Like many Whovians, spent the entire week celebrating the 50th anniversary of “Doctor Who”. Starting on Monday and ending with “Day of the Doctor”, I watched at least one episode featuring every single actor to play the Doctor!
Here’s a list of what I watched with some thoughts on why I picked each one:
William Hartnell, “An Unearthly Child”
I didn’t watch all four parts, but the show’s first episode works on its own as an introduction to the series. It’s really amazing just how many crucial elements are here, fully formed: the TARDIS (inside and out), the mysterious Doctor with no name, the companions (willing and not), and the theme song. All Whovians owe it to themselves to seek out this episode and see how “Doctor Who” began.
Peter Cushing, “Dalek Invasion of Earth 2150 A.D.”
Peter Cushing always gets left out of the conversation. It’s true that he’s actually playing Dr. Who and not the Doctor (although everyone in this movie calls him “the Doctor”), but this film (and its predecessor, “Dr. Who and the Daleks”) is still an important part of the show’s history. These films represent a time when Dalekmania was a genuine thing, when “Who” was so popular it could exist on television and in theatres. It gave audiences their first taste of the Daleks in colour, and the first use of widescreen format for the Doctor’s adventures. Cushing may be playing a human scientist and not a Time Lord, but he captures the spirit of the Doctor (and his costume is fantastic). While the Cushing films are rightly outside of canon, they deserved more recognition during the show’s fiftieth anniversary celebrations.
Patrick Troughton, “The Enemy of the World”
This is one of two recently recovered episodes now available on iTunes. “The Enemy Of The World” is as good as its reputation, a James Bond style thriller with Patrick Troughton playing a dual role (as the Doctor and an evil dictator called Salamander). The story moves along at a brisk pace and there are enough twists and turns to fill six episodes. I opted for this story over “Web of Fear” because it promised something different than a standard (albeit legendary) UNIT adventure, and I’m glad I did.
Jon Pertwee, “Spearhead From Space”
This is one of those episodes that could have easily made a feature film. The script is great, the direction is strong, and everything looks great because it was all shot on film. I’ve seen “Spearhead From Space” more times than any other Third Doctor story (except for maybe “The Three Doctors”), but I wanted to re-watch it this week because I recently purchased it on Blu-ray. For the record, it looks incredible in high definition.
Tom Baker, “Terror of the Zygons”
There are many great Fourth Doctor episodes, but I picked this one because the Zygons are back in “Day of the Doctor”. While the model work on the oil rigs and the Loch Ness Monster are terrible, Sarah Jane Smith is adorable as always and the Doctor’s interactions with the Zygon leader are hilarious. “Terror of the Zygons” represents the end of an era, with the Brigadier and UNIT making their last regular appearance and the Doctor and Sarah Jane heading off for further adventures without the superfluous Harry Sullivan bogging things down. Along with “Ark in Space” and “Genesis of the Daleks”, it’s one of the strongest early Fourth Doctor stories.
Peter Davison, “Snakedance”
A while back I showed my wife “Kinda”, and I wanted her to see its sequel. The Peter Davison era remains my favourite in all of “Doctor Who”, and I credit stories like this one (along with “Warriors of the Deep”, “Frontios”, and “The Caves of Androzani”) for making me seek out more complex and mature science fiction when I was a teenager.
Richard Hurndall, “The Five Doctors”
William Hartnell passed away in 1975, so the role of the First Doctor was recast for this twentieth anniversary special. Richard Hurndall does an excellent job channelling the prickly First Doctor, and he looks no more out of place than the visibly older Patrick Troughton and Jon Pertwee do. “The Five Doctors” is a celebration of the show’s history, with old companions and monsters making appearances, and it’s final lines completely sum up the spirit of the show.
