Sunday, 13 November 2016

BOOK OF LISTS: DOCTORS - FROM WORST TO BEST.... PART 1

As we wrapped up 2015, I decided to list my Ten all-time favorite Doctor Who stories. While I try to concentrate on writing legitimate essays on Doctor Who, this little opinion piece seemed to be one of the most popular things I've done on the site. I still see these entries getting hits on a regular basis. 

So I decided to do something similar at the end of this year. This time, I'm going to list my Doctors in order of preference. But I'm going to start on this a bit earlier than I did in 2015 so that things don't drag on until midway through January. I'm also going to "group" my Doctors a bit so I don't have to do fourteen separate entries! 

Hope this is as much of a hit as the Top Ten Who Stories were. 




PART ONE: THE GUYS AT THE BOTTOM

So we're starting with my least favorite Doctors. Which means there aren't going to be a lot of kind words, here. But I do want you to understand that I don't, necessarily, hate these Doctors. I just find them a bit more flawed than some of the other incarnations. Or less to my liking. Ultimately, however, I hold the same opinion as most fans. There is no such thing as a legitimately "bad" Doctor. They are all wonderful in their own right. In my opinion, there has never been a miscasting.

I'm also going to be a bit unfair. Some fans believe how much you like a Doctor should be based purely on the performance of the actor who played him. The quality of the stories that happened during his period as the lead should not reflect on your enjoyment of his interpretation of the role. But I am going to allow my appreciation of the stories to influence my opinion. Because, in the end, I feel that my enjoyment of a particular incarnation of a Doctor shouldn't be based on the actor's performance, alone. Each Doctor is a proper era of the show. So all aspects of that era should be taken into consideration as I form my final judgement.

Finally, some of you may get downright furious with me for my tastes. Especially since some of the Doctors you will see at the bottom of the list are usually near the top on most other fans' lists (which is part of the reason why I don't like them much - I've never been a fan of "popular" things!). So if you are upset with what I have to say about some of these guys - I apologize, in advance.



14: THE TENTH DOCTOR - B

Yup, I'm gonna be that pedantic and list the weird partial regeneration that the Doctor has at the end of Stolen Earth as an incarnation onto himself. Since the Doctor did claim in Time of the Doctor that the regeneration counted as a life he lost, I believe we should see him as that.

The 2009 Specials are, in my opinion, one of the lowest points in the New Series. And they make up the bulk of Tenth Doctor b's tenure. Add to it the fact that he is born in what I believe to be the worst Season Finale of the entire history of the show and it gets even harder to appreciate him. But it doesn't stop there, his second adventure is what I consider to be the worst story in all of the New Series. So, from a story standpoint, he's already doomed.

Aside from Water of Mars, I'm not particularly fond of any of the stories that feature Tenth Doctor b. If you bother to go back to my Ranking the Regenerations List (http://robtymec.blogspot.ca/2015/03/the-book-of-lists-ranking-regenarations.html) you'll even see that I'm not even all that fond of his final parting. It's difficult to get into a story that runs out of plot and blows fifteen minutes of its running time with farewell scene after farewell scene.

But while I said the quality of the stories would influence my opinion, I should also point out that I have quite a bit of trouble with Tennant's performance during this period. There is just too much angst going on, here. Yes, it is mitigated in some circumstances. Donna getting her memory taken away is brutally depressing and all his sadness at the conclusion of Journey's End is more-than-justified. But then we seem to need a "moment of angst" in every story that follows. Even in Planet of the Dead - what was considered to be the romp of the Specials - the Doctor has to get all moody when the Lady de Souza asks to become a companion.

"Okay, okay - we get it!" I want to say, "You're the Lonely God. You've made that quite clear!"

By the time we reach The End of Time, Doctor Ten b is such a whiny mess that I'm really not that interested in him, anymore. The Doctor is meant to be strong and brave but still have a soft side that stops him from behaving as some square-jawed action hero like Captain Kirk or Rambo. But now, he seems to have nothing but a soft side. I know many fans still get misty-eyed as they think of his departure. But I, for one, was glad to see him go.


13: THE THIRD DOCTOR

This one, I assume, is going to get me in some serious trouble with a certain segment of fandom. Third Doctor fans are fiercely loyal and feel that no criticism should ever be leveled at him. His era is perfect. No one is allowed to say otherwise.

