Monday, November 25, 2013

Doctor Who - 50 Years

Doctor Who turned 50 over the weekend. You may have noticed it, it was a pretty big deal. Even Google acknowledged it. When I say the Doctor turned 50, I actually mean the show. The Doctor is about 1200 years old, at least the current incarnation thinks that's how old he is, he doesn't count. His predecessor is fairly adamant about being 904 years old and has stated that a number of times.

This isn't really a review of The Day of the Doctor, the 50th anniversary show screened on the weekend. There will be any number of them and they can probably talk about the show much better than I can.

This is more about my relationship with the Doctor and maybe why I viewed the special the way I did.

I've been aware of Doctor Who since I was about 8 years old. I didn't watch the show myself, I had friends who did, though. We were hopelessly behind. The ABC screened it down here, but in those pre internet days that didn't really matter that much and the fact that we were pre teens probably also had something to do with it.

I didn't really start to watch the show until well into Tom Baker's tenure as the good Doctor. I was in my teens by that stage and from memory I think The Mask of Mandragora was my first serial. It kind of resonated a bit more with me because I'd just read the Target novelisation as well. Back then I think they were all screened out of order, because I seemed to go from Sarah Jane being the Companion to Romana II without ever seeing Romana I. I also mercifully managed to miss a lot of K-9.

I watched the Doctor through Nyssa (had a huge crush on her) and Adric (hated him, aside from being a spider in human form he was also trying to get something happening with Nyssa) and Tegan. So I saw him regenerate from Tom Baker to Peter Davison. While I kind of liked Davison's persona and costume I couldn't really come at him as the Doctor and I lost interest.

The ABC lost interest at about the same time, although they did struggle through the Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy years before the pin was pulled on the show in 1989.

I watched the movie with Paul McGann in 1996 and hoped that it would signal a return of the show, because McGann would have made a good Doctor, and my wife has told me that he's good in the Big Finish audios. Unfortunately my main memory of the film is that it wasn't very good and it didn't get a big enough response from an audience to justify making a new series.

Because of that background I'm more of a New Whovian than anything.

I quite liked Ecclestone's rather grumpy harder edged Doctor and I can remember being concerned when Tennant was announced as the new Doctor. At that stage I'd only seen the Scottish actor in a BBC television version of Casanova and hadn't really liked him in that.

By the end of his first episode as the Doctor I was pretty much a convert and he went on to eclipse Tom Baker as far as I was concerned as the best Doctor ever. That was even being hamstrung by the whole in love with Rose story, which I found both unbelievable and tedious as a plot device. Tennant did just have a way with him about the character, plus he had some great scripts to work with and at some point the BBC realised that if they spent money on this thing it would be returned many times over as long as it was marketed properly.

I've always felt a bit sorry for Matt Smith. He didn't have the profile of Tennant when he was cast in the role and he's had to shoulder the burdens of being the youngest actor ever cast as the Doctor and not being David Tennant.

Amy and Rory took over as my favourite Companions, of course Clara could even outshine Amy in the future. We haven't seen much of her yet, though. However I do like the way she bounces off Matt Smith and it will be interesting to see how she and Peter Capaldi work when he takes over from Matt Smith in this year's Christmas episode.

The 50th anniversary episode The Day of the Doctor is really something for the long time fans. The New Whovians can still enjoy it, but there are so many call backs. The credits were as close to the original as they could get. The sign pointing to the old junkyard where Barbara and Ian first followed Susan to in The Unearthly Child appears at the start and Clara teaches at the same school as Barbara and Ian did.

Nicholas Courtney who for many years portrayed the commander of UNIT; Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart has passed away, but UNIT is still around and it's run by his daughter these days. Her assistant Osgood appears wearing a long multi coloured Tom Baker scarf in the show. When Clara is taken into the bowels of UNIT's headquarters in the Tower of London we can see glimpses of the past pinned up on the cork board behind her.

The three Doctors (John Hurt, David Tennant and Matt Smith) work well together, especially Tennant and Smith, and bounce off each other beautifully. The quirks and mannerisms of their various Doctors seem to complement each other so well. The joke about the different screwdrivers was highly amusing, and I noticed for the first time that the colours are red, green and blue, which are the same colours as the various types of lightsaber (I'm not actually sure if this was intentional or accidental). Tennant reminded me again of why I loved him so much as the Doctor.

They even used an old villain who wasn't a Dalek or a Cyberman, but instead the one shot Zygons and while they're kind of ridiculous looking and remind me a lot of the jokey Slithereens, they somehow seemed rather threatening and a very viable threat in this.

Tom Baker's cameo was also nice and appreciated.

To a large extent Moffat got everything right with this. One jarring note was the character of Queen Elizabeth I who seemed to have been modelled more on Miranda Richardson's Queenie from Blackadder than the actual Queen Elizabeth I.

As well as being fun and very well done this one 80 minute episode segues nicely into the Christmas episode (we got a sneak peek at Capaldi as the 13th Doctor. Apparently they're going to get around the fact that John Hurt brings the tally up to 13 and therefore messes the numbering of the Doctor's up after 8, by referring to him as the War Doctor. So Ecclestone is still Nine, Tennant is still Ten, Smith will remain as Eleven and although Capaldi is actually Thirteen he'll be called Twelve).

It's got me looking at the future with more than a little optimism and another 50 years may not be out of the question.

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