Wednesday, June 8, 2022

Happy Birthday Colin Baker

 


It's Colin Baker's birthday today. 

I thought I might take the opportunity to say a little bit about why I like Colin Baker's Sixth Doctor. Poor Colin gets a hard time. His Doctor is constantly near the bottom of favourite Doctor polls, much to Colin's own annoyance. His era is often seen as a low point in Doctor Who. 

However, Colin Baker is the reason this blog exists. Colin Baker is the reason I'm a Doctor Who fan. I'd been watching Doctor Who since Season 15 but as Peter Davison's era crept towards its end I was 12/13 and other things were beginning to get my attention. I still watched Doctor Who but I was falling out of love with it a bit, which wasn't Peter Davison's fault. It was just life. 

Also I didn't really know any other Doctor Who fans. We moved from Cornwall to Buckinghamshire around this time and I started a new school. There I met Rick, who it turned out was also a Doctor Who fan. It was Rick that told me there was a new Doctor coming and it was Rick that introduced me to fandom. 

So, when the Colin Baker era started it was make or break really. If this wasn't good I suspect I would have faded away from Doctor Who. But I loved Colin Baker from the off. I didn't feel then some of the concerns I was to feel when I revisited the era later on. The Doctor's less likeable side was fine by me. I didn't even dislike the costume. It should be noted that I was probably still in that phase when all Doctor Who is good. It would take me a couple more years of reading DWB etc to discover that you weren't supposed to like Doctor Who if you were a Doctor Who fan. You were supposed to complain about it and compare it dismissively to previous eras when everything was great. I also learned from DWB etc that you could be really, really angry about Doctor Who not living up to you expectations. But thankfully fandom isn't like that any more. (Cough.)

Colin Baker was a great Doctor Who. He was and is a great ambassador for Doctor Who. He talks intelligently about the part and the series. He's also incredibly welcoming to fans, despite everything he's had to endure in terms of polls. I've met him several times. I've met him at official signings. I met him twice after seeing Doctor Who: The Ultimate Adventure stage plays where he was happy to sign autographs and chat, which was a bit of a contrast to Jon Pertwee. And then there was the time I met him in High Wycombe W H Smith's whilst buying a copy of DWM. I wanted to get his autograph but I didn't have a pen. The lady on the till wouldn't let me have a pen, but when I mentioned this to Colin he just said, "I'll get you a pen" and did. One signed copy of DWM later. My friend Rick also had a similar encounter with Colin in High Wycombe W H Smith's, although Rick had a pen. 

The Colin Baker era is short, although you can enjoy much more of Colin Baker's Doctor on Big Finish. Indeed, I recommend that if you've not listened to any Big Finish before a good place to start would be The Spectre of Lanyon Moor which gives us the chance to see the Sixth Doctor meet the Brigadier. And if you've never watched a Sixth Doctor story then give Vengeance on Varos a go. It's a good taste of what he's capable of and it feels surprisingly relevant in 2022. 

I still enjoy the Colin Baker era, although I struggle a bit with Mindwarp. But the cast seemed to have struggled with it too so that's my excuse. Even Timelash has its joyful moments. 

I have often complained about the Sixth Doctor's costume, but over time I have grown to like it. It is the Sixth Doctor and whilst I've seen lovely alternative designs there's something missing from Colin's Doctor when he's not in his garish finery. 

So, I just wanted to take a few moments to thank Colin Baker for being the Sixth Doctor. Yes, I know his acting career is broader than that but this is a Doctor Who blog so I'm concentrating on that. And thank him - blame him? - for turning me into the sort of person that writes 300,000-ish words of Doctor Who in a blog almost no one reads. 

Happy Birthday Colin.



PS I'm currently crowd funding a Doctor Who book. You can find more about it here


Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Classic Doctor Who: Where To Start

 



I originally wrote this for a friend of mine, Katie, and I've edited here to help as a guide to getting into Classic Doctor Who if you've never dipped in before. I have put them in order of Doctor and broadcast. You do not have to watch them in that order. 

