Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Witless Dictionary #22--The Domino's Pizza Fallacy

No, I hadn't forgotten this feature--I just hadn't come up with any new comics neologisms for awhile.

For those of you who didn't read these previously (I think the last one might have been back when I had two readers instead of five) The Witless Dictionary is an effort to provide a working lexicon for comics. In other words, like the eternal Sniglets, they're meant to be words we don't have, but should.

The Domino's Pizza Fallacy--Term of art used to describe the inevitable announcing of a "bold new direction" (or "new direction" or "New take"--pick any utterly tired phrase you like) that basically says, in so many words, "we're sorry for the years of crap stories we did before, we'll do better now as soon as we do this BIG EVENT so we can put a big exclamation point on the whole business."

The problem with this is twofold--either you're telling people who already read the book that they're idiots for reading shit stories for so long, or you're tacitly admitting that you've been half-assing it up to this point, but no further--honest!

So named because Domino's Pizza has been running an ad campaign over here recently wherein they are trying to get people to eat their pizza . . .by basically saying for the last 25 years they've been making really crap pizza. Needless to say this comes off more than a little pathetic and is not really the kind of ad strategy one would expect a large chain of restaurants with a lot of money on the line and an enduring brand identity to protect to adopt.

Fortunately, no one ever went broke wagering on executive stupidity, did they?

Obligatory Comics Fan Post #219

So, uh, about that new Wonder Woman costume and bold, new, story direction . . .

Let's see . . .plus a few points for giving her actually pants instead of bicycle shorts, minus a few points for the Black Canary jacket and choker, storyline seems utterly dreary and "One More Day"-ish, so let's take off a few points for that . . .

You know, if the desired effect of this was to make me interested in Wonder Woman, this totally does not make me interested at all.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010


Continuing our seemingly never-ending retrospective person history of Doctor Who . . .uh, thing, we look at what happened during the 1990s.

When last we passed by, the show had been canceled and that, obviously, would have been that. But there's something so right about the idea that the Doctor Who timeline is just as confused in real life as it is in its fiction. It would be fairly tempting to say that up until the movie hit in 1996 "for a long time, nothing happened." (We'll just pretend Dimensions in Time never happened, shall we?) Suffice it to say Doctor Who continued on with a few fan films (marketed under "The Stranger") and a whole lot of novels (some of which were written by people who would get their chance to write for the show proper a few years down the road) which, depending on who you ask are either "wonderful" or "utterly diabolical."

Meanwhile, the BBC tried mightily to get a Who movie mooted, and in 1996, they finally got a TV movie for their trouble (as an unwieldy three-studio collaboration that's probably far too much of a legal headache to ever see an official release in America, sad to say) that was a backdoor pilot for a relaunch of the series on American TV.

And, well . . .when I first saw it in 1996, I tried to give it the benefit of the doubt. Honestly, I did. There was plenty to like--they had Sylvester McCoy along to transition to the new Doctor, they spent more on it than the last three seasons of the television show combined, I bet, Paul McGann made an excellent Eighth Doctor, and . . .well . . .

Uhm . . .

. . .no, that's pretty much it, I'm afraid. It's not very good. The main plot is an utterly confusing mess, there's a lot of puddering about before the real plot starts up, character behave in ways that no person ever would even after consuming several peyote buttons, and Eric Roberts was so damn bad as the Master, Batman dropped him off a fire escape.

For a long time, I could never quite twig on to why it didn't work for me. And then I saw a documentary on the various regenerations in Doctor Who on the DVD of "The War Games" (Bless you, BBC, for all these little extra goodies you put on Who DVDs) and they articulated it--because the story is so obsessed with the prospect of regenerating from Seventh to Eighth, we never get much of a sense of the new Doctor because he's either some other guy or wandering around confused and by the time he finally becomes the Doctor, one hardly gives a damn. One of the things the 2005 revival does right is that there's a new Doctor at the start of the story, full stop. This seems to say--"We're doing something new now, and while we acknowledge the history before us, we're not going to look back until we've got a good running start."

