TV Review: Doctor Who (2017)


Title: Doctor Who
Release Dates: 2017
Season: 10
Number of Episodes: 12
Summary/Review:

The 10th series of Doctor Who includes several landmarks.  First, it is Peter Capaldi’s third and final series as The Doctor.  I’ve grown to love his performance and wish he could stick around for one more series.  Of course, I thought that about previous Doctors too, but Capaldi has joined the ranks of my favorite Doctors of all time.  Second, this is the sixth and final series for Steven Moffat as showrunner.  Moffat has been an innovator and changed Doctor Who for the future.  He does have a habit of repeating himself in his themes and ideas, though, so it may have been better if he’d finished a little earlier.  He apparently intended to leave after series 9 but was asked to do one more series, but oh wouldn’t Hell Bent been a story to go out on.   Nevertheless, series 10 shows that Moffat had a few more good story ideas left.  Third, the series sees the return of Matt Lucas as a full-time companion Nardole, a decision that seemed odd at first, but paid off across the season. Finally, this series introduced Pearl Mackie as the new companion, Bill.  As a young, working class woman of color and a lesbian, Bill is a unique character in Doctor Who history, and Mackie shined with her humor, intelligence, and clear chemistry with Capaldi.

Moffat stated that the season was a jumping on point for new viewers and the first four episodes followed a familiar pattern for new companions: meeting the Doctor in the first episode, traveling to the future in the second episode, an historical adventure in the third episode, and the supernatural intruding into the companion’s everyday life in contemporary times in the fourth episode.  All of this is undergirded by the mystery of what The Doctor is keeping in a vault underneath the university.  The middle four episodes took a huge left turn and were more reminiscent of highly experimental style of series 9.  First there was Oxygen, one of the standout episodes of the series that is a caustic critique of capitalism, and features a grave threat to Bill and The Doctor making a sacrifice.  This is followed by three episodes linked together as “The Monks Trilogy,” although each episode features a different screenwriter and director.  Moffat introduces a major new villain in the Monks but unfortunately they’re too reminiscent of previous villains the Silence and the Headless Monks.  The trilogy starts off well with Extremis which could easily be edited to make a stand alone episode, but there are diminishing returns in the ensuing two episodes.  There are good parts to each story, although I don’t know if it would be possible to pare it down to just one or two episodes instead of three. The final four episodes feature a couple of more episodes that fit more into the theme of Bill discovering the thrills of travel in time and space, while also incorporating Michelle Gomez Missy into the Tardis team (spoiler: she’s what was hidden in the vault).  The concluding two-part story World Enough and Time/The Doctor Falls is a tour-de-force that explores Missy’s efforts to try to be “good,” the return of John Simm as an earlier incarnation of the Master, and some extreme body horror in the form of the Mondasian Cybermen.  Capaldi, Gomez, Simm, and Mackie all put in a remarkable performance in a mindblowing and heartbreaking story.

The mid-season “Monks Trilogy” derail makes it hard to give the series as a whole top marks, but for the most part it’s some excellent television and a fitting finale to the Capaldi era.  Now Christmas needs to get here so we can say farewell to these characters and meet our first woman Doctor!

Below are links to my reviews of each episode from my Doctor Who sideblog on Tumblr:

  1.  The Pilot (7 of 10)
  2.  Smile (5 of 10)
  3.  Thin Ice (8 of 10)
  4.  Knock Knock (6 of 10)
  5. Oxygen (8 of 10)
  6. Extremis (8 of 10)
  7. The Pyramid at the End of the World (6 of 10)
  8. The Lie of the Land (5 of 10)
  9. The Empress of Mars (7 of 10)
  10.  Eaters of Light (8 of 10)
  11. 12. World Enough and Time/The Doctor Falls (8 of 10)

A note on ratings:  A score of 5 is the baseline for a decent story from end to end with 10 being an all-time classic and 0 being an utter stinker.  Basically, any story rated 8-10 is a great story, 5-7 is good and worth watching, 2-4 has its moments but can be passed, and 0-1 is only for the Doctor Who completionist.

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Podcasts of the Week Ending July 21st


Time to turn on, tune in, and ‘cast out!

Fresh Air How Black Leaders Unwittingly Contributed To The Era Of Mass Incarceration

James Forman Jr. discusses his new book “Locking Up Our Own: Crime And Punishment In Black America”.

Best of the LeftStopping and building at the same time (Progressive Movement)

Different approaches to resisting the Trump administration and rebuilding the Democratic Party as a progressive force for good.

Verity! –  There’s Nothing “Only” About Being a Doctor

Verity is a podcast in which six smart women discuss Doctor Who and the only Doctor Who podcast I listen to so I have to share it this week in which the first woman Doctor is announced.

Finally, for Boston voters, check out WBUR Radio Boston’s mayor forums with Tito Jackson and Marty Walsh.