As you almost certainly know Classic Doctor Who stories usually consist of multiple 25-minute episodes. There is a bit of a blip during the Colin Baker era when they go to 45-minutes for a season. * They vary from 2-12** episodes in length.

I have focused mainly on four part stories. These are meant to be testers so that you can decide what you like. Television is a very different beast during the Classic era than now, particularly the 60s, so there will be that to get used to, although I sometimes think I worry about this too much.

I should also include a note on Missing Episodes. The BBC junked a lot of its film content in the 1970s to re-use the film. That means there are a number of 60s Doctor Who stories that are entirely or partially missing from the archive. Some of these have been animated. Others have not. All of them are available in audio. If, after you've watched the suggested examples here, you decide to watch all the Patrick Troughton era you'll find a lot of missing episodes. How you navigate those is up to you. I'd pick animations if they are available, then audio and then, if you can find them, reconstructions. Reconstructions are fan made versions of the episodes pulled together from surviving footage, photos and audio. But detail on both missing episodes and reconstructions are for another time and another blog.

 

The William Hartnell Era

The Romans (4)

The Time Meddler (4)

The War Machines (4)

I have picked these three because they are only 4 episodes long and they are all fun. The War Machines in the nearest Hartnell gets to doing a New Doctor Who story.

If you enjoy those then go back to the first thirteen episodes, which if The Daleks had not been such a success might have been all the Doctor Who that was ever made. They are:

An Unearthly Child (4)

The Daleks (7)

The Edge of Destruction (2)

The first episode of An Unearthly Child is magical. The Daleks is long at 7 episodes but essential Doctor Who mythology and genuinely rather good. There is also a film version of this with Peter Cushing as Doctor Who. That is fun to watch when you get a moment but is totally different.

If you still like Hartnell after that everything else is your oyster, but I’d hold off The Web Planet for a while because, although I love it there is a lot of weird shit to overlook.

The Patrick Troughton Era

The Troughton era has two problems for the newbie. There are not many 4-part stories and a lot of it is missing because the BBC wiped the films to re-use it and they have not been recovered so only 7 out of 21 Troughton stories exist in full. There are animated versions of some of them.

The Tomb of the Cybermen (4)

The Enemy of the World (6)

The Mind Robber (5)

If you like those then for a bigger challenge

The Invasion (8)

The War Games (10)

Both of which are long, but great.

If you then want to dip into an animation

The Macra Terror (4)

 

The Jon Pertwee Era

Doctor Who in colour for the first time.

Spearhead from Space (4) ***

The Curse of Peladon (4)

The Three Doctors (4)

Carnival of Monsters (4)

If you like those then pretty much any other story will be enjoyable. 

 

The Tom Baker Era

I am slightly biased here so I could pick loads. I would almost recommend starting Classic Doctor Who here.

The Ark in Space (4)

Genesis of the Daleks (6)

Terror of the Zygons (4)

The Robots of Death (4)

Horror of Fang Rock (4)

If you like all those then Season 16, The Key to Time, is worth watching from the beginning. It is unusual in Classic Doctor Who terms for having a season long arc. But pretty much any Tom Baker is fun to watch.

The Peter Davison Era

Kinda (4)

Snakedance (4) ****

The Five Doctors (1 x 90 Special)

The Caves of Androzani (4)

If you like those then the whole Davison era is pretty good.

 

The Colin Baker Era

Poor Colin does not have a long era and one whole season is The Trial of a Time Lord, which is four separate stories within a courtroom element.

Mark of the Rani (2 x 45mins)

Vengeance on Varos (2 x 45mins)

Revelation of the Daleks (2 x 45mins)

If you like those then Trial of a Time Lord is yours to enjoy. By that point you would have watched a huge chunk of Colin’s era so you should watch the rest. 

 

The Sylvester McCoy Era

Again, Sylvester’s era is a short one, which is a shame as after an initial blip the series started to get its act together again. If you like these then go back to Time and The Rani and watch the whole McCoy era. It is over

                                                        Remembrance of the Daleks (4)

The Happiness Patrol (3)

The Greatest Show in the Galaxy (4)

The Curse of Fenric (4)

Paul McGann

You have got the TV Movie and that is it. You could listen to Big Finish, where he is fab, but that is a whole other kettle of worms.

