Doctor Who Audio Drama Review: Trouble In Paradise

We’re back, with another Doctor Who audio drama review! We’re continuing our look at the eleven-volume Fiftieth Anniversary series, Destiny of the Doctor, produced by Big Finish in conjunction with AudioGO. Today we’re listening to the Sixth Doctor’s contribution to the series:  Trouble in Paradise, read by Nicola Bryant and Cameron Stewart, and written by Nev Fountain. Let’s get started!

Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not listened to this audio drama!

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This episode differs from its predecessors right from the start. Rather than finding it incidentally and later, we get an appearance by the Eleventh Doctor right at the outset, as he uses the TARDIS’s telepathic circuits and viewscreen to contact the Sixth Doctor and Peri Brown. He makes it clear that he is a future incarnation of the Doctor (with Peri at first reflecting that he is what she would expect from the Doctor’s son, if he had one), and compliments his previous self; and then he makes a request. He wants the Sixth Doctor to obtain an omniparadox, a most dangerous item. After he leaves, the Sixth Doctor explains that an omniparadox is a sort of power cell, created by the conflict between two versions of time, much as nuclear power is created by smashing atoms together. The omniparadox, however, possesses energies that, if misapplied, can destroy the universe.

The Doctor constructs a device to track the signal of an omniparadox; it does so by mimicking the signal to create a resonance. Tracking, they land aboard a ship—not a spaceship, but a sailing ship—and find the paradox hovering above the TARDIS. However, they are quickly captured by a most unlikely man and his crew, and find that they are in the presence of the famed Christopher Columbus, aboard the Santa Maria; and he has just sighted land. He assumes they are natives of the island he has discovered, and that they have somehow come aboard to worship the invading Europeans. (The fact that he can converse with them without trouble seems to be lost on him.) The misunderstandings are interrupted, however, when it is revealed that a man on board is dying—and claims to have seen the devil.

Unfortunately, Peri has seen it too, albeit briefly. The Doctor gives her the TARDIS key to fetch a medical kit; and en route, she sees a demonic creature in the shadows for a moment. The Doctor determines that the man is dying of tuberculosis; he has the ability to cure him, but refuses to do so, as introducing modern medicine to the year 1492 could be disastrous. Enraged at him, Peri runs off through the hold where the TARDIS is parked, stopping only to throw the key at the Doctor.

Moments later, we find that Peri—intending to just stand at the prow and think—has fallen overboard. The Doctor panics, and tries to enter the TARDIS to save her, but cannot find the key. He is diverted, however, when he sees that the omniparadox is now gone; and shortly thereafter, the universe begins to unravel, violently. The Doctor realizes that something has caused the paradox to be removed, which means that the Eleventh Doctor’s mission in the future will fail, bringing about this destruction; but he stabilizes the situation briefly with his tracking unit, using its false signal to “trick” the universe into stability. It will not last, however, and he has about an hour before things fall apart. Columbus, having had his beliefs challenged repeatedly, now believes the Doctor is a wizard, and orders him to find the key and fix the situation; if he does not do so in twenty minutes, Columbus will cut off his hands, a punishment that history attests he used often on the native populations.

Peri, meanwhile, is not dead. She finds herself washed up on the shore—and is immediately captured by natives who are under the control of a monster. The monster is the devilish figure she saw; it confronts her, and reveals itself to be the Herd Leader of the Bovine race, a race of intelligent buffalo. Once they ruled the continent, and the primitive humans worshipped them; but then the herd leader was trapped in ice. Without its mind, the herd regressed into common buffalo, and were hunted to extinction. In the future, when the herd leader thawed out, he found he had no herd to lead. Adopting time travel technology which had since been developed by humans, he traveled back to conduct experiments which would save his people. He believes that Peri and the Doctor were sent to stop him.

The Doctor determines that a goat in the hold has eaten the key. However, he retains a psychic connection to it; and he is able to telepathically connect it to the TARDIS despite the goat (and much to the goat’s alarm) and get the door to unlock. With Columbus in tow, he determines that Peri is alive, and travels to her location; unknown to him, Columbus—now convinced the Doctor is a superior explorer—plans to kill him out of jealousy.

Arriving at the Herd Leader’s time machine, they learn its plan. It was the herd leader that led Columbus to the new world—Columbus being an incompetent navigator on his own—in hopes that the Europeans will exterminate the native Americans, thus preventing them from exterminating the Bovine herd. In that way he can return to the future and resume his place as herd leader. They are shocked to see another Herd Leader appear and interrupt, however; or rather, the same one, but older. The second leader says he is from the future, and has come to stop the experiment, because it will be a failure—the Europeans, too, will hunt and control the Bovine. The Doctor uses this opportunity to surreptitiously remove the time element from the machine. Warned by Peri, he dodges out of the way as Columbus tries to kill him with a sword; Columbus misses and destroys the time element by accident. The second herd leader vanishes, being unable to have time-traveled without the machine; the first is forced to flee. After removing the time machine, the Doctor, Peri, and Columbus return to the ship.

Columbus is forced to acknowledge that the Doctor and Peri are not natives after all; this does not change his plans, but he debates recording these events. He sends his men ashore to hunt down and kill the herd leader, convincing them it is not a devil, but an animal. The Doctor sees that the omniparadox has returned, and collects it; he theorizes that it disappeared because of the likelihood of Peri’s death. Without her to warn him of Columbus’s strike, the timeline would have been vastly different; and it was the collision of the timelines of the two herd leaders that created the paradox in the first place. Having a final change of heart, he cures the man with tuberculosis, and then they depart.

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Dating this story is easy; the date is clearly given as October 12, 1492. Dating the point of origin of the herd leader is a little harder; however, as he states he gets his time travel technology from the humans of the future, it is likely at least the 50th century. In fact, I would place it definitively in that century, as time travel exists, but not in the more compact and refined form of a vortex manipulator, which is known to exist by the 51st century; the machine here is apparently bulkier, and involves a time element large enough to be struck with a sword. From the Doctor and Peri’s point of view, this episode must occur prior to the past-time events seen Trial of a Time Lord, part two, Mindwarp, as that episode involves Peri’s death (later overturned, I know, but their travels here are clearly prior to that occasion). I would further suggest that it is at about the midpoint of their time together; Peri is not the frightened child she was for most of their early adventures, but neither is she fully her calm, collected self. Still, it’s hard to be precise.

Continuing the tradition started by Carole Ann Ford in Hunters of Earth, Nicola Bryant proves to be a versatile voice actor, doing an excellent job of catching the Sixth Doctor’s mannerisms and speech habits. Her take on the Eleventh Doctor is not as convincing, though still effective. I had never heard her speak without the affected American accent she uses for Peri; and now, hearing the contrast between her reading voice and Peri’s voice, I realize she’s incredibly skilled at this type of work. It would be very easy to assume that two different voice actors were involved. Cameron Stewart displays similar skill; he voices Columbus and the herd leader, two very different voices.

This story departs from the established structure significantly. In the previous stories, the Eleventh Doctor took advantage of adventures that were already under way for his past incarnations, using those situations to obtain what he needs. Here, he is the reason for this mission in the first place; but given the seriousness of an omniparadox—as an object the Doctor would not ordinarily seek out—I think that’s a fair strategy. We get a bit of the occasionally-recurring theme of whether it’s okay to change history here; Peri is in favor, the Doctor is not, but in the end she gets her way. As it turns out, however, the change they make is minor; he cures the sailor with tuberculosis, but doesn’t leave any indication of how it was done.

This has been my least favorite story in this series so far. Although I like the Sixth Doctor, and his audios are usually very good, I’ve always felt that Peri is the weakest of his companions. Rather, I should say, it isn’t that Peri is weak; it’s that I think she is not a good match with Six. Had she been able to stay with Five, they would have done much better together. Still, none of that is to say that this is a bad story; I think it’s weakened in part by Peri’s presence, and also by having its focus primarily on the larger story arc rather than the local story, but I think neither of those things ruin it completely. As part of this series, it’s still vital, and still worth a listen.

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Next time: We join the Seventh Doctor and Ace on Tarsus Six in Shockwave! See you there.

All stories featured in this series may be purchased from Big Finish Productions; link to this story’s purchase page is below.  This and many other selections may also be found on Spotify and Google Play.

Trouble In Paradise

Doctor Who Audio Drama Review: Babblesphere

We’re back, with another Doctor Who audio drama review! We’re continuing our look at the eleven-volume Fiftieth Anniversary series, Destiny of the Doctor, produced by Big Finish in conjunction with AudioGO. Today we’re listening to the Fourth Doctor’s contribution to the series: Babblesphere, read by Lalla Ward and Roger Parrott. Let’s get started!

Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not listened to this audio!

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The date is unknown, but stated by the Prolocutor to be sometime in the Earth Empire period, which is usually considered to be between 2500 and 3000 AD. (For this I had to pull out my copy of A History of the Universe, by Lance Parkin; it’s been a while—I used it extensively in my classic series rewatch, but not much in regard to the audios so far.) The Doctor and Romana II—and K9, though he is not seen—land on the world of Hephastos, which has a small human colony of about ten thousand people. Immediately before they materialize, a man staggers into the street, spouting trivia about his day…then dies suddenly, smoke pouring from his ears. Visible on his head is an electronic interface chip, wired into his brain.

Accused of murder, the Doctor and Romana are taken into custody by a hostile robot (the name of which I was completely unable to spell, so I won’t try it here). It is surprised to discover they lack interface devices, and takes the Doctor away to be fitted with one, promising Romana that she is next. While he is gone, Romana meets another prisoner, Aurelius, who explains the situation. The devices are brain links that connect every person on the colony to a central computer network, called the Babble network. At one time they were voluntary, but now they are compulsory; the central computer, the Prolocutor, controls the planet, and private thought (“clandestination”) is a crime, of which Aurelius is guilty. He has found ways to hide his thoughts from the network, and must suffer for it.

The duo escape the cell, and meet a most unlikely group of rebels: a crowd of elderly women who have managed to remove the devices, and now live beneath the notice of the Prolocutor—or so they believe, at least. Together they rescue the Doctor, who has just completed testing prior to the implantation procedure. They make their way to a subterranean control room, where they find more of the Babble network’s history—and the skeletons of its original controllers, sitting where they were when the Prolocutor killed them and seized control. They are just about to end the machine’s reign, when Aurelius turns on them.

Speaking with the voice of the Prolocutor, he tells them that he was planted in the cell by the computer to engage and then betray the Doctor and Romana, and bring them into the Babble network’s control. Although Aurelius had believed he had free thoughts, he was mistaken; his implant was only temporarily disabled, and now had been reactivated. The computer forces the Doctor and Romana to join the network, not via implant—which they will eventually have, once incorporated—but via the more primitive headsets the original operators had used.

Once connected, they find themselves inside the virtual Babblesphere, a digital world populated by the minds of everyone on the planet, endlessly spewing their thoughts to each other. The Prolocutor reveals its plan: The rebels had previously sent a distress signal, and the Empire will not ignore it. Once help is sent, they will be absorbed into the sphere, and their ships will be used to reach other worlds, until the Prolocutor controls the Empire. Unfortunately, it reveals its weakness as well: It cannot deal with the vast amounts of trivia flowing through it. What people eat, what they wear, how they feel…these things are driving it insane. To lighten the burden, it has begun to kill off the worst offenders, like the body beside the TARDIS.

This gives the Doctor a plan. While he distracts the computer, Romana rouses the masses inside the sphere and leads them to ramp up the trivia they are pouring out. Still, this is not enough to stop the computer—until the Doctor and Romana join in. With the weight of all the minutiae that a Time Lord’s long life accumulates, they begin to overcome the machine.

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In the midst of this, a new voice arises—that of the Eleventh Doctor. The Fourth Doctor quickly deduces that it is a future incarnation of himself (and takes a moment to insult his relative physical youth, of course). The Eleventh Doctor tells him to save a copy of the Prolocutor’s program and send it to an artificial intelligence museum on a hard drive—and then he adds a burst of trivia of his own, driving the Prolocutor to self-destruction.

As the Babblesphere collapses, the Doctor and Romana free themselves, and the Doctor moves to save the program as requested. He gets it, and adds a little something extra—a copy of his own psyche, to keep the program company in its exile. After all, it’s not an evil mind, just lonely. Then, twenty-four hours later, with the colony experiencing a remarkable turnaround, they return to the TARDIS and go on their way.

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This entry in the series is fairly simple and straightforward; but it doesn’t suffer for that. Unlike Shadow of Death, it does have a villain in the Prolocutor, but it’s a sympathetic villain; the Prolocutor isn’t motivated by evil, just loneliness and efficiency. Of course that doesn’t excuse its murders; but as it’s a program, it perhaps can be remediated. The real star of this story is the dialogue. Although Lalla Ward is a great reader, she doesn’t capture the tone of the Doctors in the way that previous readers have done; but that is more than made up for by the dialogue, which is spot on for all the major characters, including the Eleventh Doctor. You can just picture him spouting the nonsense he uses against the Prolocutor; and the Fourth Doctor’s wit is exactly right. Romana herself isn’t bad either; she’s still a great foil for the Doctor, with perfect timing and almost telepathic sync with him.

Also unlike Shadow of Death, this entry name-drops some things which would not have been known to the Fourth Doctor, by way of the Eleventh Doctor’s trivia, such as the Ood (in his list of top five enemies). Romana also references the Krafayis (from Vincent and the Doctor) and the Shakri (from The Power of Three), though this is understandable, as they are also names from Gallifreyan nursery rhymes. The Doctor also mentions that he’s familiar with meeting future incarnations of himself, a probable reference to The Five Doctors (which, if we accept the existence of the Fourth Doctor version of Shada as the point that he was kidnapped from in The Five Doctors, would have been very recent for him) or other audios which I haven’t heard yet. In fact, he oddly seems to know that the Eleventh Doctor is physically young, despite not being able to see him here—only the voice is heard.

Chronologically, this story must occur in the early part of Season 18 of the classic series. The Doctor knows Romana has a sonic screwdriver, which originated in The Horns of Nimon, the Season 17 finale (unless we count Shada, which, as I mentioned, also fits in here without any issues). The story occurs in the regular universe, and doesn’t include Adric, Tegan or Nyssa, only Romana and (by reference) K9, making it prior to Full Circle; and the Doctor says he is repairing K9, putting it close to The Leisure Hive.

I enjoyed this story more than the previous entries, though for different reasons. It felt very much like a short serial from Season 18; it was mostly isolated from any continuity issues, in that it doesn’t deal with any story arc elements other than the Eleventh Doctor’s cameo. The writing was superb, and I give credit to Jonathan Morris, the writer. It is worth a listen even apart from the rest of the series, and listening to it in context only adds depth.

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Next time: We return to the main range for The Holy Terror; and the Fifth Doctor and Tegan confront the Master—with a little help from Harry Houdini—in Smoke and Mirrors! See you there.

All audios featured in this series may be purchased from Big Finish Productions; link to this story’s purchase page is below.  This and many other selections may also be found on Spotify and Google Play.

Babblesphere

Doctor Who Audio Drama Review: Vengeance of the Stones

We’re back, with another Doctor Who audio drama review! We’re continuing our look at the eleven-volume Fiftieth Anniversary series, Destiny of the Doctor, produced by Big Finish in conjunction with AudioGO. Today we’re listening to the Third Doctor’s contribution to the series:  Vengeance of the Stones, written by Andrew Smith and read by Richard Franklin (aka Mike Yates of UNIT) and Trevor Littledale. Let’s get started!

Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not listened to this audio!

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I’m going to ask in advance that you take it easy on me with any misspellings or other manglings of names of the aliens and objects involved. My usual sources came up dry when I tried to research before writing this post; although entries exist for this story, they’re badly in need of completion.

Offscreen, there’s an indeterminate gap between Inferno, Liz Shaw’s final story as companion, and Terror of the Autons, Jo Grant’s first. This story falls squarely into that gap, as the Doctor has no companion (unless you count the Brigadier). It’s also narratively significant, in that it gives us the Doctor’s first encounter with Lieutenant (later Captain) Mike Yates, and recounts how Mike joined UNIT. It opens with the disappearance of an RAF fighter and its pilot on a training mission over the coast of Scotland. As the story told by the pilot’s trainer is rather…unusual…UNIT is called in, and the Doctor comes along for the ride (literally, as he brings his roadster Bessie with him). There they meet local army lieutenant Mike Yates, who is seconded to UNIT for the duration due to his knowledge of the area; it’s the region in which he grew up. Mike leads them to investigate the many stone circles in the area; in doing so, they find the missing pilot—but shortly thereafter, the pilot enters one of the circles, and dies, apparently due to an energy discharge.

Stumped for leads, the Doctor chooses to take another plane and retrace the pilot’s flight plan under similar circumstances; unknown to him, the Brigadier follows behind in a helicopter. The Brigadier’s caution is rewarded; the Doctor sees many of the stone circles light up with power, and then a massive ball of power is released, streaking into space—and wrecking his jet in the process. He crashes safely into the ocean, and is rescued.

