For many folks in my generation, it was somewhere during this era of Doctor Who that we were all introduced to the adventurous Time Lord. Starting in 1981, the run of Doctor’s five through eight carries fans right up to the reboot with Christopher Eccleston appearing as number nine. There were massive changes to be seen in these two decades (well, one decade really, there was quite a long break between ’89 and ’96.) Fashions changed, companions changed, and as usual the Doctor changed faces, but underneath it all he always stayed the irreplaceable character fans were emotionally tethered to through all those years.
The Doctors Revisited – Five Through Eight brings out some truly memorable representations of the Doctor. We see Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy and Paul McGann all take a swing, with varying takes on the character and varying levels of success according to the fanbase. The box set includes a full story for each actor, plus a documentary talking about their time in the role and the people who tagged along for the ride. And what it ride it was.
Starting off with Peter Davison (1981-1984) we got a new, younger and much more dashing Doctor. He was the youngest actor to play him yet and to some it was a play to bring in more female viewers. Whatever the motive, Davison was much more than a pretty face in a blue box. In the story included for him, Earthshock, Davison also presided over the menacing return of the Cybermen, one of the Doctor’s long-standing and most unstoppable foes. This story also resulted in one of the most shocking twists of the show to date, in the death of a main character (which I’ll keep to myself so you’ll be forced to check it out for yourself.)
Following him is Colin Baker (1984-1986) and the difference between him and Davison couldn’t be more stark. Baker was brash, arrogant, abrasive and in the beginning generally angry over his regeneration. The show took a more violent turn and brought a truly dark edge to the role. In fact it was so dark that the BBC put the show on an 18-month hiatus complaining that the violence was too prominent. The story included in this set, Vengence On Varos, really doesn’t pled the ‘pacifist’ case well either. The Doctor uses a gun (not normal for today’s incarnations), burns two soldiers alive with acid and generally doesn’t play well with others. Also, the storyline gives a truly open look at the motivations of the audience, challenging them to say violence is bad while being glued to their screens watching it. Subtext is truly king in these episodes.
Next in line is Sylvester McCoy (1987-1989, 1996) who may look quite daffy and particularly reminiscent of Patrick Troughton (2nd Doctor), but there was a continuing depth brought out underneath the slapstick and vaudevillian characteristics he displayed. McCoy knew magic, which he showed off in various episodes, and early on seemed to find any reason to bring out his spoons for a brief musical interlude. Yet McCoy felt strongly about revealing the sadness and despair of being a character who was over nine hundred years old. Think of the people he’s left behind, those lost to the annals of time, while he marches ever onward. That pathos is most definitely honored in the more recent incarnations and I don’t believe the current show would be at all the same (or as good) without that direction from way back.
His story, The Remembrance of the Daleks, brings back once again the most famous of his arch-enemies, but I will admit if there is one thing these older episodes suffer from is the lack of quality CGI and special effects. When a Dalek’s head wobbles when it moves because the costume is not correctly fitting together, it’s pretty hard to be scared of them.
One scene in a diner with a lonely and pensive Doctor, there is a cameo that I was really thrilled by. Joseph Marcell played the late night counter clerk and while the name might not ring a bell, most people would surely recognize him by the role he came to play years later as Geoffrey Butler in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (seriously, did anyone know the butler’s last name was Butler?)
This brings us to the final role handover in 1996. The show had been off the air for over six years and there was no sign of it ever coming back, so the BBC gave the rights over to an American company for them to make a TV movie for the audience stateside. Paul McGann jumped in those ever-growing shoes and absolutely knocked it out of the park. The most tragic thing in his run is that he only got to do it this one time. One TV movie, aptly titled Doctor Who: The Movie, and that was all we got, which once you watch it you’ll see why it’s such a terrible loss. He nails the charm, wittiness and affability in one ninety minute movie, making you think he’d been in the role for years.
Taking on the antagonist cape this time is Eric Roberts (of Best of the Best fame) who becomes the evil renegade Time Lord, The Master. Snakelike, venomous and played up like a classic nineties villain, Roberts does not disappoint. On the downside, the documentary for McGann is fairly limited and mostly redundant after watching the movie because there’s no other footage to pull from.
For the Whovians out there, let’s face it, you need to have this in your collections. It features some great behind the scenes tidbits and some real classic on-screen stories that will not let down the true fans and maybe even pick up one or two along the way.