There you go. There are my suggestions.


PS I'm currently crowd funding a Doctor Who book. You can find more about it here

 

  

*The Peter Davison story Resurrection of the Daleks was a blip as it was broadcast as two 45-minute episodes because of The Olympics.

** There is a single episode story called Mission to the Unknown, which is a prequal episode to the epic 12-part story, The Dalek’s Master Plan. It features none of the main cast or the TARDIS. It feels like a pilot episode for a spin-off, which it was in a way.

***Spearhead from Space will remind you a lot of Rose. It is basically the same story doing the same thing, but with less focus on the companion.

****Kinda/Snakedance are linked so you want to watch them in that order.

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

It's A-Comin' : Season 22 The Special Edition Box Set

 


We finally have a release date for the Season 22 Special Edition Box Set. It's June 25th (or at least it is on Amazon.) 

In case you don't know Season 22 is Colin Baker's first full season as The Doctor, having appeared in The Twin Dilemma at the end of Season 21 (which I still think wasn't the wisest decision JNT ever made.) It contains six stories - Attack of the CybermenVengeance on VarosThe Mark of the RaniThe Two Doctors, Timelash and Revelation of the Daleks

As well as a relatively new Doctor we also get a change of format. Instead of the traditional 4-6 part 25 minute episodes we get 2 45 minute episodes for each story, except The Two Doctors, which gets 3. It's an interesting change, although I'm not entirely convinced it works. 

Season 22 is important to me because it marks the moment I went from a person who watched Doctor Who to a Doctor Who fan. I'd been watching since the Tom Baker era but I really loved Colin Baker's take on the Doctor and I had a friend at school I could talk about Doctor Who with and he was more in the fandom loop. It was threw him that I took my first tentative steps into Doctor Who fandom: DWM, DWB and other fanzines. I got a taste of the gossip. And it was through DWB that I discovered that there were Doctor Who fans that didn't like Doctor Who very much, which is still an ongoing thing. 

The series got a lot of flak for being too grim and too violent and Eric Saward, the script editor certainly seemed less interested in telling traditional Doctor Who stories. You always got the impression that Eric Saward didn't like the character of the Doctor (and/or Colin Baker.) Interviews after his departure suggest Eric didn't think Colin was up to snuff, which Colin didn't know. We are about to enter one of the uglier periods in Doctor Who behind the scenes history. 

I didn't really notice at the time. I enjoyed all these stories to one degree or another. I loved The Two Doctors, where we got to see Patrick Troughton and Frazer Hines in all their glory and to start a whole Season 6B theory. 

I haven't re-watched a lot of these stories for a while but the last time I did they were a mixed bag. I'm afraid Timelash isn't a favourite and could probably have been cut down to 45 minutes. It features some of the oddest line readings in any Doctor Who story. I find the ending of Attack of the Cyberman needlessly bleak for a Doctor Who story. But I like Vengeance on Varos - which seems to have become more satirical over time rather than less - The Mark of the Rani, The Two Doctors and Revelation of the Daleks. The latter is one of my favourite Doctor Who stories, although it isn't perfect. 

The Box Set has another superb Lee Binding (@LeeBinding) cover. It might be my second favourite after the Season 17 one. These Special Edition sets are wonderful. They always come with shedloads of extras, including extended versions of episodes*, new special effects - in this case on Timelash - and Matthew Sweet's interviews with key figures. In this case Colin Baker, Nicola Bryant and Michael Grade. The latter should be fascinating considering Grade's role in bringing Doctor Who to an end. 

I'm looking forward to a re-re-re-re-re-re-re-watch of these stories and finding out more about what went on behind the scenes. It is also a chance to see that whatever the problems were with the Sixth's Doctors era of Doctor Who none of those problems were Colin Baker. I am always slightly defensive of Colin Baker's behalf. He gets a lot of flak, including from people who should know better, and his era is often unloved. But I enjoy it and Colin himself is a lovely man. 

