Sylvester McCoy: The Beginning, End and In-Between
John Hussey continues his series, this time reviewing stories from the Seventh Doctor era.
‘Time and the Rani’
By Pip and Jane Baker (1987, 4 Episodes)
“Leave the girl. It’s the man I want.”
‘Time and the Rani’ was always going to be hard to swallow, mostly because we didn’t get a proper regeneration experience. Colin Baker decided not to return in an attempt to prove a point to the BBC, i.e. they cannot mess him around in such a rude and unnecessary manner. This meant that Sylvester McCoy had to don a wig and pretend to be the Sixth Doctor for the pre-title sequence where the Doctor’s sixth incarnation mysteriously encountered an accident with his exercise bike, so the fan’s joke.
The result of this process meant an abrupt end to the Sixth Doctor and an uneasy start for the Seventh. But I do have to give the team credit where credit is due because this was a difficult transition and they did an okay job with what they had.
The rest of the serial suffered with a poor script, especially since Pip and Jane Baker; the serial’s collaborate writers, didn’t fully understand the direction the new Doctor would take and wrote their narrative accordingly. The Seventh Doctor was all over the place in his early days and this wasn’t simply because he was suffering from post-regenerative trauma as other incarnation had done by that point. His incarnation suffered throughout his entire first season because John Nathan-Turner, and his new script editor Andrew Cartmel, were still figuring out how to structure this brand-new era.
Other problems came with bad acting and poor special effects. Also, apologies in advance Bonnie Langford, Melanie Bush wasn’t at her best. Her character irritated me to no end. Her screams alone go right through me. This annoys because her character is intelligent and a perfect match for the Doctor and yet the writer’s deemed it necessary to ruin that with constant screaming scenes to showcase poor damsel moments.
I suppose the highlight of the serial was the return of the Rani, played again by Kate O’Mara, though I can’t say I’m overly fond of the character. I somewhat agree with the idea of her being a female Master, which has now become a reality within modern Who. At the same time her character is a joy to watch because Kate plays her well and adds a nice little charm, displaying a character that doesn’t have feelings of remorse, only determination for her own destructive goals.
Overall this serial suffers with many behind the scenes problems but for what it is, it is a decent story to watch despite being one of my least favourite introduction stories for a new Doctor
‘Remembrance of the Daleks’
By Ben Aaronovitch (1988, 4 Episodes)
“Powerful. Crush the lesser races. Conquer the galaxy. Unimaginable power. Unlimited rice pudding, et cetera, et cetera.”
Now we come to, what can be described as, the highlight of the Sylvester McCoy era. This serial single-handedly constructed the Seventh Doctor’s character and the tone the rest of this era would take. Things got dangerous, the Doctor became more alien, more manipulative and the battle between good and evil really took centre stage in a big way. Cartmel wanted to return a sense of intrigue back into the character due to him believing the Doctor had become too familiar to the audience.
‘Remembrance of the Daleks’ continued the idea of the Daleks having a civil war between different factions, which started back in ‘Resurrection of the Daleks’. This time round we had the Imperial Daleks, Daleks that had been augmented with technological enhancements, pitted against the Renegade Daleks, Daleks that stayed true to their original design and way of thinking. Many monumental moments came out of this serial, such as the Imperial Daleks flying up stairs, the Special Weapons Dalek obliterating the Renegade Daleks, and the share fact that we had a massive Dalek war undergoing in 1963 London.
This serial acted as the start to the 25th Anniversary Season and showcased a lot of nods to the past, namely the fact that the Seventh Doctor was revisiting Totters Lane from ‘An Unearthly Child’ in order to undertake some unfinished business. This entailed him retrieving a mystical piece of Time Lord technology called the Hand of Omega. The two different Dalek factions also wished to claim the device and the Seventh Doctor acted as an instigator throughout the battles in order to put into place the final outcome. This began the Seventh Doctor’s manipulative nature in which he would turn the situations around him into a game of chess, with his friends and enemies acting as the chess pieces as he made his moves carefully to achieve checkmate.
The outcome of this serial was fantastic. The Seventh Doctor manipulated Davros, revealed in Episode Four as the newly appointed Dalek Emperor, into destroying both Skaro and his own mothership, supposedly wiping out the Dalek race. The Seventh Doctor finished things off by causing the Supreme Dalek to self-destruct by telling the creature it no longer had a purpose. The Seventh Doctor’s final words within the serial, a sentence I simply love quoting, also showed off his new godlike persona through his depiction of how his actions reflect upon the universe, “Time will tell. It always does.”
Also, where are my manners, how can I go without mentioning the best moment of all in this all-inspiring narrative. That is of course Ace attacking an Imperial Dalek head-on with a baseball bat. Words cannot describe how awesome that scene was and still is today. I got the privilege to meet Sophie Aldred at a convention last year, to which I told her she’d always be remembered for this great scene and she agreed.
By Ben Aaronovitch (1989, 4 Episodes)
“Get off my world!”
Ben Aaronovitch returned to pen a second serial and despite debates on whether his second narrative was better than his first it was still a great adventure to watch. What’s not to love about a story following the battle of an alternative version of King Arthur’s legend, the possibility of the Doctor being Merlin and of course the long awaited return of UNIT and the legendary Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart.
