Time Traveler with a Celery Boutonniere

As I’ve mentioned in other posts, I first learned about the television series Doctor Who from an article in Starlog Magazine. The article announced that Peter Davison would take over the role of the Doctor from Tom Baker, who had played the part for seven years. I knew nothing about who any of these people were or what the show was about, but I do remember blond-haired Peter Davison in a light colored outfit standing next to the ubiquitous blue police box, which I would later learn was his machine for traveling in time and space. When I finally saw an episode of Doctor Who, it featured Tom Baker, a jovial fellow with a mop of curly hair and a scarf that went on forever. I was curious how the young blond actor and the curly-haired actor could play the same part. Eventually, I would learn that the Doctor can regenerate into a whole new body. Still, I was curious what Peter Davison would be like compared to Tom Baker.

The Doctor and the Master face off in Peter Davison’s first season as the Doctor.

Around this time, I discovered that my local bookstore started carrying novelizations of Doctor Who episodes. Right there on the shelf was that blond-haired fellow smiling at me from the cover of a story called “The Visitation.” I picked it up and found myself transported back to medieval England in a story where aliens crashed on Earth. In the final struggle, a lamp is knocked into some hay and the great fire of London is started. In college, I would finally see the episode as part of season nineteen of the series, which was Peter Davison’s first. That season is now out on Blu-Ray and I recently revisited the first year of this blond-haired fellow as the Doctor.

I had fond memories of this season from college. Tom Baker played the Doctor for so long, a new actor seemed a breath of fresh air. I remember Peter Davison as an affable, breezy personality. As a quirk, he wore a stalk of celery as a boutonniere on clothes suitable for a cricket match. I remember liking how the writers created something of a Holmes/Moriarty relationship between the Doctor and his old nemesis the Master.

Rewatching it, the nineteenth season didn’t quite match my memories. Peter Davison’s Doctor seemed to snap at people more than I remembered. He also looked a little uncomfortable in the part at times. He was, after all, the first actor to play the part who had also grown up watching it. The season also presented the Doctor with three companions. This wasn’t unheard of in the series’ run, but it wasn’t common. In this case, I could see that four regular characters were a challenge for the writers. Often they’d find a way to put one companion on the sideline while giving one or two others the limelight.

I had fond memories of an episode called “Black Orchid.” It’s a short episode in the middle of the season where the Doctor ends up in the middle of a 1920s mystery. It’s not very science fictional, but it seemed like it made the best use of all the characters and it remains one of my favorite of the season. The episode I first read in novel form, “The Visitation” also held up pretty well. The only part I thought could have been improved were the aliens, who looked too much like people in stiff, rubber suits.

The season felt longer than other Doctor Who seasons I’ve purchased. Indeed, most seasons I’ve watched only have four or five distinct stories. This one had seven. Classic Doctor Who stories were serialized from half-hour episodes. Most of the actual stories were shorter than stories in earlier seasons. Still, I had a feeling that in some cases the writers struggled to find material for all four episodes of a story. Some stories in the nineteenth season might have been stronger as only two or three-part stories. This is probably one of the reasons “Black Orchid” remains a favorite. It doesn’t feel padded out.

As with other Doctor Who Blu-Rays I’ve purchased, this one is chalk full of interviews and behind-the-scenes documentaries. All in all, it was fun to go back and spend a season with the first Doctor I’d ever actually seen, if only in a magazine photo.

Doctor Who’s Tenth Anniversary

I didn’t discover Doctor Who by finding it on television. I discovered it on the pages of a magazine. During my middle and high school years, I was an avid reader of Starlog Magazine, which covered science fiction media. One issue had a photo of a young blond-haired man dressed in a sweater, jacket, striped pants and a Panama hat and declared this man would be taking over the part of the Doctor in the series, Doctor Who, which had been running for nearly twenty years. Of course, this was the announcement that Peter Davison would be playing the fifth Doctor. It really piqued my curiosity how an actor could step into the lead role of a series after someone else had played that part. It would be like someone besides Leonard Nimoy playing Spock in Star Trek. My young mind couldn’t imagine it! I looked for Doctor Who, but discovered it wasn’t available on Los Angeles television at the time.

I finally saw my first episode of the series on a summer vacation to my uncle’s house in Florida. It was on at something like 6am on a Saturday morning, but I set my alarm and watched it. I was treated to the serial “The Robots of Death” starring Tom Baker and Louise Jameson. From then on, I was hooked, though I wouldn’t be able to watch regularly until my senior year of high school when the Los Angeles public television station finally started carrying the show. They started with “The Five Doctors,” which introduced me to all the people who had played the part so far including that blond-haired chap who had piqued my interest. I kept watching when I went to college and was especially delighted when the Albuquerque PBS station started playing older episodes of Doctor Who. They went back to Jon Pertwee, the third Doctor. I would sit enraptured on Saturday afternoons in a darkened room in the college’s “canteen” watching each episode in turn. Season ten stood out in particular. It started with the tenth-anniversary special which first aired in 1973 called “The Three Doctors,” then went on to bring back the Master, and the Daleks, and wrapped up with an emotional final episode. I was delighted to find this season now exists in its entirety on Blu-ray.

Doctor Who Season Ten Collection

I’ve long been impressed with the treatment the BBC has given the DVD and Blu-ray releases of Doctor Who. Like the season twenty-six pack I discussed a few weeks ago, the season ten set is chock full of special features. Some gave me insight into the writers and producers. Some gave me insights into how the effects were created. Yes, the special effects in this era of Doctor Who could be pretty cheezy, but it was impressive to learn they not only had a limited budget, but very little time to make their effects. Season ten introduced the “color separation overlay” process to Doctor Who, more familiar today as the blue screen or green screen process. This was early days of the process and while sometimes they used it to great effect, sometimes it just didn’t work.

That said, it’s never been the effects that attracted me to Doctor Who. The power of the series is in the writing, enhanced by actors who really loved their parts and did everything they could to sell the stories. Jon Pertwee, who played the Doctor, was famous for his comedy roles, but played the Doctor very straight. Of course, in his ruffled shirt and smoking jacket, he comes off as something of a flamboyant James Bond with an aversion to guns, but he pulls it off and fits in very nicely with the 70s aesthetic. Katie Manning plays his assistant, Jo Grant. By season ten, she’d come into her own and never feared going where she thought she should go. Doctor Who’s women of this era often have a reputation for being helpless and screaming, but I was surprised to go back and find Jo really never screamed and never was helpless. She could be klutzy at times, but she was stronger than I remembered.

This is the first season where I can remember something of a story arc. It’s not very strong, but there’s a running story about the Doctor trying to get to a planet called Metebelis III, which finally pays off in the season’s final episode. Also, the writers clearly know Jo will be leaving at the end of the season, so they start giving us clues in earlier episodes. I remembered being really moved when Jo left the Doctor at the end of “The Green Death” and was surprised to find the emotional power was still there, which was a combination of good writing and great acting. The season opener, which was the first time earlier Doctors came back in one episode was a lot of fun. Unfortunately, due to health concerns, the first Doctor, William Hartnell, had little more than a cameo, but it was great that he had one last outing. Patrick Troughton stepped into the role as though he’d never left it.

If you’re a classic Doctor Who fan, I highly recommend these Blu-ray sets. You will get a lot of behind-the-scenes information and nice presentation of the episodes. If you only know the series from its revival in 2005 to the present, these sets are a great way to look back at the older episodes and get a sense of where the series came from.