Sunday, 29 August 2010
Saturday, 21 August 2010
So after dust had settled on Trial of a Time Lord, Doctor Who had somehow dodged the headsman’s axe and the wrath of Michael Grade. So some seven months later, Season 24 hit our screens. And hopefully this series would, if you’ll pardon the pun, make the grade. However as we saw earlier, this season was assembled in haste, with John Nathan-Turner finding he couldn’t leave the producer’s chair after all and finding himself short both a Doctor and a script editor.
But Michael Grade, who I suspect was villainously twirling an imaginary moustache and snapping his red braces with glee, was not perhaps being as generous as the decision to allow the TARDIS’ travels to continue first appeared. For in addition to insisting on booting out Colin Baker, Doctor Who was to have another schedule change. And now the show was to be going out on Monday nights at 7.35 PM – a respectable enough slot you may think… but only if you live outside the UK. For as all natives of these isles know full well, over on ITV – the BBC’s arch rival - was the much loved Coronation Street. This long running soap, both now and then, regularly grabs the top spots in the week’s ratings – so much so that generally the BBC never schedules anything it hopes to do well against it – in fact there is a sort of gentlemen’s agreement, like that the Beatles and the Rolling Stones had, in which neither network schedules anything they want to be ratings winner against their competitors flagship soaps.
Therefore Grade’s decision to pit Doctor Who against this television titan cannot be seen as a merciful move. Rather it looks like a deliberate attempt to kill the show in an underhand fashion. Doubtless rattled by the press and public reaction to the perceived cancellation in the Colin Baker years, one does not need to don a deerstalker in order to deuce that this scheduling choice was an attempt to lower the viewing figures to a point where the BBC management could cancel it and then shrug innocently and blame the viewers for not tuning in.
And if the odds weren’t stacked high enough already against Doctor Who, the announcement of the latest actor to inherit the TARDIS keys was met with cries of “who hell he?” and more worryingly, “oh no, not him!”
So who was this mystery man? Well, producer John Nathan-Turner had told the press that he was looking for a “true eccentric” to play the role and initially he approached the late great Ken Campbell. Now the much missed Campbell was truly one of the greatest eccentrics ever to emerge from English theatre - he staged groundbreaking and idiosyncratic productions such as a ten hour stage version of the Illuminatus Trilogy, and nurtured many new talents through his shows, from noted actors like Bob Hoskins to Bill Drummond of arch musical pranksters the KLF. However the bosses at Broadcasting House felt that Ken’s maniac performance would be a little too frightening for the general public and so the search continued…
In the end though, somewhat ironically, the role was given to one Sylvester McCoy, who had been discovered by Campbell and had extensively performed in the Ken Campbell Roadshow. Appearing as ‘Sylveste McCoy’, his act had included stuffing ferrets down this trousers, hammering six inch nails up is nose, and as a finale setting his head on fire… And naturally it was this area of his CV that the press widely reported.
However to those not familiar with fringe theatre, McCoy was best known for his appearances on children’s television. He had played the backward mime who lived in a mirror, Epepe on Vision On, teamed up with David Rappaport to form the O Men in Jigsaw, appeared alongside mad inventor Wilf Lunn in Eureka, and arsed about as Professor No Ken Do in the anarchy that was Tiswas.
After the casting of Bonnie Langford, another alumnus of kids TV landing a lead role in the show had fans fearing the worse; that the show was slipping into a morass of light entertainment. From his television work up to at that point and the press reports of his early theatrical performances, many were worried that the show would be plunged into childish pantomime. Indeed we did wonder whether JNT had meant that it was his casting decision that was going to be truly eccentric. And for some, McCoy’s casting was the last straw; proof that JNT was now a man who had well and truly misplaced the plot.
However there was more to McCoy than ferrets and slapstick. What was less well reported at that the time was that since starting out under Ken Campbell’s wing, he had ventured onward into serious drama, landing character roles in films and appearing in Royal Shakespeare Company productions of the Bard’s works. Hence while viewers were familiar with McCoy from playing the fool in Tiswas and Jigsaw, they were unaware he was regularly delivering a very different brand of buffoonery in roles such as Feste in Twelfth Night. And certainly if the press had played up the respected Shakespearian actor angle, the public would have no doubt been less troubled by the casting news.
So then McCoy was an actor with hidden depths and dramatic talents largely unknown to television viewers. But it would take some time before these would become apparent on screen. Due to the rushed nature of his first season, the Seventh Doctor we first meet is somewhat different from the fellow that fans now remember. But first things first, while his casting may have had eyes rolling, the reveal of his costume was something of a relief.
After the over stylisation of the Fifth’s cricket whites and the eyeball melting toxic event that was the Sixth’s outfit, McCoy’s Doctor looked, well, like a proper Doctor again. His pullover and umbrella may have had the tiresome question mark motif but for the first time since the ‘70s, the Doctor looked like he was wearing clothes rather than a costume/uniform. His dress sense was sober and professorial, with just the right touch of the Edwardian era. Better still, this Doctor was not firmly welded into his wardrobe – like the first four Doctors, although he retained the same overall look, his clothes varied throughout his travels.
Now my acid test for any Doctor’s wardrobe is to see how well it fits in with the styles sported by his predecessors. So if you take a look at a line up of incarnations one to seven, McCoy blends in perfectly with the first four, whereas the Fifth doesn’t quite fit, earning a ‘close but no cigar’ medal and the Sixth leaves you wondering if the colour information in the jpeg has been corrupted.
So if the Doctor himself was back on track sartorially, was the show itself back on course? Well, yes and no. McCoy’s first season is particularly weak, both in terms of story and characterisation. Judging it with the benefit of hindsight, the reasons for this are obvious – it was a season put together at great haste using rushed scripts that in many cases had been developed for a very different Doctor. But despite the many weakness and rough edges, there were many encouraging signs.
Indeed despite the doubts over the casting, by the end of the season it seemed that the viewers had warmed to McCoy and more importantly Michael Grade wasn’t spotted sharpening an axe. Although this season produced several howlers, offering us several stories that regularly populate ‘Worst Story’ polls, for those who were still watching the Doctor himself was heading in the right direction.
After the divisive blustering and arrogance of the Sixth, McCoy felt like a return to form – his Doctor was quietly eccentric rather than bombastically crazed; whimsical rather manic, and generally seemed very old school . The Doctor was back to being a strange old fellow with a blue box. The hurried nature of this particular series meant that the scripts tended to play to McCoy’s perceived strengths and so the Seventh Doctor v1.0 was fairly light and utilised many of McCoy’s comedic chops. But rather than turning the Doctor into a clown as many feared, this was a return to using tomfoolery to disorientate and distract foes in much the same way as the Second Doctor did.
