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The Movie Club: Doctor Who (7th Doctor edition)


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The 7th Doctor is the unsung hero of Doctor Who.

 

(This doesn't have a ton of spoilers, and if it does, they go by pretty fast. If you don't watch it immediately before an episode, it should be pretty safe. Also, zero clips from one of my fave stories, which is good, because any of them would spoil that wonderful madness.)

 

 

Unsung, because after a flawed first season for the 7th Doctor, the young production team took a neglected show slated for cancellation and reshaped it into a new sort of Doctor Who, steeped the same genre-aware pop culture, punk, politics, and chaos magic fusion that was influencing the indie comics scene coming out of 1980s London, like Watchmen and Hellblazer and Swamp Thing and Sandman. It brought the mythos back into Who, and turned it into the modern show it is today, where the companions were true lead characters with stories of their own, where the Doctor was dangerous and had a hidden past that sometimes came to get him, where time was suddenly a more fluid thing, where the show was faster-paced, high-concept, self-referential.

 

Old school fans, or at least half of them, were not ready for this, and loudly panned it. This, plus that first season that hadn't quite gelled (most of the scripts had been written for the previous actor in the role), turned into a poor reputation for what is easily the strongest and most innovative era of classic Who.

 

Despite this, everything Doctor Who is today was shaped by seasons 25 and 26. Those seasons contained at least six utterly classic stories out of eight. (And there's a good case to be made for one of the others to be up there, and the remaining one is pretty decent, even if it pales beside its mates.) Two of these stories are complete defining powerhouses, the best of the best of old Who. Several of them are utter madness, sheer ambition and chutzpah thrown onto video. Who has never been this ambitious or opinionated, before or since.

 

It is admittedly made on a budget of one pound sixpence, two paper clips, and as many tea bags as they could smuggle out of the BBC canteen.

 

We're currently light on a schedule, but we'll be starting with Remembrance of the Daleks this weekend, and thinking of moving on to the rest of season 25 and maybe 26.

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Here for this (obviously)! It's definitely about time I watched some of the classic Doctor

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4 minutes ago, Jarric said:

Here for this (obviously)! It's definitely about time I watched some of the classic Doctor

 

There's a lot of fun stuff. The 70s stuff in particular is very cozy retro adventure serial, very cold winter night teatime viewing. Geek hygge. (Oh god, all of fandom is going to come for me now...)

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I am totally looking forward to this. I may do the first episode today. Since I'm the first one and I've seen it before, I might spoiler-cut my reaction post until people who haven't seen it get started. Or I might not, cuz it kinda makes the discussion look emptier and less welcoming. Or maybe mix and match. Any preferences? 

 

(Who else was interested in this? Was it @Rhovaniel ?)

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Not sure whether I said if I was interested, but I did put Remembrance of the Daleks on hold at the library and it's "In Transit" which means it could arrive in a couple days or a couple weeks if my last hold is any indication (still waiting for that one actually; normally it's less than a week if no one else is waiting for an item, but it's been really slow lately). Remembrance is the only episode (episodes?) of the 7th Doctor that I have easy (and free) access to, so I'm not sure I'll be watching any others, but I thought I'd try to join y'all for this one.

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On 2/10/2023 at 12:54 PM, sarakingdom said:

I am totally looking forward to this. I may do the first episode today. Since I'm the first one and I've seen it before, I might spoiler-cut my reaction post until people who haven't seen it get started. Or I might not, cuz it kinda makes the discussion look emptier and less welcoming. Or maybe mix and match. Any preferences? 

 

(Who else was interested in this? Was it @Rhovaniel ?)

 

I'm going to try and get to the first episode tonight - I can't find it on DVD anywhere so I think I might just have to subscribe to BritBox or something.

 

I don't think it's a problem if you don't spoiler things, it does look more inviting if there's obviously chat here.

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On 2/10/2023 at 12:24 PM, Ranger Hal said:

Not sure whether I said if I was interested, but I did put Remembrance of the Daleks on hold at the library and it's "In Transit" which means it could arrive in a couple days or a couple weeks if my last hold is any indication (still waiting for that one actually; normally it's less than a week if no one else is waiting for an item, but it's been really slow lately). Remembrance is the only episode (episodes?) of the 7th Doctor that I have easy (and free) access to, so I'm not sure I'll be watching any others, but I thought I'd try to join y'all for this one.

