September 19, 2015

The Axeman Cometh

We will return to the companions departure entries shortly, but how was that for an electric opening to the new season? Let us know your thoughts below in the comments section. For those curious, here’s a list of musical instruments played on screen per Doctor:

1st Doctor - Lyre (The Romans)
2nd Doctor - Recorder (throughout his tenure and The Three Doctors)
4th Doctor - reed flute (The Power of Kroll)
5th Doctor - harp (The Five Doctors)
6th Doctor - organ (Attack of the Cybermen)
7th Doctor - spoons (Time and the Rani)
9th Doctor - alien synth instrument (Dalek)
10th Doctor - church organ (The Lazarus Experiment)

The 11th Doctor does not play an instrument on screen although he does enter the TARDIS carrying a euphonium having apparently just played it in Night and the Doctor: Good Night , a DVD-only mini-episode on the Complete Sixth Series box set. 

But let’s get back to your thoughts now

August 28, 2015

The Companion Departures - #7 - Susan

Susan’s departure was the very first of any of the companions, or for that matter, the regular cast. This departure set a template for companion departures and thankfully it was a very good template - arguably one that the series has not consistently lived up to. It certainly wasn’t an abrupt departure or one that we couldn’t see coming as her departure story progressed. Even the Doctor notices that Susan is starting to listen to David rather than to her grandfather, and the classic “and don’t stop pick daisies” line in episode 6 is both hilarious and quite telling. It is arguably the polar opposite of how Leela’s departure for romantic reasons was handled some 14 years later in The Invasion of Time.

Interestingly, it is often forgotten that it actually wasn’t Susan’s choice to leave - it was the Doctor’s choice to leave without her and make her decision to stay with David for her. This of course led to one of the all-time greatest moments in Doctor Who history, a moment which has only increased in greatness, significance and stirring the heart-strings as time has gone by - the Doctor’s speech that was to be used in both The Five Doctors and An Adventure in Space and Time. “One day, I shall come back. Yes, I shall come back. Until then, there must be no regrets, no tears, no anxieties. Just go forward in all your beliefs and prove to me that I am not mistaken in mine.”

For that reason alone this is one of the best companion departures ever.

July 19, 2015

The Companion Departures - #9 and #8 - Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright

One of the most interesting things about this departure is how much angrier the Doctor is that Ian and Barbara are leaving versus how emotional he was when his own granddaughter, Susan, left (which, at the time of this dual departure in The Chase, had been the only companion departure story to compare this one to). There are several explanations for this - for one, there is (apparently) an element of danger in Ian and Barbara’s return home using the Dalek time travel machine (though one wonders how much the Doctor was exaggerating the danger given the efficiency of the Dalek machine because he really didn’t want Ian and Barbara to leave). Secondly, and perhaps more significantly, we have to remember that it is the Doctor who chooses for Susan to leave rather than Susan making the choice herself (though obviously she was conflicted) - this is actually the first instance we see of companions choosing to leave the Doctor of their own accord. Based on the evidence, the Doctor doesn’t seem to take very well to people choosing to leave him, even those people who forced themselves upon him. Look at the contrast between the Doctor calling Ian and Barbara “absolute idiots” for wanting to leave him and return home, while he sounds positively victorious when Vicki tells him that she doesn’t want to go with Ian & Barbara but to stay with him. These are some of the most “human” emotions that we see the Doctor exhibit in the series.

The use of the “time television” throughout the story is clever - it functions as a simply “wow, wouldn’t that be cool to have one of those in the future” sci-fi idea fictionally realized, it serves as a plot device to give the Doctor and Barbara warning that the Daleks are after them, and at the end it allows the Doctor and Vicki to watch Ian and Barbara’s arrival on Earth and thus know that they arrived safely. Ian and Barbara’s final scenes are perfectly charming (interesting choice to have them return to the then-present day of 1965 rather than 1963) and its fun to think that although they look to the skies and thank the Doctor, unbeknownst to them, he does actually hear and see their goodbye message somewhere out there in space.

A planned cameo for William Russell as Ian Chesterton in The Day of the Doctor didn’t happen because Russell was ill for the scheduled filming dates, but his name does feature again at Coal Hill School as the School Governor in that story, and given that Clara has quickly managed to get a job as a teacher at that school, one imagines that the Doctor talked to his own chum Ian and helped to get her the gig.

