Doctor Who Project: Four to Doomsday

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Here we have a lively intelligence.

While viewers initially encounter the Fifth Doctor in “Castrovalva,” Peter Davison’s personal debut with the character comes in Terence Dudley’s “Four to Doomsday” (Series Production Code 5W), the first of his stories to be filmed. The Doctor we see in “Castrovalva” remains amorphous, changing, suffering as he is from a difficult regeneration caused by the Master’s mediocre machinations. Only his predilection for cricket comes through strongly in his opening story. It’s here, as the Doctor and companions find themselves not in Heathrow’s Terminal Three but aboard a spaceship slowly traveling to Earth, that the Fifth Doctor finally begins unveiling his characteristics, his temperament, and his manner.

The Fifth Doctor and Companions survey the Urbankan spaceship

For the youngest of the actors to inhabit the role thus far, Davison plays the role of the Fifth Doctor far more paternalistically, more didactically, than his predecessors. To be sure, his Doctor shows ample reserves of humility and kindness, and Davison imbues the part with a willingness to be fallible, a quite refreshing corrective for a character so often granted amazing powers as the plot requires. Yet there’s a surprising firmness in his attitude when the situation becomes serious, shifting from the jocular and familiar to the demanding, and slightly demeaning, at the drop of a celery stick. Over the course of this four episode story, he calls Adric a “young idiot” and accuses him of “sloppy thinking”; tells Tegan to shut up and has no patience whatsoever for her understandable concern about being held captive by evil robot space frogs; and leaves Nyssa to be captured, drugged, and almost converted into an android in order to advance his plans. Prior Doctors have been peremptory, cavalier, and even a bit huffy, but Davison’s Doctor acts as though the companions really are “children,” as he calls them. He’ll turn the TARDIS around and go home if behavior doesn’t improve, you better believe it. Absent Davison’s undeniably charming mien, these rougher edges would be quite jarring indeed.

Enlightenment (Annie Lambert), Monarch (Stratford Johns), and Persuasion (Paul Shelley)

About those evil robot space frogs: Dudley, who previously directed “Meglos,” puts our protagonists aboard a colony ship bound for Earth, helmed by Monarch (Stratford Johns), Enlightenment (Annie Lambert), and Persuasion (Paul Shelley), all of whom are initially encountered in the amphibian forms of their native Urbanka, a now-dead planet located far away from Earth by the Doctor’s reckoning. Broadly humanoid, with amphibian features and mottled green skin, the Urbankans claim to have three billion of their people on the ship, heading for Earth to colonize it. But the only other people the Doctor and companions have seen are humans taken from Earth over several thousand years: Bigon, of Athens (Philip Locke); Lin Futu, of China (Burt Kwouk); Kurkutji, of Australia (Illario Bisi Pedro); and Villagra, of the Maya (Nadia Hammer).

Kurkutji (Illario Bisi Pedro), Bigon (Philip Locke), Villagra (Nadia Hammer), and Lin Futu (Burt Kwouk)

Over some extended exposition involving separating the Doctor and Tegan from Adric and Nyssa, our time travellers come to realize that Bigon and his fellow exiles from Earth are not immortal, despite having been taken from Earth centuries prior. They, like the billions of Urbankan colonists themselves, are stored on computer chips inside robot bodies—androids, though Monarch, who perfected the technology and leads the Urbankans, prefers the phrase “fully integrated personalities with a racial memory.” And of course, Bigon reveals his android nature to the Doctor and a horrified Tegan in that most typical of manners, the mandatory peeling off of the face…
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Doctor Who: The Gathering?

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The core trait of Doctor Who is its malleability, its ability to change actors, emotional tones, and even genres from story to story, all the while remaining at heart the same show. Wild West, Ancient Rome, Skaro, or London through the ages; rational scientist, court jester, curmudgeonly soul; history, romance, action, farce: it’s all still Doctor Who. So it’s no surprise that the BBC has occasionally allowed everyone’s favorite time traveller to be “mashed up” with other pop culture phenomena, as in the exceedingly strange comic crossover featuring Matt Smith as the Eleventh Doctor and Patrick Stewart as Star Trek‘s Captain Picard facing off against the Cybermen and the Borg…

The most recent collaboration featuring the Doctor comes from Wizards of the Coast, who just announced a limited series of cards featuring the Doctor (in all manner of regeneration), companions, settings, and foes for their long-running collectible card game, Magic: The Gathering.

