At last, we're in the Top Three. Not only have I been greatly impressed by the number of views this series has received (700 hits in 30 days!) but I'm even more amazed by the exceedingly low number of death threats I've received by placing David Tennant, Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker so low on the list! Let's see, now, what I have to say about the somewhat unusual choices that made it to the top...
THE TOP THREE:
As a younger lad, I cared more about Popular Fan Consensus and almost tried to fight how much I enjoyed two of three incarnations that I've ranked, here. Really, I did. I, literally, gave extra repeated viewings to Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker in hopes that it would get me to like them better. These were the Doctors that everyone was saying were the best and I wanted to fit in with what Fandom was saying. But, in the end, I just couldn't understand what all the fuss was about. These other less-appreciated Doctors just seemed so much more interesting to me.
The other fellow that's made it into the Top Three is a New Series Doctor that does not fit the mold at all of the two Classic Series Doctors that I love most. But there's just something about the performance he gave that made me fall madly in love with his Doctor. And the fact that he just seemed so unlikely for the role but still ended up being truly magnificent.
All right, let's get on with it....
3: THE FIRST DOCTOR
Yup, he fluffed a tonne of lines, He was also very difficult to get along with. He was even, by some accounts, a bit of a racist. But there is just something about William Hartnell's performance that I completely love.
Many of us already know his background: an actor who had become horrifically tired of the way he was being typecast, he saw the role of the Doctor as a way to finally break free of that. He seized the proverbial Bull by the Horns and gave that part everything he had. And that does translate into the performance he gives on the screen. His failing health and the grueling shooting schedule are the reasons why we see flaws in what he's doing. But the truth of the matter is, he is making every line he delivers count. Every mannerism and inflection is done with the most deliberate of care and precision. Truly, there is no one who throws himself into the role more.
I think what I love the most about this Doctor is the fact that we are watching the character being constructed before our very eyes. Neither Hartnell nor the various writers know exactly what they're doing with the character. There's all kinds of experimentation going on as we, slowly but surely, find out what the Doctor is truly about. No, we won't learn his proper origins til a few years later - but we learn far more important things in this era. We learn what the character stands for and what he believes in and I find all that very exciting to watch.
It's equally interesting watching the actual stories go through much the same process. Just as with Hartnell's performance, there's lots of stumbling going on as the writers are attempting to figure out what constitutes a proper Doctor Who story. Again, we witness all kinds of interesting experimentation. The show even attempts to be a legitimate comedy for a handful of stories. I find the whole evolutionary process fascinating. So much so, that I will often watch what remains of this era in sequential order from beginning to end.
There are so many beautiful firsts that happen during this period. During Episode Two of Dalek Invasion of Earth, for instance, we watch the Doctor get up in the face of a Dalek after it emerges from the Thames. For some reason, the scene feels so much more poignant than it should. And we suddenly realize: "This is the first time we are watching the Doctor confront a recurring foe." It happens so many more times in future stories, of course. And such scenes are handled in all kinds of interesting ways. But we are watching it for the first time, here. Every time I watch that moment, it gives me just a little bit of a shiver. The fact that we would see the first companion leave only a few episodes later makes things even more brilliant. Pivotal cornerstones to the show's foundation appear on a regular basis throughout this period. In my opinion, it makes for fantastic viewing.
As we near the end of the era, a very definite formula seems to be coming together. We know how a basic adventure is going to work. Even more beautiful, though, is the fact that the show remembers on a regular basis to go outside its own mold. And that happens because the production teams during the earliest years loved to take chances. Audiences remembered that and responded well to it. So future producers often kept that tradition in place.
Finally, there are also just so many beautiful nuances that Hartnell brought to the part. His expressiveness with his hands. That sudden ferocity that he could unleash when he got his back up. That air of authority that he always commanded whether speaking dialogue or just standing in the background. I especially love that some of his stumbling was actually intentional. When he portrays the Abbot of Amboise in The Massacre of St. Bartholomew's Eve, all those little dialogue improvisations that seemed like he was grasping for lines actually disappear.