Personally, I think a certain amount of nostalgia clouds their vision. You will find that most Third Doctor fans were kids when he was playing the Doctor. It's not quite so easy to remain objective when you're impressionable. Whereas I was a pretty jaded teenager when I started watching his stories and I did find myself often wondering what all the fuss was about.

Before I get too vicious, Let me say that I actually adored Season 7. One of the best seasons in the history of the whole show. Sure, a few of those Seven-Parters dragged a bit in places, but the stories were still quite awesome (particularly Inferno). The Doctor, in this season, was a cantankerous anti-establishment character. Similar, in many ways, to his first incarnation. But he also showed some interesting layers. Who can forget that moment where he humors General Carrington at the end of Ambassadors of Death?

But then, we enter Season 8. From that point, onward, much of his era is a lot of formula-driven fluff (yes, I know, that's a very harsh thing to say - start mailing your pipe-bombs). The UNIT family now works to the detriment of the show. There are so many "character moments" that come up between the Doctor and the various prominent members of this para-military group that are so similar in tone that they almost bleed into each other and become a blur. This is especially evident in the character of the Brigadier. In Season 7, Alistair Stewart also shows a lot of depth of character. But in later seasons, he's mainly just the butt of the Doctor's jokes. Whenever the Doctor feels the need to denigrate the military mentality, it's done through mocking someone who is meant to be his best friend. It becomes a very tired trope very quickly. Along with so much else that happens in the Doctor's Earth-bound stories. When his exile is finally revoked, things do improve a bit. But he keeps coming back to Earth on a regular basis to annoy us with more paint-by-numbers storytelling.

Then there's those six-parters.... so many of them! And most of them do not have enough plot in them to sustain all six episodes. So there's an endless array of captures-and-escapes and silly car chases to fill in the gaps. I'm not sure why so much praise goes into the writing for this period. Yup, we get some social messages delivered. But they frequently hit you over the head with them - there's little or no subtlety. And no one seems to come up with ideas that can really fill up those six parters. Which, again, causes me to use that nasty "fluff" word.

Again, it can't all be about criticizing the stories. I do have some problems with Pertwee's performance. During Season 7, it's a different story. He's unsure of himself as an actor and takes some interesting risks with the role. But then things spiral downward after Season 8. More and more, I find he gets too comfortable with the role and really starts to walk through his performances, sometimes. He seems to have a certain set of reactions that get used too frequently and he doesn't seem to ever want to add anything new to the part. I do feel that, on occasion, his limitations do show through a bit too much.

There is also a problem I have, in general, with lead actors in 70s Who that I'd like to discuss but I think I've said enough, here. I can rant about this when I get to a certain other actor.



12. THE TENTH DOCTOR

It stands to reason that if Doctor Ten B didn't do well in this than this incarnation will probably get a low rank, too. While the Doctor is less angsty during his three "proper" seasons, the Lonely God still gets a little overplayed and becomes tedious from time-to-time. Especially in Series Three where he takes way more time than any fan could want to get over Rose leaving him.

I also have a hard time with the Doctor being such a casanova in this incarnation (pun completely intended). I'm not one of those super-stringent Classic Series Fan who thinks the Doctor should never be allowed to have a love life, but I still tend to favor a Doctor who is far more interested in science and fighting injustice than he is in girls. Doctor Ten just seemed to be trying too hard to get laid, sometimes.

Like Pertwee, I also just find Tennant a tad too limited as an actor (a very brutal thing to say, I know - particularly since I'm an actor, myself, and would hate to hear someone to say that about me). With Pertwee, I found him to be lazy and could have just expanded the role better if he had wanted to. He had the ability. But, sadly, I must be meaner to David. I really just don't think he has the best of ranges. This becomes especially evident as you start seeing him in other roles. He seems to deliver the same performance over and over with only the slightest of variance. In Jessica Jones, for example, he just seems like a more mean-spirited version of the Tenth Doctor.

