The Doctor Is In: A Brief History of Doctor Who, Pt 2

On Wednesday I gave a brief overview of Doctors 1-5 from the BBC scifi television show Doctor Who. If you missed that or a need a recap: “The Doctor Is In: A Brief History of Doctor Who, Pt 1.”  Today I will discuss Doctors 6-11, bringing you update with the revival of the show and the newest Doctor.  So, we left off with Peter Davison as the Fifth Doctor.  Next up:

The Sixth Doctor: played by Colin Baker (1984-1986)

Colin Baker, not to be confused with Tom Baker, took on the role in a time of change.  The writers and producers had decided to change the length of the show from 26 half-hour episodes per season to 13 hour-long episodes per season.  They also moved the show to Saturday evenings.  C. Baker’s Doctor was also a very different kind of Doctor, criticized by some as being too overbearing the Wikipedia page uses the word “bombastic” which I think is a good descriptor for the Sixth Doctor.  There was also some complaint about several episodes in which the Doctor uses deadly force against his enemies, a level of violence not seen before in the Doctor.  C. Baker’s role as the Doctor was also injured by an 18month hiatus, and by the end of 1986, the new Controller of BBC One demanded a new Doctor, and Colin Baker was dismissed before the end of his contract.

The Seventh Doctor: played by Sylvester McCoy (1987-1989)

After Colin Baker’s dismissal, the main Doctor Who producer intended to leave the show but was instructed by BBC to remain, and thus had little time to prepare for the next season.  He therefore hired an inexperienced new scriptwriter for the show, and the little-known Scottish comedy actor Sylvester McCoy to portray the Seventh Doctor.  In keeping with his comedy background, in his first season as the Doctor McCoy played the character with comedic, even goofy, charm.  However, the new writer soon changed that, bringing in darker tones.  McCoy’s Doctor eventually developed into a much darker character than previously: he always seemed be playing a deeper game than anyone knew and could manipulate people like chess pieces, with a tendency to be ruthless.  This Doctor (and the Doctors after him) is completely opposed to use of force and especially against the use of firearms.  Instead, he used his intelligence to talk or trick enemies into submission: on several occasions he quite literally talked his enemies into committing suicide (most memorably in Remembrance of the Daleks).

Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor saw the cancellation of Doctor Who by the BBC Controller, after 26 consecutive seasons.  However, in 1996 after many fits and starts to expand or restart the series, BBC was able to interest Fox Network in doing a television movie that would be a direct continuation of the series, and could be optioned as a new series in the US should it receive decent viewer ratings.  Unfortunately, though the movie did well in England, its ratings in America were less-than-stellar and Fox did not option the show.  The Doctor Who movie, then, becomes the only television production featuring the Eight Doctor.

The Eighth Doctor: played by Paul McGann (1996)

For the television movie Sylvester McCoy agreed to return for a brief cameo in which his Doctor is killed by the Master and regenerates into McGann’s Doctor.  In the movie, the Doctor’s regeneration occurs after U.S. emergency room doctors, not realizing he’s an alien, try to revive him a defibrillator.  The electric shock disrupted his regeneration process, causing him to be extremely disoriented, with gaps in his memory when he awakens.  Therefore, much of the first part of the movie shows McGann’s Doctor trying to figure out who he is: slowly growing more confident and knowledgable as the movie continues.  McGann’s Doctor, in contrast to McCoy’s, was joyous and energetic, alternating an boyish charm with an old-soul demeanor that made him very popular very quickly.  Sadly, viewers never had the chance to see him again, though he still has a long-running radio drama series about the Eighth Doctor’s continuing adventures.

In 2005, seemingly out of nowhere, Doctor Who suddenly got new life.  In a series revival headed by uber-fan Russell T. Davies, the 2005 season of Doctor Who gave us old fans reason to fall in love all over again and brought a whole new generation of viewers along as well.  What is important to remember about this series is that it is a REVIVAL, not a REBOOT.  Everything that happened in the first 26 seasons is still canon.  The Doctor remembers all his past incarnations.  However, Russell T. Davies began with a premise that allowed for a certain amount of blank slate space, giving new viewers easier access to the well-established mythology of the series.  This premise was: just before the show begins, there was a Time War, a war between the Time Lords of Gallifrey and the Daleks.  And the Time Lords lost.  The Doctor managed to destroy the Daleks, but not before the Daleks had destroyed Gallifrey.  Furthermore, the war was so devastating to various planes/dimensions/etc that the entire event in time-space was “time-locked” so that not even the most powerful time traveler (ie, the Doctor) could go back and attempt to change things.  Now, it’s a whole new ballgame, bringing us to:

The Ninth Doctor: played by Christopher Eccleston (2005)

