Sunday, February 22, 2015

The McCoy and McGann Years - An Overview

The Classic Era ended with the shortest serving Doctors. While Davison, Baker, and McCoy each served for roughly 3 years each, the series ran for less and less time. From 1970 through 1985 (Colin Baker's first full season) the series roughly 26 half hour episodes or the equivalent in 13 45 minute episodes (if you edit pretty much any of the classic 4 parters into one movie, they usually run 90 minutes). However, during the Classic Era's last 4 seasons, it got dropped to 14 25 minute episodes. So while Sylvester McCoy has more stories, Colin Baker has more screen time, making each of the last three Doctors of the Classic Era successively the shortest serving Doctor. It was shortly followed by the 1996 TV Movie (alternatively titled The Enemy Within) which was the only screen appearance by Paul McGann who reigns as the shortest serving Doctor (I'm ignoring the War Doctor in all this as that would get entirely too complicated).

However, it also created a unique situation where both Sylvester McCoy and Paul McGann are the longest serving Doctors. Sylvester McCoy first graced our screens in September 1987 and last appeared in March 1996. Paul McGann first appeared in March 1996 and wasn't technically replaced until March 2005 and didn't regenerate until November 2013. Stretching until 2013 is a bit much since that is the tenure of 3 other Doctors, but just going from the first appearance of their incarnation to the first appearance of the next incarnation puts McCoy at just under 9 years and McGann right at 9 years making them the two longest serving Doctors. And during that time, McGann was doing canon audio adventures.

So let's take a look at two of the shortest yet longest Doctors. I've included Dimensions in Time, Shada, and Night of the Doctor for the sake of completeness.

Time and the Rani - The Tardis is attacked and the Doctor is injured and regenerated. That might have been a bad enough start, but the Rani then gives him amnesia and pretends to be Mel. The Rani is up to another of her crazy plans and the Doctor must first see through her ruse and then stop her. It has some very good points, but it is overall a weak story.

Paradise Towers - This is the first spooky episode. An deranged architect haunts his last creation and seeks to kill everyone so that it is left pristine. There are some moments typical of the 7th Doctor's era that are kind of silly, but the danger seems real and the characters are good.

Delta and the Bannermen - A romp in the 50's including aliens and the CIA. Some parts of the story are a bit silly and somethings happen without much reason, but overall a fun story.

Dragonfire - The low point of the first season. The baddie never feels dangerous. It is nice to see Glitz again and the introduction of Ace is interesting. The young girl is a poignant sub plot that is really good, but the rest of the story just kind of fails. It features one of the most innovative and interesting alien robots of the entire series.

Remembrance of the Daleks - To celebrate 25 years, the Doctor ends up in London in late November 1963. Not only that, but Totters Lane and Coal Hill School are featured settings and the first touch of the Cartmel Masterplan appears - the Hand of Omega. It is a very good story. One of the best of the 7th Doctor's Era. The homages to the beginning are not heavy handed and really work. The Hand of Omega is probably the only weak point, but it provides a way for the Doctor to defeat his greatest enemy in an exciting way.

The Happiness Patrol - This had the potential to be a really bad story. In fact, in my mind it was. But on viewing it anew things came into focus and I really enjoyed it. The Harmonica player's scenes were the key. That really made me look close and see that this episode was very well written and the idea was very intriguing.

Silver Nemesis - Probably my favorite of the 7th Doctor's episodes. It is a second 25th Anniversary story and takes place in November 1988 and the first episode aired on the 25th Anniversary on November 23, 1988. It is another Cartmel Masterplan story, but this time it is more believable. Lady Painforth was a delightfully evil character and so obviously self deluded that it was fun to watch. But she had secrets that she only hinted at and she, the Fourth Reich Nazis, and the Cybermen played off each other with the Doctor brilliantly playing them all. I never tire of this one.

The Greatest Show in the Galaxy - This story started out bad. The first two episodes probably could have been edited together for a 3 part story and given some extra time for Silver Nemesis. But after two episodes of evil and seemingly murderous clowns, we start to get to the heart of the story and it turns itself around and the Doctor gets a truly great adversary.

Battlefield - Another great. We find out that the Doctor will be Merlin at some future point in time. But Arthur, Morgaine, and the entire Arthurian legends are revealed to be people from another dimension. Arthur is dead in a ship under the lake. Morgaine tries to obliterate him at last and grieves when she learns of his passing. We get to see the current UNIT Brigadier, the return of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (along with his wife which makes the later casting of Jemma Redgrave a masterwork of visual continuity), and the casting of Jean Marsh as Morgaine brings two stars of the epic The Daleks' Masterplan back 24 years later. The special effects are a bit of a distraction, but the story is well written and well done. Another favorite.