It's really kind of a shame that McGann doesn't get more screen time as the Doctor, and it's always a lingering hope of mine that he gets to come back for a Doctor team-up before it's too late, because he's very good as the Doctor--he's less cerebral and more of a dashing and romantic figure (this was mildly controversial at the time--after all, the Doctor never has romantic intentions towards his companions, and this was considered an immutable rule) and really makes it his own, once the regeneration stuff is out of the way.

But it's not enough to save the movie, and the proposed series never makes it out of the gate (Remember the Generation X movie? The other alleged success story of 1996? Yeah, seems like they ran over that summer and failed with an intensity and tenacity ordinarily only seen in successes) and the Eighth Doctor had to be content with novels and, starting near the turn of the century, audio dramas from Big Finish, who has damn near become the Doctor Who Actors' Welfare Program at this point.

For the rest of the 90's Doctor Who remained for the most part a fondly-remembered footnote, not least by one Steven Moffat, who pens "The Curse of the Fatal Death" as a comedy special in 1999. It's absolutely hilarious (and available on Youtube on DVD) and features the most obvious and simultaneously convoluted use of time-travel ever, the true explanation of what "Dalek bumps" are, forever paints the Master as camp caricature, and features Rowan Atkinson regenerating (eventually) into Joanna Lumley. No, really.

It also makes reference at the climax about why it's worth keeping Doctor Who alive, which I will paraphrase here--The Doctor is too brave, wonderful, and altogether too silly to ever completely die.

Good advice, that--and bless him for it. That Moffat fellow was pretty clever. Wonder whatever became of him?

What become of Who, however, is something we'll take up next time. Join us next time for the Ninth Doctor's brief tenure, which features the show returning in force, with most all the problems that strangled previous revivals of the show in the crib . . .not to say we won't find newer ones along the way. It's the long-awaited return to glory next time--join us, won't you?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


In which the show finally gets canceled after a long illness just as it was finding its way and incidentally running prototypes of the plot elements that would eventually resurface successfully when the show is revived 16 years later.

When last we trudged along this path, Doctor Who the show was in bad, bad shape. It had come back after being effectively canceled (so the BBC could mount EastEnders) in a truncated, rather shaky season that ended with most of the talent behind the scenes leaving in a huff and the Sixth Doctor being told rather unceremoniously to hit the bricks.

Not exactly the best way to start the season, but ultimately just as well. The story structure that characterised the Sixth Doctor ultimately hadn't worked, and a smug asshole Doctor constantly bickering with his companion as they wander through a succession of grimmer and grittier (yet at the same time goofily campy) adventures did nothing but rack up complaints for the violence level for the programme and generally make the whole thing seem like a dreary slog.

So it seems the plan was to go in a lighter direction, with a new Doctor with a passion for gurning, a more chipper companion who suffered from being Bonnie Langford, and a new team of writers then proceeded to drag them through a rather forgettable season wherein the Doctor was nearly killed by being dipped in sugar. Oh yes, and the intro is almost painfully 80's and features, to paraphrase TachyonTV, "Sylvester McCoy's sex wink."

It's not an auspicious start, for certain. The debut episode is as bad a start as it is possible to make without several people dying of internal hemorrhaging, a schoolbus full of children falling off a cliff, and something ending up on fire at the end of it. And yet, soon enough, things turn around in a big way. For one thing, the more clownish elements of the Seventh Doctor's character begin to fade, and the Doctor becomes a subtler, more mysterious character who seems to be constantly playing a long game (in some cases, multiple long games--he was running the Xanatos Gambit before Xanatos existed) and began expertly outmaneuvering his adversaries no matter who had had to manipulate

Which included even his newer companion, Ace. Ace is a bit different than most companions have been as she's very working-class, full of anger (one suspects she ended up the receptacle for the show's creative teams anger at Thatcher-era Britain--yes, them and everyone else, I hear you saying) and an explosives expert (as you do when you grow up in a council estate) paired up with a more enigmatic Seventh Doctor, they make an interesting pair, and there's actually a subtle story arc through their episodes together that the Doctor is subtly allowing Ace to confront her past in preparation for . . .something. But I'll get to that in a bit.

