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The Seventh Doctor: Five Favourites

K-Ci Williams picks out five favourites from Sylvester McCoy’s era.

mccoy-b-seven

Can you believe it?! It’s August already, and almost time for yet another series. It’s also a birthday today, or rather birthday(s). Happy Birthday to Radagast the Brown, our Seventh Doctor, Sylvester McCoy (strangely I wrote that with Zoe Ball’s voice in my head) and his assistant, the wonderful Sophie Aldred. Isn’t it funny that both Doctor and companion were born on the same day!

Unless you’ve been hibernating, in a deep (breath) sleep, waiting for Series 8 to come, you’ll know the procedure. I’ve chosen five of my personal favourites from Seven’s era, well the parts I’ve actually seen. Enjoy, and let’s raise a *insert beverage name here* to the birthday boy and girl.

Remembrance of the Daleks

remembrance-of-the-daleks-art-dvdThis was honestly one of the first Seventh Doctor serials I had ever seen, also one of the first Classic series stories I’d seen. For some reason, I automatically took a liking to Ace – who was coincidentally hitting a Dalek with a bat. There is something so badass about that, as I’m sure you’ll agree. Ace was wonderfully characterised to my liking; with scenes portraying her love of blowing things up catching my eye. Sylvester McCoy is fascinating in this serial, again it was my first of the question mark umbrella man as I first perceived him. Firstly, let’s address the Daleks, a traditional Who foe – somewhat overused in today’s era – but back in the Seventh Doctor’s era, they were used once.

Continuity wise, this serial celebrates yet another anniversary by returning to London in 1963, seemingly days after the events of An Unearthly Child and a sinister little girl with a strange storyline. But as I’ve said, I feel that McCoy and Aldred are a force of nature when paired onscreen. The pacing of the story doesn’t feel forced or overly stretched to accommodate a lengthy amount of time, and the plot is interesting to say the least. The wow factor for me was the setting of a familiar historical place in Who history and once again everybody’s favourite kickass bat-to-Dalek girl!

The Greatest Show in the Galaxy

The-Greatest-Show-in-the-GalaxyNow this one was terrific in my opinion! Let us go back to this amazing serial, starting with the sinister delivery of the ‘greatest show in the galaxy’ rhyme, and the sinister (again) entrance, and the yet again sinister guy appearing in smoke and riding down past a baffled old lady. And then, it gets more sinister still. Quite honestly, this serial was one of the “greatest shows” in the galaxy of Seventh Doctor episodes. First of all, the Psychic Circus, bound to lure the Doctor and Ace, right! A deadly troupe of robot clowns and a chief clown make a talent contest in which every visitor takes part, watched by a really weird family just seated there. In reality though, as our great Seventh Doctor realises, they represent the gods of Ragnarok, creatures with a need for entertainment. As the villains of the piece, they’re executed well (although by far the weakest link of the story for me).

I’m much more interested in the Professor and his companion Mags. Mags was my favourite part of the story, despite the fact that I am still scared behind the couch when I watch her transformation scene. She’s a werewolf, I thought. Great! Who doesn’t love Doctor Who werewolves? With a lengthy plot deserving of multiple parts, a satisfying conclusion and just a whopper of a unique tale, it sure is what I can call personally, one of McCoy’s best.

Dragonfire

dragonfire-artDespite the fact that some label this serial as terrible, I find it to be completely opposite. Usually, I’m always interested in the companions and I love them all for at least one trait, but I’ve tried with Mel. Something just nags me, but I still find that she is at least a little bit resourceful. That’s probably why I haven’t seen all of the McCoy serials. Anyway, don’t want to spoil the birthday party! Thankfully, it introduced Ace (a character I’ve long wished had appeared in The Sarah Jane Adventures, she was planned to you know!). There is a decent villain, but what I respect about this serial is that it’s evident that all actors took their roles seriously. I say a “decent villain” of the character Kane because the acting redeems him.

Sophie Aldred brings a new, fresh dynamic to the show, and she has real on screen chemistry with Sylvester McCoy. While she was shown to be a typical rebellious teen of the times, Ace brought a real mystery to the Doctor (and allowed us a change from the usual trope of screaming women afraid of the monsters). If I remember correctly, this is also the story where the Doctor climbs off a cliff of sorts and hangs for no apparent reason. I like that this was referenced in The Name of the Doctor – but could somebody please tell me why he just hangs there? McCoy’s era is just a great part of history to get immersed in. It’s just magnificent, and even this episode provides moments of joy – a great serial.

