SEASON 15 – A Twitter appreciation

1/50 THREAD.  Doctor Who. Season 15. An appreciation. Having trouble sleeping?  Try this 50 tweet thread.

2/50 Uneven. Cheap.  Beige. Not Hinchcliffe.  Grab a publication and compare the word count between the first three Baker seasons and season 15.  Few love this season, but it’s my favourite and one of the best.  Here is why I love this fantastical voyage.  

3/50 Hinchcliffe’s era is rightly lauded.  But to almost quote a Doctor ‘three years is enough’.  It’s time to change.  S15 opens the door to new possibilities.  It’s a shot in the arm.  It’s the vaccine that keeps it going.  I keep forgetting we’re knocking on 60 glorious years.

4/50 Sure, sometimes those possibilities are off screen, with characters looking out to middle distance, because the budget doesn’t stretch. Yes, season 15 is good at stares.  Middle distance doesn’t tug at the purse strings quite so much.

5/50 But it doesn’t matter.  I didn’t fall in love with Doctor Who because it needs to flex its financial muscle. I expect imagination.  Therefore, everything I want from Doctor Who is in this magical moment within the Doctor’s brain.  How wonderful do these two look together?

6/50 For all the psycho-horror of Hinchcliffe, and the real terms reduction of budget, S15 is right up there for striking and eclectic imagery.  Eclecticism requires bravery – a belief that the audience are intelligent enough to stick around.  Graham Williams understood this.  

7/50 It’s an intriguing run.  The  first season in ages that defies a catch-all description.  It doesn’t have an overall headline.  From Time Lord politics, to a fight for survival in unlikely settings, the collision of existing DW traits and untested new approaches is exciting. 

8/50 Every 1970’s season feels like it is building on the foundations of the previous year.  I’ve always liked this.  S13 sees the Doctor further cutting previous ties in season 10-11.  S14 builds on influences that characterised season 13 and paints bolder strokes.  

9/50 But season 15 stands out on its own.  It’s all-new.  Sure it reacts to a missive imposed by BBC management – a reaction to what came before – yet this is what liberates the series and gives it permission to make more changes, more than the 15% Graham WIlliams bargained for.

10/50 Aggression makes way for gentler human interactions.  Take an entire story centered around the plight of Cordo. IOTF is driven by the dynamics between its small cluster of characters.  Previous seasons are gripping, but there’s more room for kindness and affection.   

11/50 It’s eclectic, yet there’s something uniquely dark and alien about it.  Bar a few minutes of daylight in ep1&3 of Fendahl, the Earth is shrouded in darkness, and much action happens in the blackest depths of space.  When there is a sun or six, they are artificial.  

12/50  For the first time since the 1960s, any connection to contemporary Earth is gone. We don’t always need it, as long as characters are well sketched, likeable, and complement each other.  We now observe a trio operating within their own alien bubble. Exciting.

13/50 Stories don’t connect to past eras.  A ‘Horror’ on Fang Rock is the alienness of Doctor & Leela, Fendahl is gothic, but also fly on the wall.  While elements of TIOT are established in Deadly Assassin, this radically different take on Time Lord politics means it’s no sequel.

14/50  The futures of Sun Makers, Underworld and Invisible highlight advancement, but are far from cosy; the boredom of space flight, droll humour of weary service crew, dytopia, oppression.  The S15 universe appears jaded and cynical – all before we’ve even reached Gallifrey.

15/50 The drama thrives on remoteness and isolation.  Fang Rock, Bi-al, Titan, and the Priory aren’t boltholes, they’re far away from safety. Inhabitants of Pluto and P7E are miles from civilised existence. R1C & Rutans have travelled from the farthest reaches of the universe.  

16/50 In comparison to previous seasons, S15 doesn’t shy away from violence and horror.  In fact the horror is never more imaginative and adult.  With steamings, shootings and chilling smiles, Graham McDonald’s administrator is on constant standby.  

