Sunday, June 23, 2013

Journeys With the Doctor: My Stories of Doctor Who#4

Welcome, gals and gals and a special hello to any visitors from wearing celery stalks in their lapels.  I'm Dave-El and this is my blog, I'm So Glad My Suffering Amuses You.

So far in this series so far, I've recounted:

Since the end of Part 2, Peter Davison has been sitting up...a lot.

But instead of moving forward, episodes kept jumping back to Robot (Tom's 1st story) or Spearhead From Space (introducing Jon as the Doctor). Would Peter Davison PLEASE stand up?

Well, eventually he does.

But in true timey wimey fashion, we're not going to start there. First, we're going to the future which is now very much in the past....time travel, whattaya gonna do, huh?

Part 4
"Is that still on?"

Fall 1990: It's a Saturday afternoon. I'm in my apartment and I'm bored.  Nothing to do and no plans until that evening so I begin idly surfing through the TV channels, looking for something, anything to watch.*

*This was life before the internet, children. Why we didn't all just die from boredom, we may never know.

I landed on the channel for NC Public Television where a travelogue program about an Eastern European country I care nothing about.. This was how bored I was:

"Yes, I will watch this travelogue program about an Eastern European country I care nothing about."

And so I did. Every excruciating second because I was...that...bored.

The show ended as I reached for the remote, determined not to get sucked into a program about the wonders of the Sudan or something when an announcer came on and said, "Coming up next: Doctor Who. Thanks for watching North Carolina Public Television."

I leaned forward in my chair.

Doctor Who?

Is that still on?

Spring 1983. Peter Davison stands up!

The Fifth Doctor has finally arrived!

And he's a mess! The regeneration is a bit wonky as the Doctor's mind spins and whirls through previous personas. (Hooking his fingers into his suspenders and going, "Adric, my boy" was a classic bit of Davison channeling William Hartnell.) Adric gets zapped into a trap by the Master (him again!) while Nyssa & Teegan try to figure out how to work the TARDIS and get the Doctor the help he needs, a quest that takes them to the planet Castrovalva. Except all is not what it seems as the Doctor slowly regains his wits, solves the mystery of Castrovalva and upends the Master's latest scheme.

I liked Peter Davison as the 5th Doctor. His youth brought a new energy and a unique perspective to our favorite Time Lord. But as I much as I thought that Davison made a very good Doctor, there were some things that I found to be, at the very least, a bit troubling.

One was the cast of companions. I was used to the Doctor having one companion on board the TARDIS and now the Doctor had three and I wasn't exactly enamored with any of them. Nyssa was a blank slate, Teegan was loud and Adric was whiny. I remember in the episode Kinda where the 5th Doctor seemed to have very good rapport with woman scientist named Todd (Nerys Hughes); at the end of the adventure when the Doctor is saying good-bye to Todd while the three companions are waiting by the TARDIS like impatient children.

I wished the Doctor would take Todd with him and leave "the kids" behind. And for a moment, I think the Doctor may have entertained the idea as well.

And collectively, the three companions took time away from the Doctor himself. The Doctor remained, in my opinion, under developed, a result of Peter Davison having to share screen time with 3 companions and the guest stars of any given episode. Davison's Doctor would have flashes of eccentricities one would expect from the Doctor. Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker may have approached the role differently but both were very much apart from the humanity around them; too often, Peter Davison just seemed more normal. Which is a weird state to be in, being normal while dressed in a cricket outfit with red striped trousers and a piece of celery in his lapel.

Eventually Adric is killed off to the heartbreak of no one and the Doctor finally drops Teegan's complaining ass at Heathrow Airport. At the beginning of Davison's 2nd season, we get to see the Doctor have some one on one time with Nyssa (who seemed just a bit more interesting on her own) and there's a hint of Davison's Doctor unemcumbered by the baggage of too many companions. But eventually Teegan makes her way back and another male 3rd companion, Turlough, is added so the TARDIS gets crowded again. At least Turlough was played by a better actor and had the added twist of being the companion out to kill the Doctor.