Because rather than try to cover all of the Seventh Doctor's tenure in general, I'll recount some bits from my favourite episode from the run as an exemplar of what Seventh Doctor stories were like at their height. And I'm going to spoil the hell out of it, so be warned.

"Remembrance of the Daleks" is a rather cleverly disguised anniversary episode that is rather better (and rather similar) to the actual anniversary episode. It consists of the Doctor and Ace, in early 60's London getting caught in the crossfire of a Dalek civil war. Turns out they're both here for the Hand of Omega a Time Lord device (so named because "Time Lords have an infinite capacity for pretension") the Doctor, as it turns out, knows where it is (he was the one who hid it on Earth after all) and weirdly enough seems to want the Daleks to have it, provided he can keep the well-meaning but utterly powerless human beings caught in the middle from interfering too much and getting themselves killed.

While all that's going on we get Daleks going up stairs for the first time (not that anyone was watching the programme at the time to see it, so when the revived series did it again it was treated as new) a huge (considering what period of time we're talking here and the hopelessly limited budget) and we get the brand-new, utterly cool and what I suspect is what Rob Liefeld dreamt of continually from 1988-1995, the Special Weapons Dalek:

Half Dalek, more Dakka.

Oh, and this is just a teensy thing that I add for the four--wait, five!--readers so they have a frame of reference for this. The following scene commemorates the moment when a callow 14 year old who would one day become a little-regarded comics blogger who rarely blogged about comics had his first crush on a fictional character. Yes, this is the legendary scene wherein Ace destroys a Dalek with a baseball bat. Because it called her small:

This is after she shot one in the face with a rifle grenade, I should add. Ace was no shrinking violet, that's for damn sure.

Finally, the whole scheme is laid bare--The Doctor goads the Daleks into using the Hand of Omega, and as they're bloviating about becoming the new lords of time, the Hand blows up their home planet, and then wipes out the ship that launched it. In the name of mopping up, the Doctor deals with the remaining Dalek faction rather ruthlessly, taunting him that with his entire race destroyed, he no longer serves any purpose, and the last Dalek (yeah, right) self-destructs and the Doctor is suddenly bad-ass as all hell, and kinda scary bad-ass at that.

This sets the tone for the rest of the series rather well, and sets up a very interesting dynamic. The Doctor becomes more secretive, which usually means he's hatching some great plot, but this also causes tension between the Doctor and Ace, who resents that he's keeping things from her, and is very likely (OK, OK, is) manipulating her as well by making her confront her past, both her hatred for her mother, and her lingering fear of a certain building in her neighborhood.

This all comes to a head in "The Curse of Fenric," wherein long game #23 which has been running for a few shows now, reveals his opponent as an ancient evil known as Fenric (It's right there in the title) Worse yet, Ace has a genetic connection to Fenric and has inadvertently been on his side the whole time, and the only way to set things right is for the Doctor to destroy her faith in him by tearing her down in front of Fenric himself.

It's a very effective scene--heck, the whole story's pretty good. That Ace ends up being manipulated into saving the mother she so despised as an infant and ends up by the end of the episode and fundamentally changed character (having suffered through the Doctor's abuse and learning that most all the misery in her life had been due to Fenric's manipulations) makes for a very effective moment and some actual drama in a show that hadn't really attempted that kind of honestly-felt moment for a long time.

Pity no one was watching the damn show during this time, huh?

So, after one last perfunctory battle with the Master and some people in rubbish fursuits, Doctor Who ends after 25 years. And again, probably just as well--plans were afoot to enact some kind of Masterplan that was supposed to make the Doctor a much more mysterious character . . .by revealing a lot of rubbish that Geoff Johns would toss in the bin that did little but tie up little fiddly bits of continuity.

It's a shame that the show dies so ignominiously--despite being starved for money and time and being watched almost exclusively by anoraks like me by now, it was actually clawing its way out of the mid-80s doldrums and getting better. But even with things ending on such a thwarted feeling, the seeds have been planted for a successful revival.

