The Faces of the Doctor

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    ScaryB @scaryb

    @bluesqueakpip – Assuming Wikipedia’s correct, you’re right, and yes she was –

    Bluesqueakpip @bluesqueakpip

    @scaryb – well, frankly, it’s always a bit of a broad assumption with Wikipedia. 🙂

    But it does happen a lot with actors who are actually native to the area they’re supposed to be from; most recently with Crimson Horror, when everyone was complaining about Graham Turner’s ‘terrible’ accent. He’s from Yorkshire (does the voice overs for Yorkshire Tea, in fact).

    Likewise in Day of the Moon some of the crew were muttering about the accents of two of the actors playing the Secret Service men. They were, of course, the actors who were genuinely from America…

    Arkleseizure @arkleseizure

    @scaryb: Yes, you’re absolutely right that Colin can’t be blamed for what was out in front of him, but he all too often played a bad script straight. Tom Baker was so brilliant in no small part because he could spot a bad script a mile off and disguise it by playing it in a way that was nothing like the way it asked to be played. That’s what made the fourth Doctor so delightfully alien. Colin didn’t seem to have that.

    But yes, I’d put Saward and JNT (and for the reasons above, more Saward than JNT*) more at fault than Colin for the awful moves of that period.

    *Indeed, the superb stuff in Sylvester’s latter two seasons was produced with JNT still around. But not Saward. JNT needed a script editor who could tell him where to get off without hating him, and he had that in Andrew Cartmel. Shame it was already too late.

    Arkleseizure @arkleseizure

    @bluesqueakpip: Indeed, much the same can be said for Jenna Coleman’s home-counties-with-northern-vowels accent. I’ve met quite a few people who just refuse to believe that that’s her normal voice!

    PhaseShift @phaseshift
    Time Lord


    I’d certainly agree with you on all points. I mentioned a couple of points about stories in the Sixth Doctor era I hated, and Saward was responsible. In an era so misconceived, I really should have mentioned him be name. Many thanks.

    I along strongly believe (sorry @scaryb) that attempts to separate Colin from responsibility for the sixth Doctor shouldn’t really wash. He worked on developing that character, is quite proud of it, and therefore we should approach it from that viewpoint. The scripts were bad, but they were based on taking the character in that peculiar direction.


    The main reason I find her accent funny is that it’s inconsistent and really is a caricature of “broad OZ”, something Janet cheerfully admits makes her wince. It’s like hearing someone attempting a strong regional accent from the UK, and going really over the top. It’s because her own accent is so mild I guess, and she was asked to harden it.

    Bluesqueakpip @bluesqueakpip

    @arkleseizure – yes, Jenna Coleman’s got a very ‘middle-class northern’ accent.

    @phaseshift – yes, it would make sense that the producers of that period would ask  an actor to alter their genuine Australian accent into what they thought an Australian accent would sound like…

    ScaryB @scaryb

    <shudders at having been made to think about Colin Baker era again and is going to dive into @craig‘s video links again to erase it! (a bit of Troughton should do the trick 😉 ) >

    PhaseShift @phaseshift
    Time Lord

    Just to keep you amused, this is from “Doctor Who at 40” – the Tom Baker special. It’s only 10 minutes, and the end bit talks about the story that had been voted to be shown – Pyramids of Mars.

    It does feature the lovely Liz Sladen and Louise Jamieson talking about the era as well as a few others.

    Craig @craig

    Ah, found the Fourth Doctor…

    (You can quickly skip any ads by clicking the X in the top right-hand corner)

    Anonymous @

    @craig – thanks for posting that.

    Also, isn’t it Weng Chiang Part II Day?  🙂

    Bluesqueakpip @bluesqueakpip

    @craig – great stuff! I thoroughly enjoyed the first to fifth Doctors, so glad you found the fourth. Will watch when I’m back this evening.

    As well as Talons pt 2, it’s also time for The Girl In The Fireplace. 🙂

    Craig @craig

    @Shazzbot @bluesqueakpip

    I was waiting till 5:30 ( @phaseshift ‘s favoured time), but I guess I can post early, especially as the vid above features some of the delightful scenes from Talons episode 2. So maybe leave watching the above until you’ve watched epsiode 2 first.

    Will be available soon.

    Bluesqueakpip @bluesqueakpip

    @craig – ah, I see. You don’t have to post early if you’re busy – personally, I’m unlikely to be back before 5.30.

    Craig @craig

    @Shazzbot @bluesqueakpip No probs, all done now. I’m trying to be as un-busy as possible this weekend!

    ScaryB @scaryb

    Looking forward to catching up on Talons later (and GitF). And thanks again for all the clips above @craig – great fun

    PhaseShift @phaseshift
    Time Lord

    Alas, we near the end of June and the Sixth Doctor. When the most positive thing we can say is “it wasn’t ALL his fault”, that’s probably for the best. Just a couple of things in case you are interested. Here is Colin Bakers short segment from the Doctor Who at 40 celebration.

    If you want a comprehensive look at the period, with contributions from the main key players – try Trials and Tribulations (Link to YouTube). At 55 mins it’s pretty comprehensive. You’ll see there was plenty of blame to pass around and the sheer scale of the problems that surrounded the show at the time. Warning – may contain Ian Levine.

    I’ll probably take the opportunity to start talking about the Seventh Doctor at the weekend as I won’t be around for the first four days of July.

    Anonymous @

    @phaseshift – thanks for that Doctor Who at 40 clip.  It’s interesting that they got a few talking heads to extol the virtues of Colin Baker as the Doctor (my impression of him so far has been solely formed by commenters on this site, so safe to say my verdict was ‘woeful’).

    A few notes on the clip:

    1) K-9’s monologue is hysterically funny.  Not just the famine bit ‘while the rest of the world made a song-and-dance of it’; but the ‘half-woman, half-monster’ reference to Madonna was risky when she was at the height of her celebrity.

    2) The ‘Dale Who — Whovian’ talking head.  If that guy got his name changed by deed poll to ‘Dale Who’, I weep for mankind.  Dale?  It’s as bad as Wayne (the serial killer’s middle name of choice).

    3) So, it was the 6th Doctor who got the Chameleon Circuit working?!  If nothing else, that should be his claim to fame.

