Series One

On March 26th 2005 Doctor Who returned to our screens. Exactly ten years later I find myself writing this blog as we find out which stories Rose (not that Rose, my Rose – oh, I knew this would get confusing!) found the most exciting, having reached the first series of 21st Century Who in our watch through, which itself started on exact day the show celebrated its 50th Anniversary. Confusing doesn’t cover it!

But here’s the thing – we’ve reached ‘New Who’, it’s 2005, and ROSE HAS STILL NOT BEEN BORN. We are still watching stories that were broadcast before her time. It’s mind boggling, frankly.

What still feels new and fresh to me, still feels like yesterday, frankly, is, to Rose, something very much of its time. She points out the old mobiles, the clothes, even the effects like they are something from another era, and, with a gulp, I realise she’s right.

Rose immediately likes the Ninth Doctor, more so than I think she expected to. Having been considerably less familiar with Christopher Eccleston’s portrayal than his successors, I think she had come to the assumption that he was less fun, less adventurous, less of a Doctor. Not a bit of it! He’s different, that’s for certain – the way he dresses, the way he talks, the way he walks are like nothing we’ve seen in the Time Lord before – but he’s every bit the Doctor.

Rose, too, was a hit with our Rose. Despite making some real progress with Ace in the final years of the original run, the series has never presented us with a companion who felt so, well, REAL before. It’s not just in the writing – Billie Piper gives a wonderful, naturalistic performance that makes it very easy to warm to her, and our Rose really connected with her, and never more than in…

1. Father’s Day

When Rose described this story as ‘like a soap’ she didn’t in any way mean this in a derogatory way, more that it presents some very real characters, with real lives and emotions, caught up in a fantastical situation that itself was caused by a very human desire – Rose trying to save her Dad on the day he was supposed to die. Our Rose loved the central idea, and understood Rose’s actions and also the emotional territory this then took the story into, as Rose got the chance to finally meet her Dad (and her baby self, in a scene that Rose agreed was ‘similar to Mawdryn Undead and the two Brigadiers’).

Personally I still find it incredible that we are now so far away from them that the 80s can now be considered a period setting, but to our Rose this feels just as ‘right’ as a story set in, say, the 60s was in the McCoy era. She loved the hairdos, and the fashions, and the giant mobile phones!

If the Reapers themselves are never fully explained (at the time, or since!) Rose didn’t really mind, she was more interested in the family story, and Pete Tyler’s bravery as he took it upon himself to save the day, and step out in front of that car. Our Rose knew that Rose wouldn’t be able to save him, not really, but she was glad that she could be there for him. A story that really touched Rose, and will stay with her forever.

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2. The Empty Child / The Doctor Dances

Only just narrowly pipped to the post by Father’s Daythis modern classic was a real hit with Rose, who loved pretty much everything about it, from the World War Two setting, the kids (some good performances here!) and the gas-masked zombies to the introduction of Captain Jack Harkness (but, oh no!, he kissed Rose – urgh!) and his ‘squareness gun’ and cool invisible spaceship tethered to Big Ben in the middle of a blitz.

But, again, it was the human story that grabbed Rose, and the little boy looking for his Mummy really touched her, with everyone running away from him when all he really needed was a hug. Amid all the body horror (those gas mask transformations are truly horrible and effective) and sci-fi trappings (Jack and his tech) it was the story of a mother and her son that made this story stand out.

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3. Bad Wolf / The Parting of the Ways

This slightly surprised me, the high placing of this epic spacey Dalek tale, two factors that have, in the past, tended to place a story a little lower on the Rose-scale. But there’s so much more to this, and Rose was initially grabbed by the game show element of the story which she found very amusing, even though some of the references are now quite dated (it’s only TEN YEARS!!) and I had to explain some of them. After this quirky, fun opening the story gradually takes on a darker and darker tone, as the stakes are raised and the seriousness of the situation becomes clear. By this time Rose was totally caught up in events, swept along by the action.

Our Rose was glad to finally get some answers to the on-going ‘Bad Wolf’ thread that had weaved its way through the series, and she understood that Rose had created her own trail to lead her back to the Doctor. Those sequences on Earth, with Rose desperately trying to find a way to get the TARDIS to return her to the space station, proved to our Rose that, in Rose Tyler, the Doctor had found someone who would never let him down, even when he put her out of harm’s way. Those hologram messages, left by a Doctor who knows that all hope it lost, touched Rose, and, when it was time for him to go, Rose was upset that this far too brief an era was over. She would have loved to have seen more of the Ninth Doctor.

Wouldn’t we all, Rose?

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So what of the rest of the series? Well, Rose loved it, on the whole, and found it hard to choose a least favourite. It’s been a long time since we had so many stories to choose from, and many of the others were bubbling just under the top three. Opener Rose was a hit, mainly for its deft introduction of the main characters (with Jackie and Mickey being popular with our Rose) alongside the return of old favourites the Autons, which Rose was delighted to see after all these years/months. Another favourite was The Unquiet Dead, with its Victorian setting, Charles Dickens and ghostly Gelth – Rose found this one genuinely quite creepy! But bottom of the pile comes…

The Long Game

There were elements of this story that Rose liked a lot, chiefly the actions of failed companion Adam, whom Rose found quite interesting as he was SO not cut out for travelling in the TARDIS (in sharp contrast to Rose, Jack and, to give him his due, Mickey). His forehead implant (and the pay-off at the end, with his Mother’s click of her fingers) was far more interesting to Rose than the main plot of the news broadcasts and the schemes of the Editor and his boss, the Mighty Jagrafess of the Holy Hadrojassic Maxarodenfoe, which Rose simplyfound a little dull. On the whole, she found the story a little flat and static, and, compared the look of the surrounding stories, perhaps a little cheap.

