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`Doctor Who', in a nutshell, is probably the most imaginative show ever
created. Initially, it was about an eccentric time-traveller from another
planet, who looked human and affected an English manner and style. The
interior of his time machine (called a TARDIS) was huge and highly advanced,
but the exterior quaintly resembled an English public call box. The Doctor
was a self-imposed exile from a race of powerful beings called the Time
Lords. The Time Lords observed history, but never interfered with it. This
bored the almighty heck out of the Doctor, so he made off with an older
TARDIS and decided to see the Universe for himself.
When the original actor who played the Doctor decided to leave the show, the writers came up with the inventive concept of `regeneration'. Whenever the Doctor was close to death, or actually killed, he would `regenerate' into a new body (and persona). The show went through seven highly talented actors in this fashion.
The format of the show was highly adaptable. Didn't like the way the show was going? Just wait two or three years. The style always seemed to change whenever there was a change of Doctor, producer and/or script editor. The series went from educational children's drama to monster show to intelligent adult sci-fi/drama to gothic horror to high camp, et cetera, et cetera, and so forth.
This was a wonderful, imaginative, fun show when it was on. I was sad to see it go.
Doctor Who ran for 26 years, and its last episode was as fresh and
imaginative as its first.
The show chronicles the adventures of a time-and-space traveling alien who wanders the universe battling evil conquerors, ruthless corporations, and other exploiters of the innocent and oppressed. Every few weeks, the Doctor would travel to a different planet or time, allowing the show's cast, setting, and tone to constantly change. Even the Doctor himself was periodically replaced by a new actor, "regenerating" his body whenever he was on the verge of death. This format gave the show an amazing freshness and allowed it to last for over a quarter of a century without becoming stale.
Since the show's cancellation, Doctor Who has been sustained by hundreds of books and radio shows. Although the concept is beginning to seem a bit old now, great "Who" stories are still coming out all the time.
Television remains the ultimate format for Doctor Who, however, and the series has something to offer for just about everyone. The early episodes, starring William Hartnell, were mysterious and realistic in tone, and are terribly underrated by the show's fans. Tom Baker, the most popular Doctor internationally, had a succession of wild and colorful adventures that are more entertaining and a lot funnier than most of the sitcoms on TV today. In its dying days, when Sylvester McCoy was in the lead role, Doctor Who became highly allegorical and politically charged.
Every Doctor's era has some merit, though some are obviously more inspired than others. In the early 70s and early 80s in particular, the show suffered from some poor production values and repetitive plots, but even the bad episodes are fun to watch and often redeemed by some strength good performances, an interesting plot twist, etc.
Lovers of modern, flashy science fiction will probably laugh Doctor Who off the screen because of its modest special effects, but nevertheless it remains one of the most visually inventive TV shows ever made. Episodes like Tomb of the Cybermen and Remembrance of the Daleks contain unforgettable images that stack up to anything Hollywood produced on a 100x bigger budget. If you want to pick the show's visuals apart, you can, but you'll be doing yourself a disservice if you don't suspend your disbelief and allow yourself to be drawn into the Doctor's universe.
I may be in the minority, but I enjoyed the 1996 TV Movie that attempted to resurrect Doctor Who years after its cancellation. I don't buy the argument that Doctor Who couldn't survive in today's big-budget entertainment arena. The intelligence of the X-Men and Spider-Man movies has convinced me that a slick, cerebral version of Doctor Who could be produced today that would be faithful to the not-so-slick, cerebral original. But regardless of whether Doctor Who returns or not, it remains one of the great TV shows of all time. It still wins awards even today, and enjoys widespread popular and critical acclaim. Even Doctor Who's detractors only serve to prove that the show is famous enough to draw criticism!
In short, Doctor Who is smart, fun, and endlessly creative. It has kept me entertained for over fifteen years, and my enthusiasm for it has barely waned. Science fiction is in a dumb rut right now, so you could do a lot worse than look back at this show, one of the genre's crowning achievements.
