2 May 2015

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...

Day 852: Final Overview

Dear diary,

”There are two things in life that I'm very bad at (look at that, I'm just thirteen words in, and I've already lied. Truth be told, there's lots of things in life I'm very bad at. Like trying to make flapjacks, or successfully remove an intruding spider from my flat. There's two things I'm very bad at, though, which are vital to this entry); keeping a diary and completing a Doctor Who marathon.”

That’s how I opened my very first post of The 50 Year Diary on December 15th 2012 - just an introductory post to establish the fact that the Diary would be tasking up residence on the pages of this here website from the new year. Deciding to take on this project was a huge task right at the beginning, and especially since I know what my attention span is like. I’m interested in something for a few months at most and then my attention wanders off to something else and I never give the original topic a second thought. Frankly, the only reason that Doctor Who itself has managed to remain on my radar for this long is because there’s so much of the thing that there’s always something else I can go and look at if one part of it is starting to bore me.

But the decision to set up residence on the pages of Doctor Who Online and pen a daily diary, watching every episode in order right from the start… well, yeah, that was a big commitment. And I dived into it with barely a second thought. Had I stopped to think8 about it for longer, I’d probably never have gone through with it. There would simply be too many reasons *not to do it. Instead, when the option came up, so close to the start of a new year - Doctor Who’s 50th anniversary year - I simply grabbed it and ran.

And if I’m honest, I’m frankly stunned that I’ve made it this far. I genuinely used to wonder at what point I’d give it up. In my head, I used to try and work out what the best ‘exit’ points would be. Maybe I could do to the end of Seres One, then stop? Or just the First Doctor? Just the 1960s? I’d have to end it at a suitable point to avoid people simply pointing out that I’d failed in my mission. Obviously, I still would have failed, but had there been a nice clean break, I might have gotten away with it a little easier. In all honestly, it wasn’t until somewhere around the middle of Tom Baker’s run that I realised I’d gone too far - it was all or nothing, and there was no way I’d not go to the very end.

Which brings us to where we are today! 852 bloody entries, all of them talking about Doctor Who! Actually, slightly more than 852, because I did the two Dalek films and bits of spin-off programming for the collected volumes of the Diary. I really don’t know how I’ve managed to find this much to talk about. there are several days - lots of them! - where I read back my entry and wonder how it’s possibly of interest to anyone but me, but there’s you lot! I don’t know how many of you have been reading along since the very beginning and how many have joined along the way, but thank you very much for doing so. It’s always lovely to get comments and encouragement, and knowing that people are actually reading these posts has been reason enough to carry on! Not that all the messages have been so pleasant - I particularly liked the email we received when I dared to suggest that I didn’t really care for The Evil of the Daleks, and it was rather strongly suggested that I should be replaced by someone ‘who actually knows something about Doctor Who’. Ho hum. I’ve got that email printed out and near the computer - I look at it and smile every time my opinion on an episode doesn’t match up with the norm!

So, for this final entry, I’m just going to go back over each Doctor and give you a few facts and figures. How did their era rate on average? What was their highest-rated tale? How do I feel about them in retrospect? That sort of thing…

Starting, as is traditional, with The First Doctor… I only have one regret with the ratings I’ve given episodes throughout the course of this marathon, ad it;s the score I gave the very first episode - An Unearthly Child. I was being cautious, you see. As this project has gone on, I’ve reached a point where I don’t really have to even think8 about the scores I’m giving - I reach the end of an episode and simply *know that it’s an ‘[x]/10’, based on the scores I’ve given all the other episodes. But I didn’t want to peak too early. I’ve always hated the way that lots of ratings seem to win between ’10/10, that was brilliant’ to ‘1/10, that was awful’, with very little grey area in between. Starting with a ’10/10’ simply felt wrong, so I played it safe. 

Oh, but of course that first episode is a 10/10! I think I even knew that at the time, deep down (well, probably not even that deep…). I’d like to go back and give that one an honorary ’10’, simply because you really couldn’t ask for a better first episode to this programme - still as effective almost 52 years on as it was first time around.

Across his run of episodes - including the one-part Mission to the Unknown, in which the Doctor doesn’t appear but is credited, but excluding the audio of Farewell, Great Macedon, as it was something of an early side-step for the project - the First Doctor averaged a score of 6.57/10. The story I rated the highest from this period was The War Machines, which scored a solid 8/10 for each episode.

