Doctor Who Project: The Three Doctors

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Ah, so you’re my replacements. A dandy and a clown.

Certain Doctor Who stories stand out in the series because of their plots, others for their villains or their effects, for good or for ill. Season Ten opener “The Three Doctors” (Story Production Code RRR), by regulars Bob Baker and Dave Martin, remains remarkable due to the casting: all three Doctors to date, in the same place (mostly) at the same time. Beyond the surface conceit, however, “The Three Doctors” also occupies a special place in the series because Baker and Martin deepen the backstory of the Time Lords, giving viewers the clearest insight yet into this heretofore mysterious race of regenerating time travellers. Too, they inadvertently point out that the series requires a single strong lead figure, with companions relegated to an assistant role—too many Doctors spoil the soup.

Attack of the Blob Things

Earth is once more in danger due to the Doctor’s presence on the planet, this time from exceedingly strong cosmic ray bolts that serve as a conduit from a gigantic black hole, depositing bulbous, shambling creatures with a predilection towards explosions, all of which are programmed to seek out the Doctor. The bolts work both ways, and before long several people (not to mention laboratory equipment and, eventually, a chalet) are scooped up and sent into whatever awaits in the middle of the black hole. OK, it’s a quarry at the other end, but it’s an anti-matter quarry sustained by the will of Omega, a revered hero of the Time Lords.

Once the Time Lords uncovered the secret of time travel, they still needed an energy source to power their actual travel through time. Omega, the foremost solar engineer amongst the ancient Time Lords, provided such power but was thought lost in the resulting supernova. Unbeknownst to the Time Lords, however, Omega instead remained trapped beyond the event horizon of a black hole, and through the sheer force of his will, he harnesses the power of the singularity at the heart of the black hole to create a pocket of matter in a sea of anti-matter. And there he has waited, for countless thousands of years, alone, the desire for revenge growing constantly.

Omega, Solar Engineer Extraordinaire

To take his vengeance, Omega begins to drain the power from the Time Lords’ energy source, using the threat of their annihilation (and, coincidentally, that of the universe) as leverage to force the Doctor to take his place. Omega cannot escape unless a sufficiently powerful will remains behind to sustain the conduit. But because the Time Lords, in their desperation, violate the First Law of Time™ and cross the Doctor’s time stream not once, but twice. Omega has three Doctors with whom to contend—as does the Brigadier, who frankly thinks one is enough…

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Mister Doctor Men: Doctor Who Meets Roger Hargreaves

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The various incarnations of the Doctor have long lent themselves to caricatures: the Second Doctor’s flute, the Fourth Doctor’s flowing scarf, the Fifth Doctor’s, um, celery. So a combination of Doctor Who and the art style of Roger Hargreaves, of Mr. Men and Little Miss fame, seems, in retrospect, blazingly obvious.

Image from Dr. First by Adam Hargreaves, available via Penguin Books

Adam Hargreaves has carried on his father’s work, and in collaboration with the BBC and Penguin Books, he’s turned out a series of Doctor Who children’s books that plans to devote one installment to each Doctor. The First, Fourth, Eleventh, and Twelfth Doctor books have already been released, with the Second, Seventh, Eighth, and Ninth in the queue for this summer.

The results so far are certainly charming, though also undeniably aimed towards, well, children. (Of course, there’s an argument to be made that the entire series is aimed towards children, but we’ll ignore that debate for the time being.)

Image from Dr. Fourth by Adam Hargreaves, available via Penguin Books

For adult Whovians, the thin volumes serve as delightful little confections, priced perhaps a bit high for the amount of time one might reasonably spend with them but otherwise a nice addition to any Doctor Who book collection. I’m certainly appreciative of the inclusion of all of the Doctors, even the oft-overlooked Eighth. And for those hoping to introduce our favorite time traveller to young children, I can think of no better entry point than these cheerful and oddly respectful volumes.

(Images from Dr. First and Dr. Fourth by Adam Hargreaves.)

