Saturday, February 14, 2009
Friday, February 13, 2009
Okay, I've given up on the Sixth Doctor. I never saw him as a kid (being of the sad generation who discovered Doctor Who during the Seventh's era), and I had heard pretty much nothing good. But once I decided to start this blog I became determined, in the interest of having a complete perspective on the show's history, to give him a chance.
And I have to say, its really incredibly bad. The Doctor himself has basically evolved into a complete asshole for some reason. The supreme confidence and endearing surliness of classic Doctors has given way to megalomania and a general sort of disdain for others, particularly humans, and especially Peri. On top of that, he's rendered completely ridiculous because he's going around acting like he's the best and everyone's beneath him, while he's dressed (literally!) like a clown.
And yes, let's talk about Peri. First of all, she's taught me how British people feel when Americans do crappy British accents. Actually, I haven't figured out if her questionably American dialect is a separate problem from how every one of her lines is delivered in the whiniest of voices, or if the whining is part of her attempt at an American persona. Seriously, she's unwatchable. She never has anything to offer except, "But Doctor, what are we going to do now?" and "But Doctor, you can't do that!" She's frequently remembered for her revealing costumes, but it's hard to imagine anyone over the age of 13 getting past how annoying she is long enough to find her even physically attractive.
The sad thing is, despite his infamous firing by the BBC, it doesn't seem like any of the problems with these episodes are Colin Baker's fault. He has occasional moments where his performance transcends the writing and the costume, and you feel like he could have been a really, really good Doctor. It's just that everything is working against him: the writing (particularly of his character), John Nathan Turner's production, the costume designs (not just for the Doctor- every character on the show in this era looks god awful), and Nicola Bryant's performance as Peri.
For the record, I don't care for Mel either, but she's not as bad as Peri. Mel's just sort of a cypher. We never even really get to see how she met the Doctor. She's just suddenly there one day, encouraging him to eat his vegetables and get his exercise (how very 1980's).
I'm going to try to move on to a Seventh Doctor post pretty quickly, in the interest of getting the bad taste out of my mouth by discussing a Doctor I actually like.
Friday, February 6, 2009
Sorry for the delay- I got a little stuck trying to come up with anything positive to say about the Sixth Doctor's era.
So instead, let's talk about "Time Crash," the 8 minute long Children in Need special where the Tenth and Fifth Doctors meet. Let me preface by saying that as an American, I have no understanding of the whole Children in Need thing. I just know it's some kind of charity telethon that's been known to include Doctor Who mini-episodes (which definitely makes it more worth watching than any American telethon I've ever seen).
Anyway, "Time Crash" is a nice bit of fun, and it's great to see a classic series Doctor on the new series (sort of, anyway). And Peter Davison was the clear choice for the crossover, since he's still alive and while he's aged considerably, he doesn't have the Grandpa look that Tom Baker and Sylvester McCoy do these days (not to mention the "wow, you've really let yourself go" look of Colin Baker).
The Tenth Doctor's nostalgia is the main thing that makes the segment worthwhile. The way he gazes admiringly at his younger/older self with a big grin on his face just seems so right. Once he recognizes the Fifth Doctor, he's never worried about the situation, because he remembers how it turns out- he's just happy to see himself. This incident is a bit like a personal time capsule for the Doctor- for the last however many subjective years it's been for him since the early 80's, he's known he would get to see that version of himself again.
One thing that strikes an off note for me, on the other hand, is when he says that it was as the Fifth Doctor that he learned to take himself less seriously. This seems odd since the bohemian, jelly baby addicted, always on the lookout for the perfect cosmic vacation spot Fourth Doctor came first. Five's era was actually quite grave by comparison, what with Adric dying and Turlough trying to kill him and Tegan getting fed up and leaving. Ten does have a good point about the suit and sneakers, the glasses, and the squeaky voice, though. And I love the bit about "trying to be old and grumpy and important, like you do when you're young," which is the best explanation of the First Doctor I could imagine.
