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Doctor Who: Vengeance on Varos (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.

Vengeance on Varos originally aired in 1985.

It’s a question of re-imprinting their identities, of establishing again who they are.

– Colin Baker spots the problems with the Colin Baker era

Vengeance on Varos is a serious contender for the best Colin Baker Doctor Who story. Not that there’s too much competition. It’s either this or Revelation of the Daleks. I’m also reasonably fond of The Two Doctors, but I’ll accept that I’m in the minority on that one. Colin Baker’s first season is an absolute mess. It has a scattering of half-decent ideas (paired with some atrocious ones, to be fair) executed in a rather slapdash manner.

The season is obsessed with violence and politics and power and the Doctor’s strange ability to accrue large body counts while nominally remaining a pacifist. Like the last year of Peter Davison’s tenure, there’s a sense that the show doesn’t really like its protagonist. Attack of the Cybermen seems willing to trade him for a murderous sociopath. Still, there’s the nugget of an interesting idea there; it’s telling that the revived series would explore some of these ideas in a more insightful and intelligent manner.

However, Vengeance on Varos and Revelation of the Daleks stand apart from the rest of the season because they explore these issues with nuance and sophistication. Vengeance on Varos is wicked social satire that still stings today, an indictment of reality television that was broadcast almost two decades before the format took over television.

It's okay, the audience seems to actually like this one...

It’s okay, the audience seems to actually like this one…

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Doctor Who: Daleks in Manhattan (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.

Daleks in Manhattan originally aired in 2007.

We must evolve! Evolve! Evolve!

– Dalek Sec has perhaps the most out-of-character moment for a Dalek ever

The concept of Daleks in the past is a great idea. However, with the exception of Evil of the Daleks, it is also a bit of a tricky one. Steven Moffat found that out with the first Dalek story of his tenure, Victory of the Daleks, bringing the Daleks to the Second World War. However, Russell T. Davies tried telling a Dalek story set in the past as part of the show’s third season. The Parting of the Ways had featured a Dalek story set in the future, while Doomsday saw the fiends lay siege to modern-day London. Placing the Daleks in 1930s New York seems a staggeringly ambitious proposition.

It's a hell of a town...

It’s a hell of a town…

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Doctor Who: The Parting of the Ways (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.

The Parting of the Ways originally aired in 2005.

Everything must come to dust. All things. Everything dies. The Time War ends.

– Rose

And so the first season of Russell T. Davies’ revived Doctor Who comes to a close. If you asked me, it’s the best season of the show that Davies has produced. The year contains a few clunkers, and it doesn’t contain the highest concentration of enjoyable episodes, but I think the first year has a much clearer direction and purpose than any of the years that followed. Although apparently Christopher Eccleston’s departure was only decided after the show went into production, the first season seems like it is constantly building to the death of the Doctor. The entire first season seems to build, logically and rationally, towards that moment.

He's not all there...

He’s not all there…

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Doctor Who: Bad Wolf (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.

Bad Wolf originally aired in 2005.

The Dalek stratagem nears completion. The fleet is almost ready. You will not intervene.

Oh, really? Why’s that, then?

We have your associate. You will obey or she will be exterminated.

No.

Explain yourself.

I said no.

What is the meaning of this negative?

It means no.

But she will be destroyed.

No! Because this is what I’m going to do. I’m going to rescue her. I’m going to save Rose Tyler from the middle of the Dalek fleet and then I’m going to save the Earth, and then, just to finish off, I’m going to wipe every last stinking Dalek out of the sky!

But you have no weapons, no defences, no plan.

Yeah. And doesn’t that scare you to death. Rose?

Yes, Doctor?

I’m coming to get you.

– the Daleks, the Doctor and Rose give the Ninth Doctor perhaps his best moment

Looking back at the first season, I’d argue that it’s the most cohesive run of episodes that Russell T. Davies produced on the dhow. Now because of the whole “bad wolf” thing, as that feels a bit like a clumsy link randomly inserted. Instead, as we watch the final episode, it becomes quite clear what Davies was trying to do with his first year on the show. The patterns, the themes, the subtext, the references – it all becomes quite clear. More than any other season of Davies’ tenure, the first season is really one gigantic story – and not just because the show never leaves Earth or the finalé returns to the setting of The Long Game.

The first season is a bridge. It’s a link between the last years of the classic series into the new and revived show as written by Davies. It’s a moment to gather up the dead, tidy away the loose ends and basically manage the stage so that the show can really come into its own. One of the things I loved about Davies’ Doctor Who was how accessible it all was, but it still had all this continuity ticking away in the background.

This first season finalé feels like it isn’t only a conclusion to Christopher Eccleston’s time in the lead role, it’s also closing the last of the dangling threads from the eras of Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy in the eighties. As soon as David Tennant steps into the lead role, it seems the show is entirely and utterly free of everything that came before. It’s a testament to Davies’ skill that we’re not even sure that he’s doing it.

Come with me if you want to live...

Come with me if you want to live…

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