106 Reasons To Love Classic Who

So there’s been a little bit of a kerfuffle over the past few days, one that might be puzzling folks who are unfamiliar with the history of the old Doctor Who show, and unaware of how much of that history is lost. It started when The Daily Mirror announced that all 106 missing episodes of Doctor Who had been recovered recently. I think you could hear the eyerolling all the way here in North America. Then the Radio Times said that *two* episodes had in fact been recovered, and were going to be put on iTunes this Wednesday. The RT is not an arm of the BBC, but even so this began to seem more plausible. The the RT corrected itself to say it was, in fact, two *stories*, not episodes…


I’m not going to get into the history of the BBC junking their 60s and 70s TV shows here. Suffice it to say that at the time videotape was scarce and there was absolutely nobody thinking of how valuable they’d be for future generations. These programs were not meant to be rewatched. But around 1978, the Corporation began to realize that perhaps they might want to stop this, and since then, we’ve had a painstaking search to find what was once lost forever.

My first exposure to the missing episode phenomenon was in 1991, when The Tomb of the Cybermen was found, complete, in Hong Kong. This was big news. It was also the last story that would be found complete. As time went on, it became apparent that any missing episodes that remained out in the wild would be one-shots, each to be cherished but never quite completing the picture. Episode 1 of The Crusade was found in 1999, and Episode 2 of The Daleks’ Master Plan in 2004. For a while, that looked like it. Then in 2011, we got two more: Episode 3 of Galaxy Four (a biggie, as NONE of this story had been in the archive), and Episode 2 of The Underwater Menace.

It might seem odd that these episodes are so important to fandom, given they’re missing. But they’re only missing as TV episodes. Because Who fandom is what it is, we have far more. We have audio recordings of every single episode. We have ‘telesnaps’, where a camera took pictures of the TV screen every few seconds, for many of the series. And we have the Target novelisations, which for years were the only way most fans saw *any* Doctor Who, much less stories that were missing. This can sometimes be problematic – finding out that The Tomb of the Cybermen was somewhat racist and not as good as its reputation devastated folks for some time. But while the prints are missing, the episodes live on…. in our hearts. (Sorry, had to do it.)

Now we have this new story. The BBC are holding a presser this Friday, so clearly SOMETHING is happening. The current rumors that have everyone excited are that we have all of The Web of Fear except episode 3, all of The Enemy of the World (see telesnap above), the missing episodes to complete The Ice Warriors and The Crusade, and some Marco Polo. Naturally, I raise an eyebrow at this. First of all, it’s *always* The Web of Fear. Every time a rumor goes around that turns out to be nothing, it’s that The Web of Fear, an iconic Who story with the Yeti, has been found. It’s never The Myth Makers. It’s always The Web of Fear. Moreover, some stories said these Troughton stories were recovered from Ethiopia… which didn’t have Troughton stories sold to them in the 1960s.

That said, the inference from the presser is they’ve found more than 1 or 2 episodes here. Honestly, if this is true, I applaud the BBC for not letting it leak out (rumors early this year to the contrary.) And if the rumors are true… wow. One of the most iconic stories, almost complete. The Enemy of the World, which is not only the story that has gotten critical attention lately (once regarded as “the dull one” amidst the monster stories, it’s now beloved for being something different) but also has Patrick Troughton playing The Doctor’s evil doppelganger. The Ice Warriors introduces the titular monsters. The Crusade is a brilliant Shakespearean pastiche. And Marco Polo cries out for visuals, a real first series epic. One reason I am writing this now rather than after we know for sure what has been recovered is that the potentiality is always more interesting than the fixed point. It could be ANYTHING.

I want to see ALLLLLL of these. And I want more, of course. I want to see The Massacre, one of the bleakest Hartnells ever. I want to see The Highlanders, the last historical. I want to see The Power of the Daleks and The Evil of the Daleks. Heck, I even want to see The Daleks’ Master Plan 7, the least likely episode to ever be recovered. I want the Doctor to look into the camera and wish me a Merry Christmas. Because I am a Doctor Who fan, and I am greedy.

But honestly? I’ll take anything. Even if this whole rumor is a lot of nothing, and the BBC only have one episode, I want it. Because I’ve read the script, and read the novelization, and listened to the audio, and seen the reconstruction, and watched the animated episodes, and it’s NOT ENOUGH. The Doctor Who fan’s appetite can never be completely sated… but it’s usually satisfied with a few crumbs.

But man, a banquet would be lovely.

Elisabeth Sladen

I’m grotesquely behind in my reviews and really should write another today, but sadly all thought of that went out of my head last night when I got home to find Lis Sladen had died. Lis was, as part of Doctor Who, a large part of my defining childhood years. As such, I wanted to write a bit about her.

Sarah Jane wasn’t my absolute first Who companion: that was either Jo Grant or Romana, depending on which set of memories I believe. But as time went on and companions and Doctors came and went, she tended to become the ‘default’ companion in my mind. When a new companion arrived on the show, or in the books and audio CDs, inevitably I held them up to Sarah to see how they measured up. It probably started with The Five Doctors, but certainly by the time of the New Adventures in the 1990s she had transcended most companions to become iconic, something I’d argue has only been done with two other companions: Susan and Jamie. (Rose isn’t old enough to be iconic yet.)

There was a joke in fandom about how Sarah was actually two companions: the staunch feminist we saw in Jon Pertwee’s last season, and the softer and more vulnerable one we saw with Tom Baker. I think someone actually joked that she regenerated when Jon did. Certainly I do think Sarah got softer, but I don’t think she got less tough – I can think of at least half a dozen Tom Baker stories that feature her taking on things that would have sent me curling into a little ball.

