Archive for the ‘ERAS’ Category

The Smith Era

Saturday, December 28th, 2013

“I’ll be a story in your head. But that’s okay, we’re all stories in the end.
Just make it a good one, eh? Because it was, you know. It was the best.
A daft old man, who stole a magic box and ran away.”

Of all the modern Doctors perhaps the Eleventh Doctor represents the greatest gear-change between two adjoining series and iterations. A new show runner and production team, new lead and companion, not to mention new TARDIS inside and out, The Eleventh Hour ushers in a deliberate reinvention of the programme. Most Doctors take perhaps a full season to ‘find’ their character; the Matt Smith Era finds its Time Lord within its first episode.

Much of this of course is due to the resetting of the Doctor and who he is. Having played his hand as an angry survivor, then a lonely god, this new Doctor is first and foremost a figure of legend; literally, in some cases, a living story. He is the raggedy Man, brought into being by The Girl Who Waited, then is apparently deconstructed and brought back to reality by the same girl’s memories, his return in The Big Bang a more convincing turn than Last of the Time Lords‘ stab at a faith-based resurrection (mobile technology notwithstanding). This season does, however, insist on being a story told on its own terms – that of, for want of a better term, a ‘fairy story’. Following Amy Pond of course is another companion who also in her way ‘tell’s the Doctor’s story to life through her own selfless and self-denying actions. More than ever, the Eleventh Doctor is a ‘reactive’ hero in essence – an independent hero who nonetheless relies on the versions told to him by companions and strangers alike (viz the doomed Lorna Bucket) – he even coordinates his adventures for a period to his sometime wife’s diary. No other version of Doctor Who has asked so much of its viewers to buy into on a narrative scale.

If you can buy into that, then what follows should be easier still, because Smith’s first season also ramps up Doctor Who following a blueprint set down in Steven Moffat’s previous stories: temporal chicanery, eerie (rather than warlike) monsters, formidable enemies (often with strong female proponents) claiming powers to equal those of the now absent Time Lords, and the Doctor fighting for the certainty of his very existence, defending the entire universe and all of time itself simply by being. Such audacious concepts set the stakes infinitesimally higher than the series’ first years of random, almost anonymous adventures in a broad and unknowable universe. The Doctor is now famous, and his fame has created his greatest challenge: he can never know peace – ironically only coming close to this when trapping himself in a rather nebulous stalemate during the Siege of Trenzalore. In fact, for its own inconsistencies, The Time of the Doctor never abandons the central theme of the Doctor as the hero of a thousand stories – perhaps more potently in this story, evoking variations on the ‘Drifter’ or ‘Gunslinger’ characters of Western stories. Once again, in returning to a heroic ‘legend’ context the final acts and regeneration of the Eleventh Doctor can only be seen as the culmination of an era that, inconsistencies and fumbles aside, stays true to its storytelling roots. For its triumphs and failings it can’t be said that the Smith Era is not thematically strong.

Do you believe in fairy stories, immortal heroes and the inevitable triumph of good over evil? If you can, then here you have one hell of a show – surprising, shocking, suspenseful and utterly charming. Whatever will come next?


The Tennant Era

Thursday, November 28th, 2013
“Oh, I am brilliant!”
In order to understand the era of the Tenth Doctor, perhaps it helps to see it in context with its successor.
This breaks the rules of Eras, somewhat; but such is the effect of the Smith Era, the reinvention of the character of the Doctor under Steven Moffat (of which, surely, another post to come) and most recently The day of the Doctor. This anniversary special pits the Tenth Doctor against the Eleventh, and both together against the hitherto unseen Ninth/War Doctor. The latter difference are plaint enough, but it’s the former which are the more surprising.

Both post-Eccleston iterations share common characteristics – they are young, dashingly geeky, physical and outwardly emotional, and they rely heavily on the companionship and friendship of their (mainly) female fellow adventurers. Both struggle with mixed messages picked up by said companions, and in turn the companions of both the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors are largely defined by the intensity of this relationship. The Doctors, however, are different men; each gradually distanced from that epochal catastrophe of the new series – the Time War and destruction of Gallifrey, they react and encounter the universe that remains with them in contrasting ways. The Eccleston Doctor carries a palpable air of survivor guilt, while Smith’s Doctor has made new and deadly enemies through his gradual mastery of time and space; Tennant’s Doctor occupies territory between these poles – having regenerated past his immediate shell shock he is constantly testing himself against the cosmos in which he now inhabits (or imagines he does for the majority of his life) as the last of his kind.

