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Elizabeth Sandifer

Elizabeth Sandifer created Eruditorum Press. She’s not really sure why she did that, and she apologizes for the inconvenience. She currently writes Last War in Albion, a history of the magical war between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. She used to write TARDIS Eruditorum, a history of Britain told through the lens of a ropey sci-fi series. She also wrote Neoreaction a Basilisk, writes comics these days, and has ADHD so will probably just randomly write some other shit sooner or later.Support Elizabeth on Patreon.

44 Comments

  1. Iain Coleman
    February 22, 2012 @ 1:42 am

    Davison's acting is remarkably strong in the first episode. So it's all the more baffling that they thought it would be a good idea to put the leading man in a box and carry him around.

    And really it's the doc-in-a-box sequence that really lets this story down. Once they get to Castrovalva, it's a lovely story, realised with style and charm (even if the video effects don't manage to properly sell the visual concept). Prior to that, though, it's all a bit of a mess.

    The real problem is that the first two-parter (if you want to look at it that way) only has enough material for about one episode. The Doctor, erratic, lost in the maze of the Tardis interior while the ship hurtles to destruction in the Big Bang itself is great stuff. We then come out of that into a dramatic situation which can only be described as "moderate inconvenience", as two young women have to carry a box through pleasant, sunny woodland for a couple of hours. It just completely deflates the drama.

    As you say, this is the story where the Problem of Adric becomes inescapable. However, tying Adric up in the Master's bondage rack does have one positive effect: it markedly improves Waterhouse's acting. It's quite a common acting exercise to constrain the actor's movements and/or put the actor in an awkward physical position in order to bring a new quality to the performance, and it works here on screen. Just a pity they couldn't have found a way to keep him in there.

    Besides Davison, the most impressive person in this production is the designer, Janet Budden. She makes the depths of the Tardis into a vast, labyrinthine yet visually coherent space, and Castrovalva has an elegant beauty as well as working very effectively as a practical set.

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  2. Iain Coleman
    February 22, 2012 @ 1:58 am

    While the idea of the Tardis facing destruction by being forced back to the Big Bang is quite brilliant, it's a pity the explanation is such muddled bollocks. The "hydrogen inrush" bit is kind of OK (if you're going back in time near the Big Bang, it will indeed seem like hydrogen is rushing in towards you), but the Galaxy is quite definitely not the Universe. There's a long tradition in TV SF of getting basic astronomical and cosmological nomenclature wrong, but I would have thought Bidmead would do a bit better. Steve Weinberg's "The First Three Minutes", still the best non-technical account of modern cosmology, came out in 1977, and it seems like the sort of thing Bidmead would have read.

    [I would dismiss the suggestion that "Event One" refers to the creation of our galaxy rather than the entire Universe. The expression "Event One" make no sense in that context, the entire peril that the Tardis is in wouldn't exist, and it turns a brilliant basic idea into a rubbish one.]

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  3. elvwood
    February 22, 2012 @ 2:08 am

    I love Castrovalva. It doesn't quite reach 10/10 mostly due to being overly padded between landing and reaching the city, but it's close. IMO The only post-regeneration story to beat it is Power of the Daleks, and I find it interesting that these are the two you identify as most difficult.

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  4. Jon Cole
    February 22, 2012 @ 3:06 am

    I do love Castrovalva, although its perhaps unfortunate that in the space of three stories the Master has evolved from an interesting adversary with a competent plan (which gets (mostly) ruined by the Keeper being clever enough to summon up the Doctor) – to a complete loon who likes to make people wear buckets on their heads. Then again maybe he's been unhinged by accidentally vaporising a third of the universe.

    Its a pity that episode 2 is so, erm, bland – although I don't remember that being an issue in the playground to be honest – and the new format did give us delighted kids to talk about the best show in the world on the day after it.

    At least Bidmead has managed to merge the "cool but weird concept" of Logopolis with the "nicely played talking roles" of Traken and come up with three neat characters that let you explore the idea of the town – providing handy exposition alongside charming dialogue. From the novelisation, the "History up to the current day" part was brilliant, although Mergrave trying to understand the map is even better on the screen.

