Sunday, June 16, 2013

Journeys With the Doctor: My Stories of Doctor Who#3

Greetings, gals and gals and a special shout out to any visitors from the constellation of Kasterborous.  I'm Dave-El and this is my blog, I'm So Glad My Suffering Amuses You.

This is week 4 since the finale of series 7 of Doctor Who has we wind our way through spring, summer and fall* towards the 50th Anniversary special.

*Time moving in the correct order? How dull.

In this particular series of posts, I've reviewing my history of watching Doctor Who. In part one, I wrote of how I first encountered this odd little British science fiction show and found myself sucked in despite myself. In part two, I reviewed the development of my Whovian knowledge including my first (and believe it or not) unexpected encounter with the concept of regeneration. 

Today, I look at how I moved forward as a Doctor Who fan.  But in true Doctor Who fashion and the wibbly wobbly time wimey nature of time, I moved forward by going to the past.

Part 3
"Hold on, what's the deal with the yellow car?"

Fall 1982: The end of Logopolis led to a significant development in my life. It had nothing to do with Doctor Who itself but with the young men and women who watched this series; I had been in their orbit for some time I but I never allowed myself or found the courage to let myself become a part of them. But they reached out to me. I guess it could've been easy to mock my lack of knowledge about the show despite watching it for several months; instead, they enjoyed having a fresh set of eyes to share this show with and a chance to guide a new viewer closer to true Whovian fandom.

And the mind blowing, perspective altering event of seeing Tom Baker change into Peter Davison along with access to my friend's knowledge of all things Who boosted my own understanding of the show and, in turn my enthusiasm for it. As weird as it was to see Peter Davison sit up in Tom Baker's clothes, I was rather excited to see what happened next. 

Except what happened next did not happen next.

After part 4 of Logopolis aired on PBS, the next day saw part 1 of Robot, Tom Baker's first episode. Okay, not a bad thing, actually. I had started watching Doctor Who near the end of what was Tom Baker's 2nd season and I didn't catch all the episodes after I started watching so cycling through again was probably a good idea.

Robot was an interesting excursion. I saw my 2nd regeneration scene and saw for the first time the mad cap Doctor adjusting to a new form. 


The story itself seemed almost more like an episode of The Avengers with malevolent Earth scientists and their really big and really deadly robot. It seemed like we're suppose to know who this Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart and this para-military force called UNIT.


And hold on, what's the deal with the yellow car?

 Time for more of my education in all things Who. The previous Doctor was Jon Pertwee; it was his white haired head I saw morph into Tom Baker's.  I learned a lot of the 3rd Doctor's** adventures took place on Earth, usually in tandem with the Brigadier and UNIT. And the yellow car was named "Bessie", the Doctor's preferred method of travel while he was stuck on Earth.

**I was also learning a key part of the nomenclature of Doctor Who, referring to the Doctor by his time on the show: First Doctor, Second Doctor and so on. 

I was curious about this "Third Doctor" but this was an area where even my more seasoned Doctor Who fans turned friends were almost equally in the dark. While they had heard of the previous Doctors, none had actually seen any episodes other than the ones starring Tom Baker. 

Well, I still had much more to explore with this Doctor. The next episode, The Ark In Space, found the Doctor in a setting I was much more familiar seeing him in: travelling in space AND time and fighting a bug eyed (literally, this time) monster. 

And so spun the wheel of time as I followed Tom Baker as the Doctor once more but now seeing episodes I missed as well as appreciating details and nuances in the episodes I had seen before.

And time moved forward until we came back to that fateful moment on the satellite dish scaffolding as the Master's scheme to destroy everything is vanquished but at great cost to the Doctor. Once more Tom Baker's visage blurs and shifts. Once more Peter Davison sits up...

And the next day....

                                       's that Robot again!

We're caught in a time loop!

Once more to the Ark in Space, to Skaro; once more besieged by the Seeds of Death, the Masque of the Mandragora and the Hand of Fear; once more confronting the Deadly Assassin, the Talons of Weng-Chiang and the Sontarans; once more seeking the Key to Time and a way out of E-Space.

Once more the foreboding appearance of the Watcher signals doom for the Doctor but death is averted as Peter Davison sits up....  

And once more we go forward to the
past...but a bit further this time.  This time our journey whips us back to 1970 and to the first appearance of the 3rd Doctor, Jon Pertwee.    

And for the first time since I began watching Doctor Who, most of my Whovian friends and I were on more even footing. We were in uncharted territory: for the first time we would see someone else playing the Doctor.

The first episode, Spearhead From Space, sets the template for the 3rd Doctor's run. Yes, the threat is extraterrestrial but other than that, everything is earthbound. Even the alien threat manifest itself in the form of shop window mannequins.  Meanwhile, as we saw in Robot, the Doctor is adjusting to his new form. (He discovers he has very flexible eyebrows, all the better to communicate with the natives of the planet Delphon.) The alien threat is defeated but the Doctor has been exiled to Earth by the Time Lords, his TARDIS no longer in his power to transport him anywhere. 

