55 plus 34: Who? Ah, Who… (Part 3)

Posted: 20 September 2019 in 55 plus, Doctor Who, television
Tags: , , , ,

(Previously: Part 1; part 2.)

OK, so Colin Baker left the role, and we had a new Doctor.

The Seventh Doctor – Sylvester McCoy
Seventh Doctor - Sylvester McCoyI haven’t seen all of McCoy’s work, which I keep meaning to address, because what I have seen, I very much liked. I’ve especially enjoyed the very deliberate and overt darkening of the character, signified both outwardly by the changing costume through McCoy’s run, and the revelation of what a cold heated bastard he could be on occasion.

Early episodes of the run depict the Doctor as a clownish fool, which as usual, leads to him being underestimated, always to the baddies’ cost. But then, once Mel Bush left as a companion, and Ace joined, the Doctor’s character became more secretive, crueller, and more manipulative. Previous incarnations of the Doctor would manipulate when necessary, or when it was expedient, but you never got the impression they did it for fun, or as the most direct route to a solution.. Tease for fun, certainly, all of the regenerations did, and have done, that. Trick a baddie? Sure, again, they all did that on frequent occasions. In fact, ‘tricking the bad guy’ is such a trope of Doctor Who, I’d be surprised if there was a single season that didn’t have three or more examples of it.

But ruthlessly, cold-bloodedly, manipulate? That was rare before McCoy’s Doctor, or at least rarely so blatant. What was cockiness venturing into arrogance became a full blown attitude of ‘I’m the smartest fella in the room, and the fact that everyone doesn’t immediately acknowledge that… is their biggest mistake.’

McCoys tenure, of course, was the final in the 1963 – 1989 continuous run. A final scene that could have but almost certainly didn’t inspire the final strip of Calvin & Hobbes, and that was it.

Doctor Who was over. It had a good run… well, a decent run, with a few stumbles along the way but it was over.

Definitely over.

Except of course it wasn’t.

Books, fan fiction, comics, oh Doctor Who continued… just not on television.

Until it did.

The Eighth Doctor – Paul McGann
Eighth Doctor - Paul McGannI have no idea when I first heard that there was going to be a Doctor Who movie. I know that I was aware of the rumours and stories about it because at the time I was writing for Radio 4’s Weekending, and I wrote a gag for the who on the then current rumours that Sylvester Stallone – no, really – was interested in the rights.

As I recall, the gag was something like “The BBC deny that Sylvester Stallone has purchased the rights to Doctor Who and is retitling the show Doctor Huh?

But, then they announced the television movie, and basic premise, and the cast. Wasn’t sold on the rest of the cast but they’d gotten Sylvester McCoy back for the start of the movie, and Paul McGann in for the post-regeneration Doctor? Oh yes. I was definitely sold.

Then I saw the costume. Hmm. Wasn’t sold on that either.

Having rewatched the movie recently, I was probably too harsh on my initial review. It’s a perfectly serviceable plot and script (leaving aside the whole ‘half-human’ debacle) and the set design of the TARDIS is lovely. Eric Roberts does his best as The Master but if there’s any furniture left unchecked at the end of the film, it was only because Roberts didn’t see it.

But McGann is superb in the role, and if they take some time to explain how different regeneration leaves the Doctor, how screwed up his head is for a while, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

But of course, there was the movie, and then… nothing. Nothing on tv, that is, because McGann’s Doctor then appeared in dozens of books, and audio presentations. (I’ve a particular soft spot for a novel entitled The Eighth Doctor in which he visits each of his previous regenerations in order to get back various memories he’s missing. Obviously episodic it works beautifully and I’d have loved to have seen it adapted in some form or another. Tony Lee came close with an entirely different take on the same basic premise with The Forgotten comic book, which again is a fun read and is very true to the character, all of them.)

OK, I’m about to jump forward in time, which seems eminently appropriate given the subject matter.

When the show returned in 2005, about more of which in a minute, there was no explanation about what happened to McGann’s Doctor. The assumption, very deliberately encouraged by the show runner, was that he’d died during The Great Time War, while ending The Great Time War in fact, and that the new guy was not only very new, but he was the immediate successor.

It was a fair assumption because that – it later turned out – was exactly what the show runner planned to reveal at some point.

However, Ecclestone chose not to return and so [because of stuff that’s coming] for the 50th anniversary, Paul McGann returned for a four minute mini episode that’s… it’s glorious, is all I can say.

It’s fun, and wonderful, and the reaction to seeing it from many was “OH, GODS I WANT TO SEE MORE PAUL MCGANN!”

Anyway, here it is..

Damn, the Doctor Who stories we could, and should, have seen with McGann in the role.

But anyway, we didn’t. The movie didn’t spark a new series, so that was it.

Doctor Who was over. Definitely. Complet– Naah, not going to do that again. You all know that Doctor Who returned in 2005.

The Ninth Doctor – Christopher Eccleston
Ninth Doctor - Chris EcclestonI don’t know what I expected when I sat down to watch the first episode with my then almost-ten year old son. I don’t know what he was expecting; his old man had been looking forward to the first episode for weeks, had been looking forward to the return for years. But Phil? I just think he was looking forward to sitting on the couch with his dad to watch something he’d been told he would enjoy. Oh yeah, I was hoping like hell that the show wouldn’t make a liar of me.

I loved it. I loved almost everything about it. A few qualms about the whole ‘family life’ side of Rose’s story, but other than that? Oh yes. He was definitely The Doctor. Strange enough to make him interesting, kooky enough to make him fun, deadly serious enough to make him dangerous. Oh yes. Oh very definitely yes.

And as the run continued, I didn’t lose any of that. But the ‘damaged, so very damaged’ aspect wasn’t there in the first episode. They waited for the second to drop that… and then they ran with it. He brought back the ‘in turns thrilled by what humans are capable of, and disgusted by the same thing’ in spades, but he was scared by what he’d seen in the war. Scared, and scarred. And someone who sought to make amends for his those far unrevealed actions by doing what he could to stop others being harmed.

Bloody hell, this was a Doctor I could have watched for far longer than the single series Eccleston did. I bloody loved his portrayal of the Doctor. I really really liked the redesign of the TARDIS main room, taking the idea of an expanded area from the movie, and the big budget the show had wasn’t wasted. 21st Century special effects, and storytelling made the 50 minute length of each episode just about right.

And I thorough approved of the ‘this is actually dangerous, you know’ attitude of the relaunched show. There’s a cost to travelling with the Doctor. And yes, not everyone who helps the Doctor makes it out alive. That was always the case before, but the new show and the writers made you care about the supporting characters, and then killed them, the bastards.

Part 4 on Sunday. Part 3½, kind of, tomorrow.

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