The Last Adventure

Jodie Whittaker’s final Doctor Who adventure debuted at the end of October 2022. Throughout the series, the episode where a Doctor regenerates is often of the most powerful of that actor’s tenure. “The Power of the Doctor” was a great case in point, giving the Doctor an opportunity to confront her past and bringing back several companions Doctor Who’s classic era. Unfortunately, in Doctor Who history, there was one actor who was never given a proper final episode and that was the sixth Doctor, played by Colin Baker.

Colin Baker’s era on Doctor Who was plagued by several related problems. The top people at the BBC had lost interest in Doctor Who. Because of that, the show runner, John Nathan-Turner, was spending more time fighting to keep the show on the air than actually running the show. When I go back and watch Colin Baker’s episodes, I get the sense that the writers had a lot of talent but were writers who really needed strong editorial guidance. Unfortunately, because of the issues with the BBC, that guidance really wasn’t there and Doctor Who is a show that needs top notch writing and a good editorial vision to work. In the end, the BBC dictated changes in the show, which included a change of lead actor. Colin Baker basically decided he wouldn’t come back for a few minutes of screen time before his regeneration began. So, after Colin Baker’s last season, we start the next season with the Doctor in mid-regeneration and suddenly the Sylvester McCoy era began.

Colin Baker’s Doctor could be irascible, prickly and childish. The only problem is that the TV writers of his era tended to overplay those tendencies making him a challenging Doctor to like. Fortunately, Big Finish productions came along and gave us more adventures for the sixth Doctor. Stronger writers showed “Old Sixie” could also be heroic, fiercely loyal, and determined. In many ways, because of the episodes produced by Big Finish, the sixth Doctor’s era has become one of my favorites. In 2015, Big Finish decided to tackle one of the biggest challenges and write a fitting finale for the sixth Doctor. The result was “The Last Adventure.”

Title notwithstanding, “The Last Adventure” is actually four stories set at different times in the sixth Doctor’s tenure. Each adventure features a different companion. In “The End of the Line” the Doctor and Constance Clark find a train lost in the fog. When they attempt to find help, they find the same train at a different point in time. They soon find someone is breaking down the barriers between parallel universes. In “The Red House,” the Doctor and Charley Pollard end up on a world populated by werewolves. Except they really aren’t werewolves. These creatures are normally wolves who take on human aspects at certain times. In “Stage Fright,” the Doctor and Flip Jackson arrive in Victorian London only to find that a director is putting on plays about the Doctor’s regenerations. Finally, “The Brink of Death” brings us to the Doctor’s final days as he teams up with Melanie Bush only to find himself trapped in the Time Lord Matrix. The common denominator in all of these stories is that the Valeyard is involved.

We met the Valeyard in the sixth Doctor’s final TV season and we learn that he’s the amalgamation of all the Doctor’s darker tendencies all merged into one being sometime between his penultimate and final incarnation. The idea is that the Valeyard is playing a long game and in each story, the Doctor gets another piece of the puzzle until their final confrontation in “The Brink of Death.” I remember at the time “Trial of a Time Lord” was on TV, there were many fan discussions of how the Valeyard came to be. This story gives us an answer and without spoiling it, I thought it was a lovely bit of minimalist writing in that it gives us an answer in one sentence. It’s a great example of how something can be explained without pages of exposition.

I’m a big fan of the Seventh Doctor, Sylvester McCoy. While there were some rough moments in his first season, I generally loved his tenure from the moment he’s captured by the Rani until he walks off in the sunset with Ace, and then has his amazing regeneration into Paul McGann in the TV movie. Still, I choked up a bit as it came time for “Old Sixie” to go. He met his end showing his best qualities. If you want to know the end of Colin Baker’s story, or even if you just want to sample him in stories from different eras of the Big Finish run, “The Last Adventure” is a great place to go. You can find it at: https://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/doctor-who-the-last-adventure-1212

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!