    4) Colin Baker does come across as a self-satisfied arse.

    Anonymous @

    @phaseshift – I’ve now watched your Trials and Tribulations clip.  Wow, it was great to put faces to all the names you and others have posted here about past DW production bods.  And Nicola Bryant is so obviously a fan of Colin Baker and his incarnation of the Doctor that it was hard to square that with the vitriol I’ve read here.  Granted, most here have said it wasn’t Colin’s fault and he’s actually a very personable man [but what a self-satisfied arse nonetheless]; but most here have also said his interpretation was downright awful.  Yet, his first co-star – who got inelegantly throttled by him almost immediately – had nothing but kind words for him.

    There were so many things eminently quotable in that hour, but I found this one toward the end really interesting in light of our current (UK) government situation:

    [Eric Saward] ‘You don’t make someone Prime Minister because they look good in a suit.’  … or, because they think they might ‘be good at it’.

    Bluesqueakpip @bluesqueakpip

    @Shazzbot – yes, it is possible to find people who liked Colin Baker’s Doctor. It’s just that none of them seem to post on this forum.

    So if any Colin Baker fans happen to be lurking out there, do post. We won’t bite.

    [Well, PhaseShift may become … sarcastic, and I might do my killer koala impersonation and try to claw your face off. But we won’t actually bite.] 🙂

    Anonymous @

    @bluesqueakpip – Ahh, Bluey, I imagine your ‘killer koala’ impersonation coming so saturated in eucalyptus oil that you’d kill a cough stone-dead at 30 paces.  🙂

    But not actually bite, of course.  😉

    PhaseShift @phaseshift
    Time Lord


    Yes, the talking heads are pretty enthusiastic, as only people who are being paid to appear in a celebratory TV show can be 😉

    In all seriousness, I think you have to look at the what they say and the way they say it really. The editor of Doctor Who Magazine isn’t really going to say something negative, because he doesn’t want to sour relationships. I can believe SM is going to say nice things about Colin in his Sixth Doctor retrospective as well.

    As @bluesqueakpip said – he really does have fans though. If he was your Doctor growing up, you wouldn’t have anything to compare him against, and therefore he became your idea of what the Doctor is. The ones I tend to have arguments with are the ones who take the stand that he would have been great if only everything else had been different. I think (as those clips show) he has to take some responsibility for the direction he wanted to go in.

    One “face to name” you may have missed in Trials was the rather earnest young man in glasses from the Liverpool Doctor Who society who was complaining about JNT. He grew up to be Chris Chibnall (Broadchurch, Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, etc).

    Bluesqueakpip @bluesqueakpip

    @shazzbot – it would be unbelievably, incomparably rude for Nicola Bryant to say ‘Colin was awful in the role’. She was his co-star; her job was to work with him, try and develop some chemistry with him, and help him produce an entertaining performance in his scenes with her. Acting’s about teamwork – plus, actors don’t generally give bad performances for the fun of it.

    The only time you can tell someone they were crap is a) if they admit it themselves (in which case you’d probably say something like ‘no, it wasn’t your best performance ever’) or b) you hate their guts and never want to work with them ever again. 😈

    And Colin Baker – as an actor – definitely isn’t a bad actor. He’s a very good actor, cast in the wrong part for his range. 

     That Eric Saward was prepared to say in public that Colin Baker was miscast and Saward thought Baker was terrible was a sign of how horribly wrong things were going behind the scenes; giving that interview to Starburst (I think it was) was professional suicide. As far as I know, he hasn’t worked in television since, beyond interview appearances. If he’s working as a writer, he’s using a different pen name.

    Anonymous @

    I think Colin’s take on the role was misguided but a decent Producer and Script Editor would have sat down with him and discussed what they could and couldn’t do with the part. So he must take some of the blame, he shouldn’t get too much.

    There are ways in which a Doctor like he wanted could have worked but it would have required much more careful planning — i.e. that costume killed any story stone-cold dead  in the first place because as soon as the Doctor arrives he’s the centre of attention — no poking around the periphery for him.

    Another problem is the cliffhangers. Because he’s so unlikable, placing him in peril doesn’t really work. The reaction is more like ‘good, shoot the twat’.

    The writing would have to have been much, much stronger for a ‘dark’ Doctor to work and all aspects of the production design would have to be working to that end. Witness the series we’ve just had to see how it should be done. You can’t have a dark Doctor in day-glo sets while dressed as Coco the Clown.

    Interestingly, after a false start there are signs that they’d finally learned this and were starting to go about it the right way.

    janetteB @janetteb

    Sorry I  am not about to defend C.B. whom for many years I viewed as the man who killed Dr Who. I realise now that he was not solely to blame for that henious crime. Certainly JNT has worn that unenviable label. I was always rather lukewarm about Davison as the Doctor. I couldn’t quite shake off the memory of Tristram. Also by that time I had essentially left home and only watched Dr Who on occasions. I still haven’t seen many of P.D.’s stories. As I have posted elsewhere, when it was announced that Colin Baker was to become Doctor I was horrified. I disliked him, rather unfairly, because of the character he played in War and Peace. I convinced myself that I should not judge an actor by a character they played, and so I did watch his first episode. The very little I saw of him as the Doctor suggested that he was playing a slightly older version of that same character, arrogant, self centred and shallow. I decided then that life was too short to waste any of it watching Dr Who during his tenure, a decision that I still hold to be valid. I saw him talking recently in an old documentary about B.G. who and felt rather sorry for him. Poor scripts and direction certainly gave him little to work with but I am not convinced that even the best scripts and direction could have made him believable as the Doctor. He was the wrong actor for the part.



    Nick @nick

    Jim I completely agree with your explanation. Personally, I found the silly costume killed off any chance that Colin Baker’s Doctor could have been taken seriously even within (most of) the fan audience. What he tried to do with the character by creating something new and different, which I welcomed at the time (at least I think I did) was just undercut from the start by the look and feel of the character and show. I guess this must in part be the Producer/Script Editor’s fault surely ? I also think that they were unduly influenced by the  “media/audience” expectation that the Doctor was this guy who could only dress in the ridiculous non-style (Coco the clown indeed).  Whilst they toned it down for Sylvester they couldn’t really get away from that perception.

