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Doctor Who: Battlefield – Special Edition (Review)

To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the longest-running science-fiction show in the world, I’ll be taking weekly looks at some of my own personal favourite stories and arcs, from the old and new series, with a view to encapsulating the sublime, the clever and the fiendishly odd of the BBC’s Doctor Who.

Battlefield originally aired in 1989.

Pitiful. Can this world do no better than you as their champion?

Probably. I just do the best I can.

– the Destroyer gets to know the Brigadier

Battlefield gets a bit of a bum rap as the weakest story in the final season of the classic Doctor Who. This isn’t entirely fair. Battlefield is a well-produced and thoughtful piece of Doctor Who, it just happens to be inferior to The Curse of Fenric, Ghost Light and Survival; it’s hardly the most damning indictment possible. After all, Battlefield would arguably be treated as an unsung gem had it aired during Colin Baker’s time on the show.

In keeping with Ben Aaronovitch’s last season opener, Remembrance of the Daleks, Battlefield is preoccupied with the history of the show – of its legacy and the artifacts that it carries with it. Archeology is a key theme here, but juxtaposed against a near future setting and the clever conceit of the Doctor manipulating his own history. There’s a wealth of great material here, even if the production never quite lives up to the potential teased.

A beacon of light...

A beacon of light…

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Doctor Who: Colony in Space (Review)

To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the longest-running science-fiction show in the world, I’ll be taking weekly looks at some of my own personal favourite stories and arcs, from the old and new series, with a view to encapsulating the sublime, the clever and the fiendishly odd of the BBC’s Doctor Who.

Colony in Space originally aired in 1971.

Are you some kind of scientist?

I’m every kind of scientist.

– Caldwell and the Doctor

Colony in Space is an interesting story for many reasons. For one thing, it’s the first colour adventure to travel to another world. It was the first time since Jon Pertwee took over the title role that the character had been allowed to leave the surroundings of modern-day Earth. Even if he did land in a quarry. Colony in Space demonstrated the possibilities to tell futuristic and extraterrestrial stories in the new and remodelled version of Doctor Who, and the show began to slowly venture further and further afield over the next few years, with the Doctor finally regaining control of his TARDIS in The Three Doctors a little under two years later.

However, Colony in Space is also interesting because it is a script from Malcolm Hulke, who has really become one of the more Doctor Who script writers more inclined to pepper his scripts with political and moral philosophy. Colony in Space is an interesting exploration of those themes, even if it does run a little bit long in places. (That said, Hulke is one of the better writers of the six-part format in the show’s history.)

Go on, try to fight the urge to pronounce the episode title like "colony... IN SPACE!"

Go on, try to fight the urge to pronounce the episode title like “colony… IN SPACE!”

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Doctor Who: Terror of the Autons (Review)

To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the longest-running science-fiction show in the world, I’ll be taking weekly looks at some of my own personal favourite stories and arcs, from the old and new series, with a view to encapsulating the sublime, the clever and the fiendishly odd of the BBC’s Doctor Who.

Terror of the Autons originally aired in 1971.

That jackanapes! All he ever does is cause trouble!

– nice to see the Doctor taking the Master seriously

I think you can make a fairly credible argument that Jon Pertwee’s first season of Doctor Who stands out as one of the best years the show ever produced. Facing the challenge of migrating from black-and-white to colour, and forced to tell stories entirely set on present-day Earth, the writers and producers managed to craft a season of television that I think stands quite well when measured against the very best of vintage BBC science-fiction. Sure, there may have been walking shop-front dummies, lizard people, animal men and haunted space suits, but the stories were surprisingly mature and relatively clever. The writers used the framework of Doctor Who to tell four very good and very philosophical stories exploring both bold science-fiction high-concepts (alternate universes) and also moral quandaries (how humanity relates to the unknown).

Terror of the Autons is the first story in Jon Pertwee’s second season. I’m actually quite fond of it, and it’s packed to the brim with iconic imagery, so it’s very difficult to be too critical of it. After all, any adventure that left so large an impression on the public imagination must have something to recommend it. However, there’s a very clear sense of regression here. It seems, from this first serial of Pertwee’s second year, that the agenda has changed somewhat.

Terror of the Autons is arguably more indicative of Pertwee’s time in the lead role than any of those stories from his first year. It’s exciting, it’s fast-paced, it has a decidedly man-of-mystery feeling to it, but it also feels somewhat light and a little insubstantial. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it just feels like a definite regression.

Master of the Whoniverse?

Master of the Whoniverse?

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Doctor Who: Rose (Review)

To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the longest-running science-fiction show in the world, I’ll be taking weekly looks at some of my own personal favourite stories and arcs, from the old and new series, with a view to encapsulating the sublime, the clever and the fiendishly odd of the BBC’s Doctor Who.

Rose originally aired in 2005.

So, I’m going to go up there and blow them up, and I might well die in the process, but don’t worry about me. No, you go home. Go on. Go and have your lovely beans on toast. Don’t tell anyone about this, because if you do, you’ll get them killed.

(beat)

I’m the Doctor, by the way. What’s your name?

Rose.

Nice to meet you, Rose. Run for your life!

– the Doctor and Rose

It’s amazing to think of the pressure weighing down on Rose. Sure, Doctor Who has gone from strength-to-strength since its revival in 2005, but there was a time when its resurrection seemed unlikely, to say the least. Although fans had kept the show alive in various media, it must have seemed highly unlikely that they show would ever return to television, let alone as a massive success. Producer Russell T. Davies might have seemed like an unlikely choice. Although he had written some spin-off material, like other British television writers including Steven Moffat and Paul Cornell, Davies was best known for producing shows like Queer as Folk and The Second Coming. Nevertheless, he had been campaigning to bring the show back for quite some time, notably in 1998 and 2002, before finally bringing the revived show to screen in late March 2005.

Although the edges are still a bit rough in places, Rose serves as an effective introduction to the Russell T. Davies, and contains the seeds of what would become the show’s success. Borrowing (and reinventing) heavily from perhaps the last seismic re-tooling of the series in Spearhead from Space, the show presents a version of Doctor Who for a new generation.

Run!

Run!

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Doctor Who: Spearhead From Space (Review)

To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the longest-running science-fiction show in the world, I’ll be taking weekly looks at some of my own personal favourite stories and arcs, from the old and new series, with a view to encapsulating the sublime, the clever and the fiendishly odd of the BBC’s Doctor Who.

Spearhead from Space originally aired in 1970.

Oh well, at least he won’t get very far.

You mean, before your men shoot him again?

I don’t find that funny.

– The Brigadier and Liz discuss the Doctor’s (second) escape

Looking back now, it’s hard to believe that Spearhead from Space had so much riding on it, if only because of the deft combination of Robert Holmes’ sharp script and Derek Martinus’ confident direction. Indeed, the serial served as something of a second pilot for the show, demonstrating that the survival of the series during the transition between William Hatnell and Patrick Troughton had not been a fluke, broadcasting in colour for the first time, and setting up an entirely new status quo set primarily on present-day Earth. It’s a miracle that it all works so well, let alone that fact that it remains one of the most accessible adventures featuring the character.

We need a Doctor in the TARDIS!

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