It didn't help that Doctor Ten was off to the most shaky of starts. I did feel The Christmas Invasion was really well done for an introductory tale but then we go in to Series Two. The quality of some of the stories in this season is very questionable. New Earth does a tonne of damage to him, especially. Not just because the ending is a bit on the implausible side, but some very bad choices are made about how this new Doctor is presented. The super-indulgent opening sequence of the Tenth Doctor approaching the TARDIS console to make his first trip sets a bad tone. The hissy fit he has with the cat nuns also sits very poorly with me. In some ways, it seems like they're trying to imitate the moral outrage the Fifth Doctor has in Earthshock. The big difference, however, is that we have spent almost an entire season with Doctor Five before that scene occurs. That moment sits well because of the time it takes for it to finally happen. It comes way too fast with Doctor Ten and he comes across more as sanctimonious rather than heroic and brave. It really ends up coloring this fresh new Doctor very poorly and makes it difficult for me to genuinely like him (yes, there are plenty of anti-heroic Doctors out there - but it's a deliberate choice. This is a Doctor that becomes unlikeable because of a mistake in the crafting of him - there's a big difference).

With RTD being such a big fan of the Pertwee Era, we also get a number of stories that have a paint-by-numbers feel to them, too. Things are just a bit too formulaic during good chunks of the Tenth Doctor's reign. That always has a big impact on the way I enjoy a Doctor.



11. THE FOURTH DOCTOR

"What?!" Stereotypical Fan is proclaiming, "Tom Baker ranks this low on your list?! How can you?! The man is a genius! A legend! He's the greatest Doctor, ever!" 

I can never deny the contribution the man has made to the show. He is an icon - no doubt, there. He is also, in many ways, one of the most brilliant actors to walk the face of the Earth. I won't argue that, either.

But, as I have said on way-too-many occasions: the Fourth Doctor is over-rated.

My biggest beef is that his character does lack a lot of consistency. Tom is a very instinctual actor - that's part of what makes his performances so charismatic. So much of what he does feels so genuine because it's a choice that he really is making in that very moment. And we, as an audience, see that and appreciate it. But instincts aren't always correct. We do see any number of poor choices make it onto the screen.We still love the spontaneity of that poor choice. But it's a poor choice, nonetheless. It also means that the overall performance of the character is based purely on the mood Tom was in on the day of shooting. Until Season 18 - where the production team fought tooth-and-nail to keep him more consistent - Doctor Four seems to be all over the place. In some ways, that is the actual character. He's very mercurial. I get that. But, in other ways, it just seems like poor planning on the lead actor's part. Like he's just being a little too laissez faire about the whole thing.

He also suffers the same problem as Pertwee in that he stays in the role for a bit longer than he should have. There are definitely stories where he seems to be taking the role for granted a bit too much. Whereas Pertwee seems to walk through the performance during these moments, Baker seems genuinely frustrated with things and just starts taking the piss out of everything. It's uncomfortable to watch, at times.

The other problem that seems to occur with longer-serving Doctors is that the show seems to become too much about them. They get all the best scenes and best dialogue all the time. Oftentimes, at the expense of supporting cast. There are moments where it feels more like I'm watching The Tom Baker Show rather than watching Doctor Who. A lot of fans seem to enjoy this - but I find it a bit too indulgent.

Then, of course, there's that dark period where Tom Baker really does just take the comedy too far. Season 17 seems more like a parody of Doctor Who than the actual thing. Horns of Nimon and Creature From the Pit come across as High Farce rather than any kind of proper science fiction story of any sort. And Tom Baker seems to be at the center of all this - making silly faces wherever he can and re-writing scripts so that they can have as many bad jokes in them, as possible.

"But Season 17 had some of the highest ratings the show ever experienced!" Stereotypical Fan is always quick to point out.

Which just saddens me. So many people saw the show at such a low point and came out with the worst possible impression of it.

And a lot of that was due to Tom's over-indulgence.




Okay then, that gets the ugly stuff out of the way. Again, I want to emphasize that I don't think these Doctors are terrible. I know I didn't say many good things about them but it's because I'm trying to give myself somewhere to go as I start talking about the Doctors I like more. My reviews will become warmer and warmer as we get closer to the top of the list. 

Hope I haven't ruffled too many feathers. 




Oh yeah, here's the first of my Top Ten Fave Who Stories - just in case you've never read them: 

http://robtymec.blogspot.ca/2015/12/book-of-lists-top-ten-who-stories-10.html