Colin Baker, “Timelash”
"Timelash" is not one of Colin Baker’s stronger stories, but it is one of the few that was never released on VHS in the days I was first collecting episodes. As a result, I don’t think I’d seen it since it originally aired, making it a good choice for a Sixth Doctor to watch this week. I hated Baker’s pompous, egotistical Doctor when he originally appeared on the scene, but now I love his take on the character. Maybe it’s just that the show underwent more showrunner turnover in those days, but there was a much starker contrast between the seven Classic Doctors than we get today. It makes for more consistent characterization on the new show, but we lose that idea of the series completely reinventing itself with each new incarnation.
Sylvester McCoy,”Remembrance of the Daleks”
Still my favourite anniversary episode, this brilliant Sylvester McCoy story answers the question of what the Doctor was doing in 1963 England back in “An Unearthly Child”. With lots of nods to the show’s premiere episode, “Remembrance” celebrates the show’s silver anniversary better than the actual anniversary story “Silver Nemesis”. This episode introduces an early-1960s military group that looks and feels a lot like UNIT (right down to the mustachioed commander) which I assume was going to return on a semi-regular basis if the show hadn’t been cancelled. It also has Ace smashing a Dalek with a baseball bat and firing a rocket launcher, sealing her place as ‘greatest companion since Sarah Jane Smith’ (a title she has yet to lose, by the way).
Paul McGann, “The Light At The End”
Okay, technically I didn’t watch this since it’s an audio play, but I recently watched the Fox TV movie and no one should be subjected to that more than once every fifteen years. Big Finish has done a great job continuing the adventures of the Eighth Doctor (not to mention giving us further stories starring the other surviving Classic Who actors), and “The Light At The End” is the multi-Doctor episode fans wanted to celebrate the fiftieth. The end is a bit too neat, and the two hour run time makes for a pretty crowded TARDIS (we even get snippets of the First, Second and Third Doctors via impersonations), but all of the actors are in top form.
Rowan Atkinson, Richard E. Grant, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Grant, and Joanna Lumley, “The Curse of the Fatal Death”
Probably the most surprising thing about this comedy short done for charity is how good Rowan Atkinson is as the Ninth Doctor. Sure, he’s more than a little over-the-top (intentionally, as this is a parody), but you can see how if he played it straight he could be a pretty great Doctor. Also good is Richard E. Grant who takes over after the Ninth Doctor is killed (Grant also voiced the Doctor in “Scream of the Shalka”, and would later show up on the new show as the Great Intelligence). In his brief time as the Tenth Doctor (before also being killed and regenerating into Jim Broadbent, then Hugh Grant, then Joanna Lumley), Richard E. Grant gives us a modern Doctor that could have easily fit into Russell T. Davies’ version of the show. The short itself alternates between smart and stupid, but it’s notable for being Steven Moffat’s first “Who” script.
Christopher Eccleston, “Rose”
For my Ninth Doctor episode I decided to watch “Rose”. Not only does it feature the Autons (the villains from “Spearhead From Space”), it’s also the first appearance of the post-Time War Doctor and the first time audiences saw a new actor in the role in nearly a decade. Going back to the first revival series episode now, it’s clear they weren’t entirely sure if they were making a continuation of the original or if it was a total reboot. The tone is also all over the place, part goofy kids’ show and part dark sci-fi, but Eccleston and Billie Piper are great in their roles.
David Bradley, “An Adventure in Space and Time”
This telefilm about the origins of the series is excellent and you should definitely check it out if you haven’t already. David Bradley is great as William Hartnell, and Jessica Raine is wonderful as Verity Lambert. In a perfect world, we’d get further installments that chronicle the post-Hartnell years, the UNIT era, the Fourth Doctor’s record breaking stint on the show, the tumultuous 1980s, and the show’s resurrection in 2005.
John Hurt, David Tennant & Matt Smith, “Day of the Doctor”
It was hard enough cramming all of the above into one week, so I decided to make “Day of the Doctor” my Tenth and Eleventh Doctor episode for the week (not to mention the War Doctor). I’m going to need some time (and probably a re-watch) before I’m ready to write a full review, but for the time being I’ll just say that it was a lot of fun (and not nearly as dark as I expected) and a wonderful celebration of the past fifty years.