It was a fitting tribute in the 50th Anniversary story to one of original cast members, and its nice to know that arriving two years out from their initial departure in 1963 didn’t damage his career with the school in the end. We’d like to think of the same thing for Barbara. Their departure had nothing wrong with it - it was logical, emotional, bittersweet and ultimately joyful. That is why it is one of the best.

June 15, 2015

The Companion Departures - #11 & #10 - Jamie McCrimmon and Zoe Herriott

Another dual departure, one of the most bittersweet. Jamie and Zoe get to return to their own time safe and sound - well sound at least for Jamie. He’s last seen charging with a sword at a redcoat who missed his shot, but one gets the warm feeling that Jamie will scrap through and survive. It helps that the Doctor laughs heartily at the sight of Jamie stampeding forth to kill someone in a war (his pleasure at seeing Jamie fighting redcoats is yet another great example of the Doctor’s pacifist nature - and yes, I was being sarcastic about that). After all the Doctor and Jamie had been through, the finality of the Doctor finally saying goodbye to Jamie does tug on the heartstrings a bit - and is excellently played by Patrick Troughton who really “sells” the finality of the moment. Let us not forget Zoe and the hint that Zoe might have remembered leaving a glimmer of hope that the Doctor’s companions might have remembered more than just their first encounter with the Doctor. This hint would later be exploited by Big Finish in some of their audios that have featured Wendy Padbury as Zoe (such as Fear of the Daleks).

Some may argue that Jamie’s re-appearance in The Two Doctors undoes the tragic fate of his character (as often happened with RTD-era re-appearances of companions shortly after they met a tragic “fate” of some kind) in that it’s an older Jamie who is travelling once again with a 2nd Doctor who is doing some work for the Celestial Intervention Agency before finally being regenerated by the Time Lords. The problem with this argument is threefold - one, Jamie’s fate isn’t really played for tragedy (as indicated above, it’s bittersweet but played as a heart-warming farewell), two, it is never explicitly stated in the tv series that the 2nd Doctor and Jamie in The Two Doctors are from a period post-The War Games and pre-Spearhead from Space, and thirdly, more than 15 frickin years have passed between The War Games and The Two Doctors, so if a reversal of fate has happened it is tough to put it at the same level of an apparently final fate for a character that is undone less than two years later.

All in all, this was a satisfying departure for both characters - original and something that’s never really been repeated and which didn’t leave you feeling cheated shortly afterwards.

May 23, 2015

The Companion Departures - #12 Steven Taylor

Steven’s departure often gets overlooked because it is one of the few examples where there are no surviving episodes currently in the BBC archives for the story in which a companion departs (Vicki & Victoria being the other two). There are audio soundtracks of course and telesnaps for The Savages and also off-air 8mm footage of Steven’s departure scene, so we do get a pretty good sense of his final scenes. His final story is a great one - both as an adventure in its own right but also a great story for Steven. He is very much the hero in this story and his toughness (both physical and mental) that we saw come to the fore early on in his era (in such stories as The Time Meddler, The Daleks Master Plan and The Massacre returns, letting the character leave on a high note. I won’t “spoil” (for a 49 year old story) the details of Steven’s heroism in this story for those of you who haven’t heard it or read the novelization yet, but suffice it to say it is Steven who turns the tide in the good guy’s favour, particularly when the Doctor is incapacitated for a long stretch in this story. Particularly good are the scenes where Steven taunts his opponent (repeatedly calling him “Soldier Boy”) in a duel which occurs Episode 3.

The previous companion departures in the series to date had seen companions leave because they fell in love or simply wanted to return home (or in the case of Sara Kingdom and Katarina, because they were killed). Steven’s departure is the first one to happen for purely altruistic reasons as he stays behind to help lead the people on an alien planet who needed an impartial leader between two separate factions on the planet. It was not an obvious reason at the time for a companion to leave, but works very well and satisfactorily for Steven’s character. It probably takes a touch of confidence and mental toughness to leave the security of the TARDIS to stay behind on an alien planet for benevolent reasons. It is a somewhat brash move as well given that he’s staying behind to become a leader - but it suits Steven’s character because he was brash, confident and mentally tough - at least, as originally conceived and played in the aforementioned stories - less so in something like The Gunfighters but that’s a criticism that could be reserved for that story rather than The Savages which returns the character to its roots in a satisfying and original way for his departure. Simple, but effective.

