If I was an unscrupulous Time Lord with the ability to travel through the fourth dimension and to try to affect changes that I thought would make things better, there’s probably a bunch of stuff I’d do with my favorite TV series, Doctor Who. Like many-a-fan (I assume), I’ve thought of these things from time to time, and I now I’m going to list them over a series of posts. You can read this first one here.
(Daily Doctor Who #139)
Some ground rules are that I cannot introduce any temporal anomalies in my adjustments to the show—I need to keep my manipulations subtle, for fear of alerting some higher power or meddling do-gooder to my activities. So I won’t be mixing up actors from different time periods, or bringing in futuristic special effects technology, or doing a bunch of stuff in one era that has massive implications on future eras.
For the sake of brevity I’m limiting myself to five adjustments. For these “classic era” seasons that’s pretty easy because I find I don’t want to make a lot of detailed changes to individual stories—for the most part, I’m happy to accept them warts (and green spray-painted bubble wrap) and all.
You can read previous entries about the First, Second and Third Doctor’s eras by clicking on the links.
So what would I do?
Another Season 12 Story
Tom Baker’s first season was only 20 episodes long, the shortest of any season of the show up to that point. Apparently, the plan had been to finish the year with the four part Terror of the Zygons, but that ended up being pushed back and becoming the first story of the 26 episode-long Season 13.
I’d keep Zygons where it is, but add a new four-part story to conclude Season 12. It’d be nice to see another adventure with Sarah Jane Smith in her prime, along with Harry Sullivan. The year had already had a lot of returning monsters (Daleks, Cybermen and Sontarans), so probably I’d make it a completely new tale featuring an original menace. Maybe it could have featured earth in the future, which is a setting the show actually didn’t visit that often.
A Better Exit for Leela
One of the best companions the show ever had was Leela, a “Warrior of the Sevateem.” She was in many ways a savage (and often referred to as such) but showed great resourcefulness, courage and loyalty in traveling with the Doctor. Louise Jameson was, frankly, excellent in the roll.
Unfortunately, one of the worst exits of any companion is Leela, especially if we limit ourselves to companions who actually had goodbye scenes. She departed at the end of The Invasion of Time, in a manner which demonstrated almost a complete lack of care or preparation on behalf of the production team: after the adventure is over, Leela summarily announces that she’s marrying one of the guest characters, with whom she had nothing in common and had barely interacted with over the story. It felt like he was just the suitably-aged male character who was closest at hand when it came to film the scene. Tom Baker and Louise Jameson pulled off a nice moment as they say goodbye, but the rationale for the decision is completely lacking.
So I’m not sure what should have happened instead, but almost anything else would have been better. Maybe the story could set up one of the Outsider characters as a potential romantic partner for Leela—these Time Lord “drop-outs” at least lived in a way that could maybe have been made to be appealing to Leela with her savage heritage—so that her decision seemed reasonable.
A More Epic Conclusion to the Key to Time Story
Season Sixteen of Doctor Who tried something that had never been done before, which was to make the entire season have an over-arching meta-narrative, in which the Doctor had been tasked to recover the segments of the Key to Time so the White Guardian could use it to restore things in the universe. Over the season, the Doctor and his assistant Romana gathered the six segments, with the threat of the evil Black Guardian looming over them.
But instead of an epic conclusion between the Doctor and the Black Guardian, the whole thing is reduced to a yelling match over a screen during the last ten minutes of the last episode. I’d say instead, we tighten up the plot of The Armageddon Factor to fit mostly in the first four episodes, and then spread the confrontation with the Black Guardian over the final two. This would give us the chance to make it all much more emotionally satisfying, as well as to clarify exactly how the White Guardian’s original mission is accomplished if the Key is just restored to its original position, and maybe to deal more with the moral implications of having one of the segments be the living Princess Astra.
It would also allow us to do one other thing, which deserves its own listing…
A Better Regeneration Sequence for Romana
Another one of the great companions of the Fourth Doctor is the first Romana, as played by Mary Tamm. Unfortunately, another one of the worst companion departures of all time is the first Romana, as played by Mary Tamm. Producer Graham Williams did some good stuff on the show, but his era was terrible for companion departures.
Like Louise Jameson (above) the production team seems to have been unprepared for Mary Tamm’s departure (in spite of the fact that she seems to have made it quite clear during her time on the show), so no departure of any sort is written in at the end of The Armageddon Factor. Instead, at the start of the next season, there is a bit where Romana regenerates into a new form (played by a guest star from the previous season, Lalla Ward), an event that happens without explanation, is treated as a joke, and flies in the face of everything that had been revealed about regenerating up until that point.
If we’re already going to beef up the ending of The Armageddon Factor, it’d be a great chance to give Mary Tamm a more dramatic send-off, and integrate her regeneration into Lalla Ward more seamlessly into the story.
Shada to have been completed
This is an obvious one. Season 17 of the series was to conclude with the six part Shada, as written by Douglas Adams. It was only about half completed because of industrial action. Since then, it’s released with Tom Baker providing on-camera explanations for the missing scenes, it’s been restaged using a new cast and animation, and it’s been recreated using the original cast (as much as possible) and animation blended in with the original footage.
It would have been nice not to have to worry about any of that and just complete the story as it was meant to be. Maybe it would have been good, maybe it would have been disappointing, but at least then we’d know.
And that concludes my temporal meddling this time around! What mischief will I get up to next??
3 thoughts on “The Time Meddler: My Fourth Doctor Wish-list”
Speaking of the Meddling Monk, I wish they’d bring him back to the series.
Do you wish they had Tom Baker in The Five Doctors? He declined to appear, so they had to incorporate footage from Shada.
Both of these things are addressed in this series, actually! I had the Meddling Monk reappear in a previous entry, and Tom Baker’s role in The Five Doctors will feature in a post entirely devoted to the 20th Anniversary Special.