The Ninth Doctor is a bit of a paradox.  He is playful in some instances and dark in others.  Generally serious and burdened by his 900+ years of existence and the events of the Time War, he still manages to be goofy on occasion especially as his newest human companion, Rose Tyler, loosens him up.  However, he is the last of his species, the last Time Lord, and he blames himself for losing to the Daleks, so it is understandable that he would be a bit on the dark side.  Like McCoy’s Doctor, he does not believe in using firearms, however, he is not about using deadly force of other sorts, as demonstrated in the first episode of the 2005 season when he uses a poison to kill an invading alien entity.  Eccleston, a well-known actor in England who has also played several villains in US movies, brought an amount of gravitas to the role was downright impressive.  He was also emotional and human in ways many of the Doctors before him had never been.   This, I think, made him that much more popular.  I, personally, would have liked to see him stick around for longer, but from the beginning Eccleston had an understanding with Davies that he would only do one season because he feared being type-cast.

The Tenth Doctor: played by David Tennant (2005-2010)

Yes, this is my favorite Doctor now.  I could gush about him for hours.  Having stated that, I will now NOT gush about for hours.

The season finale of the first season of the revival (yes, they started renumbering the seasons, much to my chagrin, but what can you do?), ended with the regeneration of Eccleston’s Doctor into Tennant’s Doctor.  His companion, Rose, like many viewers, was not happy about this at first.  Tennant’s Doctor begins much livelier and fun-loving than Eccleston’s Doctor had been.  He is reminiscence of McGann’s Doctor in a number of ways: bringing boyish charm to the role again, and always finding wonder in the world.  He’s famous (or infamous) among the characters for always seeming happier the worse things get.  He just loves the excitement.  Season 2 brought one of the biggest changes ever to the series: Rose Tyler became the first companion ever to fall in love with the Doctor, and the Tenth Doctor was the first one ever to reciprocate.  I hoped this would be the last time too, but alas no.  Don’t get me wrong, I like Rose, unlike some fans, but I think the “falling-in-love” angle should only be done once.  After Rose’s departure at the end of season 2, Tennant’s Doctor becomes more solemn, burdened with the fact that he always loses the people he cares about.  By the end of the fourth season, Tennant’s last, the Tenth Doctor had become probably the darkest, most melancholy, and emotional Doctor ever.  And Tennant played it to heart-breaking perfection (okay, I had to toss in that one bit of gushing).

The Eleventh Doctor: played by Matt Smith (2010-current)

With Russell T. Davies leaving the show to pursue other interests, and Stephen Moffat (another uber-fan) taking over, Tennant decided to leave and give the show a clean slate.  Thus, Matt Smith was brought in.  Matt Smith, at 26 yrs old, is the youngest actor ever to portray the Doctor (and I hope he’ll remain the youngest, any younger than that just becomes unbelievable), but his character is in some ways the oldest the Doctor has ever been.  That’s not to say he’s crotchety or slow or anything like that: he’s more like a goofy grandfather, or a crazy uncle.  He wears suspenders and a bowtie and thinks that’s still cool.  He is very absent-minded and his words always a few miles behind his brain. He rarely seems to take anything seriously, he plays matchmaker on several occasions, flirts with every girl he sees, and is really good with children.  Moffat and Smith consciously made a choice to bring the Doctor back to a lighter, happier time for awhile after the heaviness of Tennant’s last season and his departure.  It was a good choice.  Something to clear the palate, as it were.  And Smith plays goofy and comical with an edge of old-man weariness very well.  Also, the mystery of the character River Song, who knows the Doctor far better than the Doctor know her (thanks to the craziness of time travel and tangled up timelines) gives the Eleventh Doctor a wonderful foil.  (The mystery has been revealed in the last couple episodes of this season, but I’m not going to say a word about it, for those who haven’t seen it yet.)

And this, ladies, and gentlemen, brings us up to speed on the eleven Doctors the world has had the pleasure of meeting.  There is, of course, so much more I could say.  I could probably write blogs for a month just about the many companions who have traveled with the Doctor over the years.  And another month about all the villains.  And yet another month about the many other Time Lords seen on the original series run.

However, this is long enough.  But I hope it was interesting and/or instructive.  I had a decent number of hits on Wednesday’s post, but I’d really love to see some more comments.

So, now that I’ve covered all of them: which Doctor is your favorite?  If you were a fan of the original run, how do you feel about the revival?  And if you started with the revival, how do you feel about the original run?  (You can catch some of it on Netflix, you know!)  Any favorite companions?  Least favorite?  Inquiring minds want to know!

Please come back Monday for a very brief breakdown of a few of the major villains from Doctor Who, because no hero is complete without really cool and/or creepy bad guys to fight.

[Side Note: Once again, all pictures came from the wikipedia page: History of Doctor Who]