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Christopher Eccleston, you were a great Doctor, and your portrayal of the Ninth Doctor was a major part of the success of the revived series. Rose, like the rest of us, was sad to see you go so soon.

But now it’s time for the Tenth Doctor, as David Tennant steps into the role and we move onto Series Two…

(Just a small note here – Rose and I will be grouping the stories as per their release in the boxsets, so Series Two starts with The Christmas Invasion and so on. This will also be reflected in the polls. We’ll also be watching the short red button/Children in Need/etc minisodes and mentioning them when relevant, but not including them in Rose’s rundown or the polls)

Happy 10th Birthday New Who!!

The TV Movie

It’s 1996, and, aside from a few brief glimpses, the Doctor has been off our screens for seven years. We’ve had the books, the comic strips, but nothing replaces Who on the television – he’s back and it’s about time.

It’s 2015, and we completed Survival just two nights ago. Will reaching The TV Movie in our watch-through have a lessened impact on Rose? As it turns out, not a bit!

I gave Rose a quick run-down of events in the world of Who, both real-world and fictional, between 1990 and 1996 (and yes, we did watch Dimensions in Timesee below!). Ace leaves (or dies, whichever line of fiction you follow), other companions come and go. A full-on feature film is mooted, but never materialises, and Who fans finally begin to accept that the show is never coming back.

And all through this, Sylvester McCoy’s Seventh Doctor remains as the ‘current’ incarnation, through the books, the strips, and his eventual appearance here in this made-for-TV movie, he notches up not only the longest period as the Doctor, but the highest number of stories across the various mediums. Not bad for someone who took on the role in the original run’s dying days…

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Rose was glad to see this story open with the Seventh Doctor, as it felt like a proper continuation of the story to her (though she was sad she never got to say goodbye to Ace). It has often been said that the handover between Doctors is one of this story’s missteps, alienating those unfamiliar with the show in starting with one (apparently established) character, sitting in an (apparently established) control room, while shots of a ‘police box’ flying through space are inserted between scenes (apparently unconnected). I see these points, and to some extent agree with them, but what it does bring us is a regeneration scene, important not reasons of fan-boy continuity, but for establishing the strangeness and alieness of the the central character. Rose, having been steeped in the ongoing story, simply felt it was appropriate (and, to quote ‘nice of them’) to invite McCoy back for the handover, and for us as viewers to see this important event in the Doctor’s lives.

So, having been won over by the inclusion of the Seventh Doctor, what did Rose think of The TV Movie? Well, in short, she thought it was great fun. She was not thrown by the glossier look, or the fast pacing, the CGI or the obviously bigger budget so much as many were at the time, mainly because this is a girl who is very used to the look and feel of the show in its 21st Century incarnation. In fact, Rose said this felt like a mixture of the two eras, and in hindsight its hard to argue that.

Rose enjoyed the New Years Eve timing of the story, and thought that gave it a good and clear ‘race against time’ element, and she was pleased enough with the San Francisco setting, as it felt new and exciting after years of BBC studios, quarries and London streets. We discussed that it was a bit handy and convenient that there happens to be a beryllium atomic clock all over the news just as the Doctor decides he needs one, but this was the only thing about the story that Rose criticised.

The biggest hit with Rose was Paul McGann himself, giving an energetic, charismatic and romantic (in all senses of the word) performance as the Eighth Doctor. She had been concerned, I think (as we all were at the time) that the return of Doctor Who to our screens after so long might see a fumbling of the central character – we can live with bad effects, bad stories, bad supporting actors, but the Doctor must, fundamentally, remain the Doctor, despite changes in appearance, characteristics. Thankfully, agreed Rose, McGann gets it right, and the script, while flawed in other areas, allows him moments of charm, alieness and, well Doctorishness.

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Rose was also quite happy with Grace, finding her a fun companion for the Doctor, and was a little surprised with Grace refused the Doctor’s offer to travel with him at the end of the story. She also found it quite interesting that, technically, it was Grace who ‘killed’ the Seventh Doctor, who would surely have survived that hail of bullets had she not attempted surgery. He’s quite forgiving, this Eighth Doctor!

It was the hospital setting that caused Rose to start comparing it to older stories, and she pointed out that it was similar to the Third Doctor’s first story way back in 1970 (or, for us, about a year ago!) Spearhead From Space, which was reinforced by the Doctor stealing his new clothes from the hospital staff. Rose also recalled the Pertwee Doctor when this new model jumped on a motorbike. These little kisses to the past did not go unnoticed.

Unfortunately it was kisses of a different kind that Rose most definitely DIDN’T like, with the Doctor and Grace’s smooches prompting an emphatic URGH from this nine-year-old. Get used to it Rose, they’re here to stay!

