February 10, 2008

Wibbley-Wobbley, Timey Wimey

Fifth Doctor - Castrovalva
Originally uploaded by Gordon D
It's hard for me to admit, but even with a childhood spent with Pertwee and Baker, Peter Davison was....well, my Doctor.

Much of it is that, in those early 80s fandom days, when I began attending local DW conventions, I became enraptured. I don't know what my more treasured memory was - some guy hitting on Sarah Sutton opening in a Q & A, or Anthony Ainley wearing a Cubs hat. But after watching the New Beginnings boxed set - featured Tom Baker's final two stories and Peter Davison's debut as the Fifth Doctor - I can also see why there was such a buzz.

In fact, I'm even going to go out on a limb and say that this ranks with the 2005 revival of the series as the best reboot/restart.

The set begins with The Keeper of Traken - pretty much a nicely-designed, but very routine serpent-in-the-garden story. Of course, it is notable for a few things - first, the introduction of teenage crush du jour Ms. Sutton. It also provides a great reintroduction for Geoffrey Beevers...as the Master. (gee, why does that seem so familiar). Although initially "appearing" in voiceover, Beevers' Master dominates in part four, where the story kicks into gear...so much so that it was disappointing when the Master "took over" Ainley's Tremas. (Which was a masterstroke of acting - Ainley's character serves as a great foil for the Doctor, and Baker's later irascibility at the Master is palpable - a man he respected is now his worst enemy).

But it's Logopolis with its talk of block transfer computations, entropy, and use of past Doctor Who imagery that serve as maybe the best regeneration story (up until Caves of Androzani. It's ideas appealed to the teenage intellectual in me, but in many ways, it served as a great coda to Tom Baker's era. (Ironically, both Logopolis and Keeper show that Adric was a much better Fourth Doctor companion than he was Fifth Doctor - as Steven Moffat once stated, we don't like boy geniuses). After several years of not taking itself so seriously, Baker's then ill-health and impending departure (did he quit or was he pushed? Watch the DVD documentaries for more details) help give this story a weight that it didn't have before. In fact, this story is a better iteration of the Buddhist themes of Pertwee's Planet Of the Spiders. There was a great sense of potential in Logopolis...

...which was soon realized in Castrovalva. (Hey, an MC Escher reference!) Although written several months apart by the same person, the two stories blend almost effortlessly. (In fact, unlike much of classic DW before - or since - both stories are just rich with plot. In fact, several times I could not believe I had watched an entire half-hour episode - and that's a compliment). It's also good to see Ainley's take on the Master. Before he took on more of a Snidely Whiplash-esque quality, the Master uses his "new lease on life" to become more antagonistic. If Roger Delgado's Master was a Bond villain, Ainley's is a little more sociopathic, a little more malevolent...and a much stronger adversary for Davison's less-manic Doctor.

But that's the great advantage to this boxed set - it's a nice, almost nostalgic look at my early love of Doctor Who. But more importantly - it set a great tone for the series, and Davison's first season is almost point-for-point brilliant. (I'll let you decide about Time-Flight). Even though John Nathan-Turner later gave into his worst impulses to appeal to fandom, this is a great, almost textbook example of how to turn a flailing franchise around.

A worthy addition to the DIY DVD Guide.

Highly recommended.

Doctor Who: New Beginnings (DVD)

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