Doctor Who: The Ultimate Guide

I recorded Doctor Who: The Ultimate Guide before the 50th anniversary special episode aired (post) but we didn’t watch it till afterwards. J’s very spoilerphobic and so we didn’t want to risk it being full of coy “teasers” about the upcoming episode – in retrospect I think they handled it pretty well, there were references to what the story was going to be about but nothing that wasn’t completely obvious from the end of the episode before.

This programme was a look at the whole of the Doctor Who series so far – running through the Doctors, and discussing the iconic companions and monsters. It did this partly with clips from old episodes, and partly by interviewing people who’d been in those episodes … and partly by interviews with “celebrities”. The scare quotes are there because I didn’t actually recognise many if any of the non-Doctor Who people (and in fact I didn’t recognise all the Doctor Who ones, Sophie Aldred no longer looks much like Ace for instance). I’m sure they’re all famous if you’re up on your modern pop culture … There were also a couple of framing vignettes with the 11th Doctor & Clara about the Doctor losing his memory, and there was a voiceover from Russell Tovey pulling the whole thing together. And someone had clearly had a lot of fun assembling clips from a wide range of episodes to have the Doctor respond to or join in with the commentary.

Obviously all the Doctors (including 8, but not the War Doctor) were covered. They had clips from everybody and tried to give some sense of the personality of that particular Doctor and what each actor had brought to the part. That was a bit more fleshed out when you got to the Fifth Doctor and onwards (except for Nine) as the actors were part of the show so could actually say what was in their minds. I’ve watched almost every episode since sometime early in the Fifth Doctor’s run, so a lot of the later stuff was very nostalgia fueled for me. It’s always a little odd for me to see the gushing over the Fourth Doctor, because I didn’t really see many of his episodes (perhaps only one at the time? I’ve watched Genesis of the Daleks since). So I’ve never been as fond of his interpretation as everyone else seems to be – the Seven/Ace era is the best of Old Who as far as I’m concerned. This programme did make me want to seek out the earlier Doctor’s stories though, but I think I’ll look for (library) books. J and I did try & watch through some Old Who serials a few years ago, and I think it’s my fault we gave up – my tolerance for televised fiction is variable and low, and the less modern pacing/story-telling drove me batty.

The companions weren’t as exhaustively covered – and the selection was a little odd, I thought. Like Susan was name-checked (and we had a clip of her departure) but Ian and Barbara weren’t mentioned by name (tho they were in some clips iirc). Obviously Sarah Jane Smith got some attention – and it was suggested that she was the first to have an actual consistent character, rather than being a scream-on-demand-question-asker – partly because she’s the one who returned in New Who, and partly because the actress (Elisabeth Sladen) recently died. Oh, and she was the iconic Fourth Doctor companion, in many ways. And that was also odd – we had SJS and Leela name checked, but not Romana. Tegan completely missed out (except a mention in a clip) and Peri really only talked about for her outfits. And because the Fifth Doctor’s death scene was memorable mostly for the camera angle straight down Peri’s cleavage … Ace did get a few mentions (yay!) and we got to see her beating up a Dalek with a baseball bat, but the Nitro 9 was kinda noted in passing and not dwelt on. Once into the modern era I think everyone got name checked, and a little bit of chat. Not everyone was interviewed, but a fair few were (including the guy who played Adam who I’d almost forgotten about).

Monsters were the obvious ones, really – a lot mentioned in passing, but we dwelt on the Daleks and the Cybermen. And the Master plus sidenotes on the rest of the Time Lords. I was entertained by the clip of the 2nd Doctor holding forth about how the Time Lords’ non-interference policy was immoral, because of course the modern era has had the Time Lords being far too keen to interact with the rest of the universe. And there was some talk about how in the modern era the alien races aren’t as often presented as monolithic – like there’s Strax the Sontaran who isn’t an enemy. There’s more of a sense of every race (short of the Daleks & Cybermen) as having good people and bad people and those that’re in between.

I’ve missed loads of stuff, I think – it was a fairly information dense show, not surprising given it was covering 50 years of back story both from a outside and inside perspective. It was a lot of fun to watch as a Doctor Who fan, and I’d recommend watching it if you are. Although if you’re the sort of person who knows every detail inside out I suspect you’ll find it shallow, and it’s very much focussed on celebration so there’s nothing about why it was cancelled back at the end of the 7th Doctor’s run or anything like that. The closest they get to negative is Colin Baker mentioning that a lot of people didn’t much like his Doctor at the time, and saying the outfit wasn’t what he’d’ve preferred.

Other tv watched this week:

The last episode of A Hundred Years of Us: a superficial look at how British society has changed over the last 100 years.

Timeshift: When Coal Was King: a programme using footage from the Mining Review features in cinemas in the 50s & 60s to look at what the mining community was like during that era.

Editorial note: I’m still trying to find the right way to write up TV from the week without it turning into a chore and taking over the blog. For now I’ll be writing about one or two programmes in depth, and just name checking the rest.