For a sci-fi series that, during its infancy, sometimes resembled Plan 9 From Outer Space, Hartnell brought all kinds of care and attention to the part he played. Which set a precedent for all future casting in the role. William Hartnell's shoes were not easy ones to fill. And that's a huge contribution to what makes the show so great, these days.
It all began with the First Doctor. And it started beautifully....
2. THE ELEVENTH DOCTOR
Oh, the angry protests that resonated through Fandom when it was announced that Matt Smith would be the next Doctor! Pretty Boy David Tennant had been a big hit but we definitely did not want the Doctor to keep being this young, dashing hero who was nice on the eyes. It was okay for one incarnation - but let's bring back an older Doctor, now. Moff was even promising that this was exactly what he wanted to do. But what did we get, instead? Someone who was actually younger than Tennant!
I have to admit, even I was a bit disappointed in the casting choice when I first head about it. But I thought: "Let's give this Matt Smith fellow a chance, at least." And I was so glad I did.
It's as Moff said: he may look young but there is an old soul in those eyes. Which gave us such an interestingly nuanced performance. Yes, Doctor Eleven runs around like some ridiculous man-boy, but we can always sense that ancient being that he really is lurking behind all the shenanigans. We see that dynamic going on right in his first story. For most of Eleventh Hour, he's a pretty big prattling fool. But then we get to that "Basically, run!" moment and we see that he's got all the gravitas than any other actor who has played the role possesses. Age will have no real bearing when the Doctor truly needs to be the Doctor.
Some have remarked that Ten and Eleven are very similar in personality . Both are very over-eager fanboys. Getting excited about all sorts of people and things that most folks don't really give two craps about. Look at how Tennant responds when he snogs Madame De Pompadour. Or how Smith is reacting to the 80s hotel at the beginning of God Complex. They're like young male nerds at a comic con.
But if you've been following this whole series, you'll see that Doctor Ten ranked very low on my list. So why is it that a Doctor who is so similar in character is doing so well?
The answer is quite simple. Where Tenant zigged Smith chose to zag. Both of these Doctors are, quintessentially, young. But where Ten seems to focus on the melodrama or "angstyness" of youth, Eleven delves, instead, into its exuberance. He is naive - but in all the right ways. He has a zest for life and tries to believe in the best in everyone. Like Ten, he must still deal with disappointments. Because he is young, he only deals so well with them. But he doesn't have to go so over-the-top with it. He is petulant for a moment and then moves on. Much of his angst is, in fact, purposely comical. To me, that is such a better approach if you're going to make the Doctor young again.
There is a clear example of this right in his second story. The Doctor has reached that point with Amy where he feels the need to share with her what happened in the Time Wars. There's a bit of a sad speech where he gets a bit down and then he's done and resumes working on some equipment immediately in front of him. His tone actually sounds quite a bit like Troughton when he tells Victoria that his family "mostly sleeps in his mind". Which is a great way to deliver this sort of dialogue. It shows that the Doctor is hurt by what's happened but he's getting on with his life. He's dealing with the present but still letting his past affect him a bit.
Compare that to all the drama that takes place in a similar situation between the Doctor and Martha in Gridlock. It's made into a much bigger deal. So much so, that I find the whole survivor guilt stuff is now becoming counter-productive to the effectiveness of telling a good story. I am so glad that Doctor Eleven, pretty well, jettisons this sort of stuff. He brings the Doctor back to being an adventurer who's recently gone through something very difficult. Rather than someone who seems to need to wallow, forever, in his past. Again and again, we see choices like this being made in the structuring of the character. To me, Smith takes what Tennant was trying to do but gets it right.
In terms of the quality of his stories: much of it is second-to-none. Yeah, we had a Curse of the Black Spot or two - but every era does. In some of my other rantings in this blog, I actually like to compare Moff's period to Hinchcliffe/Holmes era. I know others may not agree with this. But I do think Doctors Eleven and Twelve have gotten some top-notch stories with only the occasional minor dud. Even the weaker episodes still have much to admire.
