Friday, 28 March 2014

Overview: Doctor Who Classic: Season Seven

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The Brigadier, Three and Liz form a fascinating trio.
From doctorwhotv
Written 24/8/13.

In the past I've often separated my enjoyment of seasons into stories that I enjoy and stories that I, in some badly guided objective sense, think are actually good. Season Seven falls into that latter category, and against a big great heaping set of odds that in later years would have us all ringing the doom bells and foreseeing a complete and utter disaster. The line of Doctor Who "firsts" reads like the Prince of Bavaria's Christmas list - first serial in colour, first to be radically shortened, first to feature the Third Doctor, first to take place entirely on Earth. There are probably some more too, but I'll get to that. Season Seven was produced at a time when the show had decided to take budgetary concerns very seriously, but despite the constriction that being stuck on Earth should give the season, it instead gives it a platform upon which it bases its four exemplary stories.
     Not having to produce alien environments instead opened the series up to human settings, creating a definite style in which we spend the vast majority of our time in scientific research institutes, each being threatened by aliens/precursors and all of whom treat Jon Pertwee's burgeoning Third Doctor with a healthy degree of skepticism. Helping this along is the appearance of UNIT, the signature of the Pertwee Era, headed by Nicolas Courtney's Brigadier and assisting in the hiring of a new companion in the form of Caroline John's Liz. The use of this regular cast of characters in the same locations sweeps away the idea of "The Doctor and companion(s) in the TARDIS" for at least another four years, and instead presents The Doctor as an eccentric man in a very human working environment.
      This would be difficult to work with, if not for the deceptively long serials that occupy this season. Despite actually being the shortest season since the show's inception at that point in time (25 weekly episodes forming four distinct serials), the serials within are all still very long by modern standards, with all but the first lasting a blistering 2 hours and 55 minutes if viewed at once. The downside and the upside is that there's a lot of room for the serials to develop character, atmosphere, themes etc. with the show's relatively slow pace. On the downside, it means that the ideas and events are split up to the point where by the end a lot of the detail is lost on a modern viewer. (I hate to generalise, but my only sample is myself.) On the upside, this development does allow the season to create four very solid sci-fi ideas in a way which is both narratively bold and fundamentally entertaining.
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Pertwee's Doctor is a dashing humanitarian hero.
From grufainia
      And those are my only criticisms. It's a personal thing that I think I've talked about before - I'm just a heathen when it comes to old TV, no matter how much Classic Who I've watched. I'm used to the pace of the 80s, where The Happiness Patrol manages to combine brash political statements with absurdist fun and have it sorted within the time it takes to commute to work. It's clear to me that Season Seven is immensely well-constructed, with the level of control that's apparent in the writing making it perhaps feel more professional and slick than it ever made out to be. Season Seven wants to be taken seriously, it wants to do this right and it doesn't have that many resources to do it with. But, a few dodgey Dinosaur props notwithstanding, this season has stood the test of time and remains one of the best, if not the best season of the show from an objective viewpoint. And that's no small accolade.

Thanks.

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