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Tansy Rayner Roberts

Posts Tagged ‘modern woman’s guide’

A Modern Woman’s Guide to Classic Who: THE EIGHTH DOCTOR YEARS 1996-

Sunday, January 2nd, 2011

Summary: The Eighth Doctor, played by Paul McGann, is simultaneously the Doctor with the shortest and longest run at the character. He appeared only once, in a pilot TV movie in 1996 (called variously, The Movie, The TV Movie, Doctor Who, and The Enemy Within) which was attempting to repackage Doctor Who for a new TV generation. It failed, in many senses of the word, but the Eighth Doctor himself, as portrayed by McGann, was excellent.

So excellent, in fact that even when it was obvious the TV Movie would not go to series, BBC decided to run with the character, doing with him what Virgin had done so successfully with the Seventh Doctor, producing a series of interesting, original SF books with the Doctor and various companions at the centre of the franchise. Telos Publishing were also licensed to produce a series of “deluxe” Doctor Who novellas featuring various Doctors, including the Eighth. As well as utilising some of the same authors that had worked on the Virgin and BBC lines, Telos brought in some well known authors from other areas to write media tie ins for the first time, including Kim Newman, Louise Cooper and Tom Arden.

Later, when Big Finish launched, the Eighth Doctor got another new lease of life as the “current” Doctor, and Paul McGann was finally allowed to develop the character beyond the 90 minutes that had spawned so much secondary canon. Many of his audio plays were also broadcast on BBC7, including several seasons of stories with companion Lucie Miller. Big Finish also took on the ‘Short Trips’ anthology series begun by the BBC and continued it as an audio and print series, so that hundreds of new short stories have been published featuring all the Doctors and companions. After 2005, when Christopher Eccleston launched on to our screens and Doctor Who really came back, the Eighth Doctor was sort of ‘retired’ as the current Doctor and recategorised as a Past Doctor, but in practice this didn’t make a lot of difference. Interviewed recently, Paul McGann spoke about how chuffed he was to see his Doctor acknowledged in New Who, because he had assumed he would be considered “not canon”.

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A Modern Woman’s Guide to Classic Who: THE SEVENTH DOCTOR YEARS: 1987-1989

Saturday, January 1st, 2011

Summary: After the mixed reactions to Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor, and viewing figures continuing to hemorrhage, you would think the most important thing about the Seventh Doctor was that he be likeable. This at least was achieved with the casting of stage actor Sylvester McCoy, who presented an entertaining and harmless figure at the beginning of his run. Producer JNT was still handcuffed to the sinking ship, and rather than learning from past mistakes, he fell back on old habits when launching a new Doctor: a bright, gimmicky costume featuring less-than-subtle question marks, and a personality that could be summed up in sound bytes.

The Seventh Doctor began less than promisingly, with a truly awful regeneration sequence. Colin Baker quite reasonably refused to come back to the show he had loved to film a two minute getting-killed sequence and so the viewers were treated to the sight of the TARDIS under attack by the Rani, a renegade Time Lady introduced in a previous story, and a man in a curly Sixth-Doctor wig falling over in the console room, and immediately regenerating.

Yes, all of you who complain that Ten fell off a long drop in End of Time and didn’t die like Four did, take note! Every time the Doctor FALLS OVER without regenerating, he is having a good day.

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A Modern Woman’s Guide to Classic Who: THE SIXTH DOCTOR YEARS: 1984-86

Friday, December 31st, 2010

Summary: This is the point where a lot of Doctor Who fans walked away. In all fairness to Colin Baker, there are a lot of reasons why this era just… isn’t very good, and despite many fans blaming him, it has little to do with his performance. A few very bad scripts, however, and equally bad production decisions (such as an awful costume, and the ‘edgy’ concept of the new Doctor starting out by trying to strangle his companion) got the Sixth Doctor Years off to a very bad start.