    I would also pose the suggestion that the wider audience/media expectation for what Doctor Who was as a TV show at that time really made the “Darkish” Doctor concept unworkable from the outset. I don’t think there was much in the history of the show and the character of the Doctor that prepared the audience for this sort of change. This made the concept unworkable for the majority of the audience. The real shame was the initial damage done was too great, that by the time the show was getting back onto the “right” path it was cancelled (if only to return due to public outcry). The BBC 1 controller(s) made this even worse across this period by changing the length of the episodes and the day/time slot on which it was shown.

    Anonymous @

    @bluesqueakpip – Yes, Eric Saward did stand out in that clip as not part of the love-fest!  Interesting follow-up career information you have on him.  Just goes to show, never slag off your co-workers ‘if you ever want to work in this town again.’  🙂

    @phaseshift – I wondered about that Liverpool guy whilst watching; will watch again to put that face with the episode-writing name.

    Anonymous @

    Hiya Nick– nice to see you commenting!  In this fallow period of Who News, we need to keep the conversation going, and your contributions are appreciated.

    Not being a BG (Before Gap – ie., 90’s – 2005) Who viewer myself, these pages are so important to rectify my ignorance.  My idea on that outlandish costume was that it was hoped it would mitigate the unpleasant personification of the Doctor that Colin Baker (and the production crew) were aiming for.  Rather obviously, that didn’t work.  If anything, the dissonance between costume and characterisation was off-putting in the extreme – and as @jimthefish pointed out, the Doctor stood out in that costume in extremely unhelpful ways, story-wise.  All else aside, do you think a more sombre costume would have helped anything?

    What little I’m gleaning about Doctors 1 – 5 makes me think that you are correct – the ‘dark Doctor’ was just too much of a contrast to all the characterisations that came before him.  He might have been strict, patrician, haughty, seemingly cold – but he was never full-on nasty before.

    One more thing – to ensure that someone you’re replying to sees your reply, you need to copy and paste their username (just below the avatar) as I did.  Alternately, you can type @ and the username (cf @nick), although this can be tricky as some users’ display names aren’t actually a working link.  As in IamnotafishIamafreeman (pedant) and stevethewhistle (steve-thorpe), and perhaps others.

    Arkleseizure @arkleseizure

    That Trials and Tribulations documentary was fascinating. What I’ve often wondered was what Trial would have been like if Robert Holmes had lived and the original writers’ scripts had been accepted. From what I recall reading elsewhere, one of the others was Jack Trevor Storey, a writer with a fair amount of experience elsewhere. All I know of his story is that it involved a man standing in the middle of an empty gas holder playing a saxophone. Which seems a lovely idea to me. More to the point, at the start, all the writers knew where their bits fitted into the whole. Although this means that at least one of Eric Saward and Philip Martin should have known why the Doctor was siding with the Mentors. Colin didn’t, so he didn’t know Howe to play it either.

    Having said that, I do think JNT was right that Trial needed an ending and perhaps Robert Holmes would have been more willing to make the changes while keeping the rest of his script. Poor Pip ‘n’ Jane didn’t stand a chance of pulling it off. In the long run, the cliffhanger ending might have been a good thing if they’d used it. I can imagine he Time Lords having no idea if the Doctor’s survived until he escapes from the Matrix, played by Sylvester McCoy. Now that would have been a good way to start the Seventh Doctor’s era!

    Arkleseizure @arkleseizure

    @Shazzbot: The reason I read for the sixth Doctor’s costume is that he was a bit post-regenerative when he put it on and afterwards would be too pig-headed to admit it was an awful choice. Makes sense, I suppose, but still a very bad idea!

    PhaseShift @phaseshift
    Time Lord


    I’m glad you got something from Trials and Tribulations. I have to admit that when I first saw it I was a bit agog. So much I had taken for granted seemed to be thrown into doubt.

    Like you, I have no love for Eric Saward and admit I took for granted the fact that he “flounced” because he didn’t get his own way over the end of Trial of a Timelord. Watching it, I came away thinking how difficult it must have been to be placed in the position of writing with Robert Holmes while he was dying and the effect that had upon him. He was Sawards mentor at the BBC and there was more than a little bit of hero worship. It was just JNT’s spin delivered to his clique of fanboys to distribute about.

    Loved the idea of a Matrix regeneration. Makes sense of the Second Doctors experience, which you could suggest took place in that arena.

    @bluesqueakpip, I actually read the Starburst interview when it came out and agreed with much of it. Doesn’t make me like Eric more, but I question if he was in a fit state of mind to do that interview. The BBC was a different organisation then, and I can’t help but feel he would have had some support at that time if it was these days. The main thing I took away from it was the feeling this had become the fiefdom of JNT. His media manipulation must have seemed pretty clever about then, but retrospectively the BBC knew about it. They knew who was behind stories leaked to the press, and I think that “cold war” entrenched the view that the programme had become a problem. In a way it sealed its fate.

    I admire the way RTD and SM have conducted themselves. Teasers both. Building expectations, but never playing favourites with press or fans. I laughed my head off at the report of the media premier of Torchwood where Russell clearly told Ian Levine to “Fuck off – you’re not a reporter and your questions aren’t about Torchwood”.

    I suppose this may explain some of the gossip @danmartinuk mentioned surrounding the BFI showing of the “Two Doctors” to celebrate the Sixth Doctor. No Colin, No companions from the era. Just Frazer Hines, Tony Selby, visual effects designer Mike Kelt and ….. writer Eric Saward to discuss that reign. Here is the video to show of the conversation (not available on YouTube this month).

    Must be time to bury some hatchets? That really was a ****ed up era.

    wolfweed @wolfweed

    This video comes courtesy of DWM. Devil’s Advocate, Callum Metcalfe shows that ‘No. 6’ is also loved…

    Colin Baker Review:

    Bluesqueakpip @bluesqueakpip

     I actually read the Starburst interview when it came out and agreed with much of it. Doesn’t make me like Eric more, but I question if he was in a fit state of mind to do that interview.

