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Classic Who

Doctor Who has always been a part of my life. I suppose I must have started watching it because my Dad did - or, I wonder now that I know Who fans with children, did he start watching it seriously partly because he had a little kid to enjoy it with? Anyway, my memories of it stretch back at least to the age of three (more on this later), and I've kept up an active interest in it ever since.

I've tended to occupy a rather odd position somewhere in between hard-core fandom and passing interest, though. I carried on watching it well into the Sylvester McCoy years, when I suspect that popular interest had largely waned - but even then I know I gave up bothering well before hollyione did. Then, at both Bristol and Oxford Universities, I joined the local Doctor Who societies - but at Bristol, it was largely because hollyione was deeply involved with it, and at Oxford it was because I was continuing an established habit from Bristol, and, once again, because an old friend from school (WINOLJ) was a member. I've watched a hell of a lot of 'Classic Who' as a result of all this - but I'm generally watching it from a very uninformed perspective. I was attending talks by New Adventures authors, watching rare episodes or listening to early audio adventures throughout my late teens to mid-twenties - but had no idea who these people actually were, or why it was so exciting to be able to see or hear whatever-it-was for the first time in 20+ years.

Put simply (and with a little help from Wikipedia), this is generally the level of difference between me and a serious fan:
Serious fan: It may be a controversial opinion, but I really think The Talons of Weng-Chiang is one of the high points of the Tom Baker era. I just love all the Sherlock Holmes references in it!
Me: [slight pause] Er - is that the one with the giant rat in the sewer?
Over the last year, though, my fandom for New Who has increased to such a pitch (thanks to the overall excellent series 3) that I've decided it's about time I ploughed back into the archives. Time Crash probably played a pretty big role there, actually. If New Who was going to reference Old Who so explicitly, then I decided it was about time I enhanced my appreciation of both by rediscovering the original - and maybe just a little bit of my lost childhood along the way.

So, while I was ill, one of the things I did was get onto YouTube and start exploring a little of the Peter Davison era. First, I watched The Caves of Androzani - partly because I'd heard of it, partly because a chap in a documentary clip about Peter Davison which I'd watched first said it was really good, and partly because the whole thing was there for the viewing. Overall, I didn't think it was as good as the bloke on the documentary did, largely because the type of story involved is just not to my taste. It revolves around three different groups of people who all have grudges against or murderous designs upon one another, while the Doctor and Peri get caught in the crossfire. The difficulty with this sort of scenario for me is that I find it hard to care about the political wranglings of the various groups involved - especially when they have names I'm not familiar with, so that it generally takes me until about three episodes in to work out which of the other characters is being cursed to oblivion by his enemies, or indeed who actually is enemies with whom, at any given time. (This, incidentally, is the same reason why I am almost certain never to develop an interest in series such as Star Trek (especially Deep Space Nine) or Battlestar Galactica).

That said, it had some interesting content, too. Like a hand-wavey explanation for Five's celery, some good cliff-hangers, lots of excellent Peri-Doctor dynamics as the two of them become afflicted with spectrox poisoning, and of course Five's regeneration into Six - which, whatever you think about Six, automatically counts as one of Classic Who's classic moments. And an interesting discovery, too. I had, in fact, seen the first episode before, at the time of its original broadcast. And I know this because I vividly remember the cliff-hanger at the end of it: the Doctor and Peri are tied up in front of a firing squad, and veiled in red hoods. The squad fires, aaaand.... *Vreeeooooww! Diggerdydum, diggerdydum, diggerdydum, dum-tee-dum* - you'll have to wait until next week to find out what happens!

What's particularly interesting about this from a personal history point of view is the insight it gives me into what watching Doctor Who was like for me as a child. At the time of broadcast (March 1984), I would have been 7 and three-quarters. Clearly, I was affected by the cliff-hanger, since I still remember it (though nothing else about the story), but I also know that I obviously wasn't organised enough to actually watch the follow-up episode the next week. I know this because I also remember having to ask hollyione what had happened after the squad started firing, because I knew she that had watched the next episode, whereas I hadn't. Furthermore (and we are really getting deep into personal confession-time, here), I was obviously also just about old enough to be starting to develop a kind of weird child-like crush on the Doctor - or was it Peri? That hadn't occurred to me as a possible alternative at the time, but in retrospect I do seem to have been suspiciously interested in her... ;-) Anyway, I actually also remember working out my own fantasy version of how the Doctor and Peri escaped from this awkward situation in my head (something to do with escaping through a trap-door in the wall behind, I think), with me playing the role of Peri. There was nothing outright sexual about the fantasy at the time, as I was far too young - but I was clearly aware of a certain 'frisson' attached to the idea of being tied up and blindfolded along with another attractive human being, even if in a rather fatal situation!