Also, when Five asks of the Master still has a beard, and Ten says, "Well... a wife," is there any way to interpret that other than the Doctor implying (confirming) that the Master is gay (for him)? I'm pretty sure there's not, which makes it an interesting little tidbit.
I'm not sure how I feel about the idea that the TARDIS has a "desktop theme." I suppose it's an amusing way to account for the control room's changing appearance over the years, but honestly I think the thing that bugs me is how Windows-y the phrase sounds. I hate to think that Microsoft has any stake in timelord technology.
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
So we all know that the Tenth Doctor's daughter looks a lot like the Fifth Doctor, for some strange reason. But have you ever noticed how much the First Doctor's granddaughter resembles the Ninth Doctor? What's up with that?
My personal theory: The Doctor's Gallifreyan DNA contains the code for not just what he looks like at the moment, but any potential appearance he might have at any time in the future or the past. So his offspring may not look like he looks now- they might look like he used to look, or like he may look one day in the future.
Either that, or it's just one of those things.
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
I really want to like the Fifth Doctor. He represents a bold choice to go in a different direction after Tom Baker. He's young and charismatic and more than a little vulnerable, and I must admit the cricket outfit actually works for me (I have my doubts about the stalk of celery on the lapel, though). He also happens to look a little bit like my dad, for whatever that's worth. Not to mention, Peter Davison is really an excellent actor, whereas Tom Baker is just an excellent character, if that makes sense.
So my problem with this era is not the Doctor, it's basically everyone else. Adric, as I mentioned before, is intolerable. Tegan and Nyssa aren't all that bad, but neither of the actresses is particularly talented or likable, to be blunt. Turlough is interesting in concept (a companion who's secretly plotting against the Doctor), but mostly boring in execution. And then at the tail end of the Fifth's tenure comes the single worst companion of all time, Peri Brown. But I'm sure I'll have more to say about her when I discuss the Sixth Doctor.
On the other hand, "Castrovalva" is easily my favorite post-regeneration episode. My understanding (gleaned from the DWO WhoCast) is that it was filmed after the rest of the season, so that Davison actually has his Doctor pretty well figured out by the time the audience first meets him. Compare this to "Robot," in which Tom Baker doesn't quite seem to know what he's doing yet. Also, the inevitable regeneration problems are more interesting than just the "Oh no, the Doctor's unconscious when we need him most!" stuff that "Spearhead from Space" and "Christmas Invasion" are built around. I must confess, I have yet to watch Six and Seven's first episodes, but I'm not particularly expecting either of them to be better than this.
Monday, January 26, 2009
Comic book artist Dusty Abell did this amazing panorama of 1970's television Science Fiction, and of course the Doctor and his TARDIS are included, along with Leela, a Dalek, and some familiar robots (who look quite at home amongst the Cylons).
My only complaint about the picture is that while the men are full of personality and mostly depict the actors who played them perfectly, the women just look like Barbie dolls. Even Leela was never built or attired quite like that. Sadly, this problem is pretty pervasive in comic book art.
Still though, quite an undertaking, and pulled off reasonably well. And Tom looks perfect. Thanks to the Bad Astronomer for sharing.
Tom Baker was the Doctor longer than anyone else has been so far, and at this stage it's hard to imagine anyone surpassing him (although you never know- maybe Matt Smith will stick with it until he's David Tennant's age). His appearance is certainly the most iconic: the curly hair, the hat, the world's longest scarf, the great big teeth. He combined the endearing clownishness of the Second Doctor with the derring-do of the Third.
The Fourth Doctor is frequently discussed as more alien than his predecessors. While his appearance is human, he is, let's be honest, an extraordinarily strange-looking man, and his clothing and behavior aren't exactly normal either. On the other hand, he often shows a very human range of emotions, such as when he doubts his right to commit genocide against the Daleks, or when he frolics across the streets of Paris with Romana.
