Thursday, March 27, 2014

Time for The Doctor

I've finally caught up on the Doctor Who revival. Now there are two things for me to do while I try and clobber Verizon until they give me BBC America before the new season/series (why is it available in standard but not prime?!?!)

1st: CLONE WARS SEASON 6!!! My wife has my sister-in-law's Netflix password, so I'll catch up on the "lost" season and post my thoughts here.

2nd: All the Whovian's who read this (and I know one of you does), I want recommendations on the top two episodes of each Classic Doctor, not counting their first and last (which I will be watching anyway). Also, I know the 8th Doctor only has the one TV movie and the one prequel to the 50th where he regenerates into the War Doctor (which I did watch), so I kind of don't have a lot of choice regarding him.

There's a new Jedi News article coming tomorrow, so stay tuned!


  1. Ooooooooh recs yes:

    Hartnell: The difficulty with the first two Doctors is that a good chunk of their episodes only exist in audio format, so picking a rec that actually still exists can be difficult. This is more true for Troughton than it is Hartnell, though, who's first two seasons are luckily mostly intact. Of the surviving episodes, then, "Aztecs" and "Dalek Invasion of Earth" are probably the best bets- original TARDIS team, with Barbara getting to do a lot of awesome stuff, plus you have a historical episode (which faded out after Troughton) and then Daleks at the peak of their popularity. If I were opening it up to missing episodes as well, though- "Myth Makers" over "Dalek Invasion", definitely. *hilarious* historical playing with mythology and with a killer of an ending. Fantastic episode.

    Troughton: "Mind Robber". Mind Robber mind robber mind robber. You cannot go wrong with this episode- the most alchemical Doctor playing around in the "Land of Fiction", meeting storybook characters and having to fight against becoming a story himself. It's the Moffat era done some 50 years early, and *brilliant*. "Enemy of the World" is my second pick- recently discovered, and a fantastic episode by the original script editor, David Whitaker. Troughton was in many ways the best actor to take on the role of the Doctor, and he shows off why here when he gets the chance to play a double role, as the Doctor and the villain of the piece, Salamander.

    Pertwee: "The Three Doctors" is a madcap insane little romp that is absolutely brilliant (and also the first anniversary special), so definitely that. As for the instinct is to say "Carnival of Monsters" because it really is the best Pertwee, but I feel a Master episode is fitting since the Pertwee era is really where he got to shine (and most people tend to agree the original actor, Roger Delgado, was far and away the best Master). So on that count I'll say either "Terror of the Autons" or "The Daemons". Both contain the Master, Jo Grant, the Brigadier, and the "UNIT Family", all of which are considered fundamental parts of Pertwee's era. "Daemons" in particular is a load of fun, though it doesn't make much sense.

    Baker next comment.

  2. Tom Baker: Oooooh, lots of choices here. The key thing here is that Baker actually has three distinct eras- the dark and horror-laden Hinchcliffe/Holmes era (commonly considered the best), the more light-hearted and comedic Graham Williams era, and then a more mystical and scientific Chris Bidmead era (his final year in the role). Since you said you'll be watching the first and last episodes, that gets "Logopolis" out of the way, which would've been one of my picks. So let's pick a story that represents his other two eras...For Hinchcliffe/Holmes, you can't go wrong with "The Brain of Morbius". Terrance Dicks (one of the most important writers in Who's history) wrote the original story, and then-script editor Robert Holmes (another one of the most important writers and far and away one of the best) rewrote it almost entirely. It's a darkly humorous take on Frankenstein, with wonderfully alchemic overtones, one of the best guest actors ever on the show (Philip Madoc), and also a bit that casually rewrites the entire history of the show in one fell swoop (Holmes was known to do that- he also invented the two hearts bit and the 12 regenerations rule).

    For Graham Williams, the obvious rec is "City of Death", written by none other than the late great Douglas Adams. It's simply put a comedic masterpiece, with Baker acting his socks off against Lalla Ward's Romana (one of the best companions the show ever had) and Julian Glover, and a special surprise cameo that I won't spoil for you. Really, this is a treasure, and rightly considered one of the greatest episodes of the series outright.

    Since this is Baker, though, there's so much good...I'm gonna sneak in one more rec- "The Sun Makers". Written by Robert Holmes and a searing evisceration of bureaucracy, this is the episode I would point to and say "yeah. This is what the Doctor is, and this is what he fights against".

    80s Doctors next.

  3. Peter Davison: Note- make sure you don't watch Davison's first episode until you've seen "Logopolis"- it's a sequel that picks up on a lot of the themes laid out by that story, and basically serves as Bidmead's farewell to the program (though he would write one more story for the show). As for my recs, "Snakedance" and "Enlightenment". Definitely his best stories by a longshot, and also his weirdest and strangest. Both are sequels to other stories, but stand well enough on their own you shouldn't have too much of an issue picking them up. Most people recommend "Earthshock" for Davison, and I can't argue that position enough- it's an honestly weak episode that gets praised because of a shock ending and a 'surprise return', both of which are overrated and served to get the writer promoted to script editor, an action that directly links to the downfall of the show in the Colin Baker years.

    Speaking of...Colin Baker. Recs for him become hard. He's seriously great, and any episode you pick will have him giving a fantastic performance. But for a wide variety of reasons the episodes themselves just *suuuuck*- this was the era produced by the crowd of people who thought Doctor Who should be "serious and gritty", and it has all the problems that entails. There's really only three good episodes out of the lot, and all of them are still flawed in some way. So let's pick one of the good ones- "Revelation of the Daleks", which is a marvelous little structure piece...and then for the other I'm gonna actually go ahead and say listen to one of the audios. Baker shines on them and they're actually pretty easy to pick up- it's something like 5-10 bucks to download a story off the site. My rec would probably be "Doctor Who and the Pirates", which is just a delightful little gem of a story that also manages to be a musical for one episode. You really can't go wrong with the Doctor singing "I Am the Very Model of a Gallifreyan Buccaneer".

    Sylvester McCoy. Ahhhhhhhh ah ah ahhhhhh my favorite Doctor, and one of my favorite eras. He's *delightful*, and his era has some of the most wildly imaginative stories the show ever had. Recs- "Happiness Patrol" and "Curse of Fenric", definitely. Don't let the naysayers put you off "Patrol"- it's unabashedly silly and a lot of people were put off by that, but it's got a real bite to it and in my mind the best non-recurring villain the show ever had (it's also, incidentally, my favorite episode of Doctor Who outright).

    "Curse of Fenric" is an absolute powerhouse of an episode, centered around Ace (another vote for best companion- I somehow have a feeling you'll like her) and so mad and brilliant I can barely describe it. This one has like two or three versions going around- the Broadcast and the VHS and DVD special editions. Most people will say do the DVD one first, but honestly all three of the versions are fine, so it's up to you (I vote Broadcast myself- wonderful cliffhangers and Episode 4 is staunchly one of the best single episodes of the series).

    1. Meant to say "argue against" watching's really pretty bad.

  4. Lastly- I know McGann only has the TV Movie and "Night" for his onscreen appearances, but TV Movie is honestly so bad and awful and crushingly boring and generic that I'm actually gonna recommend you skip it and stick to one of the audios instead. I've not listened to much of him, but I'm told "Scherzo" and "Chimes of Midnight" are absolutely stellar, the former especially (both are written by Robert Shearman, who actually wrote "Dalek" for Christopher Eccleston. so that should give you an idea of the quality there). I myself have listened to about half of "Scherzo" and...yeah. It's pretty brilliant.

    1. I knew you wouldn't disappoint. Thanks so much.

      Amazon Prime is all over the place with Classic Who, only having handfuls of episodes for a handful of seasons (Interestingly, Fenric is one of the arcs they have that I was instantly drawn to title-wise, and was half-hoping you'd rec).

      In the interest of open-mindedness, I'm actually going to check out the ones you specifically said to skip as well. If they suck as much as you say, I take full responsibility, but the rebel in me wants to give them a chance anyway.

      But for the episodes not on Prime, I'll check out Netflix, then scour the internet.

      Thanks again! Can't wait to start.

    2. A few additional notes:

      1. God, I never realized Classic Who was almost bereft of one-offs. This makes things a lot more difficult - by just picking three to four stories it's like I'm watching a full season of each!

      2. If you hadn't recommended an Adams episode, I'd have specifically asked for one. Looking forward to that with bated breath.

      3. Likewise anything with McCoy. Radagast became one of my favorite Tolkien characters solely based on McCoy's performance, and I have no doubt he'll be in my top five Doctors when all is said and done.

      4. Honestly, though, my favorite will always be Eccleston because he was my first. This has nothing to do with anything, I just miss him.

    3. Yeah, it's all serialized stories. Your best bet for shorter ones would be the occasional two parters and three parters that come around- unfortunately, most of the two parters are pretty lackluster- Hartnell has a fantastic one called "The Rescue" that was actually on my shortlist of recs, and then Davison has a pretty nice one in "The Awakening", but other than that it was a format they never really got the hang of. The three-parters are almost uniformly pretty danged solid, but also are except one all McCoy stories (they cut down episodes for him for budget reasons- the show was effectively dead after 1986 and it's a miracle we have those three extra seasons at all).

      And yeah, all three of Adams' episodes are pretty danged good, though "Shada" is unfortunately incomplete- filming was unfinished due to a worker's strike. Shame the season he script-edited didn't fare as well- I'm not as harsh on it as some people, but they were just pretty parsed for writers at that time, and not everyone could do all the amazing things Adams was (incidentally, his era is the favorite of current series writer Gareth Roberts, who wrote "The Lodger", "Closing Time", "The Unicorn and the Wasp", and several others).

      And McCoy is soooooo good. And his era is gold, too. It gets a lot of flak from certain sections of fandom, but it's really just an inventive and mad-cap version of the show (and incidentally has perhaps the biggest influence on the new series- the writers from this era migrated to the Virgin book line when the show got cancelled, creating the "Doctor Who New Adventures". The line went on to feature several writers who would work on the new series, including Paul Cornell, Gareth Roberts, and a certain someone named Russell T. Davies).

    4. Also, re: Availability- Of my recs I know Netflix has "Aztecs", "Mind Robber", "Three Doctors", "City of Death", and "Curse of Fenric". Their other options are all pretty great as well- only "The Visitation" and "Pyramids of Mars" are particularly eh, though I should note I'm in the minority on "Pyramids".

      And yeah, I can't stop you from seeking out the episodes I don't recommend- though I would at least recommend not seeing the TV movie until you've got more McGann under your's just a poor showing for his Doctor (it's the only American-produced episode of the show as well, and doesn't make a great case for America ever handling Doctor Who).

    5. Oh, one last thing- I'm sure I've linked him before, but I highly recommend when you watch the episodes to read some of the essays over at TARDIS Eruditorum- Dr. Sandifer is a really brilliant writer who inserts all sorts of crazy and madcap analyses into an already crazy and madcap show. Of my recs his "Mind Robber" and "Brain of Morbius" essays are particularly brilliant:

    6. Also, adding Tomb of the Cybermen to my list, since that's what inspired Matt Smith to demand a bowtie.

    7. Tomb has a lot wrong with it (and I mean a loooooooooot...), but it's also got two really awesome scenes and Troughton is absolutely on fire throughout it all. Let me know when you've seen it- lots to talk about there, both good and bad.