Book Reviews: The Left-Handed Hummingbird by Kate Orman


Author: Kate Orman
Title:The Left-Handed Hummingbird
Publication Info: London : Doctor Who Books, 1993.
Summary/Review:

This Doctor Who novel is epic in scope from contemporary Mexico to the Aztec empire to hippie London in the 60s to the John Lennon assassination to the sinking of Titanic. And yet, this may be the most internal story for the Doctor and his companions.  Their relationship is strained, especially the Doctor and Ace since she’s become something of soldier during her absence from the TARDIS. Worse yet, the Doctor faces an antagonist manifest as an Aztec god who is altering history.  The Doctor’s usual strategy of manipulating people and events fail and we see him at his most defeated. This novel is good in that it’s a rare story that’s set in Latin America in both precolonial and contemporary settings.  The only downside is that like Timewyrm: Exodus  it credits some historical acts of human evil to extraterrestrial influence.  This was the first novel by Kate Orman, who was also the first woman and first Australian to write for the Doctor Who line, and it’s a pretty remarkable achievement in how it reimagines what a Doctor Who story can be.
Favorite Passages:

“Has it ever occurred to you that the reason the sacrifices are made is to dispose of foreign warriors taken captive in battle – and to cause more and more battles to be fought?’”

“‘It’s already written in the book of history,’ he continued. ‘Painted in the records. Nothing I can do or say is going to change it. But there’s something else here, something that isn’t in the book, or wasn’t the last time I visited. Things have changed. Something’s wrong. Someone’s interfering. I need to find a way to read between the lines…’”

“‘Time travel,’ said Bernice, ‘is like banging your head on a brick wall. Only someone keeps moving the bricks.’”

Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: Love and War by Paul Cornell


Author: Paul Cornell
TitleLove and War
Publication Info: London : Doctor Who Books, 1992.

Previously read by same authorTimewyrm: Revelation
Summary/Review:

This is my 3rd Doctor Who New Adventure, and it’s one that has a notably good reputation among diehard Doctor Who fans.  In this story, the Seventh Doctor and Ace – who is grieving over the death of a childhood friend – go to the planet Heaven.  The entire planet is a cemetery for the people of Earth and the Draconians who die in the Dalek Wars.  Ace falls in with a group of Travellers encamped on Heaven, and begins a romance with a young man named Jan.  The Doctor seems to disapprove of Jan, and Ace begins to drift away.  This is only a preamble for an act of betrayal that will push Ace out of the Tardis for good.

Apart from the tragic situation that divides the Doctor and Ace, this novel has a number of interesting attributes.  It introduces the archaeologist Berenice Summerfield who will go on to be a regular companion of the Doctor.  It also features the creepy villains the Hoothi, who are kind of a sentient fungi.  On the downside there’s a whole subplot involving virtual reality in something called Puterspace.  And like Timewyrm: Revelation, the narrative jumps quickly among a large number of characters and stories, making it a challenge to read. All and all, an imaginative and influential Doctor Who story.

Rating: ***

Book Review: Timewyrm: Revelation by Paul Cornell


Author: Paul Cornell
TitleTimewyrm: Revelation
Publication Info: London : Dr Who Books, 1991.
Summary/Review:

The final book in the Timewyrm tetralogy is unlike any other Doctor Who story I’ve yet experienced.  For starters, one of the characters is a sentient church, there’s an English village on the moon, and much of the story takes place inside the Doctor’s mind.  That  may sound gimmicky but this a complex and ambitious novel that examines the Doctor’s grief and anguish through the previous incarnations who live in his mind.  This is a challenging book to read as it has a lot of characters and facets and leaps from one to the other rather quickly, but a very satisfying story that pushes the bounds of a Doctor Who adventure.  It’s also very influential as the revived television series has clearly mined this novel for ideas (and the author Cornell has also written screenplays for the show).

Recommended booksTimewyrm: Exodus by Terrance Dicks
Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: Adventures With the Wife in Space by Neil Perryman


Author:  Neil Perryman
Title: Adventures With the Wife in Space
Publication Info: London : Faber and Faber, 2013.
Summary/Review:

The Adventures with the Wife in Space is a blog which documents the experiment in which Neil Perryman (a diehard Doctor Who fan) gets his wife Sue (who is not) to watch and review every story of the classic Doctor Who from 1963 to 1989.  It’s brilliant because Sue challenges the fan community gospel of Doctor Who while also being wickedly funny.  One would expect that this book would simply be a compilation of the blog reviews with some extra content, but instead it is something better.  It turns out to be a memoir of Perryman’s life and interests (he’s obsessed with things other than Doctor Who, like Tangerine Dream and Jaws) and his marriage with Sue.  Turns out that the Perrymans are interesting people with lots of good stories.   The book also offers a behind-the-scenes view of the experiment watching Doctor Who which both strengthened their marriage while offering challenges of being an internet phenomenon.
Favorite Passages:

‘If anything, the old series has made me a fan of the new series. I bloody love it. But at the same time, I don’t need to wallow in the past. Yes, it’s nice to have it there to refer to, but you have to keep moving forward. You know, like a shark.’

Recommended books: Dalek, I Loved You by Nick Griffiths and Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby
Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: Night of the Humans by David Llewellyn


Author: David Llewellyn
TitleNight of the Humans
Narrator: Arthur Darvill
Publication Info:  Bath, [England] : AudioGo/BBC Audiobooks, p2010
Summary/Review:

This Doctor Who New Series Adventures joins Amy and the Eleventh Doctor early on their travels as they’re drawn to an enormous pile of space junk known as The Gyre where they encounter noseless humanoids with Arabic names known as the Sittuun, who’ve also been shipwrecked.  The villains of the piece turn out to be primitive humans who believe they’re on Earth and condemn those who say differently as blasphemers. There’s also a shady character named Dirk Slipstream who is very Douglass Adams.   The book takes advantage of its medium in creating settings and characters that would not likely translate well to a low-budget television show, but the story didn’t hold my interest too well.  The audiobook is narrated by Arthur Darvill even though his character Rory doesn’t appear in the story.  He does enjoyable impersonations of Karen Gillan and Matt Smith, though.

