Saturday, November 9, 2013

Doctor Who: Forward Towards History

Hi there! Welcome  to I'm So Glad My Suffering Amuses You. This is my blog, I am the writer of this blog and you are a person who was kind enough to come by and read it.

I am Dave-El and around these parts, this is NOT Saturday. Rather it is Doctor Who Saturday! And that means I get to ramble on about to something Doctor Who related. So what's on tap today?

*  The 50th Anniversary Special! There's a trailer for the special! (Yay!) And my two cents worth of insight on that special.

** A follow up on last week's post about bringing new people into the Doctor Who experience.


After seeming like it was so far away for so long, The Day of the Doctor is coming upon us pretty fast now. The family of El will be in the company of other Whovians in our Fortress (of Who?) on November 23rd. While we do not live anywhere near the American cities offering the 3-D cinema showing on the 23rd, we do have tickets to see this in 3-D in the theater 2 days later. Awesome!

The BBC has released the trailer for this special (which you can see here) and it looks amazing. Of course, the biggest geek-outs are at the 17 second mark and the 22 second mark: David and Matt together AND Matt's in a fez!

Also click here for an incredibly confounding 10 second teaser and, while you're at it, go watch that geektastic 50th anniversary trailer again.

Now the speculation still runs rampant on exactly who or what John Hurt's "Doctor" is supposed to be. It's clear that he's some part of the Doctor's past that OUR Doctor doesn't want to admit to or acknowledge. The question is from where in his past and how does this impact the history AND the future of the Doctor?

Most speculation is that the John Hurt Doctor is from some point between the 8th and 9th Doctor. Some sources have taken this to mean that everyone in the modern Doctor Who era gets bumped up a number: Chris Eccleston is now the 10th Doctor, David Tennant will be the 11th, etc, etc. 

Whatever the origin of the John Hurt Doctor, I don't think it will affect the numbering. My guess is that the John Hurt Doctor is an alternate timeline Doctor, created when the Doctor was forced to make a terrible choice. The Doctor we know comes from choosing the presumably lesser of two evils but the other one came into being when the harsher alternative was selected. 

Now the presumption is that terrible choice was the Doctor ending the Time War between the Time Lords and the Daleks. What if the choice was to time lock the war (as revealed in "The End of Time") or to take a more permanent, more fatal action?

But what if this terrible choice happened earlier? What if this splintering of the Doctor the very beginning?

Note in the 50th Anniversary trailer and the Doctor's narration where he refers to the "impossible day" he's been running from "all my life." That would take us back to Gallifrey when a certain Time Lord decided to take leave of his world in exchange for a universe. What if that terrible choice was faced by that Time Lord, the day he cast his true name to the dusts of history and became the Doctor? The FIRST Doctor?

OK, mind's blown. Let's move on.


Here's a link to an even BETTER trailer for the 50th Anniversary special. Cool!


In last week's post, I reflected on what would be the best episode of the modern era to introduce someone new to the world of Doctor Who and lead that person to become (hopefully) a fan. In my approach to this subject, I had suggested to not start with the classic episodes. But let's say you have successfully recruited a new Whovian to the ranks. This person has watched every episode from "Rose" to "Name of the Doctor", perhaps several times over. They've watched all the Sarah Jane Adventures. (I'm still sad that Elisabeth Sladen is no longer with us.) Heck, this person has watched Torchwood!

It's time (past time, really!) to bring this new fan up to speed on the rich and entertaining history of Doctor Who. But where to start with the history of the show can be as important as the very first modern era episode your new fan watched. We're not just talking about cheesier effects, sound stage work and video taped exterior shots which made the show look far cheaper than today's more sophisticated production techniques. There's also a matters of pacing and storytelling that may be a bit jarring to a modern era fan.

As the basic story length standard was four 1/2 hour episodes, some stories had some padding going on to fill time, creating a pace somewhat slower than the new episodes tend to move.

Still, you want this new fan to have some understanding of the history of the show so let's be sure to get them started on the right foot. So some ground rules:

No Hartnell or Troughton episodes. I know, I know, there is some good stuff there. But I think getting into the black and white episodes is some hardcore Whovian stuff. Let's ease the transition by keeping to the color episodes.

Last time, I suggested staying away from 2 part modern era stories. In the classic era, the 4 part story is the standard so keeping this to less than 2 hours is not an option. Still, avoid having a 6 parter as an opening gambit for starting someone on the classic era.

Like before, I already have in mind my suggestion for a great first classic episode for your newly minted Doctor Who fan but let me cover a few other options before I get to that reveal.