Because making the Doctor more mysterious and maybe a little scary worked. Framing an extended series of stories into a story arc worked. Centering the story on the companion and developing their character in a way that defines role of companion again as an identifying figure for the audience worked very well.

Theoretically, you could build a much stronger series around those points--all they needed was a chance to try again.

And that's what we get next time. In which we run the clock ahead to 1996, and we attempt to resurrect Doctor Who with a Doctor who makes a very successful impression, even if the movie he's in is absolutely rubbish, and nothing ultimately comes of it, which is a slight shame. Join us next time for what is sure to the the shortest entry in this series as the Eighth Doctor makes the scene and sadly, not much else.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


Oh dear. This was the one I dreaded.

OK, so when last we passed this way, the Fifth Doctor had passed on and in his place we had another bloke named Baker in the top spot. And you know what? Even if I come to completely hate a Doctor's tenure in the role (and I really don't) there's always a rush of excitement when a new Doctor takes over, because you know a page is turning and there's bound to be a change of approach and you get to basically watch the program evolve.

So it was with the Sixth Doctor. Considering the recipe of angst and creeping darkness that has characterised the Fifth Doctor's stories, it was imagined a change of tack was needed. Perhaps a lighter approach, maybe a funnier Doctor, that sort of thing.

That uh, didn't happen. The Sixth Doctor is portrayed as a raging asshole, constantly ranting about how damn great he is when he's not trying to strangle Peri (although really, who wouldn't?) and generally being more obnoxious than one should be allowed to be.

Oh, and he has the worst costume in the history of eyes. Seriously, look at that damned thing.

By and large, the episodes take a turn for the dark, the campy, and the utterly awful. The Doctor can barely be bothered to do stuff and when he does it seems to involve killing the hell out of people, Peri screams a lot, shows her cleavage, and gets captured and everything is garish and very 80's.

Some would say that it wasn't all bad--recurring nemesis the Rani gets introduced during this time, after all--but these people are wrong because the Rani is the most utterly rubbish nemesis in all of Doctor Who and I'm including the farting aliens from the new series in that (the idea that people want the Rani brought back mystifies me, as no good could come of it, and yet, people do.) Things reach their nadir in "The Two Doctors," which I will say here and now is as borderline unwatchable as Doctor Who ever got, as it manages to piss off the audience at every turn, waste a multiple-Doctor team-up, and basically be a great big ol' didactic piece of tosh about how we should all be vegetarians. I'm taking no position one way or another on that, but dear God, this story is so awful it would make the greenest of any human being eat an antelope raw in hot, seething, wendigo-like rage.

However, it's not all bad. For two reasons. One, The Sixth Doctor's run contains an episode wherein Alexei Sayle destroys a Dalek with a concentrated beam of rock and roll. That such a thing can happen on television and not require any further explanation than that is exactly why I love Doctor Who.

But it's not good enough, and Doctor Who is canceled shortly after Alexei kills the Dalek, so I guess they went out on a high note, at least. The end.

. . .OK, well, it wasn't. It's a testament to the accumulated goodwill that Doctor Who had engendered lo these many years it had been on (Because sure as hell no one was clamoring for things to continue on the way they were) that people went ballistic and raised all sorts of hell to get it back on the air. While the show stayed off the air for a year and a half, the powers that be struggled mightily to get their shit together and bring their A-game, as they'd only narrowly received that reprieve from cancellation, and the next time they were probably gone for good.

And so, in what must be the most extended bit of metatextuality ever let loose on British television, the Doctor was put on trial, said trial to consist of watching Doctor Who for fourteen weeks, or if you're a little-regarded comics blogger, one grueling afternoon. This was Big Time Stuff, of course, as Doctor Who hadn't done an extended epic in quite a long time (usually they tended to consist of story arcs that covered multiple stories) and, well, a lot was riding on this for the show.

So, the basic plot is thus--the Doctor gets pulled back by the Time Lords (here being meddlesome and corrupt again, though the Doctor at least calls them on their bullshit this time) mysteriously without Peri and rather foggy on the details of how he got there in the first place. The case against him (and his fashion sense) is prosecuted by the mysterious Valeyard, who we later learn is a prospective distillation of the evil side of the Doctor, who wants to . . .I think he wants to get the Doctor's remaining regenerations and make his existence a certainty but honestly--this thing is fourteen parts long, and the damn plot ends up going all over the place.

