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50th Anniversary Retrospective: The 7th Doctor

John Hussey continues his monthly retrospective, this time looking at the 7th Doctor, Sylvester McCoy.

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The Origins of The Seventh Doctor

Colin Baker’s time on Doctor Who came to a sad end when the show was placed on hiatus for 18 months. This lead to Baker’s final season when Head of Drama Michael Grade deemed him too violent for the part and ordered Producer John Nathan-Turner to fire him and get a new actor in for the role. Needless to say Colin Baker was devastated by this. He had finally obtained his dream job and now it had been cruelly taken from him by no fault of his own. They asked if he would come back for one final story in order to film the regeneration sequence, which Baker tried to negotiate into having one final season within the role before regenerating. These negotiations went nowhere and so Baker decided not to return for the regeneration sequence because of how upset he was over this ordeal. Sadly Colin Baker didn’t get the time he wanted, or deserved, but at least he would go on to develop his incarnation further within the Big Finish audio-plays.

Sylvester McCoy was the next person to be placed in the spotlight and given the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play the legendary Time Lord. McCoy had already attempted to take on the role when Peter Davison decided to leave, but lost the role to Colin Baker. The main reason he achieved the role this time round was his performance as the Pied Piper in a theatre play, which Producer John Nathan-Turner went to see after a fellow Producer advised Nathan-Turner to hire McCoy as the Doctor because he thought he had potential for the part. Nathan-Turner was impressed by what he saw. At the same time McCoy decided to try for the role once again and this time got the part. After portraying Colin Baker for the pre-title sequence of ‘Time and the Rani’, due to Baker’s absent and refusal to return, McCoy got started and began his long development of the Doctor, creating a more mysterious and ancient Time Lord which made way to many interesting stories and ideas.

Character Traits, Personality and Catchphrases

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The Seventh Doctor was an interesting case within the Doctor’s lifespan as this was the point when his darkness and manipulative powers really started to take shape. This had already begun to develop within the Sixth Doctor’s life, before mellowing out. The Seventh Doctor started off quite gentle until he really got into the swing of his new incarnation and became very cross and suspicious. Mercy by this point had become less and his treatment and thoughts against enemies had become dark indeed. His tone and appearance became more mysterious and was filled with a dark aura. It was during this incarnation that he started to bring in more mystery behind the Doctor’s past and what it might entail. The Doctor stated to Davros in ‘Remembrance of the Daleks’ that he is more than just a Time Lord (note that this is a deleted scene from the broadcasted version). Also it was noted by Lady Peinforte in ‘Silver Nemesis’ that she knew the truth behind the Doctor and it was hinted that it was a dark secret. Another example of his mystery was in ‘Battlefield’ when he was credited as the great wizard Merlin, a hint at his future. It was events like this which demonstrated the Doctor’s godlike figure in power and authority, something that developed further within future incarnations.

Like with the Fifth and Sixth Doctor, the Seventh Doctor didn’t have the easiest ride when it came to post-regeneration. This was namely because the Rani knocked the newly regenerated Doctor out, after ultimately causing him to regenerate by capturing his TARDIS in mid- flight, and then she used his amnesia to manipulate his intelligence into helping her dark schemes to harness the power of Strange-Matter. The Seventh Doctor then changed his clothing into something more casual, rather than what appeared to be a designed outfit like his previous two incarnations. The question mark still remained, this time being printed all over his pullover along with being the shape of his umbrella handle.

