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Taking the What If machine to 1985

March 29, 2013
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One of many episodes that died to give us The Trial of a Timelord.

[Author’s note: Due to some new information I have edited this article from the original posting and included notes like this to indicate those changes.]

Previously, I have talked about Big Finish productions and their line of Doctor Who Lost Stories audio dramas.  I made a bulk purchase from the UK where I got The Masters of Luxor, which I have covered in a previous entry, I also picked up stories from the sixth and seventh doctor’s suspended seasons.  In this entry I am going to focus on the sixth doctor Colin Baker.

Colin had one of the shortest runs as the Doctor.  This was largely caused by the abrasive character of his doctor which, according to Mr. Baker, was what then script editor Eric Saward wanted.  I am in the small minority of people who liked Colin’s portrayal of the Doctor as I felt it was reminiscent of William Hartnell’s more aloof first Doctor.  Colin’s portrayal reminded the audience that the Doctor is an alien in much the same way that Chris Eccleston would later portray in his series.

After Mr. Baker’s first full season as the Doctor the BBC announced that the show would be put on a one year hiatus, along with some other shows, in order to allow them the budget to expand their television programming to cover more hours.  This hiatus was seen by fans as an attempt to cancel the series which then BBC controller Michael Grade had made known he wished to do anyway.  While production on what would be the 23rd season already under way, the delay caused the work on this season to be scrapped in favor of the Trial of a Timelord story line.  Production on the original 23rd season was quite far along and a number of the scripts survived which allowed Target, who published the novelizations of the broadcast stories at the time, to publish three of these lost episodes as books and, ultimately, allowed Big Finish to produce a number of them as audio dramas.

Today we have a reasonable approximation of what the original 23rd season of Doctor Who may have looked like.  I would emphasize the word may here as television production is a somewhat chaotic process so, some of these episodes might have ultimately been replaced by other existing scripts based upon the production schedule and budget.  This lost season would have consisted of:

The Nightmare Fair

The Ultimate Evil

Mission to Magnus

Yellow Fever

The Hollows of Time

Gallifrey

[Edit: Removed the back-up story The Children of January with the original story Gallifrey and changed the name on Yellow Fever.]

At the time the series episode length had been doubled from the regular half hour format so, each of these episodes would have been two parters with Yellow Fever being a three parter.

Starting with this story, Yellow Fever may have been broadcast with the alternate production name of The Singapore Incident and was to feature the return of the Autons and the Master.  The script was being written by Robert Holmes who was one of the shows more popular writers.  Because of all of the above, this was one of the most requested episodes for the Lost Stories line.  Unfortunately, Mr. Holmes died not too long after writing what pieces he had for this story leaving us with only a script for the first episode and an outline for the remaining two.   As a result, Big Finish decided not to do this story as part of the series. [Edit: Again corrected Yellow Fever title and removed references to the Rani from the story.]

Big Finish hasn’t done The Ultimate Evil to date so, I’ll only be discussing the remaining three stories but, will touch upon my recollection of The Ultimate Evil from the novelization which I read a number of years ago.  Spoilers will be flying fast and furious so, if you have any intention of ever tracking these down on your own, now is your chance to turn back.  [Edit: Removed reference to The Children of January.]

The Nightmare Fair is one of my favorites of this lost season and could easily have been one of the best remembered stories ever.  It featured the return of the first doctor villain the Celestial Toymaker.  I thought, and still think, that this was an excellent idea given Colin Baker’s similarities to the first doctor.  What really sets this story apart is the embellishment of the Toymaker’s character.  We learn that he is probably literally as old as the universe itself and wields near god-like powers.  Unfortunately, he is also almost completely insane.  Unable to destroy him, the Doctor is left only with the option of trapping him and being grateful that he got away from the Toymaker alive.  It created an air of vulnerability to the Doctor that we don’t see all that often and is easily one of my favorites of this season as well as all of Doctor Who as a whole.

I was happy to hear that Mission to Magnus was heavily rewritten by author Phillip Martin as the novel didn’t do much for me.  Unfortunately, this was done because the story was more visual than I remembered and, thus had to be changed to better fit the audio format.  The story remains largely what I remember from the novelization.  Some people really seem to like this story but, I am not one of them.  While it does feature the return of Sil from his previous appearance in Vengeance on Varos, I felt the character was played more for laughs this time around.  On top of this, we also get the return of the Ice Warriors, who get my vote for weakest recurring Doctor Who villain of all time, in one of their typical overwrought schemes that involve moving an entire planet to change its climate to make it more suitable for them.  My reaction to this is typical of every one of their plans that I have seen to date in that I find myself asking wouldn’t have it been far easier to just do something else instead.  I’m also surprised about how ambitious this story was.  I think the budget for the episode would have been insanely high.

Finally, The Hollows of Time is by one of my favorite Doctor Who writers Christopher Bidmead.  This involves the Doctor visiting an old friend who had previously worked at Bletchly Park (where they worked on breaking the German Enigma code) and was, nominally, a sequel to Frontios.  I don’t remember that episode particularly well myself but, I have to say that I really enjoyed the story.  It’s more of your classic Bidmead script, reminiscent of Logopolis and Castrovalva.  That could be a good or bad thing based upon your feelings on those two stories.  It worked for me and is my other favorite story from this lost season.

The Ultimate Evil was supposed to be done but Big Finish was unable to come to an agreement with the author so it was dropped from production.  I read the novel when it was first released and remember enjoying it but, have to wonder whether it would have been produced based upon some structural similarities to Mission to Magnus.  The story features a new planet with two cultures separated by a years long peace treaty.  It also features a new villain named Mordant who is an alien dwarf weapons salesman who is trying to reheat the planet’s cold war.  The story is very much a metaphor for the cold war and Mordant bears more than a passing resemblance to Sil which leads me to wonder whether the character’s appearance would have been radically changed had the script gone to camera.  I seem to be in a minority again here as I liked the story.  The reason for this may have had more to do with the fact that it was a completely new world and villain in a season that seemed to be awash in revisiting the series past than any actual quality of the story.  Also, one of the two cultures seemed to me to be a rather humorous jab at the US which I appreciated at the time.

I have to say that after reading the three novels of the lost episodes when they came out, I thought it was an unfortunate decision to dump them in favor of The Trial of a Timelord story line and, the audio dramas have pretty much confirmed that opinion for me.  The Nightmare Fair in particular was an awesome story that worked equally well in both the written and audio drama formats.  Listening to these audio dramas also reminded me of how much I enjoyed Colin Baker’s portrayal of the Doctor and really makes me wish the BBC had given him a longer time to play the character.

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From → History, Reviews

4 Comments
  1. Loved your discussion here about the 6th doctor!

  2. Steve W permalink

    This version of events has been debunked: http://forums.digitalspy.co.uk/showthread.php?t=2060583

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  1. Doctor Who: the frontier years | Fantastic Television
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