Reviewed: Doctor Who – The Complete History #7

20Television has expanded exponentially recently, thanks largely to streaming, but if we go back just over a decade, things were very different. Forget Game of Thrones, Great British Bake-Off, and The Walking Dead: This issue of Doctor Who: The Complete History takes us back to when Doctor Who was the biggest show in the universe.

Such was the success of Series 1 that the Radio Times did something special: they dedicated the cover of their ‘legendary’ Christmas issue to Doctor Who. Sure, in the magazine’s early days, the festive cover would promote The Two Ronnies, Only Fools and Horses, and Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em, but the listings magazine didn’t do that in the 2000s or the 1990s. As The Complete History elaborates, “In a surprising move, the cover of the Christmas double-issue Radio Times was given to Doctor Who, with Mark Thomas illustrating a snow globe containing the TARDIS, a snow Dalek, and a snowman with a floppy hat and long scarf. Available from Saturday 3rd December, this was the first programme-specific Radio Times Christmas cover for 16 years.”

And rather appropriately, with The Complete History #7 covering The Christmas Invasion, New Earth, and Tooth and Claw, reading the behind-the-scenes details of David Tennant’s early adventures as the Tenth Doctor feels like catching up with an old friend, perhaps sharing a tipple by a roaring fire.

The breadth of these stories, notably their tones, are poles apart, and that comes across in the design of this volume. There’s that nostalgic warmth, tinged with melancholy, for The Christmas Invasion, the freshness and bizarre joviality for New Earth, and the wonderfully dark horror tropes in Tooth and Claw – highlighted by the artwork that introduces each serial, and the backgrounds for each page.

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It’s a gorgeous-looking book, drawing inspiration from the colour palettes of these adventures: The Christmas Invasion in golds, reds, and blues; New Earth in greens; and Tooth and Claw in oranges and purples.

Still, however much they vary in tone, there’s a sense of joy in all three stories. The production crew were riding the wave of success, so even if they were all nervous about living up to Series 1, it didn’t really come across that way. The Tenth Doctor didn’t stop running, not in those days. It was a wonderful time, though some feel Series 2 was ultimately a let-down (not an opinion I share, but there you go).

It’s reflected in the text of this issue; there’s hope and happiness in remembering these days. The Tenth Doctor is ingrained heavily in the youthful memories of so many, and that childhood excitement is captured well in every page of Issue 7.

When reading the section devoted to Tooth and Claw, I realised that, throughout the whole tome, the accompanying music had been playing in my head – it’s that emotive. I never got that same wonder from reading about Colony in Space, Robot, or even Deep Breath; admittedly, it’ll probably happen with Tomb of the Cybermen, The Ice Warriors, and, uh, The Gunfighters – plus other Classic Who serials with the most recognisable scores, like The Curse of Fenric but this is the first time I actually cottoned on to the fact that these Complete History books catapult their readers so effectively into a long-gone age.

And isn’t that what this is all for? Sure, reading about facts and figures, learning new information about something you thought you had utterly comprehensive knowledge about, is fantastic, but we really want to be pulled back into the recesses of our own memories, don’t we? There’s comfort in that, I think: when a new episode airs, I worry that there’ll be something that jars with me – Missy being the Master, for instance, or Clara dying so horribly and pointlessly – but remembering a time when, even if something did jar, we can recognise that everything turned out just fine… It’s safe. It’s happy. And that’s how this volume made me feel.

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Because there are things in these three adventures that don’t seem quite right: the Sycorax have a specific button that makes one specific ledge fall away from their ship, which serves no purpose whatsoever outside of the Doctor getting rid of the alien’s leader; in a few seconds, the Doctor can cure thousands of infected flesh using a few drips and some disinfectant; and the werewolf is dissipated by too much moonlight.

But it doesn’t matter, not in hindsight. I love these stories, not despite their faults but partly because of them too. Tooth and Claw, in particular, has gone up in my estimation over the years: back in 2006, the main thing I took from it was being able to say “Lupine Wavelength Haemovariform” verbatim. Now, I appreciate what an incredible horror story it is.