So, it'll be well-worth buying imo. 

PS I am currently crowdfunding a Doctor Who book. You can find more about here.



*Vengeance on Varos (1 & 2), The Two Doctors (1) and Revelation of the Daleks (1) on this Boxed Set.

Monday, May 23, 2022

Something Old, Something New

 


We've seen a few key announcements in the last couple of weeks as the RTD2 era begins filming. David Tennant and Catherine Tate are returning for the 60th Anniversary special. This was announced, it became clear, because they were going to be filming in Camden and everyone was going to know what was going on. 

Looking at pictures from the set raises some interesting questions. The Tennant Doctor is in a new variation of his costume, but seems to have the 13th Doctor's TARDIS. There are rumours that this isn't the 10th Doctor but a 14th Doctor who has regenerated into David Tennant. Again. There are always rumours. 

I suspect, unless RTD has decided - for reasons that passeth all understanding - that the 60th Anniversary should focus only on his period of Doctor Who, that there are more casting revelations to come. 

It was also announced that Yasmin Finney will be part of that 60th Anniversary story as Rose. Like Tennant's costume the fact that she is called Rose has set cats amongst pigeons. Is she an alt-universe Rose Tyler? There are other theories but I want to avoid spoiling what might be coming for other people here. Yasmin Finney is the second trans actor to appear in Doctor Who, after Bethany Black, and the first to play a companion. If companion is the right word. She is currently in Heartstopper, which is a Netflix TV series based on Alice Osman's comic. I haven't watched Heartstopper* yet but it is a series with a global following and is a casting choice that will, I suspect bring new people to Doctor Who. 

Which brings me to perhaps the most important piece of news. We have a new Doctor and his name is Ncuti Gatwa. Gatwa was born in Rwanda and bought up in Scotland. He is the first black actor to play the Doctor.** He too is currently in a popular Netflix series, Sex Education, which is another series I was intending to watch mainly - I must confess - because Gillian Anderson is in it. He seems, from the interviews I've seen, to be a lovely man full of enthusiasm for the part. I saw him as Demetrius in a fantastic production of A Midsummer Night's Dream at The Globe and he was pretty darn good in that so I'm pretty confident he'll be a good Doctor Who. 

I've noticed that both these castings take actors from Netflix series that have a younger, global demographic. Both actors have huge followings on social media - Ncuti has c2.7m followers on Instagram and Yasmin has c.1.4m - which again I suspect gives Doctor Who access to a potentially new audience. There were some complaints about this being a deliberate attempt to ignore the "traditional" Doctor Who fan base but I think any Doctor Who showrunner who just wants to make Doctor Who for fans like me - 51 year-old men who think Tom Baker is still the best Doctor Who - then the series will die. It always needs to be changing and it always needs to be finding a new audience. 

This also brings me on to another bunch of naysayers. The various bits of casting have annoyed the usual suspects who seem happy to accept a character can entirely change their appearance and personality in an instant but can't cope with the Doctor being a woman or black. I said, back when Jodie was cast, that there is no canon/continuity reason that the Doctor can't be any race or gender. (And at this point we can thank the Lord that Troughton didn't get his way when he suggested playing the Doctor blacked up and wearing a turban. A clear bonkers suggestion that probably would have helped make Doctor Who a programme that died a long time ago. Of embarrassment I suspect.) 

Some time ago I wrote a blog - Telling Different Stories - that talked about how casting a women or a person of colour creates questions about the way The Doctor operates and how that might change what kind of stories it tells. One of my - several - disappointments with the Chibnall era is that it almost never really challenged how women are treated. I suspect, having listened to RTD, there will be a different approach. I'm quite excited to see what happens. 