The manipulation of the Seventh Doctor became a strong part of his characterisation and constantly was used as a tool to defeat his enemies. On two occasions he caused wars to the death due to his handling with ancient Time Lord Devices and placed humans and the universe in jeopardy. The worst part about these events was that he held all the cards, almost like a god playing his enemies off against each other like pieces of a chessboard. In ‘Remembrance of the Daleks’ the outcome of the battle left the Daleks apparently extinct after he tricked Davros into using the Hand of Omega, resulting in Skaro being destroyed. He then tricked the Cyber-Leader in ‘Silver Nemesis’ into believing it had gained possession over the Nemesis but instead watched as its Cyber-Fleet was destroyed by the device. Another prime example of his usage of manipulation was against Fenric, who had to face a chess puzzle and if he could find the one winning move he would defeat the Seventh Doctor – but ultimately the Seventh Doctor’s mind was too cunning for Fenric. Fenric then briefly gained the upper hand, so the Seventh Doctor persuaded the Great One to turn against him as its future would’ve been destroyed if Fenric’s plans succeeded. In the process, Ace tried defending the Seventh Doctor against the Vampire with her faith in the Time Lord so the Seventh Doctor crushed her faith by claiming she was worthless and the only reason he sort out such a renegade specimen was because of her evil, i.e. her being a part of Fenric’s curse. Although this allowed the Great One to kill Fenric, it was still harsh to witness the Seventh Doctor speaking to Ace in such a manor – although it is fair to say he apologised afterwards and explained his reasons for doing what he did.

Although the Seventh Doctor had a strong dark side, he also had a caring side towards his good friend Ace who he watched out for constantly and tried to protect her from danger. These were the rare moments when the Seventh Doctor showed compassion and humanity. The Seventh Doctor ended up helping Ace with her fear of swimming in ‘The Curse of Fenric’ and in ‘Ghost Light’ allowed Ace to face her demons within Gabriel Chase, an old house that frightened her as a child.

The Seventh Doctor had a habit of telling Ace off for her mistakes, namely when it came to her handling of explosives. He also tended to hit Ace with his hat in order to tell her not to touch something.

Era and Stories

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The Seventh Doctor era took on a new shape and style in order to try and revamp the show’s mystery. The Doctor as a character had started to become too familiar to the audience so the new Script Editor Andrew Cartmel worked with long time show-runner John Nathan-Turner to bring some mystery back into the character. The Seventh Doctor’s era got off on an awkward foot due to the problems created behind the scenes. The major onscreen problem was the Seventh Doctor’s introduction, which was a rushed job due to the complications with Colin Baker’s forced departure. It was quickly written in by the writers of ‘Time and the Rani’ (Pip and Jane Baker) and established in an abrupt way the new Doctor. Luckily things began to mellow out over the course of the story and Sylvester McCoy found his feet and began developing his incarnation. The sad part about this era though was the lack of stories per season with the episode slot of ‘The Trial of a Time Lord’ becoming the season format. For the remaining three seasons of Classic Who there were only fourteen episodes per season forming four stories.

Mystery was the concentration of this era and re-establishing the Doctor’s character and who he really was. His first season was merely there to develop his character and get the show rolling again. It wasn’t until his second season, Season Twenty-Five, which got the Seventh Doctor fully going. John Nathan-Turner and Andrew Cartmel brought in dark elements to the Doctor’s character, something that had begun with the Sixth Doctor. The Seventh Doctor was made to be very dark and manipulative to both his enemies and his companion Ace, who would often be left in the dark about what was really going on. The Seventh Doctor manipulated both the Daleks and Cybermen via ancient Time Lord Devices and brought about their apparent destruction. In both of these stories, it was strongly hinted that the Doctor is more than just an ordinary Time Lord, and that he might hold great secrets and powers from before the events of ‘An Unearthly Child’. This was the idea by Andrew Cartmel but it was never seen through to its final conclusion as the show was cancelled before his plans got underway. Never the less, the hints given in this era are left to interpretation. The mystery of the Doctor’s past is brought up again in The Eleventh Doctor’s era, which depicts him holding a great secret that must never be told. This all hints back to this era and the mystery that was being placed once more around the character.

For the first time since Season Thirteen U.N.I.T., the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce, were brought back to fight alongside the Doctor. They made their return in Season Twenty- Six’s opening episode ‘Battlefield’. Along with U.N.I.T. the Brigadier also made a return, making it his last appearance on the show. This made the Brigadier the longest running companion within the show, having been in twenty-two stories and namely for working alongside six out of the seven incarnations of the Doctor at the time. The Brigadier had one final appearance onscreen within the Whoniverse in spin-off show The Sarah Jane Adventures fighting against Mrs Wormwood, Commander Kaagh and the Bane alongside old friend Sarah Jane Smith, her son and friends in the Series 2 final ‘Enemy of the Bane’. It was also in ‘Battlefield’ that we finally got to meet the Brigadier’s wife Doris. And finally, ‘Battlefield’ saw the return of the Doctor’s trusty vehicle Bessie.