However once found his feet in the role, McCoy expressed the desire to make his Doctor darker, and in this he found an influential ally in the new script editor, Andrew Cartmel. Cartmel was a young writer who was to prove to be exactly the kind of new broom Doctor Who required. He embraced McCoy’s dark Doctor leanings and suggested to JNT that it was time to make the Doctor a mysterious figure once more.
Furthermore Cartmel understood that increasingly the show was getting bogged down with scripts that were packed full of what people thought of as typical Doctor Who i.e. lots of running down corridors, screaming companions and monsters that give speeches beginning “So Doc-Torrr…” And all too often this resulted in a hackney slice of tired sci-fi wrapped up the house set of clichés, and we ended up with horrors like The Twin Dilemma.
Therefore Cartmel started looking for young fresh writers and recommended would be scripters to start reading 2000 AD and in particular the work of Alan Moore to get a feel for the kind of science fiction the show should be delivering – intelligent, hip, often outlandish and uniquely British. Cartmel even tried to get Moore to contribute a script or two for the show, and although a meeting with the Wizard of Northampton went well, at the time Watchmen was exploding and unfortunately Moore’s comics work just didn’t allow the time for him to pen an adventure for the Doctor.
However the most important person to Cartmel needed to convince was John Nathan-Turner himself. Now JNT had always approached Doctor Who with style in mind – he was more concerned whether a script served up what he thought Doctor Who should look like rather than if the story itself worked properly. Hence during his run as producer we have stories like Time Flight which was set on Concorde – it looked impressive onscreen and being allowed to film on Concorde itself generated plenty of press publicity, but the actual script left a lot to be desired.
But furthermore, JNT’s idea of the type of style Doctor Who should have was simply out of step with everyone else’s. He seemed to think that the public wanted stylised and somewhat campy shiny silver foil space suits, gleaming white control panels and traditional run-arounds. In short, something that looked like the Who people remembered from the past. However, as we have seen in this series of articles, Doctor Who has always moved with the times, reflecting not just the trends in sci-fi but the broader changes in television itself. No wonder then with this approach from the producer the series was looking tired and out of date.
Throughout McCoy’s first season you can feel the show pulling in two directions. For example, while Paradise Towers may not be the most fondly remembered of stories, the basic premise of a community living in a futuristic tower block that has become a state within a state is an interesting conception, owing more than a little to the likes of JG Ballard and Judge Dredd. However what scuppers the story is an overly stylised service robot, similarly overly theatrical costumes and JNT’s stunt casting, all of which fail to match the gritty ‘living in’ future sensibility the story needs to work properly. The role of the fascistic Chief Caretaker, the main villain of the piece, was given to beloved sitcom actor Richard Briers, who played him as an over-the-top monster. It’s a decent enough performance but it just doesn’t match the style the story is aiming for. Admittedly matters aren’t helped by the garish costume the wardrobe department have given him, but ironically if Briers had played the Chief Caretaker like the dotty suburbanites he normally essayed the character would have actually been far more menacing. Such stunt casting may have generated column inches but when an actor like Briers is cast against type and ends up floundering, it just reflects badly on the show.
However by the end of McCoy’s first year, Cartmel had finally got JNT’s ear, and the last show in that season Dragonfire signalled the beginning of a new direction. In many ways, any given Doctor is as only good as his companions, and Mel just wasn’t working out. And in all fairness, and contrary to what some may claim, this wasn’t Bonnie Langford’s fault.
Of those brave souls who have ever journeyed with the Doctor, Mel is perhaps the unluckiest – her stay in the TARIS marks the most troubled era of Doctor Who, when the show was beset with script troubles. She first appears in the final tempestuous days of the JNT/Saward acrimony and ironically it is just when the stormy skies behind the scenes are beginning to clear that she leaves the series. But, much like Colin Baker, her subsequent return to the role for various Big Finish audio adventures has shown that the problems with Mel lay not in the casting but the scripts Bonnie Langford was given. And indeed, her audio appearances have done much to improve her standing among fans.
However her replacement was to be the perfect foil for the Seventh Doctor. Ace, played by Sophie Aldred, was something significantly different from the usual female companions. For a start, Ace felt a lot more real than previous companions; she dressed very ‘street’, used contemporary slang and had a back story rooted a boring housing estate and hanging round the shops with her mates. The previous recent companions who hadn’t come from alien worlds, Mel, Tegan and Peri, all had somewhat glamourous backgrounds – a high flying computer expert, an hair hostess and an American student respectively, whereas Ace was a character the teenager in the audience could relate to.
But also there was no helpless screaming and clumsily falling over into peril from Ace. Instead of the usual female in peril, we have a gutsy girl with a fondness for explosives. Rather shriek in terror when faced with a Dalek, Ace would give it some lip and then twat it with a baseball bat.
You would have thought that given the widening influence of feminism throughout the 70s and ‘80s that we would have had plenty of strong women in the TARDIS. Teagan, Nyssa, Peri and Mel may have demonstrated more resourcefulness than some of the ladies from the ‘60s, but all too often ended up doing the old screaming and getting captured routine. Even the Romanas, who were as intelligent as the Doctor, kept slipping into damsel in distress mode on a regular basis. In fact, the last companion capable of being an action heroine rather just a screamer was Leela back in the first half of Tom Baker’s run.
And Ace was similar to Leela in other ways too; her friendship with the Doctor similarly involved strong elements of a student and teacher relationship. As the next two seasons unfolded, it became very clear that the Doctor was mentoring Ace in his own eccentric fashion, taking her to places and times where she could learn. However it also became equally clear that the Doctor wasn’t always strictly honest with Ace about his motives and intentions, and often he was taking to places to confront her own inner demons.
From his second season on, with Cartmel firmly holding the reins, McCoy did indeed get his wish to play a darker Doctor. The whimsical clowning is toned down and the Seventh Doctor deepens as a character. The first story for the Seventh Doctor Mark 2, Remembrance of the Daleks is a truly pivotal tale; establishing a brand new template for our hero. He doesn’t explain his actions or schemes: instead he deftly manipulates everybody around him, allies and enemies alike, only revealing his hand at the very end.
There are definitely shades of the Second Doctor in his use of subterfuge and covert tactics, but McCoy’s Doctor takes it to new heights; with even Ace often being excluded from his confidence. This Doctor is often described as a chess player, and quite rightly so as rather than stepping centre stage and taking charge, the Seventh Doctor is more prone to stand quietly at the sidelines and subtly manoeuvre everyone into the positions he needs them in to save the day.