Oh, and we get introduced to Mel. For all I talked about how rubbish Peri is as a companion, Mel outdoes her in the race to the bottom in every possible way. There is a rather clever bit that we actually meet her out of sequence--we never see how she and the Doctor meet, we just join in medias res---but beyond that, we're not given much reason to notice her, as she's unrelentingly chipper, can scream louder than a dog whistle (or Geddy Lee, whichever allusion you prefer) and generally doesn't distinguish herself any further, which, seeing as how she first appears in an episode where the Doctor fights giant vagina aliens, is quite a feat.

But it's not all bad. For one thing--the Doctor's a bit less of an asshole now, and makes genuine steps towards likability, and is actually quite funny in spots. The constant screeching and bickering between him and Peri is toned down quite a lot and it makes you wonder what might have been, since they could have made a real effort to make the Sixth Doctor thing work and for various reasons, they seemed unable or unwilling to until the eleventh hour (no, not that one) and it's quite a shame.

I should also lay my other card on the table here and go ahead and tell you that this season contains my other favourite moment in Doctor Who, and for reasons above and beyond the obvious.

The middle part of our little drama, "Mindwarp," chiefly is distinguished by the fact that Brian Blessed (or more accurately--BRIAN BLESSED!!!!!!!!!!!!) is in it. Blessed cuts a magnificent figure, resplendent in eyeliner and funny samurai hat, and he spends most of the episode running at people, shouting at people, and karate chopping people. One begins to get the idea that they may not have told Brian Blessed that he was being filmed, and just decided to follow him around over the course of a typical day and reasoned they'd build the story around it later.

Now that alone would have been enough, but "Mindwarp" also contains one of the most bizarre moment in the entirety of Doctor Who, and spoilers ahoy. Peri gets killed, and worse yet, she gets killed off-camera. One minute she's strapped to a table, the next minute they've popped her brain out and she's gone. Just like that. We're not even given that much of a chance for things to sink in, as Blessed then rampages in and shoots everyone (oh sure they buy it back later and explain that she's actually happily married to Brian Blessed) but . . .yeah, that's just . . .cold.

Anyways, the upshot of the whole trial thing was that Doctor Who was brought back. The fella playing the Sixth Doctor wasn't, and the resulting acrimony meant that he was on his way out the very moment that the show was coming back on and getting its sea legs.

And it's with that oddly fitting perfunctory finish that we'll leave it there for now. Join us next time when the Sixth Doctor is replaced by a fella with gurning skills that some might consider superhuman, until a change of mind causes the writers to flip the Seventh Doctor from figure of fun to master manipulator, and his newest companion kills a Dalek with a rocket launcher and a baseball bat and causes a young boy to crush so very very hard. The Seventh Doctor! Ace! Daleks! Xanatos Gambits! Cancellation! Again! Next!

Thursday, June 10, 2010


It's weird, but I've always had the impression that I should really like the Fifth Doctor's run on the show more than I do. It's universally acknowledged to be a high point of the show, especially considering things crash, burn, crash again, and burn some more immediately after.

But there's always something that holds me back. Is it the short-lived flirtation with writing stories that rotated around hard science (hard science fiction having as much to do with Doctor Who as I do with the actor who played Perfect Tommy in Buckaroo Banzai) maybe it was the fact that four people in the TARDIS was at least three too many, especially when two are constantly complaining about one thing or another, maybe it was the continuous presence of Adric, The Master pretending to be Chinese in a way that even Mickey Rooney would say "C'mon, man--that's a little insensitive," or worst of all, that episode where the Doctor played cricket for TWENTY DAMN MINUTES BLEARGH.

But I think the biggest problem I had, especially when I first watched them, all young and unsophisticated was that he plain just wasn't the Fourth Doctor (you have to admit--following a guy who pretty much defined the role is probably one of the shittiest jobs it's possible to have. But now that I'm older, and can take it on its own terms . . .well . . .it's not bad. Certainly ended up being a metacommentary of sorts on where things were trending in British SF. But more on that later.

