In The Great Days of Rassilon, Five Great Principles Were Laid Down (The Five Doctors)
In many ways, every single thing I could possibly say about this story is
encoded thematically within this image. All of which said, whose hand is
on waxwork Tom Baker’s shoulder, exactly?
It’s November 23rd, 1983. Lionel Richie is at number one with “All Night Long (All Night),” as for one of only two times in Doctor Who we are forced to use the American charts, as this story actually aired two days earlier in the US than it did in the UK. This fact reflects the way in which Doctor Who, in the 1980s, was increasingly turning into a global export – a massive brand that raked in money for the BBC. This, of course, is not what you expect. In any other context global success would matter tremendously and would justify the show’s continued existence. But the BBC is beholden to different rules, as is appropriate given the nature of its funding. The license payers deserve not to be ignored in favor of Americans. And so far from being a reason to keep the show on the air, Nathan-Turner’s mad quest to chase American cult television fans at the expense of the license payers is, increasingly, a major problem.
Not, however, here – a story that is rightfully and properly delightful when it airs on November 25th, 1983. Billy Joel is at number one with “Uptown Girl,” with Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson below him with “Say Say Say.” The Cure are also in the top ten with “The Love Cats.”
In real news, since March sci-fi and the real world have merged uncomfortably with Ronald Reagan announcing the space-based and comically unfeasible Strategic Defense Initiative, derisively nicknamed “Star Wars.” Samantha Smith manages the impressive feat of being used as a cheap propaganda tool by both the USSR and the US. Her resulting celebrity is the only reason she is on the plane whose crash kills her at the age of thirteen two years later.
Margaret Thatcher wins reelection in June in a landslide whereby an outright majority of voters opted for more liberal parties, resulting in Thatcher having a 61% majority in the House of Commons. This massive vote of confidence emboldens Thatcher’s government, and the Thatcherism we all know and loathe really begins here. Pioneer 10 flees the solar system four days later.
The Famicom, known in the US as the Nintendo Entertainment System, launches in Japan. The Global Positioning System is announced to be opened for civilian use. The GNU project is publicly announced. 38 IRA prisoners escape from Maze prison. And US cruise missiles arrive at Greenham Common.
While, of course, on television we have a big one. The Five Doctors.
The problem with occasionally doing what I think of as the gonzo entries is that there is occasionally the sense that I’m expected, for a given “big” story, to provide one. In practice it’s a bit more idiosyncratic than that. What makes a classic story and what makes a story that lends itself to an over the top gonzo entry do not, in fact, completely coincide. What enables a gonzo entry is a story in which there is some excess – in which the story messily signifies more than it quite means to, gesturing, often against its will, at a greater, more mythic order of things.
In this regard it is easiest to compare The Five Doctors with its obvious antecedent, The Three Doctors. The Three Doctors bristled with mythic possibility precisely because what it offered was so troubling within the context of Doctor Who. The story broke rule after rule, at once connecting with a history of the program that the Pertwee era had, at least briefly, gestured at erasing and breaking decisively with that past, opening onto an altogether grander vista. The Three Doctors invoked the past, but it was an unfamiliar and uncertain past that gestured towards a strange and unpredictable future. Blakean visions ensued. The Five Doctors, on the other hand, does little to facilitate such an entry. And this, more than anything, speaks volumes about the fallen state of the program.
It is not, of course, that it is bad. The Five Doctors is pure, unbridled fun. It does all that is required of it, and to ask more of it is churlish. What is telling, though, is that in ten years (or, really, closer to eleven) the nature of what is required of a multi-doctor anniversary story has changed dramatically. In 1973 the history of the program was, oddly, both completely obscured due to the unavailability of documentation and thoroughly present – Hartnell had only been off the air for seven years, and Troughton just over three. By 1983, however, the history of the program had almost completely inverted. It was thoroughly well-documented, with Doctor Who Magazine, the Target line, the Haining book, and a wealth of other sources making information about the program more and more available. But by 1983 it had been almost a decade since Pertwee had been on the screen, and well over one for Troughton and Hartnell. The massive and monolithic wall that was the Baker years stood between the present and the early history. In 1973 we didn’t think we knew what the program had been, but in fact remembered the spirit of it well. By 1983 we thought we knew exactly what the program had been, but couldn’t be more wrong.
As a result, revisiting the past is not, in 1983, a sort of quasi-mystical and ritualistic act of self-definition to gather the whole of what the show was. It’s a trip to the Doctor Who museum – Longleat for all. A butterfly gallery of once-magical creatures chloroformed, catalogued, brought out to flutter weakly for the license-paying audience. Far from gonzo, we have little more than an exhibit catalogue. Program notes for a special exhibit, an eight quid extra ticket on top of your free museum admission.
Exhibit 1.1: William Hartnell (Reconstruction)
The First Doctor, of course, never existed. Hartnell played only the Doctor, a unique character, replaceable only in hindsight. In the Three Doctors Hartnell returned, but too ill to summon the character, his appearance more a painful farewell, a last visit to the hospital. There are flashes of the animating fire that crackle beneath the surface, but merely flashes, the body serving as a living memorial to the spirit it once housed.
This is, in some ways, less ghoulish than that, at least. With only the already fading memory of An Unearthly Child from the Five Faces series to actually base a memory of the character on, Hurndall’s imitation of the character is at least less painful than an obvously ailing Hartnell peering at his cue cards. It is not Hartnell’s Doctor – not even close – but it is a credible First Doctor – the encyclopedia entry set of character traits that defined the first iteration of the character – a cranky old man, all “hm”s and “dear boy”s. The physical resemblance is reasonably impressive – no worse than the obvious shifts in Davros and the Master that took place over the Baker era.
Still, it is telling that both Dicks and the story’s original writer, Robert Holmes, instinctively wanted to sideline the character. In Holmes’s script the First Doctor was to be an impostor diegetically as well as extra-diegetically, whereas in Dicks’s original the Doctors roles were to be recallibrated to include Tom Baker. Baker was to have the Gallifrey portion of the plot, with Davison taking the portion that went to Hurndall, and Hurdnall being stuck in the TARDIS in the non-role given to Turlough and Susan. While perhaps a better handling of Hartnell’s decline and death than was managed in 1973 while he was still alive, there is something terribly inadequate about it, a degree to which it proves the moment when the claim that The Five Doctors engages an authentic history of the show becomes unsustainable.
Exhibit 1.2: William Hartnell (Archive Footage)
An odd claim, advanced by some, is that the choice to include the brief clip of Hartnell before the credits undermines Hurndall’s performance. This, of course, assumes that Hurndall was meant to fool anybody – an odd claim given that his appearance was milked as a trivia question from day one, or that Hartnell’s death was an obscure mystery.
Hurndall’s performance was always presented as a memorial to Hartnell. To say that it is imperfect – to illustrate that Hurndall is not a seamless replacement for Hartnell – is hardly an insult to either. Nobody would be so dismissive as to say that Hartnell was interchangeable with any other actor. The inclusion of a clip of Hartnell himself serves to underline this, to position Hurndall as what he is – a man paying homage to someone else’s character and someone else’s performance. To say that seeing Hartnell spoils the illusion suggests that the illusion could ever be maintained, or that even John Nathan-Turner would be crass enough to try. Of course Hurndall was talked up as being able to duplicate Hartnell. That’s the polite thing to say in this situation. Nobody was meant to be fooled. Nobody was.
Exhibit 1.3: Susan Foreman
Oddly haunting the proceedings, as she must, it is oddly fitting that she is the only companion that we don’t see summoned to the Death Zone, instead simply showing up in the midst of a hallway. There’s tacit acknowledgment that she’s a Time Lord, at least – she recognizes Gallifrey and Gallifreyan history.
But this, in turn, only exacerbates the larger problems of the character. The Problem of Susan has, hazily defined, been a recurring theme of this blog. It is, on the one hand, a placeholder for the more general problem of the companions and the Doctor’s relationship with them. In Susan’s case we first phrased this as the tension between the possibility of her growing up and taking some action on her own behalf and her subservience to the Doctor – a problem, in essence, of budding teenage sexuality.
Since then we have discovered the problem to exist in a more general sense. The transience of all companions when compared with the permanence of the Doctor means that the relationship is always asymmetrical. No companion can ever be unique and irreplaceable to the Doctor because the structure of the story dictates that they all must be replaced. Nobody gets to travel in the TARDIS forever. Not even Romana – the one companion who in theory could have stayed forever – gets to. And so the companions are all interchangeable, simply because they must be interchanged. On the other hand, drama requires that they be essential and not extraneous to proceedings.
The result is that no companion quite makes sense outside of the limited context in which they exist on the show. They are optical illusions, tricks relying on forced perspective. Move the lens an inch onto their lives before or after the TARDIS and the illusion is shattered as we are forced to try to grapple with lives designed for the TARDIS outside that context. This, more than a fascination with mawkish and depressing sentimentality, is why all companion return stories in the professional fanfiction are so bleak. Because these characters cannot and have never been able to sustain anything beyond the window of their lives we see.
Susan, of course, is the first case of this – a character that only makes sense when she is traveling with her grandfather because of the weight of expectations involved in his departure – the endlessly deferred return that we know can never happen. But more than that, she is a character who only makes sense prior to the development of the series’ mythology. It is telling that nobody on Gallifrey ever asks of their other prodigal, their other great renegade. Even when she appears on Gallifrey, in the Death Zone, she is ignored, treated as just another companion to be ignored. The Problem of Susan is, in the end, that nobody who knew how the series would go would ever have written her in. She’s a stranded artifact, at once central to the series mythology and unrevisitable because she no longer makes any sense. (The Virgin books entire Other mythology can, in one sense, be interpreted as a desperate attempt to shoehorn her into the otherwise seemingly family-free structure of Gallifrey.)
And so Susan haunts the narrative, necessary and yet impossible to integrate. Ironically, by ignoring her, treating her with no characterization other than a tendency to hurt herself, and then shoving her in the TARDIS with no plot she becomes the one piece of the series history to be treated with complete authenticity and honesty.
Exhibit 1.4: Dalek
Obligatory, which says more about its involvement than anything else. Dicks has said that his strategy in writing The Five Doctors was to just put everything in and trust that nobody was going to look too hard at the glue. This is, again, essentially correct. The story proceeds not according to narrative logic but according to a paratextual logic. It is driven by a need to shove in every signifier of Doctor Who it can find, and more to the point, its audience knows it. It works not according to plot logic but according to the logic of nostalgia.
The Dalek is the point where this is most blatantly signposted. It appears, gets one scene, and is abandoned, having served its purpose. The audience, upon seeing this, knows exactly what sort of story this is.
But for those who approach the story hoping for a significant story in its own right – a story that is about doing something instead of a live action version of the Peter Haining book – this marks the point in the story where it is obvious that we will be disappointed. As, let’s be fair, would anyone who might have been excited by the prospect of rematching the Daleks with the Doctor, given that they’d not appeared in four years.
Exhibit 2.1: Patrick Troughton
The hardest presence to confine to a museum, of course. Mercury and pigeonholing were never going to be comfortable bedmates. But the matter of encapsulating Troughton in a reunion story is more complex than just that. All of the Doctors suffer from a reunion story simply because they are forced to go from being lead actors to being part of an ensemble – something only Hartnell had to deal with, and him only in his earliest stories.
But Troughton is in some ways uniquely suited to this reversal simply because his character always controlled scenes from the margins. And so relegated to supporting cast he is, in some ways, in his element. (Indeed, in one of the most subtle touches in The Five Doctors, Troughton even gets to peer out of a television monitor at the Fifth Doctor.) On the one hand, quicksilver cannot be pigeonholed. On the other hand, its method of resistance is to be so free-flowing and amorphous that it can adopt any form. Troughton’s Doctor is the one who is most distant from his actual characterization in the reunion stories. But Troughton’s ever-shifting nature in the role means this distance is, in many regards, just another manifestation of the mercury.
This leads, in these stories, to an odd effect. Troughton is, in all three of his returns to the series, the most compelling and likable thing on offer. The underlying mischevious twinkle that animated his Doctor still exists in what Tat Wood memorably describes as his “potty professor” guise. All of his charm is intact. And so watching him, in any of the three stories, they serve as effective first encounters. The three reunion stories were my first three Troughton stories. But they worked marvelously as gateways to his era proper, in which all of the pleasure of the character in these survives along with the myriad of other depths Troughton was able to lend to the role.
Exhibit 2.2: Brigadier
It is impossible not to notice the fact that the companion pairings in The Five Doctors are completely wrong. It is, of course, a logistical problem, as ever, centering on Tom Baker’s late departure and Frazer Hines’s being unavailable due to commitments on Emmerdale Farm. But the result is unfortunate – Troughton is paired with the Brigadier, a character he only met in two stories and has no particular attachment to.
Courtney, of course, is pure class and makes it work, pitching his performance so as to make Troughton and he into a sort of retired buddy cop movie – two old warhorses dragged out of retirement for one last adventure. Unforgiven with Yeti. As it is impossible to train a camera on Nicholas Courtney and Patrick Troughton without something satisfying happening, this works.
But there’s an obvious flaw in the plan. The decision to delay the big meet-up of the Doctors until the very end means that there is no time for a key scene, namely the one in which Courtney and Pertwee reunite. The two exchange two sentences and then Pertwee blows the Brigadier off to go translate an inscription. Again the checkbox nature of this story becomes altogether too clear – the fact that this story is about nothing more than the most abstract form of the past.
Exhibit 2.3: Yeti
It is, of course, inexplicable what this is doing here. Apparently the Great Intelligence is casually animating Yeti on Gallifrey for no reason other than the desire to bring back some classic Second Doctor monster. But the sheer brevity of its nonsensical appearance only highlights the degree to which the zeal to add bits of everything into this story was ill-advised. One of the things that increasingly comes up in Doctor Who as it speeds towards cancellation is its low budget, but when one hits something like this, what, exactly, is one expected to do? They wasted money building a Yeti costume for a two minute sequence instead of giving us more than two lines of dialogue between Pertwee and Courtney? Seriously?
Exhibit 2.4: Jamie and Zoe
Ah, the big continuity error. And it was an accident. It was supposed to be Victoria Watling returning, and the Doctor was supposed to figure out that they were illusions when Victoria misidentified the Brigadier’s rank, as he’d only been a Colonel when they met. Instead, of course, we have Troughton aware of the circumstances of his own regeneration, sparking the whole Season 6B thing.
But what’s really striking is the cruelty of this scene. Here, for one scene, we get a proper reunion – the core cast of the best-preserved season of Troughton – the one that people had gotten to see recently in The Krotons. And it’s just illusions and phantasms – a trick from the mind of Rassilon. The touch of having the phantasms scream as they disappear is particularly bleak.
Exhibit 3.1: Jon Pertwee
The Doctor who ought be most suited to this style of reunion is, puzzlingly, the one least served by the script. The Pertwee era, more than any other era, lends itself to this museum approach given that at times it seems to want to be nothing more than a collection of memes waiting for the Internet. And yet there is no Pertwee death pose, no Venusian aikido, no UNIT. He doesn’t even get his proper costume, unlike Troughton not getting to shed his overcoat once he’s in the studio. (Here I must also cite my choice for the funniest moment in Volume 5 of About Time, the observation that no theory of continuity can possibly account for Jon Pertwee’s hair.) The brief interplay with the Master, the appearance of Bessie, and a quick polarity reversal are the extent to which the Pertwee era is plundered for references.
Pertwee is left to play an inchoate mass of paternalism, and he acquits himself well. But this transition from the action hero of memory to a doting old man who is kidnapped on his Sunday drive captures an interesting aspect of how the two Doctors who are actually brought back return. Both Pertwee and Troughton play their parts as though their characters have retired – as old men coming back for one last adventure. Indeed, the entire past of the program is shown implicitly as “past its prime.”
This, of course, captures the fundamental anxiety at the heart of these proceedings, and, in many ways, of the whole of the program since Earthshock. On the one hand, Nathan-Turner is obsessed with strip-mining the program’s history. On the other, Nathan-Turner remains obsessed with distinguishing himself and glorifying his tenure as producer. And so the program is increasingly obsessed with referencing its past for the sole purpose of trying to show how much better it is than the very past that it sees itself as primarily existing to reference.
The tightrope of ambivalence that I’ve been walking in this entry amounts, in most regards, to an ambivalence of execution and conception. The story does exactly what it has to and is charming. Nothing more was required than this cheery museum catalogue, and in many ways nothing more was wanted. But one cannot embrace this without also embracing the reduction of Doctor Who to a set of trivia answers that has happened over the season. Had this not been the capstone of a museum project that had been running for eighteen months and would continue interminably into the next story it would be one thing. Instead it stands out as the one defensible moment in a sea of misguided self-indulgence, like an unpleasant drunk’s one genuinely funny bit at a party.
Exhibit 3.2: Sarah-Jane Smith
There is no scene that exemplifies the job of playing the companion quite like Lis Sladen gamely throwing herself down a small embankment and screaming in terror. All of which said, seeing her go from prospective leading woman in K-9 and Company back to interchangeable peril monkey is physically painful.
Exhibit 3.3: Bessie
As strange as it is to see the era of the program’s past that can most easily be reduced to a bunch of signifiers largely unmined, it is difficult to argue seriously that, in bringing back Bessie, they picked the most necessary of them. There is perhaps no symbol of the Pertwee era’s wonderful and ludicrous excess as the action hero driving a rickety old car like Bessie.
I never liked the Third Doctor era that much, and by the time I got my license was largely out of love with Doctor Who as well. I still named my first car, a rusting Chevy S-10 pickup truck, Bessie.
Exhibit 3.4: Liz and Mike
Ironically, Richard Franklin turns out to be terribly good at playing a character who is unsettlingly malevolent for reasons you cannot quite put your finger on. But again the shoehorn approach lets the story down. With two “phantasms” sections the appearance of Jamie and Zoe is completely drained of all tension. As grim and cruel as that sequence is, it at least has real impact, or would have if we hadn’t just seen Pertwee solve the exact same mystery a few minutes before. Was anyone so clamoring for the return of Liz Shaw and Mike Yates that this seemed like a good idea?
Exhibit 3.5: Cybermen
There are, in the whole of this story, exactly two interesting ideas of what to do with the past Doctors. One we’ll talk about later, and the other is pairing Pertwee against the Cybermen. This latter one is interesting because, of course, Pertwee is the only classic series Doctor to not have a Cybermen story in his era.
By most standards this is a trivia answer. But here it gets treated as a serious lack – as if Doctor Who had some real flaw in its past because one particular incarnation of the Doctor had never faced one particular monster. Aside from turning a given era of the program into a bucket list (Nicholas Courtney, check, Daleks, check, Cybermen, check, OK, regenerate the bugger) it serves as evidence of that strange breed of thought that thinks that monsters are the most important part of Doctor Who. This strain of thought is unfortunate, having produced exactly one good idea, ever. (Paul Cornell’s idea of the Doctor being what monsters have nightmares about, of course.) And its increasing prevalence in this era is part and parcel of why The Five Doctors had no expectations resting on it beyond checking boxes. The Cybermen, in this vision, are treated as an abstract idea, valued because they appeared on Doctor Who. Why would the series do more than check boxes for its anniversary when a substantial portion of its audience actually gives a damn whether this particular set of tin soldiers faced off with this particular actor?
I’d say that the onscreen results of this obligatory confrontation (again, picked over having Jon Pertwee actually meaningfully interact with his own supporting cast) should be forcibly shown on repeat to anyone who thinks that Doctor Who is mostly about monsters until they repent, but the fact of the matter is that most of them wouldn’t understand the problem in the first place. To quote, or at least paraphrase Gareth Roberts, those people got what they wanted. They got Attack of the Cybermen.
Exhibit 3.6: Terrance Dicks
For all my bitterness surrounding this story – a bitterness that focuses mainly on the fact that now its impossible to do another reunion story with Patrick Troughton and Jon Pertwee and so I’m forced to look at this as the missed opportunity for the sort of epic and totemic reunion story that I genuinely believe could be done, and, indeed, that was done in 1973 – I ought stress for the umpteenth time that it is utterly delightful and fun. It must, of course, have been far more so at the time, when the home video releases didn’t exist and all of these returns were thrilling and new and, for many, the first time they’d gotten to see Troughton or Pertwee. Now that this has fallen into nostalgia as well it’s indistinguishable from all the other Pertwee or Troughton stories on one’s DVD shelf save for the fact that it’s dodgier. At the time there was real magic to it.
So much of the credit for that magic goes to Terrance Dicks, whose strengths as a writer are played to utterly here. His ability to stitch a ludicrous set of elements together with nothing more than the ability to sketch a high concept idea out efficiently and his knack for plucky adventure yarns is the thing that saves this story from being Arc of Infinity 2. It takes a very, very good writer with a very, very good understanding of how audiences work to grasp that the script doesn’t have to make plot sense if it makes thematic sense. Realizing that he didn’t have to figure out how to make it all sensible, he just had to get it all on screen was a stroke of genius.
Exhibit 4.1: Tom Baker and Lala Ward (Archive Footage)
Several times in comments a bit of a debate over how long the shadow of Tom Baker really hangs over the program. The answer is at least “until Rose,” if not “until David Tennant finally beats him in a most popular Doctor poll.” Here we see it at, perhaps, its clearest.
Baker had, of course, only been out of the role for two years when the story filmed. It is wholly understandable why he did not want to return at this point. It’s harder to credit in the context of his later reluctance to engage with the program, admittedly, but that’s neither here nor there. And if we’re being honest it would have been a challenge to integrate him. In this story Davison’s supposed “blandness” – a trait that really tends to mean his tendency not to recklessly steal scenes from everyone around him – is largely a benefit, simply because it means everyone can be on about the same footing in the big shared scene at the end. Whereas, let’s face it, the scene would have been harmed by inserting a Tom Baker sized ego into it.
Still, his absence is palpable here. I remember being crushed when I put the tape in for the first time, thinking I’d finally get my third Tom Baker story, then being doubly thrilled to see that I was going to get my first Romana story, then finding out that they weren’t really in it and it was just old footage from Shada. Delightful footage, of course, but still, only a fragment.
But again, as with the Five Faces, the real effect of this is the erasure of a significant period of Doctor Who. The way in which the six seasons between Pertwee and Nathan-Turner are so barely referenced in anything that comes after creates an odd effect. For a program so obsessed with its own past the blatant ignoring of the most popular segment of the past is telling, if only inadvertently. Given the lack of respect Nathan-Turner shows to the past he plunders his failure to ever engage in the actual most popular of the period looks like cowardice, regardless of whether or not it was.
Exhibit 4.2: Tom Baker (Reconstruction)
If the moment in which Lis Sladen hurls herself down a small hill in the name of peril monkeying is the moment of Doctor Who that most perfectly embodies the companion, the decision to have a wax dummy of Tom Baker stand in for a photoshoot is the moment that most perfectly embodies John Nathan-Turner.
Exhibit 4.3: Leela (This item on loan to another museum)
While researching this piece, the fact that most staggered me was that Louise Jameson had offered to return for the story and was turned down because they couldn’t find a way to put her in. Let that sink in for a bit, as it serves as one of the more damning pieces of evidence that Nathan-Turner deliberately sidelined the Baker years. Yes, Jameson lacked a Doctor to be paired with.
But on the other hand, the task of integrating her into the story would have been trivial given that she was already on Gallifrey. You know. Where the story is set. Indeed, adding her would have done little more than give Davison someone to play off of in the Gallifrey scenes and, perhaps more importantly, would have meant that the Baker era were represented in more than just passing. Indeed, Leela is in many ways the perfect companion for this, given that she’s the companion that spanned the two main producers of the Baker era – the one who has something resembling a legitimate claim to represent the whole of it.
In many ways it’s her absence that stings the most, then. Because her omission, when she was available and wanted to appear, constitutes a real failure to represent the Baker era in a story that is otherwise preposterously obsessive about shoehorning everything in. And no, Sarah Jane doesn’t cut it. Yes, she’s primarily a Baker-era companion, but she’s explicitly used here as a Pertwee companion. This only heightens the sense that the Baker era is getting actively ignored.
No way to write her in. Feh.
Exhibit 4.4: K-9
Well, and then there’s K-9. Whose cameo status is, at least, wholly understandable – with the bulk of the story being filmed on location in Wales (standing in as the dark secret at the heart of Gallifrey. So that’s funny too.) he was never going to work well, and Dicks specifically asked to be spared dealing with him, which, given that he was stepping in at the last minute because Robert Holmes couldn’t get the scripts to work, was a more than fair request.
K-9 is, in many ways, the last throw of the dice for the Baker era, and reiterating his new pairing with Sarah Jane makes this the one non-Shada scene to evoke the Baker years. But, of course, they only appeared together on Nathan-Turner’s watch. That irritating egoism and tendency of Nathan-Turner to just cut out the bits of Tom Baker he didn’t do persists even here. Even a scene that does encompass virtually the whole of the Tom Baker years – he only appeared in seven stories that didn’t feature one of Sarah Jane or K-9 – somehow is prevented from actually serving to honor his tenure.
Exhibit 5.1: Peter Davison
If ever there was a Doctor one might worry about getting upstaged in this, it would have to be Davison. At Longleat, apparently, he was voted the worst Doctor because he was, apparently, bland – a classic case of why you can’t always trust the audience to tell you what they want. Davison’s Doctor may have his flaws – although I frankly don’t really see them, viewing him as one of the finest actors to have played the part – but blandness isn’t one of them. Bad writing often is, but even in his worst scripts Davison manages to sell the part, making his Doctor a flurry of activity. “We don’t like Davison because he’s bland” is, in reality, little more than an inarticulate way of saying “we still miss Tom Baker.” In practice, Davison is magnificent here, and even if he doesn’t get to be paired with Tom Baker he more than shows that he belongs in the company of his predecessors.
It was Troughton, of course, who encouraged Davison to leave after three years. And in the rehearsals for Castrovalva, apparently, Troughton dropped by to say hello and stood in for Davison in setting up a scene. Troughton, in other words, was always a bit of a mentoring presence for Davison, and that carries over here to how he plays the role. It’s worth watching his scenes with Hurndall, in which he manages at once to defer to Hurndall, recognizing that in this story he’s not the real main attraction, while simultaneously putting his stamp on things. Troughton-like, he flits on the edges of the scene, managing to provide a commentary on his earlier selves without upstaging them.
He is, of course, helped tremendously by Baker’s deciding not to do the special and, accordingly, by his getting the Gallifrey plot instead of being one of the “to the tower” Doctors. This makes him the odd Doctor out – the one who gets a plot that’s unlike the others. Yes, it also means he’s the one who gets cheaply mind controlled, but nobody’s perfect.
Exhibit 5.2: The Master
Amusingly, he works here, if only because the story has no illusions that he works as a character. He is unapologetically played as a bit of a buffoon. His scene storming into the Tower at the end and whining angrily that the Doctors were all terribly mean to him is not only deft characterization, it’s wonderfully spot-on. I’d say that it’s the perfect end for the character’s somewhat superfluous role in proceedings here, but it’s not. The Brigadier decking him is the perfect end, and just about makes up for the appalling three-line scene with Pertwee.
Note also that Dicks quietly fixes Robert Holmes’s in hindsight poor decision to set a definite endpoint for the series by establishing that giving a Time Lord a new cycle of regenerations is not only possible but the sort of thing that gets handed out as casual payment.
Exhibit 5.3: Tegan
The other interesting idea that the story has is pairing Tegan with the First Doctor. Unfortunately, almost nothing about the idea actually works. It’s based on the misapprehension that the First Doctor’s character is defined merely by his crankiness, first of all, and that there’s something strange about pairing him with a loudmouthed or strongwilled person. In practice, of course, Hartnell got paired with strong-willed characters all the time. Tegan has nothing on Barbara. Nothing. (To say nothing of the episodes where Hartnell is paired with Nicholas Courtney’s Brett Vyon)
But on top of that, nothing gets done with it. There’s not actually any hilarious banter between Tegan and the First Doctor. They don’t share any quips. Tegan doesn’t get to put the Doctor in his place. It turns out that what happens when you pair Tegan with the First Doctor is that Tegan looks sullen and grouchy and doesn’t do anything, an outcome that comes perilously close to suggesting that all Tegan really needs is a disciplinarian who will shut her mouth.
Exhibit 5.4: Turlough
Turlough is also in this story, as it happens, though you’d hardly know watching it. Still, at least he gets to appear in all the other stories around this, so, you know, it’s less depressing watching him get pointlessly shoved in the TARDIS than it is to watch Carole Ann Ford get hired just to be wasted in the TARDIS with Turlough.
Exhibit 5.5: Gallifrey
Ah, yes. Gallifrey. This is the last of the four Gallifrey stories, though Trial of a Time Lord flirts with the iconography. Everyone points out that Cardinal Borusa is played by four different actors in the course of four stories, but what’s pointed out less is that there are unmistakably four different Gallifreys here. In The Deadly Assassin the Doctor needs to be told who Rassilon is. Here everybody knows rhymes and stories about Rassilon and his tomb, and Gallifrey manages to find another dark secret in the heart of it all.
Given this it’s actually surprising just how well Rassilon’s appearance works. The moment when the faces on his tomb come to life and begin looking around frantically is one of the great moments of a horrific concept overcoming its technical limitations and managing to be really creepy anyway. Or, at least, I thought so. Watch me discover that they’re the new Plasmatons.
But on the whole Gallifrey suffers the worst from the museum approach, and it’s here that the gulf between 1973 and 1983 becomes most apparent. In The Three Doctors Gallifrey was still treated as a mysterious place of powerful beings we knew little about, with secrets that would be revealed. Here Gallifrey was treated as something we all know everything about, with the Death Zone being just one previously unmentioned detail. The lushness of the Deadly Assassin has given way to excessive glitter and “space” doors that, as is hilariously pointed out by David Tennant in the 25th anniversary commentary track for this story, are just doors with two handles screwed on.
And the mind probe.
All of which said, we here reach the limit of my critical capacity, and that limit is Chancellor Flavia. Nothing about Dinah Sheridan’s performance or the role as written begins to account for her status within fandom. And yet I, without having any real knowledge of that status, similarly took to Chancellor Flavia as being a terribly important character. Part of this was that she was, apparently, the new Lord President of Gallifrey and would thus presumably be important. But this seems insufficient to explain the level of fascination she holds (for instance, Davies and Collinson nicknaming the “Time Lordy” music of the Davies/Tennant era as “Chancellor Flavia’s Theme”). Nor is her potential as a camp icon quite enough.
Exhibit 5.6: Theme Music
While I am not among those who hate the Peter Howell arrangement of the theme music, the moment in the closing credits when the Delia Derbyshire theme gives way to the Howell theme is actively painful. And not just because of the rough key change.
Exhibit 5.7: How it All Started
The story goes out of its way to have its ending supposedly mirror “how it all started,” with Tegan getting in a painfully awkward line about the Doctor “deliberately choosing to go on the run from your own people in a rackety old TARDIS” at the end. But, of course, that’s not how it all started. It started with two people falling out of the world into a strange and mysterious space that didn’t make sense. It didn’t start with Time Lords at all. And it certainly didn’t start following a ninety minute museum tour of the series past.
This is, in many ways, a microcosm of my ambivalence over this story. By returning to an imaginary past and then making an ending that amounts to shouting “twenty more years, just like this!” the series is, in effect, completely abandoning all possibility of what it once was – a series about the strange and the unsettling. Doctor Who has, at long last, given up all prospect of being anything other than populist comfort food. This story isn’t what does it. The Nathan-Turner era has been careening towards it since Bidmead left. It’s implicit, in many ways, in the shift from being a science fiction show at Saturday teatime to a sci-fi soap opera.
And it’s in many ways implicit in the general cultural turn towards franchise/property based science fiction. Doctor Who is first and foremost a brand, and when brands have anniversaries this is the sort of anniversary they have. All of this is just the consequences of 1983 playing out over poor Doctor Who. But it’s very hard to be anything short of dismayed by it. As wonderful as the program can be through the Davison era, and even though it hits wonderful far more often than its given credit for, it’s impossible not to be more than faintly disappointed by what the program is here compared to what it once was.
April 4, 2012 @ 12:35 am
"Samantha Smith manages the impressive feat of being used as a cheap propaganda tool by both the USSR and the US."
Is that really what Americans think of her now? And did they think that at the time? I would have thought that by now hindsight would have shown us that the USSR really didn't want nuclear war in the 80s, any more than the US did.
April 4, 2012 @ 1:40 am
The moment that, for me, sums up both what you've dubbed The Problem of Susan and The Museum is the 'reunion' of the Fifth Doctor with Susan. The Hurndall Doctor introduces them, as though they're strangers. The Davison Doctor says "Yes, I know." And that's it. His only – as far as anyone knows – living family, seen again after (presumably) hundreds of years, all grown up… and he says "Yes, I know." Davison imbues it with as much warmth as he can, but its still breathtakingly casual. As such, it's a key moment in a story that is amazingly smug yet, simultaneously, utterly glib.
April 4, 2012 @ 2:27 am
Absolutely spot on. You've precisely detailed why I dislike this story and yet can still watch it with something like pleasure, having to employ a curious mixture of schadenfreude and hand-wavey exculpation. However, I think there's more metatextual mileage to be had from your observation of '…how the two Doctors who are actually brought back return. Both Pertwee and Troughton play their parts as though their characters have retired – as old men coming back for one last adventure.' Isn't there here and in Troughton's next appearance a suggestion that, post regeneration, previous models of the Doctor still exist in some kind of virtual retirement home. Indeed back in The Three Doctors we see Hartnell in his clip pottering round a rose garden like some retired Oxbridge don, seemingly unaware or uncaring of his status as a discarded husk. This, coupled with the odd inference that each incarnation has also lived a seperate life before regeneration with their own foibles and interests (e.g. Five's Cricketing hobby)has always intrigued me. I wonder if this will be addressed in your Two Doctors entry?
April 4, 2012 @ 3:37 am
The thing that annoys me most about The Five Doctors is Hurdnell's insistence on referring to Davison as 'young man'. I presume this is the fault of the script writers, not of the actors, but it grates every time I watch it.
April 4, 2012 @ 3:48 am
Well said, Phil. I think one reason the RTD era generally worked for me was Davies' intuitive feel for properly handling the emotional bases–his whole era feels like a corrective to the bloodless feel of this period and esp. this reunion, in which moments that should be joyous and climactic—Davison meeting Susan again, Pertwee and the Brig, even Troughton and fake Jamie—just fall absolutely flat. As you said, it's another box ticked off, like the Yeti appearing, or Mike Yates.
It's why something like "School Reunion," despite being a flawed episode IMO, has a compelling emotional resonance to it. It's as if the JNT era-Who suffered some personality disorder in which it couldn't process how basic human relationships worked: grandfathers and granddaughters, who haven't seen each other for centuries, suddenly reuniting. Or old friends meeting again at the sunset of their lives. It's a remarkably cold, almost inhuman show at this point.