Rating: **

Book Review: Dalek I Loved You by Nick Griffiths


Author:Nick Griffith
TitleDalek I Loved You
Publication Info:
ISBN: Harrison Dextrose Publishing (2013), Kindle Edition
Summary/Review:

A simply book I picked up for free on Kindle is the life story of Nick Griffiths and his love of Doctor Who, particularly the Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker era of the 1970s when he was a child, and the reborn show of the 2000s as an entertainment journalist.  If this was just a book about Doctor Who, it wouldn’t be very good, but I did enjoy it for everything else.  That being the life of an ordinary guy growing up around the same time as I but in another part of the world with entirely different culture touchstones.

Recommended booksFever Pitch by Nick Hornby
Rating: **1/2

Book Review: The Angel’s Kiss: A Melody Malone Mystery by Justin Richards


Author:Justin Richards
Narrator: Alex Kingston
TitleThe Angel’s Kiss: A Melody Malone Mystery by
Publication Info: AudioGO (2013)
ISBN: 9781471324055
Summary/Review:

This book is a spin-off from the Doctor Who television show narrated by the character River Song in her guise as detective Melody Malone.  It’s basically a pastiche to Raymond Chandler/Dashiell Hammet with Weeping Angels thrown in.  The advantage of the audiobook is listening to Alex Kingston speak for a couple of hours.  Other than that it is pretty forgettable.

Rating: * 1/2

Movie Review: An Adventure in Space and Time (2013)


TitleAn Adventure in Space and Time
Release Date: 22 November 2013
Director: Terry McDonough
Production Co: British Broadcasting Company
Country: UK
Language: English
Genre: Docudrama
Rating: ****

This movie recreates the history of the birth of the BBC family science-fiction classic Doctor Who.  You can tell it’s the early 60s because everyone smokes and the clothing is fabulous, but also gives a feel for a much different era (just a decade after the end of WWII rationing) when a science-fiction show would be shocking and new.  It’s also interesting that a show that would become a British cultural icon was created by a Canadian (Sidney Newman), produced by the first woman producer on a BBC drama (Verity Lambert), and initially directed by a man born in India (Waris Hussein).  The film focuses mainly on Lambert’s challenge of getting the show off the ground as well as the first star of the show William Hartnell dealing with ill-health and memory loss while creating a classic character.  All of the lead actors do a terrific job and really look the part and make for a charming if bittersweet story.  While some of the facts of the real story are modified for dramatic effect, it is a good introduction to the series.

For a more detailed history of Doctor Who‘s origins, check out this article on the Oxford University Press blog.

50 Years of Doctor Who


Around the world this past weekend, fans of the British science-fiction series Doctor Who gathered together in front of tv screens and movie screens to watch the 50th anniversary special.  I was one of them.  If you put me in a TARDIS and sent me back to, say, 2010 to tell myself I’d be watching a Doctor Who special, my younger self would be surprised.  Sure, I’d heard of the show as far back as my childhood in the 1980s when it was shown on PBS.  I was intrigued by the idea of an alien who changed into a different person every time they case a new actor in the role.  But unlike many other children and preteens of the era, I just didn’t do sci-fi outside of Star Trek and the Star Wars films.

It wasn’t until my thirties that I began to appreciate geeky things like sci-fi series, movies, and graphic novels.  I began hearing a lot about Doctor Who again a few years back (not even realizing that the show had been off the air for 16 years and then revived) and was once again intrigued.  But knowing that I have a completionist temperament, could I really commit myself to a show with nearly 50 years of backstory?  Would I even have the time.  In August of 2011, I finally gave in and watched the first episode of the revived series from 2005, “Rose.”  Two months later I was caught up with the current series.

I knew I wanted to go back and watch Classic Doctor Who, but I also knew I could not watch every episode (especially considering that a fair number of stories from the 1960s were destroyed by the BBC and are only available as audio with still photographs).  I consulted a number of websites including the Doctor Who Dynamics Rankings, Bow, James Bow, Adventures with the Wife in Space, and Tardis Eruditorum and began to compile a list of stories to watch.  Initially I intended to watch just a couple of stories per incarnation of the Doctor, but the list grew and grew and I ended up watching nearly 90 of the classic stories.

In the list below I’ve summarized my thoughts on each era of Doctor Who and listed some stories I’d recommend to viewers who are new to Doctor Who or who haven’t explored every era of the series.  Die hard fans of the series are welcome to review the list well and courteously nitpick at it.  I must warn you that I generally dislike and sometimes actively avoid stories featuring the Doctor’s three most well-known enemies: the Daleks, Cybermen, and the Master.  I’ve generally listed five stories per Doctor with the exception of giving a few more to the long and illustrious career of Tom Baker and a less to the short and ill-fated careers of Colin Baker and Paul McGann.