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This aside, Rose enjoyed the story, and was left very sad that we didn’t get to see more of the Eighth Doctor. I reminded her that we do see him again, but, as we are watching these stories in broadcast order, we’ll leave that until we reach The Day of the Doctor – a few months from now…

We also watched…

Dimensions in Time

Rose thought this was a bit of a mess (hard to argue with that!), with a nonsensical plot and meaningless dialogue. The Eastenders setting meant little to her, and the cameos from the Walford residents even less. She did enjoy seeing some old Who faces though, and spotted that the Sixth Doctor finally got to meet the Brigadier. On the whole, however, too short, too silly.

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The Curse of Fatal Death

This went down a whole lot better, with Rose enjoying the genuinely funny script (which manages to be both clever and silly) and the unshowy, genuinely Doctorish performance by Rowan Atkinson (or ‘Mr Bean’ as Rose called him). The multiple regenerations amused Rose, and we agreed that, had this been the very last time the Doctor had been seen on the screen there were a lot worse ways it could have ended than this funny, but quite touching in places, love letter to this bonkers, wonderful show.

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So, with Curse taking us up to 1999, and the one-shot return of The TV Movie n apparently the last gasp of our favourite show three years before that, things were looking bleak.But as Rose and I press eject on the DVD player we are already breaking out that first box-set, as we jump ahead into the 21st Century, to 2005 and the return of the show in all its glory.

The Ninth Doctor is here. Rose, meet Rose…

Season Twenty-Six

So here it is, the final series of the ‘classic’ era of Doctor Who (for want of a better term – the revived series has had its fair share of classics itself). It’s quite emotional, reaching this point in the journey, more so, I think, than it was at the time, back in 1989. Despite a growing sense that there might, just possibly, not be a series the following year, there was no ending as such. If that little speech of the Doctor’s as he and Ace walk off into the unknown gave us anything it gave us hope – there are worlds out there, and one day maybe, just maybe, we’ll get to see them.

Rose continued to very much enjoy the Seventh Doctor, and this series consolidated her view that he is one of her favourites. He’s noticeably darker here (and not just his new jacket!), building on the moments of last season where it became clear that this was a Doctor with a mission, far from the aimless wanderer he had been in the past. His manipulation of others, particularly Ace, on whom he depends a great deal, is its height, and the Doctor has never felt more alien. On the other hand, here’s a Doctor who understands humans and their emotions better than ever before.

So, what did Rose think of the stories this Season…

1. The Curse of Fenric

The return of the historical settings in the later Seasons has been popular with Rose, particularly as we are seeing periods that earlier series shied away from. Here we finally get a story set in 1940s England, right in the middle of the Second World War. A complex, layered tale of loyalties, faith, hate and love, Fenric was a big hit with Rose, bringing, as it does, a dash of horror, strong characterisation, and a mystery and threat that unfolds neatly across the episodes and manages to encompass some of the elements of other recent stories to give a real sense of cohesion to the series as a whole. Rose liked the references back to the chess set in Silver Nemesis and the explanation of Ace’s journey to Iceworld prior to the events of Dragonfire and the way the series gives a bigger focus to the companion in general, giving her a backstory and ongoing development. This does bring problems, however, as Ace’s growing maturity leads to moments of ‘lovey dovey’ stuff, which Rose hates! For all its action this story has time for quieter moments, giving characters room to breath and for the story to mean something, and Rose appreciated that. In particular the sub-plot of the baby turning out to be Ace’s hated Mother (spoilers!) really grabbed her. A special mention here for Nicholas Parsons’ superb portrayal of Reverend Wainwright, a measured, unshowy performance, impressing for more than just a minute. It’s a shame we never saw more of him in parts like this. For my part, one of the finest stories in Doctor Who’s history, and I’m glad Rose agrees!

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2. Survival

It’s interesting, and totally appropriate, that the last story to be broadcast during the show’s original run is set in an a recognisable, contemporary setting. It ends where it began, and when the show comes back, properly and for good, in 2005, this is exactly where we’ll pick things up again. But for now it’s the 1980’s, and, for the first time we truly have a story set in suburbia, the horror is brought to your street – that corner shop, that playgound, that youth centre, they are just down the road. Those cats are in your garden. Rose really liked this, right from those opening moments where an unseen ‘something’ arrives on an ordinary street and chases down a man who had moments previously been simply washing his car. Like many of the stories of this era (and this Season in particular) its an Ace based tale, and Rose liked the chance to see where she had come from, a place so ordinary and boring – that is until the Cheetahs on horseback turn up! The Cheetah people really worked for Rose, who was quite impressed by the costumes, enhanced by the cat-like movements of the performers. In particular Rose like Karra (wonderfully portrayed by Lisa Bowerman, who would go on to play the very next companion from the books/audios world, Bernice Summerfield), and felt sorry for her when she was injured. Rose quite liked the return of the Master, but felt he was somewhat incidental to the main points of interest in the story. She did think it was good that he finally got a chance to meet the Seventh Doctor, though. The climax of the story, with the motorbikes on Horsenden Hill, left Rose a little perplexed, but on the whole the story was a bit success, and a story Rose will not forget in a hurry.

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3. Ghost Light

The very last story to be made during the original run scored highly with Rose for its dark Victorian setting and oppressive atmosphere that really gave her the creeps. It’s a slightly confusing story, and I was worried that she wouldn’t follow it (she wouldn’t be the first!) but she engaged with it quite easily, carried along by the moments of humour (Matthews being turned into a monkey, Control wanting to be a ‘Ladylike’) and understood the basic idea of the refusal to accept that things evolve, in both Victorian society and Light himself. It’s another Ace-based story, delving (again) into her past, and a house that had terrified her when she was younger, which gave the story extra points with Rose who thought the Doctor was a little cruel in bringing her there without warning. A creepy, nightmarish story that Rose will remember.