April 4, 2012 @ 4:27 am
Even worse than Davison brushing his granddaughter off – the other Doctors don't even get to say a word to her!
April 4, 2012 @ 4:35 am
You hit the nail on the head exactly why I dislike this story (and once, in my younger days, felt moved to write a rather pompous review of it and submit it to the Ratings Guide that I've always been meaning to get taken down or edited), but even having mellowed with age unlike your good self I can't find myself warming to it, even on the 'ah it's just a bit of fun for the anniversary, lighten up!' level.
My problem is that for all it's supposed to be big and fun and a celebratory knees-up bringing back all the key signifiers of the last twenty years of "Doctor Who" — and really, I've got no problem with that at all, it's the twentieth anniversary, why shouldn't there be a big party? — it's all so relentlessly… GREY. Okay, fine, I'm not expecting the greatest plot in "Doctor Who" history with all this, but what little plot there is basically translates to the main characters wandering around a load of boring wet fields, with some occasional switches to some, well, dull Gallifrey sets, really.
Perhaps the nadir — for me, anyway — is the Raston Warrior Robot sequence where the Cybermen get massacred, and EVERY SINGLE THING ON SCREEN except for Jon Pertwee and Elisabeth Sladen is either grey, silver, or silver-grey. It's probably up there as one of the most visually dull action sequences in "Doctor Who" history, and the way it's staged isn't exactly anything to write home about either.
I mean, the cast do their best and put in some good work — but this is one of the best "Doctor Who" casts ever, you'd kind of expect at least the minimum effort — but no one can really disguise the fact that they're cold, wet, bored and not really having a good time.
Even given the referential overdosing you refer to in the Davison years I don't mind the "Doctor Who" production team throwing a party for this, but they could have at least made it a fun one. Because if this is supposed to be a party, then for me it's not a fun bash but one of those horrible work-dos where everyone feels compelled to show up and tries to have a good time but no one's heart is really in it, and everyone's munching on stale cake looking at the clock wondering when enough time's going to have passed to allow them to convincingly make their excuses. And the way everyone drills in that we're supposed to be having SO MUCH FUN FOR THE ANNIVERSARY is even worse, like that irritating guy from a few cubicles down who puts on "Agadoo" and insists that everyone dance because "we're supposed to be having fun!"
(… sorry, I may be suffering from whatever the Awful Work Party equivalent of PTSD is. But you see what "The Five Doctors" does to me?!)
April 4, 2012 @ 5:05 am
Nothing to add except that I wish there was a "like" button for comments.
April 4, 2012 @ 5:08 am
I know what you mean, but it depends on what regeneration (/rejuvenation) means to a Time Lord — how much it's continuity and how much it's wiping away of the old. You can argue that Hurndall's Doctor is at least 400 and Davison's is only two.
April 4, 2012 @ 5:22 am
And yet David Tennant very happily applauded this story in his commentary for the Five Doctors DVD. Probably because he's not a gloomy professor making rules for What Doctor Who Is Supposed To Be.
Phil, you're brilliant, but I'm failing to understand your sustained grumpiness about the era you claim ties with Pat's as your second favorite. If this is how you write about an era you like, Colin's is going to make you suicidal.
And your JNT-deserves-no-credit-for-anything approach is a very Ian Levine attitude to take. The crack about the waxwork Tom is especially unfair. Your greatest condescension in your blog so far has been toward Richard Franklin, Matthew Waterhouse and now JNT. I don't like that pattern at all. Will John Barrowman get it in the neck, too?
All of that said, I wish Susan and Sarah had been brought back more deftly, too, or else not returned at all.
April 4, 2012 @ 5:28 am
I don't know whether it's the benefit of hindsight and the intervening 29 years between then and now, or the fact that we've been somewhat spoiled for characterisation in the new series, but rewatching this now there's so much more you feel could have been done with it. Perhaps it is simply that today's series is made by fans who in a sense are trying to make the kind of Doctor Who they would like to see themselves, as opposed to the kind of Doctor Who that they think we would like to see. The reaction of the First Doctor to his later selves does seems to be simply based on the premise of an old man meeting a young one. A fault that was first seen in The Three Doctors where two older (and supposedly more experienced) Doctors deferred to an older-looking but actually youngest Doctor.
If the writers were attempting to address how Time Lords relate to the concept of Regeneration, then they missed a trick in not showing the First Doctor's reaction at meeting the consequences of a process that he has not yet experienced in this his first life. To know that you're going to go through so much trauma in the future that you'll be forced to change your body and entire personality, no matter how much you resist…and then meeting one of the men who will effectively be replacing you…it's almost the Time Lord equivalent of arriving at your own future tombstone.
April 4, 2012 @ 5:34 am
We always have a love-hate relationship with the season we grew up with. We love it because it reminds us of how fantastic it was watching it when we were a child, but we hate it because now we can see the flaws and we blame it for not being as good as we remember. Unfortunately we should be blaming ourselves, because we've changed, it hasn't.
Except Pertwee, who is as fantastic now to me as he ever was…but I suspect that might be down to the occasional sight of Jo Grant's underwear…
I'll get my coat…
April 4, 2012 @ 5:40 am
I think that's a bit unfair; it's possible to appreciate, even love something while acknowledging that it's ultimately flawed. I mean, I love the Davison era as well — the McGann movie made me notice "Doctor Who", but the Fifth Doctor was arguably what turned me into a fan — but even I find it hard to argue that there weren't plenty of bad-habits, flawed priorities and missteps that led to what happened in the mid-eighties and ultimately the 1989 cancellation. And it's also hard to argue that JN-T doesn't deserve a fair dose of the blame for that either, or that he at least made himself a fairly noticeable target for it — he was the one putting himself front and centre on all the talk shows and fanzines as the Face of "Doctor Who" Behind The Scenes, after all.
April 4, 2012 @ 5:41 am
Richard Franklin is gay?
April 4, 2012 @ 5:55 am
I don't know for sure about Richard, but he's been widely perceived as gay since that story circulated abuot him and a young male fan. More intriguing for me is that since that story emerged, fans interpret Mike Yates as being more camp than they did before. That's happened to me in my own life. I'm on the more boyish end of the gay male spectrum and am sometimes mistaken for straight. But after people find out I'm gay, they often see me as more feminine than they did before.
April 4, 2012 @ 6:00 am
Urgh, thanks for leading me to read this
April 4, 2012 @ 6:01 am
Regardless, I had no idea. Actually, I think Waterhouse, Nathan-Turner, and Waris Hussein are the only three major creative staff on the classic series that I knew were gay prior to someone mentioning that Grimwade was.
So I'll admit, I'm pretty upset at the accusation of homophobia.
April 4, 2012 @ 6:01 am
^I didn't see that before I posted, it was in reply to Sandifer.
Yates is gay in some of the Virgin Novels.
April 4, 2012 @ 6:02 am
To answer Scott's point, I don't get the concept of blaming anyone for a show ending after 26 seasons, of which 9 were his own. Yes, every era of Doctor Who has some serious flaws, from racism to failed character development to the studio crew turning the lights out before a scene could be finished. But I think the fan hive mind has stacked the deck against JNT for decades. I'm curious to see how he will get no credit for Sylv's era, either.
April 4, 2012 @ 6:03 am
I don't suspect any trace of homophobia, for what it's worth. I certainly haven't seen any towards RTD anyway.
April 4, 2012 @ 6:05 am
Be more suited to the entry on Timewyrm: Revelation, I'd have thought.
April 4, 2012 @ 6:08 am
Then I apologize, Phil.
I would like to know if you think JNT deserves any credit for how well, say, Enlightenment turned out, or were any triumphs during his era some kind of virgin birth? True, his decade was very inconsistent, but so was every other era. Caves to Twin doesn't seem much different than Genesis to Revenge to me.
April 4, 2012 @ 6:15 am
Is that not quite a good reminder, though, of how the Doctor & Susan are not human? For a start, for a Time Lord, perhaps catching up after centuries is like us seeing a family member at Easter that we last met at Christmas. Also, maybe Time Lords simply don't express emotion the way we do — their upper lips are cosmically stiff?
April 4, 2012 @ 6:23 am
Part of why I really enjoyed the early entries here, during the Hartnell and Troughton tenures, was that Phil really was taking a relatively fresh look at the show during that period. His insight on the show's alchemical roots were brilliant, and he hit the nail on the head with the Problem of Susan in a way that I don't think any other critic ever managed to do.
But it's been a while since I've gotten that vibe of new insight or fresh perspective. The Davison entries, so far, have been rather depressingly predictable. Phil still writes as well as ever, but we're basically seeing the received wisdom of the JNT era, albeit summarized much more capably than usual.
That may not be Phil's fault, of course. I suspect it's easier to find a fresh and original take on 1960s Doctor Who because so few people have actually bothered to try. When I got interested in the show in 1980s, it was treated as a historical artifact: only Peter Haining and his ilk bothered to make much of a critical evaluation of the stories themselves, and everyone else treated, say, his evisceration of "The Gunfighters" as gospel. But the 1980s were different, and were debated and fought over at the time of transmission. Doctor Who Monthly may not have even put its neck out with a negative review of a recently-broadcast story, but others were certainly willing to debate a serial on its merits. The critical consensus on this period has, I think, but much more thoroughly hashed out than earlier periods in the show's history, so there may be less insight to be had here.
That said, I'm not entirely sold on the idea that the show started on a slide of terminal decline starting in 1980. I think Nathan-Turner gets a lot of blame for things that weren't really his doing: he may have flirted with the fan-industrial complex more enthusiastically than any previous producer, but the content of that flirtation wasn't substantially different than it had been since about 1970, when it became common to hawk out the show's star for publicity. The initial negative fan reaction to "The Deadly Assassin" and the appearance of "professional fans" like Ian Levine during the Tom Baker years similarly suggests that this process was well under way, and, I suspect, would have continued apace more or less regardless of the producer.
Similarly, I take some issue with the idea that JNT's active pursuit of worldwide markets was especially problematic. Doctor Who was not, I think, cancelled because it was a cult success in America. On the other hand, I still think there's a strong case to be made that the show could not have survived, post-cancellation, without that foot in the world of cult sci-fi. Though it comes with some problems, it was the fact that such a base existed that ensured that a generation of fans remained committed to the idea of the show even though it was off the air for almost a decade and a half, and led to the creation of the novel ranges, the comics, and the audio dramas that allowed the show to, in effect, slide back onto the airwaves in 2005 almost as if it had never been away.
April 4, 2012 @ 6:24 am
There was a discussion on Gallifrey Base a year or so ago, about how Harrison Chase (from "Seeds of Doom") was obviously gay. Someone commented that what people were mistaking for "gay" was actually "posh", and I've always thought that about Yates.
You used to encounter upper-class accents far more in the 70s and 80s on UK TV, but if you see someone who speaks like that now, it's often lazy shorthand for homosexual.
I wonder if the equivalent in the US would be the Bostonian accent(cf Higgins from Magnum PI?
The Lord of Ábrocen Landmearca
April 4, 2012 @ 6:26 am
You dislike a pattern that holds that some of the most disliked persons in Doctor Who history were disliked for a reason? Personally, I rejoice at the concept that a fandom might hold an opinion rooted in fact, it is a novel experience.
April 4, 2012 @ 6:33 am
To you, perhaps. On the other hand, I think it's genuinely interesting that the top and bottom stories in the Mighty 200 were consecutive stories. I think that's a fact that it's nearly impossible not to make something out of.
I've also noted that Nathan-Turner's getting the series cancelled in 1985 (and let's be honest, that's when it died, It just twitched around on the ground for four years after) was only possible because he saved it in 1980-81.
