I have to thank Chalchiuhtecoliotl for re-introducing me into Doctor Who. I’ve been a fan of the classic series for as long as I can remember. I used to sneak around way past my bed time and watch re-runs from around the corner while my dad watched.
Thanks to a fantastic invention known as the Internet and people who blatantly disregard copyright laws, I’ve been able to watch the entire classic series. Well, all that has survived BBC’s film vault cleanup, and a few recreated with pictures and the soundtrack.
When the new series arrived, I was really skeptical, and after watching the first new season I gave it up. I was looking for strong ties to the classic series, and I just wasn’t seeing it. Instead it felt to me like they had started from scratch, re-writing the show’s complex and often contradictory canon.
Then last Fall Chal came over to my house for the weekend, and she’d brought along Matt Smith’s first season on DVD to see if she could get me hooked. Well Chal, I’m hooked! The series had re-invented itself, but it was now doing a far better job of drawing on its roots than it had when the new series began.
Before Chal left my house I clued her in on the original series episodes you can find online, but since there’s so much to watch and enjoy it will take her a while to catch up. In the mean time I can’t help but what to comment on some of the fantastic callbacks that came up in one recent episode in particular, “The Doctor’s Wife”.
Seconds into the episode I nearly fell off my couch out of sheer delight. There was a knock at the TARDIS door, and a bright square box came flying in! Before the Doctor even said “I’ve got mail!” I knew what it was. Way back in an episode from 1969 called “War Games”, the Second Doctor’s (Patrick Troughton) last episode as a matter of fact, the Doctor made one of those boxes because he had to inform the Time Lords of a terrible atrocity he had discovered. By doing so, he had to let the Time Lords find him, and considering he had spent who knows how long hiding from them since he “borrowed” the TARDIS, that was a big sacrifice that resulted in huge consequences.
Next, the series makes one of those crazy canon errors. They aren’t uncommon by any means. I just read an attempt to explain whether or not the Doctor had a family in the Doctor Who Magazine, and you won’t believe how many times the Doctor contradicts himself on that point alone! This time, the Doctor tells Amy and Rory that they are leaving the universe, going to somewhere they have never been before. However, long time fans may recall the Fourth Doctor’s (Tom Baker) E-Space adventures, a place where the rules that usually apply to the universe sometimes don’t, and it’s extraordinarily hard to get out. The Doctor was sucked into that mess by mistake, and we didn’t have to dump the swimming pool!
When the Doctor finally goes to confront the “bitey mad lady” and comes to realize that she is the TARDIS, they have this wonderful little chat about how they met. The story has always been that the Doctor stole the TARDIS and left Gallifrey long ago. Once or twice the Time Lords have nearly taken it from him for good. While, as my dad commented, it’s a little hard to picture the crusty old First Doctor (William Hartnell) calling the TARDIS “the most beautiful thing he’d ever known”, I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch from what I’ve seen. The Doctor’s whole conversation with the TARDIS is it just chalk full off references – the fact that the Doctor has had to rebuild the TARDIS (or parts of it anyway), the fact that the TARDIS has never seemed to be reliable, and how the Doctor would often refer to the TARDIS as “old girl”. I mean Amy is right, when it comes down to it, it has always been about the Doctor and his TARDIS. They are the only constants in the whole series. That’s what makes the title “The Doctor’s Wife” so fitting.
Later we hear a familiar sound that is both fantastic and terrifying. The first reference back to the Fourth Doctor’s era, the TARDIS’ swimming pool, is followed by another, the cloister bell! Actually, the bell has come back several times over the years, but it started with Tom Baker so I have always associated it with him. Whenever it has been heard, it has always foretold of doom. Not just trouble. If it was just trouble we’d be hearing it ever week, right? No, we’re talking big time end-of-the-universe D-O-O-M.