*Ahem* Anyway, that watched, I decided to explore the other end of the Davison era, and picked his first ever story, Castrovalva. The first two sections (i.e. about 20 minutes of the first episode) of this are currently missing from YouTube, but between the Wikipedia plot write-up and regeneration compilation videos such as this one, which cover the Four / Five regeneration at the start of the story, it was pretty easy to get up to speed. And what an excellent choice it was, too! More celery-explanation, a plot that was much more to my liking, and some excellent set-design. Long before the strange nature of Castrovalva's geography was revealed as part of the plot, and while everyone was still very much the same way up and not looping round on each other, I was actually sitting there looking at the column capitals and the arches, and thinking, "This is very Escher-esque architecture". So I was very impressed when it turned out that this was in fact deliberate, and designed to support a literally Escher-esque turn of the plot.

This one also very much paid off in terms of background-to-New-Who value. There were some elements in it which have very definitely been picked up with Ten - particularly the idea of the Doctor being indisposed as a result of his regeneration, and of course also the OMG he's the frickin' Master moment! That latter I might in fact have enjoyed less had I been seeing the episode on a normal-sized TV screen, since I suspect that that way it would have been pretty clear that the Portreeve was being played by Anthony Ainley all along. But as it was, in a blocky 4" by 5" window, I genuinely hadn't realised, and so it was every bit as much of a surprise for me as it had been while watching Utopia to realise that the kind and apparently trustworthy old man was in fact EVIL INCARNATE (muah-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!).

There was nothing in Castrovalva I remembered from my childhood, though, so my next mission was to find out what I really did remember of the Tom Baker era. Davison took over from Baker in January of 1982, when I was five and a half years old, and although I was pretty sure I remembered both Baker and K-9 (though not any of the companions) being on TV when I was tiny, I was starting to wonder - if I didn't remember Castrovalva, did I really remember anything from the Baker era, or was I just imagining it in retrospect? Well, I have two quite specific memories of the Fourth Doctor, which I know date from my childhood, and not from later viewings. And in fact, I have been asking Serious Who Fans about both of them for years, trying to work out what episodes they might had come from. However, no-one has ever been able to help me. These days of course, though, we have Wikipedia et sim at our disposal, and I am happy to say that I have been able to pin both of them down at last!

One is not so much a memory of Doctor Who per se, as a memory of the memory of it. You see, family lore has it that, at the age of around four years old (i.e. late 1980 / early 1981), I was taken to Madam Tussaud's, where, at the time, they had a special exhibition of Doctor Who characters. The Doctor and K-9 I was apparently fine with, but the exhibition also featured some recent monsters from the programme, which I absolutely refused to go past because I was so scared of them. The exhibition itself I don't really remember, and nor do I remember watching whatever episode the monsters had appeared in. But I do remember my Dad winding me up for months afterwards by pretending to be these monsters, and me screaming and running away - but giggling at the same time, because I knew that it was all just a big game and the 'monster' was really my Dad.

So, I set out into the wilds of Wikipedia to see what I could work out. I couldn't remember much about the monsters themselves, other than that they were large and shaggy-furred, but I did know that my Dad's way of pretending to be one had been to lurch from side to side rather like a zombie, arms outstretched to catch me, and making some sort of growling / roaring / groaning noise. My technique was simply to flick through all the Wiki write-ups of the Tom Baker stories broadcast from about 1979 onwards, looking at the monsters and seeing which one seemed to fit the bill. On that basis, I'm pretty sure that what I was so damned scared of all that time ago was the Mandrels, from the story Nightmare of Eden (Nov / Dec 1979):



I'd have been a little under three and a half at that time, which makes even the memory of the memory very early indeed - but the dating does tally with the Madam Tussaud's story, and I can't find any other monster from that era which matches my memory so closely. I'd like to see footage of the Mandrels in action to be completely sure about it, so that I can see whether they have the right kind of lurching / swaying movement that my Dad used to imitate. But alas, none of Nightmare of Eden seems to be up on YouTube, so I will have to leave it as a working theory for now.