Thus, the Tenth Doctor as the “lonely angel”, a man cut off from his past and his home, at first seeking to enjoy an unfettered life, before crucially overstepping the mark and edging towards something as terrible as the world he first escaped, the self-titled ‘Time Lord Triumphant’. Tennant’s Time Lord is a character of exuberant energy anchored in a universe of sadness and regret, his cries of action and enthusiasm (“Allons-y!” the aforementioned “Brilliant!”) matched by an equal, apologetic refrain (“I am so sorry”); little wonder that this anti-hero with his peaks and troughs of emotion would find a ready-made audience in adolescent viewers.

The Tenth Doctor’s first two companions are ready-made audience identifiers – perhaps we could also add others to this list – Astrid Peth, in particular; young women with varying degrees of infatuation for this outwardly young, outwardly exuberant and vivacious adventurer in time and space. Within, we know there is melancholy, and a sense that even these companions may not be able to fill the space left by the disappearance of his own people – witness the Doctor shrinking inwardly in The Impossible Planet, shuddering at the thought of ‘settling down’, and the cool eagerness with which he maroons his mortal second self on Pete’s World with Rose. Indeed , watch how those relationships are broken down with each companion: separation, estrangement, irreversible trauma, with the Doctor compelled to move ever on as he always has. If Eccleston’s Doctor was a reluctant survivor and reluctant hero, then Tennant is a hero still trying to free himself from responsibility, newly-reborn and finding fun in the Universe, before finding it a sometimes cold and empty place. Tennant’s Doctor is a complicated figure, often eulogised in lofty terms (“fire and ice”), but in turns paradoxically and remarkably tactile, chummy, brotherly.

All of which helps to create through his reactions and interactions and impression of the Universe of the new Who era, where for a while the remote and alien territory of the Hartnell and Troughton Eras are reduced and made occasionally very domestic (New Earth in Gridlock), or even silly, with silly names and faces. Indeed, the Universe is probably the most exciting and occasionally slapstick it’s been since the Graham Williams stories, as though showrunner Russell T Davies is imprinting his childhood era over the resoundingly successful relaunch. The remarkable turnaround of the Doctor in his final two years is therefore a story that probably does more to roll out his next incarnation than speak of the exuberance of the Tennant Doctor we might otherwise envisage. In short, here is a Doctor in microcosm; the most successful of Davies’ visions of the show, and in four varied and contrasting years we bear witness to the rise and fall of a pretty interesting and memorable incarnation.


The Eccleston Era

Sunday, October 20th, 2013

The Unlikely Lad

An unprecedented emotional relationship with his companion, a reckoning with the unexpected survivors of the Dalek race and the loneliness of being the last of his own, encounters with one of the most famous writers in history, an alien spacecraft over London and a wicked Zoe Wanamaker – all met with his whooping catchphrase…

The Tenth Doctor, right?

Well, yes, but I’m talking about the bloke who came before him, and did it all first.  And on the face of it, ‘bloke’ is the operative word: leather jacketed, booted, close-cropped and determinedly not RADA-yadda.  The first time I saw a picture of Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor, I actually wondered what his costume was going to look like…

Although it’s never been a good idea to judge any of the Doctor’s by their appearance, Eccleston’s portrayal probably succeeded in doing more than any other in convincing us that the cleverest man in any room, on any planet, fizzed behind that deceptive exterior.  “Doctor?” snorts Charles Dickens during their first encounter, “More like a navvy!”

And yet, in the Ninth Doctor we first see that guile-less fascination and joy in encountering something new for the first time, which let’s be honest, has possibly become a little strained of late. And we even see this ‘hard man’ shed a tear in his second episode, a tiny moment which did so much to establish the tone of this new incarnation of the character and programme.  Much has been made of the ‘romance’ between the Tenth Doctor and Rose Tyler, (particularly in multitudinous fan-made compilations on You Tube), but watch those few moments between Eccleston and Piper in Number 10 Downing street before its destruction and you’ll see chemistry so intense that you even forget the awesome Penelope Wilton is there too.

To continue with the same unfairly maligned episode, the sequence involving the Doctor instructing ‘Mickey the idiot’ on how to save the world not only cemented my young nephew’s love for the programme, but I think conveyed the Ninth Doctor’s modus operandi, that with his nudge any one of us can make a difference.

