These are a WHO of my Favorite Things #3

Just as the Tour takes occasional joy in goings on outside the friendly confines of the Tour, as part of the year-end countdown we’re going to take a moment to highlight the favorite thing done by the Tour this year.

It is of course our 50th Anniversary project which ran all the way from January 1st all the way up to the Anniversary in November, 50 for 50 … The 50 Greatest Stories in Doctor Who History, a collection of thoughts and short essays from four Doctor Who fans taking turns talking about their favorite Doctor Who stories.

So many thanks go out to Alan, Andy, and Steve for all of their work in keeping the Countdown going, and more importantly, interesting during the hectic beginnings, the mushy middle, and all of the ‘pick conflicts’ that predominated over the final third of the list.  We’re proud of the project and the all the conversations it started.

Definitely the favorite thing the Tour did in 2013.

50 for 50 — One Day at a Time (Lord)

(Editors note: the regular rotation of writing on the 50 for 50 Countdown allowed two #1 stories, Fury from the Deep from Alan, and the overall #1 Midnight by Steve, to be opined upon.  In the spirit of fairness, not to mention completeness, all of the #1 stories in the overall list will be highlighted by their respective 50 for 50 participant.  Here’s David’s…)

It’s odd now having thought about it, but this 50 for 50 Countdown has reached full circle (not an oblique reference to the Tom Baker story) around the whole 50 years of Doctor Who.  The first story at #50 was Planet of Fire, an unappreciated story that deserves more attention than it gets because it ‘s cast in the shadow of an almost universally acclaimed all-time story that directly followed.  That story is my #1, The Caves of Androzani.  It’s hardly an audacious choice, indeed Caves has been so loved and for so long that it’s almost dismissed in some corners.  But if it’s been awhile since you either saw Caves or even considered watching it. curiosity will not be your downfall.

Because it is such a well-known story, it might be worthwhile to remember a few things about it:

  • This is a very, very dark story.  Everyone, save one, on Androzani Minor dies.  That includes the Doctor.  Only Peri survives.  How many other Doctor Who stories are that bleak in hindsight?
  • This is almost NOT a fifth Doctor story.  By that I mean Caves is so atypical of the Davison era in tone, pace, even down to the characterization of the Doctor that it surprises at almost every turn.  In his (triumphant) return to the series Robert Holmes got the fifth Doctor absolutely right in his first try.  Sarcastic but with an undercurrent of dry wit, he saw what almost none of the writers at that time (perhaps save Christopher H. Bidmead) saw that as an old man in a young mans body, it allowed some measure of knowing condescension that clicked.

​I regard Caves as an old reliable friend.  I make sure to watch the story once, perhaps twice a year, but not more than that.  Holding the memory of a great story is every bit as important as the story itself, and the occasional booster shot makes the story indelible.

I remember a Christmas week 25 or so years ago when I was on vacation away from home.  To that point I had only seen Caves in omnibus format and loved it right from the start, but as it happened that local PBS where I was this particular week ran Doctor Who episodically at dinner time weekdays. The story they were running was Caves.  I can’t tell you how excited I was to see the story unfold in this way, one day at a time, including the cliffhanger to episode three.  It was terrific, and something I still haven’t forgotten.

So 50 for 50 comes to a close.  My thanks to Alan, Andy, and Steve for taking a concept put forward a year ago and running with it.  The writing standard has been quite high and the exercise rewarding to manage, edit, and contribute to.  — David

50 for 50 — One More for the Road

(Editors note: the regular rotation of writing on the 50 for 50 Countdown allowed two #1 stories, Fury from the Deep from Alan, and the overall #1 Midnight by Steve, to be opined upon.  In the spirit of fairness, not to mention completeness, all of the #1 stories in the overall list will be highlighted by their respective 50 for 50 participants.  Here’s Andy’s…)

So finally we’re here, the wait is over. To choose one story out of the 200 plus now that there are, seems an impossibility really. As I mentioned before, different stories appeal in different ways on different days…that’s what makes this series so special. It can be so many things, comedy, gothic drama, sci-fi spectacular, action, love story. The story that is at my #1 Doctor Who story of all time…(well, this week it is, ahem) is all of those descriptions and more, a wonderfully written and acted story, with so many facets to it, that really make it a top-notch piece of Who, and a damn good piece of television drama to boot….It’s Human Nature / The Family of Blood.

Paul Cornell’s popular Virgin New Adventure novel laid the roots for this two-parter, with many tweaks and changes but essentially the same story underneath. The Doctor and Martha, on the run from unseen assailants and desperate to find sanctuary, hide in 1913 pre-First World War Britain, and using some strange Time Lord device, the previously unheard of ‘chameleon arch’, the Doctor turns himself human so that his enemies cannot trace him.  Blimey!  What a great plot device if that had always been in the TARDIS, eh?!  Well, overlooking that, it sets up a superb backstory that brings some wonderful performances from David Tennant, as the ‘human’ persona, John Smith, teacher at a boys’ school, and his affections for Joan Redfern, beautifully played by Jessica Hynes. The sad realization that things will never be the same for both of them becomes the climax of this adventure and speaks volumes for how well this is played out.  Heartbreaking doesn’t really cover it. Doctor Who never really did ’emotional’ particularly well, or at all, til the 2005 comeback, but here, all that is swept aside for a true ‘love story’.

