Saturday, July 6, 2013

Journeys With the Doctor: My Stories of Doctor Who#5

Welcome, boys and girls and a special howdy to any robot dogs.  I'm Dave-El and this is the blog I call I'm So Glad My Suffering Amuses You.

This is the Saturday post that focuses on Doctor Who. This week, we wrap up a series posts I refer to as Journeys With the Doctor: My Stories of Doctor Who. So far here are the stories told to date:

  • My discovery of Doctor Who 
  • My first encounter with regeneration 
  • My first Doctor who wasn't Tom Baker 

  • In the last installment, I finally get to see Peter Davison in action and we took a brief glimpse into young Dave-El's future as a Whovian. 

    When we left off with part 4, I had just witnessed my 3rd regeneration, this time from Peter Davison to Colin Baker. Then the newly regenerated Doctor sits up and has this to say:
    I knew with that sentence that this would not end well.

    Part 5
    "The sea's asleep, and the rivers dream"
    Fall 1990.  In my apartment, college 5 years behind me, I am rediscovering Doctor Who.  There are a lot of things different. I don't care for the logo and the theme music is a bit chintzy for my taste.
    On the other hand, the opening sequence has a lot of cool stuff going on (I like the TARDIS twirling around effect.) 
    Ace is an interesting companion. Yes, she has questions like a companion should but she also takes action. We're also meeting friends of hers which is different; for most companions, their lives outside the TARDIS are mostly blank slates but here we're seeing a bit into
                                            Ace's background.

    And the Doctor himself? Sylvester McCoy with his almost Charlie Chaplinesque presence would at first blush seem a bit hard to take seriously as our adventuresome Time Lord but when McCoy furrowed that brow and growled in his Scottish baroque, he was a Doctor you did not want to mess with. 
    As for the episode, it was shot like a location shoot for a soap opera, giving the proceedings an even cheaper feel than usual for a Doctor Who episode.  Still, the story was interesting: the Master (good ol' Anthony Ainley still gamely chewing the scenery) with another wacked out plot to take over a world or a universe or some damn thing and possibly kill the Doctor while he was at it.  And the plot revolved around people who were cats. Or cats who were people.
    The story was Survival.
    And as I watched it that Saturday afternoon in the Fall of 1990, no, I did not know the significance of this particular episode. 
    Oh, how some things never change. Once more, I had much to learn.
    Fall 1984. My Doctor Who friends and I had watched the final episodes of Peter Davison's run as the Doctor. We had waited so long to watch his first episode but changes in distribution to the states meant the wait between airings in Great Britain and those episodes appearing in the USA was narrowing.  In the course of a year and a half, we had seen Peter's complete 3 year run as the Doctor. It was over far too quickly.  And seeing Peter's potential fully realized only with this last story, The Caves of Androzani, it was clear that Peter had left too soon. 
    However, there seemed to be a sense by the show's producers that the 6th Doctor's phrase was not just a reflection on the Doctor's near-death but rather that the show needed someone new in the Doctor's skin and right away.
    •  In defiance of previous regeneration episodes, the incoming Doctor gets top billing over the outgoing Doctor.

    • Peter didn't even get to finish his last season.  Producer John Nathan Turner decided to give the new Doctor a jump and have his first story be in the last one of the season.

    • The 6th Doctor himself dismisses his previous persona as having "a feckless charm".  I don't recall the 3rd, 4th or 5th Doctors being so dismissive of their previous personas.

    So my friends and I (and yes, I was not alone in this assessment) were already predisposed towards not liking this new Doctor.

    Then we saw The Twin Dilemma and we changed our minds....from thinking we would not like the new Doctor to knowing we would not like the new Doctor.

    While The Caves of Androzani is regarded as among the best Doctor Who stories ever, The Twin Dilemma is viewed as being the exact opposite.  If you want details about the episode, click to this link here to the Wikipedia page on it.

    But for the current moment, let's focus on a couple of things relating to the new Doctor. 

    The idea of the Doctor being arrogant is not a bad one. After all, he is a TIME LORD, has lived a long time and knows a lot of stuff. The 5th Doctor could've used a bit more of this arrogance but the pendulum swung too far the other way and the 6th Doctor was just an obnoxious jerk.  There was, by all accounts, a plan. Colin Baker wanted his Doctor to start as more unlikeable but over the course of his time as the Doctor, he would recapture his connections to humanity. Not a bad plan, perhaps, except the Doctor had been forging his connections to humanity since Ian Chesterson first stopped the Doctor from bashing in that caveman's head in with a rock.*  (*Er, spoliers?)  Each actor gets to bring his own spin to the Doctor's persona (that's what makes seeing different actors in the role so fascinating); but the character itself is NOT new. There is a shared history and experience that extends across the life of the Doctor, no matter what face he may be wearing.  Colin's approach was not a new set of tires on the Doctor, it was a reinvention of a wheel that didn't need reinventing.