Survival

doctor-who-survivalThe late Anthony Ainley (whose birthday was also today) was simply amazing in Survival. He finally got to play the Master in a manner that one might suspect he’d wanted to for a long time. It’s a tale of evolution isn’t it; the title of Survival, a connotation with the evolutionary idea of survival of the fittest, that part of a population will adapt to overcome distinct adversity to ensure its survival, but those that survive in this case are those who are willing to evolve. It’s been said to revolve around Darwinian concepts, but used to improve the story at its core.

Production budgets certainly were better, evidenced by some improved artistry and behind the scenes magic. Somebody at the time claimed that for once, the quarry the filming department used suspended disbelief and actually looked like an alien planet. Pretty strong advancement for a show like Who. Our Doctor is brought to contemporary Earth and also to a foreign planet; the Cheetah planet. It’s nice to see that the team behind the show could still rustle up some humour (sometimes off beat) and tie it to some very compelling drama. All in all, not my favourite of the favourites, but a great tale at that!

The Curse of Fenric

the-haemovores-doctor-whoThis serial is essentially a traditionally Doctor and monster story, but updated to suit the 1980s style of the show. This set of episodes alone triumphed in bringing connections to war; the bombing of Germany by the Allied Forces, double crossing enemies, to even a vampire type story. What really creeps me out is when grotesque creatures blatantly storm through a church, I mean come on, it doesn’t get more Doctor Who than that. Also interesting in terms of plot or possible continuity is the whole Norse mythology behind the scenes use and influence on the serial. Being a native Māori of New Zealand, I feel that our mythology is probably the most heavily underused, but there is so much story potential (as was highlighted in the recent Global Phenomenon: NZ article.

This episode is excellent evidence of what can be done with myths; these of which are being done today with Marvel’s Thor. Anyway, the name “Fenric” or also Fenrir (like Fenrir Greyback from Harry Potter) is associated with Norse myths. Fenric swallowed Odin, father of the gods bringing about the end of the world. The battle of Ragnarok was fought. As you may know or may have noticed above, we have already met the gods of Ragnarok in The Greatest Show in the Galaxy. Intended reference or happy accident? Ace’s character growth is the highlight for me; she proves herself to be grown up, a more mature woman, aware of emotion and those around her. It’s beautifully scripted and gorgeous played by the birthday girl Sophie. McCoy is fantastic is always, but for me it’s Sophie Aldred that steals the cake here (pun intended, Happy Birthday again Sophie).

This year has gone so fast. So many birthdays have gone by and now we are anticipating the premiere of a new series. I’m at a loss for words, I really enjoyed the parts of the McCoy era I’ve seen so far (implying that I will be watching the rest). If there are any serials I haven’t included that you wish I had, or would like to recommend, comment below just exactly what you wish me to see. It’s a vast world of Who out there, so much to see! Next time it will be another birthday. Until then, Happy Birthday to Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred.

Step back in time...

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47 comments
The Finn
The Finn

Great that Remembranc is on the list!

LucasW
LucasW

I love the seventh Doctor's era. I know lots of people don't, but I really can't find it in myself to criticise it. Seeing as I grew up on an unhealthy diet of McCoy and Aldred on UKTV Gold during the Wilderness Years, he is technically my Doctor. Only beaten by Troughton for me. Hooray for seven!

Kimmy B
Kimmy B

Swap Ghost Light for Dragonfire and flip-flop the positions of Remembrance and Greatest Show, and my Seventh Doctor top five pretty much matches up with the article's author's list.  I actually love almost all of McCoy's episodes, particularly some of those that get routinely panned by the overall fandom, such as Delta and the Bannerman, The Happiness Patrol and Battlefield.  Even the lesser episodes, such as Time and the Rani and Paradise Towers, have their moments to me, due in no small part to McCoy's performance.  He's an immanently watchable incarnation of the Doctor.