But in the midst of all that, you have The Five Doctors, which, even though it doesn't really deliver exactly what it says on the tin , it's about as epic as the first Who series ever managed to get. You have multiple Doctors bickering at each other, multiple companions, all top three arch-nemeses, a new monster who blew everyone's mind and then they never used him again, Time Lord plots one and two (they're meddling assholes and totally corrupt!) and two lines at the end of the show that make any Who fan of long standing stand up and cheer. The plot's utter bananas and it's not all it could be, but it's always had the curious power over me that any time I watch it, it strips the cynicism right out of me and I can just enjoy the show with the same energy as when I was eight.

Anyways, this is pretty rambling so far. The plan was, I suppose, was that the Fifth Doctor would, being the youngest man at the time to play the role, was that he'd bring a certain immediacy and sense of action to things (and, I'm sure, the All Creatures Great and Small audience) and generally be a more passionate character than the sometimes detached Fourth Doctor tended to be. And they mostly succeed at that., because this Doctor suffers a lot of bad reversals and dutifully angsts like an X-Man over them.

What do I mean? Well . . .the Doctor ends up with a bunch of folks who don't really want to be there, they gradually come to like each other and get along, only to be separated by death, departure, and one leaving only to return, and then have to leave again when things just become too much. What's worse, at least two of his companions are secretly there to kill him, an attempt to negotiate with the Silurians and make up for what happened the last time they met ends in an even worse massacre, the Daleks and Cybermen return more ruthless and evil than ever, and worst of all, at the end of the day, he's stuck with Peri as his last Companion, but more on that next time.

It's a really grim run of episodes, ultimately, and I've always wondered if there wasn't some kind of sociological trend in Britain towards darker well, everything, during the early and mid-80's, but especially in SF with the early British Invasion writers (and 2000AD) leading the charge. While none of them wrote for Doctor Who (unless the comics count towards that) Thatcher-era Britain is obviously not a happy time for most folks (he said, in the understatement of all time) and the show very vaguely reflects that, but will grow to reflect it more blatantly in the next Doctor's tenure.

The darkening of the Fifth Doctor's mise-en-scene (if not the character himself) comes to a head in his final story, "The Caves of Androzani." Rightly hailed as being one of the best of the later Doctor Who stories, it's impressive to me chiefly because of the very deft storytelling trick that happens in it--there's a fully functional and typical Doctor Who story to be had and enjoyed, but the Doctor strolls through the whole story not really giving two shits what's going on--he's trying to preserve the life of his companion and single-mindedly focuses on that goal to the exclusion of all else. In the end, he goes out a hero, dedicating himself utterly to save one life.

It's quite a story.

And as alluded to before, it's also the story wherein the Fifth Doctor's tenure finally draws to a close (well, save for a one-shot where he meets up with a future incarnation, which is well worth the eight minutes it'll take you to watch the ep at this link . . .) . His mission to save his companion saved her, but he couldn't save himself, and he "dies," or would, but for convenient change . . .and it would seem not a moment too soon.

Be here next time for what is sure to be the most difficult installment of this series to write, wherein a new approach is tried, utterly fails to do anything except make audiences flee in droves, gets the programme canceled altogether and is what must unquestionably be the nadir of Doctor Who.

And yet two of my favourite bits ever happen within it. Explain that one to me. Or, wait until next time and wait for me to tell you.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


Sorry I let this thread drop, y'all--things got busy. Plus, when consider that the subject of this entry in the Doctor Who epic is the longest-tenured Doctor, pretty much the most memorable (OK, David Tennant comes close, but when the Doctor shows up on The Simspons, f'rsintance, he always looks like Baker) and pretty much everything that can be said has been said about him, so . . .yeah. Made it hard to build an essay around it.

So, let us consider the case of Tom Baker, the Fourth Doctor. Tom Baker, like Brian Blessed, is a favourite actor of mine, and for much the same reason, actually--they both seem like right madmen that the directors may or may not have told them they're acting, and as such they don't so much act in movies, as they are let loose upon them like an invading horde of barbarians. Or Hottentots.

