The Tale Of A Time Lord: Are You Coming And Going… Or Going And Coming?
“You may be a Doctor, but I’m the Doctor, the definite article you might say” – The Doctor.
By the gods of Gallifrey, it was only a matter of time before my attention turned to Doctor Who: that beloved, enduring phenomenon of British TV. This weekend, BBC1 showed “Heaven Sent,” the penultimate episode of this current series – a fascinating outing featuring just Peter Capaldi as the Doctor, in a creepy castle constantly reconfiguring itself, stalked by a mysterious veiled entity: “extraordinary; one of the best episodes ever.”
Admittedly, it looked a more engaging viewing pleasure than usual. Too many of the stories in recent years have been incomprehensible, or just dull. Looking – and sounding – so radically different from the Who of old does not help either. Despite their notoriously shoddy sets and terribly-dated special effects, their classic scripts sparkle stronger than ever.
A huge fan of the series between 1979-1984, it was a joy to be introduced to this Saturday evening ritual during the years of the Fourth – and arguably the greatest – regeneration played by Tom Baker (1974-1981).
Having witnessed the demise of the show in 1989, hearing about its resurrection in 2005 failed to instill any excitement or curiosity whatsoever. David Tennant turned out to be surprisingly successful as the Tenth Doctor, but failed to interest me; the same, alas, can be applied to the Eleventh reincarnation: Matt Smith. Just as well really – working abroad in recent years has kept me away from the BBC’s longest-running series.
However, things are looking up with Peter Capaldi – probably the best casting for the role since, well, Tom Baker.
Bless both your hearts, Doc.
“Homo sapiens, what an inventive, invincible species… Puny, defenceless bipeds, they survived flood, famine and plague – they survived cosmic wars and holocausts; now, here they are, out among the stars, waiting to begin a new life, ready to outsit eternity. They’re indomitable… indomitable…” – The Doctor.
Since 2005, of course, the series has metamorphosed into something bigger than ever, even attracting a huge following on the other side of the pond, which is fantastic, considering how quintessentially English this phenomenon traditionally set out to be.
No matter where the Doctor (not just the Fourth, but any of them for that matter) and his companions ended up – Gallifrey, Skaro, Traken, etc. – the aliens always spoke impeccable English, and their planet looked suspiciously like a more terrestrial quarry. Whenever the more malicious species decided to invade Earth, they always ended up targeting England.
One reason why this bigger (better?) incarnation has failed to lure me in is the standard of the scripts. The writers assembled for the Baker years (1974-1981) were a formidable bunch, including Terrance Dicks, Chris Boucher and Terry Nation (the creator of the Daleks, the Doctor’s most fearsome – and consistent – foe), but particular praise should go to Robert Holmes, who is responsible for penning some of the best-loved stories: including The Ark In Space (1975, above), Pyramids of Mars (1975), The Brain of Morbius, The Deadly Assassin (both 1976), and The Talons Of Weng-Chiang (1977). His scripts really exuded charm, even intelligent dashes of wit – how often can you say that of the series now?
“I can see your long rest hasn’t done anything to cure your megalomania. Have a jelly baby” – The Doctor.
What set the the Fourth Doctor apart, and endeared him to multitudes of fans worldwide – besides Baker’s wonderful performances and consistently amazing scripts – was his iconic look: the floppy hat and that seemingly endless scarf, plus the amusing habit of offering any of his adversaries a jelly baby.
9 million viewers at Saturday teatime sat enthralled or, as legend would have it, “cowered behind the sofa.” During the 1970s, the show was heavily criticised for being too scary and too violent. None of it scared me – on the contrary, it never failed to excite.
And engage my imagination: once that week’s thrilling cliffhanger was absorbed, and taken over by the haunting theme tune (it still induces goosebumps even now), it was off to Gallifrey (i.e. my bedroom) and convert the wardrobe into my very own Tardis.
To all those fans who insist that Tennant is the best Doctor (pah!) please feel free to (try and) make your case in the Comments below – recommend any stories or individual scenes worth my while.
Good luck: surely there cannot have been any stories in the past decade as stunning as Genesis Of The Daleks (1975). The following scene from that story out of all 41 of Baker’s reign is my all-time fave – not just a classic Dr Who moment, but one of the most impressive scenes in the history of British TV drama.
You don’t have to wait – the Doctor will see you now…
“It’s the end… but the moment has been prepared for” – The Doctor.