Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Doctor Who's who

The Happy Whisk asked me at her blog a day or so ago who my favourite Doctor Who is.

Our favourite Doctor is not necessarily the same as our Doctor of course, but in my case the two probably do take the one form. I'd go with the controversial choice of the seventh, Sylvester McCoy.

Why? Well, I think the question can only really be answered by watching the shows themselves. One is all but required viewing for Who fans anyway, Remembrance of the Daleks.

Saying this is also a little controversial perhaps, in that the shows are in a sense the weakest means of experiencing Who over the medium and maybe longer haul, in terms of scripts, acting and effects; famously so for the effects, and maybe the scripts now too.

For me, and I think many others, Doctor Who lives in the mind more than on the screen, and is a much greater presence there. The mind is especially important given the vast amount of material there is to comprehend now and the emotional connections with the series often formed in childhood.

Which is why I was very pleased when rewatching classic stories recently to realise McCoy really can act, and that the writers did have big things to say, and say well. Once Ace arrived, things really took off, and the character and her relationship to the 'Professor' are key to the seventh Doctor's time in the TARDIS. How much later series were influenced by those few stories can be debated, but my feeling is it was plenty.

I also think I've rediscovered in McCoy's run one of the most powerful moments in Doctor Who history, beautifully acted and filmed and significant far beyond the episode and screen. I'd go as far as saying it's one of the most powerful moments of television you're likely to find, although you have to be tuned into the Who and McCoy mythos a little to really get it. Because McCoy had quite some mythos, not fully realised on screen.

I'll review this story - at least - one of these days I'm sure. It's one for all of us.

Until then, if you know the seventh Doctor, what do you think the scene could be? If you think it can't possibly be one of McCoy's, I'm always open to persuasion.


Paul´s Bods said...

There´s been 11 actors who have played Dr who (BBC series) and dozens more who have played him/her elsewhere. My favourite would have to be Peter Cushing...:-D

Dave G _ Nplusplus said...

I didn't get into the new Who, though part of me is a traditionalist and it's because I'd like to watch the originals first.

Torchlight on the other hand... wow.

kelvingreen said...

Well said. McCoy gets dismissed as the last Doctor of the cruddy era, but it's often overlooked that the show started to turn itself around on his watch. His dark and manipulative Doctor was unique, and Remembrance and The Curse of Fenric are brilliant stories, among the best of the whole lot.

(I'd guess that the moment you mention is from Fenric; perhaps when he recites the names of his companions as an expression of faith in order to turn away the vampires.)

McCoy's Doctor is my favourite of the 80's, definitely.

The Angry Lurker said...

I must admit I had forgotten about Cushing, good call Paul.

Jedediah said...

I haven't made it that far in the classic series yet, so I can't be a judge of that.
My first Doctor was Christopher Ecclestone and he's still my favourite. I'm rewatching the series at the moment and this time with the knowledge of the backstory of Doctor who, which I didn't have the first time around. That makes the whole Time War and destruction of Gallifrey-story so much more powerful. David Tennant and Matt Smith both kick serious butt as well, though. I love the fact that Smith is so young and can have such an old look in his eyes.

Porky said...

@ Paul's Bods - How's that for improvisation? The central character regenerates - and that's a weekly slot filled for as long as the viewers stick around. We've stuck around a fair while. The Cushing films are odd, in that much doesn't fit the TV series and they came before regeneration was first shown. They only add to the mystery in the Who idea.

@ Dave G _ Nplusplus - Of the new Who, I watched the whole of Christopher Ecclestone's series and enjoyed parts of it very much, but I've seen much less since then. Given the popularity it has again, it will always be there, and I expect I'll catch up one day.

@ kelvingreen - That's the moment. Absolutely stunning, the story as a whole too. Fenric is something special conceptually. I agree with that view of the era.

@ The Angry Lurker - He knows a thing or two..!

@ Jedediah - As I wrote to Dave, my lack of knowledge covers the most recent. Ecclestone got some good material for a first look back, but that's no surprise given what he'd done before, and there were all those New Adventures novels to build off. I'd be quite happy to sit down and rewatch some of that series now. Time is the issue, for us. I've seen all the Doctors up to ten on screen, but nowhere near every episode, and I'd like to put that right one day. That would be a good way to spend a few months.

kelvingreen said...

