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Doctor Who Special: SUPER EIGHT

Cat On The Wall is celebrating 50 years of Doctor Who! We’ve asked fans of the series to contribute articles and stories about the extraordinary television show that has captivated audiences for generations. We’ll be posting these fan contributions regularly until the 50th Anniversary TV special in November. If you have an idea for an article or story you’d like to submit about Doctor Who please do get in touch.

SUPER EIGHT! – Article by Mark Potter

If you have only been watching Doctor Who since its return to our screens it’s safe to say you are missing out on a lot. However with twenty six years’ worth of episodes knowing where to start can be an intimidating prospect. So come with us now faithful viewer as we select one story each for the first eight Doctor’s so you might sample some of the best that the shows history has to offer.

The First Doctor, William Hartnell

The Daleks, 7 Episodes

WHOPIX4Your first thought might well be “seven episodes!!!” however Doctor Who in its original format was created as a serial drama and episodes were a mere 25 minutes long with each episode having to offer a dramatic cliff hanger ending to lure the viewer back the next week.

The Daleks was the second ever Doctor Who serial and the impact it had on the series was nothing short of seismic. In the first story the Doctor had taken his companions back in time but they still landed on the planet Earth. For the first time he would take his companions and the people watching at home to a faraway alien world like none we had seen before.

With the Daleks being so familiar a piece of popular culture it can be hard to imagine the effect their first appearance had on audiences but the fact they are still enthralling us to this day shows how they were a perfect meeting of writing and design.

All this talk of the Daleks and their place in the series history it can be easy to ignore the actual story. Well it just so happens to be an absolute belter that never sags despite its lengthy episode count. And while at this point the show was still regarded as a children’s series rather than one for the whole family it did the most important thing anything aimed at children can do, it did not talk down to its audience. Covering themes such as racial purity, ethnic cleansing and the horror of nuclear war all of these weighty subjects are handled with skill so as not to sacrifice the onscreen drama.

So history was made, Doctor Who hit new heights of popularity, Dalekmania was born and fifty years later we are still enjoying the adventures of the mysterious traveller through time and always looking forward to his next encounter with those mutant creatures from that faraway world.

The Daleks is available on DVD as part of The Beginning box set.

The Second Doctor, Patrick Troughton

The Tomb of the Cybermen, 4 episodes

p010cn7fThe Cybermen had made their debut in the final story featuring the First Doctor but it was during the second Doctor’s era they would cement their popularity as the series number two villains. Like many stories from the 1960’s it was long considered lost from the BBC archives due to the corporations policy of wiping tapes at the time. A copy of the story finally turned up in the early 1990’s in Hong Kong of all places! Now fully restored for DVD we can appreciate properly what an absolute gem of a story it is.

Landing on Telos the Doctor and his companions team up with an archaeological expedition who are searching for the lost city of the Cybermen. Needless to say they find what they are looking for and we are treated to some of the most memorable scenes the programme has ever presented including the Cybermen emerging from their multi-tiered frozen tomb. Just because it is a story full of spectacle it doesn’t sacrifice emotion and in one of the most tender moments the Doctor and his companion Victoria share a conversation about what makes their experiences so special which also acts perfectly as a metaphor for the series.

“Our lives are different to anybody else’s. That’s the exciting thing. Nobody in the universe can do what we’re doing.”

The Tomb of the Cybermen Special Edition is available on DVD as part of the Revisitations 3 box set.

The Third Doctor, Jon Pertwee

Inferno, 7 episodes

vlcsnap-2012-12-16-10h14m38s178Parallel universes are a staple of science fiction. A world so similar to ours filled with small but significant differences. Throughout the history of Doctor Who though it is not a style of story that has been used anywhere near as often as you might expect in fact after this story the Doctor would not step into a parallel universe again until the 2006 two parter Rise of the Cybermen & The Age of Steel.

The third Doctor’s era is usually remembered for being the most action packed with all kinds of gadgets and chase sequences featuring bikes, boats and flying cars being the norm! However the light hearted tone is nowhere to be found here as our hero finds himself in an Orwellian nightmare with jackboot sporting fascist military types running the show. Things take a suitably apocalyptic turn and the reality of the situation is forced home by some incredible location filming and excellent stunt work. Perhaps the finest example of a dystopian future the series has ever produced.

Inferno Special Edition is available on DVD.

The Fourth Doctor, Tom Baker

The Deadly Assassin, 4 episodes

assassin20Of all the Doctor’s the fourths tenure was the longest at a whopping seven years. Any self-respecting list of top stories tends to be dominated by his adventures as it has produced more bona fide classics than any other time.

