Friday 5 February 2010

Season 7

The legendary Season 7. I am not a huge fan of Pertwee's Doctor (he comes across to me as too arrogant), but I agree with the generally held view that Season 7 of Doctor Who was amazing. I believe it was a perfect season, and disagree with those who think that it was let down by Ambassadors of Death.

Season 7 very much followed the directions suggested by Season 6 and the late Barry Letts had not yet disastrously introduced some of his own preferred changes to the format.

Having the Doctor stuck on earth could have been disastrous. The show was already losing popularity at the time and could easily have been cancelled at the end of this season. A season of cardboard alien invasions and act-by-numbers mad scientists could have killed the show. Season 7 had an alien invasion and a few mad scientists, but it took these elements and gave them a twist and a dose of realism.

Perhaps the greatest strengh of Doctor Who is its ability to shift its format and to introduce new interpretations of the basic concept. Season 7 is characterised by realism, political themes and the influence of James Bond. On the whole my preference is for the surrealism of the Sylvester McCoy years, yet I do see the realism of Season 7 as a vital part of the show's history.

One of the strongest elements of Season 7 is the Doctor's tense relationship with the Brigadier and UNIT. They need each other, yet they do not always see eye to eye. The Brigadier is portrayed at his best at this point. Rather than a buffoon who provided comic relief, he was here a true leader of men, a man of action. The Doctor might not have always like his methods, but the show treated the Brigadier's security concerns and hawikish methods with respect.

I think Liz Shaw (Caroline John) was a less succesful element of the season. While she was not irritating and childish, like Jo Grant, her replacement, she was just a rather boring companion. I think it was a shame they replaced her with Jo, but I do not think either character was that interesting.

The Season got off to a great start with Spearhead from Space. It was a smart move to delay the apperance of the Doctor and to focus the first part of the story on UNIT, particulary the Brigadier and Liz. This story introduced the realism of the show by taking the old idea of an alien invasion and inserting it into an industrial setting.

The second story, Doctor Who and the Silurians has acquired a reputation of being a little dull. This is sad, as it has a great science fiction concept, great characters, strong dialogue and moral depth. The tension between the Brigadier and the Doctor is explosive in this story. Silurians has been criticised as too long, but I think the story is strong enough and interesting enough to handle this. The Silurians themselves have been criticised as not being developed as a race, yet this is not untypical of Doctor Who monsters and they are only a small group of survivors.

Ambassadors of Death has often been viewed as the weakest story of the season. I disagree. It is long, but it has plenty of action. Here the James Bond element is brought out the most, with a large number of fights and chases. Ambassadors is one of the more unusual Doctor Who story in that it reduces the sci-fi elements to a minimum. The focus is on the human characters. The lack of screen time given to the extraterrestrials serves to heighten the reality of the paranoia expericed by the deranged Carrington. Ambassadors is superb drama.

Inferno is an highly regarded story. It explores environmental themes and the dangers of misguided science. The Doctor's visit to a parallel earth is a fascinating development of the theme of Doctor's tension with UNIT. In the 'mirror world' he meets fascist versions of the Brigadier, Benton and Liz. Perhaps seeing a less moral version of the Brigadier enables the Doctor to better understand the Brigadier's decisions and is what leads to the improved relationship in the next season.

A lot of people dislike the sand-coloured uniforms worn by UNIT in Season 7. Barry Letss particulary disliked them and changed them to more conventional uniforms in the next season. Perhaps the uniforms reflect the clear suggestion in Season 6 that the UNIT stories took place in the near future. I do not know Barry Letts' feelings on the thorny question of UNIT dating, but I think there are hints that the Season 8 stories are more contemporary, while the Season 7 stories are more near future in their style.

Season 7 introduced the Third Doctor's James Bond-like fixation with cars and various methods of transportation. I think in the more serious stories of Season 7 this actually works better than in the light-hearted stories that came after.

Probably the greatest legacy of Season 7 is the establishment of the Doctor's pacifist tendencies. While this adds a moral depth to the show, I feel that it was overdone in the Pertwee years and I am glad that the Fourth Doctor was much more willing to use violence when necessary. Pertwee's Doctor could at times come across as rather sanctimonious.

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