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So, bottom of the pile in this final Season is…

Battlefield

As with Season Twenty-Five, Rose didn’t actually dislike any story this series, finding the general quality to be quite high (I agree here), but something has to come last and this time its this tale of sideways dimensions, Arthurian legend, nuclear missiles and archaeological digs. There is much to like about this story, and Rose was pleased to see the return of the Brigadier (and Bessie!) in a UNIT story that harked back to the Third Doctor’s era but also updates the military organisation with its first female Brigadier (Bambera, who Rose rather liked). The monster design of the Destroyer also impressed her, and she declared it to be one of the best monsters ever in Doctor Who, and she was intrigued by the Doctor as Merlin (a character she is familiar with through the recent-ish BBC series). But on the whole she found the story less impressive than the (admittedly very strong) stories that followed it in the Season, with perhaps a little too much fighting and shouting. That Rose was more affected by the extra on the DVD about Sophie Aldred’s close call in the water tank perhaps says enough.

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So, that’s it. Having started this watch-through on the show’s 50th Anniversary 23rd November 2013, Rose and I have now reached the end of the very last Season, having watched every single episode (including those now missing from the archive). Rose was 7 years old when we started this, and now she’s 9, having devoted 15 months of her life to this exercise and loving every minute of it. She has always had a fondness for the show (this cannot be said of every member of the household!) but mainly in its current incarnation, and I was genuinely surprised that she took this creaky old sci-fi show into her heart so much.

Thanks for being with us on this journey, and for your lovely feedback. It’s a sad day but…

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Oh, who am I kidding, see you soon for the TV Movie, and then…

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Season Twenty-Five

So, here he is, the Seventh Doctor. Following the gradual toning down of the more clown-like aspects of his persona across the previous Season (but retaining that energy and physicality), and his pairing with the strong-willed Ace (more likely to blow something up than scream at it) this era has finally found its voice. The show will continue to experiment and innovate, but from a more assured central point. Rose is loving McCoy’s Doctor. He shot right up the rankings to join Tom Baker and Patrick Troughton as one of ‘the best three’, based on Season Twenty-Four alone. This Season cemented that view – a Doctor who is a grand manipulator, always one step ahead, but who takes time to enjoy his wanderings and have a bit of fun. Rose’s choices initially surprised me, with one of my all-time favourite stories taking last place, but on reflection, and thinking beyond my long held opinions about this story (opinions formed by a teenage boy) and more about Rose’s tastes in Who that have become clear to me over the months then I perhaps could have guessed the stories that would come out on top…

1. The Greatest Show in the Galaxy

Rose simply loved this one, another imaginative story from Stephen Wyatt, writer of Paradise Towers, which, like that earlier story, does a tremendous job at world building at a script level, but this time is much more successfully realised on screen. So many elements of this story worked for Rose, but to select a few: the Chief Clown, brilliantly portrayed by Ian Reddington, was a real hit. I don’t think Rose has a particular feelings about clowns one way or the other (unlike Ace!) but this wide-eyed lunatic with his twisted smile and mellifluous voice really creeped her out. Mags the werewolf (despite the slightly disappointing scene where she goes full on feral), the Gods of Ragnarok appearing as a rather ordinary family, the Doctor’s magic act, the kites with eyes used to track people, Bellboy and Flowerchild (despite them being in love – Rose doesn’t have time for that!), the robot in the sand, the sunny location filming, the rapping Ringmaster, Deadbeat being revealed as Kingpin and the glorious Peggy Mount – the list goes on. But it was the overall idea that really appealed to Rose – a circus that serves only to entertain the gods, where those unlucky enough to visit find themselves in the ring, forced to perform for their amusement. This story propelled itself not only to the top of this Season, but, I think, has found its way to a status as one of her favourite stories ever. “I know it’s not as good as it used to be,” says non-too-subtle fan parody Whizzkid, but Rose begs to differ. The show is seldom better than this.

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2. The Happiness Patrol

I recall this story being highly divisive in its day – many fans were unable to see beyond the (admittedly cheap looking) design work and the frankly bonkers realisation of the Kandy Man (subtle it ain’t) so I wondered how Rose would react to it. Well, frankly, she loved it – the whole concept of a society where it was illegal to be unhappy really grabbed her, and the whole fake, enforced jollity of it was, I think, for her only enhanced by the cheap, fake look of the whole production. Everything is artificial – the guns look like toys, the makeup looks terrible, the costumes garish and nasty – but it’s meant to, that’s the whole point. Rose was with Ace when she described it as ‘naff’, but understood that she was meant to feel that way about it – everything just feels so wrong. It doesn’t take long for the Doctor to get down to business here, and I think Rose quite appreciates this ultra-proactive incarnation who always has an agenda. His scene with the snipers on the balcony sums up everything that the series is about. Helen A (even without the Thatcher comparisons, which never even occurred to Rose) fascinated this nine-year-old, and Helen crying over Fifi’s death at the end really touched her, as the tyrant finally let go and showed true emotion. She was also impressed with the Kandy Man himself, loving his wonderful dialogue (“What time do you call this?” and “I can feel one of my moods coming on.” particularly) and not being at all phased by the design, which she simply found entirely appropriate. A hit!