The one great thing about RTD is that he sells Doctor Who better than almost anyone. As someone who has worked in sales for decades RTD is a joy to listen to. He manages to convert his own love and enthusiasm for Doctor Who into a kind of enthusiasm vortex that sucks other people in. He also comes across as incredibly positive in general. I recommend listening to any decent interview with him to see that but if I was to pick one then I'd go for his appearance on Desert Island Discs

And we've still got Jodie Whittaker's final episode to come. The story that will be part of the BBC 100th Anniversary celebrations. The Chibnall/Whittaker era has been a divisive one. I'm excluding the NMD misogynists on principle. They have there own issues to deal with. But a lot of people whose opinions I respect have disliked it a lot. I have enjoyed a lot of it but I suspect it might end up being my least favourite era of new Doctor Who. There isn't space here to analyse all these reasons, but there will be a blog coming. Spoilers: it has nothing to do with either Jodie Whittaker or The Timeless Child. 

So, this is a little catch-up blog for you all covering the news.

I'm excited for what is coming. I was initially a bit meh about the David Tennant announcement but then after it had settled I found myself genuinely interested to see where RTD is going to take Doctor Who in its 60th Anniversary Year.

Oh, and I'm re-watching all of Doctor Who (and spin-offs) with a view to having everything re-watched by the 60th Anniversary. Keep an eye out for updates etc. 


*I've read the comics though and loved it. I was planning to watch the series at some point. Yasmin Finney's casting might speed that up. 

**I've seen people state he'll be the first gay man to play the Doctor too but I haven't seen that explicitly confirmed anywhere. The character he plays in Sex Education is gay. 

Saturday, October 9, 2021

How Many Nimon...?

 


Let joy be unconfined. The next Doctor Who The Collection will be Season 17. Now, the regular reader of this blog will be aware that I LOVE Season 17. It is my favourite Season of Doctor Who. I suspect it always will be. I have watched and re-watched every story several times. I have watched The Horns of Nimon a ridiculous amount of times. That is my comfort Doctor Who story.

Now, I admit that part of this is nostalgia. Season 17 was the first season where I remember watching every story - except Shada. Obviously. I was 8 years old when it was first broadcast. Indeed, if Shada had been broadcast one of its episodes would have gone out on my 9th Birthday. That is the perfect age. You don't notice the flaws - and Season 17 has many flaws - and you enjoy the fear and the fun. 

My perception has always been that Season 17 is an unpopular series among fandom. It's too silly. It's too cheap. No one is taking it seriously, which is something that the Season 18 production team hammered on about. In the DWM 50th Anniversary poll (which had 241 stories on it) the Season 17 stories did not do well, except one.

Destiny of the Daleks was 154th, City of Death was 5th, Creature from the Pit was 211th, Nightmare of Eden was 190th and The Horns of Nimon was 223rd. Shada, for obvious reasons, wasn't rated.* That doesn't imply a great deal of love for Season 17. Except I got the impression yesterday that its reputation is now much improved. Possibly too much improved for some people. A Twitter conversation I had with James Cooray-Smith on Twitter, a man who knows much more about fandom than I do, felt that its reputation started to improve after 1992. I certainly think that the early deaths of both Graham Williams, the producer and Douglas Adams, who was Script Editor had an impact. Perhaps the series is now correctly rated (except by me, obviously.)

This new Collection also has bucket loads of extras: a Douglas Adams documentary, a Lalla Ward interview, new makings of, new DVD commentaries etc. I should pause here to say that Doctor Who fans are spoiled by these kinds of releases. The effort and love that goes into putting them together is far more than a lot of old television series get. The fact that it seems certain that every Season of Doctor Who will get this treatment eventually is astonishing. (My prediction is Season 1 will come in 2023 for the 60th Anniversary.) 

But I don't want to react to the boxed set itself. I wanted to say a little about why I love Season 17. For me it is that the Fourth Doctor and Romana are out there in the Universe using wit, intelligence and sarcasm to defeat evil. Yes, sometimes it feels like they've let Tom Baker off the leash (or Tom has let himself off the leash) but I will take Tom Baker off the leash over a lot of other television. Season 17 also deals with the some heavy issues: The Nightmare of Eden has a plot about drug addiction at its centre for example that is incredibly bleak. 

I think modern Doctor Who has a lot more in common with Season 17 than it looks (and not just City of Death.) It might not be as realistic but the balance of humour to terror is there even if the money spent on each season is vastly different.

