Classic Who Speedthrough: The 70s

Sorry kids: I know you love your 3D glasses and your fezzes and your timey-wimeys and whatnot, but 70s Who is where it’s at.

Of course, I might be slightly biased by being old af. 70s Who was of course the heyday of the wobbly set, the bad greenscreen, the godawful rubber monster. It was an era of modest budgets and setting lots of stories on Earth to save money. It was a time before anyone had ever thought, “hey, what if the Doctor were young and cute?”

And yet: it was a time of strong female companions, with only one exception capable and strong and sometimes smarter than the Doctor himself (and even that exception had her moments). It was a time of a lovable ensemble cast, of a suave Master and brave soldiers standing against him. It was a time for new villains: the Autons, the Silurians, the Sontarans, Davros, and the Zygons were all 70s kids like me. An anniversary story with three Doctors fighting side by side. A tin dog. Some seriously sketchy Time Lords. Story arcs that lasted all season long.

In short, while classic Who was born in the 60s, new Who was really born in the 70s.

Every single story in the 70s is worth watching. Yes, even THAT one. Unlike the 60s, all of them still exist, and most are still available on DVD (with certain mystifying exceptions). There’s one called “Shada” that might give you some trouble; it’s one penned by Douglas Adams (yes, that Douglas Adams) that was never finished. Parts of it exist and there’s a DVD and it was going to be pretty great. You don’t have to watch it — most people couldn’t — but even half of it is worth seeing. So the best way to enjoy 70s Who is to watch straight through. But if you insist on skipping around, here’s what you can’t miss.

Key to the icons:

Continuity Continuity You’ll definitely be confused about what’s going on in the larger story if you skip these.

Fan Favorite Fan Favorites There’s a general consensus among fans that these are among the best the series has to offer.

My Favorites My Favorites Stories I personally love the most. Sometimes I agree with the fans, and sometimes I go my own way.

If a story has two or three of these icons, you should definitely watch it.

Continuity only: also definitely watch it. It might not be the greatest story ever but you’ll be lost without it.

Fan Favorite only: probably worth your time. You COULD skip it and maybe come back to it, but it’ll be better if you watch it in order.

My Favorites only: there’s a good chance you’ll think I’m nuts for liking this. But if you really get into the show, it might appeal to you the way it appealed to me. Watch if you have time, skip if you don’t.

Season 7

Spearhead from Space Continuity Fan Favorite My Favorites
This story practically reboots the series. The Doctor shows up in his TARDIS with no companion, a spaceman falling to Earth six years before Bowie did it, and collapses like Tennant in “The Christmas Invasion.” Apart from one Alastair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, he doesn’t know a single soul around him and, robbed of his knowledge of time travel, he putters around as UNIT’s Scientific Adviser until he can get the TARDIS working again. It’s as solid an introduction as “An Unearthly Child” (if somewhat less strange and ambiguous) and a fine place for a new viewer to start. It also happens to be a damn good story. This sort of clean reboot has only happened twice more since that time: “Rose,” which of course started up the new series entirely, and “The Eleventh Hour,” which started up the Moffat era.

Doctor Who and the Silurians My Favorites

The Ambassadors of Death My Favorites

Inferno Fan Favorite My Favorites
That’s right. All of season 7. Every one a winner.

Season 8

Terror of the Autons Continuity My Favorites
Introducing the Master.

The Mind of Evil My Favorites

The Claws of Axos My Favorites
If I could bring one more monster back from classic Who, it would be these guys.

The Daemons Continuity Fan Favorite My Favorites

Season 9

Day of the Daleks My Favorites
We got your timey-wimey right here, pal.

The Curse of Peladon My Favorites
Rubber monster heaven.

The Sea Devils Continuity

The Mutants My Favorites
A seriously underrated story, and I’ve never quite understood why. Yes, there are one or two weak performances, but the story itself is fascinating.

Season 10

The Three Doctors Continuity Fan Favorite

Carnival of Monsters Fan Favorite

The Green Death Continuity Fan Favorite My Favorites
If you ever hear a classic Who fan talking about “giant maggots,” this is the story they mean. Don’t let that put you off.

Season 11

The Time Warrior Continuity Fan Favorite My Favorites

Planet of the Spiders Continuity My Favorites
Another weak performance by a secondary character here, and some extended chase scenes that are there mainly for the fun of extended chase scenes, but made up for by several excellent, complex villains and a suitably dramatic climax. A top ten episode for me.

Season 12

Robot Continuity

The Ark In Space Fan Favorite My Favorites
Not quite as perfect as its reputation (especially among contemporary showrunners), but very very good indeed.

Genesis of the Daleks Continuity Fan Favorite My Favorites
First Davros, best Davros.