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3. Silver Nemesis

Cybermen stories have, in latter Seasons, features quite lowly in Rose’s lists. I just don’t think she finds them all that fascinating, as they have, largely, been reduced to little more than generic robot-like troops, which holds very little interest for Rose. This story, however, has so many elements (perhaps too many!) that it maintained Rose’s interest for its duration. She liked Lady Peinforte and her servant Richard, bringing a touch of historical flavour to the story (she would have liked to have seen the Doctor’s initial encounter with her, I think) and the modern-day Nazis (who seem to be able to swan around, fully tooled up, in 1980s Britain!) bring an unexpected extra dimension. But it was the hints about the Doctor’s past, his involvement in the ‘dark times’ as hinted at by Peinforte, and as evidenced by his handling of the Nemesis statue, that Rose found most intriguing, and I think she fully expected (as we all did at the time) that some real secrets would be revealed, particularly as this was the 25th anniversary story. These elements carried Rose through some of the sillier aspects of the story and simply kept her amused. Rose also liked the fact that the Doctor and Ace are, at the beginning of the story, actually taking the time to relax and enjoy a concert (even if it is jazz!). The two time travellers are now a solid team, totally in tune, and Rose is loving that.

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Remembrance of the Daleks

As so often happens with these short, four-story Seasons, a story that would otherwise have featured quite highly in Rose’s lists ends up getting the wooden spoon. Rose didn’t dislike this story at all – in fact many elements, the 1960s period setting, the Coal Hill School location, the great effects (both digital and practical) and the hints of the Doctor’s mysterious past were all hits for Rose, as was the creepy little girl (“Five, six, seven, eight, there’s a Doctor at the gate…”) who turns out to be the Dalek controller (Rose wasn’t fooled by the ‘is that Davros?’ trick in Ratcliffe’s office, and identified him by voice when the ‘Emperor’ was on the bridge). She also like the character of Mike, and his betrayal of (particularly) Ace. The story’s quieter moments provoked some discussion between us, the ‘sugar scene’ and Ace’s discovery of the ‘No Coloureds’ sign, and Rose appreciated the depth. But what scored it slightly below the others was that there are lots of scenes of the army shooting at things and the Daleks fighting each other, which Rose does not find overly riveting. It has to be said, though, that this is Rose’s least disliked ‘last place’ yet.

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So, a strong Season, one of Rose’s favourites for some time. The show has a renewed energy and vigour, and a central character who has a purpose and a mystery about him once more. The show is in rude health and all the signs are that its troubles are behind it. It is with a heavy heart, then, then we move on to Season Twenty-Six, the final series of the original run…

Season Twenty-Four

I will admit to playing a little trick on Rose here, but it was one she appreciated. Of course, back in 1986 it was a well publicised fact that Colin Baker would not be returning the following year, and the press was full of pictures of his replacement in the lead-up to Season Twenty-Four. But here in 2015, having watched the Sixth Doctor depart with Mel at the end of the previous Season’s The Trial of a Time Lord, Rose had no reason to suspect that the next story would not be simply a continuation of his era. In fact, I didn’t even tell her that we had jumped to the next Season! So, imagine her surprise when the figure wearing that distinctive multi-coloured jacket laying on the floor of the TARDIS turns out not to be Colin Baker, but Sylvester McCoy in a blond wig, portraying an already regenerating Doctor. Then bang, new opening titles and the era of the Seventh Doctor us upon us.

I remember being quite worried, watching that opening episode back in 1987. There’s always apprehension when a new Doctor starts, but you always allow a little leeway, time for the actor and the scripts to settle down. There’s also the ‘in-universe’ explanation of a Time Lord’s instability following a regeneration. But something seemed wrong here – a definite uncertainty of tone in the script and the performances, not least McCoy’s own. His pratfalls, malapropisms and general goofiness did not convince, and I was, for the first time, actually embarrassed by my favourite show. Rose did not, I think, feel quite the same. I think she is slightly more forgiving than me, or perhaps it’s because she is more adaptable to change in Who, having had an accelerated journey through its history. For both of us, however, McCoy would go on to become one of our favourite Doctors. I needn’t have worried.

It’s a curious beast, this first Seventh Doctor series. It’s a show very visibly finding its way, right there on screen. Thankfully that way was a fresh, new vibrant feel for the show, reinvigorating it for its final few series, a new lease of life just before it was taken off our screens for many years. But what was Rose’s favourite story this Season…?

1. Delta and the Bannermen

This story, with its rock and roll soundtrack, sunny location filming and rollicking pace, is like a breath of fresh air. Like nothing we’ve seen before in the show it has an energy and bold attitude that firmly stamps NEW DIRECTION all over the show. Rose loved the period setting (as usual) and we discussed how a story set only a few years before the beginning of Doctor Who itself could now be considered a ‘historical’ – indeed, aside from a few stop-offs, or false realities, it is rare indeed for the show to be set in a time in history that viewers might have lived through themselves before this point. From now on it will be much more common in the ‘classic’ show, and, of course, a staple of the 21st Century incarnation. In fact, in more ways than one, this story is something of a template for where the show will go. Rose liked that it featured believable characters, with believable lives and loves (well, the Earthlings, anyway!) and this is where she really started to warm to the Seventh Doctor in a big way. For all his alienness and manipulation, here is an incarnation who can really connect with people in a way his predecessors couldn’t. He’s several shades darker and simultaneously several shades lighter, a complex character whom Rose has quickly become fascinated with. This story reflects this, its lighter moments (and there are many) delighting Rose – it’s frantic chases, get-to-know-you-dances and holiday camp fun balanced by a genuinely dangerous foe in the shape of Gavrok, ruthlessly slaughtering a bus full of tourists. An underrated gem of a story that Rose loved a great deal.

