Enter the Third Doctor

The Doctor, the Master, and one of the dodgy monsters from "The Claws of Axos"

The Doctor, the Master, and one of the dodgy monsters from “The Claws of Axos”

We have finally gotten around to watching a few episodes with the Third Doctor! That took quite a while, after rewatching all of the Eleventh Doctor episodes, then getting distracted a bit with other things, then watching some Tenth Doctor (not too much). But we finally watched “The Mind of Evil” and “The Claws of Axos,” two episodes with the Roger Delgado Master.

So far, we enjoyed “The Mind of Evil” more than “The Claws of Axos.” The first had a more interesting plot, and the villain in the second was rather implausible and uninteresting. Unfortunately, both suffered a lot from uninspired direction, with characters standing immobile while delivering their lines, though it was much worse in the second. Another disappointment was Jo Grant, but not due to the actress or character; she just simply was not given anything to do. So far, her job is stand around and wait until the Doctor has a moment to have a deep conversation with her. She’s supposed to be a trained UNIT agent, and she does get one moment in “The Mind of Evil” where she shows her competence, but otherwise she’s very underutilized. We’re hoping this gets better when the Doctor finally gets his TARDIS back and they go off-planet, where there’s no Brigadier, Yates, and Benton to take up camera and plot time.

The Doctor himself has been very entertaining. He’s imperious, disdainful, and arrogant, and he outshines everyone on screen. The problem is that again, there’s so many people to deal with in each story, he’s not onscreen as much as he should be. However, he does have one thing that saves the show: the Master. When the Master and the Doctor spar with each other, the show simply shines. Delgado portrayed a wonderful villain. He’s not campy like Anthony Ainley was (not saying that the Ainley Master was bad; he was wonderful in his own way). The Delgado Master is always graceful and always in control of the situation; when he is defeated momentarily, he acquiesces, because he knows he’s going to get the upper hand in a few more minutes again.

At the moment, I think that of the classic Doctors that I’ve seen a fair amount of (that’s Three, Four, Five, Seven, and Eight), the Third Doctor is my least favorite, but you have to understand, I still really like him a lot; I just don’t like him as much as others. I am hoping to see him become more dynamic when he finally leaves Earth, and possibly when Sarah Jane Smith joins him.

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“11 Doctors, 11 Stories”

11 DoctorsAs part of the 50th anniversary celebration, the BBC released a series of eleven short stories, one for each Doctor and written by eleven different authors of note, then published it this month in a collection called Doctor Who: 11 Doctors 11 Stories. I’m only now getting into the alternate Doctor Who media and am very apprehensive about buying things, because I can never judge the quality of the material beforehand, but so far, in general, I’ve been pleased with the books, comics, and audio plays so far, and this collection is no exception. I enjoyed all but one of the eleven stories.

Here’s the list of the short stories (in Doctor order), with a brief setup of the situation in the story and maybe some opinion. No real spoilers.

“A Big Hand for the Doctor,” by Eoin Colfer: Ok, I have to admit, I didn’t finish this story. I really couldn’t stand the writing style and gave up  halfway through. My husband says it’s a good story, and I will try to finish it some other day.

“The Nameless City,” by Michael Scott: This story is hard to describe without giving things away – even summarizing the first scene will be a spoiler – so I won’t try. It’s very Second Doctor, letting him act the fool while he figures out what’s going on, and Jamie is also very Jamie.

“The Spear of Destiny,” by Marcus Sedgwick: The Third Doctor and Jo Grant investigates a (surprise!) spear in a local museum that seems to affect time in weird ways. As befits the Third Doctors, there’s more action in this story than a lot of the others, and it also takes a stab (sorry!) at showing how legends and myths are made.

“The Roots of Evil,” by Phillip Reeve: The Fourth Doctor and Leela land on an enormous tree floating in space that houses an entire colony of people. The concept behind this story and its setting is very cool, though I was a little disappointed with the motivation of the villain. The trip, though, is worth it.

