The Seventh Doctor: Five Favourites
K-Ci Williams picks out five favourites from Sylvester McCoy’s era.
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
This 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
Now 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.
Despite 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.
The 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
This 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.