    As for memories of the story – I've seen it so many times that the one that pops into my mind isn't of the broadcast, but of anticipating and watching the Video Release – and being relieved that the effects hadn’t age too badly.

    Alas, it’s pretty evident from the story that the Tardis crew doesn't really work on some basic levels – almost like JNT had written the Baker/Ward/K9 characteristics on a dart board and generated his new Doctor and companions in some esoteric version of Bullseye.

    Considering the juxtaposition of Ongoing Drama and Michael Sheard in the two posts are you going to take a look at that other great of British TV – Grange Hill?

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  5. Dr. Happypants
    February 22, 2012 @ 3:22 am

    Given how much Matthew Waterhouse seemed to enjoy being tied up in the Hadron web (why, that's an anagram of…), it's a pity the show didn't solve several storytelling and character problems all in one go by having Adric run off with the Master at the end.

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  6. Skye Marthaler
    February 22, 2012 @ 6:20 am

    The Fall of Adric could have been some compelling television and it could have worked on a variety of levels. Adric works as a character with the “father-son” relationship with the 4th Doctor. Once that is gone there really is nothing for the character to hang his hat on.

    He has all the necessary flaws to go bad. The ego, the intelligence, the loneliness or feelings of not being appreciated , the “fifth wheel” factor. I think Adric works better as a villain, or at least the understudy of one. Adric going evil is constant reminder of the Doctor’s failure and I think Davison’s Doctor could have played it well. It also would have created two nice story arks of redemption for both the Doctor and Adric.

    For the Master it is a pretty decent victory, he has usurped and perverted the father role of the 4th Doctor and corrupted one of the Doctor’s companions. Not a bad day’s work if you ask me and it gives him some relevance down the road.

    I’ve never cared for the Earthshock ending, it seems so wasted and written as an easy way out of dealing with a difficult character.

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  7. John Callaghan
    February 22, 2012 @ 7:27 am

    I think his scenes in this story confirm that Adric did indeed have something to hang his hat on…

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  8. BerserkRL
    February 22, 2012 @ 8:11 am

    he believed that “art should exist to soothe, not distract.”

    This from the man who gave us the 6th Doctor's personality and wardrobe? It was all an attempt to soothe us? So Nathan-Turner really was an alien.

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  9. Exploding Eye
    February 22, 2012 @ 8:15 am

    Chortle.

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  10. BerserkRL
    February 22, 2012 @ 8:19 am

    There's a long tradition in TV SF of getting basic astronomical and cosmological nomenclature wrong

    One of my favourites: in the original Battlestar: Galactica, they're constantly moving from one galaxy to another, yet we're told at one point that their ships travel "at the speed of light."

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  11. Exploding Eye
    February 22, 2012 @ 9:05 am

    I've always loved the dreamlike aspects of these three stories, especially Castrovalva. The warped geography, the history books that go up to the present moment, even the cryptic nature of the TARDIS's data banks. It seems to work like a living puzzle or a lucid dream.

    Speaking of living puzzles, I wonder if our good blogger will tackle The Adventure Game – though not part of the US childhood, I think its status as BBC science fiction (and the presence of Janet Fielding in one episode) qualify it for at least a couple of paragraphs.

    Also Jim'll Fix It – not just for its presence alongside Doctor Who in the Saturday tea time schedules, but also the notion of a crazy-costumed eccentric with magical furniture (in this case, his bigger-on-the-inside chair) who sends children on magical adventures.

    I'm very excited, by the way, that Stanley Kubrick and Philip K Dick are apparently two regular commentators on this blog:

    http://daily.greencine.com/archives/stanley-kubrick.jpg

    http://newsimg.bbc.co.uk/media/images/47750000/jpg/_47750668_006408884-1.jpg

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  12. Exploding Eye
    February 22, 2012 @ 9:10 am

    Blake's 7 also can't make up its mind whether it's set in one galaxy or spans several galaxies.

    I was very annoyed at school in our French lesson when we tackled space things… our French text book seem to treat the Solar System and "l'univers" as synonymous. Being asked which is the hottest planet in "l'univers" was frankly insulting; and then having to argue the toss with my French teacher that it wasn't Mercury, as the text books suggested, but Venus, just added injury to afore-mentioned insult.

