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.
(Daily Doctor Who #140)
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 unconvincing paper-mache monsters) and all.
So what would I do?
Just a little bit less Master
As the Fourth Doctor’s era wound down, the Doctor’s old arch-enemy, the Master was brought back with great fanfare. Anthony Ainley took on the role and became a mainstay of the series from pretty much then on, showing up most prominently in the Fifth Doctor’s era. Ultimately, he appeared in five of the Fifth Doctor’s twenty stories (aside from one cameo).
It’s just a little bit much, especially as the Master seemed to die at the end of almost every story, showing up the next time with no explanation about how he survived other than that he just did.
I’d suggest removing him from Time-Flight, a tale which closed off the Fifth Doctor’s first season, and which included the Master’s most nonsensical disguise (the Master has often had a habit of lurking around in disguise). The story is generally seen as one of the show’s weak points, so maybe removing the Master and developing a new villain would have shaken it up in a helpful way.
Harry Sullivan instead of the Brigadier
Apparently, Mawdryn Undead was written with the idea of bringing Ian Chesterton back into the show for a story—making more sense of having the adventure start at a school. When William Russell proved unavailable, the thought was to bring back Harry Sullivan as played by Ian Marter. When he was also unavailable, the part went to the Brigadier as played by Nicholas Courtney, leading to the awkward narrative point of the Brigadier becoming a maths teacher.
I’d like to tweak history by re-casting the story with Harry Sullivan, for whom the idea of him becoming a public school teacher sits a lot more comfortably. Plus, we got the Brigadier again in The Five Doctors (as well as later in the series), and we never had a chance to revisit Harry Sullivan in real life, especially after actor Ian Marter died in 1986.
Looking lower on this list, one might wonder why I’m not just going with Ian Chesterton here, but my reasoning is to do with the story’s plot, which has the returning guest character (the Brigadier, in real life) meeting another version of himself from six years in the past (or future, depending on the perspective), and the resulting paradox resulting in the character having a nervous breakdown. Frankly, I don’t see that story working with Ian Chesterton if you are supposed to imagine that Barbara Wright is still part of his life. And for me, Barbara still being in Ian’s life is a bit of a head canon non-negotiable.
On the other hand I think it’s the sort of thing that would have worked really well with Harry Sullivan.
Kamelion does not become a companion
The Season Twenty story The King’s Demons introduced a new mechanical character to Doctor Who, the android Kamelion. Unfortunately, because of technical issues with the prop, Kamelion didn’t end up having much of a roll in the show. His second appearance was also his last, in Season Twenty-One’s Planet of Fire (a full six adventures later).
Rather than the confusion of having Kamelion as an in-story companion, without ever functioning in the story as a companion, I’d rather just have him be a recurring character who turned up twice. He was in the thrall of the Master both times so it wouldn’t be all that difficult to rewrite the stories to accommodate this.
An additional Season Twenty story
At first glance, from the point of view of someone watching Doctor Who in reruns on American TV, all three of the Fifth Doctor’s seasons ran according to a similar pattern: 26 episodes made up of half a dozen 4-part stories and one 2-parter (with the last story of the last season being given to the Fifth Doctor’s successor. But this view is mistaken.
In reality, the middle year—Season 20—was four episodes shorter than the others, with the balance being used instead on the 20th Anniversary Special, The Five Doctors (which aired months after the season concluded).
I would use my time meddling powers to keep the 20th season the same length as the others, and add one more 4-part adventure to the schedule. This would air after the rest of the season had finished, after The King’s Demons. There was a thing with this year that every story featured some returning element from the series’ history, so we’d keep that for this story, as mentioned in the next item…
The return of Ian & Barbara
I’m quite open with how much of a fan I am of two of Doctor Who’s original characters, Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright, as played by William Russell and Jacqueline Hill. Their general absence from almost every celebration of the show’s history has always disappointed me.
So I’d take the opportunity to bring them into the show with the Doctor visiting contemporary earth and bumping into them again, giving them a full guest-starring role and a chance to see how they’ve gotten on in life (which would obviously include them being married and probably having children).
If we really wanted to we could also include an old enemy in this story, like maybe the Krotons or the Quarks or Weed Creature from Fury from the Deep.
And that concludes my temporal meddling this time around! What mischief will I get up to next??