Season 13

Terror of the Zygons Continuity Fan Favorite

Pyramids of Mars Fan Favorite My Favorites

The Brain of Morbius Fan Favorite My Favorites
If you’d like to know more about the Sisterhood of Karn, watch this. If implied contradictions about things like the number of times a Time Lord can regenerate really bother you, maybe don’t watch this.

The Seeds of Doom Fan Favorite My Favorites

Season 14

The Hand of Fear Continuity My Favorites

The Deadly Assassin Continuity Fan Favorite My Favorites
The only story in classic Who in which the Doctor didn’t have a companion.

The Face of Evil Continuity My Favorites

The Robots of Death Fan Favorite My Favorites
Another top ten. Fantastic stuff.

The Talons of Weng-Chiang Fan Favorite My Favorites
This is not the only classic Who story that casts an Anglo actor as an Asian character, but it might be the worst offender in that area. It’s a shame, because underneath some very dubious optics beats the heart of one of the very best stories of the classic era.

Season 15

Horror of Fang Rock Fan Favorite

The Invisible Enemy Continuity
Of the stories I must recommend solely for continuity reasons, this is probably the worst. It’s still pretty fun the first time through.

Image of the Fendahl My Favorites
I have no idea why people are so negative about this story. I adore it. If it’s not a top ten for me, it’s very close.

The Sun Makers Fan Favorite
An acquired taste. If you enjoy social satire and revolutionary themes, by all means stick this on and ignore how cheap it looks (arguably the cheapness adds to the atmosphere). If that sounds kind of tedious, skip this and come back to it when you’re a Who addict.

The Invasion of Time Continuity
Budget? What budget?

Season 16

The Ribos Operation Continuity Fan Favorite My Favorites

The Pirate Planet Fan Favorite
I find this unbearably tedious and heavy-handed, which is ironic given that Douglas Adams wrote it. Could be just the direction and the acting. But lots of people love it, so here you go.

The Stones of Blood My Favorites
Another top tenner for me.

The Armageddon Factor Continuity

Season 17

Destiny of the Daleks Continuity

City of Death Fan Favorite My Favorites
There are two types of Doctor Who fans. One of them, the best type, rates this story as their very favorite. THIS is what a Douglas Adams episode of Doctor Who should be like.

Wearing a Bit Thin

It’s been official since January that Peter Capaldi is leaving Doctor Who, and that his last episode will air at Christmas of this year. More recently it’s been announced that he would be facing the 1966 Cybermen this season — the strange headlamp-and-cloth-face-mask version we saw in their very first appearance, which happened also to be William Hartnell’s very last (consecutive) appearance as the First Doctor. This got me thinking: is it possible that the Twelfth Doctor would go out the way the First Doctor did? It’s the sort of thing a big fan of the show like Capaldi might request, and while he’ll definitely appear in the Christmas special, it could very well be a flashback.

I know, it sounds far-fetched to me too — anticlimactically repetitive, for a start, and convoluted even for Moffat. But it got me thinking about the different ways the Doctors have regenerated, and speculating about what we might expect this time. I thought it might be interesting to compare the enemies involved in regeneration stories, the catalysts that have helped the process along, and the causes of “death.”

As a bonus, I’ll offer a short take on the personality shifts between incarnations, according to my theory (I don’t remember if I came up with it, but I like it) that even within the story the Doctor is subconsciously “recasting” himself to correct any flaws he might perceive in his ending persona (whether we agree that they’re flaws or not) and become the new person he believes he might need to be.

First Doctor

Enemy: The Cybermen
Catalyst: The TARDIS
Cause: Exhaustion
Quote: “This old body of mine is wearing a bit thin.”

Though the early Cybermen were all about draining energy, there’s no explicit indication that they were draining it from the Doctor himself. To all appearances, he’s simply aged his first body as far as it can go, and it’s time to renew it. In the next story, his new self comments that this process is “part of the TARDIS,” suggesting that access to his ship is essential for regeneration to succeed. Indeed, there will be only three regenerations that don’t happen in or near the TARDIS, and all three of them have some other catalyst involved. This is never again explicitly stated, but we could assume that wherever I’ve noted the catalyst as “none,” the TARDIS is still playing that role.

This incarnation could be physically infirm and lacking in warmth; he becomes a younger, more charming man whose signature tactic is to run.

Second Doctor

Enemy: The War Lords
Catalyst: The Time Lords
Cause: Induction
Quote: “The time has come for you to change your appearance, Doctor, and begin your exile.”

So far the Second Doctor has been the only one to have regenerated while in perfect health. He is in a sense executed by the Time Lords for becoming too involved in the affairs of worlds outside Gallifrey. We might imagine this experience to be as traumatic as an execution, but little onscreen suggests it’s physically painful, as opposed to merely emotionally unpleasant. Still, though the enemy of this story is technically the War Lords (themselves an organization or species we might describe as degraded, inverted Time Lords), the Time Lords themselves are the cause of the actual regeneration, and might just as well be considered eleventh-hour antagonists.