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  13. Exploding Eye
    February 22, 2012 @ 9:29 am

    Incidentally, my own experience of this new Doctor was one of frustration. After the anticipation of the Five Faces build-up, and new-found curiosity about the idea of the same character being played by different actors, we sat down to watch Castrovalva ep1 on a stormy January evening, only for the power to go out and plunge us into darkness.

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  14. 5tephe
    February 22, 2012 @ 11:38 am

    I think by "difficult" Phil means fraught. Both following Hartnell, and following Baker would have to qualify as difficult tasks. So I think Phil agrees with you – they're both very well handled, all up.

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  15. Alan
    February 22, 2012 @ 12:23 pm

    Having never seen any of Power of the Daleks except bits of a reconstruction, I'll have to go with The 11th Hour as my favorite post-regen story. Forty-five minutes to introduce a new Doctor, a new companion, the new companion's boyfriend (and future companion), a new TARDIS interior, and lay the groundwork for the season-long arc, and it does so with aplomb and efficiency. Perhaps not coincidentally, it is also the first time since PotD that the new Doctor has been up and running so quickly. No fainting or passing out or psychotic episodes or regeneration trauma.(1) Just ten minutes of figuring out what his new favorite foods are while bonding with a small child and then he's off to the races. The damage to the TARDIS was a bigger problem for Eleven than the regeneration.

    (1) I would be remiss in not pointing out that Seven didn't really have a regeneration trauma either. He was running around and arguing with the Rani about five seconds after waking up and only got waylaid after being knocked out and given an amnesiac drug.

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  16. Stephen
    February 22, 2012 @ 1:03 pm

    I'd expect Jim'll Fix It to turn up in a Beyond the Government entry at some point in the Colin Baker era.

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  17. Yonatan
    February 22, 2012 @ 3:58 pm

    Big Finish actually did a story called "The Boy that Time Forgot" in their 5th Doctor/Nyssa line that has Adric as a villain. It is also a bit of a sequel to Logopolis

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Boy_That_Time_Forgot

    Reply

  18. BerserkRL
    February 22, 2012 @ 5:24 pm

    In the recent Green Lantern movie, Abin Sur says that he is headed toward the nearest inhabited planet (namely Earth) — and then we see him in intergalactic space, headed toward a galaxy, presumably ours. I suppose it's possible that from his location Earth was the closest inhabited planet in the Milky Way, but it seemed dubious.

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  19. BerserkRL
    February 22, 2012 @ 5:41 pm

    You might think this is about the Doctor, but apparently not.

    Reply

  20. SK
    February 23, 2012 @ 12:05 am

    I'm glad Dr Sandifer has finally got here. I can't stand Tom Baker. I find him painful and awful to watch, the way he doesn't even try to act; the way he doesn't regard the programme or stories as anything other than props against which to bounce his own awesomeness.

    To me, this is where Doctor Who starts. The Tom Baker years were horrid; finally we have an actor for the Doctor who actually wants to play the role instead of just be on TV as much as possible. However annoying the companions, that instantly makes it better than anything in the past seven years.

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  21. Wm Keith
    February 23, 2012 @ 12:08 am

    And Alex Kingston's character in the new series of "Upstairs Downstairs", who plays an archaeologist recently returned from Egypt, is apparently not River Song.

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  22. Wm Keith
    February 23, 2012 @ 12:09 am

    Oh, that was badly worded.

    Reply

  23. Abigail Brady
    February 23, 2012 @ 1:04 am

    Minor note – The Eleventh Hour was a full, um, hour (well, actually 65 minutes), rather than the typical 3/4 hour. The story really benefits from that extra 20 minutes.

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  24. Exploding Eye
    February 23, 2012 @ 4:29 am

    I think Tom Baker does some fine acting – there are certainly periods where his heart isn't in it whereas his ego is, but equally there are many more occasions where he genuinely gives it his all and puts in a wonderfully alien performance. I love Peter Davison too, but you need the seven years of Tom Baker for Davison to really work in comparison.

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  25. Jesse
    February 23, 2012 @ 4:38 am

    And here is where it all starts to go downhill for me. Davison is undeniably a good actor, but I never cared for his take on the character; none of the supporting cast is as interesting as the companions of the '70s; and, above all, the quality of the material (with a few exceptions, such as Kinda) is entering the decline that reaches its low point in the mid-'80s.