First Doctor – William Hartnell (1963-1966)

Doctor Who debuted in 1963 with William Hartnell as the title character. It was initially more an ensemble piece with the Doctor’s grandaughter Susan and the schoolteachers Barbara and Ian in the foreground with Hartnell’s mysterious Doctor manipulating the situations.  But the Hartnell’s Doctor quickly evolved from cantankerous to grandfatherly and settled comfortably as the star of the show.  Anyone interested in the history of Doctor Who will need to watch the first episode,  “An Unearthly Child,” in which Barbara and Ian follow their exceptional student Susan home and discover the TARDIS.  It’s amazing how much of the central premise of the series is established in the first episode, although it is also a very different program than today.  The ensuing three episode follow the TARDIS team on their first adventure among anthropologically-incorrect “cave people” and should only be watched if your ready to devour the entire series.  While Hartnell’s tenure lasted only three years, he had a grueling, nearly year-long filming schedule that lead to over 40 episodes a year, so he left behind quite a legacy.

The Aztecs – In the Hartnell era, many stories were considered “historicals” as they featured travel to a time in the Earth’s past in which there are no science-fiction elements beyond the TARDIS, the Doctor, and his companions.  This serial is unique in that it’s the only story to go to a pre-colonial non-European culture.  While the plot is colonialist overtones, it is sympathetic to the Aztecs as Barbara hopes to save them from Spanish conquest.  There’s also the charming subplot where the Doctor is engaged to a local sage.

The Dalek Invasion of Earth – While I’m not fond of Dalek stories, the image of Daleks roaming the empty streets of London in front of well-known landmarks is irresistible.  This is the best Dalek story of the Hartnell era, although even then it runs a few episodes long. It’s also known for the departure of Susan which leads to one of Hartnell’s best speeches.

The Time Meddler – This story set in Saxon Britain just before the Norman Invasion is an historical with a twist.   It’s best to set aside any knowledge of later development in the mythos of the Doctor when watching this and just enjoy the clever plotting.

The Myth Makers – Another historical set during the Battle of Troy finds the Doctor and his companions caught between the Greeks and the Trojans.  There are laughs aplenty as the stories of The Iliad are played for farce, but The Myth Makers deftly turns to tragedy in a hurry.  Sadly, all of the episodes of this serial are missing and are only available as reconstructions.

The Gunfighters – The Doctor,  the man who never carries a weapon, finds himself in the midst of the gunslingers of the Old West.  Again, Western tropes are tried on for laughs, until blood is shed and the true horror of the Wild West is revealed.

Honorable mention: The Tenth Planet – This story introduces the Cybermen in their most interesting guise conceptually, humans who have replaced parts of their own bodies and speak in an eerie voice.  Perhaps more famously, the final episode (now missing) is when William Hartnell’s Doctor dies and regenerates into a new form.  Despite these historical moments, the overall serial is rather run-of-the-mill.

And one to avoid: The Chase – In only their third story, the Daleks are being used for comic relief and have their own time machine.  Meanwhile, the TARDIS crew watch TV and sunbathe.  The Daleks chase the TARDIS through time and space to increasingly more absurd scenarios.  The best part of this show are the final few minutes in which Barbara and Ian are returned home to London in 1965.

Second Doctor – Patrick Troughton (1966-69)

As the first man to take over the role of the Doctor, Troughton’s legacy is that he created many of the defining characteristics of the Doctor’s character that would be followed by ensuing actors in the role.  He’s also one of the best actors to play the part, or a the very least, my favorite.  Sadly, the writing during Troughton’s era was very formulaic featuring “monster of the week” and “base under siege” stories.  Even worse, the BBC’s destruction of tapes left very little that still survives from Troughton’s era.  Still, what is left is worth seeking out for Troughton’s charismatic performance.

The Faceless Ones – At Gatwick Airport in 1966, young travelers are going missing and the Doctor learns that they’re being kidnapped by aliens!  The story has a very modern feel to it and shows Troughton at his clever best working out a solution to the problem.

The Enemy of the World – This story was recently rediscovered and restored.  The Doctor and his companions travel to Earth in the future when a tyrant named Salamander is attempting to take control of the world.  Oh, and Salamander happens to look exactly like the Doctor.  If you overlook the bad Mexican accent, it’s a delight to see Troughton take on dual roles.  The guest cast are also excellent and the script provides a lot of great twists.

The Mind Robber – This amazingly surreal story takes the Doctor and his companions out of space and time and into an empty void and then the Land of Fiction.  It is fantastically imaginative and a great example of they type of storytelling possible in the Doctor Who format.

The Invasion – While ostensibly a Cyberman story, their march on London is saved for the latter episodes of this 8-part serial, so that most of the story is about the Doctor and his companions facing off against the evil corporate honcho Tobias Vaughn.  This story introduces UNIT, the military organization that defends the Earth against extraterrestial threats and is lead by Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart.  I also like that for this story the Doctor’s companion Zoe befriends and works with the flirty photographer  Isobel .

The War Games – Patrick Troughton’s final story is an epic ten-parter.  It’s most well-known for introducing the Doctor’s people and home planet (after six of seasons of mystery) but one shouldn’t overlook the great story leading up to that moment.  It’s a long story but it moves quickly as each episode features new revelations and the Doctor’s situation spins out of control.

Honorable Mention: The Tomb of the Cybermen – This is the earliest of Troughton’s serials where all the episodes survive.  Troughton has some great scenes as the master manipulator as well as a touching conversation with his newest companion Victoria.  The set design is pretty spiffy as well.  On the other hand, it’s  still a Cybermen story and they are quite rubbish and the human villains in the story are racist caricatures.