‘Battlefield’ serves as an entertaining introduction to the final season of the Classic Series. The references to the past made the serial extra special, with this being the last time UNIT appeared in the Classic era. Though UNIT as an organisation wasn’t used well and the new Brigadier, Bambara, was also debatable one can’t deny that their appearance was refreshing, considering the organisations last full appearance was back in 1975 (minus their minor appearance in ‘The Android Invasion’, ‘The Seeds of Doom’ and ‘The Five Doctors’) during ‘Terror of the Zygons’.
The Brigadier’s return was definitely the serial’s highlight. His character is certainly one of the most popular and was always welcomed back onto our screens alongside our favourite Time Lord. This last appearance on the actual show (minus his future appearance on spin-off show The Sarah Jane Adventures) gave him a nice little send off. His return during the 20th Anniversary season was somewhat welcoming but the idea of him being a Maths teacher appeared out of place, with his appearance in ‘The Five Doctors’ feeling more justified.
This time round he was a soldier again and stood by the Seventh Doctor’s side in his old, familiar uniform and pistol. His relationship with the Doctor had certainly improved and you could tell that these two characters were old friends and had a history. I always loved the moment where the Brigadier took the Seventh Doctor’s place in facing the Destroyer, with the Seventh Doctor being saddened afterwards when he thought his old friend had perished in the sacrifice. Another nice element to this serial was finally seeing the Brigadier’s wife, Doris, who was first mentioned all the way back in 1974 during ‘Planet of the Spiders’.
The heart of ‘Battlefield’ was all about this long old friendship and granting it a send-off. Sadly the Brigadier would only be mentioned as passing references during the revival until ‘The Wedding of River Song’ announced his off-screen death. I’m simply glad the Brigadier (and Nicholas Courtney) are remembered through Kate Stewart (played wonderfully by Jemma Redgrave).
The Seventh Doctor’s godlike nature returned, once more, through the idea that he was the great wizard Merlin. It still hasn’t been fully confirmed, a story for the future perhaps, but it just proved that the Doctor is a mighty being, capable of many things that we, as an audience, will never fully understand. His dangerous nature and his mysterious ways will always make us question him and that is good. Cartmel did the right thing in making him a stranger once again like he was back at the very beginning.
‘Battlefield’ as a whole was a great narrative filled with some fantastic ideas and though the budget blocked the serial’s full visual potential it was still well executed. The Destroyer’s design, for instance, still stands tall as visually impressive. Morgana also served as a good villain for the Seventh Doctor to face, especially since they had a chemistry, to which the Seventh Doctor wasn’t even aware of. Also what made Morgana an interesting character was her chemistry with Arthur. This chemistry granted her humanity because despite her desire to claim Excalibur from him she held strong feelings towards him. Upon hearing of his demise she actually shed a tear of sadness as she recalled their private time together.
Also I feel the scene in which Morgana challenged Ace’s will while she protected Excalibur inside the circle was fantastically executed. It gave Ace some perfect development and showcased how strong she was, whilst at the same time showing off her vulnerability. Despite evil trying to push her (a moment that nearly beat her) she remained tall and followed in the Doctor’s footsteps.
By Matthew Jacobs (1996, 85 Minute TV Movie)
“Timing malfunction! The Master, he’s out there! He’s out there… I’ve got to stop… him…”
The TV Movie marked the semi-return of Doctor Who after being on hiatus since its cancellation in 1989. The only new material produced during the Wilderness Years Mark I was the 30th Anniversary Special ‘Dimensions In Time’ which was delivered as a two part serial shown at Children In Need 1993. The show survived solely through the New Virgin Adventures comic book series, continuing the adventures of the Seventh Doctor and Ace.
The Americans decided to tackle bringing back the show, collaborating with the BBC, to create a brand new adventure. They decided against remaking/rebooting the franchise and created a new instalment that paid respect to the original run. This 85 minute TV Movie would’ve been a pilot episode for a brand-new series, based in America, but sadly didn’t quite get the reception the American team wanted (at least in America, with Britain responding positively).
‘Doctor Who’ opened up with the Master being executed by the Daleks on Skaro (despite its destruction in ‘Remembrance of the Daleks’). The Master’s final request, before being atomised, was that the Doctor returned his ashes to Gallifrey. The Seventh Doctor obliged but remained cautious. The Master returned as a snake-like entity, becoming a creature beyond death, and hijacked the TARDIS to crash-land in 1999 San Francisco. Upon exiting the TARDIS the Seventh Doctor got caught in a gang war and was shot down. Chang Lee took him to the hospital where Dr Grace Holloway was called in to perform surgery. In the process the Seventh Doctor was killed due to Grace not understanding his alien anatomy.
To this date I feel that the Seventh Doctor has the worst regeneration because of the unfortunate circumstances involved. He was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. It was nice of the American team to bring Sylvester back to film his regeneration into new Doctor Paul McGann. Not only was it a nice gesture but it also served as a nice piece of fan service, closing off the Classic Series to allow a new era to begin. Sadly, as the American team regretted afterwards, this was a bad idea and didn’t grab the new American audience as expected and instead confused them. The fan service and loyalty to the past made this first 15 minutes of the TV Movie somewhat edgy and hard to follow. I, and many other fans, believe this not to be the case and transpires as great writing and fantastic referencing to Doctor Who mythology.
At the very least, Sylvester got given a better final card than Colin Baker.