Sunday, August 04, 2013


Doctor Who 50 Great Scenes – 37: The Two Doctors

Counting down towards the fiftieth birthday of Doctor Who with Fifty great scenes… Last time I unleashed the scene-stealing megalomania of the seven TV Masters. Who could follow that but the Doctor simply being Doctorish – not rising to universal glory, but an individual who’s endlessly fascinated, fascinating and fun. So here are some tips for whoever gets tonight’s blessing on how to do it… Accompanied by a supporting selection of other Doctorish Doctors that spring to mind (but which?), in the lead today it’s Colin Baker, summing up the Doctor in a perfect moment:
“I am interested in everything…”

It’s been too long, hasn’t it, since the last one of these? And it’ll need more than getting back each Saturday to catch up. But never mind all that – the best thing is just to get on with it. I saw Colin Baker at an event three weeks ago today and he was, as ever, a delight: friendly, interesting and very funny. Today it’s common to praise Colin’s Doctor for his Big Finish audio adventures*, and it’s true that he has a finely tuned voice and an especially erudite way with words (and an occasionally bombastic style that greatly influenced my early public speaking). But it does him a disservice to do that at the expense of his TV portrayal. What’s rarely mentioned is how fabulously watchable he is, not just being one of the sexiest Doctors, not just in big actions, but in small but intriguing moments, constantly worth keeping your eye on – even when, all right, sometimes he has to play against the scripts – in always giving the impression of being interested in everything.

That, for me, is a defining trait in the Doctor, and whenever you watch Colin’s incarnation, you can see it even before The Two Doctors author Robert Holmes (someone who understood the Doctor about as well as any writer ever has) came along to give him lines that went with his flow and then asserted that character point explicitly. And for those who find this Doctor less watchable for one particular visual reason, in this scene he’s even got out of that coat.

Paired with a popular former Doctor, Patrick Troughton, you’d expect Colin’s Doctor either to have the show stolen from him or be frenetically overcompensating throughout The Two Doctors. Instead, he gets to be more confidently the Doctor than in any of his previous stories. It’s not just because Colin’s working harder to compete – while he certainly rises to the challenge, he seems counter-intuitively far more relaxed in his portrayal than he had been until now, and it’s because Bob Holmes instinctively knows how to write for the Doctor and Colin’s happily in harmony with that.

Half-way into Part Two, the Doctor (Colin Baker) has sensed echoes of a previous self (Patrick Troughton) in trouble and leapt, electrified, to his aid. But when the TARDIS materialises rather strikingly in a Spanish grove, the Doctor emerges with his enthusiasm tightly focused. Taking in everything around him, he strikes exactly the right note with a useful witness who takes the TARDIS for a branch of Interpol – a washed-up ham actor and restaurateur, accompanied by his braver and more practical companion…
“Officer! We have to report a tragedy. Stark disaster has struck this – simple countryside.”
“Has it indeed? What manner of disaster, Mr…?”
“Botcherby. Oscar Botcherby at your service, sir, and this dark-eyed naiad is named Anita.”
“Oh, come on, Oscar. There’s been a plane crash.”
“Well, of course, it may not be your department. I – I can see from your raiment that you obviously belong to the plain clothes branch.”
And, all right, I always laugh at that bit. Oscar and Anita are another of Mr Holmes’ sly mirrors of the Doctor and companion – Oscar goes on a bit, and we bet she’s not his girlfriend – but his florid digressions about clothes, groves and moth-hunting give Colin a marvellous opportunity to make his own performance smaller while still fascinating, and as the ‘concerned copper’ prompt the lily-livered thespian’s sense of public service. In my favourite part of the exchange, you can help but know that the Doctor’s reply, though gently guiding Oscar back to the point, is the absolute truth:
“Are you interested in Lepidoptera at all?”
“I am interested in everything, Mister Botcherby – but mainly, at the moment, in this ‘crash’ you heard.”
It’s a small but perfectly formed scene in which I always share the Doctor’s evident delight at having found the trail – and at having found someone else whose life will never be the same again…

*Big Finish have just announced a permanent price cut to some of their ranges, including now offering their first fifty Doctor Who stories at just £5 for the CDs or £2.99 on download: happily if you want to experience the Colin renaissance, this includes several of his very best, from The Marian Conspiracy, an historical adventure that introduces a companion and cake, to The One Doctor, which is an absolute scream, more of his definitive sparring with Terry Molloy as Davros, and of course two brilliantly uncomfortable black comedies from later Doctor Who TV writer Rob Shearman which I would thoroughly recommend – The Holy Terror, just reviewed by Andrew Hickey, and my own personal favourite of the range, Jubilee.