And one to avoid: None.  There’s always something worth watching if you can find a moving image of Patrick Troughton as the Doctor.

Third Doctor – Jon Pertwee (1970-74)

1970 saw big changes in Doctor Who.  First, the program was broadcast in glorious color.  Next, the Doctor having been forced to regenerate by the Time Lords is now exiled on Earth with his TARDIS no longer functioning.  He settles in to work as the science adviser for UNIT.  While at first a breath of fresh air, I quickly tired of this format.   There’s only so many times one can see the Earth saved from alien invasions or mad scientists.  Plus, Pertwee’s take on the Doctor made him more elitist and establishment than he really should be.

 Spearhead from Space – Pertwee’s debut story is entirely on film and on location so it has a very cinematic feel to it.  Plus it features an invasion by the Autons.  Plastic has never been so creepy. 

The Three Doctors – The tenth anniversary special brings back all the actors who played the Doctor to that point, although Hartnell was in poor health and only made a cameo appearance.  Why the story is bizarre and the special effects a bit dodgy, it’s great to see Troughton and Pertwee working as a team.  

Carnival of Monsters – With the Doctor’s ability to fly the TARDIS, he and his companion Jo go on a journey and end up somewhere that is quite not what it seems to be.  Like The Mind Robber, this is a clever exploration of the possibilities of traveling through space and time.  It’s the work of one of Doctor Who‘s most creative writers, Robert Holmes. 

The Green Death – This story is one of the best efforts to integrate topical issues into a Doctor Who plot line, specifically the travails of Welsh coal miners and the problem of environmental destruction.  If you can ignore some awful special effects, there’s a good story with lots of surprises.  I particularly enjoy humorous moments of the Doctor in disguise and the touching farewell to Jo at the finish.

The Time Warrior – This story introduces the investigative journalist Sarah Jane Smith as the Doctor’s newest companion as well as the Sontaran warrior Linx.  Sarah Jane stows away in the TARDIS when the Doctor travels to the Middle Ages to investigate how Linx is manipulating a warlord to change Earth’s history.  

Honorable Mention: Inferno – This story is overly long, but a portion of it feature the Doctor traveling to a parallel dimension where England is a fascist state.  It features great good/evil dual performances by Nicholas Courtney as the Brig and Caroline John as the Doctor’s companion Liz, who I wish stayed around for more than one season.

And one to avoid: Planet of the Spiders – Pertwee’s farewell story features a lengthy car chase, faux-Buddhism, and a planet infested by spiders and bad actors.  The sixth and final episode features some interesting ideas leading up to the Doctor’s regeneration, but it’s too late to save the story.

Fourth Doctor – Tom Baker (1974-81)

If you only have a passing familiarity with Doctor Who, you probably recognize Tom Baker with his bug eyes and long multi-colored scarf as the face of the franchise.  Baker’s seven seasons were the longest of any actor to portray the Doctor and his tenure coincide with some of the best writing and production of the classic series as well.  For many Doctor Who fans, Tom Baker is the iconic version of the Doctor.  Which is not to say that he is perfect, or that there aren’t bad stories during his time, but you’re likely to find that the low points are still pretty good.

The Ark in Space – This early adventure finds the Doctor and his companions on a space station where the hibernating crew have been infected by the parasitic, bug-like Wirrn.  It features a great beat where the Doctor celebrates the inventiveness and persistence of humanity.  It also shows the ability of great acting to overcome bad special effects when a guest actor really sells the horror of his arm being overtaken by green bubble wrap.

Genesis of the Daleks – The Doctor is thrust into the middle of the mutually destructive war of the Kaleds and Thals on the planet Skaro.  The Machiavellian scientist Davros seeks to save the Kaleds by turning them into mutants, the Daleks.  This is a grim but well-conceived story about the horrors of war and morality that lends gravitas to the often silly pepperpot villains.

The Brain of Morbius – The 13th season of Doctor Who drew inspiration from classic horror films for their stories and this one is their take on Frankenstein’s monster.  It’s a spooky and complex story and worth escaping into the world it creates.

The Horror of Fang Rock – The Doctor and his companion Leela are trapped in an early 20th-century lighthouse as a mysterious creature picks off the other occupants one by one.  It’s a chilling story and also an excellent character study as the conflicts of the humans under attack are more engaging than their external threat.

The Ribos Operation – A well-acted story that does a good bit of universe creating on an ice-cold medieval world where the Doctor and his new companion, fellow Time Lord Romana, stumble upon a plot by a couple of con artists.  It’s the kind of small story made big that Doctor Who does so well.

The Pirate Planet – A silly story with some spectacular twists from the mind of Douglas Adams.  Again it shows Doctor Who at it’s clever best.

City of Death – Another story written by Douglas Adams is the first filmed on location outside of Britain, as you can tell by the many establishing shots of the Doctor and Romana running through the streets of Paris.  It’s the wit of the dialogue exchanged between the Doctor and guest Julian Glover and the clever plot of art forgery and time travel that will keep you watching.  

 Warriors’ Gate – This serial opens with an amazing tracking shot through a ship and features one of the most imaginative settings, a void between universes.  The Doctor and his companions must work to free the enslaved race of Tharils, leonine time-sensitive people.  It’s really strange but really amazing as well.

Honorable mentions: You can watch pretty much the entirety of seasons 12-14, and most of seasons 16 and 18 as well and probably not be disappointed.

