Doctor Who Column: Reverse The Polarity With Darren Blackburn: Geronimo!
Posted By: Darren Blackburn, U.K. Correspondent
On: May 08, 2010 Updated: 1 week 4 days ago
On: May 08, 2010 Updated: 1 week 4 days ago
Legs. I've still got legs! Good. Arms. Hands. Ooh, fingers! Lots of fingers. Ears? Yes. Eyes: two. Nose. I've had worse. Chin – blimey! Hair... I'm a girl! No. No!!, I'm not a girl! And I'm still not ginger! There's something else. Something... important, I'm... I'm-I'm...[The whole console room shakes.] Crashing!!”
- The Eleventh Doctor’s first word
Wearing the tattered brown trousers and shirt of the former Tenth “I don’t want to go!!” Doctor, No. 11 joyfully clings to the Tardis console, flames and smoke everywhere! With a resounding shout of "Geronimo!," the camera pans away – and so ended part 2 of The End of Time.
A new era begins!
Okay, confession time. Nova isn’t my only passion. Nor was he my first. Even before I found a copy of Nova #6 in the local market bookshop back in 1980, Doctor Who had already taken centre stage as my primary fan-geek focus. I still remember those Saturday nights back in the ‘70’s when I was still knee-high to a grasshopper – cowering behind the sofa while watching the giant Spiders of Metabelis Three scuttling in the shadows or seeing whether Tom Baker would trip over that impossibly long scarf of his while debating with Davros that creating the Daleks was a very bad case of karma.
Both the Brits and the States have had a hell of a lot of Who exposure over the last 46 years – with the series beginning on Nov. 23, 1963 (just after the assassination of President Kennedy) on BBC1 in the UK while over the pond U.S. syndication of episodes from the Hartnell, Troughton and Pertwee eras began in the late 1970’s on PBS with great success. The idea of a 950-year-old Time Lord from Gallifrey (that’s in Ireland, ain’t it?) - single, but with a penchant for having a bevy of beautiful lady companions (screaming optional extra) traveling with him inside a dimensionally transcendental (it’s bigger on the inside than on the outside, done with mirrors is it?) telephone booth (Police Public Call Box – property of the Metropolitan Police – pull door to open) that had the ability to traverse time as well as space, encountering a plethora of aliens, megalomaniacs and big robots has appealed to all ages.
The first series, “Old Who,” ran from 1963 to 1989, except for an 18-month hiatus in 1986 when a power even greater than the dreaded Daleks intervened after taking a dislike to then new Doctor, Colin Baker (No. 6) and an increasing worry in the levels of violence – something that the series has had occasional hot-beds of contention with the “politically correct crowd” ever since Tom Baker (no relation to Colin) nearly got drowned inside the Matrix (that’s a quantum computer on Galifrey, containing billions of memories of dead Time Lords; the Xandarians must have stolen the plans!) during episode three of the Deadly Assassin.
Created by the BBC Head of Drama, Sidney Newman, with assist from Donald Wilson and C.E. Webber, the series was first produced by Verity Lambert with an initial order for 26 weekly episodes – a series conceived to be mainly educational and aimed for children and family viewing. Back in the 1960’s, each episode has an individual title (re-adopted when Who came back in 2005) with most stories being a mix of mostly pure historicals (The Smugglers, Marco Polo, The Aztecs, and of course An Unearthly Child, the first story broadcast wherein the Doctor and companions Susan (his granddaughter), Ian and Barbara travel back in time to meet cavemen!) and sci-fi fantasy, of which The Daleks (or to be accurate “The Mutants”) being the tale that firmly placed Who in public life, creating the institution that has lasted to this day. Most stories were either four to six episodes long, twenty-five minute duration with a plot device, the “cliffhanger” created to entice the audience to see the next episode, a tactic used by the RKO serials such as Flash Gordon and Kingdom of the Rocket People. Exceptions to the rule included “Mission to the Unknown,” a one episode “Doctor less” story, and the “Dalek Master plan,” twelve episodes that paved the way for New Who episodes like “Blink,” “Love & Monsters” and “Turn Right”.
Doctor 1 was William Hartnell, the crotchety old man who was more an anti-hero to first companions, school teachers Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright from Coal Hill School, alongside Susan Foreman, the Doctor’s granddaughter, another time lord - though bear in mind back then the Doctor’s origin hasn’t been decided, simply referring to them as “his people.” What was known was that the Tardis (Time and Relative Dimensions in Space) was a fantastical device that the Doctor has “borrowed” and that he and Susan had been living a relatively quiet life in self-imposed exile in Totters Lane, London until Ian and Barbara came to find their errant pupil Susan. Once onboard the Tardis, both they and the viewers were transported to unimagined planets and distant tableaus from key points in Earth history.
Hartnell wasn’t a well man, so at the end of 1966, with weeks to plan Season 4, there was a great possibility that the series might have ended there, but thanks to the nifty concept of tegeneration, it was decided to cast a new actor to play the Doctor. After all, he was an alien – perhaps even on the point of death, he could, just like a caterpillar, become literally a “new-man”!