 

It's an excellent choice, if you've only got one. There are other great stories, but this one is a big crowd pleaser in all sorts of ways. This one and Curse of Fenric are the two big universal faves.

 

13 minutes ago, Jarric said:

I can't find it on DVD anywhere

 

For some reason, this Doctor seems unusually hard to find these days.

 

15 minutes ago, Jarric said:

I don't think it's a problem if you don't spoiler things, it does look more inviting if there's obviously chat here.

 

I'll go slow, so I don't lap everyone. :D

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Remembrance of the Daleks, Episode 1

 

Back in the day, this was a very modern opening. Apart from, like, one song clip once, there was never really any intrusion of real media into Doctor Who. Using a radio collage to indicate the time frame was kind of a "this is something new" indicator. There's also some decent thematic work there, which is not bad for a few seconds of opening.

 

Coal Hill School! I think this is the first time it's been seen since the very first episode. I wonder how we all recognized it, because it's not like there were DVDs or anything. That's why I don't worry too much about this season, and especially this episode, being too reference heavy, because it was written for kids with far less access to information about Doctor Who, and somehow we all got it.

 

Ace's 80s gear is just as dated as the 1960s stuff around her, and I think in a good way. In the 80s, you could tell if she was a few months out of date, and now she's just a perfectly preserved specimen of some subcultural references that haven't hung on too many places. I think now that's 100% the look it was meant to be back then.

 

It was also super new back then to see companions walking into real places like cafes and meeting real people, and needing to deal with real things like food and money. It's like they collapsed some of the whole heightened reality that Who had always operated in, and made it a lot more something that was walking the same streets as you.

 

That girl is still spooky. That's good. But only just a little. Just enough that you know somehthing is coming.

 

I love Dr Jensen so much. Everything about her. She's sensible and smart and has the best look on her face when the Doctor just shows up. That's smooth work by the Doctor, getting them both driven right to the heart of the problem. (His various ways of managing that these two seasons are the main reason I hate the psychic paper. When he doesn't have it, it's a lot more fun. His solution in Curse of Fenric was particularly inspired, and Battlefield had a good one, too.)

 

How did we know what Totter's Lane was back then? But we did. Anyway, this is the junk yard, guys. This isn't the actual 25th anniversary episode, but it works incredibly well as one, probaby better than the actual one.

 

Oh, that's how we knew. The Doctor says he's been there before. (This is also the first time Who was this... oblique about what it meant. It was never really a show where you had to read beween the lines before. That changes a ton with this season.)

 

The official novelization ships Jensen and Gilmore, WWII backstory and everything. I believe it's the novelizations of these stories that led to the original novels when the series was canceled. Both those guest stars are fairly serious actors, I believe.

 

Ace geeking out excitedly over explosions was and is my role model. Oh, I've missed her.

 

The whole exchange where the Doctor knows she was lying about carrying homebrew explosives, it's brilliant. It's fast and it's funny and they clearly know each other far too well. It's a great shorthand for a lot of trust on both sides. These two are the best together, guys.

 

It's actually really good characterization of them this whole scene, like when they steal the car. It's totally clear he's got a complete juvenile delinquent traveling with him and knows it, and doesn't mind at all, and they do that really economically, with just a few words.

 

Ace has clearly pulled. I hope she gets to keep the leather jacket.

 

They're dumping the Dalek backstory a lot less subtly, but I'll let it go. Not only can you not be subtle about everything, but that was such an audaciously huge dumping of centuries of Dalek backstory that I can't be mad.

 

The other thing that's kind of interesting about this episode is making it clear how much time travel Ace is experiencing only 25 years into her own past. This is only ten years before she was born, and she's struggling with the money, the cars, the social norms, she looks wrong, everything. I don't recall any recent past stories in Who before this. Lots of Victorian and Edwardian stories, lots of contemporary stories that might have been intended as near future stories (look, UNIT is a complicated issue), but nothing that's the time equivalent of popping around the block. And nothing that's so realistic about how disorienting that might realistically be, to be somewhere that looks like what you know well, but isn't.