DonKlees
DonKlees

I would have put Ghost Light on the list on place of Greatest Show in the Galaxy but that's what makes it a good list. McCoy's tenure on the show is almost a Rorschach test for fans, an exercise in  getting to the heart of what it is they personally love (or hate) about Doctor Who rather than any kind of universal absolutes. In some ways, Dragonfire is the story that best exemplifies this for me, combining as it does brilliance and nonsense in terms of both scripting and execution. Some of the dialogue is among the best in the show's history, while other elements of the script are simply cringe-worthy. Likewise, for every moment where the production design makes you forget that this was made on a scant BBC drama budget, there's another that seems almost designed to provide all the cliches about wobbly sets and so forth. I don't always like it, but I love it.

Americanwhovian
Americanwhovian

Remembrance was in my opinion the best classic story ever. And why does silver nemesis never get  a good rap. I thought it was really good  

The Outer Space K9
The Outer Space K9

The only one I've seen is Remembrance of the Daleks, but I really look foward to seeing more of the Seventh Doctor after Series 8 is over.

pyroclasticflow
pyroclasticflow

I have one seen one of the sets of serials with the 7th Doctor. It was "The Happiness Patrol" and I LOVED it. I don't see why he gets such a bad wrap. The only thing I didn't like was Ace calling him "Professor."

TheUnicornAndThePonds
TheUnicornAndThePonds

In answer to your question about why the Doctor walked off the cliff, it was scripted that he should fall of the cliff and grab on to the edge, but poor direction led to that ridiculous scene. Also, happy birthday to my favorite tardis team!

MeglosProductions
MeglosProductions

What about The Happiness Patrol? It's a great serial that people look down on just because it has a robot made out of candy as a villain (who was surprisingly a terrific villain by the way)

twoheartsonemind
twoheartsonemind

Remembrance of the Daleks was quite good and, of course, my favorite part is Ace beating up that Dalek.

The Greatest Show In The Galaxy is probably my favorite McCoy story and, I agree, I want to know what happened to Mags. She was such a great character!

I actually just started watching The Curse of Fenric last night; I've got one episode left to go and I'm really enjoying it. The monsters are really great and Ace shows again why I love her.

Gallifreygreg
Gallifreygreg

My era of the show, the era that hooked me and made me a lifelong fan - substitute Ghost Light for Dragonfire and this is my top 5 seventh Doctor stories.

I really wish McCoy and Colin (my two Docs) had got a chance to be in Day of the Doctor - so many fans were coming out with phrases like 'Tom was my Doctor' and 'grew up with Tom' after the special that I couldn't help getting ticked off - Sylv was my Doctor, not Tom, where was my special scene?

So it's nice to see people posting positive articles about my era, it's good to know it's appreciated by some, even if one of them wasn't Mr Moffat.

Beasts_a_Snarling
Beasts_a_Snarling

I love the Seventh Doctor! The second half of his era was great and was going in the right direction! It still angers me that it was cancelled right when Doctor Who was getting good again. I mean seriously. Who in their right mind would cut Doctor Who off when they were pumping out classics like Survival, The Curse of Fenric, and Rembrance of the Daleks?!?? I feel like the BBC of the time robbed Sylvester of a chance to be considered one of the best Doctors ever. Everything was just getting better and better - the acting, the stories, the characters, and the visuals and suddenly it was just blown away. Just like that. This was one of the most disgusting atrocities to Doctor Who alongside the destruction of precious Doctor Who episodes such as the Celestial Toymaker, Marco Polo, and Fury from the Deep! Don't you think that the people who actually care about the show (as in for its non-financial value BBC) should have the power to determine what happens to it?!?!?

davidbrummy
davidbrummy

Curse of Fenric and Survival showed how the show had turned itself around in terms of well written stories.  However the scheduling against Coronation Street killed the show.  I remember crying when I was not allowed to watch it in a time when video recorders had yet to become popular. 

davidbrummy
davidbrummy

The best thing about Drangnfire is Mel leaving.  Aldred is not a great actress but she so out acts Mel in their scenes together it is painful to watch.  Mel does get a great parting scene taken form McCoy's audition.  Very poignant as well considering the out of sequence way the Doctor met Mel.

Baker Street is taking a Deep Breath
Baker Street is taking a Deep Breath

I've only seen 6, so here they are in order:

1. The Curse of Fenric

2. Ghost Light

3. Remembrance of the Daleks

4. Dragonfire

5. The Happiness Patrol

6. Survival

Happy Birthday to two wonderful people, who made one of the most exciting and beloved TARDIS teams ever!

