Saturday, July 6, 2013

The Classic Series Guide for New Series Fans: Advanced Studies 3

It's time to finish up advanced studies with recommendations of episodes from Doctors 5 thru 8.

Peter Davison's debut and the third part of the "Master" trilogy (continuing from "The Keeper of Traken" and "Logopolis"). The Fifth Doctor spends most of the episode suffering post-regeration crisis, and early on in the story Davison does impressions of Hartnell and Troughton. We explore the mysteries of regeneration and of the TARDIS. The village of Castrovalva was inspired by the famous MC Esher painting depicting spacial anomalies, which is a major theme in this story. Be sure to watch Matthew Waterhouse (as Adric) near the end when they're running thru the forest as he's about to blow chunks from drinking the night before.

The Visitation
Written by incoming script editor Eric Saward. A "psudo-historical" where The Doctor and his companions visit the outskirts of London during the Black Plague and discover a group of stranded alien criminals using rats to attempt to decimate the Earth's population. A highlight of the story is when the villain destroys the sonic screwdriver, which would not appear again until The TV Movie because the writers thought it got the Doctor out of trouble too easily. If only the new series writers felt that way.

Black Orchid
A two-part story which was the last purely historical story in the entire series. The Doctor and his companions get caught up in an Agatha Christie style whodunnit by accepting an invitation to participate in a cricket match and masquerade ball. And Nyssa meets her twin, a young socialite who is pursued by a deformed madman. The bodies start piling up, and it's The Doctor who gets the blame.

I had started watching Doctor Who as my local PBS station was finishing up with Tom Baker and had started showing the Peter Davison stories. This was the story that made me a fan. The Cybermen return after an eight-year absence from the program. Penned by Eric Saward, the story lives up to its title not only for the Cybermen's return was kept a secret before transmission (something that would not happen today), but also because of the "shock" ending of Adric's death as he attempts to save the earth from destruction.

Mawdryn Undead
Start of the "Black Guardian" trilogy which introduces a new companion, Turlough, an alien humanoid exiled to Earth and stuck in a boarding school. The Black Guardian offers him a chance to escape, but first he must agree to kill the Doctor. We are also re-introduced to Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, retired from UNIT and teaching mathematics at the school. We, in fact, meet two Brigadiers as the story takes place in two time zones (1977 and 1983).

The Five Doctors
The 20th Anniversary story written by Terrance Dicks. Troughton and Pertwee return to fight off their best enemies in "The Death Zone" on Gallifrey. They are joined by Davison, various companions from the show's past and present, and Richard Hurndall who fills in for the late William Hartnell. Tom Baker pulls an Eccleston and decides not to participate, so his contributions to the story are a few clips from the uncompleted story "Shada".

Resurrection of the Daleks
Written by Saward, it's one of the most violent stories in the show's history, and apparently it has a higher body count than "The Terminator". The plot is very convoluted, but engaging. Davison's stand-off with Davros is a series highlight. We also see the departure of Janet Fielding as Tegan as her character leaves the Doctor in disgust from all the death and violence.

Planet of Fire
Davison's penultimate story set on the desert planet Sarn. A classic "science vs. religion" story featuring the return of The Master, the departure of Turlough, and the debut of Nicola Bryant playing the "American" companion, Peri. The android Kamelion was introduced in a previous story, but because of technical problems its only other appearance was in this story.

The Two Doctors
It was hard coming up with good examples of the Colin Baker years because he didn't have too many television adventures and most of them are not that good. This was probably the highlight of Colin's first full season (his debut story was the last of the previous season). Patrick Troughton appears one last time as the Second Doctor with Frazier Hines reprising his role as Jamie. Pat and Colin share little screen time, which is a pity. Written by Robert Holmes (although it's not his best work). Partially filmed on location in Spain and featuring the Sontarans in their last appearance in the classic series.

Revelation of the Daleks
Another Saward bloodbath. It's a dark comedic story set on the funeral planet "Necros". Davros is skulking about in the cellar turning would-be cadavers into a new race of Daleks. The Doctor and Peri are almost guest characters in their own show as we are introduced to many characters with their own sinister motivations.

The Trial of a Time Lord
Like "The Key to Time", a whole season of stories under an umbrella theme. The Doctor is put on trial by the Time Lords (again), and the first three stories are presented as "evidence". We start with "The Mysterious Planet", one of the last scripts by Robert Holmes, where the Doctor discovers a terrible secret. Next is "Mindwarp" by Phillip Martin, featuring Brian Blessed as a warrior king who wants to take Peri as his warrior queen, however an evil scientist has other plans for her. Then we have "Terror of the Vervoids" by the husband & wife writing team of Pip & Jane Baker, which introduces a new companion Melanie (played by stage actor Bonnie Langford) and features aliens whose design I'm surprised got past the censors. We wrap up with "The Ultimate Foe" co-written by Robert Holmes (who died in the middle of writing the script) and Pip & Jane Baker, but not before Eric Saward wrote a draft of the final episode, which was rejected by producer John Nathan-Turner for being too downbeat. Colin Baker is at his finest during this season, although he is cheated out of a regeneration scene as he was fired by the BBC after the season aired. I highly recommend viewing the documentary "Trials and Tribulations" from the box set for the full story on the turbulent Colin Baker years.

Delta and the Bannermen
Sylvester McCoy's first season as the Doctor did not get off on the right foot. This is (in my opinion) the best story of his first year. The Doctor, Melanie and a group of vacationing aliens are on their way to Disneyland in 1957 but get sidetracked by a wayward satellite and end up in a summer camp in Wales. It's sex, drugs and rock & roll - Doctor Who style. McCoy is still in slapstick mode here, but you can start to see his darker side, which comes to the fore in ...

Remembrance of the Daleks
The Doctor (along with new companion Ace) returns to Totters Lane in 1963 to retrieve something he left behind, but two factions of Daleks at war with each other are also after this mysterious object. McCoy is in fine form as the scheming, manipulative incarnation of the Doctor. Sophie Aldred as Ace is also excellent as she is both fierce (attacking Daleks with a baseball bat) and vulnerable (falling for a soldier who turns out to be racist).

The Greatest Show in the Galaxy
One of my personal favorites. The Doctor and Ace visit the "Psychic Circus", which is made up of colorful characters, including a goth werewolf, a rapping ringmaster, and a sinister clown. Those who come to the circus end up in the ring where they have to perform for their lives. McCoy brings his bag of tricks as his Doctor performs for the entertainment of the dark gods who control the circus.

The final story of the classic series. Ace (who by this time has become the template for Rose) falls under the influence of the Cheetah People, and The Master sets his final trap for the Doctor in a desperate attempt to escape a dying planet. Yes the costume design for the Cheetah People is more cuddly than menacing, and the plot doesn't make much sense, but I'm including this because it's the last classic series episode, although at the time it was filmed, the production didn't know that yet. However JN-T, having a hunch that this might be the end, had McCoy dub in a final speech as they depart which sends off the series in a grand manner.

The TV Movie
Paul McGann's only television appearance as the Doctor. His performance is the only highlight in the movie, although Daphnie Ashbrook's portrayal as would-be companion Grace was quite good, and Sylvester McCoy has a chance to pass the torch to his successor in a fine manner. The less said about Eric Roberts' portrayal as The Master the better. Set in San Francisco but filmed in Vancouver. Quite dated for mid 1990's television. McGann would reach greater heights as the Doctor in the ongoing Big Finish audio adventures.