    Still, maybe we could've given the 6th Doctor more of a chance, even we this sudden whiplash change of personality, if we had seen more of the Doctor's heart beneath the bluster and more of his heroism underneath the ego. Instead, one of the first things the Doctor does is try to murder Peri. By strangling her. On the floor of the TARDIS. OK, his regeneration was a bit wobbly; that goes with the territory. But really, murderous impulses? Really?

    But even with all that, we had THIS working against the whole package:



    Much has been made of the 6th Doctor's outfit. Apparently the marching orders to the costume designers were to "make it as tasteless as possible". And if that was the case, then mission accomplished.  
    It was an unfortunate trend that began with the 4th Doctor's last season to make the Doctor's clothes more of a costume than an outfit.  But Tom Baker's last outfit was a more color coordinated version of his classic look. Peter Davison's attire may have a been a bit garish but it least it had a theme: he really likes cricket. But the look Colin Baker was forced** to wear made the Doctor too bright, too cartoonish. When the Doctor just plops out of the sky in his blue box, he must quickly engender the trust of those around him. Kind of hard to do when you're dressed like an escapee from a clown college.
    **Colin himself was no fan of the costume. He once said "The good thing about wearing that costume was I didn't have to look at it."
    Then add Nicola Bryant as Peri who was also still not quite successfully finding her feet*** as a companion.
    **To be fair, we weren't looking at Nicola's feet.
    Nicola's American accent was not always consistent and her character was a bit whiny. While her rapport with Davison in Androzani, however brief, showed promise, her relationship with Colin Baker's Doctor was almost adversarial. Again, there was a long term plan that they would begin to work together to form more of a bond between the two. But from the outset, we have a Doctor we don't like, a companion we don't like and a whole lot of time to think about that.

    The Twin Dilemma was the end of the season. Unlike from Tom Baker to Peter Davison where we had a build up of anticipation about what the new Doctor would be like, we now had a period of desperate hope that things would get better and a dark dread that no, they would not.
    Spring 1985. By this point, I'm facing my own moment of change. Graduation is coming and I'm not ready. Those last two years in college had really clicked: I was in a relationship with a woman and we loved each other. Classes had gone very well. I had a nice group of friends. I even had a couple of part time of jobs that were fulfilling.  Things were perfect. Why should I want them to end?
    But end they must. Graduation day came and my parents and Leslie were there. It was a wonderful day; I felt that day the confidence I needed to move on from my college past and embrace the adult future. 
    It was the beginning of the end.  Over the next year, my relationship with Leslie would end and for reasons, sitting here nearly 30 years later, I can barely comprehend except for one unavoidable fact: "College Me" was a nice guy but "Adult Me" was an obnoxious jerk.  Maybe over time I would settle in to my new life and I would rediscover the guy I was and merge him into my new life.  But those chances were lost.
    Oh my God, I was Colin Baker. I was the 6th Doctor!
    Before graduation, I had a chance to see Colin's first full season as the Doctor. The episodes just aired in Great Britain and as per the normal course, they would not be available in the USA on Public Television until the fall. But the Doctor Who gang gained access to tapes of the episodes****.
    ****I do hope the statute of limitations has run out on that one.

    I think owing to the fact that we had other things to do with our time than watching 13 straight hours of Doctor Who, Leslie and I did not catch all of the episodes. (She later commented that the time we did put in to this was a bit much. I agreed.) I do remember seeing Attack of the Cybermen and being a bit impressed with the atmosphere of the show. The Doctor was still too much of a blowhard but the scene where a human, being converted to a Cyberman, asks the Doctor to kill him, the Doctor's anguish over this situation was palpable. There may be hope of this Doctor after all. 

    If you put a gun to my head, I could not tell you if I watched any part of Vengeance on Varos or Timelash but I know I saw at least some parts of Mark of the Rani, The Two Doctors and Revelation of the Daleks.  I remember
    not particularly liking the Rani episode. What I saw of the Two Doctors, I enjoyed, particularly seeing Patrick Troughton as the 2nd Doctor and Colin Baker out of his mishmash Doctor coat.  And I can only recall seeing the first part of the Dalek episode; I remember thinking that Colin & Nicola were finally clicking a bit better than before. 

