A Top Ten : What defines Doctor Who?

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@ScaryB and I were discussing the moments/things/concepts/characters that that have changed the course of Doctor Who since Unearthly Child . At the command of @Shazzbot, I have converted that discussion into a Blog.

Unearthly Child set up so much: the Doctor as alien exile; the notion of companions; the TARDIS; travel in time and space; juxtaposing different sorts of adventures – all of those things are still key to this day.

Really – it is an extraordinary debut episode. And each of those key cornerstone concepts is relevant and important to AG Doctor Who today.

For me, the top ten defining moments/things/concepts/characters are:

First, the notion of regeneration, which belongs to Hartnell as it happened in Tenth Planet.

Second, Troughton gets credit for the Time Lords because of War Games.

Third, Eccleston  gets the credit for the Time War a critical aspect of AG Doctor Who and which, one way or another, leaves its mark on every AG adventure.

Fourth, I give to Hartnell for Dalek Invasion of Earth – the idea of recurring alien enemies of the Doctor.

Fifth on my list would be UNIT – which, happily, is another point for Troughton! (Invasion)

And Sixth, the return of the Doctor’s knowledge of time travel in Three Doctors – because from then on, and really for the first time, the Doctor is able to pilot the TARDIS to where he wants to go – well, more often than ever before anyway! So, Pertwee.

Seventh is also Pertwee: the introduction of the Master. (Terror of the Autons)

Eighth, I think, is the notion of “timey-wimey” and all that comes with it:  so Tennant.

Ninth, I think, is River: so that is also Tennant, because she appears first on his watch.

Tenth belongs to Tom Baker: the twelve-regeneration rule. (Controversial!) Deadly Assassin.

(On some days, depending on my mood, I count the Daleks as important – not because of the Daleks themselves, but because of the concept of the Doctor fighting alien foes. But then I wake up and decide that is silly – because a 60′s Sci-Fi series was always going to have “bug-eyed monsters” and given that the Doctor and Susan were established as aliens in Unearthly Child, the prospect of other aliens being encountered by the human heroes was contemplated there.)

So – there is my top ten. I can’t see that Doctor Who would be what it is now without these ten concepts – and Unearthly Child.

But I am sure others have different ideas – so, please, do share your thoughts. And I can be convinced to change my mind about the relative importance of these – or other – ideas. So please discuss!

But, by my tally, the Scoreboard is:

Hartnell               2

Troughton          2

Pertwee             2

Tom Baker         1

Eccelston           1

Tennant              2


11 comments

  1. Good list, @HTPBDET, which I can neither really add to nor wish to detract from. I’d maybe dispute the influence of the Time War as I think one of the hallmarks of Smith’s era has been how far less pivotal to the Doctor’s character it has been. (I suspect that the anniversary special might even see the Time War ‘rewritten’ in some way, if not actually ‘unwritten’.

  2. @HTPBDET – oh, you cheeky sod.  This was my comment, actually:

    I only beat people when fees, costumes, and ‘safe words’ have been pre-negotiated.

    Your Top Ten starts with regeneration, but that was never part of the original remit of the programme.  Morphing into a different actor was a necessity of casting, but not of the plan set out by Verity Lambert.  So, your very first point of the definition of Doctor Who rests on an accident of actor-change.  It has come to define the entire idea of the programme, I will admit as much as the next person, though.

    But that whole 12-regeneration limit has to go.  It’s tedious and pointless.  Nice idea in the early years of the programme when there was no conceivable way they’d reach that limit of actors; absolutely a stonking brick wall now that we’ve actually come near to spitting distance of it.

    I’m glad you’ve included River Song in your list.  The idea of the ageless, timeless, centuries-old Doctor actually falling in love and marrying someone who he knows (and we know) that he will forever outlive – that is tear-jerker territory that the original producers were simply unable to conceive in the original series.

  3. @JimTheFish

    Yes, the Time War is not in-your-face that often in the Moffat era, but I do feel its shadow, particularly in the Doctor’s desire to not be so in the spotlight, his feeling he has “got too big”.

