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Sixty Things I Like About Who: #24 – 30

December 20th, 2009 No comments

Still another in a series of posts celebrating the past five years of Doctor Who

#24:  “Midnight”

I’ve previously written about this one at length, so you can go back and read that entry if you like. But as far as I’m concerned, this is Russell Davies’ best Who script and it would be wrong to leave it out just because I’ve covered it before.

It’s a cliché about Doctor Who that kids watch it from behind the sofa. I watched this one alone at home in the middle of the night, and I wish there’d been a sofa to hide behind.

#25: The Master

Okay, I could’ve done without the bit where the Doctor’s deadliest enemy turned him into Dobby the House Elf. But in most other ways, the return of the Master was a welcome one.

The Master, as originally portrayed by Roger Delgado, was designed to be the antithesis of the 3rd Doctor. His sharp sartorial style–black Nehru jacket and Goatee of Evil–meshed nicely with Jon Pertwee’s ruffled wardrobe.

After Delgado’s death, the villainous Time Lord went largely unseen for seven years, appearing in but a single story as an emaciated, dying creature. Later reincarnated as actor Anthony Ainley, the Master regained much of his original look. And while the Doctor took on several new and wildly dissimilar personas in the ensuing eight seasons of the classic series, his rival stuck with the Nehru-and-goatee thing to the very last episode.

I believe that Russell Davies hit on something clever in casting John Simm as the regenerated Master, reinventing the character as the antithesis of David Tennant. Like the 10th Doctor, this villain was quirky, quippy and prone to pop-culture references. And with Tennant’s Doctor established as a sexual being, Simm’s Master went a step further and actually took a wife!

We even got a bit of an explanation for his madness (and his nonsensical masterplans). A childhood exposure to the Time Vortex left him with the constant sound of drumming in his head. Amusingly, the four-note sequence sounded suspiciously like the underbeat of the Doctor Who title theme. (Da-da-da-duh, da-da-da-duh…)

Simm (and perhaps the source of that drumming) will return in the upcoming “End of Time.” I wonder whether he’ll go on to bedevil the 11th Doctor, or be reborn into a foe tailored to incoming actor Matt Smith.

#26: Non-Chronological Order

For a show about time-travelers, old-school Doctor Who was surprisingly linear. No matter when in history the Doctor and the Master crossed paths, their meetings invariably occurred in the same order for both. One could safely refer to their previous televised encounter (“So, you escaped from Castrovalva”) without confusing the other (“Castro-whatwhat, now?”).

I have long thought it would be nifty if the Doctor landed on a planet for the first time only to learn that everyone already knew him because of another visit that was later in his own timeline but earlier in theirs. While that hasn’t happened yet, the new series has been much more willing to play games with chronology.

I don’t know if it was intentional, but non-linearity almost seemed to be a theme of new Who‘s third season. The first time Martha met the Doctor was not the first time the Doctor met Martha; he had come back in time from a point later in the same episode. Then there were the events of “Blink,” in which the messages Sally Sparrow received from the Doctor were the ones she later transcribed and presented to him before he ever wrote them.

Even the Doctor and the Master were finally allowed to muddle up their timelines. In the guise of “Mr. Saxon,” the Master had been operating on Earth under our noses as far back as “The Runaway Bride,” even though the events that caused him to regain his memories and travel back in time to assume the role of England’s prime minister would not occur until eleven episodes later.

Confused? Good. That’s part of the fun of time travel.

#27:  The Slitheen

Yeah, I realize that a lot of fans think the Slitheen are rubbish. And I’ll grant that their signature flatulence was perhaps pandering too much to the younger members of the audience. Still, I’ve got a lot of affection for them, and here’s why.

The Slitheen were the first major addition to the Who rogues’ gallery. The various denizens of “The End of the World” were clearly one-of-a-kind characters, and the Gelth (from “The Unquiet Dead”) were sentient gas and therefore seemed rather limited in their future usefulness. By contrast, the Slitheen seemed to have what it took to be recurring foes.

Their design was striking: bulky, green humanoids with immense claws, topped with creepy, fanged baby heads.

They had a fun gimmick that also served as a meta-joke on the series itself. As aliens wearing human suits with a visible zipper, they were the inverse of traditional man-in-rubber-suit monsters. (I think that the farting was in its own way a meta-joke, as disguised aliens tend to have one trait that gives them away; for example, in the ’60s TV show The Invaders, they had oddly-angled pinky fingers.)

In a break with sci-fi series tradition, they were a villainous subset of an alien species, rather than an entire race of baddies. The Slitheen were merely a criminal family from the planet Raxacoricofallapatorius, and we were given no reason to believe that other Raxacoricofallapatorians shared their ambitions. Contrast to the Daleks: no Dalek ever grew up wanting to be a dentist.

And the Slitheen had a wicked sense of humor. As part of their scheme to gin up a false alien invasion, they re-engineered a common farmyard pig to walk upright and wear a custom spacesuit, for no reason outside of playing a twisted prank.

The Slitheen have only made a couple of appearances in the parent series, but they’ve shown up a few times in the more kid-friendly Sarah Jane Adventures. There they can fart with abandon.

#28:  J.K. Rowling Saves the World

While “The Shakespeare Code” lavished obligatory praise on the famous playwright, it spared a bit of love for the author of a certain boy wizard. We learned that one of the perks of time travel was not having to wait for Book Seven; the Doctor had nipped forward and read it several months early. And when a coven of witches attempted to weave a spell using the power of Shakespeare’s verse, it was Martha’s use of the familiar Hogwarts’ spell word “Expelliarmus” to complete a couplet that sent the Carrionites packing back to the Deep Darkness.

#29:  The Valiant

Because flying aircraft carriers are never less than awesome.

#30: The Killer Christmas Tree

The robot Santas first seen in “The Christmas Invasion” remain mostly unexplored. The Doctor described them using a metaphor about “pilot fish,” scavengers travelling alongside a predator such as a shark. These “roboforms,” as they were later dubbed during their reappearance in “The Runaway Bride,” preceded the arrival of the Sycorax mothership. Inexplicably, they disguised themselves as Kris Kringle in an attempt to abduct the newly regenerated Doctor and use him as a power source. Exactly why writer Russell Davies felt it necessary to add android Santas to a story about aliens who already vaguely resembled Father Christmas also remains unknown.

However, I’m not complaining, because it meant we got a deadly, robotic Christmas tree accompanied by sinister jingle bells…