 

Women as the chief scientific team. Not just one, but two of them, and one in the job the Doctor himself used to do for UNIT. (Okay, this is proto-UNIT, but you get the idea.) Guys. This was a good run of Who for women. There have been women scientists in the past, so that's not totally new for Who, but they're rarely allowed to shine like this. Or pass the Bechdel test.

 

The caretaker job at Coal Hill School, huh? I only caught that 12th Doctor reference, like, now.

 

The hints about Ratcliffe are there from the start. Taking the Dalek and leaving the bodies is cold.

 

Oh, look, it's a science lab. A science lab with a book on the French revolution, and a slight camera pause that indicates this is a thing. It is indeed a thing.

 

They're really putting Hand of Omega breadcrumbs in pretty regularly. Good pacing for a brand new writer.

 

The scene with the transmat is really well done, as a way of letting both characters shine as leads without taking away from the other. It's sort of, in a nutshell, their individual strengths. The Doctor gets to be really clever in one area... and so does Ace, who takes about half a second to realize what the Doctor, all caught up in his own cleverness, misses entirely. You get what they both bring to things. (And, pleasantly, it's not a very gendered split of roles, where he's the brains and she's the compassion. I like a lot of modern companions, but that is a trap they've fallen into, even if it's a kinder gender stereotyping than the old damsel in distress days. If this is following any steretype, it's down class lines, of the absent-minded academic and the streetwise kid, but there are times when he's the one wise to the streets - the landing pattern of the spaceship - and she's the techy professional - I mean, making and carrying her own explosives, guys. So it's not a lazy split of roles.)

 

Yeah, that holds up. It's not the quickest of starts to the main plot, maybe, but it does a fair amount with the time it's got, and there were explosions and swinging into action pretty fast off the mark, so it's hard to complain. It's not just a new story, but a lot of anniversary stuff, and it's Ace's first story as companion, which they manage to pull off like she's been there forever. (She was introduced in a previous story, but she didn't get traded for the previous companion till the end, and now it feels like they've been traveling together for ages.) The 80s video quality is 80s video quality, but it's got a sort of visual design that makes it work well for the time it's set in. It feels about right for the shift of the postwar era into 20th century modernity. Some of the effects are pretty rough, but the Dalek POVs hold up really well, like a lot of 80s animation of supposed computer displays. Oh yeah, the Dalek POV was just wild back in the day. Never done before. The one in the junk yard was kind of a huge deal when I first saw it. Like, proper scifi. I think that and the anatomical inspection did a lot to make the Daleks proper alien threats again, after years of being toys and sketch comedy punchlines.

 

Another place I'm liking Ben Aaronovitch's pacing: I didn't notice till I mentioned the postwar setting, but as early as Harry in the cafe, this episode is explicitly being positioned against WWII, then again with Gilmore, and implicitly with Ratcliiffe. That's not an accident, and it's unusual for stories set in the early 1960s. Realistic, when you think how recent the war was, and also there's a literary reason. It's done really nicely, and with more skill than I'd expect from, like, a 24-year-old guy and his 25-year-old script editor. (The script editors filled a lot of the show runner roles back in the day. They were YOUNG. This was, like, their first jobs in TV, and almost their first jobs writing.)

 

Also, I will never get tired of this synth arrangement of the theme. It's for sure not the spookiest or coolest or most experimental, but it's got a sense of joy that none of the others has.

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On 2/10/2023 at 7:54 AM, sarakingdom said:

(Who else was interested in this? Was it @Rhovaniel ?)

 

tumblr_nt1tqwzvT91ux4a8mo1_500.gif

 

Sorry, was a bit absent on some side quests. Very much interested, I'll see if I can find Remembrance of the Daleks online somewhere.

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5 hours ago, Rhovaniel said:

Sorry, was a bit absent on some side quests. Very much interested, I'll see if I can find Remembrance of the Daleks online somewhere.

 

No apologies needed, just didn't want to leave you out if you were interested! :D

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Remembrance of the Daleks came in from the library! I watched the first two parts (fell asleep in the third, guess I was tired). Why doesn't the library have more of this? I need more!

 

Wait! I didn't check the other library system. They seem to have a lot more of the older Doctors! But no more of Season 25 or 26. Sigh.

 

Wait! But the other other library system has The Greatest Show in the Galaxy and Battlefield!

 

And the other other other library system has Ghost Light!

