The Eleventh Doctor
Matt Smith's freshman season as the 11th Doctor is not only the most new-viewer friendly...a great opportunity to launch into watching classic Doctor Who ...And on that note, cue the familiar scream into the Doctor Who theme....
On that note, let's launch into the second half of our examination of Series 5 of Doctor Who, and examine the roots, influences, and themes from the classic series that have been given a 21st-century sheen. Much like our last column, we won't be featuring any Russell T. Davies-era stories or references (although those abound in good measure as well). Although the current series has ended (and this column focuses on the second half of the current season up to and including The Big Bang ), and I'll try avoid spoilers, be warned - some key plot points may be revealed. Classic Who episodes that are mentioned are meant not to spoil, but to provide a backdrop and context - if you liked any of the episodes from this particular season, these columns will hopefully serve as a guide for you to jump in head-on into the classic 1963-1989 series of Who. All stories mentioned are available on DVD when possible, and exceptions will be noted.
And now, let's head into our friendly TARDIS and set the coordinates for the past....
...and into Amy's Choice, a very unusual foray into the surreal and otherworldly for Doctor Who. It's not that the series hasn't done such an episode, but such forays are few and far between. One interesting view would be the William Hartnell adventure The Zarbi - to modern eyes, it may look a bit...well, overdone, but at the time was an extremely ambitious story. (You might want to also check out The Edge of Destruction, a Hartnell two-parter that is included in the In the Beginning boxed set that is a great "bottle" episode which reveals much about the characters....much like Amy's Choice. The Patrick Troughton adventure The Mind Robber starts with a great in-the-TARDIS episode, and delves into almost straight-out fantasy (so much so that one companion is played by two actors ) Even later era-Who attempted some mind-tripping episodes, including the time bending Warrior's Gate (which resembles nothing more than a Duran Duran video), as well as the Davison-era adventures Kinda and Snakedance. Of course, not all classic series attempts at surreal, other worldly atmosphere are successful.
(My evidence: two words - Ghost Light. Yes, I said that out loud. But that's a column for another time)....
The next story, the two-part The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood, seems almost like a 21st-century remake of several Third Doctor stories, due to both the content and the overall narrative tone. Obviously, it's the return of the Silurians, a lizard-based race who made their first appearance in Jon Pertwee's first season. (Their aquatic cousins, the Sea Devils, also fought Pertwee in a later season...and we'll ignore their return in Warriors of the Deep during the Fifth Doctor era). Much of the tone of the story - the small, isolated setting, as well as the tapping into forces unknown underground, take many of their cues from Third Doctor stories like Inferno and The Green Death. The story has some real-life overtones that, without being preachy or overbearing, is indicative of Doctor Who under producer Barry Letts . But it's the ending involving one of the companions that delivers an emotional gut-punch similar to the ending of the Fifth Doctor story Earthshock - even though it's easy to mock the particular individual involved, there is a creeping sense of inevitability that has rarely been duplicated in new Who. Cold Blood served as a reminder that even in the world of Doctor Who, absolutely nothing can be taken for granted.
Vincent & the Doctor , a historically-based episode, has divided many fans: people either really love it or really hate it. Some have compared it to the classic City of Death (in terms of a famous artist, alien intervention, and time travel)...but I'm going to make an equally off-the-wall recommendation that I think better fits one of the key themes of this episode. The Aztecs - a first season, First Doctor adventure is a "pure historical" (meaning: no science fiction elements are present, although this is not the case for Vincent & the Doctor ), but is a strong tale about the ethics of time travel and the inevitability of specific events . Although the series would later defy this notion, this episode is a strong tale about how history cannot be rewritten - "not one note" - and Vincent & the Doctor , despite taking place in the timey-est and wimey-est of all Doctor Who seasons (more about that later), is calmly reassuring in that history, as we know it, will still happen...but that sometimes, it can be changed in the smallest of ways.