Capaldi Calls It Quits: Twelfth Doctor to Regenerate

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It took the original run of Doctor Who eighteen seasons to reach its Fifth Doctor. The new series has reached that milestone in ten seasons, as the BBC has announced that Peter Capaldi, the Twelfth Doctor (fourth of the current run) will be leaving the series at the end of Series Ten, due to start April 15th of this year:

The decision seems to be on the part of Peter Capaldi rather than the BBC, which I imagine would have liked to have a familiar face on screen as new showrunner Chris Chibnall takes over for Series Eleven. Not that I can blame Capaldi, since the series has seemed an afterthought on the part of the BBC for some time, with extended hiatuses the norm.

The Twelfth Doctor

I must confess that I never quite warmed to this iteration of the Doctor. Though I greatly appreciated the return to the more mature and irascible sort of Gallifreyan as depicted by the William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton, Capaldi’s Doctor never seemed to have scripts with sufficient depth of character to allow him to really shine. His portrayal might have fared better in the original run; I can see him performing quite well in some of Troughton’s stories, and Capaldi has always appeared to have a love of the show and the character that matches Hartnell’s similar appreciation for the role.

The timing of the announcement seems a bit odd, as an entire series of Capaldi’s era, plus a Christmas special, remains to be aired. Ostensibly, there’s no way to keep this news silent once the decision is made, but I wonder if the inevitable speculation frenzy over the next Doctor will overshadow the stories to come. And will the BBC choose (and announce) a new Doctor a good year before we can expect a Series Eleven? Only time (which Time Lords seem to have in spades) will tell . . .

The Unlikeliest Love Letter: LEGO Dimensions Doctor Who

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I tempered my expectations going into the recently released Doctor Who Level Pack for LEGO Dimensions, the “toys to life” console video game. Playing through the base game (plus The Simpsons Level Pack) provided a bit of fun in seeing Homer and Gandalf running around on the same screen, bashing baddies into bricks and solving simple puzzles, and the tactile component of the game—building and manipulating the LEGO figures and objects as a part of the gameplay—filled me with some nostalgic glee. But, as a game, the experience proved somewhat underwhelming, and once I completed the campaign missions and noodled around in the various themed “adventure worlds” dedicated to the franchises I owned figures for, I shelved the game, almost forgetting that I had the Doctor Who pack on order.

I knew, going in, that each of the Doctor’s regenerations (including, sigh, the “War Doctor”) would be playable, but based on my experience with The Simpsons Level Pack, I figured there would be some minor homages to big moments in Doctor Who‘s recent history and that the playable regenerations would just be minor variants on the default Twelfth Doctor figure.

I was, as they say, wrong.

The First Doctor in the TARDIS in LEGO Dimensions

The level of attention, of detail, to the individual Doctors stunned me. LEGO Dimensions Doctor Who is a love letter to the show.

The First Doctor figure captures, broadly, William Hartnell’s mannerisms, from the lapel-pulling and slightly haughty leaning to his penchant for pulling out a magnifying glass. Even his combat move involves the signature cane (given to him, of course, by Kublai Khan). When the player enters the TARDIS in the game, the interior matches the TARDIS that the specific Doctor used—circular wall panels for the First, Victorian sitting room for the Eighth—with even the appropriate set dressings, like the sitting chair in the First Doctor’s TARDIS. The background music changes as well based on the Doctor, utilizing the dominant theme music for each.

My shock compounded when I explored the “adventure world” for Doctor Who and found one of the locations to be Telos. Yes, that Telos, home of the Tomb of the Cybermen. I can expect most casual fans of the show to recognize the I.M. Foreman scrap yard (it’s in the game), but to reach back to 1967 and the criminally under-appreciated Second Doctor for a setting demonstrates that the team responsible both knows Doctor Who and, more to the point, respects it.

