It’s a whole new era, once again, but this time it’s the last fully fresh start of the classic run. With the shorter seasons, I’ll most likely reach the end of phase one before Christmas. But between now and then, I’ve got a whole Doctor’s worth of previously unexplored territory ahead of me, and as I’ve barely seen a scrap of McCoy before now, I can mostly approach it with an open mind.
The first impression is that he’s already a big improvement on Colin, certainly in terms of charisma and likeability. Absolutely loved the wardrobe sequence, and the spoon-playing. I find him intriguingly alien, in a Tom Baker kind of way, and he seems to settle in almost immediately. I’m not too sure about the mixed-up maxims, though. They might have been OK if it was only once or twice across the serial, but it was once or twice per scene, and they seemed to get more frequent as it went on. Hopefully it’s not going to be a feature throughout, and as symptoms of post-regeneration trauma go, at least it’s preferable to strangling your companion.
The regeneration itself was of course pitiful, but that was unavoidable in the circumstances. The extraordinarily primitive CGI effects were poor too; you can see why they wanted to try the exciting new thing, and how it would have seemed impressive at the time, but it’s a shame that this happened at a time when the model sequences were better than they’d even been. However, it was moderately exciting that it all happened in a pre-credits sequence, simply because it was unexpected.
And at least it delayed the debut of the new titles, which are not good. There are friends of mine that will defend it to the death, along with the horrible new logo, but they’re a couple of years older than me, and so they have childhood memories of it. Some elements of it do vaguely remind me of CBBC programmes from my own childhood, such as the way the episode title and writing credits are presented, which elicits a warm feeling somewhere in my subconscious. But on the whole it looks shonky. It’s ambitious, but the execution doesn’t quite get there.
Similarly, I can see where they’re going with the music, but I just don’t like it. Totally on board with trying to incorporate the middle eight into the opening, but it doesn’t quite fit in practice. It’s an improvement on the flimsy interpretation from Trial, which is so weak that I’ve already forgotten it, but it’s too busy, and the core elements aren’t prominent enough, which is a criticism I also level at the current theme.
The music was poor throughout the serial, which isn’t surprising as it was done by the same guy who arranged the theme tune. Those dramatic stings were just layered on higgledy-piggedy, and it was a distraction. A shame, because the other production values were pretty good, especially the designs of the two alien races. I mean, neither of them had anything special whatsoever in the writing or acting (other than the return of the Cumbermum), but they looked nice.
And that was the problem with the story in general, it was a bit nothingy. The premise of Earth’s greatest geniuses being kidnapped and hooked up to a giant brain should be more entertaining than this. It seems like they thought the return of The Rani would be enough, but she’s not all that; both of her appearances have spent too much time telling us how brilliant she is, and not enough time actually showing us her brilliance in practice.
I did enjoy the switcheroo between The Rani and Mel, and Kate O’Mara does a pretty good Bonnie Langford impression. But the thing is we don’t even know Mel all that well yet, what with never having actually been introduced properly, so it’s hard to evaluate just what kind of job she did with it. We don’t really know Mel, The Rani or The Doctor, and history shows that it’s preferable to have familiar, relateable elements in a regeneration story.
One thing I do know about Mel is that fucking hell she screams a lot. It’s annoying – most of the time she’s a strong, determined and capable young woman, but then she remembers she’s also a delicate little girly and loses her shit. It’s like the 60s all over again, and I’m already looking forward to her replacement.
Overall, this one’s not quite bad enough to warrant its usual position in polls, but towards the end, when all the Rani/Mel stuff was out the way, it did commit the rare and fatal sin of boring me at times. Doctor Who is almost never boring. Nevertheless, an encouraging start for McCoy, and I’ve heard good things about the new script editor and his masterplan, so I’m primed for one last hurrah before the axe falls.