May 20, 2015

The Companion Departures - #13 Amy Pond and Rory Williams

First thing to do is acknowledge that this should actually be #13 & #12 given that it is two separate companions (albeit who leave in the same story, if not at the same time). But having horribly realized that I miscounted and should have started at #33 rather than #32, “the Ponds” (as the Doctor called them) get to have a combined entry, perhaps befitting the fact that they are the only married couple to be companions (okay, Mickey and Martha allegedly get married but after their run as companions are over). The Ponds departure is the highest ranked for all of the new series to date (not counting Clara, who is still the current companion at the time of writing - obviously it is not known where she will eventually place in this list). This is partially because, to date, there has been no return appearance undoing or undermining what had already been established at the time the departure (arguably this is the case for every other major companion in the new series - see the entries for Rose, Martha and Donna). The departure of the character in The Angels Take Manhattan also remains tragic and yet heart-warming at the same time and also scores highly in the “uniqueness” category - there’s certainly nothing else like it.

A lot of fans have not really bought the explanation that the Doctor can’t ever see Amy & Rory again. Perhaps they could figure out a way by, say,  taking a bus to Toronto (to get away from New York) and meeting up with the Doctor there. Perhaps someone will write a Big Finish audio one day where that does happen but I feel it would be beside the point. The Doctor might be able to visit them but not take them out of time and space or risk messing up the timeline once again, particularly once they see Rory’s name is listed on the gravestone in New York indicating that he’s lived his life there. Maybe it is an overstatement for the Doctor to say “I will never see you again” to Amy but the key point is really that if Amy chooses to live her life with Rory in the past and establish roots there in New York, then she can’t travel in the TARDIS with him. As a plot device to prevent Amy continuing to travel with the Doctor, it works. And thus far, they story has been true to its word because, Amy flashback aside, the characters have not returned and, given that we are now well past both the 50th Anniversary and Matt Smith’s era, it seems increasingly unlikely they will anytime soon.

It’s a shame they never filmed the scene where Rory’s Dad reads the letter that Rory sent him though…..

May 16, 2015

The Companion Departures - #14 Tegan Jovanka

Here’s an interesting thing - Resurrection of the Daleks was intended originally for the end of Season 20 and didn’t feature a departure for Tegan. The script was re-written slighly for the following season to write out Kamelion’s scenes (having joined in The King’s Demons, he would have featured in the next story) as by Season 21 they realized that the robot didn’t work well from a technological basis. And the script was also re-written for Season 21 to write out Tegan. Thus, one could make the argument quite successfully that her departure scene is “tacked on”.

Technically it is tacked on - but it doesn’t feel that way, particularly if you are watching the story without the behind-the-scenes knowledge. When Tegan says she has stopped having fun because there’s been so much killing, it is not as though the audience shouldn’t believe her. Resurrection of the Daleks has the highest number of on-screen deaths for any Doctor Who story (and by that I am referring to a body-count - ie. living beings who are seen to die on the screen, rather than the reported deaths from planets, galaxies or continents that occurred in stories like Logopolis or The Parting of the Ways).  Tegan is the only member of the TARDIS trio who doesn’t advocate murdering someone in this story. Seeing the Doctor get pushed over the edge (by the Daleks plan to invade Gallifrey) resulting in his attempt to try to kill Davros in cold blood (something that she probably assumes he succeeded in doing since she wasn’t there to see the Doctor fail to do it and only sees him afterwards completely un-harmed) likely affected her as much as the horrible death of the man she called for help (who was minding his own business with a metal detector and didn’t even hear her, but still gets brutally shot in the back) - not something which is her fault but at the same time you could see why she would feel awful about it almost wishing that she hadn’t tried to escape after all.

In the end it is an effective, unique departure which works well, even if arguably it is one of the more depressing and bleak reasons a companion chooses to leave. But the Doctor says he must mend his ways as a result of Tegan’s departure and the next time we see him in a very bleak situation surrounded by people firing guns left right and centre (two stories later in The Caves of Androzani), he doesn’t join in at all - he rises above it and just has one thing on his mind, which is to save Peri. He essentially sacrifices his 5th incarnation (and for all he knew, his own life) to save someone who he didn’t know that well yet, but was in his care. In that sense, Tegan’s departure is not just an effective departure on its own, but it also sets things up well for the 5th Doctor’s own departure. Not bad for a script that originally wasn’t aiming for this at all when it was first written.