The unsettling villains of the piece, the Family Of Blood, are a wonderfully creepy bunch, taking over residents of the surroundings, with all four actors playing two subtle and not so subtle characters.  Particularly noteworthy is Harry Lloyd as Baines, who ends up as the loathsome ‘Son Of Mine’, and Rebekah Staton as Jenny, who later becomes the possessed ‘Mother Of Mine’…both their performances are superb, very subtle, not over the top, and damn scary with it….As along with the iconic Scarecrow army, another iconic Who monster, their place is well and truly secured for future fans and past. Freema Agyeman’s Martha also comes into her own here too, left to try and look after a man who looks like the Doctor, but no longer has any of that man’s traits, and decidedly looks down his nose at her.  Her pain and confusion is all too evident, as she sees the ‘ex’ Time Lord woo another woman when her own feelings for him are there for us all to see, even if he can’t.

Settings are so important to Doctor Who.  Good stories have been ruined by not having a decent believable setting, lesser ones vindicated by their iconic ones. Human Nature gives us a top level one, with it’s pre-Great War setting. It’s so perfect for these episodes, and of course, the Beeb do a very good believable historical England! To this day, every time I view these episodes, the deeper parts of it hit home every time. Tim Latimer, is now an old soldier, life now mostly behind him. At the Remembrance Day ceremony he glances across, to see the Doctor and Martha, wearing poppies, looking no different to how he last saw them…the tears come to me every time, as they do to him….the mark of a superb piece of TV…

Now, this is all conjecture, ask me next year what my top stories are, my answers may be different!! Roll on 2014, let the clock strike twelve!  — Thank you Andy!

One last #1 to be revealed.  Then 50 for 50 is done and dusted.

50 for 50 — The Greatest Stories in Doctor Who History — #1

At the beginning of this momentous year, I was lucky enough to be one of four people who put together their personal lists of their fifty all time favourite Doctor Who stories. Each list was varied and eclectic and sometimes we were unanimous, other times we differed and often went wildly off piste. But each time it came for us to review something from our list, we each delivered, in our own inimitable styles, a thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining read and I’m proud to have been part of the project. And now that project is reaching it’s End Of Season finale, and I’m honoured that it falls to me to review my top story of all time.

When I was working on this list, which seemed to regenerate each time I wrote it, I always ended on the same story. A story that I was surprised to find at the top of my choices, to be honest. The reason being because it’s written by Russell T Davies. Much as I and most fans are in his debt for bringing our beloved show back to our screens, I am actually not a massive fan of his writing. I find his stories too hung up on emotional baggage and too much like being in a soap opera. In fact, there is not a single RTD written story on my list.

But then, out of the blue, we get Midnight. A story that is so staggeringly good that it makes me wonder why he couldn’t write like this all the time. And the story that sits proudly at the top of my all time countdown.

There has never been a story like Midnight, before or after. A story where everything relies on performance, performance, performance, the likes of which we have never seen before. But more on that later.

The story starts in a lighthearted way and is a bit of a romp for the first ten minutes. The cleverly observed characters having fun and relaxing. And that’s why, when the terror starts, it hits home all the more.

Apart from a few scenes, mainly at the beginning and the end, the story is staged on one small set. In fact, it would work very well as a stage play. The shuttle interior is cramped and claustrophobic and because of the lethal radiation outside, there is literally no escape. No simple wave of the sonic can get the Doctor and his travelling companions out of this one.

From the very first moment that the pilot thinks he sees movement outside (which we never see), the tension mounts. The simple act of the knocking on the shuttle exterior is frightening enough, but when you realise that it’s trying to communicate, it makes the hairs on your neck stand on end. The very fact that we never, ever see what the creature looks like and we never know it’s true intentions makes this Extonic monster, in my mind, one of the most frightening in the whole 50 years of the show. Everything is done with suggestion, though the use of sound, music and performance.

Ah yes. Performance. Each character aboard the shuttle is a fully rounded, individual human being. And each performance is second to none. From the paranoid mother, to the college professor (played by Patrick Troughton’s son David), to the undergraduate to the unnamed Hostess, all are outstanding and make the ensemble piece gel wonderfully.

But even these performances can’t compare to those of Leslie Sharp as Sky Silvestry and David Tennant. Firstly, the very thought of a creature that can steal your voice is chilling enough, but played like these two fine actors do, it hits the heights of award winning, in my opinion. For the scenes where Sky and the Doctor are talking in unison to work, each had to have split second precision in their delivery. The script is tremendous, speeding along at warp factor 6 and is also very witty. And Tennant and Sharp deliver it flawlessly. It’s breathtaking watching them in action.

And then, when the Doctor actually has his voice stolen, the complete terror in his eyes in chilling. Never have we seen the Doctor this scared, before or after. He is completely helpless and totally in the hands of his fellow passengers. He is utterly terrified and David Tennant does all of this with his eyes. An incredible performance.