Ace, the Seventh Doctor’s main companion, was one of the most interesting developments to the show and allowed for a street-wise kid from a rough estate to tag along with the Time Lord. Her character was very much different to past companions as she was more protective of the Doctor and certainly gave him a run for his money when it came to his dark and manipulative ways. One prime example is in ‘The Curse of Fenric’ when she became angered with the Seventh Doctor for always leaving her and the other mere mortals in the dark and demanded to know the truth about the events occurring. Although they constantly bickered with each other and didn’t always see eye to eye, it can be said that the Seventh Doctor and Ace’s friendship is one of the strongest within the entire show. Ace was also one the rare few companions to go head-to-head with the Doctor’s enemies, examples being taking on a Dalek with a baseball bat and charging against a platoon of Cybermen with a slingshot and gold coins.

This era, like the previous one, ended on shaky grounds. Due to continuing complications behind the scenes the show was cancelled in 1989, bringing an end to what is referred to now as the “Classic Series”. It is fair to say the era had what felt like a closure but at the same time it felt like it could’ve done more, i.e. delve further into the mysteries of the Doctor that were being built upon. The show made a short but sweet return during its 30th Anniversary for a Children in Need special entitled ‘Dimensions in Time’. After that, the show remained silent for a few more years until the Seventh Doctor’s era was finally given official closure when the Seventh Doctor regenerated in the TV Movie ‘Doctor Who’. It was during these wilderness years though when other medias such as comic books, novels and audio-plays started to take interest within the Doctor and began expanding his storyline while absent from television, ultimately being the reason why the show survived until its official return in 2005.

I can’t go without mentioning the Seventh Doctor’s famous lines that brought a closure to the Classic Series:

There are worlds out there where the sky is burning. And the sea’s asleep, and the rivers dream. People made of smoke, and cities made of song. Somewhere there’s danger. Somewhere there’s injustice. And somewhere else, the tea’s getting cold. Come on, Ace — we’ve got work to do!

Companions

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Melanie Bush
Mel was unexpectedly caught within the Rani’s trap when the TARDIS was snatched out of space. She was unconscious during the Sixth Doctor’s regeneration and when she later confronted the Seventh Doctor, she didn’t realise who he was. She soon adjusted to the new Doctor and continued to travel with him until ‘Dragonfire’ where she decided to leave the Doctor and find a new life for herself.

Ace
Ace was a young rebellious girl from Earth who accidently sent herself into the far future after a chemistry experiment in her bedroom went terribly wrong. She met the Seventh Doctor in ‘Dragonfire’ and became his companion. She then travelled with him far and wide, becoming almost his protector against the most dangerous creatures within the galaxy. Ace was strong, independent and well equipped when it came to explosives. Unfortunately due to the cancellation of the show, we never did see an onscreen departure from Ace and it’s up to interpretation as to how she left.

Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart
The Brigadier was called out of retirement to face against Morgaine, an evil witch from another universe who wished to claim the powers of Excalibur. The main reason he was persuaded to do so was because he became aware of the Doctor’s involvement within the situation and jumped at the chance of being reunited with his old friend. Like the good old days, the Brigadier took charge of U.N.I.T. and aided his scientific advisor in defeating their enemy and saved the Earth from domination. After the battle was over, the Brigadier and the Seventh Doctor were left to attend to the gardening and cooking while Doris, the Brigadier’s wife, and Ace enjoyed a girl’s day out in Bessie.

Encountered Villains and Monsters

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The Rani
The renegade Time Lady returned in ‘Time and the Rani’ where she caused the Sixth Doctor to regenerate after capturing his TARDIS mid-flight and causing it to crash. She then tried manipulating the confused newly regenerated Seventh Doctor into helping her with her plans. Once the Seventh Doctor got round to his senses, he managed to defeat her dark schemes of harnessing Strange-Matter and she ultimately got captured by her minions the Tetraps and held prisoner onboard her own TARDIS.