If there is one thing Doctor Who could teach the people of today, it would be "special effects do not make a movie/show". Movies and shows these days tend to rely more on special effects and less on plot. They're all show and little go. Doctor Who made up for it's lack of a high budget with it's strong plots and acting. I'd rather watch the all teeth and curls Tom Baker than watch the kid who played Anakin Skywalker in Phantom Menace. And I'd rather watch a pepperpot with a plunger sticking out of it repeating "Exterminate!" than watch Jar Jar "meesa no likea yous" Binks and the "extraordinary" fact that he's completely CGI.
'Dr.Who' was the first television programme I got hooked on. It was 1968, when Patrick Troughton was the incumbent. The story, a repeat of 'Evil Of The Daleks', was the most incredible thing I'd ever seen. Wild horses couldn't have dragged me away from the set at the same time the following week. Dalekmania had passed by then, so I never got my toy, but I did get a Dalek colouring book on Christmas morning, as well as that year's 'Dr.Who' annual. As the '60's gave way to the '70's, my interest in the show intensified as Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker steered a successful course through the choppy seas of T.V. ratings. I started to lose interest in the '80's though, though that was probably my fault for growing up. When it ended in 1989, I wasn't surprised. Now its back - and a whole new generation of children are just as excited about 'Dr.Who' as I was back in 1968 - my enthusiasm has rekindled. We can all look back on the 1963/89 series as 'the classic years' even though as far as I'm concerned they're not over yet.
The sheer volume of Doctor Who episodes makes briefly commenting on all
aspects of this wonderful show a challenge. However, I can make some
recommendations for new viewers.
If the ONLY thing you want from science fiction is special effects, then Doctor Who is not for you. The quality of the effects are often admirable when the shoestring production budget considerations are factored in, but Doctor Who never really equaled the special effects of other shows. What Doctor Who does deliver is keen attention to character, dialogue, and plot. Doctor Who was always something more than its 1963 b&w kid's show origins suggest, and over the years it evolved into a program that could make some very clever, thought-provoking comments and observations while at the same time delivering a fun and suspenseful adventure.
Cliffhangers were what made me a fan from the beginning. Unfortunately, Doctor Who tends to be shown now in movie-style blocks. This dilutes those marvelous cliffhangers. Every episode of the show is about a half-hour, but most stories had at least 4 parts. At the end of each part, the Doctor or one of his many companions faces seemingly absolute, inescapable doom of some kind or another. I was lucky enough to first see Doctor Who on PBS, one half-hour episode per week-night. My friends and I had to wait a whole agonizing day to see the Doctor's clever escape or rescue. I don't know how the UK fans had the patience to wait a week. If you can, you should try to preserve the breaks too in order to get a real sense of the show, even if you just pause a few moments between parts.
One more thing to remember is that the Doctor is enigmatic. We still don't know everything there is to know about this renegade Time Lord. Part of the fun of the show is learning about the complex character and his history. But rest assured, his hearts are always in the right place.
So which episode should you start with? Every fan has a favorite Doctor and episode. I think you can't go wrong with "Remembrance of the Daleks" (1988). The 7th Doctor and Ace are a great team. Or try "City of Death" (1979), a terrific 4th Doctor and Romana story set in Paris. But ask around and check the web; other fans will send you in other directions. That's the most fun thing about discovering this show, there are so many directions to explore.
After a wait of almost sixteen years and with only just over a week to
go before the new series of "Doctor Who" begins, let's hope that some
classics are on the way to warrant all the hype and, above all, that
the show remains true to its original spirit and is as fun as it always
was. With that in mind, I thought it might be an opportune time to
reflect on some of the great stories of the past.
From First Doctor William Hartnell's era, my choice of favourite story would have to be "The Dalek Invasion of Earth". The use of extensive location filming enhances its atmosphere greatly. I know that, forty years on, the Robomen look and sound silly and the flying saucer is obviously dangled from a piece of string but the serial's shortcomings are compensated by the imagery of the Dalek rising from the River Thames and a group of them patrolling Trafalgar Square, not to mention crossing Westminster Bridge in the trailer. And then there is the sensitive ending marking Carole Ann Ford's departure from the series after playing the Doctor's granddaughter, Susan, for ten stories...