I think what makes McCoy's era good is the addition of Andrew Cartmel, admittedly. But, of course, Nathan-Turner hired him. And other than Silver Nemesis, Nathan-Turner's instincts were good again in that era. Even when he made what sounded like dodgier decisions. Adding the Master to Survival was actually perfect and made that a great story.
Nathan-Turner needs a good writer opposite him. He had one in Bidmead, and again with Cartmel. With Saward he was out to sea and his failings became all too visible. And so this is the period where they can be talked about.
April 4, 2012 @ 6:55 am
I think the 80s are a very, very picked over period of Doctor Who. Or, at least, the Davison/Baker period. I like to think I was being novel as recently as Bidmead. 🙂
You're right, of course, that the 80s stories were debated at broadcast. But even then I think the window is kind of narrow. Hence the Longleat entry last time, and the note that a countertrend within fandom was being born. I think the transition really starts to happen over the next two seasons, with The Two Doctors being roughly tagged as the point where the transition really happens.
But equally, yes – the period leading up to the hiatus, due to its status as "what killed Doctor Who," has been poured over more intensively than really any other. There's less room to find new things to say. Although even there, I'd like to think that the Norse Marxism take on Terminus was fairly novel, as was the extended treatment of Turlough and gay culture.
And I liked Time-Flight. That's got to be novel.
April 4, 2012 @ 7:02 am
First and foremost what needs to be said about this is that I don't remember Hartnell's Doctor ever wearing those fingerless gloves, and yet because of this story in my mind he always has. This is the fandom equivalent of Amy Pond remembering different versions of her life.
I, too, am always annoyed by the missed opportunities this story displays time and time again. Dicks is a magnificent hack, but in this case his commercial instincts fail him, as he only considers what fans might want to see and utterly neglects to consider what any particular character might think or feel about anything that's happening (Sarah's gripe notwithstanding). This is the show's worst tendency, that of treating characters as little bundles of traits and affectations to be moved around like pieces on the story's all-too-apt gameboard.
Any one of the juxtapositions and confrontations in this story could have justified stories in and of themselves. Leaving aside the Susan thing, none of the Doctors give any sense of seeing their own futures or pasts, and the question of just how it is none of them remember anything of it is skipped entirely. It might be asking too much of the show to structure a Rashomon-style multiple perspective thing, or even to have later Doctors start to fill in pieces of the puzzle as they slowly "remember" what's happening to their younger selves in other scenes. But none of them gets so much as a sense of deja vu, and neither of the "youngest" Doctors have the slightest qualm about finding themselves home again. Pertwee's Doctor meeting two people he might have seen earlier in the day and finding them years older and talking about him in the past tense – well surely he'd have said something like "Egads, I'm in my own future!" But he doesn't, because both the script and Pertwee play it like they know they are in a reunion episode.
It's frustrating, annoying, saddening, and not anything I'd ever show to any new fan. And yet I have the VHS and both DVDs, and somewhere in my house there is a 1988 cassette tape of my friend and I reading the entire script in Rich Little style celebrity voices. This is what it means to be a Doctor Who fan.
April 4, 2012 @ 7:07 am
The script basically treats the different Doctors as if they're four separate individuals, like old golfing buddies. Susan is only the First Doctor's grand-daughter; the other Doctors are simply aware of each other's companions, they have no real fondness for them or gladness to see them again, only the ones who actually met them in the show's history react in this way; Davison deferring to Hurndall, despite technically being the more experienced Doctor (and he is more experienced – the Doctor is forever telling of past encounters, so he doesn't get reset.) Dicks never quite gets his head around what it means to be four different aspects of the same person.
April 4, 2012 @ 7:09 am
I've honestly never had a problem with this, simply because it's wholly consistent with audience expectations. As I noted, the past Doctors are all portrayed as retired veterans who have given up the job to the new guy, but are now dragged back for one more adventure.
Yes, it's odd if you actually treat Doctor Who as a lengthy biopic of a functionally immortal man, but I think that's really just evidence that that's not what Doctor Who is. Of course the First Doctor is the voice of experience and Davison is the young whippersnapper. That configuration is just fundamentally and intuitively right when taken as a piece of television and metatext.
That said, it is perhaps an opportunity missed. The gap between Hurndall and the real First Doctor is just wide enough that they could have gotten away with haranguing Hurndall's inexperience. But imagine a scene where Davison treats William Hartnell as a young amateur without his experience. It would be unwatchable.
April 4, 2012 @ 7:47 am
you could say that. But what about a modicum of curiosity at least? Like Davison: "hey, Susan, what's been going on since I left you on 21st Century Earth 300 yrs ago?"
April 4, 2012 @ 8:05 am
to add to this, the botch is worsened by the fact that they show the bloody Hartnell "one day I will come back" farewell to Susan clip at the start of the episode! It's like going out of its way to raise expectations and then just fumble them.
April 4, 2012 @ 8:08 am
SK. Yes I'm reasonably sure the novels deal with the concept but A). Never read 'em. and B). I'm more interested in Phillip's potential meta-textual reading than in any quasi-official 'canonical' explanation.
April 4, 2012 @ 9:46 am
I'll just ask the obvious question: With the fiftieth anniversary fast approaching, DW will be gearing up for something big. Could Moffat do a multi-Doctor story that would satisfy your desire for big myth-building? What would that look like?
April 4, 2012 @ 9:56 am
The top and bottom stories in that poll are an intriguing juxtaposition, true. But it also reminds me of something else about fandom. For a long time, Ian Levine, Gary Leigh and others have insisted that JNT had no involvement in Caves and was intensely involved in Twin. But on the Caves DVD rerelease, Graeme Harper is on the screen talking about how heavily and intensely JNT was involved with that story.
Doctor Who did culturally die in 1985, but I'd take the Sylv era's twitching around over the much more successful but infinitely duller Star Trek: The Next Generation anyday. And while Colin's era is uneven, I still like its bravery. Not many people would take a risk like that with such a long-running franchise.
True, Bidmead and Cartmel deserve a great deal of credit for their eras. I have mixed feelings about Saward, and if JNT had spent less time on fandom and conventions during the mid-80s, he might have reigned in Saward's worst failings. And yes, he probably should have pulled the next story coming up when Thatcher did her election thing.
April 4, 2012 @ 11:35 am
I am more than faintly offended at the idea that I might be engaging in any debate about canon. My point is that the theme youention is addressed more strongly in the Cornell than the Holmes.
April 4, 2012 @ 11:41 am
I think the odds of my attempting to guess what Steven Moffat will write are fairly slim. He's a better television writer than almost anyone else to have worked in the medium. I'm not a television writer at all.
April 4, 2012 @ 11:46 am
Star Trek: The Next Generation is dull…? The McCoy era is a twitching husk…?
I'm getting out of here before I do something I'm going to regret 🙂
April 4, 2012 @ 11:49 am
To be clear, my suggestion that the McCoy era was a dead series still twitching was not in any way intended as a comment on its quality so much as its future prospects. It was a dead series walking and eventual cancellation was inevitable.
Quality-wise, it was, as I've noted before, the best the classic series ever got.
April 4, 2012 @ 11:50 am
If I may be so bold with the announcement that season 7 will feature a showdown with EVERY DALEK EVER, I kind of doubt the trend of treating anniversary specials as museum checklists to appease fans is going away anytime soon
April 4, 2012 @ 12:04 pm
I mean, my objection to The Five Doctors isn't the amount of stuff it shoves in, it's the way in which it handles it. Having every Dalek ever appear is, to me, a neutral idea. What's interesting is purely what one does with every Dalek ever.
What matters, to me, is whether the story is about every Dalek ever or whether there's an actual idea for which every Dalek ever is a central set piece. Is it, in other words, a story about Dalek tourism, or is it a story about, for instance, the way in which the Doctor has, in his own way, shaped the development of the Daleks. One is museum checklist. The other isn't.
April 4, 2012 @ 12:23 pm
I agree of course, but the difference between you and me is that you remain admirably open-minded and optimistic, while I am a lonely, bitter angry cynic of Robert Holmes' caliber (though one who is perhaps a bit more cognizant about issues of representation). I tend to feel if one never gets one's hopes up, one will never be disappointed, and since I have zero confidence in either Steven Moffat or Doctor Who's ability to meaningfully interact with its own past at this point I am fully expecting "Ark of Infinity 2" here and will continue to do so until I am proven wrong by the episode itself.
April 4, 2012 @ 12:47 pm
Although, as you and others have mentioned, one of the fascinating things about early Doctor Who is just how amateurish the Doctor actually is, so haranguing him would actually be appropriate in the context of the series as broadcast even if it wouldn't be appropriate in the context of the series as remembered.
April 4, 2012 @ 12:57 pm
And, of course, this means they blow the opportunity to have a "but you didn't return" scene like the one that gave the emotional heart to School Reunion. (Although it lost impact when they basically reran it in Death of the Doctor (which makes me wonder, Phil — when you get to the modern era, are you doing an entry for each Torchwood / Sarah Jane story, or one for each season, or just one for each show? One for each show seems too little)).
That speech has always seemed to me to be very odd. The Doctor doesn't return and never seems to show any inclination to. The "go forward in all your beliefs / and prove to me that I am not mistaken in mine" line is pretty much the only time that (a) he shows any faith in Susan and (b) there is any reference to Susan having any beliefs at all. It comes over as the Doctor trying to remove himself from a potential source of fuss rather than a sincere statement (like his gloriously self-centered "apology" to Barbara in Edge of Destruction).
There's a great follow-up conversation to be had about that speech, but The Five Doctors obviously wasn't the place to have it.
April 4, 2012 @ 1:01 pm
You didn't like Time-Flight! You just shouted at people who disliked it and gave reasons why a similar but different story might have turned out well. If you really liked it you'd have been convincing.
April 4, 2012 @ 1:03 pm
And FWIW I didn't read it as an accusation of conscious homophobia, just an observation of a pattern that perhaps would be merit further thinking.
April 4, 2012 @ 1:05 pm
Cartmel also speaks highly of JNT's sharpness and sense of what would and wouldn't work, FWIW. (Phil, have you read his book?)
April 4, 2012 @ 1:23 pm
"He's a better television writer than almost anyone else to have worked in the medium."
Um. No. He does what he does, but he has some very glaring faults as a writer. I know many critics who accuse him of superficiality – he's good at tricks, but not depth. He's also pretty formulaic. And all his characters talk like Stephen Moffatt.
April 4, 2012 @ 1:39 pm
Can I just point out an observation I find somewhat amusing?
We are now applying Doctor Who fandom logic to Phil's blog itself, and, even better, on the entry critiquing one of the arguable high water marks for JNT-era fanwankery and lack of respect for his predecessors.
"Well yes, of course. I've never been able to visit it before now, but I've got all sorts of souvenirs. Copies of all the advertising satellites that have ever been sent out. All the posters. I had a long correspondence with one of the founder members too, soon after it started. Although I never got to see the early days, I know it's not as good as it used to be but I'm still terribly interested."
April 4, 2012 @ 1:48 pm
I have to agree with Exploding Eye here, I'm afraid. Moffat's got some talents, but he's by no means one of the greatest television writers of all time, nor is he even the best one to have handled the New Series so far IMO. I find his writing exceptionally problematic and his running of the series to be almost as out-of-touch with his own cast as Innes Lloyd and Barry Letts and defined by almost as much of an egotistical, standoffish and defensive attitude as John Nathan-Turner.
April 4, 2012 @ 1:50 pm
Putting the axe on "Lungbarrow" is still one of the best decisions Nathan-Turner ever made IMO and something he'll never get the credit he deserves for,
April 4, 2012 @ 2:05 pm
I mean, we’re including, like, Troy Kennedy Martin here, right?
