Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Doctor Who 50th Anniversary: The Eighties

The Eighties The decade of gag me with a spoon, leg warmers, parachute pants, Duran Duran and of course Ronnie and Maggie. It was also the decade of the aids epidemic, Falkland Island War and of course the unfortunate Space Shuttle Challenger exploding on lift off.  The Eighties also gave us the last 2 Star War movies and a boatload of great movies like Raiders of The lost Ark, Star Trek 2, Blade Runner and a slew of others.  It was also a decade that saw four Doctors helm the TARDIS controls in Doctor Who and it was the decade that I got hooked on this wonderful show.

The Eighties in a nutshell was the end of an era the beginning of an era and a definite end of an era.   The Eighties will forever be remembered as the decade that the show had its plug pulled.   After Twenty Six years on TV 1989 were the last time diehard fans watched the show for the last time. (Luckily it wasn’t.)   The show came to an end after episode three of Survival with the Seventh Doctor and Ace walking off into the sunset.  But we are getting ahead of ourselves.  Let’s go back to 1980 and the start of the decade.

This is the end of an era.  1980 was Tom Bakers last season as The Doctor. Season 18 was the season of change and new direction for the show.  John Nathan-Turner wanted to return to a more serious tone and away from the silly stuff that previous seasons had.  He also wanted to reign in his star and try to stop him doing goofy improvisation.  This act more than likely caused a lot of bad feelings and brought the end to the Fourth Doctor.  We may never really know why Tom Baker left but it could have been Tom Baker really hated JN-T, Tom was losing control of the way he used to do things, or he just didn’t want to be the Doctor anymore which is the one I always leaned towards.  

So season 18 began and Christopher Bidmeads entropy season heralded the beginning of John Nathan-Turner era of Doctor Who and also closed the chapter on one of the most beloved era in Doctor Who’s history and one of the most popular Doctor’s in Tom Baker.

This takes us to Peter Davison era of Doctor Who.  When it comes to The Fifth Doctor I’m a little biased.  Peter Davison is my favorite Doctor and I just enjoy watching his three seasons of stories.  Yes even Time – Flight. Well maybe when I’m punchy or want to do Mystery Theater 3000 to it.  But Peter Davison had the best run of the Eighties and his era is considered to have some of the well written stories in Doctor Who history.

If there is a negative about The Peter Davison years is that there were too many companions in the TARDIS.  For some reason or another JN-T wanted to have a crowded TARDIS and I thought that was a bit much.  Two companions ok but three just seemed to much as one would always be regulated to being captured or being left in the TARDIS to make something or other.  In other words one companion was the odd on out.

So they killed one off.  That’s right in the Eighties they killed off a Doctor Who companion for the first time since Sara Kingdom and Katarina way back in 1965’s The Dalek’s Master Plan.  Adric was the one to go and go he did by getting blown up trying to save the Earth from the Cybermen bomb in a spaceship.  The Fifth Doctor era also had an era of companions that were too intelligent.  Nyssa was almost on par with The Doctor that it seemed like they could have a conversation and forget to dumb it down for the audience.  Well luckily for us Tegan was around to ask the questions for us unscientific folk. 

The Davison era was also known for the Twentieth Anniversary celebration.  You see season twenty was a theme season in a way.  The theme was recurring enemies from The Doctors past.  Villains like Omega and a trip back to Gallifrey and The Black Guardian and a trip to Earth to meet new companion Turlough and of course visit the Brigadier.  Of course what season of the eighties would not be complete without The Master making an appearance.

The Davison era also had the second multi Doctor story The Five Doctor’s.  A wonderful story that celebrates the anniversary in style with at least four Doctors and one stand in for William Hartnell.  Old friends and old enemies to fight make this story a real gem in the history of Doctor Who and a great celebratory piece of its history.

We now move on to the third man to helm the TARDIS in the eighties and that man is Colin Baker otherwise known as the Sixth Doctor.  Another thing that was unique in the eighties.  The Davison to C. Baker regeneration was in the penultimate story of season twenty one.  His debut story The Twin Dilemma was the closing story of the season.  This happened before in 1966 when William Hartnell passed the baton to Patrick Troughton at the end of The Tenth Planet which was the second story of season four. 