After some further investigation, Mike returns to one of the circles. He is immediately incapacitated, and is taken prisoner. His captors are aliens from a planet named Theris; only a few of them remain. In the course of painfully interrogating him, they reveal that they came to Earth a few thousand years earlier on a survey mission for natural resources; they were attacked by the local barbarians, and several of their number were killed. The remaining aliens were forced into stasis for the sake of their survival; but recent roadwork disturbed their stasis pods, awakening them. Now they want revenge for what they considered an act of war. It was they who built the stone circles, as data collection and transmission points; they have an affinity for igneous rock. They can harness the power of such rock using the Therocite stone that is native to their own world.

Meanwhile, the Doctor and the Brigadier are searching the area of Mike’s disappearance. They discover a dilapidated shed; but oddly, they feel a strong urge to ignore it. The Doctor determines that the shed has a perception filter, which diverts attention; he pushes through it and opens the shed, and finds the now-gutted remains of the missing jet. Applying the same logic regarding the perception filter, they search the area again, and notice a house that they previously couldn’t see. They take a squad of soldiers in, and find Mike being interrogated. Despite the Doctor’s attempts at diplomacy, a battle erupts, and one of the aliens is killed; their leader teleports them and Mike out of the house.

Before moving on, the Doctor receives a message via a telephone recording…and it appears to be from his future self. (Context tells us that it is the Eleventh Doctor, but the Third Doctor would not know which incarnation it is.) He learns that, despite the Brigadier’s desire to end the encounter by force, the Doctor must somehow save the therocite from destruction—and he must not tell the Brigadier ahead of time, as that would force his hand.

The Doctor determines that, given the affinity for rock, the teleport took the aliens to one of the circles. UNIT quickly locates them, and the Doctor and the Brigadier race to the scene. They discover that the vengeful aliens now only wish to kill everyone on Earth; they have already sent a distress signal to their homeworld. However, the Doctor informs them that, sadly, their world has ceased to exist during their long sleep. In the end, he is forced to stop their plan by grounding out the therocite, and returning its power to the Earth from which it was taken; the last of the aliens dies in the encounter.

Mike Yates is requested by the Brigadier to join UNIT full-time, and granted a promotion to Captain in the process. And the rest, as they say, is history.

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It was interesting to me to get Mike’s origin story; he’s arguably the least involved of the major UNIT characters in the Third Doctor’s era, but still a decent guy. Too bad about the betrayal later on (if you’ve watched that era of the classic series, you know exactly what I mean). Still, I love an origin story, and this one is not bad. As well, Richard Franklin proves to be a competent reader; although it’s not as convincing as Frazer Hines, he does an admirable job capturing the Third Doctor’s voice and mannerisms. I found myself wishing a bit that Liz Shaw had been along for the ride; but then, she’s one of my favorite companions.

The only thing about this story that felt out of place was the Doctor’s flight in one of the military jets. I suppose it’s within his skill set—he later pilots a microplane, and also the Fifth Doctor would later pilot a spaceship (admittedly to a crash, but that was intentional), so it’s not unbelievable—but it seems far-fetched that the Brigadier would allow it. I expected from the title that this story would be something akin to The Stones of Blood, but it isn’t, although those stories do have some common elements. Stones of Blood was by no means the best of its season, but was definitely intriguing, as the stones themselves were alive. Here, there’s none of that; but the stones are just as dangerous.

This story rehashes some themes that became common in the classic era, and especially with the Third Doctor. For one, the Doctor tries to negotiate and save the villains, but UNIT pulls the trigger, resulting in extermination; the Silurians would understand, and probably try to kill us for it. For another, there’s the recurring theme—more common with later Doctors—of a planet that was destroyed while its last survivors slept. For a third, there’s the very common situation in which an alien force misunderstands humans, and vice versa, resulting in bloodshed.

As I’ve noted with a few previous dramas, there’s nothing groundbreaking here. It’s a plot that would have been perfectly acceptable onscreen in its corresponding era, and doesn’t do anything particularly revolutionary. But, again, that’s not a flaw. It’s well done, and that’s what matters, especially in the Third Doctor era. If the First Doctor is your cranky old grandfather, and the Second is your mad uncle, the Third is your paternalistic, friendly uncle; and thus a little familiarity goes a long way. In that sense, this story excels. (I guess that metaphor would make the Fourth Doctor the crazy cousin that no one brings up in polite company…?)

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Next time: We return to the main range for The Shadow of the Scourge; and the Fourth Doctor and Romana deal with the networked insanity to be found in the Babblesphere! See you there.

All audio dramas in this series may be purchased from Big Finish Productions; link to this audio’s purchase page is below.  This and many other selections can also be found on Spotify and Google Play.

Vengeance of the Stones

Doctor Who Audio Drama Review: Shadow of Death

We’re back, with another Doctor Who audio drama review! We’re continuing our look at the eleven-volume Fiftieth Anniversary series, Destiny of the Doctor, produced by Big Finish in conjunction with AudioGO. Today we’re listening to the Second Doctor’s contribution to the series: Shadow of Death, read by Frazer Hines and Evie Dawnay. Let’s get started!

Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not listened to this audio!

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The Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe find themselves on a planet orbiting a pulsar in the year 2724. We don’t get an exact date, but we get the year, as Jamie is debating with the Doctor about his—that is, Jamie’s—age; the Doctor is teasing him about being a thousand years old. Zoe has only recently joined the TARDIS crew, while Jamie estimates he has been traveling with the Doctor for two or three years; this places the story after the events of The Wheel in Space. He later gives Zoe an explanation of the Hostile Action Displacement System (HADS); this places the story prior to The Krotons, where the HADS is used. The pulsar’s gravitational pulses are strong enough to the drag the TARDIS out of its flight, leading it to be at least temporarily stuck on the planet.

Things are not as they seem. They find themselves inside an ancient and yet oddly functional city. A quick exploration takes the travelers onto the surface, where they find several human corpses…and oddly, they seem to have been aged to death where they stand. In fact, at first they’re mistaken for statues. The Doctor and his companions are quickly captured by more humans, who prove to be part of a galactic survey expedition. Although there is mutual suspicion at first, it quickly turns to an alliance of necessity when it becomes clear that they are not alone. A shadowy being—or possibly more than one—is also roaming the corridors of the empty city; and its touch is death, in the same manner as that of the corpses on the surface.

After much misdirection and danger—both from the shadow and from the gravitational pulses—the Doctor finds himself isolated, and attempts to get to the TARDIS and escape the city, then recover his friends. However, he is stopped by an odd visitation. The Eleventh Doctor, from far in his personal future, makes psychic contact with him; he sees the Eleventh Doctor’s image and that of his psychic paper, which spells out written instructions. He must not only save himself and the others, but must also save the survey team’s work; it will be vital in the future. Resigned, he forgoes the TARDIS and returns to the control room to save the data…and is captured by the shadows.

Hours later, the Doctor rejoins Jamie and the others. He explains that the shadows are the indigenous, intelligent species of this world; he refers to them as the Quiet Ones. He explains that their world was once a rogue planet, without a star; Jamie compares them and their situation to the Cybermen of Mondas, which was also a sort of rogue planet (as seen in The Moonbase and The Tenth Planet). He states that their world was captured by the pulsar; to protect themselves, they transformed themselves into a non-corporeal form which exists at a much higher rate of time than humans. The deaths were unintentional, caused by the colliding of different time zones; they were attempting to make contact, not kill. The problem, it seems, is the noise the humans make; the Quiet Ones are highly sensitive to sound, and need a quiet environment to live. All they really wanted, it seems, was to get the humans to “keep it down”. The Doctor has brokered a truce which will allow the research to continue.

Jamie, however, realizes something is amiss. He asks why the Doctor was not killed when touched; the Doctor attributes it to his relationship with time, which is different from that of the humans. Still, he has aged a bit; and under pressure, he reveals that while Jamie and Zoe only experienced a few hours on the planet, for him, it was a few years.

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This entry is the shortest in the Destiny of the Doctor series, at just under an hour. It’s also probably the least complex plot, at least among those I have listened to thus far; technically it doesn’t even have a villain. I didn’t feel that that was a weakness here, though. It’s pretty well-executed. Frazer Hines is a fantastic voice actor, with a wide range of accents available to him; and his portrayal of the Second Doctor is utterly convincing—several times, you could believe it is Patrick Troughton. Of course, credit should go to the writer, Simon Guerrier, for that as well; it’s up to him to capture the Doctor’s phrasing, just as it’s up to the reader to capture the voice. Evie Dawnay, who plays the survey team’s Dr. Sophie Topolovic, is a bit of a Russian caricature, but she plays it well and earnestly; she reminds me of the video game character Olga Gurlukovich from the Metal Gear Solid series. My only real regret was that Wendy Padbury didn’t reprise her role as Zoe; but that’s not surprising, as she has largely withdrawn from Doctor Who in her retirement.