    @phaseshift – I doubt that he was: in my first version of that post I described the interview as a ‘professional suicide note’. Possibly if he was working for the BBC today they’d have given him sick leave – and, as you say, a bit more support. And, if he’d still been employed by the BBC, he’d very likely never have given that interview. It’s understood when you work on a show that part of your job is promoting the show – that includes not slagging off the producer to the press, even if it’s true. Especially if it’s true.

    Reading between the lines, it sounds very like Jonathan Powell was giving Saward an opportunity to make an official complaint about JNT – but he didn’t take it.

    If people are curious about the interview, there’s a copy here.


    Anonymous @

    @phaseshift, @bluesqueakpip, @arkleseizure and everybody else…

    Watched Trial and Tribulations last night. A fascinating piece of work and no mistake. It’s no wonder the show was in the mess it was then with the major league soap opera that was going on behind the scenes. I’ve never really taken to Saward much in interviews and such but he has my sympathy much more now. (I personally think The Visitation was great and everything else, Earthshock included, didn’t really live up to that promise.) But he clearly cared about the programme — and more importantly the narrative integrity of the programme.

    What @phaseshift says is spot on about JNT using Who as his own personal fiefdom. He deserved a significant amount of credit for saving the show. If the Beeb had succeeded in killing it off in the 80s as it wanted to I can’t help wonder if it would be back now. I suspect it was because the show was showing glimmers of recovery under Sylvester, Aaranovitch and Platt et al that it survived. If the last memories of the show had been Baker and co then it probably would have died forever after an initial flurry of complaint.

    But you’ve got to ask just why JNT fought so hard to keep it alive. Was it because he loved the show? Possibly. Or was it because he would have been forced to go freelance and not have his cushy Who gig anymore? His distrust of writers, his attitude to how to play the Doctor ‘just you at parties, only exaggerated’ and his way of choosing companions ‘we need a redhead, let’s worry about the actual character later’ are just profoundly depressing. And his relationship with fans is something I’ll probably talk about in episode 2 of the media mongers.

    I can understand why JNT would want a proper ending to the Trial series though. If the series had ended on a cliffhanger ‘is the Doctor dead?’ note then he probably feared that the Beeb would take that opportunity to kill it off completely. However, I do respect Saward’s loyalty to Bob Holmes — who, let’s not forget, is essentially one of the main auteurs of Who as we know it today. Gallifrey, Time Lords, the mechanics of regeneration, much of that was created by him. So, as well as being loyal to a personal friend, you could argue that Saward was trying to loyal to the show itself.

    I think it’s clear that JNT should have gone at this point, either before or after the Trial series. A new Doctor was pretty inevitable, I think but I wonder if they would have been able to tempted Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks back at least for one season to ‘fix’ the show and get it back on track. Even if only in an executive role to keep an eye on JNT, or even to promote Saward to producer for a time (although perhaps his health at the time would have precluded this).

    I do like Holmes’s idea for the ending though. I also like @arkleseizure‘s idea of McCoy emerging from the Matrix at the start of his tenure. It would also have been nicer if Troughton’s return had been a year later and in the context of the Matrix, perhaps as his character still being in limbo after The War Games, rather than the execrable Two Doctors.

    But jeez, what a mess. No wonder the Beeb wanted to get rid of it.

    PhaseShift @phaseshift
    Time Lord


    Does it reflect badly on me if I admit I wanted to punch his smug face in the moment he suggested Twin Dilemma was superior to Fires of Pompeii?

    What the hell. I shall meet him on the field of battle in his desired Sixth doctor costume and crush his curly head into dust!


    Thanks for the interview link, as I couldn’t locate it, and to @jimthefish for his views.

    I think that era lacked any oversight at all. No-one higher than JNT gave a crap because it was the least of their problems. It’s probably in place these days with a network of writers acting as each others Script Editors. Guided by a voice who doesn’t have ultimate power, but at least is seen to be answerable to a network of involved interests. It really isn’t as precarious as once it was, because people like SM are answerable to interested parties internally at the BBC (the BBC1 controller, Head of Drama, etc) and BBC Worldwide (who co-ordinate the investment of BBC America resources). That is oversight and, unbelievably, Worldwide tend to side with Fan views (more, more, more). I think it’s gone from being an embarrassing problem to a problem of perception about allocation of resources in a public services broadcaster.

    I think tomorrow will see the start of the Seventh Doctor. A difficult end, and the start of “THE GAP“.

    That, Talons pt 3 and Blink – Who wouldn’t want that!?

    Bluesqueakpip @bluesqueakpip

    I suspect it was because the show was showing glimmers of recovery under Sylvester, Aaranovitch and Platt et al that it survived.

    @jimthefish – Agreed. If we haven’t had the Seventh Doctor, we’d have never have seen the Ninth. That team must have felt for years as if they’d failed in their efforts to save Doctor Who: but they didn’t – they made it clear that what was needed was a reboot.

    I remember watching Remembrance of the Daleks, and knowing that they’d done it: they’d produced something as good as the best days of Who. By then the BBC was determined to cancel – but it was episodes like Remembrance that meant the fans remembered Who as something worth saving.


    Arkleseizure @arkleseizure

    @phaseshift, @jimthefish, @bluesqueakpip and others:

    Please excuse the following “just in from the pub” drivel, which doubtless won’t be helped by the fact that this website’s interface and my iPad seem to have declared mutual enmity. I once commented on Geoffrey Howe on a political history site and my iPad’s spellcheck seems now to be obsessed with him:

    Firstly, I’m glad people like my idea for the introduction of the seventh Doctor. I will come clean and admit that Sylvester is my Doctor. I know very few people who will admit to that, but it’s mostly due to my age. I just wish that he’d had anything other than Time and the Rani to start him off. The way it was done was just awful. I don’t blame Colin for refusing to do a regeneration — he was treated abysmally — but Sylvester deserved a proper start.

    I’d better steer clear of Sylvester until we’re discussing him properly. But to conclude on the guilty men of the Colin Baker era, I think I’ll have to say that Colin Baker, Eric Saward and John Nathan-Turner, for all their faults and their arguments with one another, all wanted Doctor Who to succeed. But the BBC was run by imagination-free toffs like Powell and, worst of all Grade, who saw the BBC as a place to make TV for themselves, and  who realised they’d hit on a perfect formula for killing  Doctor Who and did all they could to make it work. More than anyone, it’s their fault. Because they did it on purpose. Because they wanted it to fail.