    And, I guess, we need to see whether or not Moffat goes anywhere with it. The fact you posit he might re-write it, really just re-inforces its importance in the overall Doctor Who Universe. No?

    @Shazzbot

    I think, whether serendipitous or not, Regeneration is the key defining concept of the series – without it, the series would have finished with Hartnell.

    I don’t think the reasons why these concepts came into existence matter, really, – the question is more about their lasting and lingering effect.

    Personally, I would prefer the 12 regeneration rule to be explained or clarified or got around, rather than just be ejected. It does not take much to do that. But I am calm about the fact it probably will just be ejected.

    I don’t see how River could be left off the list – really. She has been a tremendous force – and I think, no matter what happens, future seasons will always involve the question “Will we see River again?” for the audience.

    But, I don’t belong to the camp that takes the view she is really the Doctor’s wife, his own true love…Sorry!

     

  4. @HTPBDET — good point. Yeah, that’s fair enough. I still think that we might be ending the end of the ‘Time War era’ though…

  5. @Shazzbot

    I’m not so sure that ending the 12 regenerations limit (13 Doctors) has got to go in quite the same way you think. You can actually argue that when River gave the Doctor her remaining Artron energy he already has more than 12 regenerations. I think it needs to be got around in a convincing way right now as we have one or none (depending on which Doctor Hurt actually is) left.

    The problem is if the Doctor can regenerate countless times, then just how much narrative strength is lost as a result ? Having a limit to the number of regenerations at least adds some jeopardy.

    @JimThe Fish @HTPBDET

    Agree whole heartedly. The Time War era needs to be in the past so the show an move on. For me this is the creative reboot the anniversary special needs to deliver (not BG continuity).

    @HTBPDET

    Its hard to disagree with anything you posted except perhaps the order. I don’t think 5, 6 or 9 are fundamental to Who as a whole, although they are major elements of course. Perhaps you can explain your rationale.

    I agree the TimeWar is fundamental to AG Who as of today, but (fingers crossed) will it been seen in quite such a light in 2020 ?

    One other thought as I think you or someone else pointed out on the RTD/SM thread. Chris Ecclestone’s portrayal of Doctor 9 is perhaps the most different of any performance to date. Whilst this hasn’t had any fundamental effect so far, I do think it opens up the characterization of the Doctor to wider avenues than seemed possible before.

    Nick

  6. @HTPBDET Ah, you’ve changed the rules 😉 I thought it was the top 3, but now its’s top 10!

    I agree with what you’ve posted but would argue that your original 3 – regeneration, Time Lords, Time War – don’t really need expanded (apart from adding what was established in Unearthly Child ie

    Doctor as alien exile; the notion of companions; the TARDIS; travel in time and space; juxtaposing different sorts of adventures – all of those things are still key to this day.

    The rest though – am not convinced they are defining moments – very important, key, yes, but not defining.

    12 regenerations limit I would put in same category as Corsair’s TL gender change – it’s been mentioned but it’s not yet impacted directly on how the Dr behaves. It defined the Master’s behaviousr but (not yet) the Dr’s.

    The Daleks probably do deserve a special case to be made – they went so far beyond the “bug eyed monster” cliche and they made such an impact from their very first appearance. (Attempts to create a new monster with similar charisma only proved how difficult it is).

    I would also include the introduction of companions’ families in AG as this presented a whole new way of seeing the impact the Dr has on people’s lives. And brought us Wilf and Brian.

    (You missed out the Dr turning into a grumpy unempathic clown… there again 6 didn’t last long!)

    I agree with you re regeneration though – serendipidous or not, it was a stroke of genius. To the point that if any other show tried to use it they’d be accused of “doing a Dr Who” (That’s why I’m being picky about your top 10)

    @JimtheFish Doesn’t matter if the TimeWar is unwritten or otherwise resolved in the 50th (and like you, I think we’re going there), it’s been a key motivator for the AG Doctor and the reason for his PTSD symptoms

    PS HTPBDET – Hope you’ll be back soon to disagree with me!