 

Ok, so I'm in for about half of Seasons 25 and 26, but I'll be driving all over the region to get them. And I might need to get an actual library card from one place. I think I only have a digital card from that one.

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On 2/18/2023 at 1:52 PM, Ranger Hal said:

Remembrance of the Daleks came in from the library! I watched the first two parts (fell asleep in the third, guess I was tired). Why doesn't the library have more of this? I need more!

 

I missed this! I did not get a notification from my subscription. Yay, I can go on to part 2! :D

 

What are your thoughts? This era can really divide opinions, and older Who isn't always an easy watch for fans of new Who.

 

On 2/18/2023 at 1:52 PM, Ranger Hal said:

Wait! But the other other library system has The Greatest Show in the Galaxy and Battlefield!

 

And the other other other library system has Ghost Light!

 

Score! I have Battlefield, so I can do that one with you.

 

I adore Ghost Light, but I don't have it anymore, apparently. I will warn you that it does not hold your hand even a little bit. You're dropped in the deep end of "what the hell is going on", and that's occasionally a little surreal. This is partly why I love it. It's one of those stories that causes people to have strong feelings one way or another, but it's very highly regarded by the people who like it.

 

Greatest Show in the Galaxy is one I'd like to see again, because I think I may have underrated it slightly. It has a lot of good stuff that works well, but I never ranked it in the top tier. Then I realized it was the only time the show ever aired its dirty laundry about the BBC in public, and it's an incredibly detailed diss track about the production problems of the time, on top of being a pretty good story about the cost of success and fame for artists, with, like, killer clowns and things. And even that more obvious story, I sorta got it but didn't think it through, so I think I just didn't completely get what it was doing when I saw it. That might change my feelings about it on a rewatch.

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1 hour ago, sarakingdom said:

I missed this! I did not get a notification from my subscription. Yay, I can go on to part 2! :D

Sorry to hear the notifications failed you. Glad you're back!

 

1 hour ago, sarakingdom said:

What are your thoughts? This era can really divide opinions, and older Who isn't always an easy watch for fans of new Who.

I thought it was great! I think I watched a couple of episodes of the first doctor once and couldn't really get into it (and then didn't watch any other older Who because I'm generally someone who has to watch/read things in order), but this one was no problem. I'm really glad you started this movie club to give me a place to start other than the beginning.

 

Ace is awesome! I love her and her explosives! I might have to go back to the last season to see when she shows up for the first time. I'm pretty sure one of my libraries has those episodes.

 

 

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1 hour ago, Ranger Hal said:

I think I watched a couple of episodes of the first doctor once and couldn't really get into it (and then didn't watch any other older Who because I'm generally someone who has to watch/read things in order),

 

Yeah, I have to admit, I find 1960s Who kind of tough going, especially the first Doctor. A few of the Troughton stories are quite fun, but, then again, so many are missing. There's nothing wrong with them, and I usually like black and white stuff, but it's just hard to get into. The 1970s is a lot easier. Definitely dated, but in a quaint, cozy British horror story sort of way.

 

1 hour ago, Ranger Hal said:

this one was no problem. I'm really glad you started this movie club to give me a place to start other than the beginning.

 

Cool! Yes, it really is fine to skip around with old Who. Seasons 25 and 26 are really the first time there's meaningful continuity apart from story serialisation, and it's also the first time there was any sort of video recording, so everything older is designed to be started cold. Even these seasons are, really, which is why I don't worry about all the continuity references.

 

1 hour ago, Ranger Hal said:

Ace is awesome! I love her and her explosives! I might have to go back to the last season to see when she shows up for the first time. I'm pretty sure one of my libraries has those episodes.

 

Ace is The Absolute Best. Nothing in the world is better than Ace.

 

Season 24 is an odd duck. So here's the story. The 6th Doctor was given the most stupidly garish costume and the most stupidly shrill companion and the most unpleasant personality and the most campy slog of stories, and never given enough time to dig his way out from under that mountain of awful. Cursed. The actor was a great guy, but just cursed by every single production decision.  The show nearly got cancelled then and there, but instead they fired him unceremoniously and hired a new guy. The new guy was stuck with the shrill companion and a pile of campy scripts intended for the other guy, and, like, they'd hired a trained clown, so it was sort of technicolor and slapstick. I think the stories weren't terrible, and probably would look better now, but it did not really shine. (At the time, people hated that season, and it's part of why the Seventh Doctor had the reputation he did. I think there are good things about most of those stories that are more obvious with distance, but I'm not gonna go to bat for them, you know?) For season 25, they gave him a fresh companion and realized their lead actor could do serious very well, and it was like a big renaissance for the show. But there's nothing all that wrong with season 24, apart from a bad first episode and the sense that it hasn't gelled yet.

 

So she's introduced in the last episode, Dragonfire. It's not a bad story, apart from the previous companion being there. (The only characters more painful than the 6th Doctor were his companions. They didn't deserve what the production team did to them, either. It was just a mess.) It doesn't come close to explaining how insanely familiar those two characters feel with each other in Remembrance. They feel like they've known each other forever, and have been traveling together for ages. There's kind of an implication that there's a lot of time between those two stories.

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2 hours ago, sarakingdom said:

Yeah, I have to admit, I find 1960s Who kind of tough going, especially the first Doctor. A few of the Troughton stories are quite fun, but, then again, so many are missing. There's nothing wrong with them, and I usually like black and white stuff, but it's just hard to get into. The 1970s is a lot easier. Definitely dated, but in a quaint, cozy British horror story sort of way.

Yeah, now that I've watched some of Season 25, I could see myself going back to some of the earlier stories at some point. It's too bad about the missing episodes. I hate incomplete collections.

 

2 hours ago, sarakingdom said:

Season 24 is an odd duck. So here's the story. The 6th Doctor was given the most stupidly garish costume and the most stupidly shrill companion and the most unpleasant personality and the most campy slog of stories, and never given enough time to dig his way out from under that mountain of awful. Cursed. The actor was a great guy, but just cursed by every single production decision.  The show nearly got cancelled then and there, but instead they fired him unceremoniously and hired a new guy. The new guy was stuck with the shrill companion and a pile of campy scripts intended for the other guy, and, like, they'd hired a trained clown, so it was sort of technicolor and slapstick. I think the stories weren't terrible, and probably would look better now, but it did not really shine. (At the time, people hated that season, and it's part of why the Seventh Doctor had the reputation he did. I think there are good things about most of those stories that are more obvious with distance, but I'm not gonna go to bat for them, you know?) For season 25, they gave him a fresh companion and realized their lead actor could do serious very well, and it was like a big renaissance for the show. But there's nothing all that wrong with season 24, apart from a bad first episode and the sense that it hasn't gelled yet.

What a mess! The copy I borrowed of Remembrance was part of a documentary thing they did around the time of the 50th Anniversary and contained an episode from each of Doctors 5-8. I watched a bit of the documentary part for the Seventh Doctor and now that I've seen a few clips from various episodes, I'm curious to see the entire story. Even if I don't like it, I can just roll my eyes and move back to Season 25.

 

2 hours ago, sarakingdom said:

So she's introduced in the last episode, Dragonfire. It's not a bad story, apart from the previous companion being there. (The only characters more painful than the 6th Doctor were his companions. They didn't deserve what the production team did to them, either. It was just a mess.) It doesn't come close to explaining how insanely familiar those two characters feel with each other in Remembrance. They feel like they've known each other forever, and have been traveling together for ages. There's kind of an implication that there's a lot of time between those two stories.

Even without an explanation, more Ace is more Ace!

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On 3/1/2023 at 4:24 PM, sarakingdom said:

and the most stupidly shrill companion

So, I watched Time and the Rani (because I had it) and this is a really good description of Mel. Her screaming is seriously annoying.

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19 minutes ago, Ranger Hal said:

So, I watched Time and the Rani (because I had it) and this is a really good description of Mel. Her screaming is seriously annoying.

 

RIP your poor ears. And, sadly, those are her more endearing character traits. Everything else about her is worse. You now understand what a massive tonal shift season 25 was. We do not speak of season 24. Best to just regard it as apocrypha.

 

(A few mentions of Dragonfire are all right, provided you talk about Ace, and a few mentions of Delta and the Bannermen are okay, so long as you're talking about Ray, who was almost the new companion. A few brave souls are working on rehabilitating Paradise Towers, but... god, Mel is a lot to overcome.)