Sadly, Eccleston’s too-short tenure and gradually emerging news of behind the scenes difficulties sometimes taint memories of a brave and exciting portrayal. But although not necessarily planned, sometimes it’s good to ‘keep it short’. By the time Tennant finally regenerated I was looking at my watch, but when Eccleston threw back his head and arms to blaze out of existence like the northern star he was, more than any of the other splendid chaps; I really didn’t want him to go.


The McGann Era

Sunday, September 29th, 2013

  In 2005 the Doctor changed. For Doctor Who‘s new audience this meant little to nothing, while for a likely majority of the old series’ fans the casting of Christopher Eccleston merely meant the continuation of what had always been – the inexorable restoration and reinvention of the series’ lead character. And yet,  even a year on, there were fans who clearly saw the seeds of this bold, new direction for Doctor Who and its hero in the brief TV tenure and its extended multimedia afterlife of the Eighth Doctor.

It’s not a bad achievement, really. Consider how the series and Doctor might have been interpreted had it lived on as novels and comic strips only after Spearhead from Space [no Master, no name Gallifrey, no Sontarans, no Sarah Jane] or Robot [no Davros, Leela, K9, Romanas or Hinchcliffe/Holmes or Williams/Adams eras ], let alone The Twin Dilemma or Time and the Rani in their respective portrayals of the Doctor. Doctor Who the TV Movie may in its eighty-nine minutes say little new about the series beyond a hastily papered-over half-human parentage and a squirmed-at Doctor-companion kiss, but few would argue that its version of the Doctor, and particularly its choice of leading man, was absolutely perfect.

This perhaps ought to be surprising; Doctor Who the TV movie is itself the product of mixed parentage, being a US production with UK and US names behind it. Its pitch at the renegade Time Lord is the closest the series had come to casting the Doctor as an Englishman Abroad – novelty factor included, Remington Steele in a TARDIS. Add to that the Doctor’s own ensemble being a collision of sartorial nods to archetypes from both countries [the Byronic antihero, the Wild West gunslinger] and the resulting impact and the longevity of its half-life is quite remarkable.

The Eighth Doctor was, more than any other incarnation, designed and extended by committee. Beyond the TV Movie the fan writers who took up the baton for the most part (some older hands – Dicks and Peel, excepted) invested a lot of their impressions of Paul McGann’s Doctor, rather than his predecessors, into their continuations; and so we know that in preparing their BBC Book Vampire Science Jon Blum and Kate Orman watched as many McGann films and programmes as they could to retain his mannerisms in their prose, while in Endgame on Alan Barnes seeded his comic strip Eighth Doctor with nods to the likes of Withnail & I. The success of the TV Movie in the UK is well enough known (it wasn’t actually a flop in the US, either, it simply wasn’t the remarkable success needed to become a series), but it’s as much a sign of good faith in Paul McGann’s role in the movie that his caretaker creators from 1996 to 2005 took great pains to keep his interpretation of the Doctor intact.

And yet, 2005 is not where the Eighth Doctor’s story ends; the Eighth Doctor’s story is still being written. We know that it does of course have an end somewhere, and that this may involve the Time War. Thanks to Big Finish and the continued involvement of Paul McGann himself we have an audio and visual acknowledgement of the Eighth Doctor’s evolution  leading up to that catastrophe, the stripping away of his carefree, Romantic exterior to reveal a more desperate, death-haunted loner – perhaps an early indicator of the Ninth incarnation to come. And there’s more to tell and not be told, because the Eighth Doctor is still a largely unfilled page, available to be read and added to by new custodian creators while his legacy, the revived series, forges on.

“Humans,” the Doctor explains, are “always seeing patterns in things that aren’t there.” And so it is that the vivid impression cast by Paul McGann and his co-creators have allowed the ‘not there’ post-TV Movie life of the Eighth Doctor to continue, faithful indeed to the pattern set by eighty-nine miraculous minutes broadcast in 1996.