But in addition to altering the Doctor’s methods, Remembrance of the Daleks also saw another key strategy of Cartmel’s come into play. From the late ‘70s onward, the Doctor had become a very familiar figure – we knew he was a Time Lord, that his home planet was Gallifrey, and we’d even had semi-regular trips back there. We had learnt that it was the pioneering stellar engineer Omega whose experiments with black holes gave the Time Lords the massive amounts of energy required for time travel. We learnt that the early Time Lords were an unscrupulous bunch, abusing their temporal powers until the founder of modern Time Lord society, Rassilion put at stop to it all. And that several instances of interfering with other sentient races’ development led to their current policy of generally observing and not intervening. And this worthy but dull scholarly approach to ruling time would eventually drive the Doctor to stealing a TARDIS and embarking on his travels.
In short, the figure of the Doctor was a far cry from the enigmatic fellow who wore William Hartnell’s face. For his first two incarnations, the Doctor was a curious old man whose origins and motivations were shrouded in mystery. But by the late ‘80s, it seemed like only one mystery remained - what was his real name.
Now the Seventh’s Doctor’s newfound strategies of game playing and secrecy has once more brought a mysterious edge to his actions, but Cartmel wanted to go further. Hence in Remembrance of the Daleks we get a line , an almost throw-away line, that shakes up everything we thought we knew about the Doctor’s past, and left us with very large questions about his identity.
This story sees the Doctor returning to Coal Hill in 1963 – the same time and location were the series began – in order to recover an ancient Gallifreyan artefact, the Hand of Omega which he had left behind when setting off with on his travels with Suzanne, Ian and Barbara. Now the Doctor tells Ace that the Hand of Omega is a powerful device capable of stellar manipulation and as was used to create black holes by Rassilion and Omega. And then remarks “…and didn’t we have trouble with the prototype”. Ace picks up on this and the Doctor hastily corrects himself, the ‘we’ becoming ‘they’, and unconvincingly tries to pass it off as a slip of the tongue.
It’s a little line, and one that means little to the causal viewer. However across the land, Who fans were scrabbling to retrieve dropped jaws from floors. What?!? The Doctor was a contemporary of the founders of Time Lord civilisation !?! In The Three Doctors, Omega didn’t recognise the Doctor but then again he was completely insane at this point. However Rassilion in The Five Doctors did appear to know who the Doctor was, didn’t he? What the hell is going on?!?
Suddenly we didn’t know the Doctor as well as we thought we did. And throughout these last two seasons, further hints were dropped into the mix. In Silver Nemesis, Lady Peinforte claims to know the Doctor’s secrets, referring to the Dark Times – the pre-Rassilion era of Gallifrey. And in Ghostlight, Control remarks that the Doctor does not match any known species in Light’s catalogue - had this ancient being simply not encountered Time Lords or was this hint that the Doctor wasn’t your usual Gallifreyan any more?
Indeed it was the writing team’s intention to reintroduce questions about the identity and true nature of the Doctor, and this scheme has dubbed by fans as ‘the Cartmel Masterplan’. Now as it turns out, there’s wasn’t some secret tome created, rather as Cartmel co-conspirator Marc Platt later said the masterplan was more an approach to bring back some darkness and mystery than some secret new series bible. However there were the bones of several scripts and plot arcs developed and we’ll discover the true contents of this masterplan a little later on. But unfortunately these intriguing plans were never make it onto the screen…
Now it has to be said that the Seventh Doctor had got off to a shaky start, and the Sixth Doctor’s era was beset by troubles. However from McCoy’s second season onwards, the quality of the show was definitely on the rise. Yes, the budgets were still tight, leading to short rehearsals, rushed shoots and shoe string effects. But with Cartmel as script editor, not only were the scripts revitalised but JNT himself seemed to be reinvigorated again.
One of JNT’s great strengths as a producer was shrewd budgeting but for most of his time in the chair he didn’t always seem to know where to best deploy the production resources. However in the last two seasons, we see the show spending its time and money in the areas that matter most – not blowing the budget on expensive location filming for an under developed script or splurging it all on a single effect shots leaving nothing in the kitty for decent sets or costume – and as a result the show was looking far better and delivering far more satisfying stories. And it was doing so on far less money too. The bright and gaudy colour schemes and heavily stylisation were out, and muted tones and realism were back in. Substance reigned over style and to most viewers’ surprise; McCoy was turning out to be a quite brilliant Doctor.
Yes, there were still obvious rough edges to the productions, but it was the quality of the stories that was really shining through. For example the quartet of tales that make up the final season - Battlefield, Ghostlight, The Curse of Fenric and Survival all consistently captured the look and feel of golden age Doctor Who but also they did what good Who always should – telling intelligent and modern stories. The very last story made Ghostlight is particularly impressive, seeing Doctor who move in exciting and innovative new directions – indeed I shall speak further on this remarkable serial in a forth coming edition of my mini podcasts Hypnobobs.
However the show was still going out against Coronation Street, and obviously the ratings were still not doing well. And in all fairness no matter how good the show was, it was always doing to do badly against this soap colossus – indeed Coronation Street had such a grip on the nation’s heart that even a blockbuster premiere would come off badly against it. So although the Cartmel Masterplan was going great guns and the viewers who were tuning in were impressed, the Grade Masterplan won the day.
Although Michael Grade had left the BBC by this point, new BBC controller Jonathan Powell had chosen not to change the show’s time slot. Hence low ratings gave the management the excuse they needed cancel the show. No doubt still wary of public outcry, it was announced that Doctor Who was put to be put on hiatus and then never recomissioned. Although Head of Serials, Peter Creegen and other execs strongly denied the show had been axed and claimed it would be returning, effectively Doctor Who had been quietly cancelled in an underhand fashion. Some nine months after the last episode was transmitted, the Doctor Who production office finally was closed down in August 1990.
It looked like the end of the line for the Doctor. Although he was to continue his adventures in other mediums - radio, comics and books - it appeared that the TARDIS was gone from our TV screens forever. And indeed, bar a brief flicker in 1996, the series would not continue until 2005. But all of that is a story for another day…
Right then, time to return to the questions that inspired this series of articles – how many actors have played the Doctor and how many incarnations of him are there knocking about time and space?
The first question, for once, is a simple matter – the Seventh Doctor has only ever been played by Sylvester McCoy. So an easy plus one to our tally of thespians. But what about the number of incarnations of the Doctor?
Well, in Battlefield we learn something of our Time Lord hero’s future. In this story, malign forces invade the long suffering Home Counties. But instead of the usual intergalactic chancers, this time the evil forces are from a parallel dimension where the Arthurian legends are real. Furthermore we learn that in the future, the Doctor will visit this ‘sides in time’ universe and end up playing the role of Merlin. But this will not occur while in this seventh incarnation, as Morgaine, Ancelyn and Mordred all remark on the Doctor’s changed physical appearance.