“Tip of the Tongue,” by Patrick Ness: During World War II, the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa land in an English town in which the children are playing with a new toy that hooks to your tongue and speaks the absolute truth about yourself and what you are thinking. This is one of my favorite stories in the book, because it explores the effect the toys have on the people’s lives; this kind of introspection is one of the things that Doctor Who can do so well. The Doctor is almost completely incidental to the theme.

“Something Borrowed,” Richelle Mead: The Sixth Doctor and Peri Brown attend the wedding of the son of a friend, a species that performs a physical transformation similar to regeneration except only when they get married. This story is a simple adventure, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a fun read.

“The Ripple Effect,” by Malorie Blackman: The Seventh Doctor and Ace are stuck in a space-time bubble and have to blow up a star to push themselves out of it, but this has unforeseen consequences. The concept of this story is fantastic, and the Doctor and Ace get into a fascinating philosophical argument, but I didn’t like the resolution. It was a good enough story, but it really could have been a lot better.

“Spore,” by Alex Scarrow: The Eighth Doctor lands in an American town and discovers that what seems like a space virus has killed all the inhabitants. I really liked the atmosphere of this story and the final resolution was interesting.

“The Beast of Babylon,” by Charlie Higson: The Ninth Doctor makes friends with a girl on a planet that is attacked by cosmic creatures. As he would say, this story is fantastic. It develops the character of the girl and the nature of the threat gradually, keeping you reading to find out how it all fits together. There’s also a very cool tie-in to the Ninth Doctor’s first television story, “Rose.”

“The Mystery of the Haunted Cottage,” by Derek Landy: The Tenth Doctor and Martha Jones land in the story from a book that Martha read when she was a child. You might think this is a revisit to the Land of Fiction, but it’s not. This is one of the weaker stories in the set, because the first couple of parts are uninteresting (it tried and failed to set up a creepy, surreal atmosphere) and the very final part of the resolution is unsatisfying (the previous parts of the resolution were cool).

“Nothing O’Clock,” by Neil Gaiman: The Eleventh Doctor and Amy Pond arrive on Earth in 2010 only to find that the entire planet is uninhabited. Remember at the top that I said that the stories were released individually and then as a collection? Now, if you don’t want to buy the collection, I will urge you to buy this one story. It is completely worth it. This is absolutely a wonderful story. I won’t tell you any more about it, because you have to read it.

“Prisoners of Time”

A comic cover from the series

A comic cover from the series

I received my hardback copy of the graphic novel Prisoners of Time yesterday, and spent a good part of the early evening reading it. It’s a good comic, and I would definitely recommend this graphic novel to any Doctor Who fan (though not as much as I would recommend The Forgotten).

Spoilers ahead! (Maybe – I don’t really think I’m spoiling anything.)

First, if you’re put off by the $34 price on Amazon, you should know that it’s a compilation of twelve comic books and it comes in a very well-bound hardcover printing. Each of the first ten issues is an adventure of the first ten Doctors. Then, at the end of each adventure, a mysterious figure appears and kidnaps the Doctor’s companion, and that’s the overarching plot: who is this person, and why is he doing it? The eleventh issue brings the Eleventh Doctor into the story, and it and the twelfth issue are the resolution to the series.

In my opinion, the strength of the series is the set of Doctors’ adventures. Each one fills the entire issue, so you basically have a nice long story to see each Doctor. Each story is crafted carefully to match the feel and character of its Doctor. For example, the First Doctor’s story is an historical tale, the Third Doctor’s story has a lot of action, the Fifth Doctor’s story is a moral tale, and the Tenth Doctor’s story has quite a lot of running and dodging. In general, the art was excellent (here’s a link to the line drawings of my favorite page), except for the Eighth Doctor’s story, which had absolutely terrible art. It actually bugged me quite a lot, since the Eighth Doctor really didn’t get a fair shake on television, and here he got the short end of the stick again (though his story was just fine).

Oh, and the first three pages of the Tenth Doctor’s story brought a tear to my eye.