So many perfect serials from Second Doctor Patrick Troughton's time on the show! "Fury from the Deep" is my choice because it frightened me more than anything else I'd ever seen. It has several excellent cliffhangers and I'll never forget one of the characters walking out to sea and not stopping as she becomes totally immersed by the water or Victoria trapped in a locked room as the seaweed and foam threaten to engulf her. I long to see this story again but, alas, it seems gone forever.
I love the first six serials of the Jon Pertwee era because they are complex and challenging. Of the six, "The Mind of Evil" is my favourite though writer Don Houghton's other serial, "Inferno", comes a close second. The reason I like it is because the idea of a parasite feeding off the fear in men's minds is so much more frightening than some lumbering monster!
My favourite Tom Baker serial is "Genesis of the Daleks" despite the BBC always falling back on it for repeat seasons! Writer Terry Nation, creator of the Daleks, devised the character of Davros in order to raise the standard of dialogue between hero and enemy, succeeding here in discussing many moral issues. Sarah Jane Smith seemingly falling to her death from the rocket scaffolding, as she tries to make her escape, and the freeze frame is another moment that will always stay with me.
Cliffhangers play an important part in making a good serial and "The Caves of Androzani" boasts two of the finest. When Peter Davison's Doctor and new companion Peri are shot dead at the end of the first episode I didn't foresee the resolution. It's a shame it took until the last story of this era to get it right but director Graeme Harper presents us with a thoroughly gripping tour de force. Christopher Gable is electrifying as Sharaz Jek and I love the scene of the dying Doctor, coat caked in mud, struggling to carry his companion back to the TARDIS in an act of self-sacrifice that leads to his premature regeneration at the story's close.
"Revelation of the Daleks" is "Doctor Who" for adults. Writer Eric Saward presents us with an alternative take on the Doctor through the character of Orcini, and his sidekick with personal hygiene problems, which is why Colin Baker's Doctor doesn't really enter the fray until over halfway through. Nicola Bryant, as Peri, is lucky to have worked with Harper on both his serials which may account for why she is one of my favourite companions. There are moments of real pathos in this serial such as Natasha discovering what has really become of her father and the death of Jobel, which is no mean feat when you consider the ghastly nature of his character!
Finally, from Sylvester McCoy's three years on the show, my choice has to be "The Curse of Fenric". This period has come in for much criticism when, certainly during the last two years, the show was actually beginning to find its feet again. It wasn't all played for laughs as is often suggested. One of the scariest things in this serial isn't the Haemovores or the rather placid Ancient One but the transformation of the two girls into vampires because the allegory, equating loose morality with bodily decay, is far more frightening than any monster could be, even when those monsters are well-realised. The story contains some very memorable dialogue too. Who can forget the chilling menace of "We play the contest again... Time Lord"?
And, if I was only allowed just one of the seven to take to my mythical island it would have to be, if it still existed in the BBC's archive, "Fury from the Deep". I don't think I would be disappointed, given the opportunity to see it again, as anything that can leave such an indelible mark on the memory has to have been an extremely powerful piece.
Without doubt the best thing about DOCTOR WHO is its format. The premise
a space craft being able to visit any time period or any planet means the
possibilities are limitless . However it`s a series often ridiculed and no
television show is producer proof , a fact that shows up in the late 70s
Created in 1963 by Sydney Newman the first producer was Verity Lambert a woman who would later become a legend of broadcasting in the 70s up till today. Lambert`s talent shines through in the early episodes with William Hartnell as the Doctor. True it`s got a budget of sixpence and the sets are as big as a cupboard but the production has excellent writers and is treated with absolute respect most of all from the actors who always manage to suspend our disbelief with convincing acting , especially William Russell who plays Ian Chesterton . Ian plays the typical heroic figure to Hartnell`s atypical antihero, and it`s intresting to note the antagonistic approach towards the early tardis crew. Also interesting to note that each SF story was followed by a historical story . Strangely the SF ones have dated very badly
By the time Patrick Troughton took over as the Doctor , Dalekmania , antagonism between the changing tardis crew , and historical stories had disappeared and in it`s place we had more formuliac and scarier stories in their place. Unfortunately the BBC junked most of this eras mastertapes so we only have a brief taste of this era, but Troughton never gave a bad performance and his assistants were sexy
Jon Pertwee , colour , and an entirely Earthbound format was introduced in 1970 . I`m not alone in saying this was the best era and was when I first started watching the show aged about four years old though I had to watch it behind the couch. Every Saturday afternoon was the highlight of my life , all my friends watched it as the viewing figures climbed. Alas the Pertwee era hasn`t aged very well as I found out watching the repeats over 20 years later.