April 4, 2012 @ 2:09 pm
(I definitely prefer him to Davies, though. Both are superficial, but Moffat revels in his superficiality in clever-clever ways rather than pretending to depth but instead only managing pseudoemotional set pieces)
April 4, 2012 @ 2:23 pm
In terms of all his characters having the same voice – writing 101, surely – the line which sums it up for me is, "Is that a sort of threaty thing?" It's Michael Gambon's line as Scrooge in the 2010 Christmas special, but you could just as easily imagine it coming from the Doctor or Amy, or a number of other characters. That weird almost-baby-talk ("wibbly wobbly timey wimey") that SM has going, and which mostly works fine for the Doctor – though I find it to be like nails-on-the-blackboard – but when you start putting it in the mouth of a jaded, elderly industrialist too, you know you've got problems.
Moff's strength is an eye for magic; he loves bending minds and making you think about the nature of time and reality. But in the end, it's all trickery, it's all a parlour game, which often doesn't add up in any logical fashion when you stop and think about it. His characters are often cookie-cutter ciphers, he has a limited range of personal fascinations; he's not great at balancing humour and drama, often wrecking tension by making the characters glib in moments of danger. He knows how to do spooky, he has a good sense of the unsettling and the ghoulish, he does texture in a way that RTD rarely achieved (RTD's stuff often felt like daytime soap with sci-fi trappings; Moff's material on the other hand oozes 'feel'); I think Moff has the genre sensitivity that RTD lacked. Didn't RTD once say that he didn't really like science fiction? If he did, it showed. SM likes fairy tales, which is always going to be more magical and dreamlike than RTD's love of soap. But it's by and large superficial. He doesn't understand story, he doesn't understand character, he only knows how to construct fiendish puzzle-box plots. And that's a pretty major flaw in a writer.
April 4, 2012 @ 2:26 pm
I don't find characters all having the same voice to be that fundamental a problem. Then again, I also think Aaron Sorkin and Joss Whedon are brilliant TV writers and Warren Ellis is a brilliant comics writer. It strikes me as a problem if you're interested in realism. I'm pointedly not. I'm OK with consistency of speech patterns being one of the things that is used to set an overall tone. Certainly Moffat's characters don't all act the same, and that, to my mind, is altogether more important.
April 4, 2012 @ 2:45 pm
I don't think Exploding Eye is criticizing Moffat's stories for not being realistic, but because they're empty, shallow and full of sleight-of-hand plot trickery that doesn't amount to anything, pseudo-drama and Buffy speak. That's a very different argument. EE even praises Moffat's flair for mood, atmosphere and his love of fairy tales, which is more than even I was going to grant him. I'm really not getting a sense that EE is bemoaning a lack of realism in New Series DW at all as much as he is bringing up some perfectly valid and difficult-to-refute criticisms of Moffat's writing style.
April 4, 2012 @ 2:47 pm
Oh, sure. I wasn't mounting the general defense of Moffat. I have, what, something like 20-30 blog entries to do that with eventually? I was just noting that I don't think making your characters sound different is Writing 101. I think it's a fairly optional element of television writing, particularly if you've got a good grasp of an engaging cadence for dialogue.
April 4, 2012 @ 2:56 pm
Although I guess this does resonate with the 10th Doctor's "a new man walking away" speech, asserting that each Doctor is a completely separate individual, with no emotional ties to a previous life, and therefore to previous compatriots. Then again if this were followed to the letter it would have made the transition between the 9th and 10th Doctors rather awkward for Rose. As it is, the Doctor's affection for Rose has obviously carried over from the "old" man to the "new".
As Phil points out re: the 5th Doctor mocking the 1st Doctor's inexperience, sometimes what might seem logical in the show's internal context would be dramatically very unsatisfying.
April 4, 2012 @ 4:39 pm
Apropos of nothing except people here might enjoy the story: when Philip said "I never liked the Third Doctor era that much, and by the time I got my license was largely out of love with Doctor Who as well. I still named my first car, a rusting Chevy S-10 pickup truck, Bessie", it reminded me that my wife, a non-fan growing up who had never seen a Jon Pertwee episode at the time this happened, called our first car "Bessie".
When I expressed astonishment at her choice, she claimed that she "just liked the name" and had no idea it was significant.
True story (and possible fuel for the "quasi-sentient metafiction" theory)!
April 4, 2012 @ 6:32 pm
Good points all around. I do wonder how the new show will treat this issue if/when they eventually have a "multiple Doctors" episode, since (a) Matt Smith, the youngest actor to play Doctor, is actively trying to portray himself as an old man in a young man's body and (b) Tennant, in "The End of Time," expressed open hostility towards the very idea of a successor, not to mention a mixture of condescension and gooey nostalgia when he met Davison's Doctor in "Time Crash."
April 4, 2012 @ 6:38 pm
IIRC, the Children in Need special indicated that the Tenth Doctor had somehow "imprinted" on Rose due to the circumstances of the regeneration. This explains his accent and (arguably) why he had a romantic fixation on her quite unlike anything he'd ever demonstrated on the show before. Eccleston spent more time flirting with Jack than with Rose, but Tennant spent most of three seasons mooning over her.
April 4, 2012 @ 6:51 pm
I disliked Adric/Waterhouse and I disliked JNT, but it's not because of homophobia. Rather, I disliked Adric (a potentially interesting and different character played by an inexperienced actor) because of what JNT deliberately and consciously did to the character: direct that he be written as unlikeable as possible before killing him off in an overrated story. JNT may have been executive producer for nine seasons, but he spent five of those seasons aggressively pushing disagreeable and polarizing characters on us in a bizarrely misguided attempt to create "drama."
I will give him credit for this, though. I agree that his efforts to build DW into a cult show appreciated by an American audience played a big role in why it's come back so strong. Just compare the success of New Who with high-profile bombs like the Avengers movie (the Uma Thurman one) and the Prisoner remake.
April 4, 2012 @ 6:55 pm
I should add that my only thoughts one way or the other about Mike Yates is that (a) he's the UNIT guy who was much less interesting than either the Brigadier or Benton and (b) I always irrationally blamed him for there never having been any romance between Jo and Benton.
April 4, 2012 @ 6:58 pm
Really?!? I'm sure we'll discuss this more in depth in a few weeks, but I think Twin Dilemma must go down as one of the greatest disasters in DW history. An aggressively stupid and ill-conceived story is bad enough. A bizarre new interpretation of the Doctor deliberately calculated to make him unlikeable and even frightening is worse. But to end the season with it so that it will be the viewers sole experience with a controversial new Doctor for months? What the heck were they thinking?!?
April 5, 2012 @ 1:08 am
'He's a better television writer than almost anyone else to have worked in the medium.'
Phillip grips the cat firmly by the tail swings it round his head and hurls it dead centre into a passing flock of pigeons.
April 5, 2012 @ 3:40 am
About Steven Moffatt. I feel like the phrase "Nobody's perfect" doesn't go nearly far enough for what I want to say. Perfection is an entirely silly thing to consider in any arena of life at all.
When I first got back into Doctor Who with the tools to do some research about it (ie. the internet), I discovered that there was one era of the show that was absolutely perfect and without flaw: the Hinchcliffe-Holmes years, particularly season 14. By the time I joined Phil's regular readers (just at the start of your Pertwee years), I knew there were flaws with individual stories of that era. But he showed the systemic flaws of Robert Holmes as a writer and a personality. He was sometimes too cynical for his own good, thought that when he lost sympathy and respect for his characters that his cleverness made up for it, and sometimes just couldn't be bothered to give enough of a shit to fix a problematic story. He was one of the most brilliant writers of Doctor Who.
In the same way, people talked about Steven Moffatt as a perfect genius during the Davies era. Contrasted with Davies' flaws (over-sentimentality, writing himself into a plot corner and pulling out deus ex screwdrivers), Moffatt could do no wrong. That he kept winning Hugos for the show three years in a row only cemented his reputation. When it was announced he was taking over the show, I got the sense that the fan community expected every episode to be as good as The Empty Child or Blink.
Of course, writing one or two episodes per season, a writer's flaws won't be as evident, because there physically aren't as many opportunities for them to appear. Many of his stories are plot puzzles, but we all loved the puzzles of Girl in the Fireplace and Blink. His characters do tend toward snappy dialogue, even in terrifying situations, but we all loved that kind of interplay among River and her crew in Silence in the Library. Controlling the whole season gives him opportunities to build puzzles that last for a year, sometimes even longer. So yes, having the larger canvas means the show uses his main devices more often.
I don't see how that's different in kind from Holmes' cynicism or parallelisms in plot structures (The Ribos Operation being the best example). If you're used to the devices in small doses, like one or who Hugo winning episodes each year in the midst of a sea of Davies' soap plotting and sentiment, then you might OD when you see them across a whole season. Would you critique Agatha Christie for all her works being about murders and crimes in claustrophobic environments? Or Thomas Pynchon for always riffing on paranoia and failed utopian dreams? It's their thing, and generally they do it well.
Not every Moffatt story is going to be Blink. But the baseline of quality is much higher than what Doctor Who has been, and what it could have been. Thanks to Phil, I can even defend Let's Kill Hitler. But I'll leave that to him, in about a year and a half.
April 5, 2012 @ 4:03 am
I've had a vague similar theory about a sort of post-regeneration afterlife for a long time, probably based in large part on the scene of Hartnell in his rose garden in The Three Doctors, but also to explain why the Doctors look older than they did when they regenerated, and have memories they couldn't possibly have.
It's possible that regeneration is less about biological cellular reconstruction and more about some sort of quantum reality mingling of parallel worlds. I think the series has come close to hinting at that approach a few times (framing regeneration as death in The End of Time, for example), but never made it explicit, typically preferring to stick with the rather dry materialist viewpoint.
April 5, 2012 @ 6:32 am
The almost total lack of emotional connection or acknowledgement of character development is the most striking thing about this story, particularly in a context where the current Who series puts these matters at the centre of the drama.
It's not just a 21st century perspective that sees this as a problem, though. Watching The Five Doctors, you can see the actors straining every thespian sinew to wring some sort of emotional depth out of a script that has none. The real star here, unsurprisingly, is Lis Sladen. At the end, when the adventure is done and everyone is being packed off again she does a great job of portraying a woman who is trying hard not to show how overwhelmed and traumatised she has been by being abruptly whisked off to spend a few hours being shot at by aliens.
The biggest let-down, as others have said, is Susan. If the reunion between Susan and her grandfather had been at the core of the story, it could have been immense. It seems such a missed opportunity.
In partial defence of Dicks, though, there is a reasonable argument for not taking this approach. Which actors would be available – and hence, which characters would be in the story – chopped and changed right up till the last minute. In that context, writing a set of action set-pieces linked together with bits of exposition is a smart move, as characters can be moved in and out of story roles as the production demands. If he had written a more character-centred drama, it might have been scuppered at any moment in such a way as to demand rewriting from scratch. Imagine if The Five Doctors had been all about the Doctor(s) meeting up again with Susan, and then two days before filming Dicks is told "Sorry love, we're replacing Susan with Benton". Disaster.
So the results are unsatisfying, but under the circumstances it's hard to see how they could be otherwise. One happy accident (if it wasn't clever contrivance) is that all the companion characters who aren't phantasms are people who have witnessed, or would plausibly know about, regeneration, thus saving a lot of tedious explanations.
April 5, 2012 @ 6:40 am
For me, the big unforced error of this story is the characterisation of the First Doctor (or Doctor Who, as he should more properly be known). Everything about him is just wrong. Partly that's down to Richard Hurndall, who does a decent job of the role as written but has none of Hartnell's spirit, but mostly it's the writing.