Midnight doesn’t conform to any of the “rules” that New Who had written for itself. Explosions, running around, big scary monsters, CGI special effects and a sonic screwdriver that became a “get out of anything” device. It relies on the story and it’s characters and some amazing turns by all the individuals concerned. It explores themes of isolation, mob mentality and how fear can affect judgment in a head-on way that leaves you quite taken aback and really makes you wonder what you would do in a situation like this. You’d hope you’d not be one of those willing to throw people to their deaths to save your own skin. But would you?

Midnight is perfect. I’ve lost track of the times I’ve watched it and it doesn’t miss a single beat and is as chilling to watch with each repeat viewing.. Did I say repeat? I didn’t mean that. No, really, I didn’t.

And so that’s it. Our journey is over and what a journey it has been.

This is the end. But the moment has been prepared for.  — Steve (Thank you Steve!)

Alan’s #1 — Fury from the Deep (Thank You Alan!)
Andy’s #1 — ???
David’s #1 — ???

What’s this?  Where are the other #1’s?  What this space tomorrow and Friday…

50 for 50 — Missing … Presumed Dread

The thing about putting together a personal list of the 50 Greatest Stories in Doctor Who history is that something, rather several somethings, always fall through the cracks.  My list is, as always accessible via the 50 for 50 page, and while I generally hold to the list….

  1. It was put together nearly a year ago.  Times and tastes change, even excluding for the purposes of the original list the nine Matt Smtih episodes that have aired since December 15, 2012 (original list cut off date).  A story which once held sway may wane for any number of reasons.
  2. Looking at the other 50 for 50 lists, I can’t believe I left some of ‘those’ stories off my own list.  All of us are smarter than one us (that’s the theory at least).

With that in mind, and in no particular order, here are a few stories which should have made my own list.

  • Gridlock.  Any story which moves even an old experienced fan should, it would seem, automatically make the list.  The end of Gridlock did this in spades.  Nice nods to Doctor Who history appeared from the Macra down to Gallifrey and the Time War.
  • The Web of Fear.  A bit of a cheat going on here.  I’d always loved episode 1 but couldn’t justify a better ranking for myself without a much bigger bite of the story to work from.  The find of The Web of Fear earlier in the autumn not only justified my affection for episode 1 but for the story overall.
  • Logopolis.  A story that’s all about atmosphere and big ideas.  Delivered on both definitely, just not to my list apparently.
  • The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang.  Horrific internal inconsistency going one here.  In the 2010 Dynamic Rating Table for Matt Smith’s first season I rated these stories as the best of the season, ahead of A Good Man Goes to War which I rated #15 on my overall list.  Surely then these two would be higher, or at least equivalent to that.  Apparently not.  Not on the list at all.  What was I thinking?
  • The Masque of Mandragora.  A lovely Holmes/Hinchcliffe/Baker/Sladen pseudo-historical and it didn’t make the list.  Again what was I thinking (must have been having one of my ‘spells’).

There are probably more that I could rattle off, but I’d rather not dwell on my inconsistencies.  In case you think it’s easy to put one of these lists together, think again.  It’ll takes much longer than you think, especially in the mushy middle of your rankings.  Still we enjoyed ourselves.

And the #1 selection is yet to be revealed.

50 for 50 — The Greatest Stories in Doctor Who History — #2

My final story in the regular 50 for 50 Coutndown rotation is an acknowledged classic, perhaps the foremost example of the pseudo-Historical ever done in the series, and the fitting pinnacle of the greatest era (in the eyes of the author) Doctor Who ever had, that of the Philip Hinchcliffe/Robert Holmes production team which ostensibly ran for seasons 12-14.  It was also their last.

It was The Talons of Weng-Chiang.

Both lovingly gothic and Victorian given the setting, with Tom Baker eschewing the scarf for a deerstalker of Sherlockian dress-sense and Leela as his ‘Fair Lady,’ Talons is a lovingly concocted mixture directed by long-time stalwart David Maloney (his final Doctor Who as director) and coming from the mind of Robert Holmes that bears all of his trademark story elements.

The ‘double-act’ of Jago and Lightfoot was so well-received that they were considered for a spin-off of their own (a wish granted 30+ years later on audio via Big Finish).

It’s hardly a controversial choice to have Talons rated this high in our poll as it’s been a fan favorite for many years for good reason.  Talons was voted the best Doctor Who story ever in the 2003 Outpost Gallifrey poll to mark the series’ 40th anniversary, narrowly beating The Caves of Androzani.  A 2009 DWM poll rated the story second, just as we are here.  If you’re a fan whose horizons don’t reach back past 2005 but are curious for a way in, The Talons of Weng-Chiang is an outstanding way to start.

Alan’s #2 — The Invasion
Andy’s #2 —  UtopiaThe Sound of Drums, and Last of the Time Lords
Steve’s #2 — Horror of Fang Rock

It all comes down to this… the final story in our Countdown which will be revealed next week.