A Retrospective: Part Three
Last time around we had our second look at DOCTOR WHO the long-running British science fiction series produced by the BBC. Known as The Doctor within the show he is an alien Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey who travels through time and space in a blue box having wild adventures. As an alien his people have the ability to regenerate themselves when they die. This has enabled The Doctor to be portrayed by no less than 14 actors during its 57 years run. In part one of this retrospective we examined Doctor’s one – three. The second time around we examined Doctors four – six. This time we going to take a look at Doctors seven, eight, and nine. So let’s not waste any time (get it? Time? Doctor – Time Lord?) and let’s meet Doctor number seven.
The seventh Doctor was portrayed by Sylvester McCoy after a search to replace the sixth Doctor that included Jeremy Brett of Sherlock Holmes fame and Michael Keating – Vila from BLAKE’S 7. McCoy finally got the part. His Doctor started out somewhat comical – prat falls, supposedly wise sayings that made no sense, and even playing the spoons. In a lot of ways he was much like the second Doctor – playing the fool to outwit his opponents and make them underestimate him. This Doctor also showed a penchant for magic tricks, sleight of hand, illusions, and escape artistry – all of which he put to use in defeating his enemies. But as time passed this Doctor began displaying a much darker side.
The Doctor became manipulative, a schemer, not above lying or using his friends to get his way. He remained a good man always fighting for the common good but not always being nice when he did it. There was also an increased emphasis on his alieness. Despite his appearance he is after all an alien from another planet. He actually smells an apple and listens to cheese – I kid you not.
Like all the previous Doctors his dress is eccentric – however it is no way near the mess of the previous Doctor. He wore an off-white safari-style jacket with a red paisley scarf that was worn under his lapels and a matching handkerchief in the left pocket, a fob watch chained to the left lapel, a plain white shirt, a red paisley tie, a yellow pullover with red question marks and a greenish blue zigzag pattern, sand colored tweed plaid trousers, white and brown brogues spectator shoes, a white Panama hat with a paisley hatband and an umbrella with a red question mark-shaped handle. I know it sounds as big a mess as the previous Doctor but its not and it works for this particular Doctor. He wore it well
Sylvester McCoy played the Doctor for three seasons and most fans seemed to appreciate when he began showing his darker side. However after those three seasons he and the series bid a fond farewell. The BBC had long since stopped loving the show. Remember the eighteen-month hiatus they had put the show under and messing with the format during the sixth Doctor’s run? The BBC cancelled the series and for a time there was no DOCTOR WHO. At least not in a first run series.
For a time DOCTOR WHO fans had to satisfy themselves with reruns and the occasional guest appearance in a holiday special or charity event. Enter producer Philip Segal. He had grown up watching DOCTOR WHO and was dismayed at its being cancelled. He literally spent years trying to get a DOCTOR WHO movie made and failing that an American television version. It is thanks to him that we have DOCTOR WHO – THE MOVIE and the eighth Doctor.
The eighth Doctor was portrayed by Paul McGann. This version of the Doctor was different in many ways. First, let me say that like all the previous Doctors this Doctor was a decent man who believed in helping people. He also had a sense of humor. All the Doctors have a sense of humor but the sense of humor changes according to who is portraying the Doctor. And of course all the Doctors dress eccentrically. Now on to the differences.
The eighth Doctor was an open book. Most Doctors are secretive about themselves and even more secretive about what they are doing. Not this guy. He gives away information without anyone even asking. Most Doctors are secretive about those they meet as well. Again, not the eighth Doctor if he knows something about you he comes right out and says it. This Doctor kisses his companion – OH MY GOD! What a shock! And he reveals he is half human on his mother’s side – which is later explained as being unique to this particular incarnation. If I am giving the impression that I liked all these things then you’re wrong. I didn’t like it, I LOVED IT!
The eighth Doctor dressed in a Victorian era style. He wore a long dark green velvet jacket, a waistcoat with a pocket watch, and cravat, and leather shoes he enjoyed running in. Despite it being eccentric it was actually quite tame as compared to his outfits from the past.