    I noticed another documentary on YouTube called Endgame. Another fascinating piece, but I will refrain from discussing that for the time being…

    Arkleseizure @arkleseizure

    @bluesqueakpip: I remember watching Remembrance of the Daleks, and knowing that they’d done it: they’d produced something as good as the best days of Who. By then the BBC was determined to cancel – but it was episodes like Remembrance that meant the fans remembered Who as something worth saving.

    Do you know, that’s the first time I’ve ever heard a good reason for why the story was called Remembrance of the Daleks?

    PhaseShift @phaseshift
    Time Lord

    Seventh month rapidly approaching – Seventh Doctor. Your thoughts, memories, clips and quips are required to discuss this chap. Mr Sylvester McCoy.

    Seventh Doctor

    The AI report in his first year had this to say:

    Sylvester McCoy was not proving to be a popular Doctor. He received a personal summary index figure of 46 at the end of the series, although it should be pointed out that this includes ratings from people who had decided to stop watching the programme. By the end of the third story in the series his personal rating had shown a steady – if not spectacular – improvement, rising from 44 at the end of the story entitled Time and the Rani (BARB Week 44) to 54 at the end of Delta and the Bannermen (BARB Week 47)

    PhaseShift @phaseshift
    Time Lord

    “You don’t understand regeneration, Mel. It’s a lottery, and I’ve drawn the short plank.” – Seventh Doctor

    After Colin Bakers departure, the announcement came that Sylvester McCoy was to play the Seventh Doctor. To be frank that announcement alarmed me. I remembered him from my youth, goofing around on TISWAS, and also from his stage work (mainly introduced to me through turns he did for Amnesty in “The Secret Policeman’s Ball”). He could make me laugh, I knew, and was a gifted physical performer, but – The Doctor?!

    Sylvester made his name in the Ken Campbell Roadshow. Campbell, strangely enough, was also up for the Seventh Doctor gig.

    There was another issue as well. Presumably to keep some sense of continuity, Bonnie Langford was back as Mel. That was going to be a big drag factor. I therefore wasn’t in the best frame of mind to start watching Time and the Rani. As Colin wasn’t .. ahem .. available, the regeneration scene was conducted with Sylvester in a wig and the sixth Doctors costume. The story itself is a mess, enlivened by one thing. At one point Kate O’Mara as the Rani pretends to be Mel. Lord – it can make cringing watching but she absolutely demolishes Mels character. It’s unrelenting, as she turns everything I didn’t like about Bonnie Langford up to 11. There really was no way back after that. I commend Ms. O’Mara for producing such a viscous caricature.

    Doctor and Daleks
    The Doctors dress sense improved…

    My fears about the Doctor seemed to be realised. Pratfalls and spoonerisms/mixed up quotations were the order of the day as the series progressed through the largely forgettable Paradise Towers and Delta and the Bannermen. At the end of the series we entered Dragonfire. Suddenly though, with the exception of a dangling scene (which was repeated in “Name of the Doctor”), Sylvester didn’t seem to be goofing as much. On an ice planet the Doctor met a young girl from Earth who didn’t know how she got there (Ace) and, joyfully, Mel decided to leave the Doctor to travel the Universe with the disreputable Sabalom Glitz (Tony Selby). I rejoiced at the end of the series, and hoped Glitz would have the good sense to jettison Mel out of the nearest airlock once the credits had stopped rolling.

    Between Season 24 & 25 my life changed, and I set of on an adventure of my own. On gaining the requisite grades at “A” Level I departed my homestead, found the bus station, and escaped to Yorkshire to study chemistry. I mention this because I did not have a TV while in halls. As the series was shown September – December my parents agreed to record the shows for me for my return. I am therefore not judging these shows as they were meant to be watched, but in rapid succession. I have no idea if they changed my impression of the show or not. On return from a term, I’d watch them at night after working as a combination shelf stacker/security guard for my Christmas job at “LiquorSave”. Sexy.

    Things behind the scenes of the show had changed as well. A brace of new writers and new Script Editor, Andrew Cartmel. Legend has it he gave each of the writing team a copy of “The Ballad of Halo Jones” to digest, telling them it was this sort of storytelling he aspired to.

    Doctor Who was 25 in 1988, and season 25 sought to exploit the anniversary just as the 50th does. Remembrance of the Daleks sees the Doctor and Ace return to Totters Lane as the Doctor has left something important behind – an ancient Gallifreyan artefact. I enjoyed the portrayal of the Daleks for the most, although that bloody civil war was interminable. Panto Davros was back, alas. The destruction of Skaro (alleged) was pretty stupid I thought. I loved the references to Quatermass and the general feel of the serial though. The following storyl The Happiness Patrol I had little patience with. Silver Nemesis (around the anniversary) saw another ancient Gallifreyan artefact with an attachment to the Doctor, and pretty piss-poor Cybermen. For the finale – The Greatest show in the Galaxy, where the Doctor confronts “The Gods of Rrrrrragnarock” in a psychic circus. I simultaneously found elements of these stories a bit laughable in execution, but they interested me in the concepts, and this version of the Doctor who seemed to have an agenda, and also occasional suspicion towards his assistant “Ace”. I have to admit, Sophie Aldred grated on me a bit, with her quirky “Professor!!!!” and ability to distil explosive from virtually anything, but there you go.

    A year later and another catch-up session. The return of the Brigadier in Battlefield, with The Doctor as Merlin? Ghost Light I thought of a bit better than other people seem to, as The Doctor takes Ace to a house she burned down in her troubled past. I thought the Curse of Fenric very entertaining, as the reason that Ace had come to be with the Doctor was revealed. A pawn in a chess game between two powerful entities (Fenric and the Doctor). Survival isn’t the best story to finish on, but there were some real feelings of intelligence hidden under some inexpert execution. Both Sylvester and Anthony Ainley as “The Master” are pretty superb in their scenes together though.