17/50 Reputationally the season suffers.  It’s in the shadow of the previous 3 years.  Yet there’s a freshness.  Fang Rock and Fendahl are often noted as highlights; often described at the final throes of the Hinchcliffe era, yet they are unique atmospheres in their own right.  

18/50 And the other four futuristic stories briefly point the way to a new direction, where the technology is awe inspiring, and space is big.  Really big.  

19/50 Season 15 reminds me that there universe is there to be studied. From Professor Thripsted’s Flora and Fauna to high-tech pseudo science for those who like to analyse the results of their potassium-argon experiments.

20/50 There’s a history lesson for those who like their facts from the boys book of lighthouses, or simply want to strike conspiracy theories relating to the Titanic.  

21/50 Co-existing with the history lesson, are the tales of fictional histories. Often these are the backbone to the stories; the beast of Fang Rock, the Minyans of Minyos, a skull lurking the universe 12 million year BC.  And I haven’t even touched Rassilions rod.

22/50 The stories explore evolution, scientific progress, revolution, political intrigue.  One moment we explore dreams and fantasies, and the next we are looking at two characters looking like they have wandered into a gritty detective drama.  It’s all about the blue light.

23/50 The Doctor, Leela, K9 – the stars.  A magical combination covering all the audience bases.  They ask a new younger audience to join the series, and share their adventures.  But season 15 is not for kids alone.

24/50 And it’s not an easy ride. There are moments of doubt. The Doctor can be aloof and vulnerable.  Leela is impulsive and unsentimental.   By the time we reach Gallifrey, huge questions are hanging over our trio.  Even K9 turns its gun on Leela.  

25/50 The Doctor carrying a child to safety, alarm buttons boinging, the sheer marketable cuteness of K9 reminds me the series is looking ahead, and reaching out to children.  The Sliveen did exactly the same job in 2005. Doctor Who is for everyone.  TO BE CONTINUED IN PART 2.

26/50 Does season 15 look cheap?  Only sometimes – like all Doctor Who.  In fact, considering the rampant inflation of the times, Doctor Who looks pretty reasonable.  And there are times where it exceeds my expectations. Every little counts.  

27/50 For example, Williams knew that cutting down the use of film would help the budget.  Yet the scant amount of filming is innovative and exciting.  Nights are mistry, corridors are really long, and Gallifrey has the colour palette of a pre-raphaelite painting.  Hmmm, artistic!

28/50 There are times where the DW has never looked better. The modelwork is outstanding – a vintage year.  Electronic effects are starting to line up correctly.  And there are a number of sets (many of which are split level) that are both big in scale and ambitious in concept.

29/50 Sure the TARDIS console room is a bit cheaper and functional, but it’s also the template for the rest of the first great age of Doctor Who. Barry Newbury ensures that the sets won’t get warped in storage a second time around.

30/50 Even supposed disasters are triumphs.  CSO caves are a reminder that Doctor Who can be made no matter what. When I see that a corridor is a flat with no dressing, then so be it.  Poor Cordo needs to be the smallest thing on bland, soulless Pluto.  Beige has its place.

31/50 It’s not only the production of S15 that is pushing boundaries.  There’s the complex political intrigue of Gallifrey, the non interventionist policy of the Time Lords, and the sight of a chaste Doctor on top of Leela, provoking questions we dare not ask. 

32/50 But S15 recognises the DNA of Doctor Who.  Some of the audience might despair at the sight of the Doctor with a gun.  But minutes later Leela tells him (and us) that he’s gone mad.  As it should be.  Our Doctor is mad.  Quite mad. Mad as a hatter. 

33/50 There’s a greater number of female characters – a step up from previous seasons.  Of course, it’s 1977, but at least these characters play an active part in the narrative.   And Louise Jameson’s performance is so intelligent.  One of the finest performances in all Who.

34/50  This is the season that pushes Tom Baker’s performance, from brooding, to genuinely unpredictable. Physical humour enlivens the corridor scenes, and olympian detachment evolves into alien dismissiveness.  Like lunchtime during rehearsals, it’s a heady brew.

