Happy December 6th, everyone. Also known as the day after the Dutch holiday of Sinterklaas. But in the world of Doctor Who, it could be considered a bit of a sad day.
(Daily Doctor Who #13)
Why? Well, let us take our Way-Back (WABAC) Machine into the past…um, I mean our DeLorean, or our Rocket Sled, or Time Displacement Equipment, or our Quantum Leap Accelerator, or our Cosmic Treadmill, or…
…okay, okay, sigh, our Vortex Manipulator…
…over the past 57 years of Doctor Who. My cursory research tells me that four episodes have debuted on December 6th.
First, in 1975, we have The Android Invasion part 3 (of 4). This is a story about androids taking the place of people, kind of Stepford Wives-style. I don’t remember the episode very well. I think it’s mostly notable for being one of the few Doctor Who stories that Terry Nation wrote that didn’t involve Daleks. Anyway, nothing especially great there, but nothing especially sad either.
Then in 1980, we have State of Decay part 3 (also of 4). It was one of the later stories written by former script editor and prolific contributor to the series Terrance Dicks, but I don’t remember it very well either. It involved ancient mythical giant vampires–but I don’t like vampires, so I don’t remember this story fondly. I vaguely remember it having a heavy gothic atmosphere uncharacteristic of later John Nathan-Turner productions, but a somewhat plodding plot. Anyway, again, nothing too sad there either.
Then in 1986, we begin to get into a bit of sadness. The Trial of a Time Lord part 14 is aired on December 6–the final episode of the single story that spanned all of Season 23. Trial of a Time Lord is an interesting animal in the history of the series. Various factors had led to some push-back against the series, and it was put onto an unusual 18 month hiatus after the 22nd Season. All plans for the 23rd season were scrapped and replaced with a single 14 part story. But really, that single story was three separate 4 part stories with a common thread of linking framing sequences (surrounding the titular Time Lord trial). These stories ostensibly set up some mysteries about what was going on that were to be wrapped up in the final two part conclusion.
The development of Trial sounds challenging, at best. Robert Holmes had been commissioned to write the final two part story, but died before writing the second episode of the story. Recently resigned script editor Eric Saward got involved, but wrote a downbeat cliffhanger ending which producer John Nathan-Turner objected to. Saward then withdrew his permission for the show to use his script at all, so Nathan-Turner quickly hired Pip and Jane Baker to write the last episode. For copyright purposes, they could not be told anything that was in Saward’s script, and just had to pick up things from where Episode 13 left off.
The resulting conclusion is okay, but not highly satisfactory. Indeed, the whole experiment of the season isn’t really a success, although it has some good moments.
At the time, though, nobody knew that this would be Colin Baker’s last episode as the Doctor. There story ends on a mostly upbeat note, with the Doctor and his new companion Mel flying of to new adventures, but that proved to be the end of the Sixth Doctor when Colin Baker was fired by the BBC before the next season was produced. So that’s kind of sad, even if Colin Baker is often at the bottom of “favorite Doctor” countdowns, as it led to the series lamest-ever regeneration sequence in Time and the Rani (even worse than the non-existant ones).
But then there is one more episode to come out on December 6th. In 1989, the BBC puts out…Survival, part 3, by Rona Munro.
Survival has only three parts, so this was the final episode of the serial.
The final episode of the final story of the Season 26.
Season 26…the final season of Doctor Who.
That’s right…on December 6th, 1989, the last regular episode of the original Doctor Who came out.
Sylvester McCoy’s 7th Doctor and his companion Ace (Sophie Aldred) faced off with Cheetah people and the Master (Anthony Ainley) in one last story before the show was basically canceled. Like the others, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen it, but I remember enjoying this one, and the morality it espouses (“If we fight like animals, we die like animals!” cries a desperate Doctor).
And of course, in the light of the decades since, we know that Doctor Who eventually came back…at first in fits and starts, and then eventually with wholehearted gusto. But at the time, we didn’t have any confidence that that would happen. Doctor Who was dead, after 26 seasons of sometimes good, sometimes bad, but always imaginative, storytelling.
The show walked off with its head held high, adding at the last minute a voice over from Sylvester McCoy:
There are worlds out there where the sky is burning, where the sea’s asleep and the rivers dream, people made of smoke and cities made of song. Somewhere there’s danger, somewhere there’s injustice, and somewhere else the tea’s getting cold! Come on, Ace — we’ve got work to do!
So today, on December 6, a full 31 one years later, I’m glad the Doctor and Ace kept at it. I’m glad that even with COVID delays and changing fandoms, that the show is still going.
And even if I think Chris Chibnall’s storytelling is kind of bad (I do) and even if I think the Timeless Child concept is incredibly ill-conceived (I do), that we’ve got a new episode coming out in 25 days or so, and another new season of potentially cool adventures on its way.