    If I had to choose, I prefer even Colin Baker's Doctor to Davison's, despite the fact that I think Davison is the more talented actor and despite the fact that (to the extent that I've seen these years of the show) I think Davison had a greater number of half-decent scripts. I'm hoping that Davison fan Phil will show me a way in to appreciating these stories, because (with, again, a couple of exceptions) I haven't gotten there on my own. I don't even like the much-beloved Caves of Androzani.

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  26. David Anderson
    February 23, 2012 @ 11:22 am

    Based on my limited adult experience, I'd say that at least with the Sixth Doctor the script writers are on something like the same page as Colin Baker. When it comes to the Fifth Doctor, I'm not sure some of the script writers are even on a page at all.
    Holmes and Davison are on the same page for Caves, but it seems to me a toned down version of Pertwee.

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  27. Alan
    February 23, 2012 @ 11:43 am

    I remember laughing out loud in the theater during the portentious (pretentious?) opening narration, which declared that the Guardians divided the entire universe into 3600 sectors, one for each Green Lantern. I did the math once out of boredom and concluded that Hal Jordan's sector included well over ten million galaxies and that even visiting each inhabited star system for a second each would take vastly longer than his life span, let alone stopping along the way to fight crime and stop alien invasions.

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  28. Alan
    February 23, 2012 @ 11:46 am

    I think Colin Baker would disagree. IIRC, he once asked the director of one of the Trial of a Timelord stories, regarding a particular scene where the Doctor was doing something stupid, whether the Doctor was being mind-controlled, whether the Doctor was being stupid for some unknown purpose, or whether the whole scene was a deceptively altered video generated by the Valyard. The director had no idea what he was talking about.

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  29. Matthew Blanchette
    February 23, 2012 @ 6:27 pm

    It really does; when I first watched it on BBC America, it was cut down for time — which means I didn't get to see the apple, firetruck, and time-passing sequences until I rewatched the whole series online in the run-up to The Big Bang.

    shakes fist Curse you, BBC America!

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  30. Anton B
    February 24, 2012 @ 2:21 am

    This comment has been removed by the author.

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  31. Anton B
    February 24, 2012 @ 2:24 am

    I never took to Davison and, like Jesse above, this is where I began to withdraw my investment in the show. I'm looking forward to Phillip explaining just what is so good about this era. To me it all seems washed out, too brightly lit, pastel coloured posturing with no-one (starting with the writers) actually believing a word they're saying. The move to weekdays didn't help either. This is the point where, for me, the programme ceased to be DOCTOR WHO's adventures in Time and Space! and became a TV show featuring an actor playing a character called the Doctor.

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  32. Exploding Eye
    February 24, 2012 @ 6:06 am

    For me the pastel colours were just as much a part of this era of Doctor Who as the colour schemes from any other era. There's something wonderfully evocative, for example, about the pale pinks and translucent whites of Castrovalva.

    Maybe it's an age thing, but for me the Davison era is Doctor Who at its most dreamlike – Kinda, Snakedance, Enlightenment, Four To Doomsday, Castrovalva, even Black Orchid to a certain degree. Still adventures in time and space, but also touching something deeper.

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  33. Jesse
    February 24, 2012 @ 6:37 am

    There certainly is a dreamlike quality to Mawdryn Undead — enough so for me to forgive all the story problems just for that weird Gothic setting in the sky.

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  34. Exploding Eye
    February 24, 2012 @ 8:15 am

    Event better, it's an art deco setting! 🙂

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  35. BerserkRL
    February 24, 2012 @ 9:19 am

    A number of things that were cut from "The Eleventh Hour" were things they BBC America obviously thought weren't important for that episode — but in fact they set up points for the season's plot arc, things that would pay off in subsequent episodes, except for those viewers who hadn't seen them!

    When BBC America reran "Last of the Time Lords" they cut out the scene of the Master singing "I can't decide."

    The worst thing is they don't even have a little warning at the beginning saying "this episode has been edited for time."

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  36. Elizabeth Sandifer
    February 24, 2012 @ 9:25 am

    Strangely even the iTunes version of Last of the Time Lords lacks "I Can't Decide," which makes me wonder if that's actually a rights issue over the music a la "Ticket to Ride."

