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Doctor Who: Born Again (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.

Born Again originally aired in 2005.

Can you change back?

Do you want me to?

Yeah.

Oh.

Can you?

No.

– Rose and Doctor

Davies revived Doctor Who devoted considerable time to reintroducing the core concepts of the series. Unlike The TV Movie, Davies saw no need to over-complicate Rose by featuring the regeneration from the previous Doctor to the current lead. The Ninth Doctor was introduced as-is to an entire generation of new viewers. Only a quick examination of his features in Rose seemed to hint that he was getting used to his new face.

The prospect of “regeneration” hadn’t been flagged too heavily by the time The Parting of the Ways aired. This makes sense. For one thing, there’s a sense that Eccleston’s departure was not something that the production team had accounted for – which makes it even stranger that the whole first season seems to be building towards his redemption in death. For another thing, it’s very hard to drop “by the way, I change into somebody else when I die” casually into conversation.

So the regeneration at the end of The Parting of the Ways was kind of a big deal, and a huge moment for the series. After all, the classic Doctor Who had enjoyed more than three seasons with its lead character before having to swap him out – Hartnell being the last member of the original ensemble to depart. And, given the rules of television narratives in 2005, there was no way that the show’s first regeneration wasn’t going to be a pretty significant event.

Somebody needs a Doctor...

Somebody needs a Doctor…

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Doctor Who: The Twin Dilemma (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 Twin Dilemma originally aired in 1984.

Whatever else happens, I am the Doctor, whether you like it or not. 

– the perfect sentiment on which to enter a nine-month gap

Some mistakes only seem obvious in hindsight. Some errors are easy to judge with the weight of experience and history behind you. Some calls are easy to dismiss and ridicule retroactively, completely divorced from the context in which they were made.

Of course, some mistakes should have been blindingly obvious when they were made in the first place.

Go on, guess which one The Twin Dilemma was.

Hardly a moment of triumph...

Hardly a moment of triumph…

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Doctor Who: The Two 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 Two Doctors originally aired in 1985.

That is the smell of death, Peri. Ancient musk, heavy in the air.

– welcome to the Colin Baker era

The Two Doctors is an oddity. It’s the only story of the Nathan Turner era that runs over two hours, unless you choose to count The Trial of a Time Lord as a single story. It’s also the only “multi Doctor” story that wasn’t filmed on one of the show’s significant anniversaries. (Time Crash was, after all, filmed in the show’s forty-fifth year.) It’s also notable for the fact that it completely eschews the charmingly impish portrayal of the Second Doctor that fans have come to know and love over the course of reunion stories like The Three Doctors or The Five Doctors.

Indeed, The Two Doctors is almost the exact opposite of the show that you would expect it to be. The low opinion in which fans seem to hold the serial confirms that writer Robert Holmes has delivered a story that is markedly different from what those waiting for a team-up between Colin Baker and Patrick Troughton would have been expecting. Far from a nostalgia-packed love-in, The Two Doctors is written with Holmes’ trademark cynicism. This time the writer is directing that cynicism towards the show itself.

Patrick Troughton! In colour!

Patrick Troughton! In colour!

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Doctor Who: Paradise Towers (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.

Paradise Towers originally aired in 1987.

Oh, I see. It’s some sort of robotic cleaner with automotive bicurval scraping blades. Impressive workmanship.

You don’t understand.

No, I don’t, but I intend to.

– the Doctor and the Deputy Chief Caretaker

Paradise Towers is brilliant. It’s crazy, it’s overstated, it’s an hour too long and it suffers from the fact that nobody really knows what they’re doing, but there’s a sense of genius at work here. Script editor Andrew Cartmel took over at the start of the season, with no scripts. Time and the Rani came from John Nathan Turner’s reliable Pip and Jane Baker, so Paradise Towers is the first script where Cartmel has been allowed to make his mark.