    My overall impression of what I did see was that maybe Colin Baker's Doctor deserved a chance but, like Peter Davison, he needed better stories and he needed a wardrobe change really, really badly.

    But if there was a chance to revisit these episodes when they did come to American television, I did not avail myself of it. I was out of college and I had the real world to face. I found myself working for a financial firm which was NOT what I had envisioned for my life but there are bills to pay.  Leslie had 1 more year of college; she was still in that rarified atmosphere of university life and I was out in the world. The distance between the two of us began to widen. 

    And meanwhile, Doctor Who was appearing on the screens of North Carolina Public Television less and less.  At one point, NC Public TV was airing a Doctor Who episode twice a day and a collected serial on Saturdays.  By the time I was out of school, I think it was down to just the Saturday showings and my work schedule kept me busy even then.

    I remember seeing one of the 6th Doctor adventures air one Saturday. I don't remember which one but I couldn't bring myself to watch all of it. No, it really wasn't that bad. It was just I had let it go. The joy of discovering and exploring the world of Doctor Who was part of a life that was fading faster and faster in the rear view mirror.  To be blunt, Doctor Who wasn't any fun any more and that was NOT Colin Baker's fault. It was all on me. I had grown up.

    What a terrible thing to happen to a person.


    Fall 1990. The 7th Doctor and Ace have been victorious over the latest schemes of the evil Master.  The Doctor finds Ace and asks if she's ready to go.

    "Yes," Ace replies. "Let's go home."

    "Home?" the Doctor inquires.

    "Home," Ace says with a smile, "The TARDIS!"

    As the two stroll away, we hear this from the Doctor:

    "There are worlds out there where the sky is burning, and the sea's asleep, and the rivers dream. People made of smoke, and cities made of song. Somewhere there's danger, somewhere there’s injustice, and somewhere else the tea's getting cold. Come on, Ace — we’ve got work to do!"

    Just like on the faraway day when I saw Tom Baker's Doctor transform into Peter Davison and I did not know that was coming, the full import of what I was watching with this last scene of Survival was not known to me until later. But even at that moment, I sensed the tone of those words.

    It was the end of Doctor Who. This episode, originally aired on the BBC in 1989, was the last new episode broadcast. 

    Of course, it was not the end forever. 2005 saw Doctor Who revived***** and this time I was the leader as I guided the new found Whovians who were my wife, daughter and new friends through what this show was about and its rich and imaginative history. 

    *****Yes, there was a movie in 1996. (Pause). And we move on....

    Later catching up on Doctor Who reading, I discovered more insight into Colin Baker.
    • He suffered an ultimate tragedy for a parent, the death of his infant son in 1984; at the same time he had to assume the mantle of a British entertainment icon, one particularly appealing to children, a burden that must've proved to be a considerable strain.

    • I learned more of the reasons behind Colin's choices and the decisions over which he had no say or power; despite all the pressures and turmoil associated with being the Doctor, Colin remains a passionate and enthusiastic supporter of Doctor Who

    • And without the handicap of having to look at that god-awful outfit, Colin's turns as the 6th Doctor in the Big Finish Audio productions have been very well received; in the area of these audio plays, Colin is regarded as the best of the Doctors.

    If I am of a mind to rank Doctors, I still list Colin Baker as last but I do so with regret; Colin deserved so much better. 

    In reviewing these Journeys With the Doctor: My Stories of Doctor Who, I am astounded to realize how much time has passed since those early innocent days of passing through my college's student center and watching "the silliest TV show I had ever seen" and my subsequent embrace of that show.  Sometimes watching the new show, I miss the friends I had in college and it makes me a bit sad that we lost touch. And even now, my heart still aches a bit for that lost love. But I would not have had friends and loves to miss if it hadn't been for Doctor Who

    That is life, the good times with the bad; we can try to cut out the bad things but we will inevitably damage or excise the good. As the 11 Doctor put it once, "The pile of bad things should not cancel out the good things."

    Thank you for reading and sharing my journey. 

    Coming up for subsequent Doctor Who posts on Saturday:

    • More Untold Tales of Doctor Who
    • The Great Paradox of the Eighth Doctor
    • The World of Who According To ME!
    • The Doctor Returns!
    • The Worst Thing You Can Say to a Whovian
    • And many more surprises (well, surprises to me as I haven't thought them up yet.)
    • All leading up to the return of....Doctor Who Is New in November as we witness the long awaited and much anticipated 50th Anniversary Special!

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