April 28, 2015

The Companion Departures - #15 - Sara Kingdom

So Katarina dies suddenly and later on in the same episode of the mammoth The Daleks’ Master Plan we are introduced to the next new companion, Sara Kingdom. At first a foe, she befriends the Doctor and Steven and travels with them through time and space in the TARDIS their epic battle against the Daleks (as well as a not-so-epic Christmas day adventure, The Feast of Steven in the midst of the story). And the audience is probably thinking, right, so here’s the new companion, she’ll survive this story and continue to travel with the Doctor and Steven because there’s no way they are going to kill another companion. And the audience is wrong once again, as Sara is tragically killed at the end of the 12 part story. And it is a smidgen more effective departure than Katarina’s (itself very effective) because the shock of having the guts to kill off another companion shortly after doing it the first time is still there - and we feel it a bit more because we get to know and invest in the character a lot more - as short as Sara’s run is, it is still twice as long as Katarina’s, with much more focus on the character in those 9 episodes versus the five that Katarina was in.

Some may quibble with Sara Kingdom’s inclusion as a companion on the list since she didn’t appear in more than one televised story - but fandom has long deemed her to be a companion because she traveled in the TARDIS as a companion for several weeks and arguably The Feast of Steven is a separate adventure (televised in the midst of The Daleks’ Master Plan, it has nothing to do with the plot of that story, which, when the BBC attempted to sell it abroad, did so as an 11-part story without The Feast of Steven). Sara’s photographic appearance in The Day of the Doctor (amongst a host of other companions) and the fact that she’s featured as a companion in several Big Finish audios I think cements her status as a companion, if it was ever in doubt. As such, she is included in this list and her departure squeaks into the top 15.

April 25, 2015

The Companion Departures - #16 - Katarina

The first companion to be killed, and in just her second story and after having appeared in just 5 episodes. A run so short that some don’t consider her to be a companion, although she traditionally has been considered as such and is included on this list. Her departure is not higher up the list because we don’t get a chance to truly know her character or invest our emotions in watching her as much as we would a long-running companion - but the shock value at the time must have been tremendous. Introduced in the final episode of the preceding story The Myth Makers (in very similar fashion to her fellow TARDIS traveler Steven Taylor, who was introduced in the final episode of The Chase), the audience sees her replace Vicki in the TARDIS and naturally assumes that she will be the new companion for quite some time. Four episodes into The Daleks’ Master Plan the audience is shockingly proved wrong. Doctor Who‘s unpredictability went up a notch, and while she was there a short time, her tragic but heroic exit means that her departure was a memorable one (or would be if most fans had seen the story - check out the audio though, it is fantastic).

April 12, 2015

The Companion Departures - #17 - Vicki

Vicki’s departure shouldn’t work so well.The audience has to swallow the notion that a sophisticated girl from the future is willing to live in times that are incredible primitive and uncivilized by comparison. And yet, The Myth Makers is able to sell this idea to the audience reasonably well.  I think this is because the love story which is introduced as a mechanism to remove the character from the show is actually quite sweet (and unlike with Leela, isn’t suddenly introduced into the story at the last minute). Vicki has the chance to leave in the TARDIS, abandoning her fellow teenager (or perhaps early 20’s - difficult to tell by the audio soundtrack alone) and lover in Troy as the Trojans have been brutally defeated by the Greeks - not in soccer game, but in a bloody war. And yet after the TARDIS departs Troilus, a survivor of the bloody defeat, searches seemingly in vain for his love who has apparently betrayed him, and discovers that she hasn’t - at least not personally. She has given up everything - her safety in the TARDIS, her sophisticated lifestyle, her de facto “adopted grandfather” (ie. the Doctor) and stayed behind for him.  And as Vicki finds Troilus on the fields of Troy, there is even a satisfying happy ending as Troilus’ cousin Aeneas arrives with Trojan reinforcements and helps the young lovers escape from the area and into safety. Vicki gambled big time - but because she went with her heart, and she won as a result. Not a bad message to go out with at all.

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