Though demonstrably brilliant and capable, this incarnation sometimes found it difficult to command respect at first glance, and was not especially imposing physically. He becomes a more patrician, authoritative Doctor with a mastery of multiple martial arts.

Third Doctor

Enemy: The Giant Spiders of Metebelis III
Catalyst: Cho-Je
Cause: Radiation
Quote: “All the cells of his body have been devastated by the Metebelis crystals, but you forget, he is a Time Lord. I will give the process a little push and the cells will regenerate.”

The same alien radiation emitted by the blue crystals of Metebelis III that caused ordinary spiders from Earth to grow giant in size and intellectual capacity proved deadly in full doses, not just to their monarch the Great One, but also to the Doctor. Earlier in the same story, he takes a nearly-lethal spike of spidery lightning which knocks him almost comatose until Sarah Jane brings him medical equipment from the TARDIS, so he’s already poorly. Though he has his TARDIS nearby for the regeneration, he needs a little extra help from a fellow Time Lord.

While he was much more likely to rebuke authority figures than he’s given credit for, this incarnation developed a respect for human institutions and etiquette that probably constrained him a bit. His next would almost immediately display a detached, anarchic streak and a much healthier sense of humor about himself and the rest of the universe.

Fourth Doctor

Enemy: The Master
Catalyst: The Watcher
Cause: Trauma
Quote: “It’s the end. But the moment has been prepared for.”

One of the most violent regenerations to date, and the only one the Master can be said to be directly involved in. On the beam of a radio telescope, the Fourth Doctor fights the Master, who deliberately tilts the dish so that the Doctor slides off, dangles by a cable, loses his grip, and plunges to the ground. This is a family show, so he’s externally unscathed, but there’s no doubt he’s had it. The TARDIS is a good distance away, but a catalyst is at hand: a sort of plaster-of-Paris-covered mime who merges with him to become the Fifth Doctor. We might think of the Watcher as an autonomous projection of the Doctor, much as Cho-Je was an autonomous projection of the K’anpo Rimpoche, the Doctor’s former teacher. Maybe that’s where the Doctor got the idea to try a less polished version of the same trick. We don’t see clear evidence that summoning the Watcher was a conscious choice, but there’s plenty to suggest the Doctor might be expecting disaster. He’s uncharacteristically somber from the start, intoning gloomily about entropy — and why take a sudden urge to repair the chameleon circuit? Perhaps he knows something terrible is coming, even suspects that the Master may not have died on Traken, and creates the Watcher as a form of insurance? Which means we might also think of the Watcher as a horcrux. But this is 1981, so JK Rowling is only 16, and anyway it’s a little creepy to think of the Doctor as a lich with a phylactery, isn’t it? Still.

This incarnation of the Doctor was getting a little untouchable by the end, a little too sure of himself, a little arrogant perhaps, and maybe that was making him a little hard to be around. Next time, maybe he’d try to be a little more human, a little more approachable, a little more vulnerable. Given his hobbies, maybe not really the best move.

Fifth Doctor

Enemy: Sharaz Jek, Morgus, and all the other would-be profiteers and exploiters of Androzani Minor
Catalyst: none
Cause: Toxaemia
Quote: “Cramp is the second stage. First a rash, then spasms, finally slow paralysis of the thoracic spinal nerve and then TDP. Thermal death point. It’s called Spectrox toxaemia. I’ve seen dozens die from it.”

Toxaemia — blood poisoning brought on by an infection or a toxic substance — is probably the most gruesome regeneration cause we’ve seen so far. First of all, it’s a much more down-and-dirty biological sort of affliction than radiation or the trauma of falling from a great height. But eventually we learn that while the refined form of spectrox (the toxic substance in question) is a life-extending drug probably inspired by Dune‘s melange, its original form is literally bat guano. That is to say, the Doctor and Peri spend the entire story slowly dying because they fell into a pit of bat shit. Can you imagine the Tumblr anguish if they’d done that to David Tennant? Enemy-wise, it’s hard to blame any of the local warlords, venal bureaucrats, gunrunners, and other assorted criminals for this situation; our heroes step in poop before they meet anyone else on the planet and in fact would have died if they hadn’t gotten some crucial advice about the antitoxin. Well, Peri would have died; the Doctor would have survived, and that would have been awkward. Though less whiny.

This incarnation wasn’t a total wimp, but he was in a lot of situations where he could have benefited from being just a little tougher. Maybe after an adventure in which he was nearly shot to death by a firing squad and had to crash-land a ship and crawl into an airless cave to milk a queen bat, his dying self thought back to that dashing but ruthless Gallifreyan Commander Maxil and wished he’d been a little more like that….