If we're going to compare the Douglas Adams-penned City of Death to any episode, it would have to be the more comedy-oriented story The Lodger. Both are tales with a high level of wit and insight...and Who has had its share of humorously-based stories. They tend to be isolated incidents within seasons, such as Robert Holmes' Fourth Doctor story The Sunmakers (a satire on the British tax system), or The Romans (another Hartnell "pure historical"). Mid-period Tom Baker stories have a much higher element of comedy to them, although it can range from the the knowing grin-and-bear-it (Destiny of the Daleks, The Nightmare of Eden) to the flat-out unwatchable (Creature From the Pit....and I would like to take this moment to publicly complain. Fury from the Deep was wiped from the BBC vaults, but we still have the ability to enjoy the recently-released-on-dvd-travesty Creature From the Pit . Life stinks.). However, most Who humor is less slapstick and farce and more dependent on wit and charm - a tradition which The Lodger proudly continues. .
And now, for the final two-parter, the Moffatt-penned The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang, which brings all of the different plot threads throughout the past season to a full conclusion. So much of this two-parter is steeped in classic-Who themes, lore, and storytelling styles, it would be difficult to summarize it all in one paragraph. However, there are some very distinct callbacks not so much to stories as to Who "philosophy" - less about references to past storylines and continuity and more about the way in which Who has told its stories. This is where the final season shines in its reaffirmation of some of the wonder - and storytelling mechanics - of classic Who.
For a series with over 30 years' history, there have been a few (although some are somewhat hidden) multi-episode and multi-story arcs in Doctor Who . The first real examples were really single stories told over a long period of time - the First Doctor tale Dalek Masterplan (many episodes of which are now missing, but several are contained on the Lost in Time boxed set) and the Second Doctor-closer War Games . But for season-long arcs, there are really two prime examples - the Fourth Doctor's quest for the Key to Time (which, admittedly, has some stories with the quest awkwardly shoehorned into the plot) and the Season 23 Trial of A Time Lord. (For a more objective view than I can provide, why not check out Steven from Radio Free Skaro's blog focusing on classic Who ? He is currently watching Trial, and is a great jumping-on point for reading...as well as providing another unique perspective on classic Who ). There are also various mini-arcs that happen throughout classic Who , so when Russell T Davies rebooted the show in 2005 , exploring a common theme throughout a series of episodes was not as radical a concept as one might think....
One of the things that the current series of Who builds upon is the classic series' attitudes towards time travel and changing history - or how a "not one note" philosophy of changing history has turned into a more "timey-wimey" universe where anything can happen. Much of the classic series rarely delved into the mechanics of time travel - the First Doctor story The Time Meddler was the first "pseudo historical", which showed a fellow time traveler wanting to influence the Norman conquest of England , and bringing a photograph to medieval England. A scene from The Big Bang involving two sonic screwdrivers is a great illustration of the Blintovich Limitation Effect, a fictional construct about the consequences of crossing the time stream first introduced in Day of the Daleks. Fourth Doctor-era stories like The Pyramids of Mars and The Masque of Mandragora, strongly suggest that history can be rewritten...but you have to be extremely powerful to do so. (And Pyramids of Mars contains one of the greatest scenes in Who that answers the question, When the Doctor goes back in time, why doesn't he just leave because we know the future's going to happen?e ). In short, this fifth series of "new" Doctor Who succeeds because now, the stakes are raised much higher - in almost fifty years time, we have gone from the inevitability of events to those where we're not sure of the outcome. Even with the new series concept of "fixed points" in history, there are still variations, and still great dangers to face...and the current series of Who builds and expands upon its past.
"So, Gordon," you're saying to yourself as you read this screen, "That sounds like an awful lot of videos to watch - where can I find the time and, more importantly, the money?" First, if you subscribe to Netflix , many of these stories are available via the "Watch Instantly" feature. (Meaning - you don't have to pay or wait for your DVDs to arrive, and you can watch them one episode at a time per week - just like in England!) There are also a small number of classic stories available via the Doctor Who Classic Series You Tube Channel (for those of you who aren't Netflix subscribers), and you can always get more information about upcoming releases, as well as other intelligent commentary, via three great podcasts - Radio Free Skaro , Podshock, and the Two-Minute Time Lord . For those of you who missed this season, and are on Santa's "good" list, Amazon has just announced that Doctor Who: The Complete Fifth Series will be available on DVD on November 9th.
So I hope you've had as much fun reading this two-part column as I've had writing it...but enough about me. What do you think? Questions? Concerns? Recipe Tips? Feel free to drop by the forum and ask. Or visit my blog , or follow me on Twitter and Facebook .
Until next time, as always....keep watching!
Read More! For more of Gordon's writings, insights, and
general information, please visit his blog at blogthispal.blogspot.com.
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