This post was supposed to be sticking up for a Who that I wasn’t at all sure about the first time round, or have acquired a reputation for being a bit, well, rubbish. But having got hold of Silver Nemesis over the weekend, I’m on a bit of a 7th Doctor fest, so I’ll write about “Love & Monsters” next time.
So this one is about a story that I hadn’t seen since 1989. One that used to make me cringe and bristle with irritation. Not because I didn’t like it, but because it was the end. I mean, of course, Survival.
A bit like Bjork, it’s a curiously beguiling little package, this. Mysterious disappearances in Perivale, an abundance of stray cats (that can only snarl at people under remote control), a mouthy Scottish chap giving self defence classes, Cheetah People, and the Master… It’s all rather spooky.
I remember feeling really rather uneasy about it when I saw it – but watching it again, I’m not sure why. Maybe because it was pretty sinister. It certainly wasn’t about the special effects particularly: although the Cheetah People’s costumes were alright, actually. And the cats eyes effect on the humans – Midge and Ace particularly – were really good touches. The robotic cat is a little obvious, though, and I can’t imagine even a 10 year-old me not noticing that.
The Doctor in this is an altogether darker being too – which I suppose is well known as the way the character was going. Much more brooding that the clown-like Doctor that had graced our screens in season 24 (“Delta and the Bannermen”, anyone?). Ace is great in it, confused to be back in her old haunt, and the story makes good use of her youth and energy. She gets to do a lot of running in this – and its proper running, not the totter-away-from-the-strange-latex-shape-as-fast-as-my-high-heels-will-let-me kind of running that Tegan seemed particularly suited to. There’s more development here for her too, even at the end of the series, with the bond she makes with Karra. It all holds up pretty well after so long.
And I love the last speech. It’s a bit obviously dubbed over after the shoot, and Sylv delivers it a little fast for my liking, but it’s lovely. And a bit sad. The last two seasons of the classic Who are still wonderful to me. I know the shortcomings, and the failures of it, but I love the ambition, the restoration of the mystery when the character had started to become either a grumpy, grumpy sod or a fool. And best of all, it is fun to watch.
But the extras on the DVD are brilliant too. For a start, the continuity announcements from the original broadcast are on there, which helped me recreate an evening as a 10 year-old (Doctor Who at 7.35 followed by Bergerac at 8 – marvellous…). Then on disc 2 there is a documentary about Ace (the first companion I followed from start to finish) and “Endgame” – a longer documentary about the cancellation of the series and what was planned for season 27 (The Ice Warriors would have been back! Ace would have been trained as a Time Lord!)…
It all fills me with nostalgic intrigue – and a bit of regret at not having read more of the Virgin New Adventures when I had the chance…
I hated my memories of Survival. But I’m glad I returned to it 20 years later – it’s not half bad, and certainly an exception to the reputation of 80s Who. If Hale and Pace couldn’t spoil it, then it had to be quite good, after all.
I had three beginnings.
Of course I didn’t but wouldn’t it have been ever so elegant if I had? In actual fact I had five beginnings, one after the other in the space of an hour. Yes, my first experience of Dr Who was Terrence Dick’s “The Five Doctors” which is by any measure a crazy ass episode for anyone to enter the Whoniverse.
For one thing it follows none of the rules of the series as a whole, imagine watching that thing if you had no idea about the history of the show. Right, so this guy’s the Doctor and he travels to different planets in a blue box. Wait a minute, that guy’s also a Doctor, I wonder what his deal is? Oh, it’s exactly the same as the first guy’s, they haven’t even bothered to invent another back story. More questions followed: Why do those two seem to be acting in an entirely different show? Why does she keep spraining her ankle? Couldn’t she have just walked up that slope?
And yet … and yet … I was enthralled. Which meant that when in 1989 Dr Who burst (then limped) back into regular programming, I was beside myself. No behind the sofa for me, I had my face pressed up against the screen. It was ‘Ace give me one of those Nitro-9s you’re not carrying’ BOOM! and I was in love.
