Saturday 28 September 2019


...aka the sad and sorry tale of how a grown man came to decide there wasn't enough 'Doctor Who' material on the internet...

It’s an open secret with 'Doctor Who' that everyone’s favourite Doctor is their Doctor, the one they remember watching when they were eight. I’m no exception. It’s just that in my case my Doctor, Tom Baker, really was the best. (Honest, it’s official! Opinion polls almost always agree with me!) This was of course nothing but a fortuitous combination of circumstances, but the alignment had an effect on me. (Pity the poor sod who came of age during Sylvester McCoy.)

Yet it also seems significant that the show was a folk memory from the start. It had been broadcast before I was born and I’ve no recollection whatsoever of discovering it, any more than I have of meeting my best friend at infant school. So it never became my favourite show, that was all established before I gained any awareness of things. The show about a time traveller became timeless in itself.

Still, each Saturday night serving of my favourite show had a cumulative effect upon my youthful brain. I don’t just remember the show, scenes and episodes, I remember watching the show - the excitement leading up to it, the cliffhangers, the end credits and reversed time tunnel throwing me back out of it again for another week’s wait.

I can recall quite vividly my Dad coming back from the shop and plopping the Radio Times Tenth Anniversary Special on my lap. Or the very first time I came across the Target novelisations in a bookshop. Before video, these were my secret route into a secret lore that lay invisible to others - the time traveller’s history. I’d explain the discoveries to be found therein to my schoolmates, sparing no meticulous detail. They would respond by showing not the slightest interest whatsoever.

But, perhaps because he was the longest-serving Doctor, Baker’s era became a game of two halves. It’s not just that the show hit a peak and then inevitably started to slide down again. It's that a distinct fracture line emerged, and two landmasses pulled apart. Early Baker stands alongside the previous Doctors, Troughton and Pertwee. (Hartnell is perhaps more stand-alone.) While the later Baker went off with his successors...

...which again worked with my age, but this time the other way up. As I was becoming more of a teenage smartarse, and more aware of bad back projection and guns that rather resembled hairdryers but were probably less dangerous, the second landmass was emerging at the same time it drifted away from me. 

The strong storylines, necessary to distract you from the cheap production, were becoming more kitschy. When I peruse the story titles of Baker’s first three seasons, quite strong memories are instantly recalled. The following four (yes, another four), not so much. ’The Sun Makers’? ‘The Ribos Operation’? You what, guv? 

The presence of K-9 became a particular obstacle in my mind. I would earnestly attempt to circumvent the problem by explaining to my schoolmates that proper SF doesn’t have robot dogs with silly names in it. They would respond by showing not the slightest interest whatsoever.

Even Baker’s tenure didn’t last forever, and before long... well actually after long he was replaced by Peter Davison – surely the poorest-cast Doctor of all. Davison was less mistake and more category error, not so much a bad take on the Doctor as simply not the Doctor. It was like Tristram from ‘All Creatures Great and Small’ had inexplicably turned up for the wrong show.

This well-meaning foppish Englishman was like a parody of his predecessors, an idea of how the programme worked thought up by someone who had never actually watched it. The essential alien quality of the character had been swapped for some cricket whites, the air of mystery at the heart of it substituted by a stick of celery.

By this time, Saturday evenings were more often spent contemplating the lure of the pub than sitting down for some old show I once watched as a kid. Nevertheless it hadn’t sailed out of sight quite yet. I would watch odd episodes and at times be pleasantly surprised by the storylines, even if this involved squinting past the rather wet main characters.

I’d already left home but was back on a weekend visit when I watched the final episode of ‘Caves of Androzani’ with my parents. (Thought by some to be the finest storyline of all.) I can remember making a mental note that, if it had become this good, I should start watching it regularly again. But I mislaid the impulse and so didn’t tune in to see the first Colin Baker story, ‘The Twin Dilemma’. As this is often thought to be the worst storyline of all, that may have ultimately proved fortuitous.