TheDreamer
TheDreamer

My top 5:


Battlefield 9/10 >  I love fantasy stuff and I think the mix of scifi and fantasy works very well here. One of my fave classic episodes. And the Brigadier is back. And Bessie too! :)


Curse of Fenric 9/10  > War settings are not my cup of tea, but the plot itself was really gripping and kept on thickening, with all the twists. The different soldiers on the beach confused me though... I couldn't keep track of who was who and who was attacking who, lol. But Seven was a good chess player (with or without a board lol)



Remembrance of the Daleks 8.5/10 > Interesting plot. And the casket was interesting too. And we started to see the Doctor's deceptive streak and cunning. :D Davros is looking a bit silly, if you ask me, lol, but hey... And to be honest, I feel the destruction of the Dalek at the end, with the Doctor talking to it, was a bit too easy. Yeah, I know... the Doctor confused it, overwhelmed its circuits, whatever, caused it to self destruct, but darnit, a Dalek's instinct is to destroy... it would have exterminated everyone around it on sight - starting with the Doctor! - before getting confused. "Does not compute" is just too easy... sorry. Still... a good episode. :)



Silver Nemesis 8.5/10 > Chess at its best, lol. The Lady whats-her-name seemed a bit wooden, but other than that, it was a lovely episode.




Ghostlight 8/10 > Interesting episode, if a bit weird. A bit Frankensteinesque (is that a word? lol) A good mystery at the beginning, which set the mood well.  I often found myself staring and forgetting my surroundings, waiting to find out what would come next. Light seemed a bit silly, though. But the rest was good.


Mention for The Greatest Show in the Galaxy, which gets an 8/10 also... A bizarre, intriguing and fun episode. :)




ilyootha is back in home Universe
ilyootha is back in home Universe

I love Seventh Doctor and his era. McCoy may not be the best actor, but his certainly is a fantastic Doctor, and it's a shame that the show got cancelled during his run, just when things really started to get better! Thankfully his story was continued in many great novels and audios.

Good choices, I especially agree about Remembrance - one of the best classic serials ever and a perfect celebration of the show's 25th anniversary ("This is BBC television. The time is a quarter past five and Saturday viewing continues with an adventure in the new science fiction series, Do-"). I think if I had to pick five favourites, I would name Remembrance of the Daleks, The Curse of Fenric, Battlefield, The Greatest Show in the Galaxy and - wait for it - Paradise Towers.

*flees*


YaelMoise
YaelMoise

A nice article, and a very happy birthday to Sophie and Sylvester, but not my top "five of seven" at all. I'd have, in no particular order, Remembrance, Survival, The Happiness Patrol, Battlefield, and... hmm... the last spot is difficult. I like Dragonfire better, but I appreciate Curse of Fenric more. It's a heart vs brain type thing. Either way, Battlefield and Happiness Patrol (Kandy Man aside) have got to be up there, for me. 

The 4th Doctor
The 4th Doctor

Remembrance of the Daleks was one of the first stories i watched perhaps after my first (The Five Doctors), in my opinion, it is the best Dalek story of them all, the best McCoy story, and overall for me one of the best stories of both classics and NuWho. I'm also very fond of Dragonfire and Battlefield, and I feel Time and the Rani is underrated

Moxx
Moxx

Nice to see you back, K-Ci! My choices are similar, though The Happiness Patrol is a must...

Remembrance of the Daleks

The Happiness Patrol

Silver Nemesis

The Greatest Show in the Galaxy

Survival


Antee991166
Antee991166

Remembrance of the Daleks is a fantastic story, one of the best Dalek stories ever made and definitely the best of the 1980's, although the other two were very good as well. I couldn't get into The Greatest Show in the Galaxy, I don't find clowns menacing and the plot was far to pantomime for me to take seriously unfortunately. I've yet to see Dragonfire, but I like how it has the most literal cliffhanger ever. Survival is an incredibly original story with some absolutely stellar moments, only let down by the design of the Cheetah People. The Curse of Fenric is my favourite McCoy story, it oozes style, menace and originality and it made McCoy's last season go from great to absolutely amazing! Great article!