35/50 He might be peeved at a show that’s made in Birmingham, but Fang Rock is a marvelous mix of abrasive and alien.  The intensity of his performance while shielding his thoughts from the Vardans is his finest hour.   S15 pushes him as performer, and therefore me as viewer. 

36/50 And then there is the blood and guts, the piss and vinegar, the sheer effort to get the damn thing made.  It’s a reminder to me that Doctor Who is a 58 year old soap opera about highly talented people trying to make the impossible happen.  I wrote about it once upon a time.

37/50 I know, let’s take away the London studios we need to make a studio heavy drama like Doctor Who.  Perhaps we can throw it out to Pebble Mill, or use OB in a disused asylum in Redhill?  In both cases, it shows that Doctor Who doesn’t have to be tied to London. Cue 2005.

38/50 I feel sorry for Saward and co.  The time between Revelation and The Mysterious Planet was too long.  There is nothing like a bit of pressure and the sound of a deadline whooshing past to help with the creative process.  Just ask Williams, Read and Holmes.  

39/50 Season 15 is the ultimate DW behind-the-scenes movie.  Last minute nightmares, changing of rules, and MASSIVE production headaches.  When the blu-ray comes out I expect it to be a 12 disk set.  Six disks with the stories, six with the behind the scenes headaches. 

40/50 Season 15 has its own imperfections.  The acting and direction is occasionally hokey.  The ambition doesn’t always match the reality.  But again, I don’t watch Doctor Who for ‘perfection’.  I like this rickety, raggedy show that shouts first and asks questions later.

41/50 Why indeed?  Season 15 isn’t fashionable.  It’s not Hinchcliffe.  It isn’t The Key to Time.  It doesn’t have City of Death.  But it does have Alan Lake in it, a proto-Romana, the best Borusa, and most dire consequences for anyone described as a looney old trout. 

42/50   It also has the most amazing chairs.  Have I mentioned that?  

43/50 Who was on stable(ish) ground since 1971 – creatively and financially.  Whether it’s star excesses, leading tensions, or budget woes, S15 is the first time in years, where it feels like the series is trying to not spiral out of control.  And that gives it an edge and bite.

44/50 Survival on a Victorian lighthouse, space opera in the Doctor’s brain, Titan, ancient powers in contemporary England, oppressive 6-sun Pluto of the future, a search on a soft planet surrounding a spaceship, then Gallifrey.  As treatments go, that’s the trip of a lifetime.

45/50  This thread is an appreciation, but watch how easy it is to become defensive.  I want to use these last tweets to set out why S15 is so tasty.  I must warn you, I’m going to put on my smock, set up my easel, smoke my pipe and talk about my feelings.  Pretentious? Moi?

46/50  Robert Holmes once warned us about the death-knell sounding if Doctor Who is ever seen as ‘art’.  But is it art?  If you chose to read DW in that way, then yes.  And S15 is just that; a magnificent, imaginative piece, made through chaos and uncertainty.  

47/50  Sweeping generalisation alert!  Film and TV criticism can often focus on ‘how could it be done differently?’  Art criticism can often take a creative artefact, and then attempt to understand its origins.  For me, S15 lends itself to the latter, not the former.

48/50 The reality doesn’t match the TV/film critique. I see sweat, tears, toil.  A team of creatives trying to make TV against the odds.   This jars against the familiar soundbites;  “lacking passion”, “no one cares anymore” or worst of all, “going through the motions”.

49/50 Gently Tim, gently!  Remember your varicose veins!   In writing this, I realise that it’s tough to write an appreciation about S15, without recognising its troubled circumstances. History tells me that it’s transitional, a mixed bag. But it’s too far out to be that. 

50/50 To sum up, season 15 is DW at its most troubled, therefore it’s creative, ambitious, exciting.  It has bite, an edge.  This most perfectly balanced Doctor Who season has something for everyone – therefore no one loves it.  You can’t please all the people all of the time.

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