June 25th, 2008

doctor who

June Books 35) Doctor Who and the Keeper of Traken, 36) Doctor Who - Logopolis; and Tom Baker's era

It is the end: but the moment has been prepared for.

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And that takes me to the end of the Fourth Doctor era. Tom Baker was very much my Doctor, and I still rate him ahead of any of the others. It is not just his longevity in the part; he brings a certain integrity in his alien compassion to it which I think only Hartnell and Ecclestone approach. I was surprised by how much Hartnell went up and Pertwee went down in my estimation after watching/listening to their stories; I have been relieved that my positive opinion of Baker (T) remains unchanged.

This was roughly the point when Who settled into the format it has resumed since 2005, of the protagonist and his one female companion, few other recurring characters (a format that had been tried out in the later Pertwee seasons but with a large ensemble in the background). Baker's Doctor is simply strange, and after Sarah leaves so are his companions (with perhaps Tegan as the sole exception). This is no longer a programme about people like us, it is a programme about an eternal but very odd hero helping people like us.

It helps that so many of these stories are exceptionally good. My top twelve, in broadcast order, are Robot, The Ark in Space, Genesis of the Daleks, Terror of the Zygons, The Pyramids of Mars, The Brain of Morbius, The Seeds of Doom, The Deadly Assassin, The Robots of Death, The Talons of Weng-Chiang, Horror of Fang Rock and City of Death. Most of those would appear in any fan's top twelve for the whole of Old Who. They are not evenly distributed: ten of those twelve belong to the great days of the Hinchcliffe / Holmes era. Having said that, there are another dozen which were better than I had expected, which balance out the timeline a bit: Revenge of the Cybermen, The Android Invasion, The Hand of Fear, Image of the Fendahl, The Sunmakers, The Invasion of Time, The Stones of Blood, The Armageddon Factor, The Creature from the Pit, The Leisure Hive, Warrior's Gate and Logopolis. There is of course the occasional misfire, but even the worst story - Underworld - is better than other Doctors' nadirs (The Sensorites, The Underwater Menace, The Mutants, Time Flight, The Twin Dilemma, Battlefield).

The Fourth Doctor novelisations don't map their broadcast originals as closely in terms of quality as one might have expected. Of the great Hinchcliffe era stories adapted by Terrance Dicks, only Doctor Who and the Genesis of the Daleks and Doctor Who and the Loch Ness Monster really have it. Yet he sometimes produces good stuff from unpromising material - for instance Doctor Who and the Power of Kroll and Doctor Who and the Nightmare of Eden. Dicks' version of the Fourth Doctor, like his adaptation of the Third, is more of a cheeky chappie than we saw on screen. Despite his own fascination with classic horror tropes, Dicks is more comfortable with humour than darkness. I believe he is being interviewed at the BSFA in London this evening - look forward to hearing about it.

Of the non-Dicks novels (12 out of 41) there are several very impressive efforts - Ian Marter's first two, Doctor Who and the Ark in Space and Doctor Who and the Sontaran Experiment; David Fisher's two, Doctor Who and the Creature from the Pit and Doctor Who and the Leisure Hive; and Steven Gallagher / John Lydecker's Doctor Who and Warrior's Gate. As noted above, Bidmead's Doctor Who - Logopolis has its moments as well.

For completeness, I should note that I have enjoyed almost all the Fourth Doctor spinoff novels that I have read, but been much less impressed by the audios - Doctor Who and the Pescatons, Exploration Earth and the two recent Companion Chronicles with Romana and Leela. However, one of the best spinoff audios I have heard is Daragh Carville's play Regenerations, which brings Tom Baker to a Doctor Who convention in Belfast. Superb.

(Previous summary posts: the first three Doctors on screen; First Doctor novelisations summary; Second Doctor novelisations summary; Third Doctor novelisations summary.)

Mostly literature with some politics, Doctor Who and autobiography

To start with the politics: jekesta makes me very glad that I am not an activist in the UK with her reportage of the last three weeks of Question Time.

To go on to the literature: Several people with good taste have been linking to this Alison Bechdel strip today. It's good. read it.

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The Doctor Who meme: When you see this post, quote from Doctor Who on your LJ. (If you like.)
Hepesh: I would rather be a cave-dweller and free!
The Doctor: Free!?! With your people imprisoned by ritual and superstition?

Autobiography meme: Post 3 things you've done in your lifetime that you don't think anybody else on your friends list has done. I did a version of this before, but here goes:
  • Been a candidate in an election for public office in Northern Ireland.
  • Spent a night in a circus.
  • Explored a Macedonian battlefield.