Here's another thing. Season 17 also feels to me like the last fling of the 1970s before everything because so serious in the 1980s. The opposite of grimdark. I used to think that when Doctor Who came back I wanted it to be dark and grown-up. Because I was an adult I now wanted Doctor Who to be for adults. I was wrong about that. Now I want Doctor Who to be something that is more like Season 17. Not exactly the same, but with a similar joy and wit about it. Let our TARDIS team not be weighed down with guilt. Let's just have some fun.

I'm aware though that by writing that I'm showing that I know nothing. I remember watching an interview with Mark Gattiss, where he is talking to Richard Herring, when he said (and I paraphrase): "when I talk to people about what they'd like Doctor Who to be. They always want it to be like it was when they were 7 and it can't be." And that's what I'm doing here really. Wishing that it was 1978/1979 all over again.

Whatever. Let me put all sensible adulthood aside - as if I even live like a sensible adult - and say watch Season 17. It's fun. It's not perfect, but you'll have fun. Even if one of the creatures in it looks like a glowing green bollock.  








*Actually, a brief note on Shada for those that don't know. Shada was going to be the 6 part finale to Season 17. However, due to a management lockout the story was never finished and for many reasons it was never re-mounted. Some footage was filmed, but it was never broadcast. It has had a long afterlife though. A version was released on VHS (with the script book included) and there have been several versions since, including animations. Oh, and there's an version where Paul McGann replaces Tom Baker that was made for BBC Digital. The DVD boxed set will feature another version, with improved animation and in six parts. I'm looking forward to it. It is the unfinished story that continues to regenerate. Will this be the last version? Who knows.


Thursday, October 7, 2021

It's Only a TV Programme

Following my blog on Classic Doctor Who stories for Halloween I was asked on Twitter why I didn't include Image of the Fendahl. Well, it was partly because I didn't want the list to be entirely made up of Tom Baker era stories and partly because it wasn't a list of Doctor Who stories that genuinely terrified me as a child. If that had been the list then it would ALL be Tom Baker and it would absolutely have Image of the Fendahl on it. 

Doctor Who scared me a lot as a child. I didn't hide behind the sofa. O, no I had a far more complicated way of dealing with my fear. I would pretend I needed to go to the loo. Then I would watch the story through the crack in the door, which I think I felt put sufficient distance/difficulty between me and the thing that was terrifying me. Once the scary bit was out of the way I'd come swanning back in. This tactic was completely obvious to my parents and became the subject of some mockery. If I stayed in my seat and got really scared my Mum would say to me, "Don't be scared. It's only a television programme." Whilst that might be true it never really felt just like a television programme.

When I watch stories that terrified me as a child now it seems ridiculous that it had that effect on me. One sequence in particular, which I'll talk about below, was such a disappointment when I re-watched it as an adult, even though it had stayed with me forever. 

So, let's talk about Doctor Who stories that scared me as a child. These are all going to be Tom Baker stories. I was 4 when I watched the first story mentioned on this list. I was 9 (but almost 10) when we reached the last. After that I don't remember Doctor Who scaring me in the same way. It still worried me at times, but that was more the worry of thriller than horror. 

Let us begin.


1. Terror of the Zygons: This whole story creeped me out but my most vivid memory, the one that scared me the most was the moment Sister Lamont turned into a Zygon. I remember it differently to how it actually happens in the story. My brain edits out Harry altogether and everything happens around Sarah Jane. Then theme tune. I never used to sympathise much with Mary Whitehouse about Doctor Who. I think being scared isn't a bad thing in and of itself but I do think she might have been right about how cliffhangers stay with a child. This story was broadcast 46 years ago but that cliffhanger is still in my head.

2. Planet of Evil: There's no specific sequence in Planet of Evil that scared me but the whole story seemed filled with menace to my 4 year-old self. Throughout the story you felt something awful was going to happen and it often did. And then the Doctor falls down a ruddy great hole. It doesn't sound scary but I was 4. It was bloody terrifying.

