The Eighties was a turbulent time in Doctor Who, beginning with the cancellation of the part-filmed Shada, and ending with the hiatus and final “rest” of the show beloved by so many. The showman sensibilities of producer John Nathan-Turner meant some fantastic guest stars and overseas filming, and script editors Christopher Bidmead (science should not be silly), Eric Saward (if you’re going to have violent stories, let’s make them PROPERLY violent) and Andrew Cartmel (let’s show you just how sneaky and manipulative the Doctor has to be to save the universe) put their stamp on the show, as did the three actors who came in to play the Doctor in the wake of the iconic Tom Baker: Peter Davison, Colin Baker, and Sylvester McCoy.
Posts Tagged ‘WHO50’
Many fans have pointed out the role of Ace, the last of the “classic Who” companions, in shaping what the modern companion of New Who would look like. In particular, there has been a great deal of commentary and analysis about the changes that were starting to be made during this last gasp of Doctor Who (not just the idea of the companion as protagonist, and raised emotional stakes for the Doctor himself, but also stories that reflected a more gender-aware and diverse Britain) and how this seems to have had a powerful impact on the returning version of the show, especially the 2005 Eccleston and Piper season.
This is hardly surprising, as McCoy’s Doctor and Ace’s character were not just central to the last “proper” run of the show, but also remained the focus of fan and pro creativity for many years in the decade that followed, and many of the fans, pros and fannish pros who were part of that world were themselves involved in the return of the show.
Ace is not Rose, not by a long shot, but there are many elements of her character that demonstrate her influence over the creation of Rose, and why RTD might have thought that the returning show should revolve around the family, angst and narrative of a working class teenage girl.
The junkyard in Totter’s Lane is cemented in Doctor Who history as the location where the TARDIS was parked in the very first episode, An Unearthly Child. It was here that we learned exactly what was Very Strange about Susan, and the lives of ordinary teachers Barbara Wright and Ian Chesterton changed forever.
The TARDIS tends to move forwards, onward and upwards to new adventures, but very occasionally it does return to old haunts. In Attack of the Cybermen in 1985, the Sixth Doctor and Peri landed in a certain familiar (and yet looking completely different) junkyard, twenty two years after the Doctor originally left. Not only were there Cybermen walking around the general area, but this story also featured another pointed callback, with the TARDIS chameleon circuit finally fixed, and the TARDIS taking the form of a large harpsichord.
But that callback, it has to be said, was rather gratuitous. The story didn’t have to be in Totter’s Lane, or indeed in a junkyard at all.
Three years later, they did it again.
For me growing up, Doctor Who was a big amorphous pile of everything. Trial of a Time Lord, the Key to Time, the Target novelisation of The Myth Makers, Spearhead from Space, An Unearthly Child and even those Peter Cushing movies were part of this big spinning vortex of Everything Who. There was no forward or backward, no serious attempt at chronological order, and little sense of cohesion. I watched either on VHS tapes, on that perfect ABC time slot between 5:30 and 6:30 pm (a timeslot that also included at various times, The Goodies, Bananaman, Roger Ramjet and Danger Mouse BEST TIME SLOT EVER), and in many cases on VHS tapes recorded from that perfect ABC time slot or exchanged with friends.
But in 1987 (or let’s face it, some time within two years of 1987) everything changed. I was nine or ten, and we were ushered to a living room belonging to a representative of the vaguely-organised Doctor Who fan community in Hobart to watch a New Episode.
This is a tricky year for me to write about, largely because I wrote everything I have to say about The Trial of a Time Lord season of Doctor Who in my essay for Chicks Unravel Time, and I don’t want to repeat myself.
Since I wrote that piece, however, I have had my head turned a little bit inside out about Doctor Who and the 1980’s, thanks to reading the new (upcoming) book The Life and Scandalous Times of John Nathan-Turner, by Richard Marson.
I was hesitant about reading the book, especially because that word ‘scandalous’ sounded a lot to me like ‘muck-raking,’ and I figured that having listened to John Nathan-Turner’s own memoirs read in his own voice (available super cheap from Big Finish) I didn’t really need to read anything else about his life.
But I received a review copy. And… whoa. What a book. It’s very much an in-depth look at what it was like trying to make TV at the BBC in the 1980’s, and the work culture of that era, a time when it was still acceptable to start drinking down the pub at lunchtime and not stop, even as the cameras were rolling, where there was no language yet to express concerns about workplace sexual harassment, and… well. All that stuff.