I think Eleven was the perfect Doctor to have around as the 50th anniversary approached. In so many ways, he nailed exactly what the character was meant to be. A hint of modern sensibilities but also old-fashioned in all the right ways. I love that he's back to being socially-awkward around women, for instance. It just works so much better for the character. The Doctor is the type of person who should get horrifically upset when accused of having a "snog booth". It's great to see him pulling that hissy fit. Most other men, these days, would be agreeing that it was one and would try to get a girl like Clara to try it out with them. But Doctor Eleven, instead, is outraged by the implication. It's nice to see him just a bit traditional in his values, like that. Not too much, but a bit. This is the sort of Doctor we needed to have around when such a huge benchmark was being celebrated. One of my favorite aspects of Day of the Doctor is the way he mocks Ten so much for being the womanizer he was. Or the way he becomes almost apologetic to the War Doctor during Ten's nuptials with Queen Elizabeth the First. The Classic Series Doctor has definitely returned in Smith's interpretation. And that's wonderful to see.
And then, finally, Eleven must depart. I've seen about eight regenerations "in real-time", now. Some of the earliest Doctors I had to watch retrospectively. But, for the most part, I've watched the Doctor pass at the time the actor was actually leaving the show. Which means that I've taken a full journey with that incarnation and am now seeing them off. I find this a far more emotional experience. But watching a Doctor leave, for the most part, hasn't been too brutal for me. A new one is on his way and there will be all kinds of fun with discovering what he'll be like.
But I really felt myself going through some serious grieving when Smith undid that bow tie for the final time. I had gotten so much more attached to this incarnation than I have others. I think this is where I truly felt just how strong my Eleven-Love had become. It really hurt to see him go. As brilliant as Capaldi has been in the role, losing Smith was a truly unsettling experience that took a while for me to overcome. So much so, that I really adore the cameo he does in Deep Breath. We got just a little bit more of Eleven before we had to truly say goodbye.
1. THE SIXTH DOCTOR:
Ironically, the man who hates lists like these makes it to the top of mine.
I still remember the first time I watched Twin Dilemma. I was a teenager living in Canada (for a better idea of my background, read my First anniversary post http://robtymec.blogspot.ca/2016/03/first-anniversary-special-something.html). New episodes that were being shown in Britain often took, at least, a few months before they made their way to any of the TV stations in my area. I was also plugged in to several fan clubs that printed up and sent out fanzines on a regular basis. Many of those fanzines discussed episodes I had not seen yet - the authors lived in parts of the world that got their Who faster than I did.
The reviews of Twin Dilemma were all the same: worst Doctor Who story in the history of bad Doctor Who stories. To this day, it sits at the bottom of the regular fan polls that Doctor Who Magazine takes. We just haven't stopped maligning it since the day it was broadcast.
When the story finally reached my eyes, I could see a lot of what the critics were saying. It definitely looked horrifically cheap. Even worse, it seemed a bit too light on plot to sustain the four episodes. But, beyond that, I really didn't have much trouble with it. In fact, I rather enjoyed it.
A lot of what makes Twin Dilemma so fun is Colin's performance. All the manic turns he takes throughout the four episodes are portrayed with great relish and gusto. For me, it was an utter delight to watch. He really makes up for some of the problems the tale is having. I also greatly enjoy the way his character is initially crafted. I know it upset a lot of fans - but I love that we're really not sure about this Doctor when we first meet him. Is this a legitimate regeneration that's gone wrong? Will the Doctor always be this absolutely horrible person? Is he really going to keep wearing that coat?!
I even love that we're not entirely sure by the end of the story that he is actually improving. He is still incredibly tetchy and a bit unstable. After five regenerations, we had gotten pretty used to the whole process. I think it was great that this story really shakes things up again and shows us just how radical the whole change can be.
Of course, if we studied things a bit, we know that this was the beginning of what was meant to be a three-season arch of character progression. The Doctor was meant to be a bit like Thomas Covenant. Very unlikeable at the beginning. But, as things progress, we slowly fall in love with him. This is the reason why I tend to favor "arrogant Doctors" - the character is given somewhere to go. Twelfth, First and even, to some extent, Ninth all start as old cranks who end up having hearts of gold hidden underneath. But it only tends to come out after a while. It adds a very nice extra layer to the story-telling. And there was no greater attention paid to that layer than in the Sixth Doctor's era. I deeply loved that. I thought it was great that he started as more of an anti-hero than a hero. That we would slowly see him develop his softer side. This is probably the trait I enjoy most about this incarnation.
