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Right, I think it is about damned time I got caught up on my Doctor Who reviews. I actually had to stop watching it over a month ago, as I already had a back-log of four reviews to write, was too busy to write them and couldn't bear it to get any worse. Which was rather miserable, really. But now I am rather more on top of things once again, so let's see if I can't get back on track.

Waaaaayyy back in April (apparently), I began at the beginning of the McCoy era with Time and the Rani. Since then I have worked through four of the other five of his stories which are currently available on DVD. (I'm leaving out Survival, because I am saving that until The Very End - even though I know it doesn't really offer very much in the way of closure, and I'm pre-empting matters rather with my shiny new icon anyway). This means that during late April and early May I experienced Remembrance of the Daleks, The Curse of Fenric, Battlefield and Ghostlight in more or less rapid succession, and HOT DAMN! They are good. I'm well aware that I've got a warped impression of the McCoy era by doing this, as the BBC have very sensibly released all his best stories on DVD first (a situation which I believe will be somewhat balanced out by the release of Delta and the Bannermen this month). But still! He is good, Ace is brilliant, and I now very much see where the fannish consensus that the stories were just getting good again when the series was cancelled comes from. More detailed responses follow below.

Seventh Doctor: Remembrance of the Daleks
Wow. This is such an accomplished story, and feels very pivotal within the canon as well. Obviously it was designed at the time to take viewers back to Who's very roots - and that was done with a lot of attention to detail, such as the scene in which Ace picks up the very same text-book on the French Revolution in the school science lab that Susan had borrowed from Barbara all those years ago. And all the Hand of Omega stuff was also clearly set up to lead the Doctor's story-arc along the lines that were eventually developed in novels like Lungbarrow. But since, with or without that, it is also an extremely strong story anyway (for reasons I shall detail below), it's also left an imprint in New Who which its writers couldn't have anticipated at the time. The stand-out example of this was the Doctor yelling at Ace to "Turn Left here" when they're driving the van - but there were a few more minor thematic links I spotted, too.

For me, this story constituted my re-introduction to Ace, although it's nothing like the first time I've seen her. In fact, I'm reasonably sure I've seen her actual introductory story, Dragonfire, at some point, though I'll have to wait until I get round to (re-)watching that before I can be sure. Anyway, naturally she is WONDERFUL. I've already put it on record that I don't mind Mel, but Ace is in a whole other league - so much more grounded and solid and personable and likeable. She has a line in dry humour that Mel couldn't have carried off, and you've got to love her cheery approach to violent explosions. Most importantly, that elusive chemistry between her and McCoy is spot on, very much reminding me of Four and Sarah Jane. I especially liked the scene in the school playground when she works out the significance of the scorch-marks on the ground, and he touches her nose affectionately and says "Very good!" In the wrong hands, that combination of gesture and words could be very creepy - but with those two, it conveyed exactly the affectionate mutual respect I look for in a Doctor-companion relationship.

It's not just Ace, though. This is a script which offers up a lot of strong female characters, and indeed casts an explicit spot-light on gender issues. It shows its awareness of the topic with an interesting little scene early on, where we see the creepy little girl who hangs around Coal Hill School standing next to a sign saying 'Boys', followed by the Doctor in an archway with 'Girls' inscribed above it. This is immediately followed by the introduction of a very competent and knowledgeable female scientist, who really is a professor, and whom the Doctor straight away starts working with and treating like an equal. Nice - especially since the fact that she has been drafted in from Cambridge makes her a reference to Liz Shaw, too. Much in the same very creditable vein is the scene in the cafe where the Doctor debates whether or not to have sugar in his tea. He moves from a trivial matter to a philosophical debate on the nature of decision-making, with an explicit discussion of imperialism and slavery along the way. It's great characterisation, great dialogue and great content all in one.

Action and adventure are not neglected, though. There are some great scenes of attacking Daleks - especially, of course, the brilliant cliff-hanger at the end of episode 1 when one of them suddenly begins levitating up the stairs! I understand that their ability to do this had technically been established earlier in the programme's history - but still, way to confound the preponderance of the audience's expectations. And, sucker as I am for self-referentiality, I couldn't help but squee over the timely cut-out of the continuity announcement for 'Doctor...' on the television on the boarding house.

All in all, it's pretty much perfect. Not every Doctor Who story can be like this - it would be tedious if they were. But a programme with a pedigree Who had developed by this time certainly should be producing stories like this one on at least a reasonably regular basis.

Seventh Doctor: The Curse of Fenric
And this one ain't bad, either! It's well-directed for a start. I liked, for example, all the unexplained 'teaser' shots of Viking wrecks, Soviet soldiers, and the replica German command room which were scattered through the first episode while the main storyline with the Doctor and Ace was established - they hinted very nicely at things to come and built up a sense of tension, without making the plot too complicated too early. Similarly, showing us the two evacuee girls swimming in the sea, a mist arising and then them suddenly just gone was more interesting, and I'd say also more scary, than watching them actually get pulled under the water.

The story is very much Ace's, of course, which is great because it means lots of foregrounding and exploration of a character I'm already fast falling for. My favourite parts of that were the ones which specifically developed her relationship with the Doctor - for example, the scene in the third episode where she really loses her rag at him for not telling her what is going on, especially because it arises out of a very real human response to Kathleen's grief over the death of her husband. The Doctor's reaction there is good too, really conveying how he has been driven almost to despair and madness by the whole situation with Fenric. Later on, there is a lovely scene in which they both wipe the mud off one another while a battle rages around them; and then of course also the very powerful scene at the end where he has to hurt her in order to break the faith in him which is stopping the Ancient One from acting to kill Fenric.

That faith in the Doctor is also only part of a quite prominent theme of religious imagery which surrounds his character here. He has a faith of his own in his past companions, which allows him to hold off the Haemovores too when necessary; while the final scene in which he oversees Ace's baptism / rebirthing when she dives into the sea and overcomes her fear of the water makes him look very much like a religious leader of some kind. As for The Invasion of Time, I rather like it - it isn't overdone in the way RTD is prone to, and manages instead to lend a gravitas to the character and a sense of significance to the proceedings which I think add just the right amount of extra interest to the story.

Other interesting snippets include the appearance of Anne Reid, later the sucky-straw lady from Smith and Jones, who is indeed last seen getting vamped in this story; Nicholas Parsons as a surprisingly serious and complex Wainwright the vicar; and some really rather impressive costumes and sets. All told, great stuff.

Battlefield and Ghostlight remain to be written up, of course, but I think this is quite enough for one evening.

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( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
Jun. 30th, 2009 09:00 pm (UTC)
Ooh, yes, good point about The Satan Pit - nice link!
Jun. 30th, 2009 08:11 pm (UTC)
Funny, my abiding memory of the seventh doctor was loving him but disliking Ace fiercely. I think I felt that they were trying too hard to make her a contemporary youth, and I was having a bit of a Peter Pan complex at the time, trying to reconcile myself with pop culture's image of the teenager. I'm now very curious to know what I'd think of her these days.
Jun. 30th, 2009 09:02 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I do remember her 'aces' and 'wickeds' striking me as trying too hard at the time. But there is a real strength and depth of character there too.
Jun. 30th, 2009 10:29 pm (UTC)
Absolutely -- there was something very much about the "character for the kids" aspect. I suspect I was sensitive first time around because I was that bit older than Ace was meant to be. That said she's still a slightly jarring character to my mind.

I agree though that they are both great episodes.
Jun. 30th, 2009 10:31 pm (UTC)
Gah -- who is that Icon? So familiar it's bothering me. (apologies if I've asked this exact question before).
Jul. 1st, 2009 06:19 am (UTC)
If you have asked before, I have forgotten, so it's fine! She is Penny, Inspector Gadget's side-kick.
Jul. 1st, 2009 04:06 pm (UTC)
Hah... of course she is. How could I have forgotten that.
Jun. 30th, 2009 08:11 pm (UTC)
Those, combined with the New Adventures made the 7th Doctor my favoutite for a long time.

In the book of Rememberance, the Daleks call the Doctor Ka Faraq Gatri which is a constant reference in the New Adventures - also known as "the oncoming storm" - the name given by the 9th Doctor in the 1st series finale.

It's worth reading the book - still target novelisation, but has surprising depth and adds to the TV version.
Jun. 30th, 2009 09:04 pm (UTC)
Ooh, interesting about 'the oncoming storm'. I assumed that had come purely out of New Who, but it's nice to know it has an older pedigree.
Jul. 1st, 2009 09:08 am (UTC)
Oh, good - I love both those stories, but it's been so long since I've seen them I can't manage any more intelligent comment than that!
( 11 comments — Leave a comment )

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