Extra-Doctorish Doctor Who Quotation 1 – Marco Polo

Inspired by tonight – and by being the antithesis of the Master – I let several other especially Doctorish moments simply spring to mind. This one has perhaps my favourite Doctor in one of the Doctor’s first and still most arrestingly unpredictable moments. On my previously long-derelict Doctor Who story-by-story blog Next Time, I Shall Not Be So Lenient! I’ve finally been getting back into the swing over the last few weeks with a preposterously wide array of random one-liners about the early story Marco Polo. In Marco Polo Episode One, the TARDIS has broken down in the Himalayas and the time-travellers’ lives saved by Messr Marco. But, determined above all else to get home to Venice, the self-serving git shows he’s not taken them and the Ship along for altruistic reasons. He wants to bribe his master the Mighty Kublai Khan into releasing him from his service with no less a stolen ‘gift’ than “a caravan that flies”. The thief holds our heroes at swordpoint and lectures them on why his need is greater than theirs, an argument he upholds by refusing to let them answer back. The Doctor’s reaction is much that you’d expect: impatience; blazing fury; incredulity at Polo’s blithe suggestion he can build a new TARDIS in Thirteenth-Century Venice. But after Polo stalks off, refusing to be made to feel guilty merely for committing armed robbery and stranding people, the travelling companions turn to the Doctor (William Hartnell) for an answer. He hasn’t got a clue. So in one of the most endearing moments in fifty years of our hero, they all have to stand by in appalled resignation as he does the only thing he can when faced with such utter calamity: he sees the funny side and collapses into uncontrollable giggles.
“Grandfather – Grandfather!”
“Yes. Go by sea, he says!”
“Why are you laughing?”
“Ooh, hoo hoo hoo!”
“He means it!”
“Doctor, he’s serious!”
“I know he is, yes!”
“But what are you going to do?”
“Oh, ho, ho! I haven’t the faintest idea!

Extra-Doctorish Doctor Who Quotation 2 – The Enemy of the World

By ten minutes into Episode 1, our heroes have landed for a paddle at a deserted Australian beach, found it less deserted when they’re shot at by assassins in a hovercraft and rescued by an even more dangerous woman in a helicopter on orders from a mysterious superior who seems to been in charge of the others, too. So when they take a breather, the Doctor (Patrick Troughton) senses that however friendly she may seem, the band of gunmen may have had an ulterior motive for trying to kill him and she may have an ulterior motive for saving him. He gives very little away until he knows more, and this time he makes her laugh as he cleans her flesh wound while quietly parrying all her questions with an undercurrent of questions of his own – and it’s not long before he finds out just how ruthlessly efficient she is, nor what everyone suddenly sees in him…
“Oh, you’re a doctor?”
“Well, not of any – medical significance.”
“Doctor of law? Philosophy?”
“Which law? Whose philosophies, eh?”
“Oh, I see. You’re determined to be mysterious.”
“Am I?”
“Um… Doctor of science?”
“Septic spray. That should be right.”
“A Doctor of divinity, then!”
“You’ll run out of Doctors in a minute.”
But we still haven’t.

Extra-Doctorish Doctor Who Quotation 4 – The Ribos Operation

The Doctor (Tom Baker) is all set to go on holiday when interrupted by thunder. Well, that much is typical. What’s less typical is that the thunder is inside the TARDIS, and that after the lights go out, suddenly the place blazes with light, organ music bellows, and a mighty voice asks if he really needs to know who’s calling. He might use the name “Guardian”, but we know who this is, and you do have to wonder how much of an influence it was on Time Bandits for a loud, scary God to then be revealed as a quiet, much more scary character actor giving understated orders and threats. That is, if all those people taking him at his word that he is the nice one are right: he is, after all, something of a bastard, and not only does he not offer the Doctor any of the drink he’s sipping, sat on his chair in his white suit and hat, but the green liquor in carafe looks like absinthe, and you know another word for that. But whether to God or Devil, the Doctor’s response is the same – he’d prefer to make his own choices rather than be ordered about, thank you very much. The Doctor is more annoyed by having an assistant foisted on him than by being ordered on a mission: people are more important to our hero than the big things from the first… Our hero doesn’t preen at being chosen as The Hero for a mighty quest; he’s not after glory. He’s after mucking about and seeing what he fancies – interested in everything. The deceptively mild-mannered higher power knows what makes the Doctor tick, too, and in a steely aside, makes one of the most effective threats ever heard in the series:
“Look, I’m sure there must be plenty of other Time Lords who’d be delighted…”
“I have chosen you.”
“Yes, I was afraid you’d say something like that. Ah! You want me to volunteer, isn’t that it?”
“And if I don’t?”
“Nothing? You mean nothing will happen to me?”
“Nothing at all. Ever.”