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2. Dragonfire

In a Season with lots of new and fresh ideas it might seem odd that Rose would rate this story, the most traditional of the four stories, so highly. But the story has an Ace up its sleeve, and the new girl is a big hit with Rose, who liked her straight away. OK, so her characterisation is a bit raw here, her troubled past a little overstated, but at least she’s got a past. It feels, right from the off, that Ace is a layered, complex character with her own story going on, and Rose immediately engaged with that. As for the plot, well, it’s intriguing enough, with its treasure hunts, ‘dragons’ and plenty of incident. Kane is a convincing villain in the traditional mold (and his melting-face death scene both revolted and impressed Rose) and the much-derided ‘literal cliffhanger’ amused this young viewer. But it was Ace who stood out, and that’s good news, as the next two Seasons will see a greater emphasis on the companion then ever before.

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3. Paradise Towers

It was here that Rose began to see where this series was heading, after the confused and messy Time and the Rani (see below), and we find a Seventh Doctor who is starting to find his feet and develop his own character, displaying signs of the deviousness that will define this incarnation. The story is distinctly odd, and its dark, twisted ideas are sometimes disappointingly realised on screen (with some odd acting choices – I’m looking at you Richard Briers) but Rose saw past that to be swept along by the wonderfully bonkers ideas – cannibal old ladies in knitted cardigans, man eating rubbish disposal chutes, and the disembodied mind of an architect imprisoned in his own building. She liked the Kangs (I think she wanted to be one, not sure which colour though) and was sad when Hex gave his life at the end, proving he was not a cowardly cutlet after all. In short, Rose began to see a renewed vitality coming into the show, fresh ideas, interesting settings and well drawn characters. It’s a shame it won’t last too much longer, but let’s enjoy it while we can.

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And so, wooden spoon goes to…

Time and the Rani

After the initial excitement of the new Doctor, Rose felt that this story became little more than a run-around, and she didn’t really engage with the plot or care about any of the characters. The Rani, hardly a well defined character in her own right, spends half of the story in a pointless impersonation of Mel which utterly fails to convince, and the Time Lady’s scheme – something to do with geniuses from history and a giant brain – was not something that provided much in the way of intrigue or interest to Rose. McCoy has his moments, mainly in the latter parts of the story, and Rose was quite impressed with the bubble-trap effects (but oh, that screaming from Mel!) and the Tetraps are semi-successful, but all in all Rose was a little disappointed with the story.

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So, the new incarnation is taking shape, Mel has departed (quite suddenly and unexpectedly) and Ace is onboard the TARDIS. It’s time for the Seventh Doctor to really get down to business. The show reaches its 25th Season, and the Daleks are waiting in the wings for one of their greatest stories…

Season Twenty-Three

“Doctor in distress, let’s all answer his S.O.S., Doctor in distress, bring him back now, we won’t take less.”

Eighteen months is too long to wait. I haven’t taken that long between posts, but apologies for the delay since the last update. We have been on a mini hiatus ourselves, but the marathon itself has continued apace so I now bring you Rose’s thoughts on Season Twenty-Three…

In 1986 Doctor Who was facing something of a crisis. The show had been off air for 18 months (18 months! Imagine it!) and had now returned to ‘prove itself’, with, paradoxically, both its longest story and its shortest (in total airtime) series since it began. Rose new nothing about the troubles behind the scenes, and we jumped straight into part one of the 14-part The Trial of a Time Lord the day after we completed Season Twenty-Two. She had, however, spotted that that Season’s closing story Revelation of the Daleks ended on an unfinished sentence, so I explained about the lost stories from the originally planned Season Twenty-Three and the relevance of the ‘Trial’ title beyond on-screen events. So, after being impressed with the opening sequence (“It looks like something from the new series!”), what did Rose thing of the four segments of the story? We’ve opted for the titles used on the novelisations and DVD covers to identify them:

1. The Ultimate Foe

After three segments where the trial parts of the episodes increasingly seemed like interruptions to the more interesting events being shown on the matrix screens, Rose was quite happy for the trial to now take center stage in a story that finally gives us some answers and a point to the whole thing. Having very much enjoyed the virtual world of the Matrix when we last saw it in Season Fourteen’s The Deadly Assassin, Rose was very happy to see its return here, with extended sequences set in a nightmare Victorian virtual reality that she found quite sinister. With its eerie, chanted nursery rhymes, disembodied arms shooting out of barrels of water and a doors that can lead to literally anywhere, these sequences are very atmospheric, and Rose was fascinated by the setting. Credit where its due, on hearing that this two-part closer to the story was also known by the title The Ultimate Foe, Rose started guessing as to who this foe might be – she ruled out the Master, even when he appeared in the story, as the Doctor had proven time and time again that he could defeat the chuckling madman – instead she began to theorise that anyone’s worst enemy, not just the Doctor’s, would be yourself. She was VERY pleased to find out she was right when the Valeyard’s identity was revealed. I don’t think I guessed at the time…