Tom Baker had an era of two halves when he took over from Pertwee. Coinciding with the change of actors we had a change of producers as Barry Letts gave way to Phillip Hinchcliffe who took DOCTOR WHO to even greater heights 14 million viewers would tune in as the show became more adult and terrifying , concerned mothers and viewers pressure groups would bombard the BBC with complaints about the horror on show which meant when Hinchcliffe was replaced with Graham Williams in 1977 and with it ended the programme`s most acclaimed period. It probably wasn`t William`s fault but DOCTOR WHO soon started becoming very silly , the monsters were laughable and Tom Baker seemed to be taking the p***.
In 1980 John Nathan Turner took over the producer reins and when Baker left the following year he cast Peter Davison as the Doctor. The early Davison episodes were certainly an improvement on the latter Baker era , KINDA for example features a guest appearance by Simon Rouse of THE BILL fame and gives the greatest performance in the show`s history , while THE CAVES OF ANDROZANI often wins fan polls as the greatest ever DOCTOR WHO story but the cracks were starting to show as Nathan Turner started introducing more and more old foes and when Colin Baker was ( Mis)cast as the Doctor in 1984 his whole first season featured old enemies and anorakish references to the past. This led to the BBC putting the show on hold for a year
The show returned in 1986 worse than ever and now cut to 14 episodes a year, Colin Baker was sacked and replaced by Sylvester McCoy who was an even bigger disaster than Baker and by the time the show was axed in 1989 it only had something like 3 million viewers. As a fan I`d describe it as a mercy killing.
So ended a once great television series . It has become a fondly remembered legend and there`s often rumours of a Hollywood remake , but as the American 1996 TVM showed megabuck budgets can`t enhance a poor script. DOCTOR WHO works best as a memory
This is perhaps one of the finest sci-fi series ever made. The idea is
simple; a timelord who travels through time and space in a TARDIS (in the
shape of an old Police Box)with various companions to fight the forces of
evil in the Universe.
The budget was never large, but the ideas and effort were outstanding. It started going downhill after Peter Davison finished his turn as the Doctor, mainly due to poor stories and weaker scripts, but with the right budget and some seasoned writers, this show could be very great again.
Well worth watching for the ideas alone - especially some of those in the Tom Baker era, this has a massive worldwide following and deservedly so.
I first found Doctor Who on the PBS network in the early eighties, with Tom
Baker. Harry and Sarah must be his Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen, I thought. He
was some eccentric scientist. At the end of his first adventure, "Robot",
he, Harry and Sarah enter this blue cabinet, the strangest noise in the
world is heard, and the cabinet disappears. Now the stumper was Brigadier
Lethbridge Stewart's non-chalant reaction to the vanishing box. LIttle did I
realize there was nearly twenty years history to what I was watching. I knew
nothing about Time Lords, Gallifrey or what a Tardis was, let alone a
walk-in police call box, something not found in America.
I missed Harry's departure and thought the actor must have just quit the show, but he did show up later. Then Elizabeth Sladen left and I had no idea what to expect. Gallifrey? What was Gallifrey? He has to go back and get Sarah.
The Gallifrean adventure was followed up with the introduction of Leela, the jungle girl. When she stormed into the tardis, I knew I was watching a show I could not begin to predict. K-9? Need I say more? I was destroyed when Leela left, and with Romanadveratrelunder's arrival I just sat back and went for the ride. When Lalla Ward (Romana II) left, I was a little more braced for what I was watching. So I thought. As Tegan, Nyssa and Adric watched, the Doctor saw all his old friends, then his old enemies. What did this mean?
