Monday, December 23, 2013

Doctor Who: 50 years of time travel

Former Doctors returning! 

Tom Baker!

It was everything a fiftieth anniversary special should be!

But enough about The Light at the End. The Day of the Doctor was okay, too.

I guess I'll touch on that briefly, since I brought it up. It was for fans of the new series. I hate Rose, hate Matt Smith, barely tolerate David Tennant, deplore Moffat's treatment of women, and haven't been able to take the Daleks seriously as adversaries for decades.  I thought Clara riding her moped into the TARDIS while Matt Smith mugged for the camera was the most unbearably twee thing I've ever seen.

This is why I'm embarrassed to tell people I'm a fan of science fiction.

Despite that, I thought it was pretty good for what it was. Moffat tends to write Doctor Who as a time travel show, moreso than his predecessors, for whom the TARDIS was merely a vehicle for getting the Doctor and company to the next adventure. This is not without its perils, as once you open the door to those kind of stories, the viewer is left wondering why the Doctor doesn't repeat that solution the next time he encounters the same situation. (See: Fan reaction to the Angels take Manhattan and compare that to the Seventh Doctor, who was so hardcore that he tricked the Cyberman into triggering a doomsday weapon against themselves a mere two stories after doing the exact same thing to the Cybermen, and nobody commented on it except Ace, because that's just how she rolls.)

I thought the Zygon b-plot was pretty boring and occasionally nonsensical (how can an amnesiac human argue for the viewpoints of a Zygon without knowing what they want?, which is another of my problems with Moffat, clever ideas that fall apart with even a slight amount of scrutiny), but the story elements were well-integrated into the main plot. The Doctor's plan was, in essence, to make Gallifrey duck and have the Daleks on opposite sides of the planet shoot each other. Apparently, this worked, which makes me wonder why ANYONE takes them seriously. Still, John Hurt was fun, and I knew it wouldn't be for me when I went in. 

I liked the fivish Doctors a lot, but my favorite bit of 50th anniversary programming was Big Finish's Light at the End special. 

Former Doctors returning! 

Tom Baker!

It was everything a fiftieth anniversary special should be!

Okay, listening to the Light at the End. I don't think I'll ever get tired of remixes of the Doctor Who theme. I'd say someone should release an album of nothing but, except I know that Orbital already did. I have it on my phone. 

I've been listening to a lot of Big Finish's audio plays, as mention occasionally. I like it. I think Classic Who had its own problems, and the budget was one of the biggest. By making it audio-only they largely eliminate that as a factor. You occasionally get exposition disguised as exclamations ("Oh, no, Doctor, he's pulled a gun!"), but that's a small price to pay.

Big Finish has ton of stories, and the older ones are ridiculously cheap. (3 dollars for an entire story?! Sign me up!) I've mostly been listening to stories with the Seventh Doctor and Ace. I've also been listening to Colin Baker, who is much more entertaining on the Audio plays. Unfortunately, he's often paired with Peri. Oh, fucking Peri! Nicola Bryant has had nearly 30 years to figure out how Americans pronounce the letter R. You'd think she'd have it down by now. 

Each of the Doctors had one of his companions from his run. The Fourth had Leela. Leela was never one of my favorites, (I didn't dislike her, I just never had any particular affection for her, either), but I find myself enjoying her parts in this play. 

It's been a long time since I've seen the Leela episodes, and I think my ambivalence is partially attributable to the fact that the fourth Doctor had so many good companions, and I never paid her much particular attention. She reminds me of Jamie, in that they each came from a pre-industrial society. Companions are there in part to serve as audience identification characters/someone to whom the Doctor can explain something, and I liked the Companions like Adric or Leela or Romana, characters who were something other than an ingenue from modern day London. 

The Fifth Doctor had Nyssa. I do like these Fifth Doctor and Nyssa stories, and something that strikes me about them is how this Doctor constantly screwing up. Nyssa surpasses him not infrequently, and that's something you seldom saw with the other Doctors, particularly in the new series. 

The Sixth Doctor has Peri. As my friend Jen said, "Yeah, Peri.  I like the 6th Doctor in the audios, but Peri never gets better.  Stupid Peri!" I'll see you in hell,  Perpugilliam!

The Seventh Doctor has Ace. And there was much rejoicing. Or as Sylvester McCoy would say Rrrrrrrejoicing.

I recently started listening to some of McGann's stories and I'm I'm happy that I happened to listen to McGann and Charley shortly before I started this, because I really like their rapport and I think knowing about it, at least for me, really enriches the experience.

For me, the story takes off about eighteen minutes in, where Charley had just met the 4th Doctor and Leela.  The interplay with McGann and Tom Baker is fun. Baker is grand.He returns to the role like he never left it. He'll always be my Doctor, a wanderer who fights evil where he finds it, and not the Most Important Person in the Universe (travelling with the Second Most Important), who can only be overcome and chained up by a rainbow coalition of space monsters.

Regretfully, the Zarbi could not reprise their role

I thought it was kind of amusing back in Remembrance of the Daleks when Ace turned off the TV in 1963, just as Doctor Who would have premiered. I think centering the whole story around that date is just a touch much for me, however, particularly since someone mentions it every three minutes. 

It's a more intimate story than Day of the Doctor. I like these smaller stories. The problem with every escalating stakes is that it's numbing and meaningless after a while. We know that the Daleks aren't going to destroy the earth/universe/every parallel universe, but if the Doctor is running down the corridor with five guys, there's a real tension, because odds are good that not every one of them is going to make it. Heck, everybody, up to and including the Doctor could die, and you'd still have a series! 

Zagreus, the 40th anniversary story, felt as epic as anything that's ever been featured in Doctor Who, but I don't think I'd want a retread of that. The plot itself is kind of sparse. It's pretty much what Moffet said he didn't want the TV version to be, a celebration of fifty years, with old characters coming back for no good reason.   The Master is being a jerk, and the Doctor has stop him, but that's mostly an excuse to get the characters together so they can interact with all of their glorious quirks bouncing off of each other. 


  1. Heh. I, of course, hated the 50th anniversary special.

    I sorely missed Christopher Eccleston, who was possibly my favorite Doctor of all (and favorite of the new series by far) -- though I can't blame Moffat on this one, as they tried very hard to get him to participate. And I've always been under the impression that the vague and somewhat mysterious catastrophic fate of Gallifrey was, well, essentially what they ended up "changing" it to. This seems to have mostly been my own weird interpretation of things (though it's certainly not entirely unsupported), but it made the entire story fall utterly flat for me. Also, I may be a bit biased since he essentially replaced the role of Eccleston, but I really didn't like John Hurt as the Doctor. I found his entire performance a bit flat (especially compared to how Eccleston performed the role in my head), and he was so different in both appearance and personality from the other Doctors that I had a hard time seeing him as one of them, and not just another one off NPC. (Wait, that's the wrong word for TV, but hopefully you catch my drift.)

  2. Do you happen to read Whovian Feminism at all? Someone mentioned it to me at party recently. (Not the New Year's Eve party where we were all reading comic books. This was a different party where we were all talking about Doctor Who. I get invited to the best parties.)

    The review of Day of the Doctor makes me look like the biggest Moffat booster imaginable.