The McCoy Era

Friday, August 16th, 2013

Like all of us, no Doctor is born fully-formed. The lifespan of a Time Lord’s incarnation is one marked with gradual change, his personality shaped either by encounters with adversaries old and new, or the shifting relationships between companions and colleagues. Off-screen, this change is brought about by show runners or (in the classic series) producers, script editors and in most instances on record at least, the lead actor himself. In the instance of Sylvester McCoy’s tenure this is certainly the case on record, and in the short lifespan of the Seventh Doctor, this change is probably the most abrupt yet; superficially a gear shift from quirky, bumbling tramp-clown to murmuring inter-dimensional schemer in the space of the season gap between 1987 and 1988. As the Doctor says in Delta and the Bannermen there may indeed be “many a slap between a cup and a lap”, but the radical shift in tone that would usher in its follow-up bar one, Season Twenty-Five’s opener Remembrance of the Daleks, would also firmly establish for many fans the definitive Seventh Doctor, fittingly set against his oldest and deadliest foes.

We attribute much of this change to the popularly-termed ‘Cartmel Masterplan’, a loose set of threads guiding the Seventh Doctor through his remaining eight UK-made stories and, via Masterplan alumni Andrew Cartmel, Ben Aaronovitch and Marc Platt, into Virgin’s New Adventures as well.  As the era of Sylvester McCoy also marked a coming-of-age of would-be future fan writers in the New Adventures, it’s important too to see where they took their cues from in McCoy’s televised stories. To this end, perhaps more weight has been added to some spurious material than was initially intended (for example, Delta’s Stratocaster scene, championed in The Discontinuity Guide as a sort of proto-Cornellian signifier; not to mention the infamous deleted scenes from Remembrance) and, I‘d argue, maybe too much was heaped also on Dragonfire as an Ace story. And yet, from these simple moments, a great and diverse run of novels sprang, solidifying the form of an incarnation which is still being portrayed in Big Finish audios to this day, the Seventh Doctor now a master of manipulation, setting even his next incarnation’s future up ahead for him before his own time runs out.

This piece, however, is not about those stories, or what followed the TV series and its cancellation, but what came before. The passage of time has, it seems, been a little less kind to the era of Sylvester McCoy, with Twenty-first Century eyes casting unforgiving appraisals upon its trappings of Eighties Who; the raucous synthetic soundtracks, video format and shrill theme music. Once the top cat of DWM surveys, the Seventh Doctor now languishes with his predecessor in the lower leagues, and yet this reversal of fortune can be a useful thing in itself. Twenty-five years on from Remembrance of the Daleks and all it seeded those New Adventures are not so easily come by, and their recasting of the Seventh Doctor is less ubiquitous outside a Big Finish subscription. Inadvertently, the consigning of Virgin’s fan baton to deeds past has forced a review of the Seventh Doctor as a screen incarnation first and foremost, and despite DWM polls and forum drubbings on balance that’s really not a bad place to start at all. There are stories within the McCoy Era – The Greatest Show in the GalaxyBattlefieldGhost LightSurvivalThe Curse of FenricThe Happiness Patrol, which have the capacity still to surprise and intrigue with this mercurial incarnation, and which are now stripped of the off-screen series and their adherence to repeated memes. Granted new eyes, the brave and bold conceits of the Cartmel and, indeed, the McCoy Era, are available once more to be experienced.



The Colin Baker Era

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013

You may not like the stories, you may not like the coat (although I never thought it as bad as others have called it), one thing is clear: Colin Baker enjoyed playing the part immensely. Here was a man who was willing to rub ‘dirt’ on himself, get tied onto a careening cart, and even pop onto an exercise bike.

But, more than that, he was a Doctor of action. And he doesn’t shy away. When faced with the Cybermen, he knows that it’s all out or nothing. Laser probe to the chest unit, destruction of the TARDIS… even picking up a gun and shooting the Cyberleader! Whether lowering himself into a Kronton Time Corridor or facing off against a huge fly, he’s ready to put himself into danger. And make those hard choices. Mothballing Shockeye? He went there. Putting his TARDIS on the line to protect Karfel? He did that. Genocide an entire species? If he must…

He was also a Doctor of temperament. Okay, it was supposed to be post-regeneration issues, ironed out over an episode or two, but it became a defining characteristic. What it meant was that you couldn’t trust the Doctor from one moment to the next, to see things how we do… he became more alien. In The Trial of a Time Lord, Matrix fabrication or no, what we see on screen could well be the Doctor as himself. This Doctor makes the audience uncertain, edgy, and thus made for better television.