Sixth Doctor

Enemy: The Rani
Catalyst: none
Cause: Trauma
Quote: “Yes, it exploded and threw you to the floor. Me, too. Knocked us both cold. When I came round you looked like this.”

It’s not entirely clear what causes the Sixth Doctor to regenerate. The relevant quote here is from the Rani, an amoral Time Lord disguised as the Doctor’s companion Mel. The “it” that “exploded” is an experiment that the Rani is making up as an explanation for an amnesiac Doctor. We know that in truth she’s brought down the TARDIS herself with some sort of energy bolts that knocked it out of the vortex, with the aim of getting the Doctor to help her complete her latest science project. So whatever the energy bolts are, they weren’t supposed to hurt him or cause him to regenerate, and after all they leave Mel unconscious but unconcussed. So we have to assume that either some part of the TARDIS does explode and injure him severely and Mel superficially, or — as goes the usual wisdom — he happened to hit his head hard enough to “kill” him. Perhaps the Rani’s energy bolts happened to catch him off-balance on his exercise bike.

This incarnation was abrasive, conceited, pretentious, and often downright nasty and abusive. This made it easy to overlook that — after his regeneration settled down — he was also protective, noble, outgoing, literate, and unafraid to get his hands dirty. There wasn’t a subtle bone in his body, and maybe that’s what drove him toward a regeneration that, like his first, brought him a personality with charm, a smooth tongue, and a deceptively unthreatening appearance.

Seventh Doctor

Enemy: The Master, a trigger-happy street gang, and San Francisco surgical procedures just before the year 2000
Catalyst: A thunderstorm?
Cause: Trauma
Quote: “And here we have an electro-physiology being performed by one of our senior cardiologists, Doctor Holloway, who will insert a micro-surgical probe into the patient’s artery, then search out the short-circuiting part causing the fibrillation, and just so that you know your money is being well spent, we’ll blast it with lasers.”

In which the famously ten-steps-ahead chess-playing master strategist Doctor dashes out of the TARDIS without checking a single scanner or instrument, right into a random San Francisco gangland shooting. Adding injury to insult, the bullets aren’t quite enough to kill him — instead, he is operated on by his companion-to-be, who skipped Alien Physiology in med school, and so has no idea how Time Lord physiology differs from the humans she’s used to. Rather than saving him, her procedure finishes him off. No wonder people are afraid of hospitals. Here the Master mainly just benefits from the situation rather than causing it. This is perhaps the first of the delayed regenerations, though rather than walking around and casually chatting with his former companions as has become customary since 2005, the Doctor is apparently dead for hours. The TARDIS isn’t nearby to help, and maybe this is partly why it takes so long. It’s not clear whether the coincidental thunderstorm plays any catalytic role, or if it’s just a clumsy Frankenstein allusion.

This incarnation, though perhaps resembling your most huggable uncle, was probably not going to have the chance to smooch too many mildly attractive incompetent surgeons. Maybe subconsciously he felt it was time to try being youthful and handsome and spontaneous again.

Eighth Doctor

Enemy: The Daleks
Catalyst: A magic potion!
Cause: Trauma
Quote: “Our elixir can trigger your regeneration, bring you back. Time Lord science is elevated here on Karn. The change doesn’t have to be random. Fat or thin, young or old, man or woman?”

Though the Daleks don’t make an appearance here, they’re the antagonist in the Time War, and even if the Time Lords are equally to blame, it’s clear what side the Doctor ends up taking. Like the Fourth Doctor, the Eighth has crashed to the ground hard and is all messed up inside. The TARDIS is somewhere in the wreckage, but we don’t know how far — maybe even farther away than it was in “Logopolis.” Fortunately the Sisterhood of Karn — a planet that might be the most crashed-on in the whole galaxy — have some potions ready to go, and they’ve been tight with the Time Lords for ages so they know what they’re doing.

No mystery at all what transition the Doctor mulls here. He gets to make a conscious choice to become a fighter, not a lover. Why that fighter is in the form of John Hurt and not, say, Tom Hardy or Daniel Craig or the Rock is a little mysterious; even Christopher Eccleston seems like more of a “fighter,” and of course we know it very nearly was him after all. But maybe there’s only so far the Doctor can go in the direction of badassedness, which is why he’s not the Warrior but the War Doctor.

War Doctor

Enemy: The Daleks
Catalyst: none
Cause: Exhaustion
Quote: “Oh yes, of course. I suppose it makes sense. Wearing a bit thin. I hope the ears are a bit less conspicuous this time.”