The Eleventh Doctor’s appearance here is more involved and explicit than in the previous story, where he was only heard on the radio. It’s never really spelled out that he is the Eleventh Doctor—something I expect is true in every story in this series save the final one—but the description is unmistakable. There are several other references to television stories, in addition to the ones I’ve already mentioned; Jamie refers to his meeting the Doctor (The Highlanders); walking on the moon (The Moonbase); the Doctor references Jamie’s comment from The Faceless One about planes being “flying beasties”; and the Doctor makes a reference to former companion Steven Taylor. Overall this series is heavy on references; that’s no surprise, given that it was written to lead up to the Fiftieth Anniversary.

I did find it interesting—and this was also true of the previous story—that this story doesn’t give away anything that wasn’t already a part of the show’s lore at this point. There’s no mention of Gallifrey or the Time Lords, for example, even when it might be obvious to do so. It’s to be expected that future adventures won’t be mentioned; but even in circumstances where knowledge that the Doctor clearly possesses—but had not revealed on television yet—would come in handy, it’s not stated. To me, that’s both inconvenient and very cool. It’s respectful of the television series; and though it may cause a bit of difficulty here, occasionally, it also prevents holes in continuity later on.

Overall I enjoyed this story, even more than the previous one. Perhaps it’s just that the Second Doctor is always a delight. Nevertheless, it says something good about everyone involved—writers, readers, characters—when a story as plain as this one (from a plot standpoint) can still be highly entertaining and interesting. This one hit all the right notes. It makes me have high hopes for the series as a whole.

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Next time: We join the Seventh Doctor and Mel in the Main Range for The Fires of Vulcan; and continuing Destiny of the Doctor, the Third Doctor and UNIT combat the Vengeance of the Stones! See you there.

All audio dramas in this series may be purchased from Big Finish Productions; link to this story is below.  This and other selections may also be found on Spotify and Google Play.

Shadow of Death

Doctor Who Audio Drama Review: Hunters of Earth

Posting early due to the Thanksgiving holiday, as I intend to spend the next two days in a turkey-induced coma.

We’re back, with another Doctor Who audio drama review! This time, we’re starting something special: the eleven-volume special series, Destiny of the Doctor, produced by Big Finish in conjunction with AudioGO. Produced during the lead-up to the Fiftieth Anniversary celebration in 2013, it’s not your average production; each drama is a small-cast audio, read by an actor from the appropriate era’s companions, plus one or two guest readers. Therefore it lacks the full-cast presence of the Main Range dramas—but I think you’ll see that this is not a deficiency. Each volume focuses on a different Doctor, First to Eleventh, with tie-ins and connections among them. Today we’re looking at the First Doctor story, Hunters of Earth, read by Carole Ann Ford (Susan Foreman) and Tam Williams. Let’s get started!

Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not listened to this audio!

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This story constitutes a very early look at the Doctor and Susan; it begins on a Thursday in October 1963, placing it approximately a month before the events of An Unearthly Child. Susan is already a student at Coal Hill School, and has been for some four months; it becomes apparent that a problem with the TARDIS has left the travelers stranded on Earth longer than they intended. To that end, the Doctor is seeking parts for use in repairing the TARDIS, and Susan extracts a promise from him to get them legally. Ian and Barbara, not yet having any issues with Susan, do not figure into this story, though presumably they are present at the school. Instead, we get Colonel Rook, another teacher, who is both mysterious and menacing.

There’s an emphasis on Susan’s awkwardness and lack of social interaction here. It’s made worse by Rook’s disturbing interest in her and her origins—in fact, in a tiny bit of fanservice, he describes her as “unearthly”. Susan’s isolation makes her perhaps a little unsuspecting when another student, Cedric, shows interest in her and pulls her into his circle of friends. When, they meet, however, strange things start happening; odd radio broadcasts give Susan a piercing headache, and causes people around her to act bizarrely, even to the point of attacking her. It isn’t spelled out, but it becomes clear that Susan’s problem is related to her telepathic ability.

In the midst of all of this, the Doctor arrives to give Susan a message; but he receives one of his own when the radio starts playing a cryptic announcement…from a future incarnation of the Doctor! He doesn’t grasp it all, but readers will recognize the message as coming from the Eleventh Doctor. The Doctor departs, heading to Magpie Electricals to purchase the parts he has been seeking. He orders the parts, and plans to come and pick them up in a few days. Unknown to him, Colonel Rook is spying on him.

Returning to the TARDIS, the Doctor is assaulted by a group of thugs; but they suddenly and unexpectedly stop and let him go. He hurries home, meeting up with Susan, and learns there is anti-alien graffiti on the junkyard wall. Someone has discovered their identities; the Doctor is now more anxious than ever to leave.

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The next day, Susan is attacked again, but again, the attack is cut short when her radio stops. A connection begins to become clear.

A few days later, Susan begins slowly to confide in Cedric. At the same time, the Doctor returns to the shop’s warehouse for the parts he needs, and is locked in. Colonel Rook reveals that he has trapped the Doctor. He confronts the Doctor about being an alien, but the Doctor denies it. Rook dismisses this, and demands the Doctor’s help in promoting Britain’s military efforts. (My British history being a bit weak, I’m not sure what war they were involved with in 1963; Rook never says, but he does speak as though the Soviet Union might be a current enemy.) Meanwhile, Susan and Cedric come under attack again, and flee in the direction of the warehouse. Cedric leads her to the warehouse, and Rook lets them in; Cedric is forced to reveal that Rook is his uncle, for whom he has been spying on Susan.

As things begin to come together, the Doctor figures out that something is causing the mob to act on tribal instinct alone; when they are attacking “aliens”, it is meant in the sense of “foreigners”, not “extraterrestrials”. The Doctor and Susan are caught up in it because they are not local; their unearthly origin is coincidental. As per the Eleventh Doctor’s cryptic message, the signal causing this behavior is being transmitted via the music on Susan’s radio; certain music, popular with the local teenagers, carries the signal. It began with the Doctor and Susan’s arrival four months ago; therefore Rook assumes they are responsible. Upon investigation, the Doctor discovers that an experimental weapon, lost in a nearby bomb site dating back to World War II, was recently unearthed and disturbed, and is causing the signal. He builds a jamming device from the parts in the warehouse; and using the radio (with a different station), he deploys the device. To buy time, Susan uses telepathy to briefly break the signal’s hold on the mob. Unable to maintain it for long, she faints…just as the jamming device takes hold.

In the aftermath, the weapon must be found and destroyed. Also destroyed is Susan’s friendship with Cedric, as she can’t forgive the way he used her. The Doctor confronts Rook with the idea that using them against their will makes him no better than his enemies; he agrees after some thought, and agrees to let them go. Leaving the warehouse, Susan has a premonition that something terrible awaits the Doctor, far in his future…and it is his destiny to face it.

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This is a fairly direct story, with no real twists and turns (its one twist—that Cedric and Rook are connected—can be seen coming a mile away). It does presuppose that the reader is at least a little familiar with the events of An Unearthly Child, even though they haven’t happened yet. It’s full of references to 1960s kitsch, but doesn’t seem too overbearing about it. It’s well tied into classic series continuity; Susan’s telepathy is explored in The Sensorites, and she reacts badly at the suggestion that they are running from someone, which will be explored further in The War Games. The overall setting is also explored in Revelation of the Daleks. Magpie Electricals, of course, is a reference to NuWho’s The Idiot’s Lantern.

I give Carole Ann Ford credit; she’s an excellent presenter, capturing the mannerisms of the First Doctor perfectly. Having already listened to further entries in this series, I will say that most of the presenters are very good; and this story gets us off to a great start. The real value here is in the presentation; if we were only looking at the events of the story, we could probably compress them down to a few minutes—these are not the most complex plots. I’ll reserve judgment about the connections and the overarching plot of the series until I’ve finished it all. I nearly missed the Eleventh Doctor’s message; the message in the next story in the series will be more obvious. Overall, this story serves chiefly as a good foundation for what is to come.

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Next time: We’re back to the Main Range with The Apocalypse Element; and then, the Second Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe face the Shadow of Death in Destiny of the Doctor part two! See you there.

All audio dramas in this series may be purchased from Big Finish Productions; links to this story and to the collected Destiny of the Doctor series are below.  This and many other selections may also be found on Spotify (search artist “Doctor Who”) and Google Play.

Hunters of Earth

Destiny of the Doctor

Final Thoughts: Classic Doctor Who Rewatch

Heads up, folks; this is a long one.  The alternative was to split it up over a few days and a few posts, but we all have things to do, so we’ll just put it all up at once.  Here we go!