And the Doctor loved his words. Many florid speeches, loving correction of the way Peri spoke, and a flourish for the dramatic with his oration. “Nevermore a jumblejack” immediately comes to mind. This also ramped up in The Trial of a Time Lord where, courtesy of Pip and Jane Baker, words went flying like they were cramming whole dictionaries into sentences. What this does show is that the Doctor uses more than action to outwit. Head in a noose? Only afraid he won’t be able to get his point across. At the point of a gun? Never more loquacious. Facing his own mortality? More than once, at that, and yet he continues to think past it (okay, after a bit of a moan). And he had more than enough banter to fend off the Valeyard.

“Old Sixy” (as he now refers to himself) has had quite the renovation post-series, and yet the television stories do show a Sixth Doctor in fine form, ready for whatever call to action comes along.


The Davison Era

Friday, June 14th, 2013

Four square fellow

It might be argued that current iterations of the Doctor resolve dilemmas using vague pseudo-scientific, fairytale-magical abilities far beyond those of we mere mortals – or even our ability to understand how or if the latest 45 minute mellow peril has been resolved.

But there was a time when the Doctor seemed very ordinary and all-too-easy to identify with. Not always taken seriously, often frustrated and harassed by those he was forced to work with and seemingly unable to consistently inspire confidence or even ultimately deliver for those who depended upon him: the Fifth Doctor was all too relatable to.

Part of the charm of the Doctor is that although we are often reminded that he isn’t from Earth, he can embody the best and sometimes worst of our own human foibles. Despite his failings he can sometimes give us all something to aspire to.

The famous suggestion given to Davison by a very young fan as the actor was about to embark on the role, that he should play the Doctor “Like Tristan, but brave” was good advice. ‘Young Fifthy’ breathlessly loped through his adventures with even less self- assurance than the junior Farnon brother, but was also capable of an unerring sense of right and the courage to act with few more resources than the blue box which got him into his latest mess in the first place, and the bickering ‘flatmates’ he shared it with.

Much of this was imposed upon Davison by the production team, adamant, probably correctly, that his portrayal should be as far from the humorously omnipotent Tom Baker’s Doctor as possible. But like those who had gone before, the Fifth Doctor was also very much a product of his time. The early Eighties were a time of innovation coupled with a strong sense of looking back to gentler times and in the case of the programme, ‘Neo Romanticism’ and ‘New Edwardianism’ were particularly strong examples.

Eschewing the testosterone –charged excesses of the previous decades’ various iterations of rock, the neo romantic proponents of the New Wave music scene harkened back to a more refined, gentile and, in all probability, imaginary time. “What’s a man now, what’s a man mean,” sang Joe Jackson in 1982, “Is he rough or is he rugged, cultural and clean?” If Tom Baker and Pertwee were posturing lead guitarists and stage-hogging main vocalists, Davison was a (synth) keyboard-playing crooner, or in the case of The Five Doctors, a Harpist.

The early Eighties also heralded the all-pervading success of Chariots of Fire, and on the smaller screen, Brideshead Revisited. Edwardian fashion and sensibilities were back in vogue, and as ever, our programme was at the forefront of the old/young zeitgeist. The Fifth Doctor’s pleasant, open approach might have been very much of its time, but he could as easily have been a resident of Cranleigh Hall and not a visitor from another age.

But as is the case of most embodiments of old-world values, the world changed around the Fifth Doctor, and the sadists and murderers he increasingly encountered made an old- fashioned hero seem dated and quaint by comparison. His final adventure is famously held to be his best and least – a terrific script featuring a hounded, dying Doctor who achieves nothing to affect the brutal course of the story and it’s inevitably grim ending. Unlike his previous selves, he doesn’t die saving the Earth or the entire universe… but typically goes out batting for his friend. And no-one else would ever know, or even care.

“I thought he was sweet.” Protests Peri
“Sweet? Effette! Sneers the newly-regenerated Sixth Doctor, already barging his way towards a destiny cut short by a corner of the TARDIS console. His predecessor on the other hand, had just pushed himself past the point of his fifth life, holding off his own ‘death’ while wracked with pain and exhaustion, all to save a girl he’s only just met.

Tristan had never been braver.


The Tom Baker Era

Saturday, May 11th, 2013

Faced with the prospect of encapsulating the Tom Baker era of Doctor Who in roughly five hundred words is some task. The man who would play – nay, epitomise the Doctor in his fourth incarnation on and off the screen is simply the sine qua non, without whom the series might not enjoy its twin existence as both popular entertainment and ‘cult’ fascination. Seven seasons, seven companions, four producers and a legacy that to this day means to more than one generation the quintessential shorthand for the Doctor involves jelly babies, curly hair and toothsome grins, and an impossibly long scarf.