Here again, no Daleks are shooting at him, but what must have been centuries (as much as one can reckon time in the midst of a Time War) of fighting them must have been what wore him out. Still, he isn’t quite expecting to regenerate, but once it starts he acts as though it were an obvious next step. The line “wearing a bit thin” of course echoes his first regeneration, supporting the idea that the cause in both cases is the same: a “natural” death of “old age.” Part of what “makes sense” is that now the war is over and he no longer needs to be the War Doctor. Interestingly, if this had been Eccleston, there would have been no regeneration scene.

This incarnation had a heavy burden, and we have to assume he didn’t have a lot of time to explore the universe, flip through tabloids, visit past Earth history, or eat chips. He also had started to be a different kind of Doctor — younger, more dashing, less intellectual, more emotional, and maybe he wanted to get back on that track. Or maybe after so long looking like he didn’t belong in any particular time or place, he thought it might be good to be the kind of man who could blend in on the streets of 21st century London and just relax.

Ninth Doctor

Enemy: The Daleks
Catalyst: none
Cause: Radiation
Quote: “I absorbed all the energy of the Time Vortex, and no one’s meant to do that. Every cell in my body’s dying.”

Radiation hasn’t taken out a Doctor since 1974, so it’s due to come back into fashion. It’s a nice clean cause of death, invisible and almost magic. The idea that the Doctor can kiss it out of someone else like he’s sucking venom from a rattlesnake bite is a little far-fetched, but this is Doctor Who, so why not. The language he uses here is almost certainly a deliberate reference to that previous regeneration.

Again, the Ninth Doctor isn’t bad-looking, but right now he’s Rose’s fun uncle, and if he’s going to fall in love with her — which he does, come on, of course he does — he’ll need to be Casanova, but with better hair.


Enemy: The Daleks
Catalyst: Donna
Cause: Trauma
Quote: “I’m unique. Never been another like me. Because all that regeneration energy went into the hand. Look at my hand. I love that hand. But then you touched it. Wham! Shush. Instantaneous biological metacrisis. I grew out of you. Still, could be worse.”

I bring up Handy for two reasons only. One, he arguably counts as an actual regeneration, as irritating as that idea is. And two, if we are pursuing this theory that regenerations produce a new incarnation that “corrects” the flaws of the previous one, it’s possible that at this point in time the Tenth Doctor thinks he is flawless.

Okay, three reasons: the quote above is preceded by an even better one, to wit, Donna speculating, “Is that what Time Lords do? Lop a bit off, grow another one? You’re like worms.”

Tenth Doctor

Enemy: The Time Lords
Catalyst: none
Cause: Radiation
Quote: “All the excess radiation gets vented inside there. Vinvocci glass contains it. All five hundred thousand rads, about to flood that thing.”

Technically, the Time Lords are pulling all the strings, though probably some of the blame goes to the Naismiths. Though, really, if I were trying to pin down the root culprit of these regenerations rather than the antagonist du jour, I’d probably have to point to — not Wilf, but the Vinvocci and their completely unsafe, poorly designed radiation death trap technology. What’s wrong with those idiots and their “opening one cabinet locks the other” industrial design? Do they not realize that we just had a radiation regeneration last time (Handy notwithstanding)? While we’re on the subject of the absurd, how is it that the Tenth Doctor can survive a catastrophic fall but the Fourth and the Eighth can’t? He must have decided enough trauma was enough and did some intense body modification as the War Doctor, which might also explain his extraordinary resistance to electricity and extreme temperatures in “Evolution of the Daleks” and “42” respectively.

This incarnation was a bit too romantic — it compromised his judgment, broke his heart, hooked him up with a monarch, and cost him at least one companion who’d hoped for more from him than he could give. Maybe the next him could be slightly goofier, have sillier taste in clothes, and be a little less inclined to get involved with his female companions (historical celebrities would still be on the menu, though). In hindsight, though, he ought to have known this attempt would fail, considering he’d already met his wife.

Eleventh Doctor

Enemy: The Daleks, and any other enemies who haven’t gotten bored and left
Catalyst: The Time Lords
Cause: Exhaustion / induction
Quote: “Yes, I’m dying. You’ve been trying to kill me for centuries, and here I am, dying of old age. If you want something done, do it yourself.”

A bit of a special case, considering it was supposed to be the last one. Old age has, for only the third time in the Doctor’s lives, come to claim him when none of his massed enemies could close the deal, and so it’s what I’m calling exhaustion that kills him. But since the process would not be happening at all without a new regeneration cycle being sent through Amy’s Crack by the Time Lords, like some kind of extension on his cosmic taxes, the regeneration itself could be what I’m calling induced. As with the last few times, dying is now so comfortable for the Doctor that he can stroll around and chat with his companions for as long as he wants to, kind of taking a lot of the drama out of the whole affair and making it feel a bit like an awards show. It’s also the second instance of the “reset,” where any visible wounds or gray hairs or liver spots magically buff away, a bit like sprucing oneself up for that awards show.

