The Five Doctors
The Five Doctors was where I started with Who, all the way back in 2003 when I first watched the Special Edition DVD and fell head over heels in love with Doctor Who. I was running around the playground pretending to be a Dalek two years before any of my friends had heard of them, and one of my favourite playground games was “Raston Warrior Robot.” I did what all children tend to do with DVD and video at that age; I watched it again, and again, and again until the disk itself was so out of commission that I had to order the 2008 release just to be able to see it again. It’s a story that stands at the centre of my love of Doctor Who, and I cherish it like no other.
As a starter story, it’s got everything. The concept of regeneration is explained so fluently, and you get to sample the second-to-fifth Doctors (and an approximation of the first) without breaking a sweat. As a child, I was drawn to everything – the trek through the Death Zone, the ancient myths of Rassilon, the hallucinations in the corridors, the swooshy CGI time-scoop taking away old companions, and most of all I loved the Cybermen; their deep booming voices and their few vestiges of humanity peeking through their spandex. (Ooh, sounds rude.)
What did The Five Doctors tell me about this strange new “Doctor Who”? It told me that this was a show with a lot of great ideas and a rich history filled with a wide variety of monsters, heroes and companions. It was tense, it was scary, but it was also a hell of a lot of fun. The Five Doctors did what it was intended to do, and in a really profound way it is to date the greatest celebration of Doctor Who’s rich and varied history.
Until the 50th, that is. We hope.
Warriors of the Deep
In the past, I've realised that I’ve been very kind to a gamut of Doctor Who stories that many would consider… less than adequate. My optimism when it comes to Who has been challenged many times, but none more so than the 1981 story, Warriors of the Deep. The story is a rare example in Doctor Who of when The Doctor has a bit of an off-day. Here, there is no doubt that the Doctor’s is a Pyrrhic victory; everyone bar the main cast is dead by the end, some in incredibly gruesome ways. After Johnny Byrne’s other stories, which celebrated human kindness and ingenuity, it’s a bit of a shock that the attempt to channel Cold War themes translates roughly into a theme of, “Sentient beings have the capacity to do horrible things, and you shouldn't trust anyone.”
Now that doesn’t make the story bad, necessarily, but it does make it a bit of a downer. I can celebrate the beauty of a tragic opera just as well as I can the rhythm of a Madness song. What I’m essentially saying, and I don’t mean to sound pretentious here, is that Warriors of the Deep is a piece of high-class art. Stop snickering. What Warriors attempts, and ultimately succeeds, in representing, is that the state of paranoia caused by the Cold War only causes us to lose our humanity. The Silurians’ motives, while perhaps alien to us, are completely in line with the frighteningly paranoid people on both sides of their futuristic war. These people have become so consumed by war and death that their motivations are now as alien as those of our reptilian brethren. The guard who refuses to open the door to allow Tegan and The Doctor escape from the Myrka; the bomb controller, whose reluctant actions under hypnosis represent man under the Cold War, and the Sea Devils, whose presence reinforces the absurdity of each side’s power blocs.
Warriors of the Deep isn’t much to look at, and if you want to try to treat it like a traditional Doctor Who adventure then you’re not going to get much out of it. But take it as a metaphor, as a warning, and then perhaps it’s possible to ignore the special effects failures, ignore the wet paint of the costumes, and see it for the masterpiece it really is.
I found myself in what I then considered to be a very perilous position when I first sat down to watch The Twin Dilemma. The end-credits rolled after episode four, and… and… I liked it. I bloody loved it, and I could see absolutely no reason (beyond the whole momentary-strangling thing) why it was the subject of such venomous assaults as I had seen in Fandom. It was then that I and fandom decided that for the most part, we had a serious disagreement.
The best thing about the story, when you get past the run-of-the-mill story with its traditional villain, setup and nods to the past, is by far Colin Baker’s performance as the unstable and out-of-control early Sixth Doctor. His spasmodic episodes of villainy tow a line between frightening and funny, and especially towards the end of the episode one begins to wonder whether The Doctor is in on the act, and is simply using his condition in order to get away with doing whatever he damn well wants. It’s incredibly refreshing and it embodies what I love about the Sixth Doctor – he doesn’t care about what others think of him as long as he manages to both enjoy himself and save the day.
And everyone remembers the story for the strangling bit, yes. It is a bit over the top, and I would have toned it down a bit, but I don’t object to it in principle. The New Series is all about showing us how dark The Doctor can be, and this is just an extension of that. Instead of showing him brooding over an act of slight moral ambiguity, The Twin Dilemma takes the bulls by the horns and exposes a raw part of The Doctor’s id, taking the audience into the potential evil that lies within him – as we see later in The Valeyard and The Dream Lord.
What does The Twin Dilemma ultimately do? It introduces a new Doctor and does it in style. So what if the story’s a bit one-note, when the main character is this good so early on in his career? Of course, some people aren’t going to agree with me. But when it comes to this story, I have no dilemma at all. It’s underrated, fun and I love it.