3. The Seeds of Doom: I have no memories of watching The Brain of Morbius, the story before this one. Morbius you'd think would have produced some terror of its own and it might well have done. But not enough to stay with me. The Seeds of Doom did though. There's moments throughout that have stuck with me. Perhaps it was because it was set on Earth and in the present day. Perhaps it was because it was realistically violent in a way a lot of Doctor Who isn't. It sometimes feels like a Doctor Who crossover with The Sweeney. Or an episode from a missing Euston Films TV series. But the most likely is that Elisabeth Sladen is so good at being scared and you get scared with her and for her. 

4. The Robots of Death: This comes down to the how terrifying the beautifully designed, quietly spoken robots are when they kill people. They're implacable, but beautiful. The uncanny valley has never felt more uncanny. It's remorseless, the body count is huge and people you like die. The Robots of Death was gently terrifying.

5. The Talons of Weng-Chiang: Now is not the time to discuss the flaws of the Talons of Weng-Chiang. We here purely to talk about fear and this story terrified me. There is one sequence in particular which terrified me and which retrospectively seems ridiculous. But I was 6 at the time, which is my excuse. That sequence? When Leela is attacked by the Giant Rat in the sewer. Even now when I watch it and can see how ridiculous the Giant Rat costume is I get a little sting of fear. And, like The Seeds of Doom, I think this is because Louise Jameson sells Leela's fear so well. You are scared because Leela is scared. Leela screams, which she never did. I'm sure there is an argument that perhaps she shouldn't have screamed that it doesn't fit the character but even the strongest and bravest of us when pushed into a life or death situation might crack.

The next two are probably the two that scared me the most. 

6. The Horror of Fang Rock: It's on my Halloween list. It's one of the great Tom Baker stories. Louise Jameson is wonderful in it but it absolutely terrified me at the time. The idea of being trapped with a monster that you couldn't tell was a monster because it could shapeshift made for some sleepless nights afterwards. This one is all about the atmosphere. It is, as I said in my Halloween blog, a tea-time slasher film. It didn't actually give me nightmares though unlike...


7. Image of the Fendhal: This is probably the story that scared me more than any other so much so that I had nightmares following this story where I couldn't move. Whatever was chasing me had me frozen to the spot. I remember Fendhaleen haunting my dreams. I was 6. This was like watching an actual horror film. Again it is the quality of the performances that sell it, which is a key to Classic Doctor Who. It works a lot of the time because the actors are good at their jobs. Even those in small parts. It doesn't matter if the thing menacing you out of the dark is a foam rubber creation of the BBC if the actors facing to it act like it is the most horrifying thing they've ever seen. 

8. The Stones of Blood: Again, looking back on this it seems ridiculous but this story freaked me out. The sequence with the campers in particular. It's interesting that I have no memories of the watching the second half of the story with its trial and sparkly judges. I do remember the first two episodes though and how scared I was on stones that walked and that moment where Romana is menaced by The Doctor on the cliff edge that doesn't quite make sense now. I never looked at a stone circle in quite the same light afterwards.

9. State of Decay: This is the last one. I was 9 when this was broadcast and by this point I was more aware of what Doctor Who was. But this story did its job. Perhaps it was the bats. Perhaps it was the obvious horror tropes. It was certainly the baroque Vampires who were the Three Who Rule and the Giant Vampire. The heart beat. Again it was the performances that sold you. Like a lot of these stories it seems weird looking back on it from my 50s. This though would also be the gateway to Hammer films. 

There you are. The nine Doctor Who stories that scared me the most. What were yours? 

And here's an obligatory plug for my Kickstarter campaign to raise money for my Unofficial Doctor Who Companion, Across Space and Time.



Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Halloween Who

October is the spooky month. Season of ghosts and distant screams. I thought a list of the Classic Doctor Who stories most appropriate for that season. I've picked eight. There are haunted houses; folk Horror and Vampires (amongst other things.) 