So who is this future incarnation? Well it’s not any of the following Doctors we have seen so far – no, not even the Eleventh who has just began his travels. And how can I be sure Matt Smith won’t end up being Merlin in this alternative realm? Simple – he’s not ginger.
No, I’ve not been at the Pan-galactic Gargle Blasters! In the Seventh Doctor’s literary afterlife, the Target novelisation of Battlefield tells us that this Merlin Doctor has ginger hair and sports an afghan coat and floppy hat. All of which would explains why both the Tenth and Eleventh’s are disappointed they are not ginger – after all there’s now only a limited number of incarnations left so the day the Doctor joins the red headed league must be close at hand.
Venturing deeper into his printed travels, in the Virgin New Adventures we encounter a fellow called Muldwych whom we are led to believe is a future Doctor and in Paul Cornell’s Happy Endings appears to be cagey about talking about Arthurian matters when the seventh Doctor is in earshot. All of which has led to speculation that Muldwych is the Merlin Doctor or possibly an even later incarnation.
However there is a fly in this continuity ointment, the short story A Fateful Knight in the Big Finish collection Short Trips: The Quality of Leadership. This tale, a prequel/sequel to Battlefield, asserts that is the Eight Doctor who becomes Merlin. Actually he’s one of two Merlins, the other being a renegade Time Lord who is posing as the legendary magician and giving away advanced technology Time Meddler style.
But while it ties up the future Merlin Doctor business, One Fateful Knight also buggers up the continuity by contradicting the Target novelisation and the references in the New Adventures. So bearing in mind the words of the Wiki-sages who always say – all together now – their “canonicity is unclear”, what we have here is a continuity punch-up between different spin off media. Now personally, as both Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat have deliberately dropped in ginger references in speeches from the newly regenerated Tenth and Eleventh Doctors, I’m coming down on the side of the Battlefield novelisation that says there IS going to be a Doctor with an afghan coat and a copper coloured top!
Now if you thought that was complicated, hand on to your floppy hats as it’s time to return to the mystery of the Morbius Doctors! As you will recall we spoke earlier of the matter of the Cartmel Masterplan… Well what the writing team had cooked up was as follows. To begin with the Doctor’s intention was to eventually take Ace to Gallifrey and enter her into the Time Lord academy. However we would also learn that the Doctor himself did indeed have a longer and more mysterious history then we previously had thought, and there were reasons other than just rebellious boredom for him starting his travels. Now after the series had been cancelled, Virgin Books cannily cut a deal with the BBC to publish new Doctor Who fiction – essentially carrying on the show in the form of an ongoing series of novels. Indeed the first batches of these New Adventures were even released as “Season 27” and they headhunted many former script writers to pen them.
More to the point though, Cartmel and his team generously wrote up all their ideas and concepts for series editor Peter Davrill Evans who incorporated them into the writers’ guidelines. So throughout the next six years, the hints continued, and for better or worse, we learnt a lot more about the history of Gallifrey and the Doctor’s past. Hence in the New Adventures, we learnt that Time Lords are ‘loomed’ rather than born – due to an ancient curse Gallifreyans are unable to reproduce biologically and so instead new Time Lords are artificially created in genetic engineering mechanisms, the Looms. We also discover that the Doctor deliberately triggered his premature regeneration from the Sixth to the Seventh in order to prevent the eventual creation of the Valeyard.
However it was only when Virgin lost their licence to publish Doctor Who in 1996 did all the hints starting in Remembrance of the Daleks and building all the way through the New Adventures finally come to a head in the final Seventh Doctor novel Lungbarrow. At last all was revealed. Well, nearly… as there are still many questions over the interpretation of the revelations from Lungbarrow as we shall later see.
Written by Cartmel conspirator Marc Platt, this story began as a script for McCoy’s final season and featured the Doctor returning to his family seat in Gallifrey. However John Nathan-Turner vetoed the proposal, feeling it revealed too much about the Doctor and Platt’s script ended up being radically rewritten and mutated into Ghostlight. Considering that Ghostlight was the last story filmed, although it was not the last transmitted, it is somewhat ironic that its narrative seed should become the closing novel in the Virgin range.
Now as it is the climax of the whole New Adventures run, and is packed with revelations about the Doctor’s history, copies of Lungbarrow now go for a small fortune. I’m not even going to tell you how much I paid for my copy, suffice to say the peg-leg and hook are working out nicely. However like many other rare titles from the range, you can read Lungbarrow online at the official BBC site here.
Now fair warning, this next bit contains heavy spoilers for Lungbarrow so skip ahead to the all clear if you wish to read it for yourself. For every one else, all of you who really just want to know what all this “..didn’t we have trouble with the prototype” business is about and learn the secret of the Morbius Doctors, read on…
At the beginnings of Time Lord society, there was Rassilion and Omega who cracked the secret of time travel and later laid down the rules of Time Lord civilisation. However this pair was aided by a third known only as the Other.
This mysterious figure actually first appeared in the novelisation of Remembrance of the Daleks in a flashback with the other two founders. Later on, in the Virgin Missing Adventure Cold Fusion, we learn more of this mysterious Other. Furthermore one of the Morbius Doctors appears in a flashback and according to author Lance Parkin who was working from a version of the Cartmel Masterplan, this was meant to be a hint that the Morbius Doctors were incarnations of the Other.
Now after Omega was lost in one of the black hole experiments, Rassilion having taken control of Time Lord society was becoming increasingly despotic. And in Lungbarrow it is revealed that in order to escape the clutches of Rassilion, the Other threw himself into a Loom, planning to be reconstituted one day in the future. And indeed he was, many millions of years later in the form of … guess who? That’s right the Doctor. However it would be much later in his life that the Doctor began to remember this previous existence as the Other and discover the reason ancient artefacts like the Hand of Omega appeared to recognise him.
So then, the mysterious faces in the mind bending contest with Morbius are in fact incarnations of the Other not the Doctor. Indeed some fans have speculated that it is this forced regression in the psychic battle with Morbius that begin the process which will lead to the Doctor accessing the memories of the Other and the Dark Times of Gallifrey buried within him.
So there we go – the Morbius Doctors all nice and neatly tied up. Except for one annoying fact – Lungbarrow seems to imply the Other didn’t have the ability to regenerate …. Bugger!