Looking back on these first three-or-so years of Doctor Who now… Oh, I love them. There’s an inventiveness to the William Hartnell era that I don’t think the programme has ever quite recaptured since. The facilities and budget simply aren’t there for them to achieve everything they might want to, but they still dare to at least try stories like The Web Planet, or to stage an entire Dalek Invasion of Earth from a pokey London studio. These episodes may not rate the highest overall - though this period achieved very few low scores; only two 3/10’s and a handful of 4/10’s for the entire era - but it still sits quite fondly in my memory as one of the best.

Which brings us on to The Second Doctor! Before starting out on this project, I’d always confidently claimed that Patrick Troughton was my favourite Doctor, and that The Tomb of the Cybermen was my favourite story, and I’l admit that I was a little worried that taking on this marathon might challenge that view. If anything, it’s actively strengthened the point, because I simply fell in love with this little cosmic hobo all over again.

Something that did surprise me was just how much I loved the run of stories in Troughton’s first series. Because such a chunk of that period is lost, it’s one I was far less familiar with than some of the later stories. But there’s some real gems in there, including The Macra Terror, which was the first story to receive a glowing 10/10 score (for Episode Two).

The Tomb of the Cybermen still comes in top, with an average of 8.75/10 across the four episodes. It makes it not only my highest-rated story from the Troughton period, but also the top story of the entire ’classic’ era (I’m looking at the 21st century stuff a little differently, as I’ll explain when I get there). Now, I’ll be fair an admit that the score was probably just helped by the good vibrations I get from watching this story - I’ve thought of it so long as my favourite that I simply can’t help but to enjoy it… but that’s surely the whole point of a favourite story!

What was nice about doing this marathon at this point in time is that there’s been more Troughton episodes available to watch than ever before - and by quite a margin, too! The Underwater Menace Episode Two was provided to me early on to enjoy in context, and while The Enemy of the World and The Web of Fear weren’t viable to watch at the right point in time, as we’d hoped, I dipped back to them a few months later, because the alternative would have been waiting until now to see them, and frankly that just wasn’t an option. Being able to see the episodes was great (and both of them improved their average score by a small degree - it’s their second average I’m using today to calculate overall averages), but I wonder if some of that excitement simply came from the fact that I was watching two long-thought-lost stories. It’ll be interesting to see how they hold up the next time I see them - will they still be as good as I think here, or will the novelty have worn off a little, leaving them as just ‘some other Doctor Who stories’… 

Their success this time around, though, coupled with the high score of The Tomb of the Cybermen propelled Season Five into the top spot for the 1960s, averaging a score of 7.23/10 - the only black-and-white season to break a 7/10 average. I’d been worried about this particular run of stories because it was lots of six-parters in a row, and so many of the episodes were missing, I really thought it could be the point where I’d crash and burn, so it’s heartening to see that I enjoyed it all the more in the end.

Overall, the Second Doctor averages 6.90/10 across all this episodes, a healthy figure, especially when considering that two of Troughton’s stories - The Highlanders and The Dominators - sit way down towards the bottom of the list, both with an average of 4/10.

If Troughton had always been my favourite Doctor, then his successor, Jon Pertwee as The Third Doctor had always been my least favourite. It’s not that I completely silkier him, but I’d just never connected with his era in the same way I had with all the others - despite him being the first ‘classic’ Doctor I ever saw, when picking up a copy of Invasion of the Dinosaurs from the library.

What I actually found is that this run of stories is consistently strong, and it helped to contribute to an average score of 6.63/10 over the five seasons. I think that the Third Doctor was helped by such a strong first series, which helped to put my doubts about this period to rest before moving on to view the rest of it - Spearhead From Space being available to watch restored to high definition on blu ray was the perfect way to kick-start the era and catch my attention, and it came out as the top-rated story for this Doctor, with an 8/10 average.

The era then continues to be of a fairly consistent quality from then on - it never quite breaks into a 10/10 in the way that several Troughton episodes had done (though it scored several 9’s across the run), but equally, it doesn’t get as many lower scores, either, with only The Curse of Peladon rating below a 5/10 average.