1. The Edge of Destruction: this two part story ends the original 13 episode block of the first season of Doctor Who. If things had gone badly this might have been the last Doctor Who story ever. It's weird, it's creepy and it only features the main cast: the First Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Susan. Something is inside the spaceship...or is it? The TARDIS crew under the pressure of events start to distrust one another. If you think of it as a haunted house story then I think it makes for a good spooky watch. 

2. Fury from the Deep: the Patrick Troughton base under siege story par excellence. Lost, but now available fully animated on DVD, I remember that the first time I encountered this story was as a pirated copy on cassette. The copying of the copying of it hide much of the dialogue behind a layer of hiss like an aural fog. But somehow the creepiness of the story broke through and I like to think of this as the Doctor Who equivalent of John Carpenter's "The Fog." Let's call it "The Foam". In the words of Van Lutyens : "It's down there. In the darkness. In the pipeline. Waiting."


3. The Daemons: This feels like a classic British horror film, but perhaps without the more gory aspects that a film might bring. An English village with its pub and Church becomes the centre of something strange and occult. There's an eccentric white witch and an existentialist Vicar, Mr. Magister. It's folk horror for tea-time telly. It is fondly remembered by the cast and everyone seems to be enjoying themselves. You could imagine this as a big screen Hammer film: Peter Cushing as The Doctor, Christopher Lee as Mr. Magister; Caroline Munro as Jo Grant and Andrew Keir as the Brigadier. 

4. Pyramids of Mars: This era of Doctor Who is well-known for taking concepts from film and giving them a Doctor Who take. Robot gives us King Kong and the Brain of Morbius Frankenstein (and the Brain of Morbius could have very easily made this list, along with Terror of the Zygons.) I chose the Pyramids of Mars, which is Doctor Who taking on the tropes of The Mummy. It features one of the great vocal performances in Doctor Who history when Gabriel Woolf's take on Sutekh. The faux-Egyptian trapping and English country house setting give it all the right vibe for a spooky night's viewing. It is, at points, generally horrifying and brutal. 

5. The Horror of Fang Rock: This would be my number one choice. We find ourselves trapped on a rocky island off the English coast in a lighthouse. Outside stalks a faceless killer. Or is it outside? Have we let it in? It's a slasher movie, but with a glowing green blob as the Freddy or Jason. The claustrophobic location, the gradually increasing body count and the quality of the performances make this one of my favourite stories. Tom is great in it, although apparently he was an utter pain in the arse on set, but Louise Jameson is the highlight for me. Plus, and here one has to admit to the effect of nostalgia, this story terrified me as a child. But seriously put this on, turn off the lights and it is, possibly, the perfect Halloween story. 

6. State of Decay: Doctor Who does classic Vampires. But with added SF. I love this story. It has all the trappings of a Hammer Vampire film (something Lalla Ward would have been familiar with). The Three Who Rule are a joy. It has spooky castles, baroque clad Vampires, villages filled with wary peasants and blood. Yes, the Great Vampire isn't quite the sequence you'd like it to be but where else but Doctor Who would you see a giant Vampire staked through the heart by a space ship? 

7. Frontios: This one might be the oddest choice but the centre of this story is dark. The atmosphere is fearful and frightening. It's played dead straight, which means in some ways it feels like Alien. The novelization makes more of the body horror at the centre of the story and yes, giant Woodlice are not the scariest of creations but it is a disturbing story. A planet that eats the dead. 


8. Ghost Light: The Doctor Who haunted house story. The Doctor and Ace arrive at Gabriel Chase and something is not quite right. The atmosphere that pervades this story is perfect for Halloween. Of course, being Doctor Who what is going on isn't supernatural but extra-terrestrial. That still doesn't stop this having a proper Victorian ghost story feel about it.  

9. The Curse of Fenric: Doctor Who takes another run at Vampires. Again, like Ghost Light this story is built on a foundation of creepiness. We have a base under siege. We have an isolated English location.  We have a fog. We have Viking runes. We have a threat from the sea. The Fenric vampires are not the Hammer style Vampires of State of Decay, even if they draw on vampire mythology and superstition. For Halloween purposes it is perfect.

So, there you are. Nine classic Doctor Who stories to watch over Halloween.

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