One of my favorite scenes of all of Doctor Who is in Tom Baker’s 2nd story, The Ark In Space, where Sarah is the only one small enough to fit into an air duct and drag a wire that will help stop the villain. Except she gets stuck, and starts to freak out (as would we all). The Doctor, knowing Sarah well even now, goads her into getting unstuck and moving forward again by calling her useless. She gets to mad she manages the rest of the crawl in record time, and once she emerges he grins and says “I knew you could do it.”

Everyone joked about Sarah getting abducted or hypnotized, so much so that the show eventually had her grousing about it herself, in what proved to be her last episode, The Hand of Fear. But we kid because we love, and while fans may argue about how feminist she really was, no one I’ve met in Who fandom has ever disliked Sarah Jane Smith. As the show moved on and I watched more, I had other companions that I focused on – Nyssa, Ace, Benny, Donna – but if I ever had to make a Top 5 Companions list, she was always on it. And, of course, she was able to inspire The Sarah Jane Adventures, and have it be a triumphant success, taking Sarah Jane into the 21st century and showing us that she was just as awesome in her 60s as she was in her 20s.

And now she’s gone, so soon after the death of Nicholas Courtney. Death is a part of life, and she had been fighting cancer, but it still seems like this was far too soon. Lis Sladen had so much to tell us, both as herself and as Sarah, and now the worst won’t get to see it. Luckily, we have her past work to cherish. I think I’ll pop in Pyramids of Mars tonight. Or maybe The Brain of Morbius. Or hrm, there’s always The Temptation of Sarah Jane Smith… or I could listen to The Ghosts of N-Space! OK, perhaps not the Ghosts of N-Space…

The Eleventh Hour

By Steven Moffatt. Original airdate on BBC1: April 3, 2010.

This post contains massive spoilers for the new episode of Doctor Who. Reader discretion is advised.

I have to admit, it started out poorly for me. Or at least highly variable. The bit over the skies of London was pure RTD spectacle, though it dawned on me that that was pretty much the point. Especially once we went to the quiet country village. It picked right up with Amelia praying to Santa about the crack in her wall. Just the right amount of cute, foreboding, and sense of wonder. And then the new Doctor lands, and we get regenerative crisis. Oh dear. The entire scene with trying the various foods grated on me, and if I was Amelia I’d have smacked him right about the bacon.

Oh, and like every other reviewer I’ve read, I too would like to note the new titles and theme remix were horrible.

However, right about the time the Doctor settles down with the fish fingers, the show takes off and never really lands again. “Must be a hell of a scary crack in your wall.” Yes, thank you. The rest of the scene is filled with dread and anticipation, as we know there’s gonna be something creepy there. We chuckle with the Doctor at his “Everything’s gonna be fine.” We’re… not really all that scared by the big ol’ eye. (Scares were rather lacking this episode, but I won’t cry. I don’t like shocks.) And then that hideous feeling in the pit of the stomach when he says he’ll be back in five minutes, because we know the new companion is 22-year-old Karen Gillan, and the pieces click together.

This Doctor, as played by Matt Smith, is indeed “still cooking”, as he notes, but is a lot of fun. It’s a very physical performance, and he seems a little bit unhinged. There are moments when he reminded me of David Tennant, but not many. I liked his trying out various personality bits and then rejecting them. “I’m worse than anybody’s aunt.” and “Who da man!” are blissfully left by the wayside, and he finally seems to come together in the lovely final sequence with his past selves flickering past on the screen. Still getting used to his very square face – he’s more striking than handsome. I do like the professorial look, as well as his lack of body shame.

Then there’s Amy Pond, who I found fascinating. Part of this is Moffatt going back to a plot we saw in Girl in the Fireplace, with the Doctor’s time travel becoming a liability. The Doctor clearly has done a number on poor Amelia’s life. She makes light of it in her anger, but “four psychiatrists” implies a very unhappy childhood into teen years. And then, to top it off, he does it again at the end! Amy, if she’s realistic at all, should have hideous trust issues which I hope are explored more in future episodes. Amy is the “everyday” companion, but seems a little broken, and I love that. Check out the final shot, if nothing else, with the pictures of her and the Doctor scattered around her room, clearly more important than the wedding dress we also see.

There are other characters, but they’re mostly irrelevant to this episode, which is about the Doctor meeting Amy. I really didn’t care much about the escaped prisoner schtick, as it was basically just a plot for the Doctor to hang his hat on. It served that purpose well. Rory struck me as rather pathetic, but then I recalled feeling that way about Mickey 5 years ago, and realized he’s likely to be back so he can better himself. (Poor guy, his childhood friend dressed him up as her obsession. He even became a nurse…)

3rd favorite line: “You’re Scottish — fry something!”

2nd favorite lines: “Why did you say six months?” “Why did you say five minutes?!?!”

Favorite line: “Amy Pond, there’s something you better understand about me, ’cause it’s important and one day your life may depend on it. I am *definitely* a madman with a box!”

I had been suffering Who fatigue all last year, mostly due to the absolute thrashing RTD gave to Donna, who I adore. (The End of Time did not help – do not buy me off with lottery tickets.) But now it’s like when I saw Rose. Or back when I entered college, on seeing Remembrance of the Daleks. Or when I was 6 years old, seeing The Stones of Blood. Everyone has their favorite Doctor (mine is Sylv), but best of all, every Doctor gets a chance to take you by the scruff of the neck and make his case about why he should be your new favorite. Matt Smith made a great start. I’ll be looking forward to more. Can’t wait till next week.