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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 Web of Fear (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 Web of Fear originally aired in 1968.

See, now this is interesting.

The Enemy of the World had the luxury of arriving almost unannounced, a genuine honest-to-goodness classic story that had been written off by all but a minority of fans as a generic run-around James Bond pastiche. It was recovered, it turned out to be quite brilliant, and so was a massive surprise. Indeed, even if it had been merely “good” or “fine”, it would have been a joy to watch, because the episode was being measured against a popular imagination that had never really been too bothered with it. I don’t think it was too near the top of the majority of fans’ “would love to recover…” lists.

There were no expectations, so The Enemy of the World didn’t have to worry about measuring up to anything. The fact that it was quite brilliant was icing on the cake. In contrast, The Web of Fear has a lot of expectations to live up to. It is being measured not against the weight of continuity – featuring a much loved monster and introducing a recurring character – nor the sky-high expectations of fans. It is measured against the popular imagination. While The Enemy of the World probably seemed like an after-though to most Doctor Who fans, The Web of Fear is a massive part of what Doctor Who is to the general public.

Fur and loathing...

Fur and loathing…

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Doctor Who: The Enemy of the World (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 Enemy of the World originally aired in 1967-68.

One chance, my friend. I said one chance.

– Patrick Troughton gets his David Tennant on

The Enemy of the World is an absolute joy from start to finish. Far too often, six-part Doctor Who serials tend to feel over-padded or over-stuffed, more a result of budget and production constraints than of any creative imperative to tell a story spread across six weeks. Instead, The Enemy of the World is a thoughtful, playful and fin six-part adventure that shows off Patrick Troughton at his best, with Dennis Whitaker’s script toying with various genre expectations and some interesting ideas about who the Doctor really is.

Face to face...

Face to face…

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Doctor Who: The Ice Warriors (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 Ice Warriors originally aired in 1967.

It’s strange that the Jon Pertwee era tends to attract so much criticism for adhering so rigidly to formula, with Barry Letts and his team rigidly working within well-defined lines and trying hard to produce television that doesn’t suck. Outside of the political criticism of the Pertwee era, there’s a train of thought that suggests the show became a little too formulaic, a little too predictable, failing to really push its own boundaries, with a few scattered exceptions.

And yet the Patrick Troughton era was arguably just as much a slave to routine and formula. The Troughton era is defined by its “base under siege” stories, so massively influential that they’ve become a Doctor Who subgenre unto themselves. Episodes like Earthshock and The Almost People arguably serve as homages to the genre that peaked during the late sixties. Indeed, allowing for some measure of flexibility, six of the seven adventures in this season could be described as “base under siege” stories.

I can’t help but wonder if the destruction of so many Troughton-era stories has led many Doctor Who fans to become blinded by nostalgia reflecting on the era. The Tomb of the Cybermen is, after all, much more exciting as the sole surviving “base under siege” story of the fifth season than it as the first of six adventures loosely adhering to the same structure and conventions.

Ice to meet you...

Ice to meet you…

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Doctor Who: The Name of the Doctor (Review)

How do we get down there? Jump?

Don’t be silly. We fall.

– Clara and the Doctor set things straight

Like The Wedding of the River Song, The Name of the Doctor suggests that Moffat might be better served by reverting to the Davies-era model of two-part season finalés. The strongest season ender of the Moffat era (and probably the best season finalé of the revived show) was The Big Bang, because it felt like Moffat had enough space to allow his ideas to breathe. The Name of the Doctor is a lot sharper and a lot more deftly constructed than any of the closing episodes from Russell T. Davies’ seasons, but it feels a little too compact, a little too tight for its own good.

To be fair, Moffat is has very cleverly structured his season. The mystery of Clara was seeded as early as Asylum of the Daleks and hints have been scattered throughout the past year of Doctor Who. Even the build-up to the final line of the episode feels like an idea that Moffat has been toying with since The Beast Below. Despite all this, it still feels like The Name of the Doctor could do with a little more room to elaborate and develop the concepts at the core of the story.

Journey to the centre of the Doctor?

Journey to the centre of the Doctor?

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