Classic Doctor Who Season 17

Posted on April 20, 2014 10:00 am

DoctorWhoSeason17I’m watching all the classic Doctor Who episodes. I began with the first season, from 1963. I’m not up to Season 17, which aired in late 1979 into 1980. The season is a milestone of sorts. With this season, Tom Baker began his sixth season as The Doctor, exceeding the number of seasons Jon Pertwee played the character.

The season also saw a new Romana. She’s a Time Lord (Time Lady?), remember. And, she began the season by regenerating. They never explained why. The previous incarnation (Mary Tamm) looked perfectly good to me. But, Miss Tamm wasn’t happy with the direction of her character. She was initially reluctant to assume the role in Season 16, expressing concerns that she’d be the typical damsel in distress. She was told that her character was also a Time Lord (Time Lady?), and would be an equal to The Doctor. Of course, she ended up being a damsel in distress. And, she left the show.

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Rejected Romana 1

Mary Tamm later said that she’d have gladly filmed a regeneration scene, if they liked. They didn’t, and in a departure from The Doctor’s regenerations, Romana actually tried on various appearances. Initially, she took the appearance of Princess Astra, from Season 16′s The Armageddon Factor, but The Doctor insisted she couldn’t just go around copying people. She then took the appearance of a short purple woman, then a mature belly dancer, then a very tall woman. The Doctor finally agreed on the Astra appearance, and Lella Ward joined the cast as Romana.

The season had production problems late in the year. The final serial planned, Shada (6 episodes) was never finished due to a strike. The strike actually delayed the completion of the serial, but, by the time it was resolved, BBC decided to not complete the serial so that resources could be directed toward completing Christmas programming for the network.

Douglas Adams’s influence as Script Editor was evident in the first serial of the season, Destiny of the Daleks (4 episodes). Early on, The Doctor is trapped beneath some rubble, and Romana goes for help. To pass the time, he pulls out a paperback copy of Oolon Caluphid’s Origins of the Universe. In case you forgot, or never knew, Oolon Caluphid is a character from Douglas Adams’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. In the Hitchhiker’s Guide, though, that particular book isn’t mentioned.

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Rejected Romana 2

This does bring three fictional universes together. Doctor Who brought in references to the Nigel Kneale’s Quatermass series of films, radio plays, and books as far back as Season Seven. That was never official, mostly because Kneale disliked Doctor Who, but still evident in conversation. The integration with the Hitchhiker’s Guide universe is with that franchise creator’s blessing, of course.

There is a continuity problem with the second serial, City of Death (4 episoded). At the end of Season 16, it was established that The Doctor had installed a randomizer in the TARDIS, so he didn’t know where he’d end up, and so the Black Guardian couldn’t know. Only, in City of Death, he sets the coordinates for Florence in 1505, to meet Leonardo da Vinci.

Another is Romana’s age. She gave one age (140) to The Doctor at the start of Season 16, and another age (125) to a character in the show. Just goes to show you how women always lie about their age. I hope The Doctor doesn’t get arrested by Gallifrey police on morals charges and have to tell them “But, she told me she was 140.”

Then there’s the origins of life on Earth. The Doctor visits Earth 400 million years ago, and mentions that life is about to form. He was off by a factor of nearly 10, since there is evidence of life on Earth as long as 3.8 billion years ago.

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Rejected Romana 3

I did enjoy a couple of cameos in that serial. John Cleese played a man who thinks the TARDIS is a work of art in a museum. His companion is played by Eleanor Bron, who, despite her long resume, will, to me, always be Princess Ahme from Help!

Stars Wars fans would recognize Julian Glover, who played the serial’s main villain, Scaroth, as General Veers from The Empire Strikes Back. Of course, he’s had a long, successful career and you really should know him as Julian Glover, not as General Veers or the bad guy from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, or the dude from Game of Thrones, or the bad guy from that James Bond movie with the Sheena Easton song, or any other particular role. He’s a good villain, but that’s because he’s a good actor.

Oh, yeah, Catherine Schell was in that serial, too. She’s hot in anything. Well, not as that hairy woman from Space 1999, but anything else.

The strike-shortened season ended with a serial based on the Greek story of Theseus, who slew the Minotaur. The Horns of Nimon (4 episodes) features a critter that looked like a space minotaur. It also had youths to be sacrificed, and a maze.

The serial that was supposed to be the season finale was Shada (6 episodes), but, as mentioned, it never aired. In 1992, the BBC filmed a narrative around the story, with Tom Baker. This was 11 years after he left the role of The Doctor, and nearly three years after the BBC stopped broadcasting the show.

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Tom Baker filling in missing scenes on Shada

The episodes, with Baker’s narration was released on VHS, and later on DVD (it is still available on DVD), but that’s it. The DVD is still available for purchase.

The story, written by Douglas Adams, is so-so. A little convoluted — but what by Douglas Adams wasn’t — with typical non-realistic “Doctor Who science,” such as a carbon dating of a book determining an age of 20,000 years. Since carbon dating is based on the decay of carbon-14 and its relationship to carbon-12, you can’t have an increase in carbon-14 by taking an item back in time. It would measure the length of the items’s relative time in existence, not its age from any known point. Now, I’m not opposed to there being a way to determine that an item is from the future, but carbon dating isn’t it. Douglas Adams knew better. And, as both script author and series story editor, this never should have happened.

Oh, well. Maybe I was just expecting more, based on how much I enjoyed Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Then, I didn’t care a whole lot for Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, so perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised. Or disappointed.

Although I did see some Doctor Who episodes with Tom Baker on PBS many years ago, so far, I can’t say with certainty that I remember any of them. And, I’ve now completed the sixth of Tom Baker’s seven seasons as The Doctor. I do recall knowing about Daleks, and since the Daleks only made two appearances during the Tom Baker years, I had to have seen at least part of one of the serials. But, I just don’t remember it.

Strange, that the years for which the classic show is known, the Tom Baker years, are years where I don’t remember them well, and aren’t particularly enjoying now. William Hartnell’s years were great. Patrick Troughton’s were enjoyable. Jon Pertwee’s were, too, although I didn’t like the idea that he was Earth-bound most of the time.

Well, there’s one more Tom Baker season to perhaps bring him up from his current standing of my 4th favorite Doctor. On to Season 18.

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2 Responses to “Classic Doctor Who Season 17”

  1. Michael Hutchison says:

    I love City of Death.

    It’s funny that you mention disliking “Dirk Gently” without mentioning that Douglas Adams essentially recycled plot points from “Shada” and turned them into the Dirk Gently book. (At the time, Adams had no reason to assume that Shada would ever be seen by anybody.) And FWIW, Dirk Gently was turned into a somewhat good TV show (all of 4 episodes, available on Amazon streaming), although it had to abandon the trapped couch that made the story so much fun.

    Frankly, I enjoy Tom Baker’s Doctor, but would be hard pressed to name truly great stories that featured him. I’d probably have to pick his first season (Robot, Ark in Space, Sontaran Experiment and Genesis of the Daleks), plus “City of Death”, the one with the two intermingled spaceships and the one where they get shrunken into the Doctor’s Brain to fight the virus.

  2. Frank J. says:

    Another milestone was this would be the first season that aired while I existed. I assume that gave it a “hopeful for the future” vibe.

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