The Last Season of Classic Doctor Who

When my wife and I first married, we moved into an apartment complex in Albuquerque recommended by some close friends who lived in that same complex. One of my fond memories from that period of time was spending Saturday nights that fall going over to their apartment to watch season 26 of Doctor Who when it aired on KNME. There were only four episodes in the season: “Battlefield,” “Ghost Light,” “The Curse of Fenric,” and “Survival.” Still, there was no doubt these were something special. Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor had moved on from his clown-like early portrayal into a somewhat darker and more mysterious figure. Sophie Aldred, as his companion Ace, was strong on the surface, yet seemed afraid to face certain elements of her past. Under the supervision of script editor, Andrew Cartmel, the Doctor was taking Ace on a tour of her own past and making her face the baggage she didn’t want to deal with. It was great stuff and when we got to the end, we couldn’t wait for the next season. Except there would be no next season. This was the end of Doctor Who’s so-called classic era.

Season 26 was recently released on blu-ray. As it turns out, I loved this season so much that I already owned it on a combination of VHS and DVD, but I was glad for the upgrade. Some episodes were distinctly improved. Of particular note are the “movie” edits of “Battlefield” and “Curse of Fenric.” The former has upgraded special effects which help one of the stories that introduced me to Arthurian lore. The latter included scenes that had been cut from the episodes originally aired for time. The longer cut played much better. There’s also an extended cut of the episode “Ghost Light,” which is one of those magical episodes that grows on me every time I watch it. For the purists, the original, uncut episodes are included as well.

In the special features included with the Blu-Ray set, I was reminded that “Ghost Light” started life as a very different episode. It’s the story about a mysterious house connected to Ace’s past. Originally, it was called “Lungbarrow” and it told the story of Ace and the Doctor visiting the house he grew up in. Author Marc Platt actually novelized “Lungbarrow” and it came out as part of the Doctor Who New Adventures line in 1992. At that point in my life, I was busy working on a telescope at Apache Point Observatory and being the dad of a precocious 2-year-old. I barely had time to sleep and eat much less read Doctor Who novels, but I remember seeing all kinds of discussion about this novel on internet circles of the time. I kept meaning to read it. Eventually it was posted in its entirety on the BBC’s Doctor Who website and I read bits and pieces before it was taken down.

Getting my hands on the Season 26 Blu-ray set inspired me to go looking for the novel. Unfortunately, only a limited number of copies were printed and used copies cost hundreds of dollars. Fortunately, the internet archive had a copy tucked away from the days when the book was available and I just gave it a read. It tells the story of the Doctor returning to the house where he was born. There’s evidence he killed the head of the household before he went on the run from the planet Galifrey with his granddaughter. It ties up several hints dropped by writers Ben Aaronovitch and Marc Platt in seasons 25 and 26. On the surface, it would seem to suggest a very different origin for the Doctor than the one revealed in “The Timeless Child” starring Jodie Whittaker as the Doctor. Except that in ways, the stories compliment each other. Not everyone in Doctor Who stories are reliable narrators and it all adds to the central question of the series: Doctor Who? If you’re a fan of either the new or old series, I highly recommend the season 26 set both for the great presentation of the episodes and the behind the scenes information. If you happen to see a copy of Lungbarrow in your favorite used bookstore, be sure to snap it up!

2 comments on “The Last Season of Classic Doctor Who

  1. I became a fan of *Doctor Who* by accident; I think it happened to be on when I had planned to watch something else. Frankly, at first I was almost embarrassed about liking it. I was a fan of serious science fiction, but it seemed a mix of serious and silly.

    I watched a few episodes. Then one time the Doctor did something that seemed highly unlikely–but this time his companion asked him how he could do it. I thought, “OK, this is it. He’s going to come up with some stupid explanation, and I’m going to stop watching the show.” I’m not certain I have the exact quote, but when questioned he simply answered: “I’m a time lord.”

    That was it; I grokked the show. Although I don’t necessarily like everything I’ve seen on *Doctor Who*, it’s one of my favorite television programs, including the classic and the contemporary.

    • I agree. Sometimes it’s pretty silly, but then it has moments of brilliant, fun writing and the characters are almost always memorable. I just watched “The Green Death” last night from the Jon Pertwee era. I think I last saw that circa 1986 and I was surprised how well I remembered the last episode in particular.

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