Meanwhile, the other memory I had related to just one scene. I remember a statue on a pedestal, I thought outside some kind of stately home, which had seemed perfectly innocent and ordinary up to that point, but then suddenly disappeared from its pedestal and turned out to be both alive and dangerous in some way. This one I have now tracked down with complete certainty via Wikipedia, and it turns out to have been The Keeper of Traken, first broadcast in Jan / Feb 1981. I don't remember anything else at all about the story or any of the characters, but I do know that we were round at my paternal grandparents' house when I saw it. So I suppose that the excitement of being in another setting, but being allowed to watch Doctor Who all the same, coupled with the shock! (to a tiny child) of the statue turning out to be eeeeviiiiilll must be why I remember it. This time, I would have been four and a half - so, given that the Mandrel thing isn't a direct memory, that must count as my earliest actual memory of watching Doctor Who itself on TV. And yes, it was Tom Baker, so it had been true all along - I really did remember watching him as a child, and hadn't just made that up on the basis of later experience.

Finally, that little matter settled, I was able to snuggle down and begin enjoying UKTV Drama's latest Doctor Who re-runs - which this month just happen to have started with Tom Baker's first ever story, Robot. This was pretty much exactly what I would have chosen to watch next anyway, given my rediscovery of my childhood memories of the Fourth Doctor, so it was very much appreciated. And I was also pleasantly surprised to find that the story was not laughably dated and transparent, as I had been secretly fearing, but in fact rather good! As for Davison's first story, the episode begins with the Doctor behaving a little oddly as a result of his recent regeneration, but it is nothing like as serious as in Five's case. Rather, Four just seems to need to sleep a lot at first, and also rambles on a bit - but Four does that anyway, so it's nothing too unusual. I was impressed by the ease with which Tom Baker slipped into the role, so that by the second episode, you've forgotten that he hasn't been playing the Doctor already for years. It's not so surprising, though, I suppose, given the legendary extent of his identification with the role.

The plot this time revolves around a 'Think-Tank' of megalomaniacal scientists, who try to use a super-intelligent robot they have created to hold the world to ransom under the threat of nuclear war, so that those of 'superior intellect' (i.e. themselves) can take control, as they should. That's already a pretty interesting set-up right there, touching as it does on issues of scientific ethics, the right to rule (looking right back to Plato's philosopher-kings) and of course the contemporary fear of nuclear holocaust. Add a frankly awesome Sarah Jane to the mix, and all of a sudden you have explicit references to feminism and the nature of artificial intelligence too - and well, frankly, what more could you want? OK, so they stretched the limits of their budget to near-breaking-point when the robot of the title grew to giant size, and began flickering around the edges and picking up a doll that was meant to be Sarah Jane. But this was the '70s, when people still had imaginations, so I guess they could get away with it.

The next story, The Ark in Space, begins tomorrow, and I'm already looking forward to it. More Baker will be excellent, but actually it's my appetite for more Sarah Jane Smith that's really been whetted. I don't remember her from my childhood (for the simple reason that she left the series in the year I was born!), and I obviously can't have seen much of her since then, either. When she appeared in New Who and The Sarah Jane Adventures, I pretty much assumed that her very self-reliant and adventurous attitude was a modern enhancement of her character, and that all she'd ever really done back in the '70s was stand there and scream - just like any female companions from that era, right? Wrong! There she is, right there in Robot, zipping around in her two-seater MG, breaking into scientific institutions and reasoning with powerful, dangerous and slightly unhinged beings with the best of 'em. Her character in New Who and The Sarah Jane Adventures is actually exactly in keeping with how it's always been - and I'm havin' me some more o' that, please!

