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Doctor Who: The Five Doctors (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 Five Doctors originally aired in 1983.

There was one chap we tried to get hold of. What was his name? Used to be your scientific advisor.

Oh, the Doctor.

Yes that’s right.

Wonderful chap. All of them.

– Crichton and the Brigadier get into the spirit of things

The Five Doctors is a big anniversary celebration for the franchise, reuniting all five… er, four… er, three of the actors to play the lead role and one guy in a dodgy wig. Written by Terrance Dicks, The Five Doctors is 100 minutes of pure celebration, without too much in the way of depth or drama or development. It’s a beautifully packaged “greatest hits” collection for the franchise, to the point where the generally nostalgic atmosphere of the rest of the twentieth season (pairing up the Doctor with foes from his twenty-year history) can’t help but feel a little a little shallow in comparison.

Producer John Nathan Turner and script editor Eric Saward tended to fixate a bit too heavily on the show’s history and its continuity, with stories often becoming oppressively burdened with in-jokes and references to events that took place decades ago. In contrast, Dicks is able to craft a healthy slice of nostalgia that remains accessible and enjoyable, giving everybody their moment in the sun.

Well, everybody but the Cybermen.

Terrance Dicks does not care for the Cybermen...

Terrance Dicks does not care for the Cybermen…

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Doctor Who: The Three Doctors (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 Three Doctors originally aired in 1973.

Well, Sergeant, aren’t you going to say it that it’s bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. Everybody else does.

It’s pretty obvious, isn’t it?

– the Doctor and Benton

The Three Doctors never seems entirely sure what it’s supposed to be. It knows what it has to accomplish. This was the first serial of the tenth season of Doctor Who, so it has to feature the three versions of the character to date. It also wants to radically shake-up the status quo of the series and to allow Jon Pertwee’s Doctor to take to the cosmos. Those are really the two primary objectives of The Three Doctors, and writers Bob Baker and Dave Martin accomplish them quite well.

The problem is that the story itself isn’t sure what it wants to be. Pertwee-era script editor Terrance Dicks would be a lot more confident when juggling The Five Doctors, conceding that the whole thing was a gigantic nonsensical spectacle. The Three Doctors seems almost like a regular story with the tenth anniversary grafted on to it – it’s easy enough to imagine a rough outline of this story that could work with only Jon Pertwee and without the end of his exile.

As a result, the two strongest beats in The Three Doctors feel almost like afterthoughts, grafted on to the outline of a generic and somewhat bland Doctor Who adventure.

Why does the Doctor hate himself...?

Why does the Doctor hate himself…?

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Doctor Who: Carnival of Monsters (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.

Carnival of Monsters originally aired in 1973.

Roll up and see the monster show! A carnival of monsters, all living in their natural habitat, wild in this little box of mine. A miracle of intragalactic technology! Roll up! Roll up! Roll–

– Vorg welcomes us to the new world

There’s a valid argument to be made that Carnival of Monsters is the heart of the show’s tenth anniversary celebrations. Sure, it lacks the bombast of recruiting William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton to guest star in The Three Doctors, but it’s very much an affectionate love letter to the show and a bold statement of purpose going forward. With the Time Lord’s ending the Doctor’s exile in The Three Doctors, the whole universe is at his doorstep.

Carnival of Monsters, then, is really the point at which a specific era of Doctor Who can be said to begin. While the First and Second Doctors had journeyed to other worlds and times, they had done so in black-and-white. The whole point of exiling the Doctor to Earth way back in Spearhead from Space was so that the shift to colour wouldn’t destroy the suspension of disbelief. The hope was that grounding the series might make it possible to maintain suspension of disbelief in bright colour.

Here there be monsters...

Here there be monsters…

While the Third Doctor has ventured to other worlds before (Colony in Space, Curse of Peladon, The Mutants), this is the point in the show where Doctor Who becomes the full-colour adventures of a man traveling through space and time in a blue box. This is the point at which cardboard sets and dodgy alien design become more than just occasional quirks – they become an expected part of the formula.

