The Five Doctors
Episode / March 24, 2017

Aired 23 November 1983 ‘The Five Doctors’ represents the culmination of twenty years of Doctor Who, a feature-length special that does its best to bring the five distinct eras of the franchise together with a cavalcade of guest appearances by friends and foes alike. From the outset, it’s clear that writer Terrance Dicks is not striving to offer a meaningful story that explores the depth of the Doctor as a character or that fundamentally changes the core nature of Doctor Who, but ‘The Five Doctors’ is an unequivocal success when taken simply as a nostalgic celebration that focuses more on spectacle than on story. It’s interesting to note just how much attention is drawn to the questions regarding continuity that allow this adventure to take place, especially as continuity seemed to be pervading the programme more and more at the time. Part of this, naturally, is down to Tom Baker choosing not to reprise his role for the special after so recently departing. While the inclusion of scenes from the unfinished ‘Shada’ do at least allow a cameo of sorts for both Baker and Lalla Ward, it means that some of the resulting pairings of Doctors and companions are a…

The Ravelli Conspiracy
Audio / November 22, 2016

Released November 2016 While the televised Doctor Who has long since shied away from the true historical genre, opting to include otherworldly beings or technological anachronisms in its jaunts to the past, Big Finish has generously kept the genre alive and well, proving time and time again that solid drama in any medium has the potential to be just as engaging as the flashiest of special effects. The Early Adventures gives Big Finish the opportunity to more thoroughly explore Earth’s past with the original TARIDS teams that most frequently did so, and ‘The Ravelli Conspiracy’ bravely follows the First Doctor, Vicki, and Steven into the ever-increasing conspiracies of 1514 Florence with astounding results. Dennis Spooner left his role of script editor in early 1965 and is responsible for fully introducing Steven in ‘The Time Meddler,’ his final solo script. However, despite the chronological placement of ‘The Ravelli Conspiracy,’ writers Robert Khan and Tom Salinsky have managed to channel the distinctive voice of Spooner in this comedic drama that quickly sees Steven and Vicki captured and Niccolo Machiavelli trying to re-establish himself in the House of Medici, the script emphasizing Machiavelli’s lofty reputation while not discounting the fact that his theories…

The Three Doctors
Episode / November 8, 2016

Aired 30 December 1972 – 20 January 1973 The first serial of Doctor Who’s tenth series does something the franchise has never attempted before, namely bringing together all three televised versions of the titular Time Lord for one adventure. Also the story which sees the Third Doctor’s exile on Earth end, ‘The Three Doctors’ is an incredibly important part of Doctor Who mythology that both redefines the character of the Doctor and once more reinvigorates the sense of freedom for his travels and adventures that was so important in the first two Doctors’ eras. Strangely, or perhaps purposefully, ‘The Three Doctors’ does nothing to act like a tenth anniversary special. The serial still airs in four weekly installments and little pomp is given to the arrival of the First and Second Doctors, the story only momentarily pausing to explain their identities and reasons for their presence. Even if the story does somewhat feel like the anniversary elements were inserted into a more standard episode at a later time, there’s no denying the joy that arises from seeing both William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton reprise their roles. The entire concept of regeneration and what it actually means to the Doctor was…

The Fifth Traveller
Audio / October 16, 2016

Released October 2016 The Early Adventures continues with Philip Lawrence’s ‘The Fifth Traveller,’ revisiting the era of the First Doctor, Ian, Barbara Vicki, and Jospa. Jospa, of course, is the orphan from the slums of Earth’s future that pickpocketed the Doctor and then joined the TARDIS team, forming a powerful sibling-like camaraderie with Vicki along the way. Only, the audience knows that none of that happened, and the mystery of how this man came to insert himself into established continuity forms the driving force of this intriguing release. The early years of Doctor Who is famous for occasionally allowing ambition to trump what could realistically be achieved on a minimal budget, and ‘The Fifth Traveller’ certainly channels that sense of ambition with its scope. After Jospa discovers an organic jellyfish-like creature that should allow the Doctor to finally control the TARDIS with much greater precision upon the planet of Vavidic, the story proper takes place in the jungles of Arunde. This vegetative world and its golden primates’ culture and structured society are both fleshed out and described wonderfully, the incidental music and sound design helping with the former and telepathic communications of the latter adding incredible depth to these creations.…

The Smugglers
Episode / September 19, 2016

Aired 10 September – 1 October 1966 ‘The Smugglers’ opens the fourth series of Doctor Who with the final historical story of William Hartnell’s tenure as the Doctor. To this point, the historical tales have fallen into two distinct camps, those such as ‘The Aztecs’ and ‘The Massacre’ that are quite staunch and serious and those such as ‘The Romans’ and ‘The Myth Makers’ that veered distinctly into comedic territory. However, ‘The Smugglers’ merges these two subsets to incorporate a sense of capricious whimsy into its otherwise solemn and quite brutal storyline, a rather successful approach for the Doctor’s first televised adventure with pirates. Whereas the preceding serial ‘The War Machines’ perhaps highlighted some of Hartnell’s increasing health-related frailties, here he is unequivocally at his best and central to the action throughout. Even as he constantly receives more threats to his life, he always carries himself with dignity, unafraid to use to his mind to find an escape. Though his escape from The Black Albatross and some of his other strategies are perhaps not the most inventive and often prey upon the ego and shortcomings of his foes, they nonetheless showcase a confident Doctor has begun to develop more manipulative…