While not very well received The Sixth Doctor in The Twin Dilemma was very violent and boisterous.   Having The Doctor choke Peri, while suffering from post-regeneration syndrome, was not a good way for the producer and script editor to get people to like the new Doctor. 

Colin Bakers first full season is a real gem of a first season.  He gets a crown jewel of baddies to go up against. Colin Baker goes up against The Cybermen to start it off and then The Master and the Rani and Sontarans and Daleks to finish it up.  Plus the Sixth Doctor is reunited with the Second Doctor and Jamie in an adventure that is filmed in Spain.  Unfortunately this would be Patrick Troughton last appearance as the Doctor as he would pass away two years after this story.  It was good seeing him in that restaurant as an Androgum with Shockeye having a feast.

Colin Baker’s first season had some controversy.  It was deemed too violent.  The BBC was not happy with the violence The Doctor was resorting to which resulted in the show going on hiatus.  The fans did rally to the Doctor’s defense and helped to get the show back on and thus helped save it from cancelation.  The show would be retooled and brought back with season twenty three’s fourteen part story The Trial of a Timelord.  Gone were the forty five two part stories and now back to the traditional twenty five minute episode four part story.   The production crew cut down the violence and came up with a good idea for a season but the BBC was not satisfied.  Ratings were low and the morons at the BBC decided to fire Colin Baker.

In fairness to Colin Baker it was not his fault.  The BBC hierarchy had it in for the show and was looking for excuses to throw it to the curb.  The show had one more chance.  With a reduced budget and reduced amount of stories the show would enter the Sylvester McCoy era and enter the Seventh Doctor.

The one problem with the McCoy era is his first season.  It was a season that was planned for Colin Baker. At least the first two stories were. Then they had to do a redo for a new Doctor who they didn’t know how they wanted him to act like.   Plus Sylvester McCoy was handcuffed by his assistant Mel played by Bonnie Langford.   In fairness her character was horrible but she was supposed to be with Colin Baker not Sylvester McCoy so the chemistry was not there.  But luckily script editor Andrew Cartmel fixed that by creating Ace, played brilliantly by Sophie Aldred, and changed the direction of the Seventh Doctor to be more mysterious, alien and darker.

But unfortunately it wasn’t enough as the fans weren’t there. What would you expect when the BBC schedules it against Coronation Street.  The BBC was really helpful there. The cards were really stacked against the show and the end was near.  Not even the Daleks, Cybermen or The Master would help. Sylvester McCoy’s different take on the Doctor would not be expanded upon and the show was taken off the air until its cameo appearance in 1997 and back for good in 2005. People blame Sylvester McCoy for the shows demise but that is truly unfair.  It was the BBC and the fact that he kept the show afloat for three years is a testament to his popularity.

The Eighties was an awesome time for Doctor Who.  It gained popularity in the USA by showing the show on their PBS channels.  In fact that is how I got hooked on the show during the early eighties and have been with it ever since even during The Wilderness Years.  It was a time of celebration twice during the shows history for the twentieth and twenty fifth anniversaries.   It was also a time of bad times and conflict and at the end the demise of a great show.

While not a popular decade for Doctor Who it is a decade that I enjoy watching and have a warm spot for it in my heart.  Plus it is the only decade that can boast having four different actors playing The Doctor a feat that will never happen again.   So here is to the 80’s a decade that is rich with history and some great stories for Doctor Who.

There are worlds out there where the sky is burning, and the sea's asleep, and the rivers dream. People made of smoke, and cities made of song. Somewhere there's danger, somewhere there's injustice, and somewhere else the tea's getting cold! Come on, Ace - we've got work to do!

1 comment:

  1. I remember Colin Baker playing a guard in the Peter Davidson era and it seems to me that Colin kept the guard personality when playing the Doctor! Yeah I wasn't fond of Colin Baker as teh Doctor. Now Sylvestor McCoy was brilliant! No way did he cause the demise of the series!
    My sister Kelly and I used to watch PBS BBC late at night for Doctor Who all the time. We even pledged money to keep the show around! That's how we won a trip to the New York Science Fiction Convention (1rst prize!) and got to meet Sofie Aldred and Tom Baker! I even toasted Sofie Aldred when she and Tom Baker came in for dinner (very late). Sorry about the silly toast Ms Aldred but I was three sheets to the wind by the time you came to the Raddison's restaurant for dinner!