The thing about the Fourth Doctor is that he was around for so long that it becomes hard to judge his tenure as one whole. Certainly there were moments of brilliance and wonder: the previously alluded-to "Genesis of the Daleks" and "City of Death," as well as "Pyramids of Mars," "Robots of Death," and "State of Decay," among others. On the other hand, there were some real duds, like "Revenge of the Cyberman" and "Meglos," in which the Doctor is impersonated by an evil cactus. No, really. If I wanted to make up the dumbest Doctor Who plot ever, I'm not sure I could do better.
Without going on too much of a tangent, I must mention that while I know it's well-regarded by fans, I have not been able to sit through "The Talons of Weng-Chiang." I understand that it's a product of its time and place, but I have a gut reaction against racist depictions of Chinese characters that I can't just turn off. Maybe I should try again, now that I have a blog in which to vent about the aspects that bug me.
The length of the Fourth Doctor's run also means he had a metric ton of companions, so I'll be even briefer than usual. Sarah Jane was awesome during her season with Pertwee, but she kind of becomes increasingly uninteresting as time goes on, with both her personality and her clothing taking a turn for the girlish and juvenile. A big part of her decline seems to be the addition of Harry Sullivan, who is such a pointless companion that he makes others less appealing in his presence. Leela is an odd fit, but has some great bits (double entendre accidental but endorsed). Romana I is a little too glamorous and haughty for me, but I do like how smart and confident she is. As for Romana II, if you didn't guess from that video, I adore her. She is, in my opinion, pretty much the perfect companion. It's just a shame she came along right before the 1980's started and everything began to suck. Speaking of which, then there was Adric, the Connor of Doctor Who. If they'd actually gone through with turning him into a vampire in "State of Decay," that might have made him an interesting companion.
Sunday, January 25, 2009
As a prelude to my slightly delayed post on the Fourth Doctor, here's a video I made (the first thing I've done that I would unapologetically call a "fanvid") highlighting the read-between-the-lines relationship between the Doctor and Romana II. If you want to see a higher res version (quicktime format), you can go here.
Friday, January 23, 2009
If you haven't already heard, info and a couple of photos have been released from the Easter special, "Planet of the Dead," and of course Planet Gallifrey has gathered everything you could possibly want to read on the subject. I don't really have anything substantial to add at this early stage. I haven't seen much of anything Michelle Ryan's done before, but I'm all about her Betty Page hair. I'm hoping she stays on as a companion through multiple specials, but really I'd just like to see someone do that, to give this year a sense of continuity (and having someone to stick around for the regeneration would be nice too).
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
And now the 60's become the 70's, black and white becomes color, and the funny little dark-haired Doctor becomes tall and rather dashing, with rapidly greying blond hair. This is the point, as far as I've seen, when the Doctor really comes into his own as a leading man and an action hero. Jon Pertwee is actually a tiny bit older than his predecessor, but you'd never know it from the Doctors they play. The Third Doctor actually physically grapples with his opponent, usually employing the kind of karate chops that define cheesy 1970's entertainment (which this most certainly is). He also has a spectacularly horrible fashion sense, and he excels at balancing arrogance and compassion.
Many fans lament the fact that this Doctor spent his first three seasons confined to Earth, but I don't see that as so much of a disadvantage. First of all, there's the classic Who problem of going to a far-off planet only to find that it looks exactly like the English countryside or the inside of an office building. The trapped-on-Earth years avoid this nicely by actually keeping the Doctor in office buildings and the English countryside, and letting the aliens come to him.
More importantly, staying on Earth allows for a stable supporting cast. Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart brings something special to the series all on his own. Honestly, I've never figured out if he's a bit of a parody of a certain British stock character, or if he just embodies the type perfectly. Serving under the Brigadier are Sargeant Benton and Captain Mike Yates. Yates has a few great character moments along the way, but if Benton has a moment to shine, I've yet to see it.
