Friday, 14 March 2014

Overview: Doctor Who Classic: Season 16

Doctor Who - Season 16
Written 7/8/13

It's so tempting for me to go off on a ramble about the Tom Baker era. It's very long, and compared to the Doctors I'm used to there's a bloody lot of it. I have to keep this article contained, however, to the sixteenth season. Not difficult, of course, as Graham Williams' second and much more successful season as producer offers up a lot to talk about in the way that it basically innovated Doctor Who from the ground up. That's probably hyperbole, I'm sure - most of what I say is, so you should be used to that. What I mean by that is a bit more subtle - the idea that a Doctor Who story could effectively throw together humour and horror, the profound and the trivial, the political and the anarchistic. All of this season's stories manage to do that to some degree, and for six stories in a row I think that's fantastic.
A typical Season 16 Tardis scene.
From houseofgeekery

      This season's TARDIS team is a rather unique one. The Doctor and Romana I have this sizzling chemistry and are bounced off of one another exceedingly well, resulting in both having much rounder characters when together than when apart. Romana's pomposity and wit highlights The Doctor's madcap craziness and lack of common sense at times, while his love of the bohemian enlightens her to the wider universe outside of what she learnt stuck on Gallifrey. All of their scenes are just so remarkably well written that the entire season benefits from it, with this continuous relationship developing between the two as they go along, to the point where Romana is more than happy to go off adventuring with The Doctor once their season-long task is finished.
      Not that Romana I is perfect, mind you. She did come fourth on my "Five Favourite Companions" list, and that was only after seeing a single serial of hers. Mary Tamm was only in the role for a year, and it all boiled down to the common perception of Who companions as nothing more than Damsels In Distress. After Jo Grant in the early 70s, an attempt was made by several production teams to create female characters that avoided it - Sarah Jane was a strong feminist, Leela was a proud warrioress, and Romana was The Doctor's intellectual equal (or even superior at times.) The problem with all of them is that a few of the writers didn't really know how to write anything else to provide tension in the story, and so Romana especially ends up kidnapped and screaming on several occasions throughout the season, the most egregious being that cliffhanger in The Power of Kroll. This basically pissed off Mary Tamm to the point where she left the series, which is a damn shame as I loved her version of the character.
      That is, thankfully, my only problem with the season in terms of characterisation. The season was also pretty awesome plot-wise too, with the Key To Time arc being rather wonderfully integrated into things from the outset. It provides a convenient motivation and drive in every story as the couple look for the segment, and yet manages to stay far enough away from things to present us with a brand new society every serial. The Stones of Blood apart, every single story provides us with an interesting alien society and all of the dilemmas that go with them, from Douglas Adams' incredibly literal Pirate Planet to Robert Holmes' squid-infested Delta III. Plus, the budget seems a bit better utilised than Season 15, as everything simply looks more dazzling - and I'm including the Swampies in that.
The completed Key. And Tom Baker.
From cathoderaytube
      My favourite story of the season was The Androids of Tara. Of course I'm going to say that, it's the one I saw before all of the others, it was the one I reviewed back in 2010. In fairness, it is the lightest of the six stories and throws off completely into fantasy territory, which is probably what endeared it so much to me. Of the others, I'd probably pick... you know, I'd actually pick The Power of Kroll, for the audacity of managing to fit a 50 foot squid into a Doctor Who story and making it work. With a race parallel. That's some damn-good writing right there. My least favourite, which on this sole occasion is no great dishonour as the whole season's brilliant, is most likely The Ribos Operation, which despite being brilliantly written by Robert Holmes does I feel lose focus at the end in terms of the plot. (But not the characterisation, which is better than everywhere else. This is hard.)
     The Key To Time arc is fantastic, simply fantastic. Like I think I said at the end of my Armegeddon Factor review (which I should remember because I only wrote it a few hours ago), this is the only Tom Baker season where I like every story without fail. That arrives due to a combination of a genius character dynamic between two very well-written characters, a central arc which gives each story independant motivation while still driving towards a satisfying endpoint, and basic good writing which allowed six independant tales to work their way out of a pre-existing narrative framework. The Key To Time isn't perfect - I'd never be so confident as to say that - but it is my favourite season in the big wide Tom Baker era.
    Talking of that... I'll see you next Monday.


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