I was living abroad when the new series was being put together, so I had no idea what was going on in Cardiff. I've always loved the show though, so I attempted to introduce my (American) wife to the show through any videos or DVDs I could find over there. Of the original actors, Pertwee was her favourite, and then new Who came along, and he was supplanted by Eccleston.

When they announced Tennant, she said he was "too young" and she'd never be able to accept him.

When Smith was announced, she said he was "too young" and he'd never replace Tennant.

It may come as no surprise at all that Smith is now her favourite. ;)

Von said...


Choosing one is hard work. You make a very convincing case for McCoy, and I remain convinced that his last series was unjustly cancelled, even if his first was largely appalling.

However, I'm going to go with another unpopular choice and say Colin Baker. Labouring under that costume, those scripts, and caught between a Director General who despised the show and a production team who were more occupied with BBC politics than doing their job right can't have been easy... and yet he remains the best thing about his all-too-brief period at the console. He made a genuine effort at making the Doctor scary, alien and aloof again after the rather doormatty Fifth Doctor, and I can't fault him for trying.

Plus, he's redeemed himself marvellously in his audio stories, where he's finally been able to achieve what he wanted to in terms of developing the character - the audios bring out a warmth to the Sixth Doctor that never quite made it into his television appearances, and he manages to be intelligent without being obtuse, and aloof without being arrogant. Listen to 'The Holy Terror' and you'll get him at his absolute best.

That's assuming I can't pick strictly-non-canonical Richard E. Grant, anyway.

Dave G _ Nplusplus said...

It's just a little staggering to approach now, because there's soooo much backstory, and I'm sure I'd get more out of the series if I watched it from the beginning.

And I mention Torchlight, because it's the same universe as Who. Very intense series, and makes me want to see the new Who if they're anything alike.
Side fact: When Dr Who was first being aired, they had problems with people steeling the film rolls. Torchlight was what they started printing on them instead of Dr Who to prevent thefts.

RayJ said...

I came into Doctor Who a bit late, originally at the end of Ecclestone's run. Since then I have had the opportunity to watch the run from the beginning of "Series 1" to the end of "Series 5" of the "new" show. I'm only missing the most recent Christmas special right now.

The show is brilliant as a whole, and I can see where the scenes you are hinting at shaped the Doctor that I know. It is without a doubt my favorite show that is still being produced, and might just be my favorite of all time.

I started watching Series 5 expecting to hate Matt Smith, but he does a great job. It'll be interesting to see if he continues. My favorite Doctor is definitely Tennant, and he has some stories I feel are on par with what you are describing from the 7th Doctor.

Episodes to take a look at: The Fires of Pompeii (Series 4) and Silence in the library/Forest of the Dead (Series 4 2-parter).

RayJ said...

It's also weird to see name-changes and such across the pond. Do they really call it Torchlight over in the UK? The show is called Torchwood here in the US, and every mention of it in both series that I've seen has been labeled Torchwood.

Jedediah said...

Hm, my comment was eaten. Or the angels stole it.
kelvingreen: When they first announced Matt Smith as the new Doctor, my initial reaction was: OMG, he's younger than I am! But he had me right from the start and he can absolutely convince you that he's so very old.

The last Christmas special was brilliant, I love steampunk and Victorian age and it had both.

Porky said...

@ kelvingreen - This says a lot about our natures..! I think we've all been there in one form or another, and Who does challenge us with generational change in its own specific way. If the people behind it all stay true to the essence, a change of face and character really ought to make no difference, and the anecdote supports that. Pertwee has a charm, but that steely edge, as well as importance for the series. Then again, importance is something they all have - we couldn't lose one without losing something central to the whole. There's no bad Doctor, just different facets of the same phenomenon.

@ Von - And you make a very persuasive case for Baker too. I like that strangeness. I don't think I've ever listened to any of his audio productions though. As with the New Adventures, I like the new life other media can give, the chance to right wrongs and explore the avenues passed over. You can have Richard E. Grant if you like, Joanna Lumley even..!

@ Dave G _ Nplusplus - Yep, that mass can be a little daunting. The best thing is not to worry - I'd say dive in wherever you get the chance and rely more on the stand-alone aspects at first. Go where the fancy takes you. Generally there's no great need to watch stories in order, although in the case of recurring villains especially it might be useful. Ray J is right - it's Torchwood. It's an anagram of Doctor Who and that's why they used it. 'Torchlight' does sound right though and I think for me it's because it plays off Ghost Light, a seventh Doctor story. There's a computer game with the same name too, and it's our kind so that could be another factor. You and I are having this identifying trouble a lot lately..!