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2. Mindwarp

It could be argued that, given that we can never be sure which bits of this story are true, and which bits have been distorted by the Valeyard, the story is something of a mess, with its most memorable part, the shock death of companion Peri, later ret-conned as being a lie, leaving it bereft of any real point. But the truth is, there is much to enjoy, even so. The first thing to grab Rose was the return of Sil, again superbly portrayed by Nabil Shaban, whom Rose had been so impressed with in Vengeance in Varos last season. He gets loads of lovely scenes here, one of mine and Rose’s favourite’s being his fawning face as it comes into focus from the point of view of Kiv (giving the latter a fright as it does so). Also of interest to Rose was Brian Blessed, giving a superbly over the top but totally appropriate turn as Ycarnos, and Dorff, his loyal, werewolf-like equerry who Rose felt very sorry for. There’s a distinctly odd tone to this story, but Rose quite liked how that made her feel a bit unsettled, and as the story neared its dramatic conclusion, it became clear to her that could well be another very sad ending for a companion she had come to like quite a bit. It don’t think she was quite prepared for a bald, deep voiced, alien Peri being gunned down by Ycarnos though. I think she was happy that is turned out to be untrue later in the story, but also felt a little let down that they hadn’t stuck with that bold move. Still, the story provided enough interest to place it second in Rose’s list.

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3. Terror of the Vervoids

This one is probably one of my favourite parts of the Trial storyline, a good, solid and fairly traditional story, which Rose liked for the same reasons, likening it to The Robots of Death back in Season Fourteen, with various characters, all with their own agenda, trapped together in an enclosed space while a slave race (this time a form of plant life rather than robots) take their revenge on the occupants. Rose was rather startled by Mel, not least because we begin this section with her already a companion of the Doctor (being, as it is, set in the Doctor’s future) meaning we don’t get to see her join, and consequently don’t know anything about her. Personally I quite like this – Mel is such as straightforward, uncomplicated character (to quote Mel herself “as truthful, honest, and about as boring as they come”) that it does the story no harm to just get on with telling the story. There’s plenty going on, and everyone looks like a suspect at some point. In fact, Rose was convinced for quite some time that stewardess Janet was some kind of criminal mastermind (all those drink related deaths!).

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And so, as there are only four separate stories this year (for the first time since Season Seven), last place automatically goes to the remaining story which in this case is…

The Mysterious Planet

When asked, Rose was hard pushed to name anything she didn’t like about this story, it was just that it didn’t grab her quite as much as the others. I’ve always been quite fond of it myself – it’s very green, and the location filming at Butser gives the village an authenticity that a studio set would be hard pushed to provide. Rose was pleased to see the location, having been there herself on a school trip – “I’ve stood right there where Queen Katryca is sitting!” she said – and found the bits about the sacred books of Marb Station quite amusing. I don’t think she found the overall story that engaging, though, not bad as such, just not particularly exciting. The moral argument between the Doctor and Drathro, while interesting, drags on a little towards the end, and I don’t think she was particularly interested in any of the characters or their fates (aside from, perhaps, Glitz who adds a bit of colour to proceedings). The flat, atmosphere sapping video taped look of the whole thing doesn’t help – the location would have looked good on film, but here it looked a little bland and shiny. On that fact, it’s interesting to note that the last time the Doctor visited a future scorched Earth, back in The Sontaran Experiment, it had that same video sheen.

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So, with a cry of “carrot juice, carrot juice, carrot juice!” the Sixth Doctor departs, never to be seen again. The shortest run of any Doctor so far in our watch-through comes to an end as behind the scenes Colin Baker is unfairly and unceremoniously sacked. A shame, as, particularly in this Season, he has shown that he was a decent Doctor when given good material. But do I tell Rose, or let her find out as the ongoing story develops?

Let’s see as we head into Season Twenty-Four…

Season Twenty-Two

Colin Baker is the Doctor! After a somewhat inauspicious (not to say very worrying) start in the previous Season’s closing story The Twin Dilemma, the Sixth Doctor gets his first full run at his own series, and this time the episodes are double the length, clocking in at 45 minutes each rather than the usual 25. It is an experiment that will only last one Season (until the series revival in 2005, of course). Having settled down (but not that much), Baker’s Doctor is now fully formed, and it’s fairer now to judge him on his own merits. Rose likes him, I think, and is used to brash, bold behaviour from the Doctor (just look at full-flight Tom Baker!). She doesn’t even mind THAT coat. But what of his stories? Well, coming it at number one, taking absolutely no-one by surprise, is…

