Doctor Who: An Introduction (Part 1) – 1963-1981


Whilst 60’s and ’70’s Doctor Who is akin to a fine vintage wine, ’80’s-’90’s Doctor Who is more like a glass of Buck’s Fizz; colourful, fun and full of flavour, but also perhaps something you might not be proud to show your love for. The ’80’s were a difficult and tumultuous decade for Who; with highs and lows for the show that would ultimately result in its cancellation in 1989.


I have a slight advantage/bias for this era it must be said; because I first fell in love with the show at the time of the Seventh Doctor and Ace (the late ’80’s) just before its cancellation, and my rose-tinted specs hide a multitude of the show’s sins.  On first viewing this decade and it’s Doctors can seem an acquired taste. But I promise it’s a taste worth acquiring.  As although it veers from the sublime to the silly and back again; there is also so much charm, wonder and magic to be found in this most troublesome of decades.

The Fifth Doctor (Peter Davison) – 1982-1984


The Fifth Doctor Era In Short: Pleasant, heroic, crowded.

The actor to play the Fifth Doctor had such a difficult task in following on from Tom Baker; who gave one of the most beloved, unique, long lasting and yes iconic portrayals of the character. The series-runners decided rather than trying to compete with such a large and inimitable character; they would go for the polar opposite; an unassuming, safe, likeable ‘everyman’ hero; to bring a James Stewart or Jack Lemmon quality to TV Sci-Fi’s most famous time-travelling alien.


The Doctor became young, classically heroic and even vulnerable in the way that Davison (the youngest to play the role until Matt Smith) portrayed him.  And his companions became like siblings rather than charges.


And there were certainly a lot of companions to join the 5th Doctor! 3 sidekicks, which can certainly seem a little overwhelming when you first watch the 5th Doctor’s episodes.


But give this era and this Doctor a chance and it will grow on you. Whilst it’s not consistently brilliant, there are many many highlights to choose from – from the fun (the Visitation) to the surreal (Kinda), the dark (Resurrection of the Daleks) to the unforgettable (Caves of Androzani).



Recommended stories to begin with:

* Caves of Androzani (perhaps a bit strange to start with the last story of a Doctor, but this story is both gripping and perfectly portrays the heroic nature of the Fifth Doctor)

* Earthshock (great Cybermen story, which shows the most ‘human’ of Doctors contrasting with the inhumanity of the cyborg monsters)

* Black Orchid (nice easy going two-parter, perfect ‘rainy day’ story)



The Sixth Doctor (Colin Baker) – 1984–86


The Sixth Doctor Era In Short: Loud, arrogant, challenging, colourful

Whilst the 6th Doctor has his fair share of fans and his era rewards repeat viewings, it could be argued that mid-80’s Who is the most challenging to get behind as a fan.
After the heroic, ‘pleasant’ 5th Doctor, the show-runners were worried the show was becoming too ‘safe’ or was losing some of its edge. It decided to do a complete 360o and give the 6th Doctor a completely unhinged, narcissistic and even psychotic angle. The idea was to create a longstanding arc to the character; making him unstable and unlikable at first and then softening his personality over a long time (which unfortunately he wasn’t to get). To his credit, Colin brings a gravitas and bombastic verve to the character that few other actors could. He’s utterly spellbinding and commands your full attention on the screen. But he’s also very difficult to root for as any kind of likeable hero.


– ‘Doctor in Distress’ (the hiatus)



The show really lost its audience during the 6th Doctor’s first season and even went off air for an 18 month hiatus. Mumbles of dissent from the BBC started to be heard all around. Colin and the other cast members even came out with a ‘live aid’ type song called ‘Doctor in Distress’ to try and get people on-board to save the failing show.  But please don’t bother checking this AWFUL song out…I urge you not to google this…no really, you were warned!


The 6th Doctor’s era is perhaps unfairly dismissed by many viewers; and the 6th Doctor did go on to prove in later audio stories that his Doctor is definitely one not to leave out. But I’d probably say it’s not wise to start with this Doctor’s era when first approaching the classic show.



Recommended stories to begin with:
* Vengeance on Varos (Big Brother meets Battle Royale in this dark satire on our ‘reality TV’ culture)

* The Ultimate Enemy (the 6th Doctor takes on his own people as he’s put on trial!)



The Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) – 1987–89




The Seventh Doctor Era In Short: Changeable, comic, slapstick, dark, mysterious, fatherly.