@ Ray J - The Fires of Pompeii is a new one on me, but the other two I know about, and they sound intriguing. I'd definitely recommend going back and looking at the earlier series. The further back you go, the less obvious the links might be, but the tone is there, and in the seventh we can see the seeds kelvingreen mentions. I'll admit though that not every old story is a classic, and the seventh had his fair share of what most of us would regard as the weaker kind overall. That said, the enthusiasm in your comment, and in all the comments actually - and the number of them! - reminds me it really is one of the great shows.

@ Jedediah - I checked to see if it was classified as spam, but there's no sign. The software has been temperamental recently in more ways than one, TARDIS-like perhaps..! The age thing is troubling. When they get younger than us, it's tough!

kelvingreen said...

For those intimidated by the show's history I would say that while I would definitely recommend investigating the Doctor's older adventures, they're not essential to enjoying the current series. As a series Doctor Who has a lot of history, but not a lot of oppressive continuity.

The Happy Whisk said...

Wow, I'm late the party but very very cool blog and comments. Since getting Netflix, I'm able to watch all kinds of great things and right now we're finishing up the season with Miss Rose. Two more to go and then a new girl shows up.

Peter Cushing? I love him. Have to look for that, as well as others mentioned here. Thanks for this post. Great stuff.

Happy Watching.

Dave G _ Nplusplus said...

Ack, no, I'm just dumb and said Torchlight instead of Torchwood.

Von said...

Wasn't there a Diablo clone called Torchlight doing the rounds a while back?

The Happy Whisk said...

Dave G: I see that now, but when I read your comment, my brain thought it read Torchwood.

Porky said...

@ Dave G _ Nplusplus - Easily done. The rest of us got lucky this time, but ours will come...

@ Von - That's right - there's an overview here.

@ The Happy Whisk - I've been thinking about your bold approach for a while now. It helps make things clearer, but it wouldn't necessarily work everywhere and I'd probably end up with HTML tags filling comments all over.

Dave G _ Nplusplus said...

Yeah, Torchlight was a solid Diablo clone, played a bunch of it last fall. It's an indie game that wanted to prove themselves and Torchlight 2 will include full multiplayer.

The Happy Whisk said...

I like the bold. I say go for it. If you don't like it you can always stop using them.

The Acrobatic Flea said...

My first Doctor was Jon Pertwee (number three), but my favourite Doctor is Patrick Troughton (number two).

For those worried about the overwhelming backstory - to be honest I'd say for the majority of the older stories it's not really a factor. Most of them are very self-contained and, particularly, in the very early years the concept of canon and continuity was totally alien to the show.

Of course, you also have to take into account that this was a different era, with different ideas about pacing and storytelling.

The stories were multi-part affairs (sometimes four or six half-hour episodes; occasional stories even longer), which can come as a shock when compared to the one-hour, Buffy-inspired (for pacing and story structure anyway)episodes of the current iteration of the show.

John Till said...

My eye caught on the thumbnail of this post (gosh, that sounds unpleasant!) when I read to the end of another. My first doctor was the Third. I have never seen the Seventh Doctor (and Ace) on TV, but am growing familiar with him because about two years ago I started collecting the Missing Adventures-New Adventures-NA of novelizations. Many of them are quite good. Quite open and creative, really.

John Till said...

I mean "novels" not novelizations. These were all original works. At least one did become a script though.

Porky said...

I think since I posted this my feeling for the changeability over the eras is even keener. As far back as I can remember, possibly since I first became aware there were earlier incarnations, I've been interested in the programme as a whole regardless of the nature of the current Doctor, but the show's great variety and scope has become an attraction in itself now. The very oldest epsiodes have more allure than they did when I was younger. I think Hereticwerks' way of thinking may have something to do with that as well. I've barely seen any episodes featuring the past two Doctors though, so I could be speaking too soon.

Way back when, I did read one or two of the early novels in the New Adventures series and I remember enjoying them. I also read up recently on where the series went and the ideas were often inspiring. I think they do something similar, adding to that variety, and based on what I know about them I agree with your evaluation of how open and creative they are. Some at least go further and deeper than the show could. Great stimulation.

Re the seventh, as Von suggests higher up in the discussion, his run does generally improve from first season to last, getting darker and arguably more meaningful with it. That said, the first season is still fun, and in many if not all of the contexts it does feel like a natural extension of the earlier periods.