After one very awkward and uneven season, Doctor Who was put on a hiatus for 18 months. Forces at the BBC were working hard to cancel the show. When it returned with season long arc based around the theme of the Doctor on trial, much had been improved from the last disastrous season, but in many ways it was too little, too late. Colin Baker was pushed out, and there were calls for a recast in a last ditch effort to save the show…

Things You Need To Know:
Colin Baker did not choose the outfit.

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A Modern Woman’s Guide to Classic Who: THE FIFTH DOCTOR YEARS (1982-1984)

Thursday, December 30th, 2010

Summary: The Fifth Doctor was, as with all recasts of this character, something different! At 29, Peter Davison because the youngest actor ever to take the part, a record only broken recently with the casting of 26 year old Matt Smith. While several previous Doctors had long, established careers behind them, Davison had the distinction of already being a popular heart-throb, thanks to his role as Tristan in the TV series All Creatures Great and Small. Rather oddly, the show itself went out of its way to make Davison’s Doctor appear as sexless as possible, to the point of not even wanting the character to touch any of his companions, for fear there might be some (gasp) spark of chemistry between them. The new producer, John Nathan Turner (JNT) who had started with Tom Baker’s final season, began to put his own stamp on the long-running show. In particular, he had a knack for handling the media and making a splash in the newspapers. The companions all appeared in glam poses and sexy pouts… everywhere except the show itself, where for several years they were covered firmly from neck to ankle, and madly avoided eye contact with each other.

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A Modern Woman’s Guide to Classic Who: THE FOURTH DOCTOR YEARS: 1975-1981

Wednesday, December 29th, 2010

Summary: It’s the Fourth Doctor with his hat and scarf and big toothy grin that most often represents Classic Who in people’s minds – even those who have never watched the show. Tom Baker, barely even a working actor when he got the part, was 40 when he got the role, making him the youngest ever man to play the Doctor. He quickly made the part his own – like Jon Pertwee, he was equally at home with comedy and drama, and frequently used his voice to convey just how much doom everyone was in.

Not since Dalekmania in the early sixties had Doctor Who been such a successful show – it enjoyed a level of mainstream popularity at this time that would not be eclipsed until David Tennant won the hearts of the British public. Rather famously, Baker played the Doctor pretty close to method, embracing his position as a role model to children, and even now when he speaks of the role you can see that the “I” that is Baker and the “I” that is the Doctor get deeply tangled together – unless that’s all part of a colossal joke he is still playing on his audience.

Baker played the part for seven years, still the longest any Doctor has ever kept the role. His era can be divided into three rough periods based on their producers: the Hinchcliffe era (1975-7) which combined hard-ish SF before developing a dark, gothic horror sensibility; the brighter and shinier spaceships-and-funny-hats Graham Williams era (1977-80), and the entropy-and-dark-Tom, John Nathan Turner (JNT) season at the very end. While the latter half of Tom Baker’s run had some real gems, especially with legendary comedy writer Douglas Adams script editing and even writing some episodes, it’s the Hinchcliffe era that is most critically acclaimed and romanticised by fans for its high quality of scripts, performances and atmosphere.

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A Modern Woman’s Guide To Classic Who: THE THIRD DOCTOR YEARS (1970-1974)

Tuesday, December 28th, 2010

Summary: Doctor Who is in COLOUR! Also, there are no more missing stories from now on, despite the BBC’s best efforts, though several are only available as black and white prints.

The Third Doctor’s era is in many ways more comparable to other 70’s adventure shows like The New Avengers than to prior incarnations of Doctor Who. He drives a vintage car, practices Venusian aikido, hooks up with military outfit UNIT in order to stop alien invasions, and waggles his eyebrows. I adore him, but this does tend to be a love-him-or-hate-him Doctor. Which is true of all of them, I suppose…

Jon Pertwee was known far and wide as a comic actor, and while he brings great moments of comedy to the part, his strength as a Doctor is that he mostly plays it absolutely straight, something made all the more impressive when you pay attention to the absolute gobbledegook he was often required to say. Most people’s description of him revolves around his appearance: the ruffled shirts, velvet coats and other dandy fashions, or his height and shock of white curly hair, but once you start paying attention you realise that for this accomplished radio performer, his Doctor was all about the voice. Sure, the Drashigs may be glorified sock puppets with teeth, but when he says ‘Drashig’ in That Voice, there’s a world of history and horror in his tone that makes you believe.