A journey has definitely begun here, and I'm looking forward to pursuing it further. I don't think I'll ever try to be a completist, because I know that would involve sitting through an awful lot of dross. But Operation Classic Who is go! ...at least until New Who begins again in the spring. :-)

Comments

( 78 comments — Leave a comment )
internetsdairy
Jan. 7th, 2008 10:33 pm (UTC)
I recommend watching the last Tom Baker story (Logopolis) followed by Castrovalva, if you can... it's really frightening, especially when you're about nine and Doctor Who actually seems about 300% more real than the actual world. It's a terrifying lesson in Change! (And the TARDIS is never better.)
strange_complex
Jan. 7th, 2008 10:39 pm (UTC)
Yes, I realised while watching Castrovalva that I was missing out on some serious back-story by not having watched Logopolis (or indeed The Keeper of Traken) first. And of course, now I've kind of spoilt it for myself by watching Castrovalva first...

Oh well, I shall try to forget that OMG he's the frickin' Master, and just watch it anyway!
ladyguinevere83
Jan. 7th, 2008 10:43 pm (UTC)
My only classic series icon, sorry!

I recommend [i]Logopolis[/i] too. I really enjoyed that one.

I've been watching a few older ones as well. I, too, watched Doctor Who as a child because my parents did (always had, since both like their sf). I watched the new Sylvester McCoy ones, but also the older ones, as I definitely remember Tom Baker and he remains my favourite.

Yet I have very few memories of actual Doctor Who episodes. I think I remembered the one I saw the other day ([i]Rememberance of the Daleks[/i]), but only very vaguely. The only other memory I have of Classic Who at all is a dark cave with some green stuff glowing. Oh, and one of the companions being closed inside a giant book! That one was scary. And in B&W. Not sure which serials they are though.

One of my friends (who is a pony collector too actually :) is obsessed with Five, though I haven't got round to seeing any of him again yet!

I have a few DVDs if you wanted to borrow them? Well, a few four and a seven.
strange_complex
Jan. 7th, 2008 10:51 pm (UTC)
Hehe - yes, looks like I definitely need to add Logopolis to my 'To See' list. And thanks about the DVDs, but don't worry - it would be a bit difficult logistically, given that you're based in Leicester. As it is, I have YouTube, UKTV Drama, and City of Death winging its way to me from Amazon, so I think I should be fine. And given that there is so much out there which I either haven't seen at all, or haven't seen for so long it doesn't really make any difference, I don't think I'm going to run out of episodes to watch any time soon!
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diffrentcolours
Jan. 7th, 2008 10:45 pm (UTC)
I'm still tempted to get my hands on some of the classic Sylv from my childhood, like The Curse of Fenric or Remembrance of the Daleks. Unfortunately, classic Who mostly just depresses me because of how much better it is than the new stuff.
strange_complex
Jan. 7th, 2008 10:54 pm (UTC)
Mind you, the Serious Fan types tend to be pretty critical of the Sylvester McCoy era, too. Although I think I'm right in saying that The Curse of Fenric is one of the ones that gets off more lightly. I remember The Greatest Show in the Galaxy from when I was a kid, but not much else from that period.
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swisstone
Jan. 7th, 2008 10:54 pm (UTC)
I remember Patrick Troughton, from when I was three.

Sarah came back and got her own series precisely because she was different from the rest and competent and challenging (though towards the end she does end up doing a bit more screaming, as the writers ran out of interesting things to do with her) - Leela and Romana were too, or at least started off that way, but they both degenerated much more quickly. I think that Sarah was an ever better character back in the day, as there was none of the "my life is incomplete because I could never have the only man I ever loved/never had children" nonsense that RTD has imposed on her. She's brilliant, and a major reason why I've always preferred intelligent, capable and forthright women.

You're in for a treat if you stick with UKTV Drama - the first three Baker years are widely, and let's face it, correctly, seen as a, if not the, highpoint of the series. There is some dross in there ('The Android Invasion' comes to mind), but do not miss 'Ark in Space', 'Genesis of the Daleks', 'Pyramids of Mars', 'The Masque of Mandragora', 'The Hand of Fear' (if only for the last ten minutes), 'The Deadly Assassin', 'Robots of Death' and the one with the giant rat.