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Eight months ago, give or take, I started something that was, for me, pretty ambitious. I decided to watch all of the classic series of Doctor Who. It was a lot to take on; I’m not good at following through and completing a series, even if it’s all available for streaming at once. I can’t count the shows I’ve attempted and then quit halfway. But Doctor Who is different, I told myself; it’s the show of my childhood, and besides, I had already seen the entire revived series to that point (or almost anyway; I held off on a bit of Series 8 for my girlfriend to catch up, and likewise with Series 9). So I decided to give it a try.

Where it all began.

Where it all began.

Now here we are, eight months, twenty-six seasons and one movie later, and it’s over. I missed a collective total of about thirty minutes, I think; there was a single episode (not a serial, just one part) I couldn’t locate, plus about seven minutes missing from another. Of course many of the early episodes are only available in reconstructions, but I was able to find recons for all of those missing episodes. So, I wanted to put together a final thoughts post for the series, and see what people think. I appreciate all the comments (and karma) from the previous posts; this fandom is great, no matter what anyone outside it may say, and the discussion is what I was after most of all. I’ve learned a lot about the series just from the conversations that have resulted, and it’s convinced me to give Big Finish and the various novels a try, as well. If this gets a little long—and who am I kidding, I know myself, of course it will—I’ll split it into parts, but I’ll post them as quickly as I can. (If you’re reading this on my blog, some of what I’ve just said may not make sense; I’ve posted these reviews on Reddit.com’s /r/Gallifrey subreddit, as well, and some things are specific to that site.) With that, let’s get started!

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My very first observation as I started this rewatch is that the series has changed immensely since William Hartnell was the First Doctor. I suppose I expected that, given that the show is fifty-three years old; but I wasn’t expecting it to have changed in the ways I saw. It’s gone from being a somewhat-educational children’s show to being a family show with adult overtones; but it’s more than that. The Doctor we first met was not a nice guy, nor likeable. He really wasn’t even the hero of his own show—that would be Ian Chesterton. (All respect to Barbara and Susan, but it was the 1960s—women weren’t often the heroes of anything on television. They were great, and I liked them, but they existed to support Ian, mostly.) The Doctor was there, basically, to put Ian and Barbara and Susan into a bad situation every week, and occasionally offer a solution. Nowadays that would never fly—he’s the Oncoming Storm, the Madman with a Box, Time’s Champion, even the Time Lord Victorious. He’s the star of his show, now.benpolly

It might be tempting to say that that change happened with the revival, but it was happening long before that. I’ve theorized as I watched—well, it’s not so much a cohesive theory as just an observation—that there’s a visible pattern of growth to the Doctor as the series goes on. Every incarnation adds to his character, makes him something new—he doesn’t just change, he increases. The First Doctor was hardly the Doctor at all for most of his life. He became the Doctor, I believe, in The War Machines. I’ve talked about this a few times before, and I can’t claim total credit for the idea—sorry, I’ve lost the link to the original post that inspired the idea—but my headcanon is that the Doctor didn’t consider himself to be the Doctor until he met Ian and Barbara. (The short version is that Ian mistakenly calls him Doctor, and he lets it stand so he won’t have to tell them his real name; eventually he sees noble qualities in Ian that he wants for himself, and takes the name on as a promise to himself to live up to that example. Then, later, his name leads to the use of the term for a healer—it’s a bit of a paradox, but hey, this is Doctor Who, paradoxes are what we do here.) I think the turning point onscreen is when he faces down the War Machine in the street, willing to sacrifice himself if necessary to save the others—but confident that he can meet the challenge.

The War Games

And then, not long after, he regenerates. Patrick Troughton is the Doctor right from the start, there’s no doubt about it. For him, growth means learning not to let things go to his head. He’s just learned all this confidence and taken on this self-assigned responsibility; now he has to be humble. And the Second Doctor is definitely humble. He does all the things that a class clown does: He’s self-effacing, he uses humor to redirect attention, he’s always evaluating everything and everyone. He moves from passive to active: He’s not just a wanderer in time anymore; instead, he’s getting involved, making things happen. And he cares, far more than the first Doctor ever did. My first memory of the Second Doctor—before I started this rewatch—is from The Mind Robber, with the Doctor running through the Land of Fiction, frantically searching for Jamie and Zoe because he’s so utterly worried about what might happen to them. He comes across as sullen, sometimes, simply because he worries so much.

Doctor Who the seventies

And then, he gets caught. The runaway gets dragged back home to an as-yet-unnamed Gallifrey. His companions get their memories removed—what a waste!—and get sent home, and he is forced to regenerate again. In Patrick Troughton’s place, we get John Pertwee, the Third Doctor. Further, he’s banished to Earth; the newly-named Time Lords pull out parts of his TARDIS and parts of his mind so as to keep him there. He’s immediately scooped up by UNIT, so he’s not homeless or purposeless; but his wandering days are over for now. This Doctor is the responsible one, but it chafes him to be that way. He wants to be free, but he has to learn patience. In the meantime, he’s calm, dignified (mostly), and smooth. He’s cared for his companions before, but this is where he learns to love humanity in general; when he first lands, he looks down on them. He knows he’s smarter, knows they’re not on his level. But by the time he gains his freedom back, he doesn’t look down on them anymore—in fact, his opinions are reversed; in Planet of the Spiders, he’s happy with his friends and companions, and looking down on himself for his own foolishness. It’s humility, but a different kind of humility from that of the Second Doctor: He knows he’s not infallible.

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All of that seems to go right out the window when Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor comes on the scene. Several times I’ve called this his adolescent phase. He’s the rebellious teenager here. He’s no longer content to meet his responsibilities; he wants to get out and see the universe. He spends a lot of episodes trying to run from duty, whether it be to UNIT, the Time Lords, the White Guardian, or his companions. He works on his TARDIS the way some teenagers soup up their cars. He gets so rebellious that he has to have a nanny, essentially, to keep him on track, and so Romana joins him. He’s changeable and moody and high-strung and unpredictable. He’s faced with huge decisions and freely admits he isn’t ready to make them. Genesis of the Daleks shows his immaturity (where rather than make the right decision, he more or less blunders into it); it’s not until The Armageddon Factor, when he dismisses the Key to Time, that he begins to grow out of it. And then, near his death, he gets Adric, and becomes something of a mentor to him. I feel like that relationship is what leads him to subconsciously choose the pattern of his next incarnation. He dies doing what he never could have done at the beginning: being a real hero, sacrificing himself for not just those close to him, but the universe at large.

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Peter Davison’s Fifth Doctor takes that mentoring aspect and cranks it up to eleven. Young though he appears to be, he’s the fatherly type; he treats his companions less like friends and more like family, or like his own children. Adric’s death in Earthshock breaks him, and he becomes a little harder afterward; but instead of giving him a dark side, that hardness just makes him try that much harder to be the protector, the mentor, the leader. This is the phase of his life where he becomes, as Ohila will later say to the Eighth Doctor, the good man. He finds something of an equal in Nyssa (though it’s never a romantic relationship), but she ultimately leaves out of goodness—she chooses to stay behind on Terminus to help the survivors of Lazar’s Disease. He takes Turlough under his wing, and saves him; he tries to do the same with Kamelion, but fails. It hurts him quite a bit when Tegan leaves; he tries to make it up with Peri, and ends up dying to save her.

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I want to say that Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor came as a reaction to something about the Fifth Doctor. I want to say that, but I can’t. I labored over the question of why he should be the way he was—at first at least—but I just couldn’t come up with a satisfactory answer. It just seems that when you’re changing personalities with every regeneration, every once in a while you get a dud. It’s almost a reset, a throwback to Tom Baker, but with the bad qualities exaggerated and the good minimized. How often do you get a Doctor that tries to kill a companion? Not often. That, at least, is how he starts out. But if this were elementary school, I’d give the Sixth Doctor the award for “Most Improvement”. The change between the beginning of his (admittedly short) era and the end is just amazing. While he never stops being arrogant, it goes from unapologetic and vicious to self-aware and, well, able to laugh at himself. While he started out thinking of himself as being supremely capable in any circumstance, he really wasn’t—think of all the times he was outwitted by his circumstances, or the times he tried and failed to fix the TARDIS. Yet, by the end, when he learns not to focus on himself as much, he really IS capable—it’s almost like a bit of humility unlocked his abilities.

And then he’s unceremoniously dumped by the BBC. Oh. Well, that’s not good.