However mercifully there’s another fan theory to explain this – simply that the Other was reconstituted by the Looms once before, and it is this unnamed Time Lord whose faces appear as the Morbius Doctors. And presumably this “Morbius Doctor” returned himself to the Looms at the end of his lives in order to be reconstituted once again as the Doctor we know.
So then do the Morbius Doctors count as incarnations of the Doctor? Well you could argue it both ways but I tend to see it as a case of the Doctor inheriting the memories of the Other rather than being one individual with two (or three) lifetimes. However which ever way you cut it, the First Doctor is still the original version of the Doctor as we know him – our Doctor was born, or rather loomed if you take the New Adventures as canonical, as a new individual millions of years after the Other lived. And even if he is the Other reborn, it’s still a whole new life time rather than an unbroken chain of regenerations. So then, I’m not counting the Morbius Doctors as incarnations proper.
So finally then, with the twenty six seasons of classic Doctor Who all wrapped up…
Let’s take a look at the scores on the doors
Actors who have played the Doctor – we have the expected seven, plus three more, Hurndall, Culshaw, and McCoy standing in for the First, Fourth and Sixth incarnations respectively. And then we have the Apocryphal Doctors in alternate universes played by Trevor Martin and Peter Cushing. All of which brings us to a grand total of TWELVE actors in the role.
As for incarnations of the Doctor, again we have the expected seven, plus the future Merlin Doctor, and if you skipped the spoiler section in order to preserve the surprises in Lungbarrow we’ve ruled out those pesky Morbius Doctors! So our tally of incarnations we know about stands at a solid EIGHT.
NEXT TIME on The Regeneration Game - “Does Paul McGann count? Sod that! The real question is does Richard E Grant?”
Didn’t he do well!
Find the preceding parts of this series, and archived other ramblings here.
Saturday, 14 August 2010
Welcome to HYPNOBOBS 4! This week we're venturing into dark ambience...
DIRECT DOWNLOAD - Tombs, Temples and the Dead
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HYPNOGORIA HOME DOMAIN - Full archive, RSS feed and other useful links
HYPNOGORIA on iTunes
Saturday, 7 August 2010
Another day, another little podcast! More poetry to entertain and inspire. This time it's a classic from Brian Patten which can be found in the very wonderful The Mersey Sound anthology...
DIRECT DOWNLOAD - Prosepoem Towards a Definition of Itself
Find all the podcasts in the HYPNOGORIA family here -
HYPNOGORIA HOME DOMAIN - Full archive, RSS feed and other useful links
HYPNOGORIA on iTunes
Wednesday, 4 August 2010
Nice to see Who, to see Who nice!
And so, having travelled around space and time for three seasons, Peter Davison hung up his cricket pads and handed over the TARDIS keys. But after the record breaking seven season Tom Baker run, not to mention the five seasons of Pertwee, to many viewers at the time this seemed like a very quick change-over. But actually, three series is the average lifespan for the TV Time Lord; Hartnell, Troughton, McCoy and Tennant all clock in at the three series mark. Indeed Davison’s decision to leave at this point was shaped by the Second Doctor himself, Patrick Troughton, who had advised his descendant that three series was the optimum time to spend in the role.
However by the late ‘80s, there were malign forces threatening the Doctor. Aside the usual menaces presented by Daleks, Cybermen and the Master, more deadly enemies were amassing. But these perils were not gathering in the depths of space or the farthest reaches of the Time Vortex but in the heart of the BBC itself. The Cloister Bell is chiming and, impossible as it sounds, time was actually running out for the Doctor. And not just for our Time Lord hero but for the show itself…
The Sixth Doctor
Of all the Doctors, the Sixth is perhaps the most troublesome, with his era often being hailed as the beginning of the end for the classic series. And poor old Colin Baker has frequently copped the flack for the downturn in the series’ fortunes at this point. But in all fairness, the troubles the show was to experience in this period were more down to behind-the-scenes cock-ups and external pressures than the quality of his performance.
But before we can talk about the details of the Sixth Doctor’s reign, we must first address the heffalump in the TARDIS control room – that bloody coat! Now in the restaurant trade, there is a saying “the first bite is with the eye”, and this is equally truly of the designs that grace our screens. Davison’s cricketer garb had raised a few eyebrows, but that was nothing compared to this new outfit that had so many clashing colours it was a danger to shipping. Hence the Sixth Doctor’s appalling technicolor nightmare of a costume was received with sighs of disbelief, howls of distain, and in some cases, vomiting.
In a promotional appearance on long running BBC kids TV show Blue Peter,
Baker himself as described it as “a symphony of bad taste”, and went on to explain that the new outfit reflected an alien dress sense, and that what appeared to earthlings as hideous colour coordination may appear to be the height of style to a being from another world. It was a reasonable enough rationale for the costume but that didn’t make us like it any better.
And we weren’t alone, Colin Baker himself wasn’t entirely happy with what the wardrobe department presented him with. And indeed as his run progresses, we see him looking for any excuse to shed the coat and leave behind. Apparently Baker’s own idea was for his Doctor to be dressed in black – which as we shall see would have fitted the character concept very well. However producer Jon Nathan-Turner, a man infamous for his taste in loud Hawaiian shirts - you know, the ones that look like they are printed by steam rollering parrots - plumped for the alien fashion sense atrocity instead.
In the last Regeneration Game, we discussed how Nathan-Turner was labouring under the mistaken apprehension that the Doctor should possess a distinctive costume, and with the Sixth Doctor’s fashion crimes the process reached its nadir. And this costume wasn’t just unpopular, it was pretty much unanimously seen as a big mistake and furthermore many saw it as a sign that the production team had well and truly lost the plot.
On paper, or as explained by Baker in press appearances, the concept of alien fashion sense certainly had potential. However the actual execution was simply horrid; loud, garish and ridiculous. Ironically these same adjectives also described how much of the audience perceived the show itself at the time… but we’ll get to The Twin Dilemma in a bit. But unfortunately, it wasn’t just the viewers that were forming this impression – the sound of this dropped ball had disturbed the sleep of an immensely powerful and terrifying being that was lurking in the upper echelons of the BBC itself…
And if the mad painter’s breakfast of an outfit wasn’t unappealing enough, the introduction to the Sixth Doctor himself was equally disastrous. In his maiden adventure, The Twin Dilemma, viewers met a Doctor suffering severely from post regenerative trauma – he was arrogant, brash, rude, cowardly, and even violent. And this characterisation grated severely with the audience who were left wondering what in the name of Rassilion had happened to their hero.
Even after his regeneration had finished ‘cooking’, the Sixth Doctor was still somewhat abrasive. Whereas previous Doctors had often displayed a touch of arrogance, the Sixth positively revels in it. And while Pertwee often patronised the non Time Lords around him and Tom Baker showed a lofty disregard for the various authorities and experts he encountered, the Sixth is hugely conceited – he’s not just the smart man in the room, he’s the cleverest dick in the universe and tremendously ungracious about it to boot.
