The Road Seldom Taken

The news of January 30 confirming the April 15th start date for Series 10 came at a bit of cost, though hardly a surprising one.  Peter Capaldi will be moving on after three full series, which has become the defacto norm going all the way back to the classic era.  This means, we add with some regret, that another Christmas Special will be a regeneration story, including all of them in the nu-Who era.  With Series 10 also being Steven Moffat’s last series as well it’ll be all change in 2018 for incoming showrunner Chris Chibnall.

It’s hardly surprising that Capaldi should be leaving alongside Moffat, but here at the Tour we do wonder about the road seldom, if ever, taken.  Namely that the actor playing the Doctor should stay on for one more series under a new production team before leaving.  Producers in the 60’s seemed to come and go with abandon.  It didn’t really happen that away of course.

As the 70’s dawned stability was the watchword with Barry Letts staying on a full five years, even through Tom Baker’s first story Robot (although history has it that Pertwee was willing to stay for a sixth season, but at a price the Beeb chose not to swallow).  Scarf Boy outlasted two administrations and left after JN-T’s first year only because his contract had one last year to run.  In fact he is the only example of a Doctor who stayed for that first year under a new Producership.  Davison, Colin Baker, and McCoy never got the chance because JN-T, despite, as we would later learn, his yearning to move on, never found a soft place to land elsewhere in the BBC.  It can be persuasively argued that it would have been best for JN-T to have left after The Twin Dilemma, but that would truly be revisionist history.

Eccleston ankled before anyone had a chance to know what they had.  Tennant wondered aloud about staying on for Moffat’s first year but ultimately didn’t.  And Moffat, as a celebrity showrunner, was too important to the image of the BBC as a whole to leave right after the 50th.

So here we are.  The blackboard of is being wiped clean once again.  As is said in tennis, 15-love?

No More of No More

Well, this hasn’t happened in nearly 21 years.  The Doctor Who community lost a Doctor for the first time since Jon Pertwee passed in 1996 with the news that John Hurt, the ‘War Doctor’ from The Day of the Doctor has passed away at the age of 77.

That Doctor Who and John Hurt should have ever crossed paths, despite numerous other SF acting credits all comes down to Christopher Eccleston’s reluctance in 2013, as Tom Baker had 30 years earlier, to come back to Doctor Who.  This forced Steven Moffat to do a quick pivot, and a fair bit of retconning, to have a ‘War Doctor.’

This not only tied in and concluded the Time War subplot begun all the way back in The End of the World but also neatly worked it’s way forward by revealing that Matt Smith was not the 11th Doctor but actually the 13th, including the ‘hand’ from The Stolen Earth.  When Smith left in the story which followed the 50th, The Time of the Doctor, Moffat was able to then also resolve the 12 regeneration limit set forth all the way back in The Deadly Assassin.  That was some deft timey-wimey from Mr. Moffat.

But in order to make it work for the 50th it required an actor with gravitas who you believe had worn the weight of the endless conflict surrounding the Time War, and to that end John Hurt was quite a ‘get.’  He was amused, as a proxy for the audience, at some of the nonsense Smith and Tennant got up to in Day, but called them on it as well.

Fortunately for all of us The Day of the Doctor was not just a one-off for John Hurt.  He appeared in several Big Finish audios reprising the role.

Thank you Sir John Hurt.

The TARDIS whirled on it’s way again…

The TARDIS whirled on it’s way again. The Doctor listened to Sara and Steven as they recovered from their recent exertions. Sara asked, “Whatever was that place?”

“I’ve no idea,” Steven replied, “Let’s hope we never land there again.” He heard a tinkling sound and looked up to see the Doctor carrying a silver tray with three crystal wine glasses, brimful. “we so rarely get a chance to celebrate,” remarked the Doctor at their unspoken questions.

“Celebrate?” the mystified Steven asked.

“Don’t you remember? In the Police Station – it was Christmas.”

“So it was,” smiled Steven, taking the proffered glass.

“Here’s a toast. A Happy Christmas to all of us,” said the Doctor, bending a benign smile on his young companions. Then he raised his glass high, saluting a host of Absent Friends and turned away.

“And incidentally – a happy Christmas, to all of you at home.”

Have a Feast @ Doctor Who’s Tragical History Tour!