Artwork by Alexander Gering/WotC

Due out in 2023 to correspond with the series’ 60th anniversary celebrations, the cards will be available in a variety of formats: Commander Decks, special booster packs, and limited edition, print-on-demand Secret Lair boxes. My assumption is that the cards will not be usable for play in the most common M:TG game setting, known as “Standard,” which is a moving grouping of cards from the last several sets released, but instead will be legal in the more expansive Commander and Modern formats.

Artwork by Greg Staples/WotC

Even though I’ve long-since stopped playing Magic, the cards themselves should be quite attractive. The art on Magic cards takes up roughly half of the card itself, and WotC spares very little expense on the artwork. Just judging from the few samples already released, I have little doubt these sets will be in serious demand by fans and collectors of Magic and Doctor Who alike.

And yes, it’s almost certain that there will be a card titled “Exterminate!” featuring the Daleks…

(Obligatory Legal Note: This post is unofficial Fan Content permitted under the Fan Content Policy. Not approved/endorsed by Wizards. Images used are property of Wizards of the Coast. ©Wizards of the Coast LLC.)

Doctor Who Project: Castrovalva

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Well, I suppose I’ll get used to it in time.

Post-regeneration stories carry the extra burden of introducing the new Doctor, setting the stage for the adventures to come. But in casting Peter Davison as the Fifth Doctor, Doctor Who did not need to introduce the actor, as Davison was already an established and contemporary television star, with the tantalizing potential of drawing new viewers familiar with his other roles. Some of those parts were still ongoing at the time of his appointment, however, leading to the decision to push the start of Season Nineteen and Davison’s first story, “Castrovalva” (Story Production Code 5Z) out to January, 1982, a full ten months after the end of “Logopolis” (as opposed to the more typical seven to eight month hiatuses). Written by former script editor Christopher H. Bidmead, “Castrovalva” stands as a direct sequel to his “Logopolis” and relies on the audience remembering the details of that story, partly solved by recapping events in a rare pre-credits bumper scene demonstrating Tom Baker’s transformation into Peter Davison.

The Watcher melds with the Doctor

Not reprised, however, is the role of the Master in the Fourth Doctor’s demise, nor the excessive reliance on the “block transfer computations” at the heart of “Logopolis.” Producer John Nathan-Turner, aided here by script editor Eric Saward, doesn’t see that as a problem, though. The Master (Anthony Ainley) is as over-the-top a villain as ever seen in the series, his motivations reduced to rage-fueled vengeance and his bilious speeches capped off with peels of uproarious laughter. Pantomime scoundrels have greater nuance. As for the “block transfer computation” capable of manipulating space and time, and somewhat crucial to the entirety of this story, it’s presented as a given, a set of sums maths wizard Adric (Matthew Waterhouse) can do in his sleep. Nathan-Turner’s approach, one he developed in Season Eighteen with Bidmead, is to elide any concerns about the coherence or consistency of technobabble and other plot contrivances; if it serves the story, it serves its purpose, a refreshing (if not always satisfying) change from the tortured logic occasionally deployed to explain away how reversing the polarity will save the day. Here, it just works, leaving more time for storytelling. Or, in this case, running. Lots and lots of running.

Four to Out of Here

After escaping the guards at the Pharos Project, Tegan (Janet Fielding) and Nyssa (Sarah Sutton) drag the barely conscious Doctor into the TARDIS, but the Master captures Adric in the process. By means of block transfer computation, which is now shorthand for making things appear out of nothing, the Master forces Adric to project an image of himself into the TARDIS to send the Doctor, Tegan, and Nyssa on a one-way trip to the Big Bang. It’s telling that at first, Adric’s stilted manner can be easily written off as him being his default snotty self, such that no one notices him acting strangely.