In a way, Carnival of Monsters is just as much a bold statement of purpose as Spearhead from Space was.

In the palm of his hands...

In the palm of his hands…

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Doctor Who: The Green Death (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 Green Death originally aired in 1973.

Where are you off to?

To pack a suitcase.

Oh, good. Give me a couple of minutes and we’ll be off.

Off? Off where?

Well, Metebelis III, of course.

I’m not going to Metebelis III.

Why? Where are you thinking of going to?

Well, South Wales, of course. Llanfairfach.

– the Doctor and Jo discuss travel plans… why would you want to go to Metebels III when you can visit South Wales?

The Green Death is a great example of the Jon Pertwee era. It offers a pretty solid showcase of the best of the era, along with the glaring structural and thematic weaknesses that the show never really tackled head-on. It’s a great yarn, an affectionate run-around. There is a reason, after all, that the overgrown maggots have managed to wedge themselves in British popular consciousness. There’s a conscious sense that The Green Death is a season finalé, in the biggest and boldest terms possible.

In an era where television wasn’t really structured in that way, you can trace a pretty clear line between The Green Death and the big epic series finalés of the Russell T. Davies era of Doctor Who.

And the Beatz go on...

And the Beatz go on…

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Doctor Who: The Sea Devils (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 Sea Devils originally aired in 1973.

If Horatio Nelson had been in charge of this operation, I hardly think that he would have waited for official instructions.

Yes, a pretty impulsive fellow, if one can believe the history books.

History books? Captain Hart, Horatio Nelson was a personal friend of mine. Come on, Jo.

– Namedropping? The Doctor? Never!

When it comes to Doctor Who, “sequel” stories get a bit of a hard time from fandom. It seems to be easy to dismiss Snakedance in favour of Kinda, and to praise Spearhead from Space at the expense of Terrors of the Autons and even elevate The Daleks above The Dalek Invasion of Earth. It seems that time, and conventional wisdom, tend to favour the original serials. Of course, there are undoubtedly examples where follow-up scripts have disappointed (the ridiculously padded The Monster of Peladon following The Curse of Peladon). Still, for my money, The Sea Devils represents a tighter, complimentary and ambitious sequel to Doctor Who and the Silurians, easily one of the most highly regarded adventures of the seventies. It’s a fairly impressive accomplishment, but The Sea Devils is more than up to it.

Everybody out of the water!

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Doctor Who: Planet of the Daleks (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.

Planet of the Daleks originally aired in 1973.

You know, for a man who abhors violence, I must say I took great satisfaction in doing that.

– The Doctor on demolishing a Dalek

The combined Frontier in Space and Planet of the Daleks serials were intended to mark the tenth anniversary of Doctor Who with a twelve-part epic that could be measured against the lost Daleks’ Master Plan. I’m quite fond of The Frontier in Space, and I’d argue that it stands as the best space-opera of the Pertwee era, but I’ll concede that the story is severely weakened by the links it shares with this little adventure, which is conclusive proof that Daleks were quite stale long before Davros was invented.

Not all Dalek stories are gold…

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Doctor Who: Frontier 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.

Frontier in Space originally aired in 1973.

To celebrate the tenth anniversary of the show, the four-part serial The Three Doctors was produced. However, it was also decided that Jon Pertwee’s fourth season in the role should also contain something quite a bit grander than the average Doctor Who serial. Clearly intended to rival the epic (and lost) Daleks’ Master Plan in terms of scale and scope, an epic twelve-part adventure was conceived that would run across two back-to-back serials. It would open with Frontier in Space, before easing gently into Terry Nation’s Planet of the Daleks.

Unfortunately the adventure was never quite able to measure up to the series’ earlier Dalek epic, primarily due to problems with the second serial. Still, though somewhat weakened by the necessity to dovetail into the story directly following, Frontier in Space remains a rather wonderful example of the series on its largest scale, offering epic space opera with large-scale consequences.

Lost in space…

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