It’s a Tragical History Tour tradition (and the Matrix Mutterings before that) that stretches all the way back to 1995. Our annual holiday bit of Christmas merriment heralds Doctor Who’s most prominent (at least until 2005) and obvious holiday crossover. And therein lies a tale (some of it possibly apocryphal!) Christmas Day in 1965 fell on a Saturday. DOCTOR WHO was well into a successful third season in its by-now-traditional Saturday tea-time slot on the BBC schedules with William Hartnell in the lead and was going all out to appease the rampant Dalekmania that had taken England and the series by storm by unleashing the massive 12-part story The Dalek Master Plan over a three month period. Rather than take a break for more traditional holiday-fare the powers that were in the BBC decided not to break up the Dalek epic halfway through (at episode 7) and continue to run the series. The Producer at the time John Wiles felt the unusual slotting on Christmas day provided an ideal chance to break from the larger story temporarily and try something totally different.

In England the theater tradition of Christmas pantomimes was a well understood and accepted form of entertainment. Thus virtually all links to the story up to that point were forgotten for a week to indulge in the ‘Christmas spirit’ as it were. In other words nothing less than a full-blown pantomime and send-up as the Doctor and his companions–Steven and Sara–ricocheted from one ridiculous situation to another. As it was viewers at the time didn’t mind the diversion–although the episode was never sold into syndication overseas. Even so the most infamous feature in this episode was William Hartnell’s closing speech–directly to the audience! Although this closing exists in the scripts that exist today, both script editor Donald Tosh and director Douglas Camfield insisted it was not in the shooting script! Camfield was reportedly so incensed that, according to Heather Hartnell, he gave Hartnell the original print shortly after it was broadcast and in subsequent years the Hartnell family would then gather together after Christmas dinner to watch The Feast of Steven all over again. Ho! Ho! WHO!

Read more about Doctor Who’s original Christmas Celebration, The Feast of Steven here.

Fourteen Merit Gold

Any site which celebrates Doctor Who history must by extension also celebrate tradition.  Now with the 12th Annual Christmas Special, ‘The Return of Doctor Mysterio’ looming we engage in our (nearly) annual tradition of ranking the Christmas Specials.  We used to do a countdown but with 14 on our list and a 15th soon to join, much of December, and more of it each year, would be subsumed.

With so many to choose from, it’s worth remembering just how many story styles the Christmas specials have afforded.  Stories drawing heavily on Christmas tradition?  Done.  Spectacle for it’s own sake?  Yep.  Episodes that don’t really have anything to do with Christmas.  Covered.  And then there are the regeneration (or adjacent) stories.  Three of those too.  We have the count (generously) down at 14.  Here’s our list from best to worst.  That should be enough to keep even the most ardent Doctor Who fans busy for the holiday.

  1. A Christmas Carol
  2. The Christmas Invasion
  3. The Unquiet Dead
  4. The Dæmons (omnibus edition)
  5. The Snowmen
  6. The Next Doctor
  7. The Runaway Bride
  8. The Time of the Doctor
  9. The Doctor, The Widow, and the Wardrobe
  10. The Husbands of River Song
  11. Last Christmas
  12. The End of Time Pt I
  13. The Feast of Steven
  14. Voyage of the Damned

Power for the People!

While nothing can match the sheer surpise from the drop of The Night of the Doctor as part of the Anniversary run-up in 2013, the ‘re-‘ animation of The Power of the Daleks as an Anniversary ‘gift’ this year is no slouch.  A complete casuality from the BBC Archives purge, the animation deftly uses the extant sound recordings, archival photos, and telesnaps to frame the story.

It’s no substitute for the real thing of course, but it is eminantly watchable.  Which brings us to a point, one made with Tour confines before.  If you’re at all curious about those missing stories from the archives (Marco Polo immediately springs to mind), which there of course far, far too many of, and still want to know what it was all about, the BBC releases of these stories with linking narration are out there, perhaps even locally, if you know where to look, and the effort in doing so will be rewarded.

One last thing about episode 1 of The Power of the Daleks.  We thought we had spotted a MAJOR continuity flaw in the animation.  Did you notice that the Doctors clothes changed as well when he regenerated?  We sure did.  But then we consulted the tele-snaps and found that this was how it actually happened.  Couldn’t get away with that today.

Enjoy the reanimated, or zombie, version of The Power of the Daleks.  Now let’s get to work on that Marco Polo recon.