The Second Doctor on Telos in LEGO Dimensions

Even the associated game objective in the area of the Tomb harkens back to “The Tomb of the Cybermen,” which ended with a lone Cybermat escaping the destruction of the Tomb. In the game, Lady Vastra (from the new series) tasks the player with destroying thirty Cybermats before they can awaken the Cybermen in the Tomb. Even though the gameplay associated with it provides no real challenge for an adult gamer, much joy comes from bashing the little cybercreatures with the Second Doctor, who wields a flute (!) as a weapon. I really don’t know that I could ask for more.

While, of course, the majority of the Doctor Who Level Pack focuses on the new series, and the middle Doctors don’t have quite as much focus as the early or late ones, I’m still smiling broadly from my experience thus far with the game. The cost for the base game and the level pack verges on the steep, but I found the experience more than worthwhile for a fan of the series.

Besides, where else can you have the Doctor offer Homer Simpson a jelly baby?

Doctor Who Project: William Hartnell Retrospective

Doctor Who Project: William Hartnell Retrospective
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Over twenty-eight stories, spanning three years and four seasons, William Hartnell was not the First Doctor; he was, simply, the Doctor. As such, he played a more significant contemporary role in Doctor Who than his predecessors, if only because the actors who followed were understood to be interchangeable, transient, and ultimately fleeting. Viewers in the mid-’60s, tuning in to the BBC for this show ostensibly pitched to children, had no idea that there would be a Second Doctor, let alone a Twelfth. Hartnell was it.

And, at the end of “The Tenth Planet,” he is gone.

The cliffhanger, with Hartnell’s face dissolving into Patrick Troughton’s, takes place not at the end of a season but at the end of the fourth season’s second story. Only a week of waiting was required for the transition to be explained (and, hopefully, accepted). The change-over did not take place in a media vacuum; viewers knew what was happening behind the scenes even as it occurred, though perhaps not to the extent that William Hartnell had become progressively weaker and, to credit the tales, cantankerous. But all the exposition in the world matters little if the character does not live on in the new actor, and that basic characterization, that ur-Doctor, passed from iteration to iteration, comes from William Hartnell’s portrayal of the Doctor.

So what core attributes derive from Hartnell’s time as the Doctor?

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Doctor Who Project: The Tenth Planet

Doctor Who Project: The Tenth Planet
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I don’t understand it. He just seems to be worn out.

As Doctor Who stories go, quite a lot is asked of Kit Pedler’s “The Tenth Planet” (Story Production Code DD). In addition to delivering a ripping near-future yarn about cybernetic invaders from a twin-Earth, the story also needed to usher out William Hartnell’s First Doctor in a fitting and dignified manner. Pedler, with assistance from story editor Gerry Davis, manages both with some aplomb. Not only do we get the Cybermen, more frightening here in their debut story than in any future iteration, but also, Hartnell is given the chance for the virtuoso exit he richly deserved.

The TARDIS again finds its way to Earth, skipping from seventeenth century Cornwall to twentieth century Antarctica, though in 1986, twenty years in the future from Ben and Polly’s time, much to their dismay. With plenty of warm coats in the TARDIS wardrobe to choose from, our time travellers merrily pop out onto the ice cap for a visit, only to be apprehended by soldiers from the International Space Command, at whose polar base the TARDIS had landed. The commanding officer, General Cutler, has no time to interrogate his guests, however, as a space capsule on a routine mission has run into trouble. Some outside force is pulling the astronauts from their planned orbit. And the Doctor knows just what has happened.

Ben, Polly, the Doctor, and the South Pole

In order to prove his knowledge of events, and thus potentially to help, the Doctor gives a scientist at the base a piece of paper noting that the problem stems from the sudden appearance of another planet—the Tenth Planet—in Earth’s vicinity; and not just any planet, but Earth’s long-lost twin, Mondas, with the same continents (and continental drift), only upside down. What’s more, the Doctor knows that Earth is about to receive visitors.

Hello, I'm a Cyberman

The Cybermen are on their way. They don’t want much, really. Just to drain the Earth of all of its energy and then destroy it.

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