    Despite my reservations about Ace, I admired what they’d tried to do with the character. New viewers will see many aspects of the modern approach to companions in her story arc. A pretty troubled teen growing in confidence and confronting her demons with the Doctors help. She even ends up rescuing the mother she hates in the form of a small baby. The problem for me really was more presentation than concept. She was possibly the most well spoken teenage delinquent in the Galaxy – a bit hard to believe on occasion (which, to be fair, everyone in the production from writers to actors acknowledge and Sophie Aldred had no say in those choices).

    Sylvester, as the “Face of the Doctor”, really grew on me after his first series. Again, there were a lot of duds in his era, but overall his performance pleasantly surprised me. Hints at a Machiavellian mind with an agenda of his own, counterbalanced by some odd behaviour (listening to cheese being a favourite of mine). People who think the modern Doctor relies too much on his sonic will be delighted to know this one doesn’t use one at all. He replaced it with an uncanny ability to talk his adversaries to death. I do think he gets some grief in some quarters because of the relative quality of the stories/production values, and just the fact that the show ended “on his watch”.

    Because end it did. Tacked onto the last minutes of “Survival” was a monologue by the Doctor:

    “There are worlds out there where the sky is burning, and the sea’s asleep, and the RIVERs dream; people made of smoke and cities made of SONG. Somewhere there’s danger, somewhere there’s injustice, and somewhere else the tea’s getting cold. Come on, Ace. We’ve got work to do.”

    And that? Well. That was the end…………

    PhaseShift @phaseshift
    Time Lord

    “Everything’s got to end some time. Otherwise nothing would ever get started.” – Eleventh Doctor

    ….but really it wasn’t the end. The ironic thing about the Seventh Doctor is that he never really went away. The stories continued. The owners of the Target imprint that had made money out of the novelisations got into financial difficulties and were bought by Virgin, who finished the stories they were allowed to, and began “The New Adventures”. These followed the continuing journey of the Seventh Doctor and Ace (being joined by Bernice Summerfield) and saw the gradual reveal of Andrew Cartmels “Masterplan”.

    Such was the relative success of this range, it was soon joined by another. The “Missing Adventures” saw new adventures for old Doctors and companions inserted between established televised stories.

    I followed both sets of books, but do have mixed feelings about them. As the detail about the “MasterPlan” was unveiled, I decided that it wasn’t that masterful after all. I think Cartmel diagnosed a problem … wrongly. He thought that revealing too much about the Time Lords had reduced the Doctor to a certain extent. He wanted mystery back. In practice though, his solution seemed to tortuously add layers of text about Gallifrey and the Doctors “mythical” status in their society. I’m glad it never went down that road on screen. They can safely be regarded as pure stories about the Doctor, and pretty exaggerated ones at that.

    They did throw up a lot of emerging writers who went to town with the series though. People like Paul Cornell, Gareth Roberts and Mark Gatiss all contributed books. So as a training ground for emerging writers they were a win. Cornell’s “Human Nature” first saw light of day as one of these books, and more than a few are worth a read.

    Again, the “Missing Adventures” were very hit and miss stuff. The main problem with them is often the “feel”. The introductions to the two series make a great play of congratulating the reader on being an adult reader of “Doctor Who”. A bit more sex, violence and swear words signify an adult mindset, obviously. Thing is – is more adult orientated Doctor Who really, well, Doctor Who anymore? It’s an interesting question, to which I think the further it got away from the original intent of the show, the more diminished it seemed.

    The last few years of the show had seen Dalpol release Doctor Who action figures. They continued to release them in all their glory as well as iconic accessories such as the five sided control console. The commercial arm of the BBC (Enterprises) happily sat back and counted the coin from merchandising sales from a show its Public service arm had cancelled. All the time, the rumours circulated, Doctor Who would be coming back as films, as television. America was interested!

    Fandom even had a go at producing its own screen material on occasion, with variable results. For example, licensing the names of the Sontarans and Rutans from the estate of Robert Holmes to produce “Shakedown”. No Doctor to be seen, but clearly from references within, set in the Doctors universe. The sixty minute production is available on You Tube here.

    So – it’s a huge irony that, although Sylvester gets negative feelings about the show being cancelled on his watch, his was the face, in comics and adorning the covers of books, that fans used to keep the series alive. Not bad for an incarnation that drew the “short plank”. He can receive some real stick at conventions, but always approaches it with a warm humour, and above all being an ambassador for the show. I think he gets a raw deal. He was a better Doctor than Colin Baker, I think, and understood more of the role than his predecessor does, but the money and interest in the show at the BBC just wasn’t there at the time.

    Here’s a great written interview with McCoy about his time on the show.

    I started with a quote from the Eleventh Doctor, so here is Sylvester in conference action delivering “The Pandorica Opens” speech.

    Anonymous @

    The Seventh Doctor. An odd one this because, for me, Seven was a great Doctor with really very few good TV stories to his name. Sylvester McCoy’s reputation as the Doctor in TV terms really only lies in two stories — The Curse of Fenric and Ghostlight. Survival just misses out because I don’t think the Cheetah People were particularly well realised and the ending I find a bit naff.

    It’s only really in Sylvester’s second season that he gets to grips with his Doctor. His inauspicious first season is still labouring under the weight of the Colin Baker clusterfuck (see above) and he certainly seems to be playing a generic, bland Doctor. (A key argument against the idea that Moffatt is currently writing Series 8 without knowing who the Doctor is going to be. We’ve seen that done before and we know it doesn’t work.) He’s also lumbered with the dreadful Mel (kudos to @phaseshift for pointing out that Kate O’Mara’s vicious parody meant that the character was dead from that point on). Another thing hampering McCoy’s first season was that the show was in the tightest grip of JNT’s light entertainment obsession, with the likes of Ken Dodd, and even great, solid TV actors like Richard Briers and Don Henderson giving terribly comedic light entertainment-esque performances.)

    The costume was initially awful too. The white jacket and panama hat which were possibly meant to be a reaction against the overly colourful Baker era and perhaps a shout-out back to Davison’s pastel colours didn’t really work. It just wasn’t Doctor-ish enough. McCoy’s third season greatly improved on this. The darker jacket, the duffle coat and the it seems to me conspicuous downgrading of the brolly and hat seemed to suggest that McCoy was making more a mark, as well as perhaps pointing to JNT having a diminished influence on the show.