Edited at 2008-01-07 10:55 pm (UTC)
strange_complex
Jan. 7th, 2008 11:00 pm (UTC)
Yep, following the UKTV Drama re-runs is definitely The Plan for the time being.

And I'm not sure that you want to go around admitting that you remember Patrick Troughton! ;-p
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steer
Jan. 8th, 2008 12:05 am (UTC)
Ark in Space is a favourite of mine -- partly because I had the book as a child and read it many times.

Robot, however, is frankly dodgy. Besides, I know scientists and there's no bloody way you could get three of them to agree on a date to attend a meeting, never mind organise a plot to take over government. Frankly if you could get them to fill in the form to apply for the funding to start a preliminary project to investigate the possibility of taking over the government in under six months you'd have done well.

I was just as unimpressed by Caves as you were.

I was also very scared by the Mandrels... in fact when me and my sisters were growing up we used to play games involving being the Mandrels.

For me the best and most memorable Fifth Doctor episode is probably Earthshock although Enlightenment is pretty good too.
steer
Jan. 8th, 2008 12:19 am (UTC)
Oops that should have said sister not sisters -- only the one of her.
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xipuloxx
Jan. 8th, 2008 12:13 am (UTC)
The Caves of Androzani is one that long-time fans often recommend to newbies, but while I'm firmly of the opinion that it's one of the best Doctor Who stories ever, I think its impact is considerably lessened by watching it in isolation. The Doctor's motivation -- indeed, obseession -- makes a lot more sense and has a lot more resonance in light of earlier events in the Davison era, specifically Adric's departure in Earthshock and Tegan's in Resurrection of the Daleks. Also, it helps to have seen Peri's introduction in the previous story, Planet of Fire.

Most Doctor Who stories are pretty much stand-alone, but they often work better if watched in order, if only for the character stuff (yes, there was ongoing character development as far back as the first season!) and, of course, occasional references to previous adventures.

Enjoy the reruns!
steer
Jan. 8th, 2008 12:19 am (UTC)
I rewatched Caves last year having gone through watching every episode in order from Robot and my reaction was similar to Pen's I'm afraid.
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thirstypixel
Jan. 8th, 2008 06:17 am (UTC)
I'd recommend seeing The Keeper of Traken as an adult. Definitely one of the better stories IMHO. Sinister, harsh, desperate and with excellent acting, most especially form Anthony Ainley before he played the Master.

I did like The Caves of Androzani, but apart from the Doctor and Peri, the only character for whom I had any sympathy at all was Sharaz Jek, who has an awesome death scene.
strange_complex
Jan. 8th, 2008 09:21 am (UTC)
Yes - between my memories of The Keeper of Traken, and what I've read about it on Wikipedia, I'm pretty eager to check it out now. Mind you, since UKTV Drama are doing the early Tom Baker era at the moment, I think I will stick to that for now, for the sake of seeing a few stories in order. Either I'll manage to get right through to The Keeper of Traken that way, and enjoy it all the more as a result, or I'll fill it in later when UKTV Drama move on to other things.
big_daz
Jan. 8th, 2008 08:44 am (UTC)
If you have a Video Recorder (and I only ask as some fowk are entirely DVD-orientated these days) I have (I think) every existing Dr Who story recorded one way or another (either official Vid, or taped off the telly). You're welcome to borrow whichever ones you fancy.

Other than the stories mentioned above, I would recommend (in no particular order of goodness)

Terror of the Zygons
Pyramids of Mars
Talons of Weng Chiang
Robots of Death
Pirate Planet
Genesis of the Daleks
City of Death
Horns of Nimon (for its awfulness)
Reveleation of the Daleks
The Green Death (thats the one that gave ME nightmares as a nipper)
The Sea Devils
Spearhead from Space
Tomb of the Cybermen
An Unearthly Child (so yoou can see where it all began)
The Daleks
strange_complex
Jan. 8th, 2008 09:23 am (UTC)
Oh, yes - I am entirely video-enabled!