Ghost Light - This begins a trio of stories that has long had me disliking the character of Ace. The stories are too Ace centric, but on this viewing, I didn't find that such a bad thing. The Doctor takes Ace back to a mansion in Perivale that she torched when she was younger to find the source of the evil she felt. It was an ancient survey of Earth that has gotten derailed and the Doctor manages to derail the danger by setting some of the inmates free. Except for the Ace subplot, this was a story of gothic darkness worthy of the early Tom Baker years.

The Curse of Fenric - I didn't used to like this episode, but this time I really loved it. I think I was too focused on how this story is Ace related. This time, the heart of the story came through and this is one of the 7th Doctor's best stories.

Survival - It is sad that the series had to end with this as the last episode. The worst Master story every. Anthony Ainley did a fantastic job, but the story around the Master lacked... a lot.

Dimensions In Time - Ah, the lame 30th Anniversary special, aired in 2 parts. The shortcomings of this story relate to the hurried nature of the production, the short running time, and the merger with Eastenders. It has good potential and given a good script and a descent running time, it would have been fantastic. As it stands, it is more a fun romp through the living Doctors and their companions and it includes the only interaction of the 6th Doctor with the Brigadier, making both character and actor the only one to interact with each incarnation. The Brigadier met the First Doctor in The Three Doctors and The Five Doctors and Nicholas Courtney guested in The Daleks' Masterplan with William Hartnell. Everyone was looking good and even Tom Baker participated.

The Enemy Within - As a follow up to the Classic Series, this story had some flaws. When you compare it to the New Series, some of those flaws drop away. It features the Doctor's first kiss with a companion and a statement from both the Doctor and the Master that the Doctor his half human. That has never been touched on again. The story itself is Master centric and is the best Master story in years - probably since the Fifth Doctor's era. Eric Roberts does a good job, but nowhere near as good as some of the other actors to hold the role. Still, a well done effort. Bad ratings in the US kept it from being picked up as a series. That was bad at the time, but considering how it came back later, that may have been a blessing in disguise.

Shada - This story was written for Tom Baker. It was partially made, but production stopped because of a strike and was never finished. Several different releases of it have appeared, from an early fan attempt with the script text from the missing scenes to Tom Baker narrating the missing action, to Ian Levine's attempt to animate the rest (which got leaked but appears it won't be released because Tom Baker wasn't involved even though all the other living principle actors were). This is a different take. The premise is that because of the footage used in The Five Doctors, the events never happened so the Doctor goes to Gallifrey, where Romana II is the President, and cons her and K-9 into going back to find out what Professor Chronotis wanted. It follows the original script with Paul McGann proving that he was a strong Doctor able to pull off a classic story. It was animated in a primitive fashion, but is very enjoyable to watch. The story is brilliant and it was fun to see it completed for the first time in this way. Makes me wish Ian Levine could get Tom Baker to do his lines and get and official BBC release.

The Night of the Doctor - One of the most delightful surprises served up for the 50th Anniversary. This little vignette reveals that the Time War has begun but the Doctor is trying to stay out of it. A worthy effort, but the Sisterhood of Karn convinces him the the innocents of the universe need him to act, so he accepts their potion to direct his regeneration. The Doctor exits and the Warrior enters (aka the War Doctor)

As I have run through most of the John Nathan-Turner years, I have noticed a steady drop off of production values. The writing, music, directing, and special effects went from the solid years of Peter Davison in a downward spiral. I have no issue with the way each of the actors portrayed the Doctor, but the show definitely suffered. It then sprung back with the 1996 movie, laying the seeds for the 2005 revival.

Watching now it is quite easy to see why the show faded. Just what is behind the causes of that can be disputed. Some lay the blame on the BBC itself, some on John Nathan-Turner. Between the cancelled season in the middle of Colin Baker's Era and the lost Season 27 and beyond, and the poor production quality, the show just wasn't what it was. There are some magnificent stories that were told and all four of these Doctors, 5, 6, 7, and 8, have gotten to show another side of their era in the Big Finish audio stories. These additional stories often rival the televised stories and they really fill in a lot that was missing.

We almost had a chance to see what McGann could do, but hearing it is nearly as good. The popularity of The Night of the Doctor really shows what an important place his Doctor has in the series. It is really the end of the Classic Era and a transition to the new.

Now, I may have had a few complaints about the last 8 seasons of the Classic era, but they are full of enjoyable moments and enjoyable characters. Even the worst of the stories are still quite good compared to other franchises even if they don't hold up as well as other seasons.

My viewing now jumps to The Eleventh Hour from 2010. I'm watching all the Doctors where I haven't see every episode at least twice. I could write these reviews for John Pertwee, Tom Baker, Christopher Eccleston, and David Tennant era from my head (and for completeness I might go ahead and do just that, we'll see), but there were far too many stories from William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton, Peter Davison, Colin Baker, and Matt Smith that I felt they deserved a separate viewing. The order has been a bit enlightening in many ways.

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