Professor What?

Cassie emailed from work to ask about Doctor Who, because she said she and her colleagues were trying to figure out some things and thought asking a Brit would help. As it turned out, this was a big fat fib – she was just asking to find out which Who I liked so she could borrow the right DVDs from work. That evening she had brought The Key To Time box set with Tom Baker, and a couple of classic Davisons. She’s a keeper. But not that Keeper.

Anyway, based on what I wrote to her, here are my thoughts about the whole Who thing.

William Hartnell

The 1st Doctor was in 1963 and black and white. I’ve never really seen any of these stories, so I can’t comment. I think the BBC started to repeat the whole thing from scratch, but if I remember correctly, it was a bit “let’s explore human history and be all educational” so I wasn’t keen on that. Doctor Who and the Cavemen. Doctor Who and the Romans. Doctor Who and Crop Rotation in the Fourteenth Century.

Patrick Troughton

Who 2 was also very early, and from what I’ve seen, a bit primitive in terms of tinfoil robots and wobbly sets – although that continued for a long time. I know he played the recorder, which was a nice little quirk (the first of many – both cute and cheesy). I recall one serial was called The Krotons, in which the Doctor was menaced by crispy cubes of bread…

John Pertwee

John Pertwee was better, but I think it suffered from being stuck on Earth in a kind of team. I don’t like the team based ones: too many extra characters to care about and muddy up the waters. There was also the troublesome Whomobile and Bessie, that old car of his. But overall, they really got into their stride with monsters and stuff.

Anyway, the best thing about Pertwee was the insane experimental electronic music. I have a load of Who mp3’s kindly copied to me at an meetup at the Borderlands Cafe on Valencia. Some of them are the OST for The Sea Devils, and they are crazy – throbbing burps and bleeps, reverberating squelches, and that’s just the love theme!

Tom Baker

The Golden Age, in my humble opinion.

I grew up with Tom Baker as the Doctor, who then changed into Peter Davison. My brother and sister liked John Pertwee, who was before Baker. Many people say that Baker was the best, but that could be age bias. It was the “Golden Age” though – new effects, music, crazy monsters, and they started really getting into backstory and arcs and the like.

Peter Davison

This was also really good stuff. Very 80’s in places, with some episodes looking like the video for Ashes to Ashes. Great music, mature mythology, and Davison was great. He managed to be a nice chap, but capable of some pretty cold decisions when it went down.

Davison did have three companions at one point, and it detracted. But then the other side of that coin is if the story focusses on a single companion too much, it can really detract from the story, especially if it becomes the story. I mean, fair enough, no music over the credits when Adric died, but the rest of Earthshock was pretty cool.

Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy

Well, I didn’t see much of this era. I was growing up, or it wasn’t very good, or I was playing on my ZX Spectrum, or I don’t know. What I do know is that it was during this time that the ratings went down, and the show was canceled. The opening music was cocked up a bit, and the new logo was slightly cheesy, although I probably think it was cool at the time. I do remember comedian-no-sorry-he’s-a-writer-now-isn’t-he Alexei Sayle as a DJ killing Daleks with a rock’n’roll sonic weapon, before being zapped and dying like he did when he was a vampire in The Young Ones.

I met Sylvester McCoy once, when I was on Starstrider. Nice chap. Worked with Ken Campbell and David Rappaport for a while. Shame.

Paul McGann

I was in a hotel room on a business training trip when the 1996 McGann one-off TV movie was aired. I thought it was truly awful. It was clearly made for the US market. Dreadful orchestral version of the theme, with the introduction of the now-accursed “diddly diddly” strings. McCoy was gunned down at random (but at least he got to practise his rubber-face antics during regeneration).

Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant

Yes, they’re lumped in together.

When the reboot was announced, I was keen to see it. It didn’t disappoint – at first. But as it went on, I got a bit bored of the endless spaceships hovering over London. I was immediately bored of Rose Bleeding Tyler (see above point about the companion being the story).

But it was very successful and in classic BBC fashion, as soon as they saw a hit, they attached the milking machine and drained the poor thing dry. It rapidly became uber-self-referential, with stories about stories about the Doctor, a competition to design a monster, and more and more apocalyptic storylines. The Daleks were wiped from reality about five separate times, and it was very tedious to see them appear as the Ultimate Enemy again and again.

I think both Eccleston and Tennant overdid it a bit. Sorry.

I was excited about the return of the Cybermen, because they had always been my favorite scary monsters – ripping their way out of clingfilm storage accompanied by a throbbing synth workout. Sadly their creator turned out to be Trigger from Only Fools And Horses, which detracted. They were also created from scratch as a pseudo-Borg, able to take over humans and transform them. I think I prefer the slow transformation of the Mondasians, replacing more and more of their bodies just to survive – I think that’s more creepy. Maybe they knew what was happening to them, but couldn’t stop…

Then there was also the spinoff Torchwood, which again I started to watch, but stopped after about 4 episodes, after they had John Barrowman inexpicably standing on top of a building in a flappy coat, followed by a 30-second aerial shot of Cardiff, which just made me laugh out loud.

Amusing sidebar fact! I managed to alienate a prominent SF scifi writer and artist by suggesting that Torchwood seemed to revel in making most of the characters bisexual, or at least they were all at it with each other all the time, or so it seemed. Unfortunately, when I tried to articulate this thought at a busy meetup, we were interrupted, so this influential person now remembers meeting a Brit in glasses who thinks the problem with Torchwood was “too many of them gays”.

All of this extra stuff just muddied the waters. I think they brought in too many extra regular characters, and criss-crossing storylines. I know many people love that kinds of thing – lots of signs to decipher – but I prefer a straightforward story. I think I prefer the old episodic series format as well, especially with cool cliffhanger at the end of every episode – even if the following week the resolution was an utter cheat.

I didn’t want to know about the companions mother, or wannabe boyfriend. And it should NEVER BE FORGOTTEN that Billie Piper was responsible for this (warning: YouTube pop video).

Matthew Smith

I gave this one a try, and as a result, I’m now watching the show regularly. It’s also rekindled my interest in the old series, as the length of this post shows. I like this Doctor, and his companion Amy as well. Even though she restored the entirety of the universe from her memories at the end of the season, it didn’t seem too overblown. The music is better, and they’re not using huge swelling strings to force the audience into feeling something.

So there you have it. Hope that clears some stuff up. Here’s a great video with all the themes and then some. Skip through them, the video is 19 minutes! The theme I remember best is at 3:24.

To sum up:

  • Favourite Who – Baker/Davison
  • Favourite Theme – 79-80
  • Favourite Companion – Romana I / K9
  • Favourite TARDIS control room – white with circles, perhaps post-Five Doctors-refit.
  • Favourite serial – Robots of Death.

All I can do now is recommend you listen to The Oodcast (and read the blog) for fun discussion and sketches from my old theatre chum Andrew C and pals.