And it’s precisely what the show needed. The execution is significantly flawed, the pacing is all wrong and there’s a sense that not everybody between the script and the camera realised what was going on, but it has a distinct energy to it. Time and the Rani was essentially Doctor Who struggling to keep its head above water. Paradise Towers sees the show diving right into the eighties.

"... where the grass is green and the girls are pretty..."

“… where the grass is green and the girls are pretty…”

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Doctor Who: Time and the Rani (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.

Time and the Rani originally aired in 1987.

Right, that all seems quite clear. Just three small points. Where am I? Who am I? And who are you?

– the Doctor

A Doctor’s first story is always difficult. Even if it’s not as explicit as it was in Power of the Daleks, the new actor his constantly fighting against the weight of expectation, trying to cast off the spectre of their predecessor and make the show their own. There’s also a sense that the production team is trying to reinvent the show around their new lead. It’s transitional, and it’s not too difficult to see how the task could be daunting.

If that’s a typical first story, imagine how frustrating Time and the Rani must have been at the time. Hastily cobbled together in a rush, coming out of a season that had been a spectacular failure and with the shadow of cancellation looming heavy, there’s a lot of pressure on Time and the Rani. It is a story that is routinely trashed and mocked, and perhaps deservedly so. However, I must concede, it’s not as bad as it could have been and I’d be very reluctant to rank it among the worst Doctor Who serials of all time.

He's got an umbrella and he's not afraid to use it!

He’s got an umbrella and he’s not afraid to use it!

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Doctor Who: The Trial of a Time Lord – The Ultimate Foe (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 Trial of a Time Lord originally aired in 1986.

In all my travellings throughout the universe I have battled against evil, against power-mad conspirators. I should have stayed here. The oldest civilisation, decadent, degenerate and rotten to the core. Ha! Power-mad conspirators, Daleks, Sontarans, Cybermen, they’re still in the nursery compared to us. Ten million years of absolute power, that’s what it takes to be really corrupt.

– the Doctor

There really are no excuses for the mess that The Trial of a Time Lord became. I mean, seriously. The producers had eighteen months to plan everything out. The task shouldn’t be that difficult. If you are going to fictionalise the persecution of Doctor Who by the BBC in the form of a trial, you really should have some idea what you plan to do or say at the end of it. If your fourteen episode season-long story arc is about defending a show that is coming close to cancellation, then perhaps it might be a good idea to be able to tell us why it shouldn’t be cancelled. The Trial of a Time Lord is a gigantic mess, and something that makes a stronger case in favour of Michael Grade’s attempts to cancel that show than it does against them.

The Ultimate Foe isn’t as soul-destroyingly horrible as Terror of the Vervoids, but that may be because Pip and Jane Baker only wrote half of it.

Only himself for company...

Only himself for company…

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Doctor Who: The Trial of a Time Lord – Terror of the Vervoids (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 Trial of a Time Lord originally aired in 1986.

Mmm. This is a situation that requires tact and finesse. Fortunately, I am blessed with both.

– the Sixth Doctor

Okay, so the “past” and “present” sections of The Trial of a Time Lord haven’t been blow-outs. The Mysterious Planet demonstrated that maybe, once upon a time, Doctor Who had been decidedly average, constructed of a checklist of familiar and inoffensive tropes. Mindwarp demonstrated that Colin Baker’s Doctor was the kind of character who you could probably imagine chaining his companion to a rock on the beach, before leaving her to die… or marry Brian Blessed… or something. But, hey, there was some social commentary! If The Trial of a Time Lord is constructed as a defence by the show to avoid being sentenced to the bleak nether-realms of cancellation, I have to confess that I’m not convinced. And I like the show to begin with.

Still, it’s not a total failure. I mean, whatever the show was or is, it can always be something better, right? And so, this final story, Terror of the Vervoids, could easily prove that the show has a very clear idea of where it’s going next? The future will be better tomorrow, and all that?

Cue incredibly lame "Pussy Galore" joke...

Cue incredibly lame “Pussy Galore” joke…

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