Our pick here is unique for two reasons’ it’s the first story to feature the Doctor without a companion and the first to be set entirely on his home world of Gallifrey.  Written by the incomparable Robert Holmes, The Deadly Assassin brilliantly subverts our expectations. Until this time the Doctor’s own people The Time Lords had been presented as near omnipotent beings, Holmes hated this idea and brings them crashing back down to reality presenting them as a bunch of doddering old men more concerned with pomp and ceremony than protecting themselves from a very real threat.

Presented as a sci-fi spin on the classic political thriller The Manchurian Candidate the story would also become notorious for its controversial third episode. The Doctor’s consciousness is locked in a battle of wills inside the Time Lords databank computer system, The Matrix (yep Doctor Who had a story about mentally entering a computer world long before the 1999 blockbusting movie). Here he battles a fierce enemy ending up in a fistfight in a murky swamp, forced under the water he appears to have drowned as the music screams signalling the cliff hanger, forcing the viewer to wait till next time to see how he got out of this situation. The level of violence presented is quiet shocking due to its realistic setting (being all filmed on location) and the episode drew a ton of complaints from the watchdog group The National Viewers and Listeners Association. The programme makers remained unconcerned by this and would not compromise or apologise for what they produced (though the final shot was edited out of the repeat, it is fully restored for the DVD).

The controversy should not distract from what makes this a brilliant story though, it moves at a frantic pace and is filled with great twists. He may not often be allowed to fly solo but as shown here even on his own the Doctor is a force to be reckoned with.

The Deadly Assassin is available now on DVD.

The Fifth Doctor, Peter Davison

Earthshock, 4 episodes

earthshock-e1354752062588Try and imagine a time before the internet, not easy is it? But in those days before plots had to be locked up in a vault and members of the press had to pleaded with not to leak twists to the public when writing previews there were moments that came completely out of nowhere to knock your socks off.

The cliff hanger at the end of part one of Earthshock is a prime example of this. The Doctor, his companions and a group of soldiers are trying desperately not to be melted into piles of goo by a pair of homicidal androids roaming a network of underground caves. Spying our hero we cut to a point of view shot from the android which is feeding back what it sees into some kind of monitor. The camera then pulls back and there they are, the Cybermen! Sporting a new look for their first appearance in seven years the silver giants are looking better than ever.

Doctor Who was even supposed to be on the cover of the Radio Times to promote episode 1 but producer John Nathan Turner a man who never turned down publicity even cancelled this in an attempt to preserve the surprise.

The return of the Cybermen was not the only surprise offered up by this classic tale though and (spoilers) it would offer a truly shocking climax by killing off a companion! The TARDIS crew had by this point become bloated with three companions and if any of them were going to go it was always going to be Adric the boy genius (a hated cliché character of many sci-fi stories) and not Tegan or Nysaa the glamorous girls. To drive home the intended emotional impact the final credits even ran silently (a trick borrowed from Coronation Street). Again this was an era when credits were allowed to play out and not sped up and squashed across the screen to allow the channel to advertise what you would be seeing a minute later. Another interesting example of how television has changed over the years.

The serial also offers an unexpected development in the character of the fifth Doctor, always the most passive of incarnations he is here pushed into extreme action to save earth and it’s a sign of how strong the threat is that our hero will act so violently by murdering the Cyber Leader. Having taken such a bold step by killing a companion the audience now gets the sense that no one is safe a feeling that would remain as we entered the more violent era of the Sixth Doctor.

The Sixth Doctor, Colin Baker

Revelation of the Daleks, 2 episodes

627By this point in the series run its format had shifted from the traditional 25 minute to 45 minute episodes that told a story in two parts, a lot more familiar to the modern day viewer.

The Sixth Doctor’s run was unfortunately perhaps the most troubled production wise and it would take a while for the writers to get a handle on his character. Initially presented as loud and volatile and always ready to chide his companion for the slightest thing he would as the series progressed go on to show the more caring nature and sense of moral goodness that we associate with the character. Nowadays this would be seen as a way to develop the character via an arc but in the 1980’s audiences did not seem to warm to this style of storytelling.

Happily by the time we join the Doctor here he has mellowed and built a real rapport with his companion the American botany student Peri. It’s a good thing to as the world they arrive on which is famed for preserving the dead in the most luxurious way possible is being used as cover by Davros to breed his new race of Daleks. First introduced in the 1975 serial Genesis of the Daleks, Davros is not only the creator of the Daleks but also a genius intellect and scenes between him and the Doctor are always memorable for being a superb battle of wits.