This incarnation was still just a bit too dangerously attractive, only this time to slightly older women, self-described “psychopaths” with archaeology degrees or Dalek eyestalks coming out of their heads. Once and for all, maybe he would try to nip this thing in the bud and take it all back to where he began: a no-nonsense older man with a dangerous side, a lack of patience for silly humans, but underneath it all a current of warmth for his favorites of that species. He could come full circle and start it all over again, older and wiser. As long as he could avoid running into any old-school Mondasian Cybermen, maybe he could live forever….

And the awards go to…

Deadliest Enemy: The Daleks

It’s no surprise that the Doctor’s deadliest enemy, in terms of ushering in his regenerations, is his oldest (if you don’t count the primitive Earthlings of “100,000 B.C.”). Though they’ve rarely been the immediate cause of the regenerations (the only exception being Handy, who owes his existence to a would-be extermination bolt), they’ve been heavily involved in the conflicts that have led up to five of them. It’s interesting, however, that the runners-up are the Doctor’s own people: counting the Master and the Rani, Time Lords have taken four of the Doctor’s lives, more than they’ve helped to save.

Most Helpful Catalyst: The TARDIS

There should be an asterisk next to this one, since as mentioned above, the idea that regeneration is “part of the TARDIS” is never mentioned again after “Power of the Daleks.” So we can only assume that in the cases where no other catalyst is present, the TARDIS is taking care of the Time Lord it stole. But it’s a reasonable assumption for five regenerations and a stated fact for a sixth. The Time Lords themselves take a silver medal again, helping with four regenerations, if we count the Watcher (who, after all, “was the Doctor all the time” if Nyssa’s intuition is to be trusted).

Most Common Cause: Trauma

This is the biggest surprise of this exercise for me. I’d expected one of the more family-friendly causes of death to win out. If you group exhaustion, induction, and good old invisible radiation together, I suppose they still do, but individually they split the vote such that traumatic deaths — falling, being shot, and massive head injuries — squeak into first place with five (thanks once again to Handy). This suggests it’s entirely possible that the Twelfth Doctor might end up having something pretty scary and awful happen to him after all…though surely not at Christmas.

TRANSCRIPTS are thanks to One of the best Doctor Who resources on the web.
The IMAGE was found at:

The Name of the Doctor

Spoilers within. Don’t read until you’ve seen the episode…not that it would make much sense if you hadn’t.

I could tell this was going to be a good one, because I got through about thirty seconds and then had to rewind to the beginning and watch those thirty seconds again. And then I rewound it again, and watched those thirty seconds a third time. And then I got as far as the title sequence before I rewound it and watched that span again.

I never thought of myself as the kind of fan who’d get butterflies in my stomach seeing the subtitle “Gallifrey: a very long time ago” on the screen, or watching an actor rather unconvincingly deliver the line “What kind of idiot. Would want to steal a faulty TARDIS?”, but when you follow that up with a man and a girl who look reasonably like William Hartnell and Carole Ann Ford sneaking up to the TARDIS in question, a pure, unformed cylinder with a door just waiting to find out it’s going to spend its life (all of it, with very occasional exceptions) looking like a police box, guys, you’ve got me. Apparently there are some people who never wanted to see that moment. Those people are nuts.

There are bigger things afoot. This episode ripples back through the entire history of Doctor Who. The rumor was that this season finale would forever change the way we saw the show, and, whether you like it or not, it does. The impact is, if you follow it to its logical conclusion, at least as powerful and far-reaching as that of “The Doctor’s Wife.”

There’s some really excellent stuff along the way. Some of it concerns the so-called Paternoster Gang. Each of them gets at least one top-flight moment: Strax in his Victorian Fight Club. Jenny’s heartbreaking fear and shame as she’s murdered by Whispermen while in a trance. (It’s my position that she did lock the door, but they got in anyway.) Madame Vastra and her tea service, her derringer disintegrator pistol, but especially that magnificent rejoinder to Strax’s comment about the heart being relatively simple: “I have not found it to be so.” Beautiful. River and just about everything she does, including the word “disgracefully.” Can you imagine if she’d been a full-time companion? She would have wiped the floor with every enemy they encountered, so it would never have worked dramatically, but somewhere in Lucien’s library are shelves and shelves of Doctor/River stories I’d love to read.

And then there’s Richard E. Grant, finally given something to do with his Dr. Simeon character, as the conveniently suicidal-but-taking-you-down-with-me Great Intelligence. He’s quite convincing and quite chilling, and though there seemed something awfully elaborate and out of proportion about this plan, I didn’t feel obligated to poke it for plot holes. That can be left to others who have the knack and the taste for it.