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6 hours ago, sarakingdom said:

A few mentions of Dragonfire are all right, provided you talk about Ace, and a few mentions of Delta and the Bannermen are okay, so long as you're talking about Ray, who was almost the new companion. A few brave souls are working on rehabilitating Paradise Towers, but... god, Mel is a lot to overcome.

Perhaps it's just as well that Paradise Towers is the one part of Season 24 that my libraries don't have, lol!

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45 minutes ago, Ranger Hal said:

Perhaps it's just as well that Paradise Towers is the one part of Season 24 that my libraries don't have, lol!

 

It's been so long since I've seen it that I have absolutely no memories of how good oŕ bad it might be. There's probably nothing uniquely wrong with it that's not also wrong with the other episodes of that season. Delta and Dragonfire seem a bit more memorable, and probably have a bit more charm. But it's just not a great season, and Mel is a huge problem with rehabilitating any of it - there's only so much you can do when the companion's whole character is screaming and looking like the 80s got drunk.

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I felt like I could run forever, like I could smell the wind and feel the grass under my feet, and just run forever.

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On 2/7/2023 at 11:54 PM, sarakingdom said:

The 7th Doctor is the unsung hero of Doctor Who.

 

(This doesn't have a ton of spoilers, and if it does, they go by pretty fast. If you don't watch it immediately before an episode, it should be pretty safe. Also, zero clips from one of my fave stories, which is good, because any of them would spoil that wonderful madness.)

 

 

Unsung, because after a flawed first season for the 7th Doctor, the young production team took a neglected show slated for cancellation and reshaped it into a new sort of Doctor Who, steeped the same genre-aware pop culture, punk, politics, and chaos magic fusion that was influencing the indie comics scene coming out of 1980s London, like Watchmen and Hellblazer and Swamp Thing and Sandman. It brought the mythos back into Who, and turned it into the modern show it is today, where the companions were true lead characters with stories of their own, where the Doctor was dangerous and had a hidden past that sometimes came to get him, where time was suddenly a more fluid thing, where the show was faster-paced, high-concept, self-referential.

 

Old school fans, or at least half of them, were not ready for this, and loudly panned it. This, plus that first season that hadn't quite gelled (most of the scripts had been written for the previous actor in the role), turned into a poor reputation for what is easily the strongest and most innovative era of classic Who.

 

Despite this, everything Doctor Who is today was shaped by seasons 25 and 26. Those seasons contained at least six utterly classic stories out of eight. (And there's a good case to be made for one of the others to be up there, and the remaining one is pretty decent, even if it pales beside its mates.) Two of these stories are complete defining powerhouses, the best of the best of old Who. Several of them are utter madness, sheer ambition and chutzpah thrown onto video. Who has never been this ambitious or opinionated, before or since.

 

It is admittedly made on a budget of one pound sixpence, two paper clips, and as many tea bags as they could smuggle out of the BBC canteen.

 

We're currently light on a schedule, but we'll be starting with Remembrance of the Daleks this weekend, and thinking of moving on to the rest of season 25 and maybe 26.

Stopped by to say I finally got a chance to turn on this episode last night (it was in fact in my sampler collection of "The Best of Doctor Who" that features a story from each doctor). I liked it a lot. It also makes me want to go and watch a lot more dalek episodes. :) 

I could pick up some familiarity to Rivers of London in the pacing and characterizations. Very cool to have seen two comparable pieces of Aaronovitch's work. :D

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UK folks, the BBC has Curse of Fenric up in their retro Doctors collection. I don't know for how long. But it is, like, the very best of old Who. Arguably even better than Remembrance (although it's not an argument I'd like to have).

 

It is also:

  • Possibly the only WWII story in existence with absolutely zero Nazis in it
  • A chance to see Nicholas Parsons in a rare serious role
  • The start of the first major companion character arc

It is good in many ways.

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On 11/18/2023 at 10:22 AM, MaeradCase said:

I could pick up some familiarity to Rivers of London in the pacing and characterizations. Very cool to have seen two comparable pieces of Aaronovitch's work. :D

 

You will see even more commonalities in Battlefield, I think. (Also a very good episode, but more of a sleeper hit than Remembrance.)

 

Remembrance is a great episode, and he was an absolute baby when he wrote it. Super young.

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