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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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 . . .

Doctor Who Project: Patrick Troughton Retrospective

Doctor Who Project: Patrick Troughton Retrospective
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In many ways, Patrick Troughton is both the “missing” Doctor and the most important Doctor of them all.

A bemused Second Doctor

When Patrick Troughton took over the role from William Hartnell in the famous dissolve shot at the end of “The Tenth Planet,” he proved that Doctor Who as a concept could last beyond the tenure of a single Doctor. A failure of the audience to embrace this change in actors—indeed, this change in the very nature of the character itself, from wizened curmudgeon to puckish raconteur—would have ended the series for all time. It is to Troughton’s credit that he succeeded quite resoundingly, becoming the Second Doctor, not the Final Doctor.

And yet, he’s nearly unknown to modern viewers of Doctor Who, perhaps remembered for his pipe flute and iconic showdown with the Cybermen on Telos but not recognized as the Doctor who fully advocated aggressive intervention when necessary to fight evil in all its guises, who allowed people to underestimate him (to their own chagrin and, often, peril), who managed to combine slapstick with seriousness. He’s merely that “other” black-and-white era Doctor, the one without the scarf or the car or the celery stick. It’s a status worth changing.

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Doctor Who Project: The War Games

Doctor Who Project: The War Games
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I had every right to leave.

Doctor Who begins here. Or, perhaps more accurately, the Doctor begins here.

Where he stops, no one knows

If “The Tomb of the Cybermen” provides the essential formula for what has come to be understood as a “proper” Doctor Who story, then Terrance Dicks and Malcolm Hulke’s ten episode opus, “The War Games,” (Story Production Code ZZ) establishes the character of the Doctor for all time to come. For here, we learn that the Doctor is a Time Lord, and a renegade at that, on the run in a stolen TARDIS.

The Doctor’s people had been hinted at, if not named, back in Dennis Spooner’s “The Time Meddler,” with the Meddling Monk possessing a TARDIS of his own, and a sense of their prevailing ethos of non-interference comes through via the Monk’s counter-example. The Doctor expresses utter shock, on a moral level, not merely at the intended effects of the Monk’s mucking about with history but even more so at the very thought of any direct, intentional interference at all. “The War Games” explains why the Doctor feels that way, even as he is hoist upon his own interfering petard in the end.

The notion of the Doctor being called to task for his own interference could have been a story all its own; instead, Dicks and Hulke brilliantly weave the Doctor’s growing sense of dread at re-encountering the Time Lords throughout another story about the human propensity for war, with the Time Lords only appearing in the very final episode of the story and the season. It’s a reveal more powerful than any Dalek surfacing from the Thames or Cyberman punching through plastic, because this time, we don’t know if the Doctor will win.

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Doctor Who Project: The Space Pirates

Doctor Who Project: The Space Pirates
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Jumping galactic gobstoppers!

It’s sadly fitting that the last of Doctor Who‘s “missing episodes” stories happens to be one of its most visually ambitious to date. Robert Holmes’s “The Space Pirates” (Story Production Code YY) features extensive model work, with three well-differentiated types of spaceships on display both inside and out, not to mention an underground mining complex and a series of exploding space beacons. And of its six episodes, only one is known to exist.

Space Beacon Alpha One

That one episode, Episode Two, features nine model-centric telecine inserts according to the shooting script, quite on the high side, and it’s just as well we have all these shots of spaceship models drifting against a starless, all-black background, because the story itself, much like Holmes’ debut story, “The Krotons,” lacks the same degree of ambition. It’s not a bad story per se, but it doesn’t feel very much like a Doctor Who story, because, as has been the case for much of this season, the Doctor and his companions are not the most important characters.

Oh, the Doctor saves the day, of course, and it’s likely that many lives would have been lost had the TARDIS not materialized at random inside Space Beacon Alpha Four just when the eponymous pirates arrived to plunder it for its valuable argonite ore, but we don’t even see our time travelling heroes until more than ten minutes have elapsed, by which time the viewer has met a good half-dozen speaking characters, all of whom are engaged in prodigious info dumps on a scale not seen since “The Daleks’ Master Plan.” Even the Doctor’s coat of many objects cannot save Patrick Troughton from playing second fiddle to the only actor in the show to have ever challenged William Hartnell for fluffing lines: Gordon Gostelow as Milo Clancey. Think erratic Forty-niner miner with a muddled Wild West accent who somehow owns a decrepit interstellar ore freighter and you’re on the right track.

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Doctor Who Project: The Seeds of Death

Doctor Who Project: The Seeds of Death
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Use the air conditioning!

Some wag must have put a classified ad into the Intergalactic Times, offering up one planet, sold as-is, slightly used and with annoying inhabitants who need to be exterminated, because Earth gets invaded quite often during Patrick Troughton’s tenure on Doctor Who. Season Six alone features three stories using the invasion of Earth as a plot device: “The Mind Robber,” “The Invasion,” and Brian Hayles’ sophomore effort with his Ice Warriors, “The Seeds of Death” (Story Production Code XX). To his credit, Brian Hayles creates, again, an interesting take on human culture and civilization, but he falls prey to the continued flattening of Doctor Who monster motives.

Meet Slaar

In our first encounter with the reptilian Martians, their leader, Varga, wants to get his ship, and his crew, back to Mars after centuries buried under a glacier. Though ruthless, Varga shows at least suggestions of character and cunning, with some hint of honor and duty in his otherwise sibilant menace. The leader of the Ice Warriors in “The Seeds of Death,” Slaar, comes across as nothing more than petulant and impulsive, killing a human key to his scheme and then throwing a hissy (sorry!) fit when, as is inevitable, the Doctor outwits his invasion plans.

Still, for a while, Slaar’s plans work quite well, as they hinge upon an isolated base (on the moon, of course) that contains the technological linchpin required for continued human survival. Rather than the Gravitron that the Cybermen sought as a prelude to invasion in “The Moonbase,” here the wonder technology is the Travelmat Relay, or T-Mat, for short. Using the moon as a relay station, T-Mat allows for near instant dematerialization and rematerialization between any two T-Mat cubicles on Earth. This transit technology has supplanted all other forms of travel, including space flight and ground vehicles, such that there’s (almost) no way to send help to the moon. With the lunar T-Mat relay knocked out of operation, human society begins to collapse, as all foodstuffs and medical supplies move via T-Mat. Eventually, a weakened Earth would be ripe for invasion.

But that’s not the plan. Instead, the Ice Warriors intend to send foam-filled fungal seeds to a few cold cities in the hopes that the foolish humans will open the T-Mat cubicles out of curiosity and let the fungal spores escape. Sadly, that actually works, too…

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