It was during Davison's 2nd season that the show reached its 20th anniversary and a special combining all 5 Doctors was conceived. But there were a couple of hitches:

  • William Hartnell, the 1st Doctor, was too ill to appear in more than a few pre-filmed bits inserted into the 10th anniversary show. Hartnell died 2 years after that. For the 20th anniversary, a clip of Hartnell from The Dalek Invasion of Earth was used at the beginning. From there, the 1st Doctor was portrayed by Richard Hurndall.

  • Tom Baker declined to return for the special so the appearance of the 4th Doctor in the special was portrayed by footage from the "lost" episode, Shada. A waxwork dummy was used for publicity photos.

Still, the special had an epic feel about it and was a lot of fun. It also had the distinction of being the first Doctor Who episode aired in America before it aired in England. I was home from college for Thanksgiving; reception of NC Public TV's signal in my parent's home was iffy but I was able to be able to a fairly decent picture to watch the special.

It was weird watching a new Doctor Who without my friends at UNC-G. It felt good being part of a group and I missed them when I had to go home. And I missed 1 person particularly.

Her name was Leslie and she was a Doctor Who fan. Except I did not know that when we first met or when we went on our first date. The story of how we met...will make for a good future blog. But we hit it off with each other very well. She was a girl...who liked comic books! (OK, not that a big a deal now, maybe, but back in 1983? Wowza!). After dinner, I walked her back to her dorm. I really liked this girl a lot and I didn't want to mess it up by making any hasty, ill-considered moves which would be all rubbish anyway. So our night was coming to an end. I didn't want it to end but I was going to be cool.

"It's getting late," I said, "Guess I better be on my way."

"Oh, it is," Leslie said, checking her watch. "I don't want to miss Doctor Who!"


Forget "hasty" and "rubbish"! I kissed her right then and there. And she kissed me back. Then she asked, "Do you..want to come up and watch, you know, with me?"

Yes. Yes, I did.

And I did.

Fall 1990: As the saying goes, shit happens. By this point, I had not seen Leslie in 5 years. A lot of the friends from college had set off on the four winds to different places, different lives.  Graduation is a bomb that shatters the rarified world of college life, laying bare the world that follows, of jobs and responsibilities. 

I had been dating Andrea for about a year and we found ourselves caught up in the world of Star Trek: The Next Generation. She still loves to relive the story of my reaction to the end of The Best of Both Worlds-Part 1.

I had lost touch with Doctor Who. Almost.  But here it was. I had never seen the little man with the umbrella and the Scottish baroque before but Sylvester McCoy made for a most interesting Doctor, possessing an almost dark undercurrent to the outward clown persona.

Ace was most definitely a product of the 1980s with her leather jacket and boom box but she was feisty, this one. No fainting damsel was this one.

Still, it was clear the show was running on a shoe string and the shoe string was frayed. 

"Is that still on?" I had asked. I could not believe I had to ask myself that.

Fall 1984. I saw the Doctor Who story that many regard as the best story of the classic series. A story where the villain has complex motives and may even be regarded as somewhat sympathetic. There are scoundrels and ne'er do wells and schemers everywhere. And the Doctor has landed right in the middle of it and finds himself and his companion in mortal danger.  
This was The Caves of Androzani. By now the army of companions was gone. While there are some who may not regard Peri fondly, I for one was glad that Peter Davison's Doctor only had to talk to a single companion for a change. And that single relationship helped propel the story and make it stronger. For the Doctor has placed Peri in grave danger; his guilt over this and his resolve to save her drives him on even as the Doctor faces death, his bodied beaten, battered and wracked by the painful ravages of poison.  In the end, the Doctor pushes himself to his limits, then pushes past them, fighting off death not for himself but to save Peri.  And save her he does and only then does his dying body gives in.

And he begins to regenerate.

The best story of Peter Davison's time as the Doctor was also his last. 

And then this happens.

A strange man sits up in the muddied and tattered cricket suits and proclaims:

"Change, my dear, and it appears not a moment too soon."

I really want to hate this
son of a bitch.

---to be concluded-----
Later: "The sea's asleep, and the rivers dream"

On the next Journeys With the Doctor: 
My Stories of Doctor Who   



Where The !@##$% Is Doctor Who?!?!?

Yeah, that's what I would like to know!   Look, I thought the info was solid, that after England's first game in the 2018 Wo...