Then, of course, there are the companions. I've really, really tried to like Liz Shaw. I felt like any female character who was written out of the show for being too intelligent and educated must be worthwhile. Unfortunately I just find her boring. On the other hand, I've had exactly the opposite experience with Jo Grant. I was wary of her as the supposed ditz who replaced the smarter Liz, but the more of her episodes I've watched, the more she's become one of my very favorite companions of all. She is certainly scattered at times, but she's also a fleshed-out character whose relationship with the Doctor follows a real (if subtextual) emotion arc. I would also argue that she's the first companion who the Doctor falls in love with, at least a little bit (but that's a whole entry for another day). And after Jo's departure, of course, comes Sarah Jane Smith, who's a great character when she's written well (and I've yet to see an episode where she's written better than in her first appearance, "The Time Warrior").
Monday, January 19, 2009
I really like the Second Doctor. Unlike Hartnell, Patrick Troughton actually seems like the central hero of his own show, rather than just somebody's grandfather. He's still old, but he's considerably more spry. He's a bit of a clown without actually seeming like a fool, which eventually became a trait that pretty much all the doctors embody to a greater or lesser degree. He's also genuinely funny at times, as Troughton proves to be a great comic actor.
Another thing the Second Doctor has going for him is the most adorable pair of companions ever created, Jamie McCrimmon and Zoe Heriot. I mean, Victoria was okay, but Zoe really proved to be the missing variable in a formula of concentrated awesome. You have the Doctor, a funny little man who travels time and space, so who should he invite along? A bright young 18th Century Scotsman in a kilt, and a petite science prodigy from the future in a sparkly catsuit. I mean, obviously.
Unfortunately, a lot of Troughton's episodes are lost, and a lot of the ones that survive are pretty creaky and dated. Also, he spent a lot of his time fighting the Cybermen, who I have to admit are my least favorite of the major Who villains. Still, though, the scene in "Tomb of the Cybermen" where he talks to Victoria about his age and remembering his family is one of my favorite Doctor moments ever.
Saturday, January 17, 2009
I must admit up front that I haven't watched a huge amount of First Doctor episodes. I've seen "An Unearthly Child," "The Aztecs," and parts of "The Daleks." I've also seen "The Three Doctors," which he's barely in, and "The Five Doctors," in which he's played by a different actor.
Based on what I have seen, I like the original Doctor, but he's such a drastically different figure from the later ones that it's hard to even think of him as the same character. It seems like he was never meant to be the lead character in his own series- it's really more about Ian and Barbara (both of whom I pretty much can't stand), and sometimes Susan (who's cute but not very interesting either). The Doctor's purpose is just to be this enigma who takes them from place to place and time to time, and he pulls that off well. Also, I like what a jerk he is so much of the time. If nothing else, Ian totally deserves it. And in "The Three Doctors," when he calls Three and Two "a dandy and a clown," that's pretty great too.
First Doctor episodes I'm planning to watch soon: the rest of "The Daleks," "The Sensorites," "The Dalek Invasion of Earth," and "The Gunfighters." And yes, I've heard that last one is pretty awful, but I can't resist a western.
I thought it would make sense, in my first entry, to list my favorite incarnations of the Doctor in descending order, to give readers an idea where I'm coming from as a fan. However, that proved to be more complicated than I expected. My initial list looked like this:
First of all, the differences between the old series and the new are at least partly to blame. There was so little character development in the 1970's that usually the only hints we got into the Doctor's emotions came from the expression in the actors' eyes (something that Pertwee and Baker were both particularly good at). The more recent Doctors, on the other hand, spill their innermost thoughts and feeling all over the screen (which really has more to do with the writers than the actors, obviously, although Tennant and Eccleston both handle it well).
Secondly, as much as I love Tom Baker when he's on his game, he was pretty inconsistent over the course of his long run. In some of his episodes, he just seems like he really doesn't want to be there, whereas I've yet to see a Pertwee episode where he's less than enthusiastic about what papier-mâché creature he'll be running from that week (the fact that he gets to hold Jo's hand while he runs probably doesn't hurt, but that's a topic for another post).
And finally, there the Christoper Eccleston problem. I really liked the Ninth Doctor a lot, but he just wasn't around for long enough to make much of an impression. I feel like if he'd hung on for three seasons, I might like him a lot more than Tennant, but with only 13 episodes to go on, it's hard to say.