10 Missed Magic Moments in Doctor Who: 10-6
Guest contributor Frank Cheeryble looks at tragically missed moments. Part 1.
We love Doctor Who. We love the character of the Doctor, the spirit of adventure and the limitless possibilities the concept allows. But as with any drama, the concept alone won’t keep us tuning in each week. What turns Who from a nice idea into a legendary half-century lasting phenomenon is its magic moments. Those times, from Barbara being advanced on by a plunger-like extremity onwards, when you know that this isn’t any ordinary television programme. Those moments when creative vision, performance and direction come together to send chills down your spine, when you can see just how much care has gone into that moment. Those lines of dialogue that let you understand the whole range of emotions a character is going through, because you’ve grown with them over the weeks and years. Or maybe just a well-timed reference to the past, that warms the heart of the long-time fan and reminds you that through all the many “eras” of Who the same DNA of the show is still running underneath. It is these moments that make Doctor Who truly special.
But as with any show that’s been running for so long, it doesn’t always turn out perfectly. Sometimes, those magic moments are within grasp but are just snatched away from us at the last. It’s all very easy to point out these oversights when watching episodes back, and in almost all cases they do not detract from great work elsewhere in the same stories, but that doesn’t prevent a sense of sadness when thinking on what so nearly was. So here it is, the countdown of my top ten tragically missed magic moments in Doctor Who history.
10. Canton Delaware’s second/third/fourth appearance
Who doesn’t love Canton Everett Delaware III? (I may regret asking that.) What a great notion to have one of the Doctor’s bestest buddies called to Lake Silencio being someone that both we and the Pond family had never met before, who not only knew the Doctor well but seemed to know exactly what was going to happen to him at the lake in advance. After that, leap back to younger Canton in the 60s, become part of the TARDIS gang, Richard Nixon, brave heart, defeat the Silence with a phone, in love with a man, and see you later Doctor.
Brilliant introduction for the character. And then… nothing. No more Canton, save for a brief reprise during The Wedding of River Song. So how did he know the Doctor was “definitely dead” at the lake? Did his version of the summons contain a postscript saying “by the way, bring a can of petrol”? Amy and/or Rory could have told Canton that they’d seen the Doctor killed during The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon, but they didn’t. Even having him pop up in place of Henry Avery and son in A Good Man Goes to War would have helped to explain his foresight somewhat. But as it is, we have no real sense of why the Doctor was a fan of his to the extent of inviting him along to his death, or what the narrative purpose of old Canton really was. We seemed to be promised a lot more of Canton but we didn’t get it. And I wanted more. Sorry Mr Moffat, I’m usually a big defender of yours but you dropped the ball on that one.
9. Benton out
It’s a shame Nicholas Courtney wasn’t available to ‘Brig it up’ in The Android Invasion, but if he was to get as short shrift as old Benton by the end of the story, it’s probably a good thing he wasn’t around. Don’t get me wrong, it’s lovely to see the familiar face of RSM “Mister” Benton (who has a clause in his UNIT contract granting him automatic promotion every time the Doctor regenerates) as well as dear Harry Sullivan in the unfamiliar setting, but when crisis is averted and we cut straight to the Doctor and Sarah making their way back to the TARDIS alone I can’t be the only one to think “what about the others?” A final goodbye between Sarah and Harry would have been nice, but as the latter already took his leave in Terror of the Zygons it is Benton’s non-departure that really stings, especially as John Levene does little more than crawl slowly in the background in his final ever Doctor Who scene after six years. And that isn’t even the real Benton! In a story written by Terry Nation, and script edited by Robert Holmes, I wouldn’t have expected such a significant omission to go unnoticed.
8. The Third Doctor’s homing instincts
Remember the end of The Three Doctors, when the Doctor was forgiven by the Time Lords and allowed to travel across time and space again? It seemed the shackles of UNIT were left behind, and we were in for some intergalactic “planet of the week” adventures once again. And for a time, that is exactly what happened. But hold on, what’s this? The Green Death rolls around, and the Doctor is once again parked up in the UNIT base tweaking the TARDIS as if he’s never been away? And even once Jo’s gone up the river with her new husband (steady), he’s still knocking about investigating seemingly minor predicaments and running into young journalists posing as their own aunts? What happened to wanting freedom, Doctor?
Of course, in retrospect we know exactly why the Third Doctor was still hanging around UNIT. It was, as he finally indicated just before regenerating, his “home”; that incarnation belonged there, and after years of trying to get away he realised that he quite liked it after all. So the missed magic moment here is just not making that clear enough until (quite literally) the dying moments. Even having the Brig questioning the Doctor’s reappearances, or being a bit annoyed at him vanishing every now and again but pleased to have him back, would have given us some indication that this wasn’t just lazy writing but part of the Doctor’s character. Staying with UNIT between losing Jo and meeting Sarah is especially in need of some acknowledgement, and the whole concept could have supplied us with some great “aaawwww” moments in Jon Pertwee’s last years on the show. Because we all know Three’s a big softie at heart.
7. Closing Time’s opening
Now a missed magic moment that follows on from a perfectly hit magic moment: the end of The God Complex. Watching that scene where the Doctor leaves Amy and Rory, whether through coincidence or not, it is stunning how perfectly it foreshadows the Ponds’ final exit a year later. Beautiful work from hopefully-future-showrunner Toby Whithouse, and leaves us wondering just how long it will be before we see Amy and Rory’s story continue after this point. Of course, as it turned out they got a lovely little cameo appearance the very next week where we learned of Amy’s modelling success and the Doctor adorably hid from his best friends. It was a great surprise, not spoiled by any trailers for the episode. But what’s this, opening titles? Still crediting Karen and Arthur, I see? Well I guess they’ll be showing up at some point then. How hard would it have been to have put James Corden’s name in there instead, just for one episode? It would have been perfect, and sowed some more doubt over whether Karen and Arthur really had left for good at that point. Come on guys, think it through.
6. Rose and Mickey stopped speaking
By Journey’s End, Rose and Mickey had split up. I’m OK with that; while Rose getting her own pet Doctor to have closed-door fun with forever more is disgusting, it let Mickey come back to our universe, marry Martha and potentially show up in Torchwood (although he never did, of course). And I like that he still had enough feeling for Rose and/or Jackie, the only family he’d had for a long time, to hop between worlds to help them out. What I’m not OK with is that Rose couldn’t bring herself to say a single word, or even glance sideways at her former long-term boyfriend. He’s travelled across worlds for you, you ingrate! Just two lines would have done the trick: awkward exchange, Rose walks away, Mickey is heartbroken. Leads into him deciding to go with Jack, sorted. Anything would have done. Big, big omission when RTD did pretty much every other conceivable thing in the space of two episodes, and very unfortunate that the Rose/Mickey relationship ended in such a Benton-like fashion.
Look out for the second half of the countdown tomorrow, including a couple of all-time classics that just missed out on perfection. Thanks for reading, and why not list some of your own in the comments!