Saturday, 2 August 2014


Welcome to Part One as we prepare for Doctor Who Deep Breath...

In this 2-part series, I’m going to look at the ghost of post-regenerations past. In this first part, we’ll be looking at Power of the Daleks up to The Twin Dilemma. As we all know, Doctor Who has several different sub-categories of storytelling available: Pseudo-historical, Base Under Siege, Alien Invasion, Whodunit – you get the picture. These are just a handful of dozens, but there is one kind of story that is probably the most significant and only comes around once per Doctor. The new Doctor’s first story is vital as it can capture thousands of new fans, or alienate millions. Because of this, it is exceedingly important to get the first one right.

“Life depends on change, and renewal.” – Second Doctor

During the fight with the Cybermen, the Doctor was severely weakened by the planet Mondas when it drained Earth's energy. Shortly afterwards, his body succumbed to old age and he regenerated. 

Power of the Daleks was probably the hardest post-regeneration story to pull off for obvious reasons. If you somehow fail to grasp why, then I don’t know why you’re even reading this. In layman’s terms: If this story flopped, Doctor Who would also. Thankfully it didn’t as it utilized familiar ideas to make up for the new actor playing the lead. 

I’ve never been much of a Dalek fan, but using them to help make the audience more comfortable with Patrick Troughton’s Second Doctor was a stroke of television brilliance. Bonus points for having the Daleks ‘identify’ the Doctor by claiming that they’ve already met this incarnation in their past/his future. Little nods like these work to subliminally help the audience adjust. It’s also why most post-regeneration stories feature the new Doctor acting like a pseudo-version of their past self by using catchphrases or remarks.

Another thing that Power established was the companion who would later undertake one of these actions in response to the new Doctor: 1) become very skeptical/suspicious of this new person or 2) take charge if the Doctor is suffering from some sort of regeneration sickness that renders him incapacitated – or both!

I have never been a fan of Polly. Frankly I find the companion as useful as a snowflake in a snowstorm. Unfortunately, she is the paste that keeps the audience from abandoning the new Doctor after Ben snuffs at the idea that Patrick Troughton could’ve regenerated from William Hartnell. Whether this gag was put in on purpose or just part of the drama I don’t know, but it works.

The plot for this story is also something unusual – perfect for Doctor Who. Not only does the Second Doctor have to convince his companions and us (the audience) that he is the Doctor, but he also has to convince a group of colonists that Daleks are not your servant. I also say unusual as it’s not really the kind of Dalek story one would expect from the production team in 60s, so that boosts the creativity and quality of the script.

The moment when Patrick Troughton establishes his Doctor comes almost immediately after the opening credits role by wandering around the TARDIS absentminded, ignoring Ben and Polly and just showcasing the new cosmic hobo Time Lord with his denser and wackier Charley Chaplin personality running wild. 

“What do you think of my new face? I wasn’t too sure about it myself.” – Third Doctor

After the Time Lords captured the Doctor, they tried and sentenced him to exile on earth in the 20th century. Another penalty was a forced regeneration. Unlike other times, his appearance was chosen for him after he rejected all the choices he’d been given.

Most people consider Spearhead from Space a top post-regeneration story for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it completely reinvents Doctor Who by establishing the earth setting, introducing UNIT and the Brigadier (whom I love to bits) and pushing the Doctor into a more action-orientated role. All very good reasons for liking this story and all of them I agree with. There is a great mystery involved with the Nestene and the Autons, Liz Shaw is introduced as the Doctor’s companion and the Brigadier is skeptic as hell that Jon Pertwee is the Doctor.

Given that this was the second time the Doctor regenerated, audiences were somewhat used to it by now. Well not used to it exactly. The term ‘regeneration’ wouldn’t be coined for another 4-5 years, but by this time, Doctor Who had become a British treasure and acquired a huge fanbase all over Britain.