Dicks was experienced at writing for the Third and Fourth Doctors of course, as does fine with the Fifth, but his First Doctor never acts or sounds like the real thing. Hartnell's Doctor Who was impish, imperious, aggressive, charming, childish and wise all at once. The character written here goes from Nice Old Man to Tetchy Old Man without ever capturing the spikiness and unpredictability of the real Doctor Who.
April 5, 2012 @ 6:47 am
The design is mostly pretty impressive in this story. OK, Gallifrey isn't great (though better than in Arc of Infinity), but the Tower is a splendid blend of Dungeons and Dragons fantasy with sci-fi chic. Just look at those torches! There's also a remarkable similarity with a contemporary boardgame called The Dark Tower – I wonder if that's a coincidence.
But if the sets are good, the costumes are… it's not just that they're bad, though they most certainly are. It's that they fail in storytelling and characterisation terms. It's fair enough, if unfortunate, that Sarah Jane Smith should be wearing some hideous early 80s fashion – she has been picked up from 1983 and presumably can't help it. But why is Susan, from a future Earth recovering from the devastation of a Dalek conquest, dressed in the same sort of hideous 80s gear? No thought has been given to differentiating these two women visually. The message the clothes send is that one companion is interchangeable with another. Cynics might argue this is true, and Dicks certainly provides ammunition for that argument, but it would be nice if the costume designer at least had thought a bit more deeply about this.
The Lord of Ábrocen Landmearca
April 5, 2012 @ 6:50 am
Hey! I LIKE Lungbarrow, at least conceptually. I like people trying to push the idea that TimeLords are more alien than "they sometimes wear really big headdresses." It makes them nothing more than a Planet of Hats. The doctor never acts like an alien, he just occasionally doesn't act like the standard Western archetype of what a leading man should be. Lying, being manipulative, and being somewhat callous as to eventual fate of his companions doesn't make him alien, just a bit of a dick.
Lungbarrow said 'hey, what if instead of birth we have genetic looms." That's different. That's non-human. That is legitimately an alien concept. Instead, we've remained with "TimeLords look like humans, they live a very long time, and sometimes they change themselves to look like other humans." Which, as concepts go, is hardly alien. Shapeshifting, gender-shifting, these sort of things have been in human mythology for ages.
The Lord of Ábrocen Landmearca
April 5, 2012 @ 6:53 am
" empty, shallow"
Are you sure we're not talking about RTD finales here? Moffat is a flawed writer (Let's Kill Hitler has more nonsense plotholes every time I see it, it just gets worse), but I stand up for him as one of the best writers on television today. His work on Sherlock alone should prove that.
April 5, 2012 @ 7:28 am
This is another quality TE post with quality comments, so it is perhaps appropriate that every time I try to make a comment, something goes wrong with the computer (or with me).
So, in precis of everything I'd previously typed and lost:
1. Nostalgia value: good enough for me to watch and enjoy on first transmission. Not compelling enough – especially not the 5th Doctor's storyline – to persuade me to try and watch the next season. And the new companions can't compete with Elizabeth Sladen.
2. Richard Hurndall. He was my sister's friend's mother's uncle, or something, so that made it a bit more interesting.
3. Hartnell vs Davison. Could have worked. Davison's portrayal of DW channelled the post-nervous-breakdown vibe which Hartnell had in real life.
4. TE, homophobic? It's probably the only DW blog around which would seriously investigate a complaint like that. Having said that, I thought Phil was a tad mean on Matthew Waterhouse. But what else could he say?
5. TE is the Moby Dick of DW blogs. You expected a chapter of seafaring adventure? Sorry, it's time for a dissertation on flensing.
6. The twist in the tale – immortality equalling petrified sterility – surely that's Terrance Dicks / Robert Holmes making a joke about anniversary stories and the over-celebration of the past?
7. Steven Moffatt vs The World. Flawed genius.
8. We simply don't see the resolution to the Problem of Susan. Every week she cooks fish fingers for David and Doctor Who, and oils River Song's gun for her.
I seem to remember that I did have a point 9, but I'm sure someone else will think of a better one.
April 5, 2012 @ 7:35 am
Ah, Point 9.
The "go forward in your beliefs" clip is highlighted (as the pre-credits sequence) in such a way to make it prima facie the most important 30 seconds of 63/83, the programme's mission statement. Unfortunately, it has nothing at all to do with the rest of the story.
April 5, 2012 @ 7:38 am
Damn it, Point 10.
Time Looms always seemed to me a bit of a cop-out for adolescent Doctor Who fans who couldn't bear to think of their hero having sex. (cf Immaculate Conception).
April 5, 2012 @ 9:05 am
(1) What has the Immaculate Conception got to do with not having sex
(2) Surely the point of the Looms (not 'Time Looms', unless my memory has been holed beneath the waterline) was primarily not to exclude sex from Gallifrey, but to enable the quasi-reincarnation of the Other as the Doctor — indeed, sex-wise, Lungbarrow makes it clear that the Other (though the Other, remember, if not the Doctor (but that may not be symmetric)) has had sex, and even introduces the character he had it with.
In fact, isn't Lungbarrow explicitly the book which reintroduces sexual reproduction to Gallifrey, after it was banished in Cat's Cradle: Time's Crucible?
April 5, 2012 @ 10:02 am
The most maddening thing about "The End of Time" was the identity of the old woman who I was sure was Susan because when Wilf asked who she was, the Doctor looked over his shoulder to Donna, Wilf's grand-daughter. I thought it was brilliant that Tennant would only find the strength to send the Timelords back into hell after Susan looked at him and gave him silent encouragement. Then RTD had to go and ruin it by indicating that the old woman was actually the Doctor's mother, who we've never heard from before and never will again. So much for emotional resonance.
April 5, 2012 @ 10:04 am
Russell T Davies is welcome to think that the mysterious woman in The End of Time is the Doctor's mother. Much as Matthew Jacobs is welcome to think the Doctor is half-human on his mother's side.
April 5, 2012 @ 10:09 am
1) Nothing, of course. CF doesn't mean "this is the same as". But that's a cop out. I got my terminology wrong. I was contemplating the Perpetual Virginity of our Blessed Lady, as I should do every Thursday afternoon.
2) The [Time] Looms were, I understand, devised as a means of producing "test tube" time tots. Sexual reproduction, perhaps, but without physical intercourse. However, my limited (and, I am sure, inaccurate) knowledge of [Time] Looms was gained from conversations with other DW fans in 1992/3, and perhaps my viewpoint is biased by my negative opinion of those particular individuals. Perhaps I should read "Lungbarrow".
April 5, 2012 @ 10:15 am
Overall, I'm a huge Moffatt fan and prefer him to RTD by a wide margin. That said, he has two serious deficiencies that are becoming troubling. One is the well-documented tendency towards sexism. ("Mrs. Amy Williams" is the most famous example.)
The other, I think, arises from the fact that he grew up a fan of the show, and as such, the story arcs from his tenure have an almost fan-fictiony feel to them. Not the specific stories themselves (although reintroducing the Silurians in a story that basically rehashed their original debut but with better production values was a let down) but things like River Song's whole life being an ontological paradox. Or the fact that the Doctor could save himself from the Pandorica but only if he remembers to go back and save himself in the future after he's free. That's the sort of story that a young, overly bright fan of DW would write up. And while I like that Moffatt appreciates what you can do with time travel better than most writers, he does some to be overly impressed with "timey-wimey" plots over more conventional narratives.
April 5, 2012 @ 10:47 am
I like the idea of people pushing The DOCTOR to be more alien and mysterious. "Lungbarrow" had its heart in the right place but revealed far too much information IMO, to the point where all the mystery it was trying to restore to the series' mythology was wasted because it wound up explaining everything anyway.
There's no point in adding new mysteries and questions if you're just going to explain them all anyway. That just brings us back to square one: The Time Lords are still a Planet of Hats, just with looms this time instead of funny headdresses. We still know all about them and there's no mystique and wonder to them anymore. "Lungabrrow" reads like a dull history textbook to me, and trying to tie it into "The Invasion of Time" and the 1996 TV movie was just a dumb idea to begin with.
April 5, 2012 @ 11:06 am
RTD's finales had a tendency to the overly fanwanky, faux-emotionality and unsatisfying hollow yes, but so does Moffat. I could go on at length about Davies' propensity for fannish pandering and cheap manipulation of the audience's emotions, but I'm not talking about him. A critique of Davies is not a free pass for Moffat from getting a similar critique- They're both very problematic writers to my mind who nevertheless manage to get all their skills together to put out an intriguing script every once in awhile.
I liked Steven Moffat's work on Coupling. I've not seen Sherlock so I can't judge that. On Doctor Who, however, I feel he's mostly style over substance (and not in a good way) and relies on slick, rapid-fire puzzle box plots instead of genuine emotion and intellectualism. I look at his work over the past year and see the complex, tangled mystery plots of LOST and Battlestar Galactica except without the drama, fascinating characters, superb acting, social commentary or gripping, thought-provoking plot and concepts that made those shows worth watching and deservedly the most popular and groundbreaking shows of their time.
To me, Doctor Who right now is flashy, populist entertainment with a whiff of darkness (but nothing too challenging or out of the audience's comfort zone, of course) which wouldn't necessarily be so bad except it very clearly isn't striving to be anything else in addition to that. Moffat's Doctor Who is great water cooler discussion, but poor alchemy.
April 5, 2012 @ 11:10 am
I can get behind this. Robert Holmes is a good comparison, because while he's one of my favourite writers ever to have worked on the show, the era for which he was script editor is one of the most problematic and difficult for me to enjoy. I think Holmes was a far, far better writer than he was a script editor in much the same way I think Moffat is a better writer than a showrunner. I have many more problems with Moffat as a writer than Holmes as writer, but the analogy still fits.
April 5, 2012 @ 11:46 am
Um… if you can point me to the bit in Lungbarrow that 'explain[s] everything' about the Other, please do let me know (give me the page number and I'll look it up in my copy).
The thinking behind Lungbarrow was that so much had been revealed by then about the Time Lords that they were basically unsalvageable as a source of mystery (that much is undoubtedly true), so the plan (and I think it was a pretty imaginative and audacious plan — and I think it actually worked very well) was to reveal absolutely everything about Gallifrey, make it just another planet — but then re-establish the mystery of the Doctor's past via the Other, about whose origins we know, by the end of Lungbarrow, absolutely nothing. Nothing. No more than we knew of the Doctor's origins in the junkyard, perhaps even less.
So yes: Lungbarrow reduces the Time Lords to a planet of hats; but by that point that's all it could ever be. But so what? Why should the Time Lords be mysterious? It re-established the mystery of the Doctor, and the series, remember, is called Doctor Who not Time Lords Who.
April 5, 2012 @ 11:49 am
(On the other hand, saying it reads like a dull history textbook is a valid criticism, I think: while the re-establishing of the Doctor's mystery was a great idea, and the way it was done was brilliantly imaginative, as a novel Lungbarrow suffers because its actual plot buckles under the weight of all the mythology that it has to get across. It doesn't suffer quite as badly s 'Let's Kill Hitler' from 'too much exposition to have a plot as well' disease, but it does have a pretty bad case.)
April 5, 2012 @ 12:05 pm
I think that's pretty much what I said…
As I said, I like the ideas behind "Lungbarrow", it's just that it reveals too much. I liked the glimpses we got during the televised Cartmel era, and then the increasing mystery of the later Big Finish serials. Where I think I'm differing from you is that I feel even revealing the existence of the Other, how he reincarnated into The Doctor and the relationship with Rassilon and Omega was a bit much.
April 5, 2012 @ 12:09 pm
I haven't read Lungbarrow either, but I have encountered semi-hysterical fans yelling, "No! Time Lords don't have sex! They have looms!" So, even if it wasn't intended as a prude device, it's certainly become one.
April 5, 2012 @ 12:13 pm
Which always struck me as hilarious. Because everybody knows the only reason people have sex is to procreate, and nobody ever has sex for pleasure ever anywhere in the universe.