Unravelling the Fourth Doctor's threads

He’s certainly not the only one who seems a bit off, as the Fifth Doctor’s regeneration does not proceed smoothly. The Master’s presence causes too much complication, preventing the necessary re-connections from taking place in the Doctor’s jumbled mind. Adric finds him literally (and, of course, metaphorically) unravelling the Fourth Doctor’s trademark scarf, which he uses to trace a long and winding course through the depths of the TARDIS; much of the first episode is spent watching people get lost in unmarked TARDIS hallways looking for the Zero Room, an isolation chamber that will calm the Doctor’s brain enough to allow him to finish regenerating.

Adric in the Master's Web

Frequent cutaways to the Master gloating about the Doctor’s impending doom, with Adric trussed up behind a skein of cables shouting his defiance, leave viewers quite certain as to the force causing the TARDIS to hurtle back through time and space, but it’s hard to take any of it seriously. Though Ainley turns in a bravura performance in “Castrovalva”—when he’s not playing the Master, as will be seen—the script does him, and the character, no favors; likewise Waterhouse, whose screeching as Adric diminishes any pathos his predicament might have deserved. Indeed, the story lacks so much tension that a leisurely detour into that now-mandatory regeneration feature, wardrobe selection, feels right at home. The Fifth Doctor, deep in the throes of a regeneration gone wrong, finds his new overcoat already laid out, by someone or something (the TARDIS itself, perhaps?). After some tentative toots on the Second Doctor’s recorder, he picks up a nearby cricket bat and finds it just right. A brief pop into a cricket-themed side room to change and he’s ready for a long innings…
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Doctor Who Project: Tom Baker Retrospective

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In the eyes of the world, Tom Baker is Doctor Who. And also the Doctor, there being a difference between the two, at least most of the time.

That Fourth Doctor smile

Despite Tom Baker’s final story airing over forty years ago, and despite the cultural reach of the new series since 2005, pop culture still references Doctor Who through the lens of the Fourth Doctor: the long, variegated scarf, the floppy hat, the curly hair and broad smile. More than that, though, Tom Baker’s presentation of the Doctor hews closest to the stereotypical understanding of the enigmatic Time Lord. He’s quick with a quip, slow to anger but ready with intensity, all-knowing but a bit fuzzy on the details, indefatigable when confronted with impossible odds, and given to action over excessive reflection. A hero, in other words, not just for our time, but for all time.

Tom Baker as Meglos-Doctor

Doubtless, much of this persistent identification of the Doctor with Tom Baker comes from his incredible tenure as the Fourth Doctor, a run of forty-two stories, spanning 178 episodes, if one includes the un-broadcast “Shada,” as one should. (William Hartnell, the next longest tenured Doctor, featured in 134 episodes as lead actor.) Baker’s tales stretch from December 28, 1974, the opening episode of “Robot” in Season Twelve, through to March 21, 1981, the final episode of “Logopolis” to end Season Eighteen, well over six years in the role.

Tom Baker as the Fourth Doctor in Logopolis

But longevity alone cannot account for just how entirely Tom Baker made the part of the Doctor his own, particularly on the heels of Jon Pertwee’s Third Doctor, who was no slouch in terms of personality and strong characterization. Much has been made of the star’s temperamental insistence, towards the end of his time on the series, that the scripts provide more scope for humor, spontaneity, and levity—centered, naturally, around the Doctor—but the entire tone of the Fourth Doctor’s run points in that direction from the very beginning. Producer Barry Letts and script editor Robert Holmes had to know what they had in Tom Baker right away, as evidenced by the sequence in “Robot” where the newly-regenerated Doctor tries on multiple outfits, including a harlequin costume. Shades of things to come…

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Doctor Who Project: Logopolis

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Still, the future lies this way.

Season Eighteen of Doctor Who can be compared to renovating an inhabited house, as producer John Nathan-Turner, aided by script editor Christopher H. Bidmead, measures the windows, selects new carpeting, and pulls out the plumbing while the family already living there tries to get on with daily life. It is, charitably, an uneven season, with constant change from episode to episode, not all of it successful. But for the season finale—and Tom Baker’s final story—Bidmead delivers a striking tale, at once a meditative mood piece and a cracking bit of tense action: “Logopolis” (Story Production Code 5V) delivers on the promise of positive change in the series while providing Baker and the Fourth Doctor with a satisfying conclusion to over six years of adventures through time and space.