Enter Peter Davison. I would learn that what I had just watched, five episodes a week, like a soap opera in a matter of eight months, was a twenty year old character. Tom Baker had already quit being the Doctor by the time I started watching it.
Davison's reign would be short and not as thrilling as Baker's. After Davison was Colin Baker, whose tenure was even shorter. Sylvester McCoy was an alleged attempt to get back to the second Doctor. In between waiting for new episodes, existing episodes from back to William Hartnell, the first doctor, and 'An Unearthly Child' would be shown. There would even be the movie to re-introduce the Doctor with Peter McGann taking over for Sylvester McCoy and Eric Roberts as the Master.
But today, it is Tom Baker's term that was so spectacular. The first three actors greatly set the pace for the character, but it took Baker to bring him to America. As Baker would say on the 25th anniversary, Doctor Who was fun, fun, fun.
And it was.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Dr. Who" is so well known and so legendary, it's a stress trying to
write something new about it. For many, including myself, it represents
a world of incredible wonders and many memorable relationships with a
handful of Doctors and three times as many "assistants". Of course, the
Daleks ARE "Dr. Who", there's no getting around that, but the Cybermen
ran a fair race with them, too.
For me, however, "Dr. Who" is Linx, the helmeted Sontaran who appeared in the episode "The Time Warrior". At the end of the first ep, he removes his cover to reveal pure alien ugliness, and there the ep ended. I have always loved those cliffhangers where a putrid looking alien is revealed. Cue the transporting, sonically rich theme music and wait for the next installment as the ugly alien image you just saw remains at the front of your cerebellum.
"Dr. Who" is a series of amazing ideas, wonderful pseudo-science, exciting adventures and, yes, sexy women. I will always have a very special place in my heart (and elsewhere) for Jo (Katy Manning) after I spotted her pink panties in one episode. I adored Sarah-Jane (Elisabeth Sladen), too, and felt short-changed when Tom Baker, my favorite Doctor, married the second Leila (Lala Ward), an actress I'd lusted after since Hammer's "Vampire Circus". The primitive Leila (Louise Jamieson) was a great addition to the cast, too, with her barely-there costume and impatient, naive personality.
I recall vividly "The Robots of Death" because their voices were so comforting yet disturbing. They looked amazing, too, with their pseudo-human-like faces of metal. The "Zygons" ("Terror of the Zygons"), who resided under Loch Ness, and had greasy, flesh-like control instruments in their spaceship, resembled giant, rotten carrots were also my favorites. After Linx screwed up his mission, The Sontarans regrouped and sent Field Major Steyr to Earth in a two-parter known as "The Sontaran Experiment". The images of the grumpy Steyr talking to his bosses on a TV embedded in a rock were priceless, as was Sarah-Jane's first reaction to seeing Steyr's face: "Linx!?". I still hold much fondness for John Pertwee, the third Doctor, who brought great gravity and sophistication to the role. Patrick Traughton's finest hour for me was when he was battling "The Sea Devils", wet, misshapen creatures who sabotaged oil rigs on their road to world conquest. As a lover of plastic creatures, the Nestenes got my vote every time. Their appearance in "Terror of the Autons" chilled my tiny bones when I first encountered them, and I would never see a mannequin in the same way again.
As mighty villains go, Davros (from "Genesis of the Daleks") was hard to beat. Once again, he was one of Who's Ugly Aliens, and what a frightful fellow he was. Unable to walk and saddled with a mechanical, sickly voice, he exuded evil and made his Dalek accomplices pale in comparison. The Master was always good fun, too, as was the lovable Brigadier.
The new "Dr. Who" episodes have impressed me, but there's no point in writing about them here because, well, they're from a different world and deserve their own review.
I am sorry to all the monsters and potential world dominators I have not discussed here. You, my dear friends, are just as wanted as those I've singled out with a word or two.
Long Live The Doctor and his Enemies!
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