Will always be Sylvester McCoy. Not because he was all I knew, not because I didn’t know any better. He was just MY Doctor – dark, strange, clownish and complex. His Doctor was like nothing else on TV, not just the good guy but multi-faceted, a master-manipulator, so alien, so other when he wanted to be. I think I just instinctively knew that I wasn’t being pandered to with this one – 9 years old and something was speaking to me in all the glorious greys and half-tones of the real world. So yes, I firmly believe Dr Who had it’s own little renaissance at the fag-end of the century with stories like Remembrance, Ghostlight, and Fenric earning their place as really top-flight Who. Then came the New Adventures which went that one step further into territory I’d certainly never been before. I still remember the gist of the blurb on the back cover of one of the first novels (Timewyrm? Cat’s Cradle?) ‘Only the Doctor can save them. But the Doctor was destroyed years ago. Before time began …’ I couldn’t keep it in my head, couldn’t contain the worlds conjured up to dance before me, the ideas, the scale, the complexity of the continuum and through it all the rich seam of the McCoy Doctor – impish and strange, clever and comical – the grinning, winking tip of a cold, alien intelligence that spread out like a glacier beneath the surface.
Of course, all that said, David Tennant is beyond fantastic and the only other Doctor that convinces me the guy is operating on a completely different level to everyone else. The Doctor is not human, lest me forget, he’s not just really, really ridiculously clever – he perceives things differently to us, he can see time in the same way we can see length, width, height, volume – all that possibility, all those choices slowly solidifying around him, fixing future history in place just by his presence (and brilliantly realised and articulated in ‘Fires of Pompeii’ might I say [YES - first mention of Series 4 - and all because my colleagues have been gracious enough to wait for me to catch up, what a rotter!]). Tennant sells the hell out of the character and it is his obvious, joyous, infectious love for the role that ultimately lifts the current iteration of the show to a level that precious few programmes can match.
The last word should be left to Sylvester though in probably my favourite Dr Who quote of all time – ‘I can’t stand burnt toast. I loathe bus stations – terrible places, full of lost luggage and lost souls. And then there’s unrequited love, and tyranny, and cruelty. We all have a world of our own terrors to face.’
I have loads. Apart from the McCoy classics mentioned above I would also like to give massive shout outs to City of Death, The Time Meddler, Caves of Androzani, The Green Death, Genesis of the Daleks, The Empty Child, Girl in the Fireplace and most of the latter half of Season 3. It really is a stellar time to be a Dr Who fan, isn’t it?
Oh and Dimensions in Time.
Not to be the contrarian of the group (which I am unfortunately) but I love the Daleks. They work and it’s crazy because it’s like Terry Nation just threw a load of concepts at a wall (like they were spaghetti that he wasn’t sure was quite done) and the bits that stuck he went with. The stupid wheeled design, the one eye, the plunger, the spots, the car grill, the weedy laser, the voice – it’s like the worse designed monster ever both in practicality and menace and yet when you put it together it’s a dalek and it’s ultimately cool. I was bouncing off the walls in the Ecelston episode – when the eyes flashed in the darkness. Awesome.
Also the Raston Assassin Robot thing. Take that you rubbish Cybermen idiots. You don’t like that cold steel up you, do you? Thought you were only vulnerable to gold? Well prepare to be retconned you motherf***ers coz it looks like you’ll also go down like a bitch when faced with the might of normal metal arrows. Hahahahahaha!
Which companion did you either want to be or fancy:
Peri … in the regeneration scene. No one was looking at you, Peter.
What are you looking forward to?:
I’m going to be honest here – absolutely everything. I can’t wait. But especially Moffet shenanigans.
Catherine Tate. She’s alright but I’m not a fan and she doesn’t make my heart go pitter patter like Rose did.
I should now go on and talk about episode 1 and 2 but I think I’ll leave the honour of commencing the geekathon to one of my esteemed colleagues that deserve it oh so very much more than me.
Go for your life, guys.
I had two beginnings. One false start that sent me scurrying for cover, and then the reunion…
My first happened when I was plainly not ready to see Dr Who. It’s actually one of my first memories (other than falling asleep in front of Live Aid and waking up to see that now-famous video to the Cars song…)
I clearly remember seeing a scene from Earthshock – where Cybermen march up a metal staircase. It genuinely frightened me, and I then remember running and wrapping myself in nearby full-length curtain to hide… 15 or so years later, watching it back again while at university, the same feelings flooded back and I felt a chill down my spine.