Please sympathise with me, then, as I attempt to unravel this almost universal portrait to find the kernel of the Baker era, to disengage the performer and children’s favourite, the formidable talents of men whose names became genres unto themselves in Who – Hinchcliffe, Holmes, Williams, Adams, and seek out a new byword for Doctor Who in the mid to late Seventies. That word ladies and gentlemen is Change.

All series rely on reinvention and on refreshing the sheets from time to time, but Doctor Who in its teens seems to actively seek change out – no two seasons of the Baker era are alike, much less even similar; there is no ‘business as usual.’ In fact the entire run of the Fourth Doctor may be seen as the culmination of several strong personalities attempting to cast their own interpretation of the series on each other, the show tripping from one set of fingertips to another like a ball in a line out toss. The Baker Era – epic, Gothic, didactic, antagonistic, Apocalyptic, satirical, funereal – has a style and feel for everyone. Think of it as a multi-coloured approach, if you will – like a scarf, of variously-flavoured like a bag of jelly babies. It is broad and deep enough to find an audience savouring a wide range of tastes, and in the middle of it all is an actor who gave so much of himself to the role, who literally occupied it as much as it occupied him, that he will forever be Tom Baker, Doctor Who.

 The Baker era tries everything, and occasionally stumbles when budget cuts conspire, but at its height its scripting is consistently high, and Baker’s instinctive performance caries the rest through – if ever an era could be said to have natural charisma, it’s this one. The Doctor, loping from one outlandish scenario to the next, is the most free he’s ever been, and ever will be, escaping a season-long story arc to randomly gad about the universe with his female equal. By season eighteen and the onrush of universal entropy we are given the answer to a final question – can the Doctor remain a universal constant as well, or is he also susceptible to change? The answer this that he does change, and in six years looking back it’s there to be seen most clearly. Say what you may about Tom Baker’s swansong, but for this viewer the image of a Doctor loosening his grip on a radio telescope beam to fall to his death and usher in his next form is one of the greatest moments of Tom Baker’s era, a moment of stoicism and calm, where the Doctor, resolutely Chaotic Good, surrenders his dominion over time and space to change again.

 Change, they say, is as good as a holiday; and for the fourth Doctor this holiday comes in the form of greater exploration in time than his predecessor, a confident eschewing of traditional enemies (after an introductory season, of course) and an indulgent season-long story arc. Space, as script editor Douglas Adams once wrote, is big, and in the space that the Tom Baker Era provides there’s plenty to lose one’s self in.  


The Pertwee Era

Saturday, April 13th, 2013

Mention the era of Jon Pertwee’s Third Doctor to anyone with more than a passing familiarity with Doctor Who and you may we expect and receive some well-worn descriptions. ‘Man of action’ is one, maybe ‘exiled to Earth’, and then there’s ‘UNIT family’. They’re true, all of them, to a greater or lesser degree than Pertwee’s successors in the role, but what strikes me about these descriptions is how they attempt to find the unique aspects of the Third Doctor, sorting them from the more traditional and expected aspects of our hero. As mentioned they are accurate enough, but left as the sole descriptors for the Pertwee hero and his era we lose a vital element to this incarnation of the Time Lord – his Doctorishness.

The Pertwee Era is one of change of course (there’s another shorthand description) – colour, personnel, location, a new sense of dynamism, Action by HAVOC. While he’s on Earth there’s the sense that for the Third Doctor everything s going on all at once, and he’s in the middle of it doing his utmost to do the right thing. Jon Pertwee often likened his character to that of a ‘Mother hen’, using his great cloak to shield his female companions from whatever nasties they were facing. To be honest I can’t think of a single story where this actually occurs, but the notion of protection is a really useful theme to explore in Pertwee’s Era. The Doctor is firmly established as Earth’s protector more literally than ever before – once priding himself as a gentleman of the Universe he has been brought down to Earth as its guardian against threats from space, prehistory, modern science, and ultimately in the Master, the worst aspects of his own people. We can laugh at the routine appearances of Roger Delgado’s villain and the familiarity of the Doctor’s earthbound locations, but in an in-series context it’s arguable that the Time Lords were right – the Doctor was best put to use on our world, and is simply the best man for the job. And clearly we rub off on him, too, because no sooner does he receive his get-out-of-jail-free card with a new TARDIS materialisation circuit then he’s back here checking in on us. He’s not the only protector figure in Pertwee’s era of course – assignment on Earth leads to assignment to UNIT, and the Brigadier’s role as a reluctant ward, each man keeping the other on the straight and narrow; Jo is his moral compass – which is not to denigrate the roles of either Liz Shaw or Sarah Jane Smith, but The Daemons does cast a long shadow over Pertwee’s best stories.