And one to avoid: The Power of Kroll – A really bland story inspired by King Kong where no one involved seemed to care about putting much effort in it.  Also kind of morality story about racism that manages to be racist.

Fifth Doctor – Peter Davison (1982-1984)

Coming on the heels of Baker’s long run was the youngest actor in the role to date although one with an impressive acting pedigree. Davison’s portrayal is a reaction to Baker’s domineering personality as he brings out a quieter, more vulnerable side of the Doctor. Davison’s Doctor also finds himself traveling with a team of companions.  Unfortunately, the production decisions and script writing of the era were very uneven and the full potential of Fifth Doctor and his companions were rarely achieved.  Still, the high points of the Davison era include some great stories.

Kinda – A story hard to describe due to its cerebral nature featuring a harrowing depiction of madness and the Doctor’s companion Tegan having her mind possessed by the evil entity known as the Mara.  The conclusion is criticized for a bad special effect but I’m more disappointed that the solution comes from a physical action rather than mental.

Snakedance –  Something of a sequel to Kinda, this serial benefits from excellent world building and creation of a believable culture, as well as a good supporting cast lead by Martin Clunes as a bratty prince.  Fun and full of clever ideas.

 Mawdryn Undead – The Brig returns, the villains aren’t really villainous, a new companion is introduced and all sorts of timey-wimey things happen.  Just ignore the parts with the Black Guardian (a villain who makes the Master look competent) and enjoy the fun.

Enlightenment – Another great example of what can be done with the Doctor Who format when pushing the envelope on imagination.  The visuals of ships sailing through space are particularly memorable.

The Caves of Androzani – Really a tour-de-force of Classic Doctor Who.  Great acting, great script, and great production make this feel cinematic.  Plotwise, a chain of events pitting military, corporate, and criminal organizations against one another is set off by the mere presence of the Doctor and his companion Peri.  Definitely one to watch if you want to see the best of Doctor Who

Honorable mentions: The Five Doctors, The Awakening, and Frontios all are enjoyable, if not standouts of the franchise.

And one to avoid: Earthshock – Popular with fans probably because it is full of militant action set pieces, but at heart it’s just not what Doctor Who is supposed to do. That and it’s a Cybermen story with the Cybermen fully removed from their origins and presented as macho robots.  The first episode is gripping and the supporting cast is good, but other than that, avoid it.

Sixth Doctor – Colin Baker (1984-1986)

The production and writing inconsistency of Doctor Who in the 1980s came to a head during Colin Baker’s reign as the Doctor.  The choice of a clownish, clashing-color costume and characterization of the Doctor to make him as unlikable as possible did nothing to help the series.  Furthermore, the show had gained some powerful enemies in BBC leadership.  The show was put on hiatus for 18 months and returned with a season-long story called The Trial of a Timelord, a good premise but poorly executed.  After that, Baker was fired.  While the series is at a low point in these years, it should be noted that Colin Baker did his best and was always enthusiastic for the show.  He and the Sixth Doctor have found new life in a series of well-recieved audio plays.

Vengeance on Varos – A parody on reality tv game shows before that genre even really existed.  This serial blurs the lines between satirizing violence on television and being gratuitous in displaying violence.  Still, it’s Baker at his best and the relationship between the Sixth Doctor and Peri at it’s strongest.

The Two Doctors – This story earns marks for the return once again of Patrick Troughton, although it also steeped in gratuitous violence and cynicism that typifies the error.  There’s some fun to be had, but probably not everyone’s cup of tea.

Honorable mention: Revelation of the Daleks – This bizarre story seems to feature a handful of television dramas upon which the Doctor and the Daleks dance around the periphery. It’s either a trainwreck or a postmodern masterpiece

And one to avoid: The Twin Dilemma – Coming immediately after the masterpiece of The Caves of Androzani at the end of the season, the Sixth Doctor was introduced in the most boring story imaginable.  Not only that, but it depicts the Doctor violently choking his companion Peri, an image that should’ve never made it on-screen.

Seventh Doctor – Sylvester McCoy (1987-1989)

During the Sylvester McCoy era, Doctor Who saw a revival of quality with the final two seasons especially being the most consistently watchable since the heart of the Tom Baker era.  Much of this is due to script editor Andrew Cartmel reintroducing a sense of mystery into the Doctor’s character as well as delving into the personal lives of the companion in a way that would be common in the revived series.  The quality may also have been a side-effect of benevolent neglect as the show received very little attention or viewership and would be canceled after 26 years.

Remembrance of the Daleks – A 25th anniversary story takes the Doctor back to London in 1963, revealing the reasons the First Doctor may have been there in the first place.  Lots of good atmosphere, plotting and tributes to the show’s history in what may be the best Daleks’ story ever.

The Happiness Patrol – Doctor Who at it’s most political, taking on the the Thatcher government in the most bizarre way.  A well-realized story that works on many levels with some of the creepiest villains in series’ history.

The Greatest Show in the Galaxy – … until you get to the creepy clowns in this story.   An entertaining story set at a mysterious circus, which again works on many levels symbolically as well as a straightforward creepy tale.

Battlefield – This serial is far from perfect and probably could be made better under different circumstances, but it does have a lot of great moments bringing together Arthurian legend and a modern, cosmopolitan UNIT with the (final) return of the Brig. 