The Rani returned for her final appearance in ‘Dimensions in Time’ where she tried capturing all of the Doctor’s incarnations and trapping them in a time trap. Once the Doctor’s had discovered what was happening to him and his different companions, while shooting through different time zones around London’s east end, the Seventh Doctor, Ace and K9 managed to reverse her plans and sent her into the time trap instead.

The Daleks
The Daleks got caught up in a massive civil war in ‘Remembrance of the Daleks’ over the possession of the Hand of Omega. The Imperial Daleks, led by the Emperor i.e. Davros, had the superior advantage because of their upgraded capabilities. The Renegade Daleks, led by the Supreme Dalek, rejected the new Daleks for being impure and tried desperately to keep the Daleks supreme and pure. Ultimately they were all wiped out, with the Supreme Dalek later killed off by the Seventh Doctor by informing it of its defeat and being the last of its kind, resulting in the creature self-destructing due to no longer having a purpose. The Imperial Daleks were wiped out after the Seventh Doctor tricked Davros into using the Hand of Omega, ultimately destroying Skaro and his ship in the process. The Seventh Doctor apparently caused the extinction of his great enemy.

Davros
The insane Dalek creator had become Emperor of the Daleks and with his new superior Daleks, tried desperately to take claim of the Hand of Omega and become masters of time. The Seventh Doctor manipulated him into using the Time Lord device and tricked him into destroying Skaro and the Imperial Daleks. He managed to escape using an escape-pod.

The Cybermen
The cybernetic creatures attempted to claim the powers of the Nemesis in ‘Silver Nemesis’, pitting themselves against Neo-Nazis and Lady Peinforte in a battle to the death. In the end, the Cybermen were totally defeated after the Seventh Doctor tricked the Cyber-Leader into using the Nemesis which resulted in the Cyber-Fleet being destroyed.

The Master
The Doctor’s great nemesis returned in ‘Survival’ where it was discovered he had been changing into one of the Cheetah People, barely holding onto his sanity as the planet’s animal instincts tried to take control of his mind and body. He eventually used the Seventh Doctor to escape the planet but then discovered he could not fight against the charge and so decided to use his animal powers to finally kill the Doctor. They ended in a hand-to-hand battle back on the Cheetah planet with the Seventh Doctor winning. The Master was apparently destroyed when the planet exploded due to their battle.

The Three Must See Episodes

  • 3. ‘Remembrance of the Daleks’
  • 2. ‘Battlefield’
  • 1. ‘The Greatest Show in the Galaxy’

Special Mentions to: ‘Paradise Towers’ ‘Silver Nemesis’ ‘The Curse of Fenric’ ‘Survival’

First words

“Oh no, Mel.”

The Incarnation Speech

“This is the Doctor. President Elect of the High Counsel of Time Lords. Keeper of the Legacy of Rassilon. Defender of the Laws of Time. Protector of Gallifrey. I call upon you to surrender the Hand of Omega and return to your own time and place.”

Famous Last Words

“Timing Malfunction! The Master, he’s out there! He’s out there… I know… I’ve got to stop… him…”

The Regeneration

The Seventh Doctor regenerated in ‘Doctor Who’ (aka the the 1996 TV movie) due to being operated on by Dr. Grace Holloway. This all began when the Master made one final request during his trial and execution on Skaro; he wished for the Seventh Doctor to return his ashes to Gallifrey. Upon the journey back to their home-world, the Master’s remains manifested into a ghostly serpent creature and hijacked the TARDIS. The controls malfunctioned and caused the time/space vessel to make an emergency landing on Earth. After exiting his TARDIS in San-Francesco the Seventh Doctor was caught in the middle of a Chinese gang-war and shot down. Chang Lee, the man the rival gang were after, aided the Seventh Doctor to the hospital. His wounds were tended to but because of his irregular heartbeat (caused by his two hearts) and the apparent double exposure upon his x-rays, Dr. Grace Holloway was called in to operate on him. The Seventh Doctor tried desperately to warn her about the consequences of her actions but was unable to resist the drugs putting him under. The operation took place and instead of aiding the Seventh Doctor, it killed him. Due to the drugs, the Seventh Doctor didn’t regenerate until hours after his death…

Step back in time...

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