Thursday, April 30, 2015


Doctor Who – Thirteen Reasons To Watch #WhoOnHorror

The Horror Channel goes back to the very beginning of Doctor Who today as it starts showing forty-seven stories across the following months, beginning with the very first. So here are my idiosyncratic picks for the thirteen best stories showing (or just watch the lot, obviously). Horror’s now on both Freesat and Freeview, so everyone can watch it.

Liberal Democrats: activate your TV recording devices of choice and bookmark this article as number 337 of things to catch up with post-election.

Active members of other parties: sit down, put your feet up, watch Doctor Who and argue with my tendentious choices online!

If you’ve never watched Doctor Who before – just pick one, and watch one. This selection suggests which ones I most enjoy watching, but if you need something to tell you who is this Doctor anyway, here’s one I prepared earlier.

The Horror Channel has been broadcasting Doctor Who since last Easter under the banner #WhoOnHorror – initially a selection of stories from the first seven Doctors, they’ve been a ratings hit and so bought the rights to show more. It’s on every weekday in a double bill at around 10am, 2.40pm and 7.50pm, in more or less the original story order, with random movie-format stories (that is, with the cliffhangers and credits taken out) at the weekend. This is the first time their whole cycle of Doctor Who stories has started up again since the Horror Channel arrived on Freeview, so why not begin at the beginning?

The Thirteen Best of #WhoOnHorror

These are my choices. No doubt every other fan will disagree, so why not champion your own? You can point out (and I usually do) that every story has its faults – but I’m looking at what excites me this time. And why choose thirteen? Well, it is the Horror Channel…
1 – The Deadly Assassin
Tom Baker versus the Master and all the Time Lords in the greatest Doctor Who story of them all. It’s got Gothic horror, political satire, film noir, a major reimagining of the Time Lords (and the Master)… And just when you think you know what’s going on, it changes completely into gritty surrealism.
Reasons to watch: the Part One cliffhanger (you keep being told it’s coming, but still the series’ best WTF moment); it enters the Matrix (20+ years before The Matrix); one of the most bitter face-offs between the Doctor and the Master; it’s constantly inventive; it looks amazing (even if Horror’s print is a bit grubby and cuts a bit. If you enjoy it, buy the DVD).
My (surprisingly short) review here.
A brilliant scene here for the Master.

2 – The Curse of Fenric
Sylvester McCoy versus Evil From the Dawn of Time and vampires from the future. A multi-layered story intermixes the World War Two, Norse mythology, Dracula and a touch of The Arabian Nights, and contrasts the 1940s and the 1980s.
Reasons to watch: a brilliant villain; what really repels vampires; the Part Three cliffhanger twist and many other twists and turns; another one fizzing with ideas.
A brilliant scene here under water.
A brilliant line and a bit of a subtext here.
A brilliant scene here where the Parsons’ in trouble.
Yes, it has quite a few brilliant scenes. And keep that last page open, as several more I’ve written about there are coming up…

3 – The Talons of Weng-Chiang
Tom Baker versus good taste. ‘Doctor Who in the inner city: gangs, guns, stabbings and drugs’. But all in the Victorian era, so there were fewer complaints despite even more to offend everyone. From murders in the fog to a night at the theatre, it revels in Victorian cliché – and is probably the most utterly entertaining Doctor Who story of all (Russell T Davies: “It’s the best dialogue ever written”).
Reasons to watch: it looks like perfect horror, but is horribly funny throughout; the Doctor does Sherlock; the Doctor’s friend Leela takes no s**t; a double-act so brilliant they now have their own long-running series, Jago and Litefoot; one whole episode a brilliant conjuring trick.
A brilliant scene here with a comedy of manners.

4 – An Unearthly Child
William Hartnell – the Doctor – versus stupid humans for the very first time. Two teachers investigate a strange old man’s granddaughter… Their lives, and ours, are never the same again, as they fall into the TARDIS and into history. A brilliant beginning that starts off the series’ anti-authoritarian bent by showing how little teachers know – but at least they know slightly more than Stone Age tribespeople…
Reasons to watch: the first episode might just be the greatest piece of television ever; a fantastic introduction to the TARDIS; the Doctor as an hilarious git with brilliant facets; “Have you ever thought what it’s like to be wanderers in the fourth dimension? Have you? To be exiles…?”
My review here (made of many one-liners).
A brilliant scene here where the Doctor invents Columbo.
And it’s on tonight!

5 – Genesis of the Daleks
Tom Baker versus Davros, the Daleks and history. A superbly filmed and scored war story. Perhaps the Doctor’s sharpest moral dilemma is whether to destroy the Daleks at their birth, but this is essentially the story of Davros, a fascist with depth and intelligence, who engineers his own destruction.
Reasons to watch: a completely compelling villain; the Daleks shot like tanks, as they should be; doubt as essential, and certainty essentially fascist; the big confrontation between the Doctor and Davros might be the most electric in the whole series.
My review here of the politics of the story (and of the CD).
My mini-review in the context of the stories it was first broadcast with and how they all fit together here.
A brilliant scene here where the Daleks exterminate for the first time.

6 – The Mind Robber
Patrick Troughton versus some very weird s**t indeed. Funny, silly, literary, intelligent… Our heroes find themselves first in a void where they get a massive shock, then marooned in a Land of Fiction.
Reasons to watch: the shocking Part One cliffhanger; the Doctor’s playfulness turning into steely determination; Jamie losing face; Zoe going all The Avengers (UK) against someone who might be from The Avengers (US).