RoastNewt
RoastNewt

Nice article K-Ci. I really enjoyed the Seventh Doctor’s era. I think it’s one of the most fascinating and creative periods of the show, and it has a lot of my all-time favourite stories. Even season 24, with its bonkers pantomime feel, still has a lot going for it. You see, one of the reasons why I love this era so much, aside from a brilliant Doctor and one of the best companion pairings in the show’s long history, is that it settled on a theme and formed its stories around that theme, as opposed to simply picking a monster and saying “this is the episode where [X] invades Earth.” The last two seasons have some of the most intelligent and surreal storytelling that I’ve ever had the pleasure to experience in Who, and for that reason this will always be one of my favourite parts of the show.

My picks for Sylvester are:The Happiness Patrol, Remembrance of the Daleks,The Curse of Fenric,The Greatest Show in the Galaxy, andSurvival.

And since I didn’t say it already: happy birthday Sylv and Sophie! Long live Seven and Ace.

TardisBoy
TardisBoy

Remembrance of the Daleks will always be my favourite Classic serial. It's absolutely amazing. I love the idea of a civil war between the Dalek race, it's a fascinating idea that has so much potential! The acting from McCoy and Aldred is fantastic too, my favourite scene being when McCoy confronts the "Emperor" at the end and unleashes his dark side. The references to the shows history were really fun as well, I love little Easter eggs like this! It's just brilliant and made me really excited to see more of McCoy's era, it seems to be my cup of tea!


Temporal Tomato
Temporal Tomato

Curse is an all time favourite of mine, glad to see it on the list!

floppy_who
floppy_who

Nice to see some love for the McCoy era! Interestingly, the production budget for the 26th (and final) season was pretty low- the high production standards were down to the creativity of the programme makers. Having said that, in Andrew Cartmel's recent features for DWM during an interview with Survival's writer (Rona Munro) there was a discussion on how the cheetah people didn't quite turn out how they wanted- the aim was to have something more like Mags from Greatest Show in the Galaxy, but the Beeb didn't have the time or budget...

Anyway, for something a bit left-field and a tad creepy- have a look at Ghost Light....

DWISCOOL100
DWISCOOL100

I agree with all the choices I love the curse of fenric!!!

ClaraOswinOswald
ClaraOswinOswald

I agree with 

The Greatest Show in the Galaxy it was amazing

mczolly
mczolly

Yep, that was an excellent episode.

Polyphase
Polyphase

@AztecsDaleksAndCavemen Agreed, One of the most interesting episodes of all and I'm surprised it isn't here. The Greatest Show in the Galaxy always leaves me a bit cold and I'm not a big fan.

panicstation
panicstation

@TheDreamer I'm glad to see SIlver Nemesis getting some love - I remember watching that as a young teen when it was first broadcast and just being in utter geek heaven.


Other personal highlights of a wrongly maligned era and actor are Remembrance, for the myriad reasons already posted by many, Happiness Patrol (the fact that such overt politics got through the BBC's strict guidelines is simply proof that no one at the corporation was paying the show any attention!), Paradise Towers (complete with a deliciously over the top scene chewing Richard Bryers, and some VERY dark themes) and...can I nominate the entirety of Season 26?  Pretty Please?  Battlefield...Ghost Light...Fenric...Survival...it's impossible to choose between them, and that season clearly set the template that RTD would pick up later


Ottoman14
Ottoman14

Why do you think McCoy isn't a great actor? Besides you don't need to be a great actor to play the Doctor. Tom Baker couldn't act (he admits to just played himself) but he's regarded as the very best Doctor of them all

joe4
joe4

@supermoff   Nah, The Caves of Androzani, Pyramids of Mars, City of Death, The Talons of Weng-Chiang,The Seeds of Doom, The Robots of Death, The Curse of Fenric, Earthshock and Inferno are all better in my opinion. Just to name a few. :)

GrantBattersby
GrantBattersby

@supermoff Remembrance for me is always going to be the best of the 51 year history. Nothing is ever going to beat it!

TardisBoy
TardisBoy

That's one of my favourite serials! Love it! :D


ilyootha is back in home Universe
ilyootha is back in home Universe

@Ottoman14I think his acting is a bit too... well, I believe the correct term is "hammy".

Anyway, it's not like I have a problem with it - as I said, he's a fantastic Doctor. Perhaps my all-time favourite.


YaelMoise
YaelMoise

@AztecsDaleksAndCavemen @YaelMoise I like the concept but not the execution. He just looks too silly. Can't blame them for it, since there was only so much they could do back then, but still... it's a bit like the dinosaurs in Invasion of the Dinosaurs, or the Mara in the original version of Snakedance.