And if Matt Smith shines any more brightly he’s going to go supernova. Here’s the thing: I loved him last week, hamming it up as the Cyberplanner, but in this he was probably relieved to be able to tone it down and play it real. You’ll hear from everyone about the “yes, an ex” scene where you can’t tell just how hard it’s hitting him to hear about River (and I think it’s her, not the secret or the danger, that’s making him cry) until Clara brings the tea over. The one where he kisses River’s apparition is equally terrific. Even a simple “oops” is just perfectly pitched. Magnificent.

Ultimately, of course, we make our way through all these moments in a fairly straightforward plot, a journey to the dark tower of the TARDIS (whose proportions are due to a “size leak,” which is fantastic technobabble because that’s exactly what a technician would call it), and a confrontation with what the Doctor apparently has instead of a corpse: a scintillating dendritic lattice representing and providing access to all the times and places he’s touched, the “scar tissue” from all the surgeries he’s performed on the body of our universe. It’s a remarkable idea, not entirely original (I couldn’t help being reminded of Lawrence Miles’s classic Eighth Doctor novel Alien Bodies, and if Miles’s cheeky Saturday blog post is any indication, neither could he), but with a different spin. If you’ve read this far, you should know what happens: the Great Intelligence enters this wound of splintered time, and cracks into shards where he can attack the Doctor throughout his life, and Clara follows, giving up her own life to save all of the Doctor’s lives and mend everything the Great Intelligence tries to break.

Here is where I must admit Doctor Who has put me on the verge of tears two weeks in a row, and both times it was the second viewing that got me. It’s true we’ve never gotten to know Clara quite as well as I would have liked, but Jenna-Louise Coleman didn’t have to change a thing about her performance to jab me right in the heart at that moment. And I can’t believe I’m saying this, but credit to Murray Gold as well, because I think Clara’s theme might be the best thing he’s ever done.

Earlier this week I raised the topic of mysteries being well- or poorly solved. Clara’s mystery was well-solved, I thought. I don’t feel badly that I got at best three and a half predictions correct about the finale; some of them were clearly going out on a limb, and there’s really no way I could have predicted the origin of the other Claras without the elements introduced here. And I frankly find it more satisfying than my answer (though I don’t discount the possibility that the “spoilers” River mentioned will include learning that the little girl who became CAL was one of the multiple Claras, rather than their origin point). I mentioned “The Doctor’s Wife,” in which we were led to assume that the TARDIS had been taking care of the Doctor as much as he’d been taking care of her; now we learn he’s had a second guardian angel in Clara for all of his lives, someone part of the background who didn’t even know she was doing it, but who was helping him in small ways he sometimes didn’t even notice.

So then there’s the name.

“My name, my real name,” says the Doctor, “that is not the point.” He’s right, of course. What we learn, even though we always knew it, is that the name that counts is the one he chose, “the Doctor.” The title of this episode doesn’t refer to the name of the Doctor. It refers to the name of “The Doctor.” And what we learn is far stranger: that there’s someone with John Hurt’s face with the same birth name as the Doctor, someone just as much the same person as the one with Matt Smith’s face and the one with William Hartnell’s face and one of the people with Colin Baker’s face, and it’s someone the Eleventh Doctor knows about but hasn’t mentioned to anyone. It’s not a lost incarnation, but a disowned one, or perhaps someone who was a renegade from the Doctor just as the Doctor was a renegade from Gallifrey. The setup seemed appalling to me when I heard rumors of it, but in proper context here it’s bold, and fascinating, and utterly maddening because we’re not going to find out exactly what it means until November.

So I’m satisfied, and yet unsatisfied, because now the 50th anniversary episode cannot come soon enough.

A successful finale, then. Dream conference call champagne all round.

The Key To Time

The Ribos Operation

When I was a kid, the marvelous script, sparkling relationships, hilarious plot and premise, terrific performances, etc. went right over my head. I thought it was OK, but at the time I was fooled by the tasteful but subdued costuming, the talkiness, and the rubbery Shrivenzale into thinking this was an average story, a light jog around the park. It wasn’t until many years, several viewings, and to be honest, a few in-depth reviews (notably the treatment of it in About Time) had sunk in before I picked up on all the nuances and subtleties, and was mature enough to appreciate them. At the time I had a sense that Doctor Who was always more or less like this, when in point of fact it was all too rarely up to this standard. These days…I get it.

The Pirate Planet

Unfortunately, this one hasn’t clicked for me yet. As soon as the Captain bellows his first lines, my heart sinks and it’s an effort of will not to turn it off. The dynamic he has with Mr. Fibuli is supposed to be a hilarious double act, but it really suffers after the Shakespearean panache of the previous story. The Mentiads are somehow just as dull and their behavior even more inexplicable. I’m a confirmed Douglas Adams fan, and it’s a shame that the one extant Doctor Who story written entirely by Douglas Adams is so hard for me to enjoy. I do like the Queen’s reveal, though, and Romana makes everything better — it feels like a breath of fresh air for a companion to be so fearless, competent, and willing to help. The concept is mildly interesting (the usual Adams tactic of turning the quotidian into comedic SF through simple exaggeration of scale), but we’re told so much more than we’re shown (even of the Captain’s true motives and mindset) that it never feels dramatically significant. This is at least more visually appealing than the end of the season, but the story somehow seems less urgent or meaningful.