The tone of this movie was different from the original series. I don’t know if that was the American influence or simply the fact that seven years had passed since any new DOCTOR WHO. The eighth Doctor was charming and romantic and even kissed his female companion – something that had never happened before. Previous to this the Doctor had been blissfully asexual. Not now. And they did a lot of running. There was a lot of running in this story. In fact, it is very much like the series revival, which also does a lot of running. I only mention this because it is hard to imagine the first Doctor running like that.
DOCTOR WHO – THE MOVIE was a pilot for a proposed American television series made in conjunction with the BBC. If the ratings were good the show would have a new home on FOX. Unfortunately, FOX ran the movie against the series finale of ROSEANNE. It got creamed in the American ratings. However, it did exceptionally well in the British ratings and that made the BBC sit up and take notice.
Aside from cameos in the subsequent revival series this is Paul McGann only turn as the Doctor. But the eighth Doctor has proven to be extremely popular and there have been more stories done about this Doctor (novel, novellas, audio books, etc.) then any of the other Doctors.
DOCTOR WHO – THE MOVIE was controversial in the United Kingdom. First, it was seen as an American version of the show. Once again America was stealing something British and making it American – like MAN ABOUT THE HOUSE and THREES COMPANY, STEPTOE AND SON and SANFORD AND SON, and of course ‘TILL DEATH DO US PART and ALL IN THE FAMILY. This did not sit well with a lot of British fans. When the Doctor says he is half human on his mother’s side most of the UK did not hear human but heard American as part of the stealing of the Doctor. Nevertheless, it got great ratings. Up to this point the BBC had considered the series and the character dead. Other than die-hard fans they didn’t believe there was any interest in the character or the show. But this movie showed them they were wrong. It would still take another nine years for DOCTOR WHO to come back but here was where the idea started.
The Ninth Doctor was portrayed by Christopher Eccleston. A lot was riding on his shoulders. He was taking the lead in a popular series that is true. But it is a series that had been cancelled and was being revived. Would it work? Could this new production team with Eccleston as the lead give us back DOCTOR WHO?
The ninth Doctor came to us burdened by guilt. In the time he was away his people, the Time Lords and his enemies the Daleks had fought a Time War in which both sides were wiped out. Adding a new dimension to his character the Doctor was now the sole survivor of his race and all alone. Later we would learn that not only was he the sole survivor but that he was responsible for the annihilation of his people – in order to stop the Time War from destroying everything. He not only displayed signs of survivor’s guilt but also was guilt-ridden over wiping out his own people. He frequently had a melancholy air about him. But this Doctor could also be funny and had a winning smile that he displayed often. The best description for this Doctor would be the no nonsense Doctor. He was an alien, he had two hearts, he regenerated when he died, and he ran around in a space/time machine that looked like an old police call box. That was enough eccentricities there didn’t need to be any other.
Nowhere was this more true than in his wardrobe. He wore a dark purple pullover shirt, a black leather jacket, dark slacks, and boots. That’s it. There were no question marks, no wild colors, no clothing from other centuries. It was no nonsense. Unfortunately, fans being what they are they often give nicknames to the Doctor. For example, Tom Baker was the Scarf. I say unfortunately because the ninth Doctor became known as the “U Boat Captain.” It makes you want to laugh because he does kind of look like a U Boat Captain.
Even more unfortunate than his nickname, Christopher Eccleston only played the Doctor for one season. It was a shame because he was a dynamite Doctor. He succeeded in turning a once cancelled show into a hit. He showed a melancholy side to the Doctor we had never seen before. And he did it all with style. Bravo!
Well that is it boys and girls. We have taken a look at Doctors seven, eight, and nine. We saw the end of the original series, the interim movie, and the beginning of the new series. Wow! That covers a lot of ground. Next time we will look at Doctors ten, eleven, and the War Doctor. Who is the War Doctor? That’s right!