Finally the old idea of an auxiliary control room returns! This once again dates back to Tom Baker’s era, when the Doctor suddenly decided he was bored with the original white portico style and set an older bronzy, almost steampunk style control room as the default. The set didn’t last though, and eventually reverted back until the TV movie which introduced Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor. When today’s Doctor and his TARDIS-trapped-in-a-human-body are trying to figure out how to catch up with House, she says that they can get in using one of the 30 archived past, present, and future control rooms! Was is just me, or was anyone else hoping to see that classic white set again? The production team had a real opportunity to bring all those references they had snuck in literally all the way home! Instead they only went back to the Tenth Doctor’s (David Tennant) control room, a set that for some reason had never been struck. Oh well! Maybe someday, right?
Since I’m on the topic of the original series, I would like to take a moment to remember two veteran Doctor Who actors who have passed away just this year, Nicholas Courtney and Elisabeth Sladen.
Of the original series companions, it’s not hard for me to say who is my favorite. Elisabeth Sladen played the determined and resourceful Sarah Jane Smith. As the companions go, I think she was perhaps the most relatable, and I always admired her. She was also the only companion of the original series to see the Doctor regenerate and not get freaked out by it. She had an absolutely fantastic relationship with both the Third (Jon Pertwee) and Fourth Doctors. She teased him and worried about him in equal measure, and their banter was always priceless. Sarah Jane wasn’t just a tag along, but a strong and independent character in her own right, making her the perfect character to lead in a spin off series, The Sarah Jane Adventures.
There’s only one good guy in Doctor Who that turned up again and again, but you couldn’t pay him enough to get him to travel anywhere with the Doctor. Nicholas Courtney played the reliable would-be boss of the Doctor, Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart. I always loved the Brigadier. He was the only one to have to deal with not one but four different versions of the Doctor over the years. I always found his attempts to control the Doctor quite comical, and the particular look on his face whenever the Doctor would do something shocking – the look that said “I can’t believe this but my military training makes it impossible for me to do anything but stand here and stare” – always made me laugh. The Brig and the Doctor would have wonderful battles of wit that usually ended with the Doctor either ignoring the Brigadier, “misinterpreting” his orders, or directly disobeying them. While you may not always agree with the Brigadier, you still had to admire him.
When you’re as young as I was first watching these two brilliant actors, you don’t really think about the actors themselves, only the characters they play. Think about it. When you were a kid you probably didn’t care one little bit about the actor who voiced your favorite cartoon character, or the artist who devoted years to drawing that character. You just laughed as your favorite character lured his foe into a trap and dropped an anvil on him! However, as we grow older we start to learn to appreciate the work that goes into the things we love. As I re-watch old Doctor Who episodes now, I find myself looking up cast members to read more about them, what else they were known for, and all those fantastic behind the scenes stories. When I found out about The Sarah Jane Adventures I tracked them down and watched them, and my appreciation and regard for Elisabeth Sladen grew tenfold. When Nicholas Courtney managed to reprise the Brigadier yet again on The Sarah Jane Adventures, I was so thrilled I can’t even explain it. They had worked together for years on Doctor Who. It was like having a little bit of my childhood back.
As I read more and more about Elisabeth and Nick, as I learned he was usually called, I began to hope that I might even meet them someday. Nick in particular was a huge favorite at conventions, and he appreciated the fans just as much as they appreciated him. Sadly it just wasn’t meant to be. Nicholas Courtney passed away in February, and Elisabeth Sladen followed in April. Both passed away from cancer. You may think I’m crazy for crying over people I never met, but I’m not afraid to admit it. They are sorely missed. The Doctor Who Magazine has already dedicated at least two sections to Nick and the Brigadier, and they plan on doing more later this year. Since the magazine is published in the UK, there’s a considerable delay in when it gets to the US and the news of Elisabeth’s passing has not yet reached its pages, but when it does the outpouring of fan grief and fond memories will surely be overwhelming. They will never be forgotten, and their characters will always live on.