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Sylvester McCoy, as the Seventh Doctor, didn’t get the benefit of any buildup whatsoever. He had to step into the role and be the Doctor with no in-universe preparation. He met that challenge; no other Doctor has so immediately been the Doctor. From the minute he wakes up in the Rani’s lab, he commands the role, and never looks back. That’s literal as well as figurative; he’s the only Doctor never to be involved in any capacity in a multi-Doctor story, at least in the classic series. As far as the classic series is concerned—and with its end approaching—he is the pinnacle of the character: Capable, smart, mysterious, caring, wise, powerful, cunning. He meets his match in Ace, who is likewise the pinnacle of what a companion should be: Energetic, realistic, versatile, adaptable, happy, devoted, and above all else, human. With them, we get some of the best stories—and we get the difficult task of closing out the series for cancellation. Somehow, it all comes together perfectly.

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It’s unfortunate that the Seventh Doctor dies as he does—in gunfire and pain—but one thing that was NOT unfortunate was Paul McGann’s selection as the Eighth Doctor. This Doctor is the hinge on which the classic series turns, paving the way for the new series; and as such, he’s a little of both. He’s a survivor, but also a lover, at least to some degree. He puts thought into what it means to BE the Doctor—and he takes a stand accordingly. He dies trying to balance those aspects of himself, fighting destiny all the way to the end—and in his ashes is born the War Doctor. We’ll talk more about him somewhere much further down the road.

old and new dw

I made a point as I watched of looking for similarities and connections between the classic series and the revived series. Many of those, I pointed out as I came to them. It was interesting to see how plot points reappeared, and how relationships and personalities in one series mirrored those in the other. I suppose it’s inevitable that a five-decade series would repeat itself, but it’s uncanny sometimes; clearly the writers didn’t plagiarize, but they hit the same notes just the same. It never feels repetitive, somehow; instead, it just goes to make these characters feel like real people, with real personalities that stay consistent from one appearance to another. That’s no small feat, considering that there have been dozens (if not hundreds) of writers, and that it was almost certainly unintentional.

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One specific connection I looked for was the various ways in which later Doctors drew inspiration from earlier Doctors. I didn’t research the subject; I know some modern actors have spoken about how they designed their portrayal, and in at least one instance (Ten with Five from Time Crash) it’s actually canon; but I didn’t look into that. These are just my guesses and opinions based on what I saw of the characters. With that said, Nine doesn’t owe much to anyone—or rather, he’s a little bit of everyone. That makes perfect sense, considering he’s a brand-new Doctor, fresh off the Time War, and in a sense the first of his line. He had to carry the weight of the revival single-handedly, and so it made sense for him to show a little something from everyone—the harshness of Hartnell, the energy of Troughton, the severity of Pertwee, the willfulness of Tom Baker, the paternalism (sometimes) of Davison, the mercurial whims of Colin Baker, the determination of McCoy, and the responsibility of McGann. His costume didn’t even relate directly to anyone; it was something new, although we would eventually find that it relates to the War Doctor.

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Ten, of course, owes much to Five; that much is official within the series. He gets his wit from Four, but his attitude toward his companions is all five—in fact, his companions themselves have a lot in common with Five’s companions. Rose is his Adric (though it eventually went to romance more than mentoring); Donna is his Nyssa; Martha is his Tegan, right down to the “I can’t do this anymore” departure; and Wilfred is his Turlough. Astrid Peth, in her one appearance, is his Kamelion—the one he tried to save, but failed; or you could make the same observation about Lady Christina de Souza, as she was both hero and villain.

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Eleven owes his characterization to the Second Doctor, but also—oddly—to the Sixth. Bear with me. He shares Two’s general humor, many of his mannerisms, his flawless loyalty to his companions, and his calm self-assurance (which admittedly is the ONLY thing calm about him). At the same time, he has a proud and arrogant streak that is pure Six; sometimes he’s even as fickle as Six. He also has a scene at his tomb that parallels Six’s scene at his ostensible tomb in Revelation of the Daleks, though Eleven’s attitude about his impending death is much more mature than Six’s (and understandably so). Having a few audios with Six under my belt now, I see the way that character grew offscreen, and I can’t help thinking that Eleven is what Six might have been if he had had to face the Time War.

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Then there’s Twelve. I’ve been vocal in various comments sections about my disappointment with the Twelfth Doctor thus far. I have the utmost respect for Peter Capaldi; his acting chops are second to none. What I don’t like is the direction the character has taken, mostly due to Clara Oswald. With that said, it was harder to nail down influences for him; but I feel like he mostly owes himself to the First and Third Doctors. He shares One’s disdain for his companions, or in his case, companion; I don’t mean that he hates Clara, but there is a lot of rivalry there, and also some looking down on her when he feels she’s inadequate. (It’s only fair, I guess; she does the same to him.) He also has One’s arrogance and willfulness, though it’s not as pronounced as, say, Six. He shares Three’s flair and fashion sense (sometimes anyway), love for tinkering, chafing at restrictions (Three toward the Time Lords, Twelve toward Clara), and sense of responsibility toward Clara and toward UNIT.

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We fans of the show are fond of declaring a certain Doctor to be “MY Doctor”, and that’s fine; I’ve done it too. Now that I’ve seen them all, I thought I would try to rank them according to my preferences. This ranking isn’t any kind of evaluation of their qualities; it’s strictly a ranking of who I liked, most to least, though I may make a comment or two along the way. I’m including the new series Doctors as well, because it’s a short list, and I feel like it’s best judged with everyone included.

  1. Tenth Doctor—David Tennant. I didn’t expect him to unseat Tom Baker, but what can I say.
  2. Seventh Doctor—Sylvester McCoy. I was surprised at just how good he was. The series ended in good hands.
  3. Fourth Doctor—Tom Baker. I grew up watching him, and he was always the standard for the Doctor, in my opinion. I was surprised and a little disappointed to see him slip in my personal rating.
  4. Eleventh Doctor—Matt Smith. He gets a lot of controversy among fans, but I thought he was great.
  5. Third Doctor—John Pertwee. Just a great performance all around.
  6. Fifth Doctor—Peter Davison. I wanted to be more impressed with him, and he wasn’t bad; but he wasn’t as good as I expected at first.
  7. Ninth Doctor—Christopher Eccleston. Great guy, great Doctor, but all too soon gone.
  8. Second Doctor—Patrick Troughton. I liked him, but for reasons I can’t pin down, I had trouble following a lot of his episodes.
  9. Eighth Doctor—Paul McGann. Just not enough material to rank him higher, though what we have is pretty good.
  10. First Doctor—William Hartnell. It was a different time; the First Doctor is easy to respect, but hard to love.
  11. Sixth Doctor—Colin Baker. Such a victim of bad writing and bad politics. I really feel like he would have done much better with more time.
  12. War Doctor—John Hurt. Great performance, but very little screen time.
  13. Twelfth Doctor—Peter Capaldi. Yes, I know, placing him last is controversial. I hope he’ll improve with a new companion. I have high hopes for him next series.

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So, there you have it—if I can call anyone “my Doctor”, it’s David Tennant.

Not a perfect list, but closest I could get.  From top left:  Susan, Barbara, Ian, Vicki, Steven, Dodo, Polly, Ben, Jamie, Victoria, Zoe, the Brigadier, Liz, Jo, Sarah Jane, Harry, Leela, K9, Romana I, Romana II, Adric, Nyssa, Tegan, Turlough, Peri, Mel, Ace, Grace, Rose, Jack, Mickey, Martha, Astrid, Donna, Jackson Lake, Lady Christina, Adelaide Brook, Wilfred, Amy, Rory, River, and I really don't know who that last one is.

Not a perfect list, but closest I could get. From top left: Susan, Barbara, Ian, Vicki, Steven, Dodo, Polly, Ben, Jamie, Victoria, Zoe, the Brigadier, Liz, Jo, Sarah Jane, Harry, Leela, K9, Romana I, Romana II, Adric, Nyssa, Tegan, Turlough, Peri, Mel, Ace, Grace, Rose, Jack, Mickey, Martha, Astrid, Donna, Jackson Lake, Lady Christina, Adelaide Brook, Wilfred, Amy, Rory, River, and I’m unsure, but I think that last one is supposed to be the personified TARDIS.