There seems to be a sort of Bandwagon that Fandom jumped on with poor 'Ole Sixie. It started with a few outspoken fans proclaiming Twin Dilemma to be awful and everyone else just going along with it rather than giving the story a fair try. The yule and cry continued with Season 22. It was all too violent and the Doctor wasn't Doctorish enough. Again, everyone just started regurgitating this ad nauseam. No one seemed to really be looking at the genuine content and forming opinions for themselves. By the time Trial of a Time Lord made it to the screens, Fandom seemed impossible to satisfy, anymore. The Sixth Doctor had been swept up in a tide of a negative opinion that he didn't deserve. It bothers me, to this day, that this period of the show is often discussed as being the show at its all-time lowest point.
There are certain negative points that get made about the Sixth Doctor over and over. Just as I did when I reviewed Vengeance on Varos(http://robtymec.blogspot.ca/2016/01/book-of-lists-top-ten-who-stories-3.html), I'm going to address some of those points head-on:
1. The Stories Are Weak: Well, as we already know, there's one Sixth Doctor story that definitely disagrees with this idea (in my opinion, at least). But is Vengeance on Varos the only masterpiece among a pile of rubbish? Certainly not! Revelation of the Daleks is also quite brilliant and I think Ultimate Foe is legitimately epic. Attack of the Cybermen, Mark of the Rani, The Two Doctors and the other three stories of Trial of a Time Lord are all very solid. They may have a "tree won't hurt you" moment here and there but, overall, they're quite good. You know, like most Doctor Who stories from any era.
Yes, we do end up with stories like Twin Dilemma and Timelash being a bit more problematic. But, again, every era of the show has stories like these. I'm not sure why these common flaws that happened previously suddenly get so over-scrutinized when Colin takes the helm. It's all quite silly. Story-wise, this is as strong a period as any other in the show. I would even say that I appreciate it better than a lot of other eras. Mainly because it took a lot of chances that Who had seldom or never taken before.
I even hate that back-handed compliments that some fans give: "Colin was a good Doctor - he just had to work with bad stories". Personally, I think these stories were just fine. It's actually great to hear so many new fans who weren't even alive in the 80s going back to watch the Sixth Doctor stories and asking: "What was the problem?!".
2. The Outfit Made it Impossible to Appreciate Him: The costume was meant to represent the Doctor's personality: loud and garish. In that sense, it accomplished the task perfectly. I suppose, in some ways, this is purely a matter of opinion and I can only refute it so much. But other incarnations have made some pretty outrageous fashion choices (I actually know new fans who have a similar sentiment towards Four's scarf - believe it or not!).
Yes, no one made as bold a fashion choice as Six did. But it was the 80s! I felt he got away with it. Hell, who am I kidding? I actually really love the outfit. Particularly the coat. Of all the Doctor's apparel, the Sixth Doctor's coat is the one item of clothing that I would actually love to own, myself. Considering I have actually no desire to ever by a cosplayer of any sorts - that says something!
Those are two of the biggest objections to Doctor Six that I feel hold no real water. There's some minor stuff that I won't bother with.
I will admit, my love for the underdog is part of my motivation, here. It's almost like all this unfounded objection towards Six got me to love him that bit more. But, beyond that, this is an excellently-crafted character who had a very fascinating run of stories. I will even be pretentious enough to say that a lot of people just didn't get this era of the show. It was trying something bold and different. But, perhaps, viewing audiences just weren't quite ready for it at the time.
The ultimate tragedy, of course, is that all the plans that were being made with the Sixth Doctor's character arch never saw their full fruition. He was cut off after only two seasons and all we're left with is: "Carrot juice! Carrot juice! Carrot juice!"
Personally, I would have loved to have seen him beat Tom Baker's record. But, alas, this was not to be...
The other installments:
Blink and You'll Miss Them: