Classic Doctor Who Returns
As many of you are aware, I'm an avid Doctor Who fan.
So back when I wrote a do-it-yourself DVD guide to get into classic Who, I had maintained that the initial 2005 series with Christopher Eccleston was the best way to get viewers hooked on our favorite Time Lord. This month, I am going to go one better - Matt Smith's freshman season as the 11th Doctor is not only the most new-viewer friendly (at least, as far as forum talk is concerned) , but is a great opportunity to launch into watching classic Doctor Who . Steven Moffatt has made no secret of his love for the classic series, and in the first of this two-part TV Party column, we're going to look at this past year's stories, and start establishing some links to classic Who, showing how current episodes share some interesting aspects with classic Who.
(First, some ground rules - I'm not going to touch on any episodes from the Russell T. Davies' era of Who - the focus is simply going to be on the initial 1963 - 1989 run of the series . In addition, to avoid spoiling shows that have not been seen in the US as of this date, I'm making this a two part column with next month's focusing on the second half of Series Five. Although the classic era stories I mention will share some thematic/plot similarities, this should not presume that watching any of these stories will spoil any Series 5 stories. However, there may be some mild spoilers, so I apologize in advance. At best, this will be a "watch this classic story if you like this current story" column. )
The first thing that immediate strikes the viewer about Matt Smith's persona is that much of it is pulled from Patrick Troughton's performance as the Second Doctor. From bow tie (which, the 11th Doctor continually asserts, is "cool") and jacket to the vocal mannerisms, much of the Eleventh Doctor's persona is pulled from the Second. In fact, Smith has admitted that he was influenced by the Second Doctor story Tomb of the Cyberman - legendary for being a "missing" story (wiped in 1978, rediscovered in Hong Kong in 1992) and which shows incredible insight into the Doctor's character. In it, the Second Doctor is a person who hides a cunning, insightful perspective behind a slightly humorous facade. He shows the curiosity of both a scientist and a child, and a key scene with then-new companion Victoria shows not only a hidden glimpse of the Doctor's character....but reveals a tenderness and soft side that Smith easily adapts into his persona as the Doctor. Unlike the Tenth Doctor, he's not as overtly manic...but there's a confidence and courage that easily meets and exceeds his predecessors.
With the TARDIS flying through the air Harry Potter-style, The Eleventh Hour begins on a very strong note, and can easily be considered one of the better "post-regeneration" stories, following in the tradition of the Third, Fourth, and Fifth Doctor's debuts. Spearhead from Space, Jon Pertwee's debut, contains many of the standard themes that tend to crop up when a new Doctor arrives on the scene - personality confusion and erratic behavior, the "new outfit selection" scene (and to be fair, Eleventh Hour also pulls this from the 1996 television movie), and the inevitable Doctor-pulls-it-together-to-face-the-menace. (Fifty minutes into the episode, there is a sequence that shows no doubt that Matt Smith is the Doctor). With its contemporary setting and the Doctor's unusual culinary desires, the episode also pulls from Robot, in which Tom Baker made an indelible stamp with his portrayal of a more eccentric, easily accessible Doctor. And the fact that the episode pretty much sees the Doctor enter into the middle of things takes its cue from Castrovalva, where Peter Davison's Doctor had to face an extremely intricate, reality bending trap while adjusting to his new persona.
With that, we enter the futuristic realm of The Beast Below, which easily combines a slightly allegorical story that mixes both menace and fairy-tale whimsy. One of the few stories that I think matches this is the Sixth Doctor tale Vengeance on Varos - a little more on the menace side, admittedly, but which also contains a slight allegory about then (and I would say, current) modern times. In addition, Beast Below's central concept - an entity in space that hides a horrible secret - takes a slight cue from Douglas Adams' The Pirate Planet (which was also part of an overarching season-long arc ). And some of the moral aspects of the latter half of the story....it is a stretch, but you can argue that there is quite a bit of Genesis of the Daleks present in the storyline. And speaking of Daleks....
Victory of the Daleks, despite hints that Churchill has met the Doctor before, doesn't have quite an immediate predecessor. (Or, the Doctor meets Churchill is an untelevised tale). However, if you're looking for Daleks tooling around British history, why not consider taking a view of the Seventh Doctor and Ace in Remembrance of the Daleks (part of the show's 25th anniversary, with the Daleks involved in early 1960s England, and with hints about the First Doctor's history) or Curse of Fenric (which takes place during World War Two). A more immediate antecedent of Victory would be the Second Doctor's debut story Power of the Daleks that has a slight influence on Victory's plot ,even down to the line I am your soldier. (Although a "missing" story, an audiobook version of Power can be tracked down via eBay, Amazon, or Audible.com - it's well worth checking out the audio version, and there's a long-since-discontinued BBC-authorized ';reconstruction" on CD).
One of the more talked-about stories during Smith's first year was the Time of the Angels/Flesh and Stone two-parter written by Steven Moffatt. Although the Weeping Angels are a returning menace from the Tennant era, the moody atmospherics of this story take a straight line from several classic series episodes. It's a good example of the kind of "base under siege" tales that were predominant during the later First Doctor and Second Doctor eras (done primarily due to budget and set limitations) - a great example would be the Troughton era Seeds of Death, featuring the reptilian Ice Warriors. As far as moody claustrophobia, you could easily leap from this two-parter to the Second Doctor in Fury From the Deep (available only in audio, but chillingly effective) to then the Fifth Doctor in Earthshock (which we'll mention in terms of another story next month) and The Caves of Androzani. There is also, given some of the more subtle plot points involving Amy Pond, there are some trends shared with the Fourth Doctor story Image of the Fendahl (which, in my opinion, is an extremely underrated tale).
We're going to end this month with The Vampires of Venice, which combines both a slight horror menace with very scenic, spot-on production design. It's most immediate antecedents would be in several Fourth Doctor stories - State of Decay (which also contained vampires within a science fiction context) as well as The Masque of Mandragora and The Talons of Weng-Chiang (both of which are my favorite stories, and Masque was recently featured on my blog). In addition, the interplay between Amy and Rory is extremely reminiscent of two of the Doctor's first companions - Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright. (The First Doctor, as we see, also acquired a library card during his travels). Granted, the Ian/Barbara interplay was a little more subdued (after all, it was the early 1960s), but it's very heartening to move from the more "high concept" nature of the Russell T. Davies era towards something much more intimate and small scale in the Moffatt era.
And on that note, cue the familiar scream into the Doctor Who theme....what's that? There are episodes to go? You want to find out what happens next?
Tune in next column...after all, Doctor Who is very well known for its cliffhangers. Isn't it?
But hey, let's keep the conversation going - talk on the forums, visit my blog, or leave a comment below. And as always, keep watching.
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