Mind you, we have been saying for a while now that we ought to have a Who-watching evening anyway. So if there are any of those you're up for seeing again any time soon, let me know. I'm free this coming weekend or the next one.
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weepingcross
Jan. 8th, 2008 10:43 pm (UTC)
I made several attempts at watching Who when smaller than I am now. I remember seeing Jon Pertwee being menaced by giant spiders, which would have been when I was five, and which freaked me out horribly. The next step was catching the end of one episode of The Deadly Assassin where Tom Baker is strapped to an operating table and menaced by a Time Lord in surgeon's garb with a syringe: he's not going to get an enema, either. That was quite enough for a while and after that I stuck to the books. I read The Abominable Snowmen and was very worried by the image of the fluid which marks the presence of the Great Intelligence oozing unstoppably from a shrine in a Tibetan monastery. I had to have the books of The Deadly Assassin and Genesis of the Daleks covered with brown paper because the images of the decayed Master and Davros scared me too much. Finally aged 9 I steeled myself to watch Robots of Death. The first episode ends, as far as I remember, in a close-up of a robot's arm with blood trickling below its sleeve and over its hand. I stumble back into the kitchen where my parents are eating and my tea awaits.

Dad: How was it?
Me, in high-pitched squeak: All right.
Dad: Will you watch it again?
Me, in higher squeak: Might do.

Somehow I couldn't eat many of the peas, and didn't fancy the tomato sauce much either.

James
strange_complex
Jan. 9th, 2008 05:56 pm (UTC)
Oh! Hello, and welcome to LJ! I don't know if you're planning to write in your journal, but I have friended you just in case, and hope that you will. :-)

I know exactly what you mean about brown paper covers. I had a ghost book (not a Doctor Who one) when I was small, which had to live underneath a cupboard because I was so scared of it! I'm not sure I ever actually even read it - the cover alone was enough for it to be banished.

And thank you also, by the way, for your lovely Christmas letter, which I very much enjoyed reading - especially the bit about the Roman remains, which I subsequently looked at on your web page. I shall certainly respond in kind at some point, but bear with me if it takes a while...
steer
Jan. 9th, 2008 12:17 am (UTC)
Incidentally, if you want to see Nightmare of Eden really badly I can burn a DVD for you and bring it to the next Wendyhouse (assuming you're there).
strange_complex
Jan. 9th, 2008 05:58 pm (UTC)
Ooh, that is tempting, actually, because I looked it up on Amazon and it doesn't seem to be available as an official DVD yet. I'm not planning on doing Wendyhouse, as I'm going to need to plough on with work this weekend (catching up from being ill), but are you going anywhere before-hand for a pint or anything, where I could intercept you for a while? Would be nice to see you anyway!
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(no subject) - strange_complex - Jan. 10th, 2008 12:19 pm (UTC) - Expand
hollyione
Jan. 9th, 2008 10:25 pm (UTC)
Who from years ago, and now
Is true the Tom Baker/Peter Davison crossover time yielded some brilliant episodes. Helped by excellent performances from Anthony Ainley and Janet ? the girl who played Tegan and Sarah Sutton, who played Nyssa. We'll try to forget about Adric.

Anyway... I definitely remember watching Dr Who with you on a Saturday evening, and it must have been Tom Baker era as it went on Mondays/Tuesdays for Peter Davison. I seem to remember they were doing something in London (what I don't know).

oh AND I have a geeky mate at work with whom I have lots in common like enjoying battle reenactment and music tastes... anyway we were talking about sci-fi today (he loves old Star Trek, Dr Who, Blake's 7 like I do) and turns out he is good mates with Paul Cornell, small world eh. Weirdly I mentioned the episodes I most like and dislike in new Who and the ones I liked were written by Cornell, the ones I disliked were all Russell T Davies. Interesting.
strange_complex
Jan. 9th, 2008 11:04 pm (UTC)
Re: Who from years ago, and now
Yes, it wouldn't surprise me at all if we were watching Who together even in the Baker era. We'd have been pretty tiny, but I know that later on I thought of you as the main person I knew who shared my interest in it. We definitely talked about it a lot, and probably played 'let's pretend' games based on it as well. It would make lots of sense if we'd sometimes watched it together at each other's houses, too.

Cornell's episodes are indeed pretty good, especially Human Nature / Family of Blood, obviously, and you're not alone in thinking RTD's are a bit wobbly! Steve Moffat is probably my most consistent favourite so far, though, and I'm happy to see that he's doing a double-bill episode for series 4!
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