Adric (Matthew Waterhouse) and the Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker) in a decaying room deep in the TARDIS

The story starts in quotidian fashion, with the Doctor wanting to finally fix the wonky Chameleon Circuit on the TARDIS, allowing it to change shape into something other than a police box. He calls up the never-before-seen Chameleon Circuit panel, which pops out of the central console, to demonstrate what the TARDIS would look like as a pyramid. There’s a real sense of Bidmead wanting to add to the lore of the TARDIS, particularly with his introduction of the Cloister Bell, a staple plot device in years to come, which sounds its warning peals as the Doctor and Adric are talking in an old part of the ship overgrown with vines.

Janet Fielding as Tegan Jovanka and Dolore Whiteman as Aunt Vanessa

In order to repair the Chameleon Circuit, the Doctor first needs exactingly precise dimensions of the object the TARDIS is stuck externally representing, which necessitates a trip to Earth. Bidmead and director Peter Grimwade, a long-time Doctor Who crew member, go out on location to place a police box (or two) near a motorway leading to “London Airport,” a road along which Australian flight attendant Tegan Jovanka (Janet Fielding) and her Aunt Vanessa (Dolore Whiteman) are driving before a flat tire stops them. It’s no ordinary police box that Tegan enters looking for help, though, as another TARDIS has already materialized around the box that was there.

A Police Box in a Police Box, with Adric on top

Rather than jump right into action and excitement, Bidmead slowly unspools the tension, spending the majority of the first of four episodes ruminating on the nature of the TARDIS, of the complications of dimensionality and recursive loops. When the Doctor’s TARDIS arrives at the very same police box, it lands “around” the other TARDIS, which itself landed around the real police box. After several minutes spent watching the Doctor and Adric measuring the police box and discussing the “block transfer computations” needed to reprogram the Chameleon Circuit—a type of mathematics so advanced it can only be done by the living computers of Logopolis—they venture inside the police box and find another TARDIS with a police box inside it, and on and on, a paradox caused by one TARDIS being inside another. The Doctor fears they are trapped in an infinite regression, but finally they pop out back on the motorway, where three police officers have some questions about an abandoned car with two dolls in the front seat…

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Fourteen Found: Ncuti Gatwa is the Fourteenth Doctor

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Fresh regeneration news today from Gallifrey (and, er, the BBC), with the announcement that Ncuti Gatwa will take on the role of the Fourteenth Doctor.

As is now tradition with new Doctors, I find myself unaware of Gatwa’s prior work, which says more about my media consumption habits than his CV. His background seems to be in comedy, having starred most recently in the Netflix series Sex Education. It strikes me that very few Doctor Who leads have worked mostly on the comedic side prior to assuming the role. The part of the Doctor definitely requires a light, comedic touch at times, particularly with Russell T. Davies taking the series helm once more, so hopefully he’ll have scripts that play to his strengths there while staying true to the Doctor’s inherently serious mien.

Much like Matt Smith, Gatwa looks to be on the young side for the role, but he’s roughly as old as Peter Davison was upon taking the part of the Fifth Doctor, and Davison’s take on the part was anything but callow. If there’s one thing the BBC knows how to do, it’s casting, so I’m confident that Gatwa’s run on Doctor Who will add something new and interesting to the continuing lore of the series.

It must, of course, be noted that Gatwa will be the first person of color to lead the show, which is nearing its sixtieth anniversary. He is not the first person of color to play the Doctor, that title going to Jo Martin’s Fugitive Doctor, who debuted during Jodie Whittaker’s run as a previously unknown regeneration and fits in somewhere around the First Doctor’s timeline (as best anyone can tell). As with Whittaker’s expansion of the role’s possibilities, Gatwa’s appointment gives credence to the core conceit of the series, that the Doctor can be anyone via the magic of regeneration, and I look forward to following the Fourteenth Doctor’s adventures.