Tom Baker came to the role after playing Rasputin (played as Tom Baker being leery and drunk and not really all that Russian) and a wizard in a Sinbad film (wherein he portrayed it as Tom Baker in a turban) Baker's great moves include: bugging out his eyes, grinning manically, and being generally unpredictable--manic one minute, gravely serious the next.

And so, as the Third Doctor was on his way out, the Fourth Doctor came on the scene, armed with manic energy and a big long scarf. This would dispose one to think that his stories would be wacky, adventurous romps, full of great humour and absurdity, and while they ultimately would become that, at first . . .no.

The Tom Baker years divide up into two eras. The first half era is characterised mostly by gothic horror stories and a generally dark tone. And while Baker would occasionally take the piss out of the threat du jour, he could also flip and confront the threat with the appropriate amount of gravitas (which, considering Doctor Who's rather penurious special effects budget often needed all the help it could get) and really sell that the Fate Of The Universe balanced on the resolution of the conflict with the monster of the week.

This era reaches its apogee in "The Deadly Assassin," wherein the Doctor, flying solo for once, goes to Gallifrey, deals with more Time Lord stuff (as this period in the show's history will graphically illustrate, there are two Time Lord stories, and only two--either they're meddling busybodies trying to get the Doctor to do their dirty work or they're totally corrupt and planning some hellish scheme) the Master returns as a rotting corpse (considering how the original ended up, I'm not sure that's all that good an idea in retrospect) and a very grim story wherein the Doctor is nearly murdered several times.

And I should add that this kind of stuff came on in the afternoon, right after Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, which may or may not have warped my 7-year-old brain in some unforeseen direction and sown the seeds for me to grow up and be some kind of sociopathic murderer, demagogue, or worst of all--comics blogger. Thank God none of those worst-case scenarios came to pass, eh?

Things gradually shift after this point--the Doctor picks up a new companion, Leela (not, not that one) who was the first girl I didn't find icky (I was seven, remember?) I doubt it was because of the fact she always ran around in a jungle-girl type outfit as much as when she killed a Sontaran from across the room by throwing a knife at it, which is bad ass. The initial dynamic of the Doctor playing Henry Higgins to her Eliza Doolittle (assuming Ms. Doolittle had spent most of My Fair Lady trying to kill the hell out of people, in which case I would have actually made it through the damn thing) helps to drive things along at this point in their era.

Oh, and he gets a robot dog named K9 who shoots lasers. Kids (yeah, me too) love the robot dog. Love him.

But another shift takes place, and the humour elements being to take precedence, and Leela gets sent away to Gallifrey (geez, what did she do to deserve that?) and the Doctor takes up with Romana. This is a rather big deal, as Romana is a Time Lady herself, which puts her on slightly more equal footing with the Doctor than Companions usually get to be.

The show gets more humourous, not least of which because the dynamic between the Doctor and Romana gets to be much like that of a happily married couple (possibly because they were in real life) breezily hopping from place to place in the TARDIS and having all sorts of adventures that when you get right down to it weren't really treated as that much of a threat, but it's cool, as Douglas Adams--yes, that one--was penning a couple of these and when you combine his wit with the amount of goodwill Baker had built up keeps things from degenerating too much into camp.

By the time his last season rolled around, Tom Baker was rounding his seventh year as the Doctor, and change was in the air. For his final season, the look of the show changed dramatically, Romana and K9 get written out of the show, the Master returns as something other than a rotting corpse, and we get Adric (geez, what did we do to deserve that?) and a small army of other companions in preparation for changing times.

That change, of course, is that the Doctor is going to be replaced by hotshot Yorkshire vet Tristan Farnum.

No, that's not right. Be here next time when Peter Davison takes over as the Fifth Doctor, the show celebrates its 20th anniversary with an epic story that succeeds in being epic even though it features 3 1/2 Doctors and a bloke in a wig, and the wheels begin to come off the wagon a bit as the show takes a darker turn. Join us, won't you?