As viewers casual and committed we need the Doctor to be first and foremost a protector, and no matter how he strays into periods of aloofness (early Tom Baker) or spurious morality (early Colin Baker), this is the version of the Doctor we want to see. Pertwee’s Doctor embodies this effortlessly, some of his best monologues are speeches of comfort (on the nature of heroism to the Thal Vaber in Planet of the Daleks, the ‘daisiest daisy’ speech to Jo in The Time Monster); at his worst he is aloof, haughty, hectoring and priggish – but at his best (more often than not) that metaphorical cloak of comfort comes out readily. We’ve seen versions of this with both Hartnell and Troughton previously, but in the Pertwee Era, with its UNIT and Production family, there’s an intimacy and confidence that parcels Jon Pertwee’s Doctor with an accessible humanity that moves to the background noticeably in his successors. If Saturday teatime Doctor Who was the comfort viewing for television audience families, then the era of the Third Doctor is comfort, security and protection personified. ‘The man Who’ fell to Earth, and became one of us.


The Troughton Era

Thursday, February 28th, 2013








The years of the clown

In 1991 I was lucky enough to be at the first Manopticon convention inManchester.  It boasted two Doctors in attendance, the author of this Blog’s favourite: Colin Baker, and my Doctor:Jon Pertwee.

On first, rascally Baker told a Two Doctors anecdote about his co-star, Patrick Troughton which garnered prolonged, thunderous applause that must have shaken the venue’s foundations. “You hear that, Pat?” shouted Baker, casting his eyes heavenward, before grinning and adding “Good, Pertwee will hear this and think it’s for me!”

Whether Baker ever knew that Pertwee wickedly returned the favour the following day with an equally rapturously-received Troughton recollection from The Three Doctors is not on record.

The point is: everybody loves Pat.  Of all the ‘classic Doctors’, the Cosmic Hobo never seems to have endured the ‘cooling-off’ period which the others have; never had to suffer the slings and arrows of capricious fandom.   And anyone who’s ever seen Troughton, in anything, can see why.  Whether it’s opposite Christopher Lee in Scars of Dracula, or Gregory Peck in The Omen, is abundantly clear he could hold his own against the very best in the business.

Opposite the likes of Frazer Hines and Wendy Padbury however, he didn’t just have to hold his own, but seemingly support entire last-minute and rewritten stories, brace hours of near-identical bases under siege and carry drab set-fulls of interchangeable characters.

There, I’ve said it.  I’m sorry: while I unhesitatingly agree that Patrick Troughton and the Second Doctor are a sublime creator and creation, but that doesn’t mean all his episodes were too; as hard as many might want to believe.  The reputation of Troughton’s run seems ironically enhanced by the fact that so little remains.  This scarcity of evidence has led many to smile fondly at the memory of masterpieces almost none have actually seen, even after the hard lessons not learned following the recovery of Tomb of the Cybermen.

We often forget how close the end credits of the tenth instalment of The War Games came to being our last Who ever.

I admit I’m shallow: the murky, stagey, shouty remains of the Sixties are never the first place I go when looking to watch some Who.  And I also know the dangerous ground on which I walk, recalling well that fateful interview that Matthew Waterhouse gave DWM, when he committed the cardinal sin of giving his honest opinion about a certain Troughton-era companion.  The vilification young Adric received in the following month’s letters page even caused DWM to distance itself from Mr Waterhouse’s personal views.

Despite some assertions that Troughton is not entirely ‘in character’ throughout, The Three Doctors remains one of my favourite Second Doctor stories.  Unhindered by his traditional monochrome baggage, he’s delightful: puckish, feisty and his irreverence and smoke-screen frivolity lend the story it’s funniest and most memorable moments.

I love the Second Doctor as much as any of the others, possibly more so as he always tried to give my own favourite a hard time, and I still love him.  But like any other incarnation, his stories are far from perfect, his companions far from flawless and his monsters some way from being universally convincing.  The Second Doctor: not the Messiah, just played by a very, very good actor.

Zeus Blog wishes to distance itself from the personal views of Mr Hughes.