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  37. BerserkRL
    February 24, 2012 @ 9:27 am

    Yup. Those figures are from the comics, too. Though recently the comics have "addressed" the problem by, heh, doubling the number of Green Lanterns to 7200. Which is like saying, "I couldn't leap over the Empire State Building before, but hey, I just lost 20 pounds."

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  38. Jesse
    February 24, 2012 @ 9:30 am

    Since the "I Can't Decide" sequence is the single best scene of the RTD era, and possibly in the entire history of the show, I'm not sure whether it's more depressing to think that it has been derailed by a petty legal issue or that someone at the network decided the episode was better off without it.

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  39. BerserkRL
    February 24, 2012 @ 11:12 am

    Though "Ticket to Ride" isn't even allowed on the region 1 dvd, whereas "I Can't Decide" is.

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  40. WGPJosh
    February 26, 2012 @ 8:06 pm

    Apologies for my tardiness on this response-I’ve been a combination of sick/on vacation/without my own computer over the past few weeks. If you like, imagine I borrowed a TARDIS and returned to last Wednesday to post this comment.

    Anyway, “Castrovalva”-Or rather, as far as I’m concerned, Peter Davison’s era in a nutshell. I share neither Phil nor SK’s adoration of this era, nor Jesse’s disdain for it. Honestly, these three years are a bit of a non-entity as far as I’m concerned. Nothing outright pisses me off, but nothing really works for me either. Part of it may be because Peter Davison was never my childhood Doctor in the way Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker were, though I don’t think that’s a terribly valid argument (as I intend to explain in oh, five seasons or so, let’s say?). I like Peter Davison as an actor: I like him a lot. A Very Peculiar Practice is a classic, and he’s great in All Creatures Great and Small and on Law and Order UK (in which he co-stars with Freema Agyeman, which I think is just awesome). I don’t mind Nyssa and Tegan, though, like much in this era they fail to leave much of an impression on me and even Adric I can tolerate slightly more here than I can in Season 18 (mostly because there’s no Romana-I’ll probably address this around “Earthshock”). No, I think the real reason this era fails to leave much of an impression on me is a big philosophical, mental disconnect I have the creative team and the way they chose to interpret the show this time around.

    Since we’re bringing up this whole notion of “a small man against the universe” (via the “Cold Fusion” entry) let me place myself firmly in a camp opposed to this conception of The Doctor. Pertwee and Tom Baker were superheroes, as we’ve remarked frequently on. Even if we take this interpretation as a problematic one (and I for one am not inclined to disagree), going back to the 1960s doesn’t seem to quite paint The Doctor as much of a “small man” to me either. There was always something guarded and unpredictable about Hartnell and Troughton, especially Troughton, whose best episodes seemed to paint him as a mysterious, ageless figure from beyond the beginning of space-time with some inherent connection to fiction and the engine of raw creativity. Those who want to complain about The Doctor being a cosmic arch-gamesmaster under McCoy would be remiss not to note the seeds were sewn here, and by no less than David Whitaker-The show’s first script editor and one of its most influential writers ever.

    (cont'd)

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  41. WGPJosh
    February 26, 2012 @ 8:07 pm

    Troughton was marginal: He always lurked in the shadows and operated behind the scenes, using this to his advantage. However, he was resolutely not “small” or “meek”. I always got the sense in those stories he was incredibly old, incredibly wise and incredibly powerful, even if he was great at hiding it and never trying to steal the spotlight or draw attention to himself. The same is true of Sylvester McCoy, and exponentially more so: Indeed, we’ve noted before “Evil of the Daleks” is essentially a Sylvester McCoy story 20 years early. I’ve not shied away from claiming McCoy and Troughton are at the top of my list of favourite Doctors, nor hesitated in praising people who invoke their performances, most notably Katy Manning and Lalla Ward.