The Stones of Blood

I first saw this story when I was a kid, maybe 10, 11 years old or so. I was staying at my grandparents’ house and sleeping on the sofabed in the living room. I watched this at bedtime, after everyone else had gone to sleep. Behind the TV was a wall with big windows through which I was absolutely certain the Ogri would come crashing any second. It’s one of my best Doctor Who memories by far, and proof that however bad an idea the monsters were on paper, for the right audience they absolutely, undeniably WORKED.

And frankly, even today I still don’t think they’re nearly as bad as everyone makes out. They certainly look more convincing than the Shrivenzale, and arguably more so than the robotic parrot. I love the way we see one rumbling past the window while Leonard freaks out on his wife, just heaving past in the background of the same shot—how often does that happen on this show?

It’s slightly frustrating that the kind of story this is changes two or three times, but it’s also slightly brilliant because none of the modes ever outstays its welcome, not even the Megara scene, which I’d remembered as a little tedious but which now seems quite fun and witty. The Megara effect looks better to me now than it used to—there’s a real elegance to it, and though they’re meant to be machines, why shouldn’t they look mostly like floating lights?

This is easily my favorite story of the season, and one of my favorite stories of the classic era (definitely top 20, maybe top 10) despite the undeniable hiccups: some awkward edits, some flubbed lines with no retakes, and so on, but those are all over this season for some reason.

The big thing I’d never noticed about this story before was that apart from the Doctor, there are only two other male characters, one of whom lasts fewer than two episodes and the other of whom lasts maybe a minute or two. Unless you count some anonymous cultists or three machines with male voiceovers, this is a refreshingly female episode.

The Androids of Tara

This story is too modest, charming, and good-natured to hate, but also too dull to write much about. There’s nothing inherently wrong with low stakes, but when the main difference between the hero and the villain is that one of them keeps people locked up in his cellar and the other has a guard who’s ready to stab people at a moment’s notice, you almost can’t tell who to root for. I lost track of how many different plots the Count had going at any given time, and I never quite understood why he needed Romana just to make an android duplicate of her. The climactic swordfight is eerily quiet and weak, and it’s one of the few times in Doctor Who when there’s a nighttime shoot and it doesn’t improve the atmosphere. I imagine fans calling this a “romp,” a fandom cliché I really detest. It means “a pointless and unambitious story made entirely to be fun,” in this case inaccurate because this isn’t even fun.

The Power of Kroll

People hate on this story mercilessly, but I honestly can’t see anything seriously wrong with this that isn’t also a problem elsewhere in the season. It’s one of Robert Holmes’s weakest scripts, I guess, but even weak Holmes is still pretty damn good. I love the Kroll design, and I think it works at least as well as (sorry to keep picking on it, but) the Shrivenzale. The tentacle attacks are a lot more convincing than those in Spearhead from Space, and no one seems to think that story is hurt by its effects. Okay, so Philip Madoc is wasted as Fenner, and it’s hard to tell how much of his performance is the character and how much is his own frustration, but Dugeen and Thawn are just fine, and the Swampies are no worse than most other “noble savages” we’ve had on this show. The flubbed lines and awkward editing are par for the course this season, and the memorable set pieces — the silly business on the rack, for instance — come along as soon as things threaten to get dull. It’s nice that the plot is actually about something, unlike the previous story, though even without the interlopers vs. natives politics you’d still be left with Doctor Who doing Jaws with tentacles, and that’s a pretty solid foundation.

The Armageddon Factor

Here’s another story that gets short shrift, and this time I can see why. Frankly, though, I enjoy it — drab corridors, Shapp, Drax, and all. The Shadow’s mask is pretty inspired, if unsubtle, and the business with the makeshift fake segment is brilliant. If the Doctor’s passionate speech in “The Pirate Planet” about the monstrousness of mining planets is one of the reasons to love that story, his “are you listening, Romana? Because if you’re not I can make you listen” speech is worth the price of admission to this one. I’ve read that both should be credited to Adams, and good on him. Less is made of Romana’s outrage at what happens to Princess Astra, but frankly that’s pretty excellent too; Mary Tamm (who makes this whole season bearable and is one of my favorite companions of all time) really sells it. I couldn’t help thinking of Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s Dawn, another key disguised as a pretty girl. While I’m not that excited about the introduction of Manichaean deities into the Doctor Who cosmos, I do like the Doctor’s refusal to be entirely servile toward either one.