    It’s perhaps to his credit that JNT seemed to have learned his lesson from the Saward affair and dealt with Andrew Cartmel in a much different way. Judging by the Endgame documentary, Cartmel seemed to be allowed to collaborate with McCoy much more on where they wanted to take the character, as well as taking the writers’ contribution much more seriously in general.

    And it shows. Season 25 seems to me to be a ‘recovery’ period. The show is no longer on life support and while the stories, with the exception of Remembrance of the Daleks, are starting to show signs of life again. Season 26 builds on the patient is even walking about a bit now. Even the lesser stories of Season 26 are just flawed rather than the out-and-out awful of the previous few years. If season 27 had been made, I suspect that the show would have been out of the woods, at least for a few years longer.

    But maybe it’s just as well that it didn’t. It’s probably the case that the show is in such a strong position now because of the enforced gap. It had to wait until the structure of broadcasting had changed that bit more, for the likes of Moffatt, RTD and Gattiss and the like to gain a place in that structure, for effects to reach a stage where they can be affordable (relatively) and impressive and for nostalgia for the show to have reached an optimum. If we hadn’t had the gap, Who wouldn’t have got the love it has got now and it probably would have trundled on for perhaps a Doctor or two more and then finally died.

    However, Cartmel, Aaranovitch and McCoy deserve incredibly kudos for the position they left the programme in. As I said above, it’s because of their work and the final image of the show that they left us with @bluesqueakpip says the firm idea that the show was indeed worth saving. If it had ended with Baker, I doubt that the show would be here now.

    In fact, you can see the template for the current show in McCoy’s later stories. You want a dark Doctor? How about one that plays with his companion’s neuroses rather like a cat would with a wounded bird? Who never tells them exactly what’s going on and always seems to know more than he pretends? Who manipulates situations to his own advantage and who seemingly is quite happy to manoeuvre innocents to their deaths? I think I can date the moment of me being totally sold on McCoy’s Doctor to his ‘burnt toast’ speech to Ace in Ghostlight. Here he was most definitely the Doctor, profoundly alien, and, more importantly, a Doctor that we’d never seen before. More than any other Doctor, McCoy’s evolves from clownish Troughton-lite to something altogether darker. And his influence is still felt today, I think. Although much is made of Smith’s Doctor’s likeness to Troughton, I think the likeness to McCoy is much more evident.

    And stories like Ghostlight and Fenric and Survival contain quite a few of the seeds of the current show within them. There’s the questioning of the Doctor’s motives and motivations, the greater complexity of the plot and theme, and the greater emphasis on exploring the character of the companion. And even the McCoy Virgin Adventures have had a profound influence too. The most obvious example is Paul Cornell’s Human Nature, which was turned into the cracking TV series of the same name. (Although, interestingly, the one misfire in the TV version is that they kept the retribution on the Family of Blood. I just couldn’t see Tennant’s Doctor doing this. McCoy’s, definitely, but it seems really out of character for Ten.)

    But Lungbarrow, while never making it to TV, I think has been something of an influence on the new show too and if we ever see Gallifrey back on the screen in any detail, I suspect it will be Marc Platt’s version of it rather than Robert Holmes’s. I share @phaseshift‘s ambivalence to the Cartmel Masterplan but there are definite elements of it that I quite like and I’m not convinced that it’s quite dead in the water yet. And I’ve always loved the idea of the Looms and would quite like to see that imported into the show’s official mythology.

    But actually in terms of on-screen performance, I think Sylvester’s finest hour is actually the TV movie. He looked great with finally a perfect costume and in his scenes in the TARDIS at the beginning he has a real Doctorly gravitas that if you’d seen him in Time and the Rani you’d never have thought him capable. I remember the first time I watched it just how gutted I was to see him go. And to my mind, despite the essential idiotic pointlessness of his death (surely the Seventh Doc of all people should regenerate as part of some machiavellian scheme), he still has the best ‘death’ scene of any Doctor, I think. If you’ve got to go out, what better way than to the strains of un beli di vedremo?

    Anonymous @

    Oh, and here’s the Endgame documentary, which makes a nice companion piece to Trials and Tribulations.

    overunder @jamesunderscore

    Aha, I’ve been waiting a while for this!

    So, Sylvester McCoy. My Doctor.

    There’s nothing I can say about his performance really, he *is* the doctor, the one against whom I compare all other incarnations so it’s impossible for my be objective. I think I’ll just share some memories instead.

    In 1988 I was oh, all of six I suppose, and there’s not much I remember about that time, but I vividly remember every story from season 25. I must have had some sort of working knowledge of Doctor Who at this point, and my dad almost certainly had been watching it with me for a few years.

    I remember knowing what the Daleks were, and being suitably scared of them, but even more scared of the schoolgirl they had possessed. I remember sitting with my parents who informed me that the creature inside a Dalek looked like a cabbage.

    I remember Happiness Patrol – far from thinking the Kandy Man was ludicrous, I was awfully scared of him although most of that was probably due to those terrifying Bertie Bassett adverts (“One too many and you might turn Bertie!” ugh, stuff of nightmares!) and that particularly unpleasant scene where someone is executed by “fondant surprise”

    I remember some blokes running about the woods with headphones on from Silver Nemesis, and that’s about it. I do remember asking my dad why, and him telling me they were being converted into Cybermen, and then him telling me all about the Cybermen.

    Finally, I remember The Greatest Show In The Galaxy, almost scene for scene. The sky with the ringed planet is burned into my young memory and is the first thing that I think of whenever I imagine an alien world. I remember thinking that I had never seen anything like it before, and I really think that it’s what opened my mind up to the idea of science fiction.

    I have re-watched this season since then, and it’s clear that there was an enormous amount of subtext that went right over my head, but even so the memories have stuck with me through my whole life. I think it’s the atmosphere, which was sometimes scary, sometimes exciting, but throughout saturated with a kind of low level dread, which was very similar to another series which aired around the same time called Moondial, which I also loved.

    Of season 26, I remember only Battlefield and of that, not much. I think my parents may have decided the show was a little too adult for me at this point, or maybe I just lost interest. I may even have watched but forgotten – I have never got round to (re)watching season 26, but maybe when I do some memories will be triggered.