There was some comic silliness from the 3rd Doctor early on as he adjusted to regeneration, echoing Tom Baker's performance. But it was clear very quickly afterwards that Jon Pertwee was a different Doctor. He suffered fools less easily, was more direct in his relationships and was just as ready to karate chop a foe into submission as he was to outwit, out talk and out think an enemy.  He was still a man of science and yet he could be, as needed, a man of action. This was a revelation to us all: this is what the Doctor is like with someone other than Tom Baker.

Still, our gang of Whovians settled into the rhythm that was Doctor Who under Jon Pertwee. While life with the 4th Doctor was one of constant movement, the 3rd Doctor, because of his exile, now had a foundation on Earth and a steady supporting cast in the Brigadier and the members of UNIT in addition to his companion. He also had (horrors!) a steady job (as UNIT's scientific advisor) and that yellow car, Bessie


Companion Liz Shaw was only around for 1 season which was a shame because she was very smart and the short skirts of 1970s fashion really showed off Caroline John's legs. But then Katy Manning came on board as new companion Jo Grant; young, naïve and a bit of a ditz, Jo was nonetheless a capable young woman who served the Doctor well and the Doctor in turn began to regard this new assistant with a sense of paternal affection.

Joining the Doctor Who "family" the same year as Katy Manning was Roger Delgado, playing a rogue Time Lord known as The Master.  Delgado's performance as the Master was one of evil delight mixed with suave sophistication.  Pertwee and Delgado played off each other magnificently, making the Doctor and the Master worthy rivals.  The Master made frequent appearances during the Pertwee years; in fact, he was the villain for every episode of Pertwee's second season. 

The adventure that really piqued the interest of our band of Whovians was from Doctor Who's 10th anniversary year, The Three Doctors.  If Jon Pertwee was our first chance to see someone other than Tom Baker play the Doctor, this was our first real chance to delve further into the show's history. This was when the Doctor would meet himself in the form of his two previous personas.

Our exposure to the perfomances of William Hartnell as the 1st Doctor and Patrick Troughton as the 2nd Doctor was even sketchier than our prior knowledge of Jon Pertwee as the 3rd Doctor. Those episodes had been shot in black and white. The effects were even iffier than the bargain basement style of the1970s. And there was another problem: not all the episodes from the 1960s still existed. Apparently, the BBC made it a practice to wipe tapes of its shows. The Three Doctors was probably our best chance to see these two actors as their versions of the Doctor.***

***Some time later, our state's PBS station did run some classic Hartnell and Troughton episodes where complete footage was available.

But even that opportunity was going to be a bit curtailed.  While Patrick Troughton was still willing and able to come back as the 2nd Doctor, William Hartnell's poor health meant that he could do no more than tape a couple of short scenes in advance, reading his lines from cue cards.  In story, it was explained that  the 1st Doctor was caught in a time eddy and stuck in limbo, able only to provide some short words of advice via a TARDIS monitor, mostly to get the Doctor to cooperate with himself. ("What have you done so far? Just as I thought: nothing!")

Seeing the Doctor argue with himself was extremely amusing
even as the menace that had brought them together in defiance of the laws of time was an overwhelming threat, the legendary Time Lord Omega, unfortunately driven mad by endless millennia trapped in an anti-matter universe.

The episode certainly stoked my curiosity about the 1st and 2nd Doctors. Not only that, the episode saw the Time Lords free the 3rd Doctor from his exile. Once again, the Doctor was in command of his TARDIS; well, as in command as he could ever be.

Still, freeing the Doctor from the bonds of Earth meant that UNIT was needed even less as part of the Doctor's adventures. Sadly, Roger Delgado was killed in a car accident and Katy Manning decided to leave the show. The Doctor Who family was breaking up. So Jon Pertwee decided it was time to move on.  But not before giving us one more season and the introduction of...Sarah Jane Smith

The wheel of time was turning around again. The Doctor confronts his fear even though it means his death on a Planet of the Spiders. The Doctor returns to Earth, stumbles out of the TARDIS as he did in the first of scene of Spearhead From Space. But this time, he's not at the beginning; he's at the end.

Now, by the time we got to seeing these episodes, Jon Pertwee had been gone from the role for over 8 years. His departure as the Doctor was a fixed moment in time that we could not change. Yet, I hated to see him go.  And herein I learned a very important lesson about being a Doctor Who fan: it's OK to have a favorite Doctor but each actor in his time is THE Doctor. Jon Pertwee had become for me,THE Doctor. And when the radiation in the Doctor's body brought him to death and regeneration brought him back to life, once more Tom Baker was THE Doctor. 

As the Brigadier said in The Three Doctors (and again in the 20th Anniversary special), "Wonderful chap. All of them."

But would this carry over to that young man sitting up in a bundle of scarf, would he be for me THE Doctor? Would I ever find out? Would the wheel of time ever move forward not to the past but to the future?

From the rampaging Robot to the universal calamity of Logopolis, time moves forward. The Doctor slips, falls. Broken, he changes. He sits up.....

What happens next?

----to be continued----


Later: "Is that still on?"
On the next Journeys With the Doctor:
My Stories of Doctor Who
The Future Comes Around...
and So Does the End                                 

Action Comics#1000

Shhhhhh! I'm reading Superman in Action Comics#1000!   And it.... is.... AWESOME!!!