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.


C. Elam said...

I think I felt similarly towards Peter Davison's run at the time. Since that was largely my "Fini" as far as following WHO on a regular basis, I've never taken the opportunity to revisit them. I do wonder how it would hold up for me today.

One thing I'd like to add is that Nyssa (who debuted with Tom Baker) was one of my teenage crushes. In fact, she might have even outpointed Leela in WHO annals in that regard.

Kazekage said...

They hold up a little better, really--you can tell the obvious changes in direction when they happen and watching several of the later episodes all in a row can get mightily depressing, but now that you can Netflix great wodges of Who at a crack, it's easier than ever to revisit.

For real? I always knew y'all existed, but I never met one of you. *L* It's funny, because you meet plenty of folks who always crush on companions, but it's always funny to me that Peri, who was basically designed as a T & A delivery system and yet . . .no one will admit to liking her.

C. Elam said...

I did qualify it by saying it was a teenage crush! *laughs* It's been over two decades since I watched an episode with her, so I honestly have no idea how I'd feel today. But, I was obsessed with Sheena Easton as a teen too. So who knows?

(Sarah Sutton is quite cute, though. Pictures are enough to remind me of that.)

You know, I...didn't hate Peri. But other than Nicola Bryant being gorgeous, I have no enduring memory of anything her character did in the episodes I saw with her. Possibly, this is a good thing.

Kazekage said...

"Morning Train" Sheena Easton or "Sugar Walls" Sheena Easton?

Welll . . .stay tuned for the next installment, wherein I will examine that even though Peri is annoying as all hell, they get her off the stage in a very bizarre way and also they replace her with someone even more intolerably annoying, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

C. Elam said...

Definitely "Sugar Walls" Sheena. The album "A Private Heaven" came out when I was 12 years old. So it's no surprise I was infatuated with a tiny Scottish woman singing those songs and looking like she did.

You know, I DO remember how they wrote her out, and yeah, it was weird and muddled. And that was Ace, wasn't it? I do remember NOT liking Ace.

Kazekage said...

. . .I sense there's a blog post for you in this revelation, sir. :)

Nope, after Ace was Mel, and she was, by all objective measures, utterly awful and quickly disposed of.

Ace was the one that pummeled the Dalek with the baseball bat. :)

C. Elam said...

You know, I was thinking the same damn thing. *laughs* I'll have to put that on the list. Yes, I keep a list of topics to discuss. It's sad, really.

Whoa, I had totally forgotten about her. I am on Wikipedia right now, and I may have to rescind my distaste for Ace. I suspect this is the character I was thinking about. Good lord.

Kazekage said...

I do that sometimes myself. We're in a content-driven line, so . . .never hurts to having something ready in our pockets.

Yes, Mel was. . . ill-starred, maybe? She didn't have the longest tenure, most likely because she was mightily annoying and contributed nothing. That was something you couldn't say of Ace.