Finally, companions. As this list is considerably longer, rather than talk first about the various companions, I’ll just put this in ranking order, and make comments along the way. If you’ve read this far, congratulations! But this last part is likely to be the longest—the Doctor has had a lot of companions. As with my Doctor ranking, I’m including NuWho companions as well. I’ve mostly followed the Wikipedia list, but with a few exceptions for totally arbitrary reasons: I’ve left out Mike Yates and Sergeant Benton because they only appear with the Brigadier for the most part, and lumping them together with him doesn’t really change his ranking. I’ve included Chang Lee even though he was technically a companion of the Master, because he ultimately sided with the Doctor and was mostly inseparable from Grace Holloway. I’ve listed the two versions of Romana separately because the performances were very different; by the same logic, I’ve combined the two K9s into one entry. I didn’t include Jackson Lake because he (for all practical purposes) functions as a separate Doctor, complete with companion of his own; or Adelaide Brook, because she more or less traveled under duress, and clearly did not want to be with the Doctor. I also have left off incoming companion Bill, since we don’t know anything about her yet. In every case, I’ve tried to give the most complete name that I can; in some cases a surname wasn’t given onscreen, but has arisen in other materials. I’m using the versions that can be found on the TARDIS wiki. In total, using this ranking, there are 46 companions; 15 are male, 29 are female, and 2 are robotic. So, without further adieu, here’s my companion ranking.

  1. Ian Chesterton—First Doctor. I have a lot of respect for Ian. He’s a good man, even before the Doctor proves himself to be one as well; and he set the pattern for many companions to come. I would love to see William Russell reprise the role in a few episodes of Class, as Ian is hinted to be on the Board of Governors for Coal Hill School.
  2. Dorothy Gale “Ace” McShane—Seventh Doctor. I earlier described her as the pinnacle of what a companion should be, and I stand be that. She was fantastic in every regard.
  3. Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart—Second, Third Doctors, plus several cameos. Possibly the most loyal of all companions, in the sense that his loyalty existed in spite of having a clear view of just how crazy the Doctor could be. Every single appearance onscreen is great. Has a wit that cuts like a knife.
  4. Jamie McCrimmon—Second Doctor. More episodes under his belt than any other companion, and I’m still angry that he had his memory wiped. He’s the only companion to ever be present for a Doctor’s entire run (with the exception of Clara, if Series Ten goes as planned).
  5. Donna Noble—Tenth Doctor. Hands down, my favorite NuWho companion, and just as tragic at the end as Jamie. She was the one true equal in personality that the Tenth Doctor ever met.
  6. Nyssa of Traken—Fifth Doctor. If Donna was Ten’s equal, Nyssa was Five’s. They both essentially give up their life with the Doctor for the sake of saving people, though Donna doesn’t know it. Nyssa was the loyal, stable one while Adric and Tegan—and later, Turlough and Tegan—were fighting it out.
  7. K9—Fourth Doctor, and a cameo with Ten. A companion’s companion, literally, in that he ended up with Leela, Romana, and Sarah Jane in various incarnations. I loved K9 as a kid, and still do; his obliviousness and bluntness plays perfectly against Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor.
  8. Elizabeth “Liz” Shaw—Third Doctor. She didn’t get enough credit, and didn’t stay long enough. She was a much better match for Three than Jo Grant ever was, though he would never have been able to be paternal toward Liz like he was to Jo.
  9. Wilfred Mott—Tenth Doctor. Wins the award for “most lovable companion.” He summarizes how the rest of the universe relates to the Doctor—they want to trust him, but they can’t keep up with him, and in the end, they just want to survive and live a good life.
  10. Leela—Fourth Doctor. It always bothered me that the Doctor treated her rather badly, when she didn’t deserve it. Still, their relationship wasn’t all bad, and she was loyal and strong to a fault.
  11. Sarah Jane Smith—Third and Fourth Doctors, plus a cameo and two spinoffs. If I had only had her classic run to look at, I would have ranked her lower; she’s fairly whiny and weak. She gets a great redemption, though, in School Reunion and in The Sarah Jane Adventures.
  12. Dorothea “Dodo” Chaplet—First Doctor. Likeable, fun, and energetic. Her tenure felt very short to me.
  13. River Song—Tenth, Eleventh, and Twelfth Doctors, with suggestions that she met them all. River generates a lot of controversy, but I always liked her, even when she was being infuriating.
  14. Romana II—Fourth Doctor. Lalla Ward is the definitive Romana. Once the character and the Doctor learned to get along, they made a great team (and of course their real-life relationship added some chemistry, both good and bad).
  15. Vislor Turlough—Fifth Doctor. He’s another who gets some criticism, but I liked him once he stopped acting like a spoiled child and started standing up for himself.
  16. Jack Harkness (just as a companion, not based on his Torchwood performance)—Ninth and Tenth Doctors. Jack has a unique gift for grasping the situation instantly and adapting to it. A good man to have in a fight, and of course he’s charming as can be. Early Jack is almost more interesting than his Torchwood portrayal.
  17. Martha Jones—Tenth Doctor. There’s only one Martha, and I’m so glad she didn’t end up in a relationship with the Doctor. She turned out much better for walking away.
  18. Susan Foreman—First Doctor, plus a cameo. Susan gets a bad reputation because she was poorly written, but I always felt like the character had so much potential. I want to see her come back and get a regeneration scene while Carol Ann Ford is still with us.
  19. Zoe Heriot—Second Doctor. Zoe gets credit for matching so well with Jamie. They were a great duo, and together they perfectly balanced the Second Doctor. I wish she had stayed longer.
  20. Victoria Waterfield—Second Doctor. This was always going to be a difficult role to play; she was essentially a teenager with PTSD. Nevertheless, the role was executed well.
  21. Jo Grant—Third Doctor. I gave Jo a lot of flak in my reviews, but she turned out fine; I was just feeling burned by the loss of Liz Shaw. In the end, she made a great choice and picked a great cause when she left the Doctor. She grew on me over time, but I admit to thinking she was stupid at first.
  22. Harry Sullivan—Fourth Doctor. Harry is one of those incidental companions who never chose this life; he’s just along for the ride. He absolutely makes the most of it, though, and isn’t scarred by it at all—kind of a rare thing among companions.
  23. Adric—Fourth and Fifth Doctors. Not the first death in series history, but the most traumatic. He had a great arc, with considerable growth…and then, dead. Just like that.
  24. Romana I—Fourth Doctor. I liked Mary Tamm’s performance, and though I also liked Lalla Ward, I was sorry to see Romana regenerate. She was excellent at reining in the Fourth Doctor.
  25. Mel Bush—Sixth and Seventh Doctors. Mel was the best thing to happen to Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor. After the doom and depression of Peri’s final appearances, Mel was a breath of fresh air, and it clearly made a difference to the Doctor. Her performance was good enough that the transition to Ace felt like a handshake between friends rather than a change of watch.
  26. Tegan Jovanka—Fourth and Fifth Doctors. Tegan loosened up considerably after leaving her job; it was a great direction for her character. Unlike many companions before her, she didn’t leave because she missed home, or found other involvements; she left because of the horror of what life with the Doctor could entail. I compared her to Martha Jones in that regard, and I still think it’s a fair comparison.
  27. Grace Holloway—Eighth Doctor. Such a short performance, and unfortunately we’re not likely to get her back in any capacity. She may not have been a good long-term match for the Eighth Doctor, but she was certainly what he needed at the time.
  28. Chang Lee—Eighth Doctor. An excellent counterpoint to Grace. Had the show persisted, I could have seen him becoming another Adric. A good kid in the wrong place at the wrong time.
  29. Mickey Smith—Tenth Doctor, though also present around the Ninth. Often rejected from lists of companions, but I feel that’s unfair to him. He had a difficult path to walk, watching Rose reject him in favor of the Doctor, and yet still focusing on the bigger picture of saving the world (two worlds, actually!). He ended up with Martha, and I can’t imagine a better ending for him.
  30. Rory Williams—Eleventh Doctor. It’s difficult to tie yourself to a person with a very strong personality, but there’s no question about his love for Amy. I felt a great deal of sympathy for him. He could teach the Doctor a thing or two about being a good man.
  31. Craig Owens—Eleventh Doctor. And now, here’s an everyman! It may be a bit stereotypical, but Craig played the part perfectly. I’m not sorry he only had a few appearances; making him a regular would have ruined him, and that’s a fate I don’t want to think about.
  32. Amy Pond—Eleventh Doctor. I wanted to hate Amy for a long time. She ordered the Doctor and Rory around constantly, and just made life miserable. Then we got Clara, and I realized I never knew how good we had it with Amy. She’s by no means a bad character or a bad person, but she’s headstrong to the point of death, possibly literally. She did improve with time, though.
  33. Astrid Peth—Tenth Doctor. Earlier I called her Ten’s Kamelion, because of her short term and her death. Also like Kamelion, she had been manipulated by a worse villain, but she absolutely made good on it.
  34. Vicki Pallister—First Doctor. Vicki was quiet and unassuming, and basically just there—and for her, those were good things. She made no demands, just quietly worked and helped and served. I really appreciated her for that.
  35. Steven Taylor—First Doctor. I recall commenting that Steven was the victim of having his parts written initially for someone else. As a result, his character was all over the place. It’s a pity; he had the makings of greatness, but he just never had the chance to shine, being caught in the middle of things.
  36. Barbara Wright—First Doctor. I only ranked her low because she was the victim of her time. A female character in 1963 was pretty much doomed to do a lot of screaming and make a lot of bad decisions. Her heart was in the right place, though, and she had some good moments.
  37. Lady Christina de Souza—Tenth Doctor. We’re reaching the point where characters just don’t have enough material to rank them higher (well, with a few upcoming exceptions). Lady Christina deserved a redemption story arc, but she never got the chance to get it.
  38. Rose Tyler—Ninth and Tenth Doctors. I’ve been very hard on Rose over the years, mostly because of her love affair with the Doctor. While I’m not of the camp that says the Doctor should be asexual and anti-romantic, seeing this eighteen-year-old child fawning over him was just sad. She had a lot of good moments, but mostly they were the ones that didn’t involve the Doctor. We do owe her something for being the first companion of the revived series, but I feel like she squandered it.
  39. Perpugilliam “Peri” Brown—Fifth and Sixth Doctors. Poor Peri. She started out happy and hopeful, and then the Doctor tried to kill her. She never recovered from it. For the rest of her tenure, she’s a trauma victim; she’s paranoid, easily frightened, distrustful, and whiny. I hated that for her. It was almost a relief to see her go.
  40. Ben Jackson—First and Second Doctors. I’m ranking Ben and Polly (you never get them separately) low chiefly because I don’t remember a lot about them. They came and went fairly quickly, and though they were present for some good stories, they didn’t make much impact on me. Otherwise there’s nothing wrong about them.
  41. Polly Wright—First and Second Doctors. Polly didn’t even get a last name onscreen, which tells you more about her character than I could say in a paragraph. She was definitely underused.
  42. Clara Oswald—Tenth, Eleventh, War, and Twelfth Doctors, with cameos with all of them. Yes, I’m ranking her low. She’s the only companion ever to inspire me to rage. I will give her credit for her early appearances with Eleven; from Asylum of the Daleks to The Name of the Doctor, she was fantastic and compelling. The “Impossible Girl” storyline was great, and had a great resolution, introducing the War Doctor as well. After that, she took over the show and turned the Doctor into her lapdog. I’ve ranted extensively about this in other places, so I’ll let it go for now.
  43. Katarina—First Doctor. Just too short a term to say much about her. She was in over her head to begin with. However, she did make a noble sacrifice in the end, thus becoming the first companion death.
  44. Sara Kingdom—First Doctor. Has the dubious distinction of being the second companion to die in the same episode as another. She could have been a good character, given enough time; and she was the first enemy to then become a companion.
  45. Adam Mitchell—Ninth Doctor. I kept him on the list because the idea of an evil companion is fascinating, but let’s be honest, he’s slimy and despicable.
  46. Kamelion—Fifth Doctor. Ranked last for his severe underuse. It’s not his fault; it’s hard to use a prop when no one knows how it works. Unfortunately he came and went with barely a blip on the radar, although The King’s Demons is a good—if insane—story.