The second beginning was a trip to a video shop with my dad. I’d begun watching the TV series properly by then (starting with Sylvester McCoy), and I was playing all the requisite playground versions – everyone wanted to be Ace. Boy or girl, it didn’t matter. Ace was clearly cooler. And so I, being smaller than most of my peers, became the Doctor. On the upside, quite clearly, I was better – after all, I had my own Tardis. And everyone else was a girl. Technically. But anyway, I’d become obsessed with the Doctor, and I wanted more.
Somehow (memory is hazy on the exact details of how I managed it), I got my dad to buy me Spearhead From Space. I took it home and devoured it. Again and again. This was a Doctor I didn’t know, I had never seen before, and was totally different to the one I’d met. But this one was dashing, erudite, and was basically a scientist dressed like Adam Adamant. But I took that in my stride. And their special effects were better than the ones on telly (because they didn’t have to go over the top). I loved the story, and was very wary of shop window mannequins for a VERY long time afterwards.
There was something different about all this, though. I immersed myself, but all the while I was picking up the rudimentaries of right and wrong, of the value of life. Of love for others. And after all, while my friends were totally obsessed with football, I couldn’t help feeling a bit sorry for them. They watched 22 men in shorts kick a ball around while I loved cricket and watched an eccentric, clever and funny man help up scantily-clad women while he was saving the earth. Sigh.
Patrick Troughton. While my first was both McCoy and Pertwee, I suppose, and I always thought Paul McGann was brilliant but never got a fair go… my second (dad-bought) video was The Seeds of Death. And I’ve always had a sweet spot for the “Cosmic Hobo”, so I’ll go with him. Maybe it’s the daft trousers and the blatant darts at comedy. Maybe it was because he died of a heart attack after (allegedly) attempting to seduce another actor’s wife at a Sci-Fi convention. I don’t know. But the Seeds of Death is one of the finest things I’d ever seen, and I’ve always loved the way his doctor dealt with some terrifying monsters (Cybermen, Yeti, Daleks, the Ice Warriors, the Great Intelligence) with fantastic grace and panache (for the time) and still found time to get everyone else’s back up by practicing the Recorder…
This is tough! There are a few that really and truly drew me in until I was completely hooked. The Ambassadors of Death, Robots of Death, The Pyramids of Mars, Talons of Weng Chiang, Ghostlight, The Android Invasion, The Daemons.
I’ll plump for The Web of Fear though. Pulsating thriller set in the tunnels of the London Underground, with Yeti stalking, looking for prey. Oh, and green stuff on walls. Always good. Really threatening, close thriller which is captivating just from the soundtrack (only episode 1 still exists on film).
This used to be the easiest answer for me. It was always the Cybermen. Daleks, like Andrew, I thought were dull. Really, really not scary and not too hard to run away from. Cybermen were virtually unbeatable (except of course if you happened to have a wrinkly old woman from the Sixteenth Century who came with her own gold arrows… ahem), and they were determined. And Colin Baker’s brush with them (The Attack of The Cybermen), is an overlooked gem.
But for me, it’s the Master.
There’s a series of encounters with Pertwee’s doctor that are absolutely riveting – The Mind of Evil and the Claws of Axos in particular are brilliantly simple but complex thrillers… but the master always has the advantage over the Doctor that gives way to a fascinating story while the Doctor fights to reel him in. And his return last year with Derek Jacobi and John Simm was just, well, perfect. It was classic Master and bang up to date all at once.
Which companion did you either want to be or fancy:
The years watching old videos made a huge impression on me… Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen)…
I always wanted to be in UNIT. I suppose they count as companions…
What are you looking forward to:
The return of the Sontarans – OK, they look a bit like rubber-moulded humpy-dumpty models in shiny suits, but they’re another one of the old-school monsters who were genuinely interesting to watch. Oh, and UNIT returns in the same episode too!
I’m also looking forward to stories by two particular writers – Gareth Roberts and Stephen Moffat…
I am thoroughly dreading what they’re going to do with the return of Rose…
I’m really beginning to hate the whole romance element of the series. Rose was far enough for me. But then Martha, and now Donna too – falling in love with him. Maybe its naiive to expect that love could be kept out of this, but its making David Tennant’s doctor look like a ladies’ man, when traditionally, I suppose, he’s always been a bit above that.