Pertwee’s era is particularly notable for it’s run of high-quality opening episodes - fourteen (out of a possible twenty four) of them score an 8/10, and there’s a run from The Three Doctors to Death to the Daleks which consistently scores an 8/10 for the first episode - the longest run of this type across the entire marathon. That winning streak is only broken by The Monster of Peladon scoring a 7/10 for Part One, before we’re greeted by another three with such strong starts, which moves us past the regeneration and into the era of…

The Fourth Doctor! Oh, everyone talks about Tom Baker as the ‘definitive’ Doctor (or, at least, they did until David Tennant came along to steal the crown). As soon as I took my first steps into fandom, I was told that the Fourth Doctor was by far the best. That was just an established fact, and you weren’t to argue the point. Within that ‘fact’, the Hinchcliffe era of Seasons Twelve, Thirteen, and Fourteen, were by far the peak of not just this Doctor, but of Doctor Who as a whole. I love to be a bit country and simply say what I think, even if it doesn’t subscribe to the accepted opinion of an era, so I was all ready to point out that the Hinchcliffe run is merely alright

But then it was actually pretty darn good! On average, the episodes produced by Philip Hinchcliffe rate 7.06/10, which for the ‘classic’ series places him behind only Derek Sherwin (who’s helped by only producing two stories, one of which features three 10/10 episodes), and in the gran scheme of things places him third, just 0.01 point behind the Russell T Davies run. Sadly, this means that Tom Baker is on a generally downward trajectory from the off, with the Graham Williams run of Seasons Fifteen, Sixteen, and Seventeen (including Shada), averaging a significantly lower 6.33/10, and Season Eighteen, under the eye of John Nathan-Turner only coming in with 6.14/10.

The highest rated story of the Fourth Doctor’s mammoth run is The Face of Evil, which comes away with an average score of 8.25/10, while over all, the Fourth Doctor rates 6.60/10, dipping him just slightly behind the Third Doctor. It’s undeniable that Tom Baker is brilliant in the role, and he’s often a joy to watch (for many different reasons - his closing around in the likes of City of Death is just as engaging as his anger and fury in Planet of Evil), but the latter half of his run really does suffer with some below-par episodes, and the lack of money being given to the programme at that point becomes cripplingly obvious in places. Wheres the Hartnell era managed to take its meagre budget and make the most of it, by putting the cash on screen, some parts of this era… um… doesn’t. In the end, I think it’s fair to say that Baker simply remained in the part for too long, and it’s telling that there’s a real breath of fresh air when the new chap comes in.

The first season to feature The Fifth Doctor, Season Nineteen, really is a shot in the arm, jumping up to an average of 6.69/10, and featuring the Fifth Doctor’s highest rated story - Kinda, with an average of 8.50/10. On top of this, the season also features the 8/10 Earthshock, which would have been a high enough score to win outright in other eras.

And Earthshock isn’t the last Fifth Doctor tale to score so highly - The Five Doctors and Frontios both also tip the scales at 8/10 on average, with The Caves of Androzani not falling too far behind, with a 7.75/10 average. On the whole, there was a lot about the Fifth Doctor’s era that simply chimed with me, and the presence of so many great stories really did help.

In the end, though, Peter Davison’s Doctor comes away with an average of 6.65/10 - only just scraping above Tom Baker and Peter Davison’s score by the tiniest of margins. He’s hampered by a weak second season, in which only two stories manage to hold a higher average than 6.25/10, and despite Season Twenty-One having a slew of better tales, it’s simply too late to make any real difference. Peter Davison has often said of his time on the show that if the stories of his third year had been the stories of his second, then he’d have stayed longer, and it’s really not hard to see what he means.

Ah, The Sixth Doctor. Doctor Who’s problem child. If it was made clear to me early on that everyone loved Tom Baker and considered him to be the best Doctor, then it was made equally clear that Colin Baker held the exact opposite position in fandom’s heart. And yet, I’d always enjoyed the Sixth Doctor - I’d seen all of his stories at least once before taking part in this project, and I’d always enjoyed them well enough.

This time around, however… well, no, I’ll be fair. the majority of the Sixth Doctor’s run is rather good. Not outstanding (no episode scores higher than an 8/10), but fairly solid, and at least on par with large chunks of his predecessors. The problem for me came in the form of both Attack of the Cybermen and Timelash, two stories which are consigned to languish right down in the bottom five of the list. They each averaged just 2.5/10, and were the first time I really appreciated just how bad Doctor Who can be when all the elements fall into just the wrong place. 

Colin Baker himself though is electrifying from the word go, and every bit the Doctor as any of the others. It’s a crushing shame that we didn’t get to see more of him, because in the right production atmosphere, I think he’d easily be considered equal to Tom in the popularity stakes. With a bit more creative force working behind the scenes, this period could have really shone. As it is, Colin’s Doctor rates only a 5.77/10 average, making him the lowest rated in this marathon, sadly, and the only incarnation to sink below a 6/10 average. His highest rated story - The Mark of the Rani - is a crowning jewel in his lacklustre first season, and while things do pull back together again for The Trial of a Time Lord season, it’s not enough to save him from the bottom of the pile. A real shame, and very undeserved for a man who not only turned in a flawless performance during his time on the programme, but has continued to be one of the greatest ambassadors for the show in the thirty years since. 