1. The Two Doctors

I told Rose the title of the next story immediately after pressing eject on Mark of the Rani, and she immediately began to wonder which Doctor it would be (or, perhaps, was it a trick title?). Tom Baker was mooted, as he had not made a return in The Five Doctors , or perhaps Davison (maybe a bit too soon?). Rose did not have to wait too long for her answer, however, as the opening scenes of this story reveal immediately that we have not only the return of Patrick Troughton’s Second Doctor (a firm favourite of Rose) but also his long-standing companion Jamie McCrimmon (played as before by Frazer Hines), one of Rose’s all time favourite companions. OK, so they look older (though Hines has worn well) but the spark it still there and it’s good to see the pair sparring off each other again. Rose was delighted, and I could tell that immediately this story had propelled itself up her list due to their presence alone. I had worried that the story might be overlong – it’s been a while since we had a six-parter (which this three part 45 minute story equates to) and it’s an oddly paced story with a strange shape to it. The first episode is quite slow, and the more exciting Spain-set scenes are much later in the story. But Rose didn’t seem to mind the slow pace, or, indeed, the absence of the Second Doctor after his opening scenes, as she was quite content to watch the Sixth Doctor and Peri try to figure out what had happened to his previous self. Having been quite happy with the early parts of the story, Rose was then even more interested as the story developed, moving to a dry and hot Southern Spain, with good use made of the Seville setting. Rose enjoyed the scenes of the augmented Second Doctor and Shockeye visiting the restaurant and eating everything on the menu, but was quite shocked by the death of Oscar, a scene often (quite rightly) cited as an example of this era’s tendency to overstep the mark into gratuitous violence. However that Rose found enough to enjoy to place the story at the top of the Season is somewhat less baffling than the the next choice…

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2. Timelash

Those of you who have read my run-down of Season Twenty-One will know that Rose goes into each story without any kind of preconception of the general attitude of a story withing fandom, and this is a prime example of a new fan enjoying a story completely on its own terms. Wide regarded as a hammy, messy, cheap and ridiculous story, Rose rather liked Timelash – it’s a very traditional tale of an evil ruler and a rebellion and features a centre-stage, pro-active Doctor who saves the say by being clever and brave. In short, I think it made Rose a little nostagic for simpler times, all those months ago in our watch-through (reinforced by the references to Jo Grant and the Third Doctor) . Rose liked Herbert (though I had to explain the revelation of his actual identity at the end of the story as it’s not made terribly clear) and the fact that the story takes an unexpected detour to 19th Century Scotland, and was impressed by the Borad himself, with his admittedly impressive make-up. That the story features a race of puppets as antagonists and only seems to have enough plot for one and a half episodes (not to mention the fact that the Timelash itself is decorated with tinsel) seems not to have worried Rose, and she simply found the whole thing a lot of fun. Fair enough!

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3. Vengeance on Varos

I’ve always thought that this was one of the strongest stories of the Colin Baker era, and I was glad to discover that Rose felt the same. She found the idea of entertaining the masses with executions interesting (should I worry?) and enjoyed the scenes with the married couple bickering over the images being force fed to them over their viewing screens, as they had become so indoctrinated by the system that they thought this was the only way to live. When the transmissions stop at the end of the story, Rose was amused by their utter confusion – what do we do now? Aside from the general concept. Rose was also impressed by Nabil Shaban’s wonderful performance as Sil – so full of character, yet totally alien. Perhaps the classic series most successful attempt at a believable alien. Let’s home he comes back. Rose also enjoyed the scenes of Peri and Areta being transformed into, respectively, a bird and reptile – a process that, for a while, was presented as being irreversible, That would have been interesting! The story was also, I think, the first one where Rose started to properly warm to the Sixth Doctor. He finds his character here, and thankfully that character is a dependable, capable Doctor.

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The extended episodes this Season mean a slightly curtailed number of stories compared to previous series (and it’s only going to get worse…) with the production team not having the confidence to go with a one-episode story equating to the recent two-parters (instead extending The Two Doctors). But what of the other three stories? The Mark of the Rani scored well for its period setting, but lost points for its slight Time Lord overload (did we REALLY need the Master and the Rani in the same story) and slightly silly scenes (that tree). Rose found it enjoyable overall, however, as she did Revelation of the Daleks, a story that she thought has a similar atmosphere to Caves of Androzani (the same Director, I pointed out to her) and lots to enjoy, including the character of Orcini and the ‘revelation’ that Davros was turning people into either Daleks or food (which he was then selling to the starving humans!). Rose thought the story was creepy and exciting, but perhaps scored a bit lower than it might due to the Doctor and Peri taking the best part of a whole episode to arrive in the centre of the action! So this means last place goes to…

Attack of the Cybermen

After the low placing of Earthshock in Season Nineteen it’s beginning to look like Rose has a bit of an issue with the Cybermen, but, like that earlier story, it was in fact the return of the silver giants that Rose actually liked, despite reservations about the story they crop up in. Attack is a bit of a mess, and doesn’t seem to quite know what it wants to be, and although Rose could remember the stories this continuity-fest of a plot was referring back to (an advantage she has over most of the viewers on the story’s broadcast in 1985) she found that she didn’t really care about joining up all those dots. She just wants well drawn characters and interesting plots, and this story delivers neither. A gun toting Doctor and over-the-top violence are no substitute. The return to Totter’s Lane and the (partially) functioning Chameleon Circuit amused Rose for a few minutes, and the initial Earthbound setting and creepy tunnels promised her a more interesting story than we ended up getting. A shame.

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The worrying trend towards violence displayed in this Season led to what would these days be called a ‘re-tooling’ of the show. When the show returns it will be late 1986, we’ll have ‘lost’ a whole series of stories, the episodes will revert to their more traditional 25 minute format and we’ll be treated to, paradoxically, the series longest ever story and its shortest ever Season so far. Bring on Season Twenty-Three and The Trial of a Time Lord…