That’s not to say this story is nothing but cerebral duels it also delivers as an action packed adventure. This is in large part thanks to the superb direction by Graeme Harper who had drawn huge acclaim for his work on the fifth Doctor’s finale The Caves of Androzani. Here he offers up warring factions of Daleks, mercenaries with machine guns and a mutant human being prowling the snow covered exteriors. The pace may seem frantic but all the characters get their moments and guest stars Clive Swift and Alexi Sayle deliver especially memorable performances.

Revelation of the Daleks is available on DVD.

The Seventh Doctor, Sylvester McCoy

The Curse of Fenric, 4 episodes

curseoffenNow back in the 25 minute format this four parter taken from the final regularly broadcast season would showcase many of the BBC drama departments strengths. Set in and around a top secret naval base during World War II the production design, period detail and costumes are nothing short of superb.

Being Doctor Who though this is not going to be anything like a straight historical drama despite the presence of Russian soldiers and evacuees from London. All these factors mix in seamlessly with the awakening of an ancient Viking curse that leads to the appearance of monsters, the Haemovores rising from the sea sporting nails that will drain the all the blood from a human being. Alongside this is an evil presence the Doctor believed defeated long ago.

The story features a superb guest cast including Nicholas Parsons as a vicar struggling with his faith in the time of war. Faith and the belief in others is a central theme to the story and the Haemovores who can walk through hails of bullets can only be warded off by the faith people have.

This was the third and final season to feature the seventh Doctor, at first played as a clown he developed into a darker figure always playing a dangerous game of deception and not afraid to manipulate people for his own ends or the greater good. This leads to a particularly devastating moment near the climax where to defeat the ancient evil of Fenric he must shatter the faith his companion Ace has in him. What could so easily tip into melodrama is played perfectly by all concerned and apologies for the spoiler but their relationship is mended in the end and offers Ace closure on issues she has faced since childhood.

The DVD release is notable for including the story in two formats, the original four part broadcast or a movie length edit which reinserts scenes deleted for television that would have caused the episodes to overrun. The extended movie version offers more depth of story and lots of smaller character moments that help to enrich an already engrossing tale.

The Curse of Fenric is available on DVD.

The Eighth Doctor, Paul McGann

The TV movie, 1 feature length episode

dvd055-The end of the Seventh Doctor’s third series saw the programme cancelled by the BBC. After twenty six years it seemed the Doctor’s adventures on the small screen had come to an end. But then in 1996 came the TV movie, a co-production with America that was to serve as a pilot for a proposed new series. Alas it did not draw the ratings hoped for in the USA though it was a huge success when screened in the UK.

With it being the only televised adventure for the Eighth Doctor it doesn’t have a lot of competition in what to recommend to you the viewer. Yes it takes huge liberties with the known history of the character and has performances that range from the sublime to the ridiculous but despite all these flaws it is still a rip roaring adventure and shows what can be done when the programme makers are given a budget to match their ambitions.

The Doctor is returning to his home world of Gallifrey with the remains of his old foe The Master. For those who haven’t seen much of the classic series it is worth noting that cheating death is for the Masterfairly routine behaviour. Forcing the TARDIS to crash land in America on New Year’s Eve 1999 the Doctor is gunned down by a gang of thugs (only in America) and regenerates after a botched surgical procedure. Resurrecting in a Christ like manner that despite being as subtle as a sledgehammer is well staged and brilliantly acted. And that’s just the first act!

This being a primarily American production the breakneck pace will certainly feel more familiar to today’s audiences and before we know it the Doctor has acquired a new companion and is hurtling around San Francisco on a police motorcycle while the Master plots to steal our heroes’ regenerations.

Another memorable moment also sees our favourite Time Lord have his first onscreen kiss and in 1996 this was a moment that caused shockwaves amongst the fans. In this day and age we are used to seeing the Doctor snog plenty of women (in fact it has now become a rather boring sight dulled by happening far too often) but back then our hero had shown hardly any interest in the opposite sex. Even though we knew he was a grandfather and from that obviously a father. Looking back now the kiss with new companion Grace is actually quite a sweet moment as the Doctor recalls who he is (his memory having gone walkabout after regeneration) and she obviously enjoys it as she asks him to do it again! Their final clinch is saved for the finale as the fireworks behind them signal the start of a new millennium. It may not have signalled the start of a new series of on-going TV adventures but for one night only he was back and to paraphrase the movies tagline “it was about time.”

The TV movie is available on DVD as part of the Revisitations 1 box set.

So there you have it, eight great stories featuring eight great actors providing their own unique takes on the Doctor. If you enjoy these tales don’t be afraid to seek out more, with such a rich history there is something wonderful to discover in every adventure.

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