"Spearhead From Space" If you can get your hands on the recently re-mastered edition, all the better. This episode is built to be a ground floor introduction to Doctor Who: new Doctor, new companion, new status quo.  And if anyone is concerned about the (ahem!) older Peter Capaldi as the Doctor, this is a great episode to show how the white haired, lined face of Jon Pertwee did just fine as the 3rd Doctor. Oh, and the Autons from "Rose"? This is where THAT got started.

"Terror of the Autons" Another 3rd Doctor story and the Autons again. But if your new Whovian has watched the Sarah Jane Adventures episode "Death of the Doctor", this is where Jo Grant makes her first appearance. And this is also where we first meet The Master! And whatever you think of John Simm as the Doctor's nemesis, Roger Delgado is sure to impress.

"The Time Warrior" Sarah Jane Smith's first appearance as well as the introduction of the Sontarans. And another great turn by Jon Pertwee as the Doctor.

"The Masque of the Mandragora" A great romp with the 4th Doctor (Tom Baker) and Sarah Jane in both space AND time.* And for the first time, a companion asks, "Hey, how DO I understand all these different languages?"

*Actually trying to narrow down to a single 4th Doctor/Sarah Jane episode is very tough. Any of these will make for a great first episode of the classic series: "Ark in Space", "Pyramids of Mars", "Brain of Morbius" and "Hand of Fear."

"The Face of Evil" The 4th Doctor meets Leela for the first time. As such, there's a lot of stuff that's perfect for an introductory episode.**

**Another tough one for selecting a 4th Doctor/Leela story as a possible first classic era episode. Also worth a look: "Robots of Death", "The Horror of Fang Rock" and "The Sunmakers".

"Mawdryn Undead" Stuff in space and time, the introduction of a new companion with a secret, a revisit with Lethridge-Stewart and a great turn by Peter Davison as the 5th Doctor.***

***Yes, "Caves of Androzani" is the absolute BEST 5th Doctor story ever but do you want someone's first classic episode to be Peter Davison's last or to see the snide arrogance of the 6th Doctor's "Change, my dear..."? I don't think so.

"Resurrection of the Daleks" The 25th anniversary episode with Sylvester McCoy as the 7th Doctor in great form with a very strong story, nuanced characters and fairly decent visuals for this particular cash-strapped era of Doctor Who. Oh, for the classic era, a rare pre-credits sequence which, of course, is the norm for the modern era.

"The Curse of Fenric" If you're used to modern companions being a bit more fleshed out in regards to their back stories, the classic era may be a bit weird. For most companions, their lives before the Doctor are on permanent hold and are scarcely referenced except until the end of their travels when its time to go. "Fenric" is an exception in which Ace's history is an important part of the story.  And shades of the 11th Doctor undermining Amy's faith in him in "The God Complex", the 7th Doctor did it first when he has to shatter Ace's faith in order to save her. 

But my recommendation over all for a really great 1st episode for a new Who fan looking to experience their first classic episode....


"City of Death". 

There's a lot going for this episode.
  • Sharp and witty dialogue. (What else would one expect from the mind of Douglas Adams who significantly re-wrote the episode.)
  • A cool twisty sci-fi time travel plot.
  • Julian Glover as the bad guy.
  • That wickedly funny cameo from John Cleese.
  • In Romana, a companion who is more than capable of holding her with the Doctor.
  • Scenes shot in Paris. (Downside: Padding thanks to lots and lots of running thru Paris streets. Dammit, shooting in Paris costs money and the BBC was going to see that money on screen.)
  • And Tom Baker. If your experience with Doctor Who is limited to the modern era and you're curious to see what the big deal is about this Tom Baker guy, "City of Death" is a fantastic showcase for Tom's unique blend of wit and power. Encapsulated in this episode is the foundation of the Doctor's persona that has fed at least in part the performances of Eccleston, Tennant and Smith.
 And that wraps up my idea for a Whovian's first classic episode. Your mileage, of course, may vary.  But wherever you choose to start, a wide variety of classic episodes are available for low cost through Netflix and for FREE, check the video section of your local library. I have a local library branch that has a small but varied selection of classic Doctor Who episodes. 

So, new Whovian, enjoy going FORWARD towards the HISTORY of Doctor Who!


Next time:

* Reflections on the 8th Doctor and the Doctor Who movie from 1996.

** Some more speculation on the 50th Anniversary.

***  And some self indulgence, if I may:   thoughts and observations on my Doctor Who story posted here over the last several months, The Nemesis Who Stole Time.

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