Today, Nov. 23, marks the 50th anniversary of the first broadcast of Doctor Who and while I’ll mention the 50th anniversary special a bit later in this entry, I want to talk first about one of the Big Finish audio adventures, “Dark Eyes”, starring Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor.
The discussion of the anniversary special, “The Day of the Doctor” (as well as the seven minute prequel, “The Night of the Doctor”), will contain SPOILERS; the discussion of “Dark Eyes” won’t. Just a head’s up.
Big Finish (www.bigfinish.com) produces a variety of audio dramas, including a range of full-cast Doctor Who adventures. These are, for all intents and purposes, radio shows recorded on CD.
As I’ve indicated elsewhere, I’m a big fan of what we in the states call “old-time radio”, a medium which never died out in Britain (lucky Brits).
In an interview posted on YouTube, McGann, speaking of the Big Finish productions, said, “I love radio, I love audio.” He added that most of the imaginative work is done by the audience.
Radio has often been called “theatre of the mind”, because the listener’s imagination “paints” a mental picture of the people and situations.
“Dark Eyes” opens with a disillusioned Doctor attempting to take his TARDIS to the end of the universe. He is stopped by a Time Lord operative called Straxus (Peter Egan). The Doctor tells Straxus, he wanted perspective.
“I really hoped it would be a wonderful view; to look back from the end of everything, to see how things how things finally turned out,” he says. “Straxus, I was looking for hope.”
Nicholas Briggs, who wrote and directed “Dark Eyes” and provides the voices of the Daleks in both the T.V. series and Big Finish, said the central theme of the story is hope.
“Hope is discussed an awful lot,” Briggs said. “It’s all about giving the Doctor some hope. And then him, in the process, trying to give hope to someone else, to the character of Molly, who becomes despondent at one point in the story. Then she is able to reflect on the fact that she’d seen him- there’s a point where he loses all hope, when the Daleks kill _____.”
Briggs said she tries to find out why, if the Doctor is able to give advice on hope, he can’t he take his own advice?
Molly O’Sullivan (Ruth Bradley) an Irish Voluntary Aid Detachment nursing assistant in the First World War. When we first meet her, she tends to hide her true feelings and her fears by being argumentative.
And she’s not the least bit impressed by the Doctor or the fact that he travels through time in his “Tardy-Box.”
The Doctor encounters a number of curious things in his travels with Molly, who, according to Straxus, is at the center of “an insane plot to destroy the universe.” Not only does she have unusually dark eyes (a very sore point with her), but, to the Doctor’s surprise, she can somehow operate the TARDIS
And then there are the Daleks, behaving very much out of character.
The story is divided into four chapters, one per disc: “The Great War”, “Fugitives”, “Tangled Web” and “X and the Daleks.” And, according to the Big Finish website, “Dark Eyes 2” is due out in February, with “Dark Eyes 3” due next November and “Dark Eyes 4” in February 2015.
Now a few words about “The Day of the Doctor”, the 50th anniversary special (again, SPOILERS follow).
It was great. It both paid proper respect to the series’ past and had the Doctor looking to the future.
The respects to the past began at the outset, as the special used the original opening credits from 1963-1966.
We also saw references to a scrap yard owned by one “I.M. Foreman” and Coal Hill School. In the first episode, “An Unearthly Child”, the Doctor’s original incarnation (William Hartnell) had parked the TARDIS in said yard and enrolled his granddaughter, Susan (Carole Ann Ford) at said school.
In the present day, the Eleventh Doctor’s (Matt Smith) current companion, Clara (Jenna Coleman) is teaching there. We’re not told why. But she and the Doctor are soon literally carried away into the current adventure.
We never learn how he and Clara got out of his own time stream, in “The Name of the Doctor,” the season finale from last spring which lead into this special, which I discussed at http://www.michronicleonline.com/index.php/your-voice/opinion/patrick-keating/11702-random-musings-looking-forward-to-doctor-who-s-50th-anniversary-celebration . Maybe that information’s yet to come.
The Doctor and Clara soon find themselves interacting with two of his past selves, the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) and an incarnation known as The War Doctor (John Hurt).
We first glimpsed The War Doctor in “The Name of the Doctor”, and he was first identified as such in “Night of the Doctor”, which saw Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor on screen for the first time since 1996.
In that prequel to “The Day of the Doctor”, we also saw McGann regenerate into Hurt (albeit a younger version, via photographic trickery).