It’s perhaps for the best, though, that they didn’t give Colin Baker just one more season to prove himself in, though, because The Seventh Doctor’s debut run in Season Twenty-Four rates as the weakest season on average across the entire project, coming in with a measly score of just 4.93/10. I was so sure that I’d be a champion for these our stories. They were so often blasted as being terrible, and I was in a position to be a real spokesperson for the quality in each of them… but oh dear.

It’s not that they’re terrible - there’s lots of great ideas and concepts in there - but something seems to have just gone wrong with this season. It’s as though every department has been handed a directive from above that Doctor Who is a children’s programme, and that it needs to be treated as such. It’s very strange, and a real shift in direction for the show - probably the biggest change since the switch between Seasons Seventeen and Eighteen. After all the behind-the-scenes troubles of the Sixth Doctor era, it’s almost as though the team behind the programme simply don’t know what to do with it any more, and you can’t really feel John Nathan-Turner’s hand in this as well as you can elsewhere.

But it’s not the be-all and end-all, because this new creative team really pull themselves together for Season Twenty-Five, which shifts up a massive amount to an average across the run of 6.93/10! It’s here that you can feel Andrew Cartmel starting to take hold of the programme, and reinvigorating the entire thing. It’s Doctor Who starting to find its voice again, and that transformation only continues on into Season Twenty Six, which sits a million miles away from the low points at the start of this era - becoming my highest rated season of the entire marathon with an average score of 7.57/10! There’s something really rather marvellous about the fact that a single era can manage to straddle both ends of the scale like this, and it makes it even more of a crushing blow when the programme comes to an end at this point, with the final story - Survival - taking to top-rated spot for this era, with an average of 8/33/10. 

As the programme’s longest-serving producer, John Nathan-Turner comes in for a lot of flack. It’s fair to say that he didn’t always manage to make the best decisions for the show, but he held it together through a decade which would have, I suspect, always seen the end of the run. Overall, his time in charge of the show averages 6.36/10, which places him in around the same ballpark as many of the other producers across the programme’s lifetime - and he certainly did a lot more good for the show than he did bad.

It’s all change as we reach The Eighth Doctor, and it becomes a little trickier to compare story-to-story across eras. You’ll have noticed that there’s no great big list of how things stack up against each other with this post - and that’s because there’s no really fair way of doing it. I chose to give each episode an individual score out of ten, so that the ‘average’ score is a truer representation of the way I felt while watching. That way, the fantastic first episode of The Space Museum, for example, isn’t tarnished by the awful three episodes that follow it, but rather balanced fairly against them. That’s fine for the ‘classic’ series where all but two stories contain multiple episodes to balance, but when you reach the TV Movie and forward into the 21st century run, there’s so many ‘one-off’ stories that it becomes trickier to offset them against their predecessors.

Paul McGann’s Doctor is the perfect example of this - his Doctor average is 9/10, which places him way out ahead of all the other incarnations, but only because that’s being based on this one single episode! It skews the data a little bit, but we can at least still see how the Doctors stack up roughly from here-on out (and, in fairness, it’s really comparing the episodes that causes trouble - trying to compare the Doctors is only hampered by the one-off nature of McGann, and arguably John Hurt…

The Ninth Doctor heralds the start of the modern era of 8Doctor Who* - the first set of episodes that I’d watched on original transmission and had followed right the way through to the present day. I was looking just as forward to this version of the programme as I had been any part of the ‘classic’ run, because though I’d seen all these episodes before, many I’d not watched since their original transmission, so it was still like coming to them new in many ways.

Whereas Colin Baker’s short run had shown how so few episodes could lead to a lower score because there simply wasn’t long enough for the right episodes to come along, Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor shows that the opposite can also be true. His thirteen episodes average 7.31/10, and he’s the only Doctor to have two stories occupying the spot of ‘highest-rated’, with both Dalek and Boom Town sitting happily in a ‘9/10’ slot. The rest of his run holds fairly decent scores, with only The Long Game really letting the side down with a 5/10.