And while this bold change in characterisation does work to an extent, you can understand why the audience didn’t warm to this new Doctor. The major stumbling block I suspect was the way he treated Peri – it’s all well and good for the Doctor to be angry and rude to the incidental characters he meets on his adventures but to act this way with his companion was perhaps a step too far. Throughout the majority of his first series he argues and bickers with her, appearing to be just tolerating her presence rather than having any kind of friendship with her. And the unpleasantly bombastic nature of the Doctor not only reflected badly on our hero but her too – Peri came across as whiny and nagging due to all the in-TARDIS squabbling.
Now like the costume, there was a concept behind all this jarring onscreen behaviour. The idea was to initially present a very difficult Doctor and over time peel away the layers of his harsh exterior character revealing hidden depths. In interviews, Colin Baker has also eluded to this plan involving the Sixth Doctor having a dark secret which would explain why he was so strident and forthright. However as Baker’s tenure would be abruptly cut short after his second season we never saw much of this process unfolding.
However by the final story in his first season, Revelation of the Daleks, the Doctor has mellowed a little. He’s still an unbridled egotist and prone to rapid mood swings, but his relationship with Peri has much improved and there is a warmth growing between the characters. However for some it was it seemed like too little and too late; as the old adage goes, you never get another chance to make a first impression…
...And unfortunately the Six Doctor’s first adventure was a stinker - The Twin Dilemma is one of the poorest stories in the canon and, quite rightly may I add, regularly tops fan polls for the worst serial ever. The story line is horrendously dated, even when the show started in the ‘60s this particular slice of sci-fi would have been seen as unsophisticated and old hat. And matters weren’t helped by poor performances and one of the shoddiest monsters ever, Mestor. This beast was meant to be a monstrous giant slug but what we got onscreen was an actor stuffed in a completely static mask with deely bopper antennae and swathed in what looks like a latex festooned sleeping bag. Go on, see for yourself how lousy he is!
Now although many Doctors haven't come to us with a truly classic first adventure, they are at least competent which sadly The Twin Dilemma just isn’t. Matters weren’t help by the fact it followed on from a story that is considered to be one of the all time classics, The Caves of Androzani, a serial that was adult and challenging, brimming with complex political intrigue as well as sci-fi action. However a more serious factor was that this story aired at the end of Davison’s last season, leaving its memory to fester in the memory until the show returned the following year.
With any new regeneration, it takes the audience a certain amount of time to adjust to the new face, which is why virtually every other Doctor is introduced at the beginning of a fresh season. The only other Doctor not to open a new series is the Second - but Troughton’s first outing was the third story aired with another six stories following to settle in. So considering the creative risks they were taking with the characterisation, to schedule the Sixth Doctor’s debut in this way was courting disaster. And to choose a script as weak as The Twin Dilemma is like inviting said disaster in for tea and offering it the hand of your first born child in marriage.
But the public’s affection for Doctor Who was still strong enough for droves of viewers to tune in when the show returned. And despite his inauspicious introduction, ratings for Colin Baker’s first season proper proved to be quite healthy, with the show performing well against rival network ITV’s big hitter The A Team. Certainly the move back to its traditional Saturday tea time slot undoubtedly helped, as did a change in running time. Now instead of twenty five minute episodes, Doctor Who came in fifty minute chunks and so we had two part adventures rather than the usual four chapter structure the show had settled into. Considering at this time, television was increasingly competing with home video and computer games for the audience’s time and attention, this shift to telling stories over a fortnight rather than a month, certainly made the show more accessible to the causal viewer.
Plus Nicola Bryant certainly had the dads and young men watching avidly – though admittedly perhaps for all the wrong reasons (step this way oh sweaty palmed one) But more importantly, once Baker had settled into the role, if you could see past that sodding coat, he was actually shaping up into a very interesting Doctor. And certainly the healthy viewing figures suggest that despite The Twin Dilemma, the Sixth Doctor was warming the hearts of the audience. His first season may have included Timelash, another perpetually low ranking story, and the fan annoyance that is Attack of the Cybermen (a story slavish devoted to continuity but at the same time manages to get crucial details wrong), but with strong stories like Vengeance On Varos, The Two Doctors and ending on the bona fide classic Revelation of the Daleks the sour memories of Mestor and wooden child actors were been gradually erased.
But there as this season rolled out, another problem surfaced. This Doctor proved to be more than just verbally aggressive; Vengeance on Varos saw a guard the Doctor had been grappling with toppling in an acid bath and The Two Doctors saw him smothering Shockeye. These and other incidents brought complaints about the levels of violence in the show. The major problem seemed to be not that Doctor Who was showing mayhem and horror to a young audience, but the fact that some of this carnage was being perpetuated by the Doctor himself and with a very blithe attitude – for example, both the incidents mentioned above have the Doctor making a Bond style quip after despatching his foes.
And this is born out by the fact that actually, the Fifth Doctor is surprisingly far more violent than the Sixth. In Resurrection of the Daleks, Davison’s Doctor picks up a laser rifle and storms off with the intention of gunning down Davros – and although events would intervene to avert his plans, seeing the mildest mannered Doctor pick up a firearm and head off to carry out an assassination is still a bit of shocker. Earthshock went even further with the Fifth Doctor very violently taking out the Cyber Leader with repeated shots to the chest unit. Now in comparison, the two deaths mentioned above in the Sixth Doctor’s first season were acts of self defence; he didn’t set out to murder either the guard or Shockeye. But it’s the post mortem quips that make the difference – these one liners coupled with the Sixth’s generally fractious nature seemed to show the Sixth Doctor as overly comfortable with causing deaths whereas the Fifth agonised over the violence. Hence it’s Colin Baker rather Peter Davison that is remembered as the violent one.
As for the actual levels of violence and horror in the series, Doctor Who had frequently been accused as going to far by the moral guardians of the day. But interestingly the serials that have raised these complaints – such as Terror of the Autons and Genesis of the Daleks - are often ones that are most fondly remembered by the general public because they were shocking and scary.
To return to the matter of the viewing figures, it appears that Shockeye ghoulishly relishing butchering humans for a slap-up meal and the Cyber Leader bloodily crushing Lyttleton’s hands were actually going down well with the audience at the time. By this stage of the game, being terrified by Doctor Who was a traditional part of growing up, and now the show was back in its ‘proper’ Saturday tea time slot and it was doing exactly what parents expected i.e. traumatising their children.