7 – The Androids of Tara
Tom Baker versus the wicked Count Grendel. Imagine a Doctor Who summer holiday, with fabulous frocks, fishing and fencing with electric swords, where the big, serious quest is dealt with in a five-minute joke. Add Peter Jeffrey as a moustache-twirlingly wicked Count, a bargained-down bribe and a dash of sex, then sit back and enjoy.
Reasons to watch: it’s just about the least ‘horror’ Doctor Who gets; it’s sheer fun; it finishes with a proper duel. “Next time, I shall not be so lenient!”
A brilliantly ‘romantic’ scene or two here that should put you off weddings (we had it at ours).

8 – The Caves of Androzani
Peter Davison versus death (and versus big business, gun-runners, the army, poison, the phantom of the opera…). A cynical desert war, noirishly twisted love and revenge drama: an extraordinary mixture of the Fifth Doctor’s competing ‘arthouse’ and ‘macho’ styles, with a terrific script, dazzling direction, rattlesnake-eerie music and compelling actors.
Reasons to watch: pride comes before a fall in a fabulously nasty Part Three scene; brilliant debut for a director so good he did a lot of the 2000s stories too; an explosive regeneration before they were fashionable.
A brilliantly long-suffering moment here.

9 – Logopolis
Tom Baker versus the Master and the end of everything. A small-scale story of the TARDIS itself becoming perilous turns into portents of doom and the unravelling of the entire Universe – before the threat telescopes back in to the Doctor himself.
Reasons to watch: making the familiar sinister; a gorgeous, funeral music score; the Doctor’s most hearts-rending regeneration.
A brilliant scene here for the Master.

10 – The Dæmons
Jon Pertwee versus the Master, a great big Dæmon and the English village; science versus magic. If ever there was a Doctor Who story you’d expect to see on the Horror Channel, this is it. It’s not quite Dennis Wheatley or The Wicker Man, but it does have a Satanic vicar – in truth, the MASTER – and evil Morris dancing.
Reasons to watch: the victim of the Part Three cliffhanger; the perfect locations; the Brigadier and the rest of UNIT getting out and about; the pub. “Five rounds rapid!”
My in-depth review of the novelisation and how it compares here.

11 – The Ark in Space
Tom Baker versus Alien. This is much less comfy Doctor Who horror, out in pitiless space where the last humans are being devoured by giant insects – or possessed by them.
Reasons to watch: it was the first Doctor Who I saw all the way through, and it worked on me – it gave me nightmares; the Doctor’s friends Sarah Jane Smith and Harry Sullivan are wonderful; a huge influence on both Ridley Scott and Doctor Who’s 2005 relaunch.
My mini-review in the context of the stories it was first broadcast with and how they all fit together here.
A brilliant scene here after the end of the world.

12 – The Two Doctors
Colin Baker versus the Sontarans. And versus aliens who live to eat everyone in sight. With guest star Patrick Troughton being turned into one of them… Appallingly funny black humour. Like some of the other #WhoOnHorror, this was originally in forty-five-minute episodes, so Horror’s split it into their own twenty-five-minute episodes. Thrill at aliens attempting to order dinner before the music screams in!
Reasons to watch: the Sixth Doctor at his most charming and wistful; the Second Doctor at his most disturbing; Sontaran ships on the march to a great musical march.
A brilliant scene here in which the Doctor is interested in everything.

13 – Planet of Evil
Tom Baker versus a terrible scientific mistake at the edge of the Universe. More deep-space horror, more body horror and possession, a seriously convincing and icky alien world.
Reasons to watch: the series’ most alien planet; a Part Three cliffhanger that gave me the most recurring nightmares.
And here is what I think of that brilliant cliffhanger.

The Rest of #WhoOnHorror

As far as I’m concerned, they’ve made an excellent set of choices. The current forty-seven Horror Channel Doctor Who stories include twenty-three that I’d give nine or ten out of ten to – which is as dead-on half as makes no difference – and just six I’d score lower than five out of ten (which I suspect may have been chosen for their famous monsters rather than their quality). I won’t go into detail about the remaining thirty-four stories, but if you’re interested, here’s one line on each, from the completely brilliant to the, er, not completely brilliant, in roughly descending order of enthusiasm…

The Next of #WhoOnHorror?

First thirty stories… Then forty-seven… Which Doctor Who adventures will the Horror Channel choose next? In the sure and certain knowledge that they won’t read and follow my advice, I’m tempted to say – just buy the rest of the Tom Baker stories and show the lot in order, you’ve got half of them already! But in the spirit of diversity I used for my top picks, here are a further thirteen that I reckon the Horror Channel should consider next. Or that you should, if you’ve got hooked and are looking for a DVD.

There were six stories that I was so tempted by I would probably have picked most of them – The Aztecs, The Tomb of the Cybermen, Spearhead from Space, Pyramids of Mars, Earthshock and Revelation of the Daleks – but they’re occasionally shown on another channel, so I suspect the rights may not be available. Obviously, I thought of lots of others, too. The Time Meddler, a first-again outing for The Enemy of the World (though I bet the budget wouldn’t stretch to animating the one missing bit of The Web of Fear), Terror of the Zygons, The Hand of Fear, The Face of Evil – oh, just the whole of Tom, again – Survival, The Trial of a Time Lord… But that way madness lies. Particularly with the last one.

But the fresh thirteen above would be a good start, eh, Horror Channel? Go on.

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