You can learn more about the book by listening to the Radio Free Skaro interview with its author, Richard Marson, who talks a lot about the context of the project.
The first full-length season featuring Colin Baker as the Sixth Doctor also produced one of the more memorably arch female villains of Doctor Who. Played by glamorous soap star Kate O’Mara, The Rani was intended to be the female equivalent of the Master, a villain who truly matched the Doctor in wits and plots but had a tendency to get overly obsessed with that rivalry to the exclusion of getting anything else done.
Unlike the Master, who dabbled in many different types of scheme, the Rani was devoted to a single cause, that of Science. She never set out to be evil or take over the world or anything so dramatic – it’s just that her experiments are generally so ruthless, ethically dubious and downright damaging to the test subjects that the Doctor is honour-bound to stop her whenever their paths cross.
Turlough was one of my favourites. I’m not sure why especially, except that he brought the snark better than anyone. Tegan would complain and shout a lot, but Turlough got to be witty and elegant in his resistance to the Doctor’s particular brand of virtue and heroism.
“What is it about Earth people that makes them think a futile gesture is a noble one?”
There’s a popular idea that classic Doctor Who companions always start out with pots of characterisation and then gradually descend into bland screaming girls until they are finally written out at the request of the actor. I’m not sure that’s entirely true for any companion at all – it is true that many get stronger scripts to start with than later, but it’s rarely such a linear progression as fans (and perhaps the actors) tend to believe. Sarah Jane’s feminism waxes and wanes rather than sliding in a downward spiral, and the same is true for Nyssa’s scientific know-how, Jo’s spy skills, and so on.
It is rare for extra backstory to develop after a companion’s first appearance – though it did happen to some extent with Ace, and with Tegan. Many companions started out with almost no backstory and… never got any more.
So, it’s the anniversary year, and after months of Doctor Who fans eying November with extreme skepticism, and burgeoning alarm that maybe, just maybe, Moffat and co are planning a fizzler rather than a blow out, the new series has just been launched along with the epic news that David Tennant and Billie Piper will be back for the 50th Anniversary special in November.
Yes, I did say epic. Because, however we might complain at there not being all the Doctors in there (which we don’t actually know for sure yet) or the lack of Eccleston (again, you never know), the thought of Ten and Eleven capering around each other and finishing each other’s sentences is, um. Pretty awesome. (and if nothing else, maybe a send-off for Ten which is a bit more popular than his last one was?)
But that’s not all we’re getting, of course. Doctor Who has been on front pages for some years now, but this year has brought all manner of news and announcement, from the behind the scenes shots from the docudrama about Year One of the show (Verity! Sydney Newman! William Hartnell!) to the delight at the Big Finish announcement of a multi Classic Doctors audio drama, comics honouring all the Doctors, book releases, toys, costumes, conventions, podcasts… once you actually stop and list all the new Doctor Who STUFF we are getting this year, it’s actually pretty overwhelming.
It’s pretty rare to have a TV show reach a 50th anniversary and let’s face it, we’re getting a hell of a lot more than all the James Bond fans are this year. Plus they don’t have Matt Smith OR David Tennant (yet). But what about previous anniversaries?
It constantly surprises me how few people love Black Orchid. Yes, the plot is thin, and it relies on some very problematic disability/racial/colonialist/gender tropes from the time period it is set in. But – oh. It’s Doctor Who in the 1920’s! It’s a tiny slice of a murder mystery romp with cricket on the village green, cocktails and the Charleston.
And, I’ll admit, a big part of the reason I have an affection for it is because the TARDIS crew gets to dress up. I really am that shallow.
The opening is one of my favourites – in a clever bit of timing, the TARDIS arrives on the railway platform a moment after a train has come through. As the crew wander around the station, they are met by a chauffeur who has come to bring ‘the Doctor’ to play cricket on the village green. It’s one of those odd coincidences that the TARDIS does rather enjoy, doesn’t she?
Thanks to the Doctor’s topping performance on the cricket pitch, and Nyssa’s odd similarity to the daughter of the house, Ann Talbot, they are all invited back into the home of the Cranleighs, only to become enmeshed in a costume ball and a sinister mystery…
A visual round up of the second decade of my Doctor Who blogging project. The 1970′s was the era of Pertwee and Baker, of mini-skirts and go-go boots, frilly skirts and long, trippable scarves.