The last thing I wanted to mention are my favorite serials for each Doctor (or the first seven, anyway—not enough material for choice with McGann, really). Someone had asked about this; I tried to get into it season by season, but really ran out of time in most cases. Anyway, for better or worse, here were my favorites for each Doctor, and a bit about why:

  • First Doctor: The Space Museum. I know, it’s an odd choice, especially when I’ve talked so much about The War Machines. But favorites aren’t just based on seminal moments in the series; they’re based on how enjoyable they were. This serial gets a lot of flak for various reasons, but it was fun to watch, and it created a few ideas that have shown up again in surprising places, like the idea of a mind probe device, or the idea of being out of sync with time. And Hartnell is at his funniest here, which is awesome.
  • Second Doctor: Oh, man, so many good choices. Patrick Troughton really is the Doctor who defined the role. But when all is said and done, I’d choose The Tomb of the Cybermen. It’s full of iconic scenes and moments, and brought the Cybermen back from what seemed like the dead after the end of The Tenth Planet. In some ways, Cybermen have always been scarier than Daleks; all a Dalek can do is exterminate you, but the Cybermen can make you one of them, and steal away your humanity.
  • Third Doctor: Inferno. Again, probably an uncommon choice, but hear me out. Here you get the Doctor in extremis; he’s alone, in a hostile world, racing the clock, feeling the burden of not one but two worlds, with no TARDIS, no companions, no UNIT—and he wins. Yet, even as he wins, he loses some people he would rather have saved, and it’s clear he’s not perfect, and he can’t do everything. Also, it’s a bit downplayed, but there’s some suggestion that the Leader in the inferno world is the Doctor, or rather, what he would have become had he accepted one of the forms the Time Lords offered him in The War Games.
  • Fourth Doctor: Again, so many choices! But I’m going with The Face of Evil. Not only did it introduce Leela, but it also showed us just what happens if the Doctor has to go up against himself (or rather, the computerized version he left behind). It’s an irresistible plot, and one that would be mined again under the Eleventh Doctor (Nightmare in Silver). This is one from my childhood, too, so there’s some sentimentality there as well.
  • Fifth Doctor: I’m tempted to say The Visitation just based on the awesome Richard Mace, but the rest of the story wasn’t that strong; and it cost us the sonic screwdriver. So, I’ll go with Kinda. There’s not much to hate about it; the Mara are a great and unique villain; Tegan is fantastic here; and it is dealt with chiefly due to the relationship between the Doctor and his companions, which is the essence of what the Fifth Doctor is about. I didn’t enjoy Snakedance quite as much, but it was also a great complement to this story.
  • Sixth Doctor: No, I’m not going to say Trial of a Time Lord; that would be cheating. If it were going to be that season, I’d break it down into its parts. Actually, in general I do prefer that season over the preceding one; but for an individual story, I’m going with Revelation of the Daleks. It’s the first place where the Sixth Doctor really started to come into his own, and Davros is one of my favorite villains.
  • Seventh Doctor: Battlefield. No hard decision here. Yes, I know it was rated low, but this is my list, so there. It’s the seventh Doctor at the top of his game; UNIT and the Brigadier still at the top of theirs; an actual battle scene, which is something we rarely ever got in UNIT stories for some reason; a great take on the King Arthur legends; Ace being fantastic; and Bessie, who we all know is my one true love. Just kidding. Still cool to see the car again, though.

So, there it is. Twenty-six seasons, one movie, eight Doctors, thirty-two companions (classic series), one hundred sixty stories, and one blue box—classic Doctor Who in its entirety. There’s far more that could be said, and has been; after all these years, there’s no bottom to this well. Still, this rewatch has given my thoughts on these decades of stories; now, what are yours? This has always been about discussion, and I love seeing everyone’s thoughts and reactions. Feel free to comment!

Season 26 feature

Some future plans: I’ve already begun an occasional series of reviews of the Big Finish Doctor Who audio dramas, and I intend to continue it. It won’t have anything near the regularity of this series; it will just be as I manage to listen to the audios. That series is open-ended; I don’t have a goal in mind, as Big Finish is constantly adding new material. Nor will it be in any particular order; as they add materials for all Doctors, it’s not practical to take them in numeric order as I did with the television series. As I can get my hands on the novels, I may do the same with them; but that series is likely to be even more infrequent than the audios. I have given some thought to continuing with a rewatch of the revived series, and I may do that; but I don’t want to get it mixed up with /r/Gallifrey’s official rewatch series, so I may wait a bit and title it differently. If I do continue, I won’t do an entire season in a single post; there’s just too many stories per season for that. I’ll probably do about three episodes per post.

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Thanks for reading! I’m glad this series was well received, and I look forward to everyone’s comments.

 

All seasons and episodes may be viewed on Dailymotion; links are below. Note that these links are not the individual serial links I have previously posted, but rather, links to the entire collected seasons, arranged by era. For convenience, I have included links to the revived series as well.

The First Doctor, William Hartnell, 1963-1966

The Second Doctor, Patrick Troughton, 1966-1969

The Third Doctor, John Pertwee, 1970-1974

The Fourth Doctor, Tom Baker, 1974-1980

The Fifth Doctor, Peter Davison, 1981-1984

The Sixth Doctor, Colin Baker, 1984-1986

The Seventh Doctor, Sylvester McCoy, 1986-1989

The Eighth Doctor, Paul McGann, 1996, 2013

No episodes dedicated solely to the War Doctor have been produced.

The Ninth Doctor, Christopher Eccleston, 2005

The Tenth Doctor, David Tennant, 2006-2010

The Eleventh Doctor, Matt Smith, 2011-2014

The Twelfth Doctor, Peter Capaldi, 2014-Present