But in the blink of an eye, our fantastic northern Doctor was gone and replaced with The Tenth Doctor, who manages to become an icon for the programme to a whole new generation. David Tennant’s run isn’t a million miles away in trajectory from Sylvester McCoy’s - although he doesn’t start from such a low position, the seasons do tend to get better as they go along - with Series Two averaging 6.79/10, Series Three climbing up to 7.07/10, and Series Four soaring to 7.43/10 - far and away the highest scoring series of the 21st century. The Tenth Doctor’s final fun of specials drops way down to a 6.20/10 average (if added onto Series Four, as they were listed as such in production terms, the average for that season drops back to 7.11/10, putting the run second to Eccleston’s series), leaving the Tenth Doctor to bow out in a somewhat muted way.

The highest rated story of the David Tennant years is The Unicorn and the Wasp, coming in with one of only two 10/10 scores this side of Kinda. The Tenth Doctor on the whole rates a solid 7/10, and Russell T Davies as the architect of the modern era comes in with a respectable average of 7.07/10.

Things take a bit of a dip again for me as we reach The Eleventh Doctor era. On first transmission, I found that I simply didn’t enjoy this period of the programme. I’d tune in each week and find occasional gems, but overall I simply wasn’t fond. This time around, I think things have fared a little better - and getting to watch the era back-to-back over a couple of months like this has really made some of the links between stories stand out all the stronger. None of the Eleventh Doctor seasons manage to break past 7/10 on average (the highest is Series Seven with a score of 6.87/10), and the Eleventh Doctor rates slightly lower than his immediate predecessors, with an average of 6.80/10.

The Snowmen comes in as Matt Smith’s strongest story, with a perfect 10/10 score, while at the other end of the spectrum, both the previous Christmas special, The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe, and Series Six’s Night Terrors sit at the very bottom of my list, with a score of just 2/10 each.

And finally onto The Twelfth Doctor’s run. When this set of episodes first went out last year, I loved them. Was completely blown away by them. It felt like a real shot in the arm after a few years of not enjoying the programme as much as I’d like. On this second run through, I’ve found my opinions cooling a lot towards them, to the point that the entire 2014 run (up to and including Last Christmas) has only averaged 6.77/10, which places it in more-or-less the same ball park as any of the Eleventh Doctor’s seasons, although lower than both Series Five and Seven. I’ve explained some of my reasoning behind that in yesterday’s entry, but I’m hoping that as the era is still young, I can find a little more to love as I go along. 

Equally, it may simply be that these episodes have suffered by being the last ones. After two-and-a-half years of doing an episode every day, being this close to the end of the line has probably contributed towards the feeling of Series Eight being a bit of a slow to watch again - hopefully that feeling will abate when I see any of these stories again in due corse. Besides, it’s not all bad news, with the era’s highest-rater, Robots of Sherwood, scoring a healthy 9/10.

***

And so… that’s that, I suppose! Over the last two-and-a-bit years, I’ve often wondered how I’d feel about Doctor Who once I was done. Having sat through it all, would I find myself horrified by the thought of ever watching another one? Tipping my entire DVD collection into a big skip? Sick at the sign of a Dalek?

Well, I’m pleased to say that, no, none of those things have occurred. If anything, watching the programme in this way has given me a renewed respect for Doctor Who, and I can appreciate even more just how brilliant this programme is, for having watched it unfold in order. If anything, I have to admit, I’m keen to do it all over again, right from the very beginning. I’m probably going to give it a little while before doing so (I’m actually on holiday back home at the moment, and it’s going to be nice to enjoy the next week away without having to tune in to the TARDIS for a change!), but I reckon before this year is out, I’ll be back on the pilgrimage!

So finally, I just want to issue a few thanks. Thank you, of course, to Sebastian J. Brook, editor of Doctor Who Online, for handing over his website to me for two years to fill with all my ramblings and nonsense. Thank you to Nick Mellish for listening to me whine on about all these episodes as they come and go, and acting as a sounding board when I can’t figure out what on Earth to write about. And thank you to you lot, for following along with me on this journey, and keeping my interest there in the project. It really does make a difference when you know people are taking part!

Will

If by any miracle you’re still interested in me wittering on, you can find me over on Twitter, where I tend to post just as much nonsense as I have in this Diary, as well as snippets of artwork and projects that I’m working on. And if you’re eager for more of the Diary, you can find it all collected together in book form - both in physical format and on Kindle (UK/US). There’s occasional extra entries in the books, and on several posts I’ve gone back and re-written the bits that simply don’t make sense.

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