  7. @ScaryB

    I was chanelling SM…and so changed the rules… 🙂

    I personally don’t see the introduction of companions’ familes as defining for Doctor Who although obviously it is defining for RTD’s era.

    If the same notion of family had persisted under SM then, yes, i would agree, but it hasn’t. At least, I don’t think so.

    As I say, there are days when I ponder whether the Daleks should be on the list, but I usually conclude that while the Daleks are an indispinsible part of what made Doctor Who popular I am not sure that they are defining, except to the extent they represent the notion of the “monster” element in the series.

    @Nick

    I would not have included UNIT but for the fact that it was involved with Doctors 2, 3, 4, 5 and 7 and then reappeared in AG Doctor Who. I think it is a fundamental concept now.

    As to 6, prior to Three Doctors, Pertwee was stranded on Earth and prior to that the doctor could not control the TARDIS in the sense that he could not navigate it to a specific place in time and space. But after Three Doctors, Pertwee was able to go where he wanted to go, although he did not always get it right – same with each of the Doctors that followed. So, that moment was a turning point – it was the moment where the Doctor gained the potential to become a precision time-traveller.

    As to River, well, it just seems to me that she is now a central part of the Doctor’s story. She can turn up anytime. I think she is a bigger character in the Doctor’s life than the Master or the Brigadier.

    Personally, I would prefer that the Time War remained under lock and seal and the Doctor just got on with having adventures in time and space again. I don’t really want Gallifrey and bickering political TimeLords back – we have coped so far without them really, and coped pretty well.

    But, I agree the Doctor needs to get over it and move on.

    One other thought as I think you or someone else pointed out on the RTD/SM thread. Chris Ecclestone’s portrayal of Doctor 9 is perhaps the most different of any performance to date. Whilst this hasn’t had any fundamental effect so far, I do think it opens up the characterization of the Doctor to wider avenues than seemed possible before.

    I think that each of the three portrayals of the Doctor in the AG era have been very different from any that went before them. Personally, I think Tennant’s performance is the most different and successful of the 3 AG Doctors ( he was saddled with some awful stories, but that is a different matter) but I do think Smith has been asked to do (perhaps chosen to do but I doubt it) a very particular characterisation up until Snowmen – and while I might not like it, it is undeniable that there has never been a Doctor quite like his. (But these are things I will hopefully get to in my Doctor ramblings).

    And, finally, as to your last point above: I disagree. Nothing any AG Doctor has done has broadened the range of possibilities for the portrayal of the Doctor any more than Troughton did when he picked up the recorder in Power of the Daleks.

    Troughton showed that you could do anything with the part.

     

  8. @HTPBDET

    I was chanelling SM…and so changed the rules… :-)

    I personally don’t see the introduction of companions’ familes as defining… 

    I as working to your new rules 😀

    I don’t think the families are a defining point but they are a key point of the stories in the current era. It may change again with the next Dr.

  9. @HTPBDET

    Nothing any AG Doctor has done has broadened the range of possibilities for the portrayal of the Doctor any more than Troughton did when he picked up the recorder in Power of the Daleks.

    Troughton showed that you could do anything with the part.

    I suspect you may be just a tad biased in that assessment, but it doesn’t make you any less correct! Agree wholeheartedly. In many ways Troughton had the toughest job of all – if he hadn’t mamaged to “sell” the whole concept of regeneration we’d never have got to Pertwee never mind AG.

    PS Apologies for disjointed thought patterns this morning. I need the TGD* to amalgamate all these posts ;-D

    *TGD – Topic & Grammar Dalek

  10. @ScaryB

    Thanks – and you may be right. I may be biased. 🙂

    But you are definitely right here:

    In many ways Troughton had the toughest job of all – if he hadn’t managed to “sell” the whole concept of regeneration we’d never have got to Pertwee never mind AG.

    My sentiments exactly.

    Troughton opened the door, shone the light, started the trend, unlocked the mystery – however you want to put it, the longevity of Doctor Who is down to his ability to make the concept of regeneration work.

    And this is true whether you like his era or not : because part of what he did was promise you that, eventually, there would be change. If  you didn’t like him, all you had to do was wait and there would be another change…

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