    I was already reading adult books at this age, and around this time I started borrowing my dad’s old sci-fi books which had been consigned to a box in the loft years before. I tore through E.E. “Doc” Smith’s Lensman books, Asimov’s I Robot, and Science Fiction Mysteries collections and his Foundation trilogy, all of which I still have on my bookshelf here. Dad also introduced me to both the book and movie of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Wars and all the other Science Fiction he loved, and in later years we watched a lot of older Who together when it was repeated, but I don’t think I ever would have expressed an interest in any of that if it hadn’t been for Sylvester McCoy as The Doctor, that funny, slightly clownish, grandfatherly guide through space and time.

    I’m 30 now, and have a son of my own that I watch Doctor Who with. He’s just one, but there’s a good chance that the next Doctor (or maybe the next-but-one) will be *his* Doctor. I’m excited to find out who he’ll be (the character and the actor) and I hope that one day my son will be inspired like I was.

    It’s funny, actually, It strikes me having written all that, that my dad was probably a Who watcher from the very early days, he would have been oh, 8 when it started? I must find out if he watched the first one next time I see him.

    PhaseShift @phaseshift
    Time Lord


    I agree that you can’t underestimate some of the impact of this run and the New Adventures on the AG series. One of the joys of doing this thread has been watching some old serials and reading some of the books to organise my thoughts. Re-reading some of the New Adventures (currently “The Left Handed Hummingbird”) you can see elements of the new series that seem so obvious. Hummingbird sees the Doctor and companions meet someone who knows them from his past, but they’ve not met him yet, which sparks the adventure. I think exploring those kind of narrative possibilities was really established here.

    The character of Bernice Summerfield as well. Sassy future archaeologist whose fate is intertwined with the Doctor? I’m still pretty convinced the name River Song comes from the final monologue by the Seventh.


    Many thanks for the read. I must admit, I’ve heard from kids who were young at the time that they found the Kandyman terrifying. I guess that one really does rely on age. At 17, I just rolled my eyes and thought “It’s ****ing Bertie Bassett! Jesus Wept!”.

    Whisht @whisht

    Hi all, will comment a bit more here, but just wanted to point people to the link that @phaseshift shared – its a really lovely portrait of Sylvester McCoy, and he really comes across as a very optimistic and open guy.

    HTPBDET @htpbdet

    @phaseshift and @jimthefish and @jamesunderscore

    Great posts. Thank you.

    Its such an interesting time the period of the Seventh Doctor – curiously, many people blame McCoy for the cancellation when he was not the real reason at all. Not in my view anyway.

    Grade had no interest in the programme and, for the first time really, the BBC was starting to face serious competition in terms of serials and drama from ITV and, perhaps more importantly, American television drama was getting a real roll on.

    The fundamental problem for Doctor Who was that no one wanted to produce it, to take responsibility for it, to shake it back to life. Every one seemed to think it was the kiss of death, because of the stain that JNT had brought to the role.

    I once heard that Verity Lambert had approached Grade after the cancellation and offered to do two seasons if he would sign off on an appropriate budget – but he was uninterested. I would love to know if that was true.

    I am not sure, though, that it was because of the McCoy seasons that the programme  was ultimately considered redeemable. Cycles turn in television as they do elsewhere. By 2005, the cycle had moved back to a place where a prime time Science-fiction serial was possible again. And we probably have Buffy to thank for that.

    What Doctor Who needed to get a 27th season it finally got when RTD signed up – a champion. Someone who believed in the programme and was determined to make it work.

    JNT was not a champion for the programme: he was a champion for his own ambition, lusts and intentions. He fundamentally misunderstood what made Doctor Who appealing to the general public.

    And you are right @whisht – that is a great piece. McCoy is open and optimistic – and he refuses to bear the burden of some one else’s crime. Quite right too.

    Anonymous @

    @phaseshift @whisht – that Benjamin Cook interview is interesting in lots of ways, but it surprised me how far back in the show’s history that the BBC were concerned about American audiences.  I’d thought that was a priority since 2005; but Sylvester says this:

    Ace was more streetwise. Mind you, she wasn’t allowed to talk with a London accent. That frustrated me. That was JN-T, worrying about the Americans.

    overunder @jamesunderscore

    @whisht – thanks for posting that, it was a lovely read.

    @phaseshift – Even now I find Bertie Bassett horrifying. Something about the idea of finding a familiar person suddenly replaced by something almost almost, but not quite, entirely unlike a human. Stuff of nightmares. I do love a nice bit of liquorice, though!

    @htpbdet – I think that it’s ultimately a good thing that the show went on hiatus when it did. If it hadn’t, Grade and co. would have had even longer to mistreat, starve and generally bugger the show and thus been even more successful in consigning it to oblivion, and alienating the fanbase to the point where it would have died forever.

    It’s funny though. When I think back to my teenage years, that post-Neighbours block on BBC2, Tuesdays at 18:00 I think, was filled by various US Sci-Fi imports – Farscape, Buffy – in a way, they filled a glaring Doctor Who shaped gap in the schedule.

    Anonymous @

    @jimthefish – re Endgame – thank you so much for posting that clip.  I enjoy what you ‘elders’ (ha!) post here on this forum because there is so much dross out there, but you direct our attention to the worthwhile morsels.

    Among the many interesting things in that video, I grabbed onto this:  When discussing a post-Ace companion, they flirted with ‘an aristocratic cat-burglar’.  If that ain’t Lady Cristine d’Souza in Planet of the Dead, I don’t know what is.  The self-referentials get all joyously timey-wimey once one starts learning as much as y’all do about the history of the show.

    Anonymous @

    @htpbdet — Yes, I think it’s definitely true that the likes of Buffy, Trek et al that helped return Who to the screens and I think RTD said as much. But if the the last image of Who on our screens had been Baker going ‘carrot juice, carrot juice, carrot juice’ instead of McCoy’s enigmatic ‘come on, Ace, there’s work to to do’ (and the work to create a potentially interesting and relevant Doctor then I don’t think even RTD would have been that bothered about fighting to bring the show back.

    Sylvester gets a lot of stick but I’d argue that he did more do save the Doctor for future generations than most others did….

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