For most of Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy’s era my somewhat precarious living arrangements didn't allow for a telly, or got between me and switching it on. Slightly more settled conditions led me to see some of the later McCoy’s. I tended to think they had some good ideas lying within them, but that didn’t mean that anything was actually working. When it went off the air, truth to tell, I barely noticed. By then I was into more mature stuff. (You know, superheroes who used excess violence then got depressed, punk bands who used tunelessness as a protest against the government... mature stuff.)

After that, adherence to the show became an auto-reflex in my mind. Run it up the flagpole and I’d salute. But I felt no cause to go and seek it out. Occasionally the Beeb would have a Doctor Who Special night. But I’d usually use those as social occasions and nostalgia-fests than something to actually watch. (Most probably in response to the way they were marketed.) We'd meet up to watch them, with beer and jumbo packs of Monster Munch. After all, by then I’d reached adulthood. I no longer had to read about wheezing, groaning noises. I was perfectly capable of emitting my own. Particularly after a night of beer and Monster Munch.

Things might well have stayed that way if not for the revival. I first flicked it on merely so I could slag it off with an air of authority, convinced we’d get the McGann mistakes all over again, only to find myself pulled into it. I’d often watch it with my flatmate’s young daughter, who’d not follow the plotlines and get scared by the monsters. I would sometimes tell her about the old show of my youth, and how things fitted in with the new. She would respond by showing not the slightest interest whatsoever.

I’m trying now to remember whether my interest in the old show grew when the Davies era started or when it went into it’s own second-half decline. Whichever, having never never really wiped the show from the hard drive of my mind, and started to become curious as to what it actually contained. How much would it match my ghostly memories?

Once, I was blindly brand loyal. Pretty much anything tagged as SF would get watched, read or absorbed through some orifice or other. Out of that whole slew, how come it was ’Doctor Who’ which stuck in my mind? How could it last so long, with so many different actors and production teams? And, given that longevity and extra-long list of cooks stirring the broth, how can there be things I feel so sure just weren’t 'Doctor Who'? Is it all an idea in my head, which I have attached to hazy memories of some low-budget old TV show? Would I stick to the same schema if watched it again?

And so I started watching it again. From the beginning, the ones I hasn't been able to see first time round through the unfortunate handicap of not having been born yet. And so I decided to review them too. Let’s see how closely they match my folk memory, given above.

Reviews stretching from the series' inception right up until the present day will appear in a strict weekly schedule...

...had you going there! Truthfully, they'll only cover the classic show and go up as and when I get round to it. They'll get interrupted frequently by the normal sort of thing. (And we are in the season for gig-going.) There won’t be much in the way of consistency of approach, I’ll respond to each episode as I find it. Themes, however, will develop. Of a sort. The length of each review will vary haphazardly according to how many things it occurs to me to say. A yet-to-be-determined number will be skipped over altogether. There’s a minority of stories I don’t even intend watching, when a critical mass of critics has already called them out as turkeys. Normal terms and conditions apply.

Join with me now as we wander in the fourth dimension...


  1. As another person weaned on early Tom Baker Doctor Who, I look forward to your reviews…

    1. Thanks, hope you like them! In imitation of the show, for the first one you'll have to tune in next week...

  2. I am really looking forward to reading these reviews!

    Meanwhile ...

    This well-meaning [Doctor] was like a parody of his predecessors, an idea of how the programme worked thought up by someone who had never actually watched it. The essential alien quality of the character had been swapped for [mundane stuff].

    Oh, you could so be writing about Jodie Whittaker.

    1. Mmm... the thing with Davison is that he did (at times) get good scripts to work with, and the scripts had to shine through him rather than illuminate him (if you see what I mean). Whitaker has had two. Admittedly from only one season. But it's not really comparing like with like, because of the Curse of Chibnall.

  3. Good stuff. I'll be reading, which is a first for me and internet Who opinion, of which there otherwise seems to be an excess. When you get to the Aztecs, remember Tlotoxl is actually the good guy in terms of his religious system (and it does actually fucking rain at the end, like he promised) while Autloc was clearly a man in the wrong profession. Admittedly I state this with a certain bias.

    1. Actually I'll be arguing Barbara really is their deity, and just doesn't know it. Rain? She's from England FFS!