Does that mean Hurt’s Doctor is the true Ninth Doctor? Apparently not, according to executive producer and lead writer Steven Moffat. He has said in interviews that Matt Smith is the Eleventh Doctor, since the War Doctor didn’t call himself “The Doctor.”
When we meet the War Doctor in this story, he has decided “no more” and seized control of a forbidden Time Lord weapon called The Moment. He intends to end the Time War between the Time Lords and the Daleks, which threatens to destroy all creation, by wiping out both the Time Lords and the Daleks.
The Moment isn’t just a weapon, however. It has developed sentience. And a conscience. It appears to the War Doctor in the form of a future companion, Rose Tyler (Billie Piper), but also references another name by which Rose was known:
The War Doctor tells the Moment that he has, “lost the right to be the Doctor.”
When he comes together with his future incarnations, he asks (prompted by the Moment, whom his two other selves can’t see) if they’ve ever counted how many children were on Gallifrey (his home planet) the day it burned.
The Eleventh Doctor says he has no idea.
“Four hundred years older than me and in all that time, you never counted?” War Doctor asks.
The Tenth says 2.47 billion, then turns on the Eleventh, saying, “you forgot? Four hundred years is all it takes?”
The Moment tells the War Doctor that Ten and Eleven are himself. “They’re what you become if you destroy Gallifrey.”
Clara talks with War Doctor about how the Time War continues to affect “her” Doctor. In response, he asks how many worlds his (future) regret saved and ultimately decides to go ahead and carry out his plan to end the Time War.
Taken back to where he’d gone to carry out his task, the War Doctor and the Moment discuss the TARDIS’ distinctive sound. She says it brings hope to those who hear it, even him.
As they speak, the TARDISes of his two future selves arrive. They’ve come share this terrible burden with him. They shouldn’t have been able to do so, as those events are time-locked, but the Moment let them in.
The Eleventh Doctor, who’d been trying to deny the existence of the War Doctor, even to himself, admits that he was the Doctor more than anyone else. But this time, he doesn’t have to do it alone. His other selves will join him in this heavy responsibility, taken to save untold billions.
But neither the Moment, nor Clara, are done. The Moment lets them see the reality around them— the families and children who would burn if Gallifrey falls— and Clara argues that with three of them on hand, there must be another way.
And the three incarnations of the Doctor realize they have an advantage. They can freeze Gallifrey in a moment in time, removing it from the known universe.
They also realize that with Gallifrey gone, the Daleks surrounding the planet would destroy each other in crossfire; and the rest of the universe would think the Time Lords and Daleks wiped each other out.
When they contact a Time Lord general who questions this decision, the Eleventh Doctor tells him, in something of an echo of “Dark Eyes”, “you would have hope and that’s exactly what you don’t have.”
But it isn’t just these three incarnations of the Doctor who use their TARDISes to carry out this plan, all the Doctor’s incarnations are involved, via selected clips. This includes Peter Capaldi, who’ll assume the mantle of the Twelfth Doctor at the Christmas special next month.
Neither the War Doctor nor the Tenth will remember these events, which means the Doctor will still go through his ninth, tenth and most of his eleventh incarnations carrying the guilt of having destroyed Gallifrey when he might well have succeeded in saving it.
But did he save Gallifrey?
Central to the story is a “three dimensional” painting called either “No More” or “Gallifrey Falls.” None of the Doctors are sure which. The curator of the museum (Tom Baker) tell the Doctor the proper title is “Gallifrey falls no more.”
Tom Baker, of course, played the Doctor’s fourth incarnation and his was one of the most popular of the Doctors. The curator isn’t the Fourth Doctor, but he implies that he might be a future incarnation.
“I never forget a face,” the Eleventh Doctor says.
“And in years to come, you might find yourself revisiting a few. Or maybe just the old favorites,” the Curator responds.
He’d also previously responded to the Doctor’s musings that he could be a curator with, “I really think you might.”
It also appears the Doctor will go looking for Gallifrey. The story ends with him, surrounded by all his other selves, saying he’s always been going home— the long way around.
Will the Christmas special involve that quest? Perhaps. While the Doctor now knows he might well have saved Gallifrey, and he’d understandably want to confirm this, I’d rather the Time Lords, if they ever return, play a very minor role in the series. The Doctor left Gallifrey for a reason, after all.
In any event, Doctor Who is poised to continue for another 50 years. At least.
Copyright 2013, Patrick Keating