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Whoblogging 7

I had vaguely been aware of Sylvester McCoy due to his surreal appearances in the children's art programme Vision On (and later his double act with David Rappaport on Jigsaw); it seemed a reasonable preparation for the lead role in Doctor Who. But by the time he came on the screen in 1987, I was a Cambridge undergraduate without easy access to a television, and with other things to do on a Saturday night. I think that literally the only Seventh Doctor story I saw on first broadcast was the last few minutes of The Greatest Show in the Galaxy, basically watched because I knew the writing was on the wall and wanted to be able to say I'd seen the very end. As it turned out, it lasted another year, but although I actually had better access to a TV in 1989 I was rarely at home at the right time on Saturday evenings, and so missed the final season. wwhyte may remember trying to persuade me that I had missed out by showing me Remembrance of the Daleks, but I wasn't convinced (and still am not convinced by that particular story).

Of course I was aware of the Seventh Doctor as a continuing phenomenon, especially when a college friend started editing the Virgin New Adventures; though even this did not incentivise me to actually buy any of the books. I was rather deterred by their sheer number; I would pass by the relevant shelves in my excursions to Forbidden Planet, but had no really good idea of where to start; and so didn't.

So really I knew least about the Seventh Doctor when I started to get back into Old Who (after the start of New Who). I began in December 2005 by downloading the two e-books available from the BBC website - Human Nature (excellent, and this was before it got reincarnated) and Lungbarrow (incomprehensible). Over the following few months I dabbled with a few more of the New Adventures, which means that the Seventh Doctor is the only one who I first remember encountering through spinoff novels. In the books he is a heroic wizard, loyal to his companions but also with a hinterland of unexplained angst (or, in Lungbarrow, incomprehensibly explained).

It wasn't really until 2007 that I started watching the Seventh Doctor TV stories and also getting into the audios. Despite my unfashionable dislike for Remembrance of the Daleks, I have to say that I don't think any of the original TV stories is as bad as the worst of the two previous Doctors (presumably this is Eric Saward's absence from the scene). In particular, the two high points of the last season (The Curse of Fenric and Ghost Light) more than balance the considerable weaknesses of the other two stories. Even at the most pantomimey moments in the two earlier seasons, there is an underlying feeling that someone making the programme knows what is going on and actually cares about engaging the audience. (I'll add that Doctor Who-The Curse of Fenric is one of the best novelisations, and that in general the Seventh Doctor novelisations are of a level of quality matched only by the First and Third.)

The audio adventures are a bit variable, but are generally entertaining and sometimes (Bang-Bang-A-Boom, The Harvest, Flip-flop) excellent. McCoy is particularly good when he gets into bleak!Doctor mode, and one of my disappointments with his TV stories is that he didn't get to do this often enough; we got a lot of humorous and/or mysterious, but much less of the tragic.

McCoy's last TV appearance as the Doctor was of course to come to San Francisco (as played by Vancouver) and get shot. But more of that tomorrow.
Whoblogging index: One | Two | Three | Four | Five | Six | Seven | Eight | Nine | Ten


( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 21st, 2008 09:03 am (UTC)
Historical note: Sylvester's seasons weren't shown by the BBC on Saturdays, but Mondays (season 24) and then Wednesdays (seasons 25 and 26). This was the notorious graveyard slot opposite Coronation Street, where, from the reshuffling of the BBC 1 schedule by Michael Grade in 1985, the BBC had chosen not to compete. ISTR that RTD has written that he was on a scheduling training course in the late 1980s at the BBC, and asked the head of programme planning why Doctor Who was shown opposite Coronation Street. The answer came back, "To kill it!"

As a first-year undergraduate in Oxford in 1989, watching season 26 necessitated a battle with Street and Channel 4 News fans; the audience was unappreciative, with Ace being particularly derided as the stupidest of companions, though Survival entertained, not always for the reasons its makers hoped.

ETA: Apologies for the unsubtlety of the above. One of my enduring memories of the McCoy years is the checking of the ratings every week, somehow (I think that ITV's Oracle teletext service might have run the top 100...) and just hoping that Doctor Who would escape the bottom ten. Occasionally it did, I think, but in the wrong direction, and so it would not appear in the chart at all. I was, perhaps, far too emotionally involved in the fate of the series; but the way the BBC crafted a marginal place for it in the schedules still hurts.

Edited at 2008-12-21 09:22 am (UTC)
Dec. 21st, 2008 09:47 am (UTC)
I think one of these was also scheduled to allow space for the Olympics - or do I misremember?

I confess McCoy never stood a chance for me, having seen him in the world premiere (and probably only) production of a stage version of the life of Buster Keaton, possibly with songs. Possibly the worst theatre I have ever seen. (And that includes And Then There Were None... with Rodney Bewes and Koo Stark, in which I got splinters.)

Curiously I was an Eric Saward fan.
Dec. 21st, 2008 09:52 am (UTC)
Indeed - season 25 didn't begin until October 1988 rather than September as expected.

Lots of people were Eric Saward fans - I took some time to adjust to Andrew Cartmel's priorities.
Dec. 21st, 2008 02:01 pm (UTC)
Sylvester McCoy's stories were the first I actually remember watching straight through, because I was old enough by that stage to take everything in. The first one that I definitely have very strong memories of was "The Happiness Patrol", which always seems to get a bad press with fans. But I loved it. And I really loved every story I saw from that point onwards, but I've only seen a few of them again recently. I still think that "The Curse of Fenric" is one of the best Who stories ever, and I also love "Remembrance of the Daleks", and quite liked "The Greatest Show in the Galaxy" when I rewatched it, but found "Ghost Light" a bit too confusing. I definitely want to get my hands on "Survival", though, and "Battlefield", specifically to see if they're as bad as modern fans seem to think...
Dec. 21st, 2008 09:15 pm (UTC)
I loved (and still love) Survival and Battlefield, but then I'm not a 'modern' fan seeing as I've been watching Doctor Who since Three was wrestling giant maggots in Wales... (acutally longer than that, but that story is one of my more enduring memories).
Dec. 21st, 2008 09:38 pm (UTC)
I think I'm one of the fans you're referring to there! While I thought Battlefield was dreadful at the time, I have never rewatched it, and indeed missed one of the middle episodes, which I have therefore never seen. So my opinion of it isn't worth much. I actually quite like Survival; badly flawed though it was (mostly in the areas of casting and production) it had some really good ideas. I admit I have never been able to get through The Happiness Patrol; it remains the only Doctor Who story I have started watching (3 times now!) and just couldn't force myself to finish. It's the Kandyman, basically. He's just so unbearably stupid and annoying. IMO. ;)

Dec. 21st, 2008 09:32 pm (UTC)
While I think that Sylvester was the weakest of the Doctors, in terms of both his performance (miscast, I felt) and his stories (even Colin got better stories IMO), I don't think he deserves the vitriol he gets from some people. In particular he and Colin should be lauded for the simple fact that they clearly love Doctor Who and have always done their best to support it.

Nicholas, have you reviewed Remembrance of the Daleks? I'd like to see your thoughts on it. I've always thought that it was decent enough, but still one of the weaker Dalek stories, and suffers from a lamentable lack of subtlety.
Dec. 22nd, 2008 07:36 pm (UTC)
I met Sylvester McCoy briefly at the convention I volunteer for up in New York. When I introduced myself, he asked if I was related to David Rappaport and when I replied that I was familiar with his work (this was a few years after his death) but not related, McCoy seemed genuinely disappointed. That brief meeting has always endeared him to me and I probably look back more fondly on his Who episodes as a result.

Edited at 2008-12-22 07:38 pm (UTC)
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )

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