All the great elements this serial utilizes move at a leisure pace. However the pace for me personally moves much much slower and I find it difficult to sit through this serial in one go. It’s just too damn slow in my opinion. The same things that make this serial enjoyable for some also make it unbearable for others like myself. The mystery, the skepticism and the whole earth invasion just drag on for far too long. Indeed, I feel this serial would’ve worked much better as a three-parter instead of the traditional 4 episode format. Also, a lot of Pertwee’s stories later on would feel very drawn out to me, putting me off his era despite the fact that other than that, there is nothing remotely wrong with it.

Spearhead from Space, like a lot of classic stories suffer from Rubber Suit Syndrome when it comes to their monsters. However, I’m inclined to say that Pertwee’s era suffers more so than others. A plus is the fact that for the time, Doctor Who was being produced in color instead of black and white, but the minus comes in with all the rubber suit monsters that featured. Again, this is a personal complaint as I – at least regarding the Classic Era – preferred humanoid villains over the cheap rubbery ones.

However, in this serial’s case, rubber suited monsters are justified as the villains are living plastic. The idea to turn plastic into a monster is freaking genius! Seriously, I may not be a fan of the Autons, but this idea is simply prodigious. Like most clever ideas, it’s simple and quite varied, which makes it easy to use.

One scene that I feel truly establishes the new Doctor is when the Doctor gains entry into UNIT by taking charge and deafening the poor security guard who is just trying to do his job by 1) making demands, 2) not taking ‘no’ or any backtalk and 3) showcasing what sort of personality this Doctor is going to have during his era.

“You may be a Doctor, but I’m the Doctor, the definite article you might say.” – Fourth Doctor

The Great One’s web of Metebelis crystals exposed the Doctor to severe radiation poisoning. He retreated back into his TARDIS where the regeneration could be held off until he returned to UNIT HQ. It was there that he collapsed and regenerated.

By the time I got to Robot, I already had a few post-regen stories under the belt. Coupled with the fact that Tom Baker is meant to be the best Doctor, I had high hopes for Robot. I agree, it is a great story, but personal preference really brings it down when you look at special effects and things like that. Given that this was the 70s (or 80s lol), it's understandable that the effects would be lacklustre, but when stories like Power of the Daleks, Castrovalva and Spearhead from Space can manage, then why not Robot? The robot looked stupid. And the effects even more so.

The story on the other hand does a great job of introducing the maverick Fourth Doctor and instantly manages to convince viewers that the authoritative Third Doctor Era was over forever! Four is here to play, act brilliant when the situation calls for it and make jabs about how the word 'impregnable' is overrated. Oh and he might hand out jelly-babies every now and again when he's not jumping rope.

Unfortunately, as exciting as the urban thriller plot is, it does suffer from quite a few things that spoil it. The Robot breaking into a vault to steal a gun that can do something the robot already knows how to do makes no sense. There's also the linchpin in the story that doesn't really add up to anything and the TWO (not one, but TWO) countdowns that can both times be defused by the people the villains are rebelling against (the UN).

Tom Baker has so many establishing moments in his first story that it's hard to pick one, but ask any fan and most would tell you about the Doctor's infamous quote to Harry Sullivan: "You may be a doctor. But I'm the Doctor. The definite article, you might say."

“Welcome aboard! I’m the Doctor…or at least I will be if this regeneration works out.” – Fifth Doctor

Castrovalva is one of my favorite Doctor Who stories. It was my first Davison story and I often compare new regeneration stories to this one in order to evaluate the new Doctor.

The Doctor’s tussle with the Master at the Pharos Project radio telescope came at just the wrong time. Due to the Master’s fiddling, the telescope re-adjusted its dish and the Doctor fell off. Still alive on the ground, the Doctor smiled and regenerated.

