I need to begin with a confession. I didn’t watch Season 25 (or 26) on broadcast. Season 24 had seemed a bit silly to me. The Seventh Doctor had seemed a bit silly to me, and so had Ace, who hadn’t, in Dragonfire, resembled any teenager I knew (I was one at the time, you see), and on top of that there were exams and boys and… oh, you know. Stuff. The show was also seen (at least among my peers) as more uncool than it had ever been and it hardly seemed worth trying to persuade your parents to miss Coronation Street. For years I said I wasn’t keen on the Seventh Doctor’s era – in fact I was utterly dismissive of it.
And then… and then I finally watched a bit more of it, and it was a revelation. It was wonderful. I loved the Seventh Doctor. I loved Ace. I loved the tone and I loved the stories – all of them.
Remembrance of the Daleks came 14/200 in DWM’s Mighty 200 poll, it’s a popular story and you can count the crowd-pleasing elements: Daleks – including an exciting new type of Dalek and ones that can go up stairs! A surprise appearance by Davros! Coal Hill school! In-jokes! Intriguing hints about the Doctor’s past! Moral dilemmas! No problems there.
The Happiness Patrol and The Greatest Show in the Galaxy didn’t fare so well in the poll, coming 170/200 and 119/200 respectively – although I know many people who adore them. In these stories, the most deadly menaces are hidden behind the superficially harmless– an everyday family, clowns – just as horror lurked inside the young girl skipping through Remembrance of the Daleks. Appearances can be deceptive. You see a man made out of sweets, girls with pink hair, a painful fan parody or the Doctor doing conjuring tricks and you judge the stories to be embarrassing. If, like me, you’d condemned Season 24 as silly and childish, perhaps you took a quick look and assumed this was more of the same. Oh, foolish viewer!
Underneath the surface you’ll find brilliant, witty, intelligent dramas. The Chief Clown may be one of the best – certainly best acted – villains ever. The idea behind The Happiness Patrol is hugely sinister – and even without the gay or anti-Thatcher subtexts that have been ascribed to it, it’s a powerful piece on diversity, not forcing your views on others and the importance of daring to upset the status quo, to stand up for what’s right.
And speaking of which, here’s Silver Nemesis. This was the last Seventh Doctor story I watched, many years after it had been shown on television. I wasn’t expecting a lot; despite being an anniversary story and featuring a popular monster, it doesn’t have a good reputation (it’s even further down the DWM poll at 176/200). Unlike The Happiness Patrol and The Greatest Show in the Galaxy, it doesn’t tend to polarise opinion, it’s not generally regarded as a ‘love it or hate it’ story, just a ‘hate it or possibly hate it slightly less’ story. Now, I’m not claiming it’s perfect, and possibly my enjoyment was elevated precisely because my expectations were so low – but you know what? I loved it. I still love it. I don’t love it in an ironic way, I don’t love it because it’s camp or so bad it’s good. I just, genuinely, love it. I love seeing a couple of 16th-century characters wandering around 1988. I love the idea of ‘living metal’. I love the location work and the bows and arrows and the fact that it stars Kala from The Keys of Marinus and that you can play ‘Spot the Brig’. I love the ‘Ace’s portrait’ scene, and wish it hadn’t been cut. I love that it uses time travel as part of the story.
With nearly 50 years of Doctor Who brought to life by so many varied people, it’d be a tall order to love every single minute of it – I mean really love, not just love because it’s part of your favourite show. But at the same time – there’s barely a minute of it that couldn’t be loved, for some reason, by someone. Whatever bits you like best, you are right to do so. What the polls say doesn’t matter a jot. Go ahead, sing the praises of Silver Nemesis! Put Timelash in your Top 10! Thrill at the twists and turns of The Twin Dilemma! Enjoy Underworld and be a fan of Fear Her!
So I gladly reject the majority opinion. I’m out and I’m proud: I love Silver Nemesis. I love the Seventh Doctor. Season 25 as a whole makes me very happy. I hope you’re glad I’m happy. And in return, it’d make me very happy if you were glad.
1. “We did good, didn’t we?” “Perhaps. Time will tell. It always does.” Betrayals, deception, a planet destroyed – a happy ending? A melancholy moment as Ace and the Doctor try to decide. Remembrance of the Daleks Part Four.
2. “Save it, save it. You can’t run. You’re no good to me like this.” The Doctor and Ace are friends – aren’t they? But suddenly we discover that the Doctor may have an ulterior motive in his choice of travelling companion… The Happiness Patrol Part One.
3. “…and I shall look after the sick. Which reminds me, I shall return to Briggs his money.” Thanks to the Cybermen, cold-blooded murderer Richard decides to turn over a new leaf. Silver Nemesis Part Two.
4. “Come on. Come on. Deal with me as you dealt with Flowerchild.” Disturbing scenes as Bellboy sacrifices himself, committing suicide by clown. The Greatest Show in the Galaxy Part Three.