The overarching story, unfortunately, wasn’t the best. The villain really wasn’t very believable and required a number of pages of exposition to explain why he was doing what he was doing. (Perhaps, if they had shown a little bit of the exposition at each of the kidnappings, it would have been better, as the reader would have had the chance to try to figure out who he was.) The resolution of the story was a lot of fun, so that made up for the unsatisfying villain. The other unfortunate part of the series is that with the eleventh issue being part of the resolution, the Eleventh Doctor didn’t get his own adventure. In addition, because his entire purpose was to confront the villain, he wasn’t given his usual sparkling, schizophrenic dialogue, and the art did not convey the energetic, manic movements that define his character. He was the only Doctor that wasn’t written well.

In comparison, let’s look at The Forgotten. In that graphic novel, which, to be honest, is a lot shorter, each Doctor got an adventure, but they were each only a few pages long, with the story between the adventures about the Tenth Doctor trying to figure out what’s going on. The adventures were all well-crafted and suited to their Doctors, and then the overarching story was engaging. The villain himself was a bit contrived, but fit very well with the setting of the story (surprisingly, considering the difficulties the author had in rewriting the story, as the Tenth Doctor’s story in the TV show changed over the course of the comic series’ publication and he had to reconstruct the story to match). The actual confrontation with the villain and resolution were actually somewhat similar to Prisoners of Time, but less chaotic and more personal.

In general, The Forgotten did much the same thing as Prisoners of Time, but better; however, I think that if you read Prisoners of Time for the adventure stories and don’t worry about the entire plot, you’ll enjoy it a lot. Thus, I definitely recommend this graphic novel.

“The Forgotten,” redux

I mentioned a few days ago that I had written a post about the Doctor Who graphic novel The Forgotten but it (the post) was pretty terrible, so here’s a second go at it. This time, it’ll be more of a review, but without spoilers until you get to the section marked “Spoilers.”

The Forgotten is a Tenth Doctor story, in which he and Martha wake up in a museum without the TARDIS. They have no idea where they are or how they got there, but as they look around, they find that the museum is devoid of people but full of artifacts from the Doctor’s long history – including things as old as a Voord helmet – and even a room displaying all of the outfits and iconic tools/accessories (such a bag of jelly babies and a cricket ball) the Doctor wore throughout life. Soon after discovering this room, a mysterious figure wipes the Doctor’s memories of all but his current life. Like the Fifth Doctor once said, “A man is the sum of his memories. A Time Lord even more so,” and this memory wipe causes the Doctor to start to die. To combat this, Martha gives him an object from each of his incarnations and he uses it to remember them.

The story’s framework is about exploring the museum and figuring what it’s for, and eventually discovering the mysterious figure running it, but the fun part are the memories. The graphic novel presents one short story for each incarnation, and while it restores to the Doctor the memory of that incarnation, it also helps him solve the problems at hand. All of the stories are entertaining, and the characterizations capture each of the Doctors very well. The wrap-up of the overarching story is also very good, and there are some great surprises there. Probably the only thing I didn’t like about this was that they had to switch artists for one issue, and I wasn’t fond of his style. In particular, his Tenth Doctor has rather curly hair and doesn’t look like the Tenth Doctor at all. His style worked well for the Fifth Doctor story, but not for the Fourth Doctor’s.

If you like graphic novels (and if you think that comic books are lowbrow, think again – some graphic novels are great literature; I refer in specific to The Sandman by Neil Gaiman), I definitely recommend The Forgotten

And now some spoilers.

One of the absolute coolest things about The Forgotten is the story of how it developed, which is written in the back of the book. The comic was started when Martha was the companion, but due to the episodic nature of comics, the entire story lasted so long that the last issue would come out after Donna had already left the Doctor. Thus, the author, Tony Lee, had to rewrite the latter half of the story so that it matched the current TV show while already having published the first half. You can see this happening as you read the the graphic novel. There are small details that are inconsistent with the show (such as Martha claiming that there are two doctors traveling in the TARDIS) that make sense at the end, when you find out what happened. I’m sure that having to revamp the story was not a fun task, but I’m guessing that it made it more complex, and essentially more Doctor Who, in the end.

