Thursday, November 7, 2013

Doctor Who: A Story for Every Doctor

Gosh, the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary is hurtling towards us, isn't it? And with it, the attendant plague of "best of lists" from every website and blogger and around. Actually, its a pretty good idea, so I'm going to one too, because it's my damn blog, thats why. But rather than just trot out any old list I thought I'd go for one from each Doctor; not necessarily the best story but one that is a good representation of the era. This will probably have a lot of "old favorites" in it anyway, but there will be some hard choices, I think. So lets see how it goes. 

The First Doctor - The Aztecs
Sad to say it, but I find a lot of the First Doctor stories a bit...rubbish. The characters don't really work for me, interesting ideas, not properly realised, and the blocky, stagey tone of TV in the period tends to sludge down the stories even when they're actively trying to be more dynamic. It does have some bright spots, and I'm fond of The Time Meddler too, but The Aztecs is a story which remembers that this is a time travel show, with potential consequences, and the stagey, talky feel works to its favour as whispers and conspiracy are major drivers of the plot. The villains scenery-chewing menace is great value, too. 

The Second Doctor - The War Games
At 10 Episodes, The War Games is at least 2 two episodes too long, but good gosh its fun. Right at the end of the Troughton era, everyone is comfortable with their characters and dynamics, the show feels comfortable in it's skin, and the plot gradually builds and expands nicely as it goes along. It's also a Regeration story at the end, which means its finale can be suitably dark as the Time Lords themselves finally get their big entrance to the Doctors life. 

The Third Doctor - Inferno
I love Inferno. I love the John Pertwee's Doctor all over, but Inferno is a proper, concept-driven story from a time before the UNIT dynamic got a little too cosy. Like Fringe would do many years later, it doubles up the actors across two parallel dimensions to make the story feel bigger without being more expensive, and allows real peril to creep in as there is no guarantees as how the story in Fascist Britain Earth will play out. 

The Fourth Doctor - Genesis of the Daleks

Another hard choice, because Baker holds the role for so long, as it goes through so many phases. But Genesis of the Daleks is another of those stories that ends up a touch-stone for the series; not just because of the angry space pepperpots themselves but because of it's mix of routine "running down corridors" and serious issue stuff. It's also an early Baker story, before he starts to slip into self-parody and a great showcase for his peculiar brand of manic energy. 

The Fifth Doctor - The Caves of Androzani
Well of course The Caves of Androzani. Whats most interesting (for me) is that the era of Who most criticised is the Nathan-Turner/Saward era of dark anti-heroes and compromised victory, which doesn't sit well with the core values of the show (old and new), and yet, here, right in the middle of it and just before the plummet into the Sixth Doctor's nearly-best-forgotten era, we have all those themes, all those ideas, taken and turned into something rather wonderful by Robert Holmes script. It's Doctor Who played as Revengers Tradgedy, and it's really, really good, and a quiet showcase for Peter Davidson, showing that he was a great actor not given enough chances to demonstrate it. 

The Sixth Doctor - The Marian Conspiracy
Thank god for Big Finish, who made me love the Sixth Doctor. Because lets face it, none of the TV stories are worth mentioning. However, Colin Baker got another shot via audio stories, and here we see what the Sixth Doctor should have been - waspish, intolerant of those less smart than himself (which is everyone), yet still witty, kind hearted, and self-aware enough to know when he steps over the line. The Marian Conspiracy introduces Evelyn Smyth, a middle-aged historian as a companion and near-perfect foil, along with an interesting historical romp in the Court of Queen Mary which I found engaging and surprising. 

The Seventh Doctor - The Curse of Fenric

The Seventh Doctor stands as both the last "classic" Doctor, and yet, in so many ways, the first "modern" one. How he's played, and his relationship with Ace, look forward to what Russell T Davies will do when he relaunches the show in 2005, and The Curse of Fenric, from the last series to air before the axe fell, is a near-perfect showcase for the shows rapid evolution in its dying days. There are monsters, of course, but they're monsters with meaning behind them, and subplots a-plenty about growing up, about relationships, and at the heart of it all, Sylvester McCoys great Player of Games, holding all the cards. 

The Eighth Doctor - Storm Warning
I think it's sweet how Paul McGann isn't forgotten as the Eighth Doctor; he's referenced in the new show a few times, and in the 50th Anniversary publicity he's been there along with everyone else. It didn't have to be the case; the TV Movie is a bit of a Curates Egg, and I'm not sure if many would have mourned if it just got ret-conned out at some point. That said the Eighth Doctor did carry the franchise through it's books and audios years, and Storm Warning is a much better introduction to the character as he materialises on the R101's fateful flight in 1930, and opens a long run of audios from Big Finish. 

The Ninth Doctor - Dalek
Dalek isn't the moment I was sold on the relaunched Doctor Who; that came an episode earlier with The Unquiet Dead. But Dalek stands out as a thoroughly modern episode; from the fantastic Dalek redesign, to Ecclestons "I am a Real Actor" performance to the tendency for feelings to save the day in the end. It's funny, and savage, and clever and poignant, and made the Daleks feel like a really serious threat in a way that hadn't for a long time, if ever, a threat the series would continue to chip away at, as is the way of all things. 

The Tenth Doctor - Human Nature / The Family of Blood

What? I hear you cry. Surely "Blink"? Well, no, actually. I like Blink, because I'm not a crazy person, but I think this adaptation of Paul Cornell's novel is deeper and more interesting, and more true to the Tenth Doctor, mass of contradictions that he is. Russell T Davies overdid it in the end, I feel, with his "lonely god" schtick, but Family of Blood nails the concept perfectly by making the Doctor temporarily human, and showing us what he doesn't have, as much as what he does. It's also a cracking showcase for Martha, the underappreciated companion of the modern era, as she gets to do a lot of the investigation and monster hunting in the early running. 

The Eleventh Doctor - The Girl Who Waited
And so we come up to date with Matt Smith's soon to depart Eleventh Doctor. The story of Eleven is also in many ways the story of Amy Pond, and showrunner Stephen Moffatt wrapped the show in the language (and logic, not to everyone's taste) of Fairy Tales, of Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland, and at it's best that gives the show a lyrical beauty where cold story logic is kicked to the back of the bus by emotional truth, and doesn't care. The Girl Who Waited is one such story; a simple setup, exactly as long as it needs to be, and rooted in committed performances from it's three leads. Sometimes, cold story logic can go stuff off, and this is one of the few Who episodes ever to make me tear up. 

That was fun. I think I'll do one for (most of) the companions next... !