April 5, 2012 @ 12:14 pm
For me, RTD is a gossip and Moffatt is a magician, but neither are storytellers.
April 5, 2012 @ 12:19 pm
No offense, but that seems to be an argument that DW would be better if it appealed to a narrower fan base which is not a recipe for long term success. I thought Flashforward was much better than Lost, but apparently the time jump plot was impenetrable to most people and I was left with a one-season show that ended on a cliffhanger. JNT strove mightily to get DW out of the audience's comfort zone, and we all know how that worked out.
April 5, 2012 @ 12:26 pm
I should like to know very much how Tennant's Doctor too the virginity of Queen Elizabeth I armed only with a loom.
April 5, 2012 @ 12:56 pm
Haven't you ever used a loom? Very, very sensual. I'm going to stop posting now, and go and warp my distaff's weft.
April 5, 2012 @ 12:59 pm
April 5, 2012 @ 1:02 pm
@ EE If we add the qualifier "stage" to Moffat's title of magician, I'm with you. Moffat's no Alan Moore or David Whitaker.
@Alan Not at all: Doctor Who is and always has been populist entertanment. My argument is that traditionally it's been its strongest when it's that AND MORE; When it's pushed the boundaries of what populist entertainment can be. Moffat's Doctor Who makes no effort to be any more than what t self-evidently is: Comfortable, thrilling, action-packed water cooler television with the hollow simulacrum of emotion and drama.
April 5, 2012 @ 1:03 pm
when you get to the modern era, are you doing an entry for each Torchwood / Sarah Jane story, or one for each season, or just one for each show?
Philip answered this question a few posts ago. He said he was probably going to do a couple or so for each season.
April 5, 2012 @ 1:20 pm
I've not seen Sherlock
Then DROP EVERYTHING and see it RIGHT NOW. Seriously.
April 5, 2012 @ 4:26 pm
Nothing about Dinah Sheridan’s performance or the role as written begins to account for her status within fandom.
I disagree. I thought Dinah Sheridan did an astonishing job of presenting Flavia as a red herring before the revelation of Borusa as the bad guy. And it was entirely through her acting because there were no lines or anything that set her up as a red herring so I can't believe it was in the script. But watch her during the first 45 minutes — she constantly makes facial expressions and subtly interacts with the Castellan in a manner that looks suspicious. I was actually disappointed when Borusa was revealed as the bad guy because that was less interesting than this creepy old woman being the secret mastermind.
April 5, 2012 @ 4:54 pm
I have a feeling my obsessed super-fan sister will see to it that's rectified. I must admit I'm not particularly looking forward to it given how nonplussed I was with the last year or so of Doctor Who, but perhaps Moffat is more in his element here.
I'll take your word for it on good confidence, though!
April 5, 2012 @ 5:50 pm
Much as I love Matt Smith's portrayal of the Doctor, and much as I definitely prefer Moffat's Fairy Tale Doctor Who to RTD's Eastenders in Space Doctor Who, I share your feelings about many aspects of the last two seasons of our show. We've got a really great Doctor and some beautiful sets and set pieces, but there are still fundamental problems with pacing and narrative that often leave me, as you so rightly say, nonplussed.
Ignore all these concerns about Moffat's Doctor Who, and just buy the Sherlock DVDs. BeserkRL is absolutely right. Sherlock is an utter triumph, and the production most faithful to the spirit of the original stories since Granada TV's early Jeremy Brett episodes.
April 5, 2012 @ 9:25 pm
I agree. You must catch Sherlock.
April 6, 2012 @ 4:21 am
Spoiler alert: the Time Lords' lack of sex is presented as a Very Bad Thing. There's a running theme through the New Adventures of the Doctor coming to regret his own asexuality (not just in "Human Nature"!), and "Lungbarrow" basically ends with the Doctor becoming Sex's Champion and bringing humpery back to Gallifrey, huzzah!
Oh, and it does actually reveal who The Other was and where he came from. Which is good: "Lungbarrow" was the capstone of the New Adventures, and if it hadn't made a mighty stab at wrapping up the New Adventures mythology, the range would've felt unfinished.
Seriously, anyone who thinks the New Adventures have an anti-sex theme…uh…I don't even know what to say. Words cannot encompass their wrongness.
April 6, 2012 @ 4:35 am
As a regular reader of the New Adventures line, I would've felt cheated if "Lungbarrow" hadn't spilled all those beans. It was the end of the NA Doctor's story, wrapping up all his angst and baggage and mythology, and giving it all a definite conclusion. It would never have worked as just one story in an ongoing series (which is why I'm glad it didn't get made for television), but as the last one…? And that's what it was. "Lungbarrow" wasn't a part of the ongoing story of Doctor Who across different publishers and media; it was an ending to the Virgin line as a self-contained entity with its own identity and history.
Oh, and SK: we do know where the Other came from.
April 6, 2012 @ 6:35 am
But man, those awesome fingerless gloves!
April 6, 2012 @ 8:23 am
I confess, I'm not sure how to think more about that pattern simply because the points of similarity between Waterhouse and Nathan-Turner beyond their sexual orientation. I mean, one's an actor and the other's an executive producer. There's not a long list of criticisms that can possibly apply to both.
(I also don't think I've been that hard on Franklin. I've suggested he's poor at playing a dashing action hero, but, I mean, I've accused Gerry Davis of being a racist and accused Terrance Dicks and Barry Letts of functional sociopathy. I think Franklin comes out fairly well. I mean, I tend to think of him as the acting equivalent of green bubblewrap. His faults are downright lovable.)
April 6, 2012 @ 8:28 am
All I can really say regarding Moffat is that this is the first time in my life I have gotten to be an obsessed Doctor Who fan about what's currently airing. The show was off the air when I got into it, and while I liked the RTD stuff and it rekindled my fandom, I'd never have started this blog in the RTD era. Whereas it was the inability to get the series out of my head between seasons 5 and 6 that made me start the blog just to give the large chunk of my brain that was being obsessed with Doctor Who full time something to do.
It's obviously grown considerably from that, but the fact remains that I've never gotten to avidly and passionately follow Doctor Who as it's been coming out before. I may be an adult now, but this is the first time Doctor Who has been my show, and I think Matt Smith will probably forever jointly share the title of "my Doctor" with McCoy, the nearest thing I'd had to this previously.
And, I mean, we'll see when we get there if I can argue the case for the era. But I think there's massive, massive depth to Moffat's scripts and real magic underneath his stories. And I don't think anyone will ever convince me that the wedding scene of "The Big Bang" is not the single finest moment of Doctor Who ever written.
April 6, 2012 @ 3:09 pm
Your fetishes are your own affair.
Henry R. Kujawa
April 7, 2012 @ 12:46 pm
Iain Coleman, loved your comments. At the time, I thought this should jhave been a 6-parter instead of a 4 (never mind that it was RUN as a "1"). Too much and no time to deal with ANY of it.
Susan deserved HER OWN STORY. Maybe she still does.
As for "Doctor Who"… looking back, I dearly wish JNT hadn't been so stupid as to NOT hire Geoffrey Bayldon because HE thought audiences would connect him with Pertwee. NOT IN AMERICA, they wouldn't!! (Unless of course they happened to be huge fans of "THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD"– "I'm afraid I do not freqeunt the kinema." –pronouncing it in such a way as to emphasize he's so completely unfgamiliar with it.) Over the years he slowly became one of my favorite character actors, and it blew my mind when I read he turned down the part in 1963 because he was tired of playing "older" roles. See him in HORROR OF DRACULA, opposite Peter Cushing, for a perfect example. Cushing WAS older; but Bayldon LOOKED much older. So many parts he's exhibited traits that tell me he would have made a better "Hartnell" than Hurndall did. (And one "alternate universe" audio story doesn't count. Especially when at this point, I may never get to hear them… just as I have no plans to read any more of the books.)
While it may seem the companions were with the "wrong" Doctors, the way it worked out, both The Brig and Sarah wound up with their FIRST Doctors. Accident or clever idea, I thought it worked.
It's sad that the imcumbant looks so irrelevant in his own show, doesn't it? I'm pondering whether when I reach Davison in my current viewing of the series I may just skip his episodes completely and just dig out CAMPION instead. (He's just SO– DAMNED– GOOD– in that. something he NEVER was– even in his very best moments– on WHO.)
April 8, 2012 @ 10:54 am
Do we? Was it in Lungbarrow?
April 9, 2012 @ 3:57 am
Not stated outright, but there's what seems to me a very strong implication in Lungbarrow that the Other is Leela and Andred's child.
April 9, 2012 @ 5:36 pm
It's just so empty, emotionally. There's no depth to it. I know it's a runaround, but I can't work myself up to care about characters who have no feelings.
Henry R. Kujawa
April 9, 2012 @ 6:41 pm
I really liked Cardinal Borusa on his first 2 appearances so much, it's a crime they made him the baddie in this one.
April 12, 2012 @ 1:20 am
Oh right, yes, now I remember that. I ignored that implication (treating it as a throwaway joke with no real significance like Davies's joke of Jack being the Face of Boe, which he clearly isn't) due to it indeed denying the very mystery the story was supposed to set up. And because I ignored it, I forgot it.
Until you reminded me.
June 1, 2012 @ 3:59 pm
This is such a pedantic approach to the episode and, frankly, I doubt any caliber of writing would have satisfied because the author has it in his head (and seems to take delight in it) that every actor, every set piece, every bit of nostalgia is "past its prime." On the one hand, Phillip freely admits that Doctor Who is not a show about continuity, or a biography of an immortal man. So why does the inherently nonsensical nature of these multi-Doctor crossover vex him so much? You can't have it both ways.
November 7, 2012 @ 2:08 pm
Did we read the same entry? When Phil says "Both Pertwee and Troughton play their parts as though their characters have retired – as old men coming back for one last adventure. Indeed, the entire past of the program is shown implicitly as 'past its prime'", he's not criticising the Second and Third Doctors for being past it. He's criticising the episode for treating them as if they are.
November 23, 2012 @ 6:42 pm
RE: "Exhibit 4.3: Leela (This item on loan to another museum)"
If it helps, Leela and Rodan were making their own fun the whole time, and we didn't see it because this is family TV.
I agree with most of the other commenters that the story needed some unifying "element" to it. One of the reviews on the Ratings Guide stated that TFD is a ghost story, and a lot could have been made of this.
Here's a brilliant idea for what it should have been: Five 45-minute episodes in which each Doctor/companion arrive separately, meet, and make their own way toward the center, like the chapters of a book and a "Rashomon"-style tale. Each era gets its own segment, and there'd be plenty of room to breathe.
August 20, 2013 @ 6:36 pm
I was more concerned about how Susan was almost leering at Davidson's Doctor (or at least that's how it looked). Perhaps the intention was that she was admiring what he had become, but no, it looked like a leer.
August 20, 2013 @ 7:13 pm
The problem with Flavia as a "red herring" was that the commercials on our local PBS station for the upcoming "Five Doctors" episode included a clip of Borusa saying "I shall be President eternal – and rule forever". So much for a surprise element; before even seeing the show I kind of knew what would happen
August 20, 2013 @ 7:20 pm
December 4, 2013 @ 5:28 pm
Look up "The Ten Doctors." It's a webcomic that does the multi-Doctor story in an incredible way, giving each Doctor a big part and pairing up companions (and most of them appear) in unique and interesting ways.
June 12, 2016 @ 2:01 am
Late to the party as ever. But there is a pretty hefty suggestion as to the origins of The Other in Human Nature (the book, obviously). Of course, it could just be the incoherent rantings of a disturbed mind. Or both.
April 18, 2017 @ 7:35 am
Man, five years and I only now just got the joke implicit in the choice of quote for the post title…