Extra-Doctorish Doctor Who Quotation 7 – Remembrance of the Daleks

The Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) has been cross-luring Daleks around 1960s after a terrible Time Lord totem. But he’s at his most Doctorish for me at the end of Part Three, when plans don’t really quite work after all. Thinking he’s got most people evacuated from the dangerous bit of Shoreditch and the remainder safely out of the way in a local school, he aims to let two warring sets of Daleks fight it out for him to deal with later. But even to this day there are few more visually impressive moments in Doctor Who than the Doctor’s getting it ever-so-slightly wrong as a great big honest-to-goodness spaceship comes down in the school playground, not CGI but actually there, blowing out all the windows and blowing his plans. He even has the good grace to blink and duck out of his own cliffhanger crash-zoom.
“Doctor, we’ve had a report of a radar contact.”
“On a re-entry curve from low orbit?”
“That’ll be the Imperial Dalek shuttlecraft.”
“What? They’re not landing a spaceship here?”
“Here? No. They’re much too far from the main action.”
[Roar of engines]
“You’re sure?
“Ace, get away from the window! Down!
“…I think I might have miscalculated.”

Extra-Doctorish Doctor Who Quotation 11 – A Town Called Mercy

And for the last few minutes when we all think of him as the Doctor (Matt Smith), the marvellously Doctorish current incarnation has been a real pleasure. Not least in strolling through the American Old West, eyeing up the town called Mercy: to quiet, plucking strings, he sees an animal-skull “KEEP OUT” sign and stone-piled boundary and does exactly what the Doctor always does with a boundary. Crosses it, points out the electric street lamp about ten years too early, and as mothers hold their children back in fear at the windows, blazes with enthusiasm:
“Anachronistic electricity; ‘Keep Out’ signs; aggressive stares… Has someone been peeking at my Christmas list?”

Next Time… From The Two Doctors to the double act of double acts.

We’re both absolutely delighted with the announcement of Peter Capaldi. Hurrah! And of course he’s already had a scene for the 50, in at Number 41 – just a shame I didn’t include a photo of him and look as prescient as his character’s daughter, damn damn damn… But it’s not only one of the series’ finest stories, it’s also an impressive source of future casting, isn’t it?

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I got sucked into a conversation last night about the stupidity of people complaining that the newly-cast Doctor isn't attractive. It inevitably spawned discussion of the relative merits of the previous Doctors, culminating in someone asking "does ANYONE fancy 6?"

She might as well have been holding up a big sign that says "My life would be greatly enriched if I knew Jennie Rigg," but apart from that, I admire how well you illustrate here why Jennie is not the only one: "in small but intriguing moments, constantly worth keeping your eye on – even when, all right, sometimes he has to play against the scripts – in always giving the impression of being interested in everything."

I love people who are interested in everything.
Thank you - that's made my morning! I've just always found Colin fascinating to watch.

On a slightly different track, we watched Neverwhere last night, where Peter Capaldi steals it playing very nearly one of the other characters above (spoilers) even with Paterson Joseph basically being a very New Adventures Doctor in a lot more scenes. And though he's prettier in that 1996 series, for me he's much sexier now...
I am one of those people saying "His Big Finishes are awesome" -- and I'll keep saying it because they are (and Evelyn is the best companion), but I'll be sure to say it's not at the expense of his TV Doctor. :)

I really must see Neverwhere. I think it's something Andrew showed me back when I first moved here and he was inundating me with his pop culture (which means that, e.g. Watchmen is one of the first comics I ever read so I had no idea of how remarkable it was as I had no context to put it in). I think I've seen it but I don't remember anything about it, and it's something that I've been, with one thing and another, hearing a lot about again lately.
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