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