The 7th Doctor is perhaps only second to the 1st in how much the portrayal changed in such a short time. The dark, manipulative, wise and fatherly Seventh Doctor of his last season is almost unrecognisable from the slap-sticking, gurning clown of his first.

After the public’s dislike of the caustic 6th Doctor, the show changed tack again and tried to make the 7th a ‘Charlie Chaplin’ style comedy character to appeal to a younger audience.  By over-doing this however, they managed to lose a lot of the Doctor’s authority or strength as a result. They realised late on and quickly changed him into a mercurial, darker (but also loving and paternal towards his troubled young sidekick ‘Ace’) Doctor instead. Unfortunately it was a bit too little too late, as the audience had mostly turned away from the show by this point.
Which is a huge shame, as some of the Seventh Doctor’s better stories are some of the best of the whole classic era, and certainly of the hit n’ miss ’80’s if you give them a chance!



Recommended stories to begin with:

* Remembrance of the Daleks (Doctor Who meets Grange Hill and Eastenders in this thoroughly watchable, lovely, memorable tale).

* Curse of Fenric (warm, filmic and one of the best Doctor-Companion explorations ever; I could watch this one again and again).




– ‘The Wilderness Years’ – 1990-2004


The 90’s were a terrible time to be a Doctor Who fan.  The show was unceremoniously cancelled, seemingly for good, and all fans (like myself) were left with were the odd rumour of a comeback, the very odd ‘special’ and a TV Movie which hardly anyone saw (I never did until years later) for over 16 sad years.  Here are a few of the things you could check out in this time; although I warn you, they are not always worth checking out, even for the hardcore fans!



Children in Need/Red Nose Day: There were a few ‘specials’ that were made for various charity fundraising evenings, such as Children in Need or Red Nose Day.  These aren’t great, but do have a few moments of comic relief for fans of the show.


Big Finish: The lack of Who on television saw the rise of some truly excellent audio stories from a company called Big Finish.  They are still going strong today and are definitely worth checking out.  Stories like ‘Spare Parts’ (5th Doctor audio story) are even better than the T.V show!


Doctor Who Magazine: Another Doctor Who fandom staple, the DW Magazine kept the ‘underground’ Doctor Who fan movement going and an anticipation for a return of the show growing and growing during the difficult cancellation years.


Fan Made Productions: With the cancellation of their favourite show, some diehard fans even decided to take matters into their own hands and make their own unofficial video stories.  Some of Doctor Who’s most famous latter-day writers like Mark Gatiss would cut their teeth on some of the better of these videos, and even manage to persuade the odd Doctor Who actor (such as Jon Pertwee or Colin Baker) to take part!




The Eighth Doctor (Paul McGann) – 1996




The Eighth Doctor Era In Short: America, renaissance, romantic.

Up until the 2013 mini-story ‘Night of the Doctor,’ the Eighth Doctor had only appeared in one ‘proper’ story, the ill-fated ‘TV Movie.’ Produced by an American Company, the idea was to try and break the show stateside with more of an American feel; with the Doctor taking on New York Street gangs or the Doctor developing an American love interest.  Unfortunately, in doing this, the show lost one of the things that made it so popular; its quintessentially English mentality; that slightly rubbish, made-on-a-shoestring but utterly charming thing that made it such a classic in the first place.


Whilst the TV movie is one big misfire; one good element in all the mess is, thankfully a great Doctor; portrayed by the wonderful Paul McGann.  McGann manages to enthuse the Doctor with a real renaissance, literary, romantic feel.  For the first (but certainly not the last) time, the Doctor becomes a romantic hero; a cultured, handsome hero with a love of humanity and adventure.


As mentioned before, Big Finish audio stories played a big part in expanding the Doctors who were given less of a fair outing on television (such as Baker and McCoy), and there are many fantastic McGann audio stories that give him the space and time to really develop his Doctor into a fan favourite during the cancellation years and beyond; and eventually give him the following to come back for a special 50th Anniversary mini-TV story in 2013.



Recommended stories to begin with:

*The T.V Movie (simply called ‘Doctor Who’)

*The Night of the Doctor




I hope you’ve enjoyed my introduction to the 5th-8th Doctors, and I hope it inspires you either to give them a first chance, or to revisit some of your favourite stories.
I’d love to hear your thoughts, favourite stories or moments from this often overlooked era of the show, and thank you for reading!



My exploration of the ‘Modern era’ of the show will hopefully be coming soon!


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