stories. It really was fun to read, and I'm looking forward to future ones.

It'll be especially interesting to see your thoughts on the Davison era, since Eriditorum was largely concerned with its pre-death autopsy of the show and such. And what you think of Colin Baker's stories when you're not desperately out to redeem them. (I imagine you still enjoy a few.)

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Matthew Blanchette 4 years, 6 months ago

Thought for sure "Master Plan" would easily be 8/10, but I guess I should've known better, since the tossed-off "The Ark" somehow magically soured Phil on the whole era when he'd previously been praising it to the skies.

The racism of "Toymaker", on the other hand, should probably be laid squarely at the feet of Gerry Davis, for whom there are numerous other examples of such over the following season or so of Hartnell and Troughton.

Blame him, not Wiles or Tosh; Tosh is the one who wrote that gem of a monologue for Episode 4 for "The Massacre", after all...

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David Anderson 4 years, 6 months ago

But what is the Spearman's rank correlation efficient of Phil's rankings compared to Sue's from Wife in Space?

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Jesse 4 years, 6 months ago

Since Phil argued that Master Plan is actually multiple stories nested within one another, he really ought to give us his rankings for those...

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Philip Sandifer 4 years, 6 months ago

A bit of a misreading of my argument regarding The Ark. It's not that it soured me on the era so much as that I opted to ride the era's highs before letting it crash into inadequacy at the end. Because, well, that's usually how I handle any sort of era shift - by making an argument for the creative necessity of the change. The Wiles era necessitated doing that in a somewhat abrupt manner, but you'll find the seeds of it in things like my horror at the idea of killing Vicki off.

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Philip Sandifer 4 years, 6 months ago

Jesse - 6 for Mission to the Unknown through The Traitors, 4 for Counter Plot through The Destruction of Time, 2 for the rehash of The Chase that runs from Feast of Steven to Escape Switch.

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Matthew Blanchette 4 years, 6 months ago

Phil -- They were never going to kill Vicki off. They wrote her off. They wanted to kill off someone, but it was never going to be Vicki they killed off. They spared Vicki because they DIDN'T want her to die.

You viewed it all wrong, man. :-(

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JJ Gauthier 4 years, 6 months ago

I averages the numbers, and it looks like this:

SEASON ONE: 4.9/10
SEASON TWO: 6.7/10
SEASON THREE: 5.1/10
SEASON FOUR: 6.5/10

OVERALL: 5.6/10

Which means, for another (mild) surprise, on average you liked S3 more than S1. S2 got really solid numbers, but I imagine when you review the others, Hartnell will be on the low end with Pertwee, and probably both below C. Baker.

I do wonder if you would have retroactively liked Masterplan more if Massacre and The Ark had delivered a vision of Who that wasn't so mean-spirited. After all, the darkness of Masterplan is at least in keeping with the general spirit of what the Daleks represent.

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Spacewarp 4 years, 6 months ago

If anyone's interested, I've slowly been charting the viewing figures of the classic series. Here's the average of each season.

http://www.spacewarp.co.uk/ClassicAvgRatings.jpg

The devil is in the details as they say, but even averaging out the seasons you can see how viewers got on with the Doctor over the first 26 years.

Hartnell begins strongly, then everyone seems to go wild over his second season. However by 1966 the public appear to be getting bored with the good Doctor. Troughton manages to perk things up a bit, but even he's having problems by the end of his tenure. Pertwee brings the colourful 70s with him and a corresponding rise in viewing. Then Tom comes along and raises the game once more, until Davison drags things back down again. He briefly rallies in his second season but then it's downhill all the way. Colin does nothing to help matters and it's left to McCoy to switch the lights off on his way out, with the ratings in the gutter.

Sorry. Didn't mean to turn this into the GB Ratings thread!

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elvwood 4 years, 6 months ago

I make it +0.20, so a little more related but not hugely so. I've not seen The Tenth Planet, but assigning it middling rank gives +0.42 for my scores.

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elvwood 4 years, 6 months ago

I was surprised by his rating for Keys too. It starts and ends poorly, but it has a wonderful second episode (my second favourite from the first season), and the Millennius section is pretty good as well. A below average aggregate score, sure, but unwatchable? Surely not!

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Bennett 4 years, 6 months ago

D'oh. I forgot the version of Spearman's that corrects for tied data values. I may have to hand in my Badge for Mathematical Excellence.

Using that methodology (and now, an online calculator) I get -
*Eruditorum vs. DWM Poll : +0.0057
*Wife in Space vs. DWM Poll : -0.1003
*Eruditorum vs. Wife : +0.1795

So Phil and Sue agree more with each other than with "fan consensus", but not to any statistically significant degree.

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T. Hartwell 4 years, 6 months ago

I'm tempted to see what a graph of that would look like by serial instead of season. >.>

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T. Hartwell 4 years, 6 months ago

(though it's worth noting that S18 is mislabeled as a Davison season when it is in fact Baker's final season).

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Spacewarp 4 years, 6 months ago

@T.Hartwell.

D'oh! You're right. Coloured it in wrong. Fixed now. Which means my sarky paragraph is a bit wrong, and it's Tom who takes the plunge in Season 17, while Peter bravely fights back in his first season.

As to graphs serial by serial, yes I have them too, but I'm not sure how to present them yet. Possibly a PDF. Watch this space.

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Spacewarp 4 years, 6 months ago

@T.Hartwell (and anyone else who's interested).

Ok, they're up. Easier than I thought. My HTML is pretty basic, but it does the trick. There may well be better sites out there that show this info, but I haven't found them yet.

http://spacewarp.co.uk/who/DWClassicRatings.htm

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goldroger437 4 years, 6 months ago

I would love to see more of these. I'm trying to view the best of who and these are the best reviews I've seen by far.

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Scott 4 years, 6 months ago

The film TARDIS is a thing of beauty (both in general and yours, Spacewarp). No wonder Moffat based the TARDIS on it when he took over the series.

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velvetjacket 4 years, 6 months ago

For those interested, there's a fresh take on ratings (plus lots of other nitty gritty Who facts) in Time & Space Visualiser: The Story and History of Doctor Who as Data Visualisations - http://www.wonderfulbook.co.uk/visualiser

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nwhyte 4 years, 6 months ago

Apparently the reason why there are no return-to-Steven stories is that Ian Stuart Black, and subsequently his estate, refused permission for anyone to re-use the planet of the Savages.

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William Silvia 4 years, 5 months ago

I agree with TH here. The Chase in particular, I had gotten the impression that you liked more than the average person. I find it interesting that our opinions on the Terry Nation stories seem diametrically opposed; Dalek Invasion of Earth and The Chase are two of my favorite Doctor Who serials, period, and Keys of Marinus I see as a story that gets bogged down in pacing but is otherwise not terrible. Celestial Toymaker I can't help but disagree, as the concept alone earns that story several points in my book, and it may be a context issue, but I have trouble reading any of the racism that you've mentioned in the story from simply watching it.

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William Silvia 4 years, 5 months ago

Based on that graph, it's really the combination of the hiatus and ToaTL that shot the series in the foot. Other than that, Colin was doing better than JNT's first year (which notably butchered ratings based on that chart).

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TheOncomingHurricane 3 years ago

...and neither was The Web Planet. (Over a year and a half late, but I could not let that one go)

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