Some 25 years after the Great Whovian schism, the author gives Peter Davison’s Doctor Who another chance.
I must admit that as an American, I suffer from a severe handicap when it comes to reviewing anything to do with Doctor Who. The first time I saw the show was in 1975 when the role was played by the jelly baby eating and way cool Tom Baker. Most people on my side of the Atlantic had no idea that Doctor Who had been running since 1963, and that Baker was the fourth Doctor in an ongoing series. We just assumed that he was the Doctor the same way that Elvis was the King and that Lemmy was God.
From the first time I saw the show I was hooked. The theme music was great, electronica 35 years before electronica. The TARDIS, Doctor Who’s time and space ship, looked like an old fashioned telephone booth but was huge on the inside, and when it traveled, it smoothly phased in and out of existence without any blasting. The Doctor himself was a hip, friendly alien (his species is called the Timelords) who loved life and people. I became a devoted Whovian for the next seven years.
So imagine my shock one summer day, when Baker falls off a radio telescope while saving the world, dies, and is replaced by Peter Davison of all people! Whovians across the US were stunned and the great schism was on. Do we accept the new guy or what? Is this a swindle? PBS valiantly tried to prove Davison’s legitimacy, but most Whovians weren’t having any of it. Wearing a 20-foot long scarf to a Con is one thing, but pinning a celery stalk to one’s lapel was a different thing entirely. The channels were switched quicker than a Dalek yells “Exterminate!” and Doctor Who disappeared from most of America for about 25 years.
A quarter century is a long time. A man can mature and slowly win some wisdom. Through his own mistakes he can learn tolerance and understanding. He can go to Brighton and meet former cast members of Doctor Who. He can read about the show and realize that it wasn’t all about Baker. He can enjoy the new incarnation of Doctor Who that was made with an actual budget. (The British have gotten a lot richer in 25 years.) All of these things a man can do.
Nevertheless when I received the DVDs discussed here and realized that I wouldn’t be watching Baker but Davison, I cursed a blue streak. I sulked, pouted and felt quite put upon. I sullenly popped the first DVD into the player and grumpily sat down to watch. Twenty minutes into Time Flight I felt like a complete fool. This is good stuff. My 25-year snit vanished like a soap bubble (or a TARDIS) and I can’t wait to see more.
Davison makes a perfectly good Doctor Who, even though he was the youngest, being only 29-years-old when he took the part. He plays the role quite well and left it after three years to avoid being type cast. He brings an earnest warmth to the role and isn’t as overwhelmingly confident as the other Doctors. But he outwits his enemies as well as any of them.
One of the pleasant aspects of the show is that anybody can travel with the Doctor. The Doctor always has companions, and if you are good hearted and adventurous you qualify for a space on the TARDIS. There’s no Starfleet Academy in this show. It helps if you are an attractive young woman but a lot of ordinary people have traveled on the TARDIS and helped to save humanity. In our over professionalized age, it’s a good thing to know that anyone with pluck can help save the world.
In Time Flight and Arc of Infinity the Doctor is accompanied by Nyssa (Sarah Sutton), an orphaned aristocrat from the Doctor’s home world and by Tegan Jovanka (Janet Fielding) an Australian flight attendant. Nyssa is something of a psychic and Tegan is pretty sharp-tongued and not much else. An interesting special feature on Time Flight is Fielding discussing her role on the show, which pretty much consisted of being a smart mouth on long legs. It was pretty demeaning and needlessly so. She deserved to clear the air and it was a nice addition.
When Time Flight begins they are mourning the heroic death of their former companion, Adric (Matthew Waterhouse). Adric, a member of a street gang from the planet Alzarius, is a stowaway on the Tardis. The Doctor decides that a trip to the Crystal Palace Exhibition of 1851 would cheer them up. Instead, they wind up at Heathrow Airport in the ‘70s and find themselves tracking a Concorde that’s been transported back to the Jurassic Era. The episodes are fast paced and the plot is interesting. It's a very enjoyable show all around.
Arc of Infinity is a bit more convoluted. There’s a lot of Time Lord politics going on that’s a bit hard to follow. Even so, the hunt for an alien that’s made of anti-matter and is trying to destroy the universe (he makes a side trip to Amsterdam, which actually makes sense) is pretty thrilling. The stakes were a bit too high and the show had too many cliffhangers so I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as Time Flight.
I would certainly recommend Time Flight . It’s a wild trip that anyone can enjoy even if they’ve never seen Doctor Who before. Arc of Infinity is more suitable for the devoted Whovian, whose ranks I have just rejoined. I have been cured by the Doctor (Davison, that is) and look forward to watching more of his adventures.