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A Modern Woman’s Guide To Classic Who: THE SECOND DOCTOR YEARS: 1966-1969

Monday, December 27th, 2010

Summary: The concept of regeneration, now one of the most iconic features of Doctor Who, allowed for a new lead actor to create a very different interpretation of the role.  Troughton’s Doctor left aside the grumpy anti-heroics of William Hartnell to be a far more emotional, vulnerable Doctor, capable of high dramatics and physical comedy as well as something of a cunning streak.  With only one early exception, the Second Doctor stories moved away from historicals, sticking with science fiction adventure for the most part.  When it did utilise historical elements or settings, they were combined with alien or other science fictional concepts, a tradition which has continued into New Who. This is an era of monsters and mad science, with occasional moments of batty genius.

More so even than the Hartnell Years, the Troughton Years suffered from the BBC film destruction, so very few whole stories are archived.  For this reason perhaps even more so than the First Doctor, the Second Doctor is often remembered more by fans for his later appearances in the show (The Three Doctors in the 1970’s, The Five Doctors & The Two Doctors in the 1980’s).

Things You Need To Know: The sonic screwdriver and jelly babies both made their first appearances in Second Doctor serials.  And he still can’t steer the TARDIS.  Colonel (later Brigadier) Lethbridge Stewart and Benton both make their first appearance in this era, as do the Ice Warriors and the Yeti. Yes, Yeti!

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A Modern Woman’s Guide to Classic Who: THE FIRST DOCTOR YEARS (1963-1966)

Sunday, December 26th, 2010

Summary: originally designed as a children’s show, the Classic Doctor Who format at this time was half hour episodes making up whole stories of 2, 4, 6 (and occasionally, gulp, 12) episodes, though the stories themselves only got individual names towards the end of the First Doctor’s run – most story titles were decided on later by fans, TV historians, DVD releasers etc.

The Doctor and his companions generally alternated between historical and SF stories, with very few set in contemporary times.  Unlike these days, the historicals were usually “pure” in that the stories involved no alien or science fictional element, other than the fact that the main characters are time travellers and have perspectives from other times.

Many episodes and whole stories from these years were destroyed by the BBC (well technically all of them were, but many were saved or recovered) which means sadly that some of the best stories are no longer available to view.  Hardcore fans can revisit them through audio recordings, or the good old Target Book novelisations, which are no longer in print but have a thriving existence in the second hand book market (and, more recently, have been made available from the BBC as audio books).

At this stage in Classic Who history, the TARDIS cannot be controlled by the Doctor, which means that any time he leaves a particular place and time, they are in the hands of fate. This gives extra tension to the companion journey, as in many cases they have no way of knowing if and when they can ever return home.  Several companion leaving stories thus comprise either of accidentally landing within a year or two of their point of origin and jumping off the bus while they have the chance, or picking the first random planet that seems to have something to offer.

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A Modern Woman’s Guide to Classic Who: Introduction

Sunday, December 26th, 2010

I’ve had a few female friends discover Doctor Who in recent years and express a sort-of interest in visiting or revisiting Classic Who. But… there’s so much! And while there are some great resources that review Classic Who (in recent years I’ve particularly enjoyed the Chronic Hysteresis, Copperbadge’s season-by-season LJ reviews, and the father-and-son podcast Hoo on Who which reviews the DVD releases in no particular order) most of them are immersed in fan perspective of the the huge, sprawling universe that is, well, Classic Who.

My intention with the series of posts to come is to provide an introduction to Classic Who for the almost-complete newbie, who knows nothing about the old show, might be a bit daunted by the sheer quantity of material, and generally prefer their TV to be modern, snappy and high-paced. I also wanted to focus on some of the more woman-friendly aspects of the old show, when and if they become available. While I love the Doctor, I was usually far more interested in the companions as characters and reading Chicks Dig Time Lords this year showed me that I wasn’t the only one.
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