There’s the Doctor Who that’s currently being seen in America on the SciFi channel and BBC America. Then there’s the Doctor Who that older and somewhat stranger Americans remember watching on PBS, which now goes by the label of “classic” Doctor Who. The BBC has just released two DVD’s from the “classic” era, The Time Warrior and Timelash.
In The Time Warrior, John Pertwee plays the third incarnation of Doctor Who. This isn’t just classic Doctor Who, it’s the classic era of the classic show. Pertwee plays the Doctor superbly. He’s older and a bit more authority-oriented than the Tom Baker version, but he’s just as whimsical and every bit as cool. Both Doctors equally enjoy tweaking the Brigadier (Nicholas Courtney), the commander of UNIT, which is the brave but often hapless force of humans that try to protect the Earth from nefarious alien schemes.
The story begins when Linx (Kevin Lindsay), a massive, armor clad alien with a very bad attitude, crash-lands in medieval England after his ship is damaged in a skirmish with other aliens. He quickly teams up with Irongron (David Daker), an evil knight who has just stolen a castle but is running low on food, wine, and quality wenches. Irongron and Linx quickly start making mischief with Linx traveling forward in time to kidnap 20th century scientists to fix his ship and Irongron trying to capture the rather wimpy Edward of Wessex’s castle. It’s clearly time to call in the Doctor.
The story is quite good, a mixture of high tech aliens and medieval knights, which should delight any science fiction fan. There’s also a nice egalitarian element in that the medieval English aren’t shown as primitive boobs (A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthurs Court and Army of Darkness come to mind), but are instead just as clueless as everyone else. Linx and Irongron think exactly alike while the Brigadier and Edward of Wessex (Alan Rowe) are equally hapless.
Another nice story element is that of the brilliant but absent-minded scientist. You don’t see any of them in science fiction nowadays outside of Futurama, which is a crying shame. Instead of the crazy old man in the lab we have sleek professionals who work out in the gym while constantly demonstrating how cool they are. No wonder science scores are down. Time Warrior has an excellent remedy for this sorry state of affairs in the character of Professor Rubeish. Rubeish (Donald Pelmear) stumbles about with myopic charm and while he may not know the time of day, he’s brilliant enough to help save it (the day, that is).
The Doctor also receives help from Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen) in her first appearance on Doctor Who. This fact alone makes Time Warrior a must have for any self respecting Whovian. Sarah Jane Smith! The greatest Doctor companion ever, hands down, no debate allowed. Object of this writer’s boyhood fancy, Sladen went from being a last minute replacement to making the role her own. The fact that she has her own show now, The Sarah Jane Adventures, is testimony that I wasn’t the only one she impressed.
The Time Warrior is a must see for any science fiction fan. If you are a Whovian you’ve probably already bought the DVD. If you are curious about “classic” Doctor Who, this DVD is a great litmus test. If you don’t like Time Warrior, then you won’t have to watch anything else because this is as good as it gets. But if you do enjoy it, there’s years worth of good stuff here.
Unfortunately those years were over by the time Colin Baker (no relation to the legendary Tom Baker) took over as the Doctor. It pains me to say this, but Colin’s portrayal of the Doctor is, well, a bit silly. I mentioned this to my wife, who likes the newer Doctors (It’s the production values I’m sure) and loves Torchwood but has little patience with “classic” Doctor Who. Her response was that all of the “classic” Doctors were quite silly and the ensuing “discussion” almost put me out on the couch. My protests that there is a thin but discernable line between whimsy and silliness were met with scorn.
Still, I maintain that there is such a line and that Colin Baker crossed it. But he isn’t to blame, since at this point Doctor Who is adrift and suffering from neglect. There doesn’t seem to be any direction, the cast seems as if they’ve been thrown in the deep end and left to tread water until the film runs out. A perfect example of this is the voice of Nicola Bryant who plays Peri, the Doctors current companion. Peri is supposed to be an American college student, but unfortunately her accent is so bad that she may as well be a Dalek. It’s not her fault; she was fresh out of drama school, but the fact that the BBC let her go on like that for a couple of seasons is pure negligence.
What makes Timelash watchable is it’s storyline and the hammy villainy of Tekker (Paul Darrow). An evil scientist, the Borad (Robert Ashby), who has been mutated into a cave lizard, is ruling the planet Karfel. The Borad wants to eradicate the Karfellians and start a new lizard race by mating with Peri. This mutant lizard has a serious agenda and rather good taste. The plot quickly gets thicker and more bizarre than Bryant’s accent, and would have been a great yarn if the director (Pennant Roberts) had done his job.
All things considered these two DVD’s could be labeled “The Height and Fall of Classic Doctor Who”. The Time Warrior is definitive and embodies everything that is good about the show. Timelash is only for the most devoted of Whovians and is rather a sad thing to see.