Where do I begin? Castrovalva can be split into two stories, the TARDIS/Event One collision and the stay at Hotel Castrovalva; where all the inhabitants wear an Anthony Ainley beard and look/act suspicious. Peter Davison destroys the image of the ever successful Tom Baker by using his scarf as a trail while his companions try to stabilize him and at the same time, keeping the TARDIS from becoming part of the Big Bang. And that’s just Episode 1! The Doctor here suffers from a regeneration ‘gone wrong’ and needs to be put in the TARDIS Zero Room, but after that gets used as ‘zap’ fuel, a city sized substitute is required. The pacing in this story is brilliant and the looming danger manages to distract you from the same corridor the characters run through over and over again. 

Nyssa and Tegan step up in a big way and act as the Doctor’s eyes and ears (and everything else). While lugging the Doctor through a beautiful jungle/forest landscape, we are treated to some spectacular dialogue. Yay character development! The Master is his old camp self, but that doesn’t matter, because after his failed first trap, we learn that he’s followed them and set up a backup trap and a backup trap for the backup trap. Crazy prepared much? (What do you mean he follows the Doctor around…like in a creepy stalker sort of way?)

The only fault in this story is Adric, but I don’t blame Waterhouse. His character’s lines are weak and he spends most of the story trapped and trying to be brave. His bravery sounds like weeping mind you. His absence makes the story more enjoyable, which I know is a bit rude, but justifying this, there just isn’t room for an active presence.

A great moment for the Fifth Doctor comes in when he is trying to escape Castrovalva and utters that first 'Must Dash!' Let's not forget the 'that's democracy' jab he utters a few moments earlier.

“I am the Doctor, whether you like it, or not.” – Sixth Doctor

The noble and naive Fifth Doctor, along with Peri Brown became exposed to unrefined Spectrox while on the planet Androzani Minor. There, the Doctor gathered up “bat’s milk” (the cure) and administered the full dose to Peri, saving her life and ending his. Ironic…isn’t it? No. It’s just sad.

Colin Baker steps into the Doctor’s shoes and manages to deliver one of the most magnificent performances ever! Unfortunately, the story drags him down considerably. The Twin Dilemma is one of those stories that you either love to death or hate with all your heart. Because Attack of the Cybermen was my first Colin Baker story, his performance more than makes up for the lack of plot going on here. Baker’s Doctor here, for the first time in the show, suffers from post-regenerative trauma in the form of violent outbursts and paranoid driven mood swings, supplying Baker with what he needs to get the audience to doubt that he really is the Doctor. Baker’s Doctor, as would become one of his defining traits, suffers from Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness, which is gibberish talk for: Most of the time, the viewer has no idea what he’s saying.

Nicola Bryant and her character Peri, as per tradition, steps up to the base and takes on the role of Doctor for short while in this story, helping Six find his way back to planet sane. Nicola Bryant has often spoken about how Peter Davison’s wind up about Colin spurred some tension when he finally arrived, making her believe he was an unstable character. You can’t help but see it here through her acting, which, if you think about it, isn’t really acting then.

Most of the characters in this story are unlikable. Azmael reminds me of a bad First Doctor, but the twins in this story are SO annoying. Yet the lieutenant (or is it pronounced Loo-ten-ant? Maybe it is Leff-ten-ant) is pretty entertaining, falling into every TARDIS trope under the sun.

And now we arrive at the plot, if you can call it that. The idea of an evil slug wanting to enslave the galaxy isn’t really very original, is it? There isn’t anything particularly wrong with the plot, but post-regeneration stories are supposed to grab the attention of the audience. Too bad for Colin Baker…it did, but in a wrong way. Were it not for his brilliant portrayal, this story would’ve fallen completely flat on its face, rather than just mostly.

Although it is generally regarded as a bad move in the history of Doctor Who, the Sixth Doctor's attempted murder of Peri near the beginning of this serial more than establishes what kind of Doctor we're dealing with this time.

Join me next week when we finish with The Time and the Rani through The Eleventh Hour. Thanks for reading. If you like to read more, subscribe and get the latest the earliest!

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