“The Five Doctors”

After a hiatus of about eight years, I re-upped our Netflix subscription so that we can borrow all of the classic Doctor Who episodes they have. The idea is that we can watch all of them, and choose to buy any of them that we like. I’m hoping to eventually own every episode of the classic series, but it’s prohibitively expensive to do that quickly, so I’m hoping to buy the good ones first at a rate of about once per month. That’ll put me on track to own all of them by, oh, 2023 or so.

Richard Hurndall, Peter Davison, Jon Pertwee, Patrick Troughton

Richard Hurndall, Peter Davison, Jon Pertwee, Patrick Troughton

Last night’s viewing was “The Five Doctors.” It was the 20th anniversary special, aired in 1983, during the tenure of the Fifth Doctor, Peter Davison. It brought back the First Doctor (played by Richard Hurndall, as William Hartnell had passed away eight years earlier), the Second Doctor (Patrick Troughton), and the Third Doctor (Jon Pertwee) for a combined storyline that also featured the Master (Anthony Ainsley) and a whole slew of companions, including Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney), Susan Foreman (Carole Ann Ford) and Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen), as well as the Fifth Doctor’s current companions (Mark Strickson’s Vislor Turlough and Janet Fielding’s Tegan Jovanka). The show itself was a single episode, ninety minutes long.

“The Five Doctors” was remarkably fun. Technically, it wasn’t a great episode – the plot suffered a bit from having to shoehorn in so many characters. Basically, a mysterious figure kidnaps the four Doctors and their companions (the Fourth Doctor was also kidnapped with Romana II but got stuck in the time vortex; plot-wise and title-wise, all of the Doctors needed to be kidnapped, but Tom Baker chose not to return to the show, so they used footage from the unfinished episode “Shada” and got him lost in the vortex) and drops them into the Death Zone on Gallifrey. They all individually decide that they must get to the tower in the center, and the show bops back and forth between the four different groups, showing their progress. They eventually figure out who the mysterious figure is and defeat him, and then bid farewell and return to their own timestreams.

The great part of the episode was seeing all of the old Doctors and companions. Mr. Troughton and Mr. Pertwee played their old roles extremely well, and the dialogue was spot-on. Amazingly, Mr. Hurndall not only looked like the First Doctor, but played the old, grumpy curmudgeon perfectly. In general, it was like watching bits of episodes of the old Doctors, spliced together into one big episode, and really, that’s all it needed to be. I found myself smiling and happy at the end, and definitely willing to buy the episode for myself.

That said, there was one thing that they could have done better, to make it an even more immersive experience: they failed to show that the Fifth Doctor would know and recognize the companions and be extremely happy to see them. In the most important example, the First Doctor, accompanied by Susan, walks into the TARDIS (the Fifth Doctor’s) in like he owns the place and demands to know why these strangers, Turlough, Tegan, and an unconscious young man on the floor, are in “my TARDIS.” Turlough and Tegan point out that it’s the TARDIS of the Doctor on the floor. This was a great scene, as the First Doctor finally realizes that he’s been pulled out of time and is looking at his own, previously unknown, future incarnation. However, the Fifth Doctor revives shortly afterwards, and the First Doctor introduces Susan. The introduction is necessary, as Turlough and Tegan don’t know her, but he’s addressing the Fifth Doctor. The Fifth Doctor says, “Yes, I know.”

And that’s it – no special greeting or love for the granddaughter that he abandoned 350 years earlier. Perhaps they thought it would be really weird to have the Fifth Doctor treat Susan as a cherished, long-lost granddaughter when Ms. Ford was 12 years older than Mr. Davison, but it was completely in-character: the First Doctor had not wanted to leave Susan and missed her dearly. In the comic book The Forgotten, the Tenth Doctor underscores this when he specifically asks to see Susan one last time, so that he could apologize to her. A short bit of dialogue showing this in “The Five Doctors” would have reminded the audience that yes, the Doctor has a family and a history that is complicated by his regenerations, and given Susan more of a spotlight, which she definitely deserved.

Except for this one issue, “The Five Doctors” is worth the watch. It’s not deep or emotional or mind-blowing – it’s just a lot of fun.