The Curse of Fenric – A strong contender for best Classic Who story, Fenric is a taste of what the show may have had to offer had it not been canceled, and still serves as a bridge to the 2005 reboot.  This chilling story set in WWII features an Alan Turing-like codebreaker, vampires, Russian troops, and the coming of age of companion Ace.  Not to be missed.

Honorable mention: Ghost Light – I’m one of the many who is befuddled by this story, but despite that have to admit that it is interesting and well-done.

And one to avoid: Time and the Rani – McCoy’s first story is a disaster featuring the self-parodic villain the Rani.  I only watched it out of curiosity to see the regeneration story but it was not worth it. I wonder if viewers in 1987 tuned out on the McCoy era after seeing this one?

Eighth Doctor – Paul McGann (1996, 2013)

The first attempt to revive Doctor Who was a collaboration between the BBC and Fox TV in America.  The result was dismal, and while probably not as bad as everyone makes it out to be, I can’t recommend it.  It feels more like an American tv movie than Doctor Who and yet a whole lot of continuity is shoved into the story as well as the Master, portrayed in over-the-top fashion by Eric Roberts.  There are moments, and McGann makes an interesting Doctor, but it was not enough to bring back the series.  The Eighth Doctor would have his adventures in a series of books and then McGann would return for audio dramas.  The Eighth Doctor finally returned to the screen this month with the minisode “The Night of the Doctor” which gives a taste of what McGann’s Doctor could’ve been as well as being really remarkable drama for being just seven minutes long.

Ninth Doctor – Christopher Eccleston (2005)

I will always have a soft spot for Christopher Eccleston, my first Doctor, who helped bring Doctor Who back to glory.  He offered bug-eyed childishness reminiscent of Tom Baker combined with a weary sense of gravitas.  While I wish he’d stuck around for more than one season, pretty much every story of that season is a delight.

“Rose” – Doctor Who returns avoiding the mistakes of the tv movie by introducing the Doctor from the perspective of his new companion Rose Tyler.  Anyone watching the revived series needs to start here.

“The Unquiet Dead” – A creepy horror story from Victorian Cardiff featuring a comical guest sidekick in Charles Dickens.

‘Dalek” – The first time I ever saw an episode featuring a Dalek, and the only time I found a Dalek to be scary.  Good pacing and scripting makes one Dalek more nightmarish than the armies of Daleks in other stories.

 “Father’s Day” – A touching story in which Rose returns in time to see her father who died in her infancy with catastrophic results for the universe.  A good example of how the new series interweaves the personal stories of the companions into the Doctor Who template.

“The Empty Child” / “The Doctor Dances” – An absolute classic two-parter in which a mysterious boy in a gas mask is set against the London Blitz.  Also introduces Captain Jack Harkness to the Doctor Who universe.

Honorable mention: “The Parting of the Ways” – The season finale two-parter starts with a silly episode in which reality tv shows are being filmed on a space station far in humanity’s future.  The second part reveals the alien menace behind the space station, forcing the Doctor to make a difficult choice and Rose to rally with her mother and boyfriend to save the world.  The episode ends with the Ninth Doctor’s regeneration.

And one to avoid: “The Long Game” – An earlier story on the same space station is kind of bland, although it is worth watching for Simon Pegg’s comic guest role.

Tenth Doctor – David Tennant (2005-2010)

Tennant brings a young, energetic vibrance to the the role of the Doctor, although sometimes a bit over the top.  In three seasons, he’s paired with three companions – Rose, Martha, and my favorite Donna, who makes a great comic foil to Tennant while still having gravitas.

“The Girl in the Fireplace” – A story that uses the time travel format well to introduce the Doctor into several different periods of the life of the historical figure Madam de Pompadour while exploring the mystery of why creepy clockwork figures are trying to kill her.

“The Impossible Planet” / “The Satan Pit” – A two-parter set on a planet orbiting a black hole is anchored by a well-realized cast of characters and relentless plotting.  A good adventure in an old-fashioned science fiction mode.

“Human Nature” / “The Family of Blood” – Based on a novel from the 1990s, this story finds the Doctor hiding in disguise as a human at a military boarding school in England on the verge of the First World War.  Creepy aliens, a romance, and a very humanist story make this a classic.

“Blink”- Probably the most well-known story of the revived series features the eerie Weeping Angels and a story of time travel paradoxes told from the perspective of a character only tangentially related to the Doctor.

“Silence in the Library” / “Forest of the Dead” – Set in a futuristic library, this story introduces the mysterious River Song (a character from the Doctor’s future), the scary monsters that hunt in the shadows, and a whole another life for the companion Donna.  Really wonderful.

Honorable mentions: The Tenth Doctor’s era includes several other highlights  including “School Reunion” (which reunited the Doctor with Sarah Jane Smith),  “Love & Monsters” (a wonderful story about the people who encounter the Doctor but are left behind, ruined by a gross gag with a paving stone at the end),  “The Fires of Pompeii”  (a story that establishes Donna’s moral character), and “Turn Left” (a story about Donna in an alternate universe where she didn’t save the Doctor’s life).

And one to avoid: “The Lazarus Experiment” – An icky body horror story that somehow ended up on Doctor Who instead of Tales from the Crypt.