    What I’m getting at here is that probably my biggest problem with Peter Davison’s Doctor is the strides taken to humanize him and make him vulnerable. I mean I know why it was done-Tom Baker was larger than life and invincible and a contrast was desperately needed to keep the show going. And, to his unending credit, Davison’s great at playing the character this way and constantly knocks it out of the park. That being said, this reading has never sat right with me. Doctor Who in the Davison era is a Boys’ Own Adventure series with a flawed but likeable lead. It’s a very good Boys’ Own Adventure series with a flawed but likeable lead (at least when it wants to be-that last year and a half or so is definitely spotty, fanwanky and uncomfortably gun-happy), but see that’s not Doctor Who for me personally. This is the same problem I have with huge swathes of the New Series, especially under Tennant and Smith. The Doctor can’t be a flawed, human lead in his story because he shouldn’t ever be playing the lead in any story. He’s not a hero; he’s the spark of creativity that lurks just outside the boundaries who allows stories of heroes to come about.

    Anyway, that’s my two cents worth. Looking forward to following the discussion, as always!

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  42. Henry R. Kujawa
    May 9, 2012 @ 7:26 pm

    WGPJosh:
    "Those who want to complain about The Doctor being a cosmic arch-gamesmaster under McCoy would be remiss not to note the seeds were sewn here, and by no less than David Whitaker-The show’s first script editor and one of its most influential writers ever."

    I always got the impression, so it was a delight when I had it recently confirmed for me, that after the Apolcalypse following Season 23, that JNT, forced to remain at the helm of a show he desperately wanted to be gone from, decided to search for "a Patrick Troughton type". And by God, HE FOUND ONE!!

    People tend to say their first Doctor is their favorite. Well, after Cushing, Pertwee, Baker, Davison, Troughton, Colin and Hartnell (in that order for me, yes), I was totally shocked when McCoy became my favorite Doctor. And slowly, I realized Troughton was my 2nd-favorite. Although, Tom Baker's era simply had the BEST stories with the BEST structure.

    Although, when it comes to Daleks, nothing tops that 2nd Cushing film. (I can still hear the music in my head when I think about it.)

    "see that’s not Doctor Who for me personally"

    Exactly how I see it. The other 6 of the 7 Doctors (sticking to the original 26 seasons) ALL seemed to be "The Doctor" to me. Davison– DIDN'T. And I'll say it again. Albert Campion seems more like "The Doctor" to me than whatever the hell it was Davison was doing on this show for 3 years. (With Brian Glover as his sidekick, he'd have to be.)

    My favorite bits here– "One, two…" "Three, sir!" (Ooh, someone's been watching HOLY GRAIL again!) "You may know chemistry, but one of us is deluded about geography." (That line actually made me LAUGH tonight!) And of course, "The books are five hundred years old… but they chronicle the history of Castrovalva up to the present day."

    My intro to Escher was a wall poster of "Relativity"– the 3 intersecting staircases existing impossibly in 3 different directions (it could work in a zero-G environment). I got books of his stuff. In my 10th grade math class, we spent half a year on Geometry. Our end-of year project was to construct a 3-dimensional object. Most people did Dodecahedrons and the like. ("MEGLOS", anyone?) I built a model of "Relativity". NO KIDDING. (about 14" x 14" x 14") Half my class said it was impossible, it's just an optical illustion. Some of Escher's drawings are, but not this one. I wish I stil had it. My DAD crushed it under some boxes. IDIOT.

    Anthony Ainley completely falls apart by the end of this one. Might have beena good way to go out, f they'd actually shown more at the end. I also wish there'd actually be a shot of the city disappearing, as they had at the end of THE OUTER LIMITS episode "The Guests". Oh well. The sad thing is, I've written stories with a character based on Ainley (which has nothing to do with DOCTOR WHO), and I feel I've given him better writing than he ever got on this show.

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  43. David Gerard
    December 1, 2013 @ 2:43 am

    Phil, have you ever seen any of All Creatures Great And Small? I remember Davison being pretty good in it as the second sidekick.

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  44. Ashley Pomeroy
    October 4, 2018 @ 7:28 pm

    “I wonder if our good blogger will tackle … Jim’ll Fix It – not just for its presence alongside Doctor Who in the Saturday tea time schedules, but also the notion of a crazy-costumed eccentric with magical furniture (in this case, his bigger-on-the-inside chair) who sends children on magical adventures.”

    It’s fascinating to read these comments six years and seven months later – this one in particular has aged in an interesting way.

    Magical adventures indeed.

    Reply

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