Also it’s worth remembering that its rival in the ratings wars The A Team, which although is fondly remembered now, was seen as many viewers at the time as a bit of a joke because its action was so toothless. In a world where kids had grown up with the melting Nazis in Raiders of the Lost Ark and Obi Wan lopping off arms, not mention sampling the video nasties in the local video shop, the A Team policy of no blood and no one dying looked at somewhat tame, even to school children. Whereas old Doctor Who was delivering cannibalism, torture and Davros’ hand being blown apart onscreen Taxi Driver style.
However the major criticisms about the violence and gore in the Sixth Doctor’s era were not coming from Mary Whitehouse or reactionary newspapers like the Daily Mail; this time around, the angry noises were coming from the BBC management. Previously the show had pretty much shrugged off such complaints with a token slap on the wrist, and kept the stronger content down for a bit before pushing the envelope again. But now the Doctor was facing his most deadly enemy of all time, new controller of BBC One, Michael Grade.
In short, Grade just didn’t like Doctor Who one little bit and has later admitted he wanted to pull the plug on the show. As Timelash and to a lesser extent Mark of the Rani prove, the series did have problems – increasingly tight budgets led to poor effects, costumes and sets plus short rehearsal periods and limited studio times meant weak performances were ending up onscreen. And in fairness, fans of the show shared these concerns and many were wondering whether JNT was the right man in the producer’s chair. But at the same time, the series was capable of producing classics like Revelation of the Daleks where intelligent scripts, good performances and direction managed to free the show from its financial limitations.
However the internal complaints over the violence in the show coupled with the public’s initial negative reactions to the Sixth Doctor’s abrasive character and that sodding coat, provided Grade with a stick to beat the show with. And so these complaints provided the excuse to ‘rest’ the series for a while. And it was a real testament to the Great British Public’s loyalty to Doctor Who,even with a stomach turning coat, that there was an immediate outcry over what was perceived as an attempt to cancel the show. Grade and the BBC management were quick to reassure everyone that the series was just taking a year off, allegedly to try and improve the show not kill it.
Now the obvious solution to many of the show’s flaws was readily apparent even to causal viewers –
simply give the production team more time and more money. We didn’t expect ILM level special effects work – television was still decades away from adopting a ‘cinematic’ aesthetic – but we did think they could do better than Mestor given improved resources. However rather than increase the show’s budget, there were further cut backs. And so when Colin Baker returned to our screens some eighteen months later in the autumn of 1986, his second series consisted of just fourteen episodes – half that of previous seasons.
However these internal pressures were taking a toll; the relationship between script editor Eric Saward and produce John Nathan-Turner was turning increasingly sour. And in these circumstances, the decision to structure Season 23 as a fourteen part story arc, incorporating three linked adventures as The Trial of A Time Lord, was both untimely and unfortunate. To begin with, the previous season had made a big success of telling stories over a fortnight, so the decision to schedule a massive long running serial didn’t make the best televisual sense. By now TV was losing the ability to sell long running serials to the public, and in a busier world fourteen weeks was too much of a commitment for many viewers.
More importantly though, the tensions between Saward and Nathan-Turner meant that the scripts themselves suffered, making an already complicated story line even more difficult to follow. Now the problems of Trial of a Time Lord are legion and legendary, an almost Wagnerian tale of behind-the-scenes infighting. However for the viewing public, the troubles were as follows… To begin with the structure was confusing and jarring – we had had a season long story arc before in the Williams days, Season 16’s The Key To Time saga, but Trial of Time Lord was a very different beast. Whereas The Key To Time was six stories, each one focusing on recovering a different segment of the titular Key and could be viewed independently, in Trial of a Time Lord the adventures were presented as evidence in a court case against the Doctor. Hence the stories kept on switching between the main story to the court room which broke the flow of the adventures. Furthermore it meant that if you hadn’t been following this season from the very start, all these court scenes made very little sense. And even if you did, the fact the three adventures came from three different times in the Sixth Doctor’s life made following it a little difficult.
For example, Peri was written out in a ham fisted fashion at the end of the second adventure and so we start the third with a new companion, Mel Bush and we have no idea who she is or how she came aboard. Now losing Nicola Bryant was always going to be unpopular with many of the male viewers, however casting Bonnie Langford as the new girl proved to be as controversial as that egregious coat. Many eyes were rolled, as Miss Langford was at that time better known for her light entertainment work than her acting, and it certainly seemed an odd casting choice.
Now personally speaking I was one of those viewers sighing dejectedly when the news was announced – as a typical teenager her casting seemed to be a sign that the show was taking a wrong turn as I associated her with ‘square’ variety shows and kids TV. However when the shows aired I thought she actually did well in the role – making the best of messy scripts and a somewhat underwritten character - as the behind-the-scenes problems and the wrangling over the scripts hit her first two stories the hardest. But some were not so open minded and saw it as a sign that the show was turning into some kind of pantomime.
And indeed along with the troublesome nature of the scripts, Trial of A Time Lord has what are in my opinion THE worst monsters ever in the Terror of the Vervoids section. Not there have been many cheaper looking beasties - for example, The Vardans in The Invasion of Time appear as sheets of tinfoil half the time. And there have been many other aliens, like the afore mentioned Mestor, that were more poorly realised. However I am not faulting the Vervoid costumes here - they are actually rather well executed. No, the problem is their design itself – at best the Vervoids may be charitably described as killer tulips , and at worst… oh dear Lord… there’s no easy way of putting this… Oh see for yourself!
Yes, that’s right the Vervoids, through a miracle of design work, manage to look both vaginal and phallic at the same time. Honestly, did NO ONE look at these and think they looked ridiculously rude? Considering the hostile climate towards the show at the time, you have to wonder whether the Vervoid design was some species of covert sabotage. Seeing Bonnie Langford being menaced by men dressed as hermaphrodite genitals wasn’t kind of the shocks were we either expected or wanted from Doctor Who.
It seemed like when Doctor Who really needed to pull itself together, it was repeatedly shooting itself in the foot. And unsurprisingly, the ratings slumped with Trial of a Time Lord struggling to pull in half the figures of the preceding season. Once again the shadow of Grade fell across the TARDIS. But rather than cancelling the show, he allowed Doctor Who to continue. However the show was to change slot again and Grade insisted a new Doctor be found – it seemed that Colin Baker was to carry the cross of the show’s failures. I will point out at this juncture, that at the time Grade was in a relationship with actress Liza Goddard, who had been married to Baker. But obviously this had no bearing whatsoever on Grade’s insistence that Baker had to go… but feel free to draw your own conclusions.