Eleventh Doctor – Matt Smith (2010-2013)

I was wary of Matt Smith with his boyish face and goofy hairdo who seemed to have drawn in an audience of hipsters.  That went away after five minutes of his first episode, and I continue to enjoy Smith’s dynamic acting that captures a certain childishness while at the same time showing a (very) old man in a young man’s body.  The Eleventh Doctor era has also pushed the envelope with storytelling and season long story arcs.  I will miss Matt Smith when he leaves at Christmas this year.

“The Eleventh Hour” – The Eleventh Doctor’s debut is as much a reintroduction to the Doctor and the series as “Rose” with a frenetic pace as the regenerating Doctor befriends his new companion Amy Pond and attempts to solve the mystery of an alien incursion s time ticks away.

“The Lodger” – Doctor Who can put itself into any genre, this time pairing up the Doctor with Craig Owens (played by James Corden) for a comic buddy film as the Doctor investigates a mysterious presence in over Craig’s apartment.  Craig returns with his adorable infant son Alfie the following season in “Closing Time” which is also worth watching.

“The Impossible Astronaut” / “Day of the Moon” – Series 6 opens with a bang in this two-parter involving time travel paradox, the Apollo moon landing, and an alien infestation of the planet Earth unlike any other.

“The Doctor’s Wife” – Famed writer Neil Gaiman penned this touching and imaginative story which serves as a tribute to the TARDIS.

“The Name of the Doctor” – The series 7 finale reveals many mysteries setting up the 50th anniversary special, while highlighting the work of the team of Doctor’s friends including Clara, River Song, Madame Vastra, and Jenny.

Honorable mentions: “Vincent and the Doctor” (not much of a story but a touching tribute to the troubled artist) and “Cold War” (an submarine adventure which is a highlight of Clara’s time as companion).

And one to avoid: “Night Terrors” – Kind of a rehash of plot lines from Doctor Who and The Twilight Zone that doesn’t really work as anything but filler, especially amid the drama of the ongoing story arcs.

If you’ve read this far, make sure to check out the 50th anniversary special “The Day of The Doctor.”  It was spectacular.  The other anniversary specials “The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot” and An Adventure in Space in Time are also both wonderful in their own ways and definitely worth watching.  And now I will join other Doctor Who fans in waiting for the Christmas Special where we will say farewell to Matt Smith and hello to Peter Capaldi as the Twelfth Doctor.

Book Review: Doctor Who. Series 2, Volume 1, The Ripper by Tony Lee


Author: Tony Lee
Title: Doctor Who. Series 2, Volume 1, The Ripper
Publication Info: IDW Publishing (2011)
ISBN: 9781600109744
Summary/Review: The Eleventh Doctor accompanied by Amy and Rory visit Victorian Whitechapel and find themselves in the midst of the Jack the Ripper killings where the Ripper is <SPOILERS> an alien! </SPOILERS>  Another enjoyable comic adventure for Doctor Who.

Rating: **1/2

 

Book Review: Doctor Who. Volume 3, Final sacrifice by Tony Lee


Author: Tony Lee
Title: Doctor Who. Volume 3, Final sacrifice
Publication Info: IDW Publishing (2011)
ISBN: 9781600108464
Summary/Review:  The conclusion of the story begun in Fugitive and Tesseract finds the Tenth Doctor, his allies and enemies on a planet caught in endless civil war.  The actions of the Doctor will determine whether the cycle will be broken but requires confounding choices and sacrifice.  The comic format allows for a visual imagination that would not likely be convincing in a televised format but on the other hand the dialogue seems spare and simplistic.  Still, this is a great adventure and addition to the Doctor Who oeuvre.

Rating: **1/2

 

Book Review: Doctor Who. Volume 2, Tesseract by Tony Lee


Author: Tony Lee
Title: Doctor Who. Volume 2, Tesseract
Publication Info: IDW Publishing (2010)
ISBN: 9781600107566
Summary/Review: The Tenth Doctor’s adventures from Fugitive continue with his new companions Emily and Matt heading on divergent paths.  Emily becomes a stronger character driven to action while Matt consumed by jealousy is drawn to evil.  There’s also a 5D spaceship, Martha Jones and UNIT, and Greenwich Park under attack by trees. As I noted on the previous volume, the comic format allows for a visual imagination that would not likely be convincing in a televised format but on the other hand the dialogue seems spare and simplistic.

Rating: **1/2

 

Book Review: The Clockwise Man by Justin Richards


Author: Justin Richards
TitleThe Clockwise Man
Publication Info: Random House UK (2005)
ISBN: 0563486287
Summary/Review: My Doctor Who obsession continues in the printed word with this adventure taking the Ninth Doctor and Rose to Edwardian London.  They are soon embroiled in a mystery that involves, yep, aliens.  It’s a good story and one that probably works best as a novel that wouldn’t translate to the screen.

Rating:  ***

Book Review: Doctor Who. Volume 1, Fugitive by Tony Lee, Al Davison, & Matthew Smith


Author:Tony Lee, Al Davison, & Matthew Smith
TitleDoctor Who. Volume 1, Fugitive
Publication Info: IDW Publishing (2010)
ISBN: 1600106072
Summary/Review: My Doctor Who obsession continues into graphic novels.  Here the Tenth Doctor enjoys an adventure in 1920s Hollywood, gains two new companions, and a new nemesis, The Advocate.  The comic format allows for a visual imagination that would not likely be convincing in a televised format but on the other hand the dialogue seems spare and simplistic.  Still, this is an enjoyable romp.

Rating: **1/2