The War Machines
Episode / September 17, 2016

Aired 25 June – 16 July 1966 For the first time since ‘An Unearthly Child’ three years earlier, the Doctor finally returns to present-day Earth, closing out the third season with ‘The War Machines’ which sees yet another companion departure and experiments with a new story style that would become a hallmark of later eras. Instead of enjoying the familiar backdrop, however, the Doctor and Dodo quickly become entwined in a global threat as they uncover the dark secret behind WOTAN within the Post Office Tower. WOTAN, the Will Operating Thought Analogue, is the most advanced computer of the time, able to think for itself and even verbalize its opinions and judgments. Going beyond its programming, though, WOTAN has somehow gained sentience and hypnotic powers, determining that humans are inferior and must become obedient to machine will. At the original time of broadcast when computers were much less commonplace, this was a tremendously and disturbingly topical and novel storyline that played upon the public fear of increasing human dependence on machines very well as WOTAN created an army of human and machine slaves alike. ‘The War Machines’ does unfortunately highlight the decreasing health and capabilities of William Hartnell in the…

The Savages
Episode / September 15, 2016

Aired 28 May – 18 June 1966 ‘The Savages’ is possibly the most unknown and unheralded of Doctor Who’s third season, yet another story that only exists in audio format. With a strong display of morality interlaced with rather satisfying action and drama, though, as well as the departure of another TARDIS stalwart, ‘The Savages’ certainly presents a rewarding experiences for those seeking out what remains of it. As the Doctor and Steven continue their sort of tussle for dominance that mirrors their first story together nicely, the story presents a very novel and refreshing concept by having the Doctor be expected where he lands. The Elders of this unnamed planet, an extremely advanced race that the Doctor knew existed somewhere in this area of space, recognize the Doctor as the greatest expert on time and space. However, the Elders are not quite the benign people that they seem, sucking the very souls or life force out of individuals to achieve their means. While Jano tries to explain that they get the best aspect of those that they choose to represent their society, the Doctor sees through this charade and even stops Captain Edal from abusing one of the planet’s…

The Gunfighters
Episode / September 13, 2016

Aired 30 April – 21 May 1966 ‘The Gunfighters’ has long been a somewhat contentious Doctor Who story, having scored very low viewing ratings and audience appreciataion ratings upon its initial broadcast. While some laud it as being the first Western made for British television, ‘The Gunfighters’ is very much a British response to the Western genre; it is of course unreasonable to think that a small sound stage would adequately capture the open splendour of Western locales, but the budget is stretched for full effect and the overall result is another interesting and entertaining experiment for the early years of Doctor Who. Perhaps the strongest aspect of ‘The Gunfighters’ is its comedy, the always strong and energetic Peter Purves being the unwitting focal point as Steven is forced to put on a ridiculous American drawl, dress in stereotypical but 1960s-inspired Western garb, and sing a painfully repetitive and saloon ditty. William Hartnell supposedly lobbied long and hard for a Western-themed story, and he throws all of his weight into his performance, proving remarkably adept at slapstick timing while also delivering sparkling dialogue and proving to be a very British counterpoint to the very American Doc Hohliday. Even poor Dodo…

The Celestial Toymaker
Episode / September 11, 2016

Aired 2 April – 23 April 1966 Picking up with the cliffhanger from ‘The Ark’ in which the Doctor becomes invisible, the TARDIS soon lands in the domain of the ancient and eternal Celestial Toymaker, a being with a penchant for games with the highest of stakes. With Steven and Dodo almost immediately cut off from the TARDIS and the Doctor, they are tasked with solving and winning a series of challenges before the disembodied Doctor finishes the Trilogic Game set before him. In so doing, ‘The Celestial Toymaker’ represents Doctor Who’s first trip into more surreal territory, putting a nefarious spin on childhood pastimes along the way. Of course, the invisible and sometimes mute nature of the Doctor allows a script-based reason for William Hartnell to again take a scheduled holiday. Apparently, producer John Wiles had several problems with William Hartnell behind the scenes and wanted to take the programme in a more adult direction, intending to replace him with someone else when the Doctor rematerialized at the end of the story. This, of course, does not happen, but it perhaps sowed the seeds for the renewal/regeneration that would occur later to usher in Patrick Troughton. Regardless of the…

The Ark
Episode / September 10, 2016

Aired 5 March – 26 March 1966 ‘The Ark’ is an intriguing Doctor Who story, both in terms of structure and theme as the story is split into two distinct halves with the Doctor and his companions joining the action in one place during two very different time periods. This is a relatively high-brow concept for Doctor Who at this point, a show that until now has been wary of confronting the possibility of its heroes’ actions altering future events, and these consequences are made all the more powerful after the Doctor’s dramatic dialogue insisting on non-intervention at the end of the preceding serial. Essentially two two-part stories, ‘The Ark’ begins like a very traditional story, channeling events of ‘The Sensorites’ as the Doctor again searches for a cure for an ailing population. The civilization in peril here, though, is humanity itself, its remaining members embarking on an ark in hopes of finding survival. Although the humans are expecting to find resistance on the planet they have chosen, it’s intriguing to note how xenophobic their situation has caused them to become, accusing the TARDIS travelers of being spies sent to infect them with a deadly pathogen. They freely admit that…