Nathan-Turner too was looking to jump ship but perhaps unsurprisingly considering the attitude of the BBC management, no one else was willing to step into the fray. And so to keep the show alive, JNT stayed on and had to find a new Doctor, a new script editor, and assemble a fresh season in a very short space of time…
All in all it was an ignoble end to the Sixth Doctor’s reign; understandably very hurt by his treatment, Colin Baker refused even to return for his regeneration scene. Baker himself is a devoted sci-fi fan and naturally saw landing the part of the Doctor as a dream role and would have happily stayed on for many, many more seasons. And since his sudden departure, he has remained a staunch ambassador for the show and his Doctor has found new life in the audio adventures produced by Big Finish. And when claims that he is the worst Doctor are aired, folks are often directed to his audio afterlife. Not only are you spared the horrors of the coat, but you can hear the Sixth Doctor finally coming into his own. Indeed one of the more celebrated stories of the revived show, Dalek in 2005, was an extrapolation of the Sixth Doctor adventure Jubilee.
So then, with the Sixth Doctor’s era all wrapped up, let’s look at the ongoing questions of this series of articles – how many incarnations of the Doctor have we encountered, and how many actors have appeared in the role.
Firstly with the Sixth Doctor’s years showing an increased awareness of continuity, his first story does neatly tidy up an old controversy. As we saw in The Regeneration Game (Round Two), there was an ongoing debate as to whether the transformation from Hartnell to Troughton was actually a regeneration as the script never uses that term. However in The Twin Dilemma, the Doctor himself refers to his change as both regeneration and ‘a renewal’ – the same term employed by Troughton in Evil of the Daleks. So then we can safely dispel any doubts on that matter now.
But where one problem is clarified in the Sixth Doctor’s time, a bigger nastier one springs up – the Valeyard, played my veteran actor Michael Jayston. In The Ultimate Foe, the final adventure in Trial of a Time Lord, the Valeyard was eventually revealed to be none other than a personification of the evil in the Doctor’s personality, originating from somewhere between his twelve and final incarnations. And furthermore it was revealed that he was framing the Doctor in order gain his remaining regenerations.
Now as you can imagine this whole Valeyard business is something of a continuity headache. To begin with it is uncertain exactly when the Trial is occurring, not to mention the vagaries of why the Time Lord Council would transfer the Doctor’s remaining regenerations to the Valeyard when The Five Doctors clearly shows that they can could just award him a new regenerative cycle anyway.
The whole business of the Valeyard being a future evil aspect of the Doctor that has taken on a life of its own is never explained in any detail. Apparently in the original Robert Holmes script, it was to be revealed that he was a future Doctor who has gone completely dark side, however due to the infighting over between Saward, Holmes and JNT, this concept had to be dropped. But as it stands, although the vaguer explanation is less dramatically satisfying, it is also much less of a continuity bomb for future screen writers to deal with. Even amid all the arguments over the scripts, the production team realised they were potentially setting up a major headache, hence the Master’s carefully chosen words that state the Valeyard is from between the Doctor’s twelfth and final regeneration – note not ‘twelfth and thirteenth’.
Indeed with this possible future problems in mind, when Virgin Books continued the Doctor’s adventures after the show’s eventual cancellation in 1989, their guidelines requested writers to steer clear of trying to clarify the continuity issues surround the Valeyard. And although the writers largely respected this, it didn't stop the Valeyard from popping up again a couple of times, and more importantly, the knowledge that he may one day spawn the Valeyard influenced the Seventh Doctor’s actions in a number of print adventures.
Interestingly, the latest season of Doctor Who story Amy’s Choice introduces us to the Dream Lord, and this character like the Valeyard is a manifestation of the Doctor’s dark side, leading some fans to speculate that this incident with psychic pollen is the seed from which the Valeyard will grow…
But the wrangles over the lore aside, the real question is does Jayston’s Valeyard count as a future incarnation of the Doctor? Taking into account not just his screen appearance but all the subsequent encounters in the books and audios, all seem to agree that the Valeyard is just an aspect of the Doctor emanating from between regenerations. Well nearly all, the novelisation of The Ultimate Foe penned by the script’s authors Pip and Jane Baker, has the Master say "The Valeyard, Doctor, is your penultimate reincarnation... Somewhere between your twelfth and thirteenth regeneration". Now while one may interpret this as going down the aspect line, but the use of ‘reincarnation’ also suggests that the Valeyard is an incarnation of the Doctor. Shall we chalk it up to a spot of clumsy phrasing? Considering that none of his other appearances in spin-off media take the incarnation line, I think we must.
So then if the Valeyard is just an aspect of the Doctor’s personality that is roving around independently, the best explanation for this is that he is a being similar to Cho-Je and the Watcher - a psychic projection with a limited independent existence. And this would make sense of his goals to gain the Doctor’s remaining regenerations – as he isn’t a proper Time Lord, or a real physical being for that matter either, he can’t just be given a regenerative cycle. And only by gaining the Doctor’s future lives could become a truly independent entity – effectively usurping the Doctor’s body. And so, as we decided in the last round of The Regeneration Game that the Watcher doesn’t count as an incarnation, neither does the Valeyard.
Now all that remains is to update the number of actors in the role. As we’ve discounted the Valeyard as an incarnation, Michael Jayston will not be joining our roll call of thespians. So then, there’s just one, Colin Baker, to add to the list, right?
Well maybe not… As Baker refused to return for a regeneration scene, the Seventh Doctor’s opening story Time And The Rani has new incumbent Sylvester McCoy donning the hideous vomit inducing garb and a curly blond wig for a tractor beam induced lie down before and regenerating. See it here if you must but be warned it’s the worst regeneration scene ever!
Now it is a brief scene that only really amounts to McCoy on stunt double duties, so should it count – after all we’ve not been counting the times Stuart Fell or Terry Walsh did stunt work for Tom Baker or Pertwee. But I think it should count for the following reasons. Firstly although McCoy is just lying on the console room floor and can hardly be considered to be performing, equally sprawling about isn’t really stunt work either. Plus many actors over the years have been credited as ‘corpse’ or ‘coma patient’, and I am reliable informed, admittedly mainly by struggling actors, that lying still does require some acting ability. Secondly, McCoy did become the Seventh Doctor which lends weight to the performance claim. And finally it’s going to count because it’s the perfect little slice of fan lore to catch out know-it-all trivia bores who think they know better. Petty I know but what the hell! Consider it a gift for reading this much on the Sixth Doctor, who would certainly embrace this point of pedantry to win an argument and show off how clever he was...
COMING SOON – The second half of Sixes & Sevens - “If you call me Professor one time I’m going to slap you!”
Find the preceding parts of this series, and archived other ramblings here.