Patrick Troughton took up the mantle as No. 2 from 1966-1969, paving the way for many of Who’s quintessential mythology to be created – with the introduction of Cybermen, UNIT and notably the Time Lords. In 1971, with the advent of color television, Jon Pertwee (No. 3) took over from the Cosmic Hobo – the dandy with a helping of Venusian Aikido and the most technologically adept Doctor yet ensured the series’ popularity rose ever higher. It was during Pertwee’s era that we were introduced to the Doctor’s Moriarty, The Master (not the first Time Lord, that honor belongs to the Meddling Monk in 1965 – although remember, they weren’t called Time Lords then) and finally in “The Time Warrior” we got to hear the name of the Doc’s home planet, Galifrey.
However, in 1974, Who’s most well-known actor took the role. Tom Baker, No. 4, is perhaps the Doctor that most Americans know best. The longest serving Doctor from 1974 to 1981, Baker defined the character most of all with that inane grin, humor, dark brooding moments, scarf, floppy hat and jelly babies. Baker was the first “unknown” actor – that is, he hadn’t been in many television roles prior to Who whereas Hartnell, Troughton and Pertwee were familiar faces to the generation during the 1950’s and ‘60’s in television, film and theatre. Casting an “unknown” was a gamble, but it paid off. Baker’s highlights were meeting creator of the Daleks, Davros, returning to Galifrey to become its President and showing how corrupt Time Lord society was, one of the reasons why the Doctor has left the planet many years before. Baker battled the Mandragora Helix, Sontarans, an Egyptian death God, big rats, Zygons, the Loch Ness Monster and a prawn! The series was in its golden age, but eventually Baker grew weary of the role and so in 1981 along came No. 5, Peter Davison.
Davison was another unknown, the youngest actor so far. His Cricketing Doctor with his stick of celery fought the Mara and was notable for having the first Australian companion. He also had the first companion to die – Adric, having foolishly tried to prevent a Cyber ship from destroying the Earth, a ship that due to the timeframe was responsible for wiping out the dinosaurs. Davison stayed in the role for three years before passing the celery to Colin Baker. No. 6 was by far the least popular Doctor, his garish totally tasteless costume and irritability alienating a lot of fans. However, to be fair, Baker C. never got the chance to shine. If the aborted Season 23 had taken place (currently now being released as a series of audio adventures appropriately called the “Lost Adventures”) maybe this Doctor wouldn’t have faced oblivion. But Baker was sacked by the BBC, the only actor to have been removed from the role, and replaced with Sylvester McCoy. McCoy, No. 7, was an initial throwback to Troughton’s cosmic hobo but new head writer Andrew Cartmell transformed him into the most manipulative Doctor yet – Time’s Champion would not only use guile and cunning to defeat his foes but also use his companions, anyone, as pawns in a cosmic chess game that he was determined to win at any cost.
Sylvester McCoy was the last Doctor in the original television series run. The series was not renewed in 1990 due to falling ratings. It seemed the series, despite its popularity elsewhere in the world, had been forsaken by the BBC. But in 1996, a co U.S./U.K. production brought back the Doctor in a one-off television movie. Paul McGann, No. 8, was a controversial Doctor – not the actor himself but because for the first time it was hinted the Doctor was half-human, something that went against previous Who mythology. A series was proposed but never happened so it wasn’t until 2005 that new Who arrived on the scene under the edict of BBC Wales and Russel T. Davies.
Even before Series 1 was half-way through its run – Christopher Eccleston, No. 9, had decided to leave the role due to fear of being typecast. By the time David Tennant, No. 10, arrived in an end of season Dalek story “The Parting of The Ways” – in a shocking stand-up regeneration, new Who has revitalized the public’s love with the show. With new foes like the Slithreen (no farting jokes, please), updates on classics like the Daleks and Autons and a popular new companion in Rose Tyler, Davies brought new drama, re-established the 1960’s quirk for individual episode titles, forty-five minute duration (with one hour Christmas Specials becoming a new feature), gave more character development in also adding family concepts to the series and also in a bold move wiped out the Time Lords in a “time-war” leaving the Doctor the last of his race wrapped up with stylish music rendered by Murry Gold.
Tennant has recently been voted the most popular Doctor of all time. His Doctor captured the essences of all the previous incarnations: the irritability of Hartnell, Troughton’s curiosity, Pertwee’s scientific interest, Baker’s wit, Davison’s trainers and glasses, Baker’s anger, McCoy’s manipulative streak, McGann’s love, Eccleston’s panache while bringing his own Allons-y. Tennant fought many new monsters and aliens such as the Ood, the Devil, Krilitanes and Judoon as well as facing the new Master, losing Rose, and finally facing the Time Lords on New Year’s Eve. Tenant’s era was a great one but now as we head into 2010, a new Doctor waits in the wings.
Matt Smith, No.11, will play the role in Steven Moffat’s first series in the spring. Smith is another “unknown” and is the youngest actor to play the role at age 26. Alongside new companion Amy Pond, played by another unknown, Karen Gillan, they will face not only old adversaries but new ones when “The Eleventh Hour” airs in a few month’ time.
And so, I think it’s appropriate to share with you my intro and love with the New Doctor. Every few weeks I will give you a few spoilers and news as the new series develops, reviews of the new episodes as they air in the U.K. first and maybe occasionally do a few articles to shed light on the series with spotlights on the Daleks and other nasties. I hope you’ll come with me. Geronimo!