Doctor Who pushes many boundaries, but sometimes, we need to recognise that there’s nothing wrong with feeling comfortable, safe, and happy. If The Complete History manages to convey that sensation, that’s a commendable achievement.

That’s not to say, of course, that there’s not plenty to learn from Issue 7. Just a few things I learnt, then:

  • In his impressive monologue at The Christmas Invasion‘s conclusion, the Doctor was to have mused, “Am I a fighter? Am I a swordsman? Am I an expert? Am I the sort of man who could happily slaughter you, have you thought of that?” It’s quite a shame these lines were cut.
  • The Tenth Doctor’s costume was inspired by, of all people, Jamie Oliver; when the chef appeared with Billie Piper on Parkinson wearing a suit and trainers, David Tennant phoned Russell T. Davies and asked, “Are you watching this? Could we do this for the Doctor?”
  • The Face of Boe was to depart his secret – “You Are Not Alone” – in New Earth, but this was deferred when, in June 2005, Davies found out that Doctor Who would definitely return for a third series.
  • Zoë Wanamaker was only available to record for one day before starting work as Ariadne Oliver, making her debut in Poirot: Cards on the Table; if she hadn’t been available at all, Russell would’ve introduced Lady Cassandra’s sister, to be played by another actress.
  • Russell had a checklist for Tooth and Claw and asked another writer, unnamed, to develop the ideas. Said unknown writer then submitted a solid treatment, involving Queen Victoria investigating a series of murders in Buckingham Palace, the eventual murderer being revealed as a vampire – but omitting the important items on Davies’ checklist. This lack of werewolf, warrior monks, and the Koh-i-Noor (the latter suggested by producer, Phil Collinson) provoked the showrunner to develop the script himself.

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Profiles, this time, are for David Tennant (quite rightly, the most extensive, at six pages), Zoë Wanamaker, and Pauline Collins; while Tennant’s is thorough, it does revisit the theme of “ooh, ain’t he ‘andsome?” too often for my liking. Nonetheless, all three are fascinating, especially Wanamaker’s family history.

A special mention must go to the overview of the 2006 series. What a fantastic piece of writing! In just 10 pages (which also includes some full-page images), the writer gets you to completely re-evaluate Series 2, highlighting the fact that, while Torchwood might’ve been the run’s main story arc, its theme was undoubtedly loss.

Despite that, The Complete History Volume 51 is an immensely satisfying read, letting readers sink into the warmth of happy memories. It doesn’t feel like 10 years ago, but Doctor Who was the biggest show in the universe, and aren’t we the luckiest fandom in existence…?

Doctor Who: The Complete History #7 is out now, priced £9.99 in the UK or $24.99 in Australia and New Zealand.

NEXT: THE MIND ROBBER, THE INVASION, AND THE KROTONS.

Want to subscribe? Head over to the Doctor Who: The Complete History site – and don’t forget about the premium subscription offer too!

  • Dr. Moo

    These three stories perfectly sum up the extremes of The Tennant Years.

    In The Christmas Invasion we have a solid debut story, deliberately holding off Tennant so that when he finally gets going it’s incredible and leaves you wanting more. Good.

    In New Earth that promising start is undermined by a stupid story filled with scenes of vomit-inducing psuedo-romantic drivel before a cliched zombie attack plot that doesn’t go anywhere resulting in a story that’s ultimately a bit of a mess. Bad.

    Then we get Tooth & Claw where a Philip Hinchcliffe-esque horror story is wasted because of RTD’s obsession with writing 10 & Rose as an irritating clingy couple, making for a disappointing episode that could’ve been amazing but just doesn’t click. Wasted Opportunity.
    (Incidentally, you can trace both of 10’s regenerations to his actions here.)

    At least the two episodes that follow them proved how good Tennant could be when he was allowed to be.

    • FrancoPabloDiablo

      The best regeneration story ever is by far Spearhead From Space which also had the new Doctor absent for much of the beginning. And the twist at the end with Harriet Jones was perfect for setting this Doctor’s morals and standards as was his showdown with the Sycorax leader.

      I won’t even argue with you about New Earth. I’ll just agree with you when you say “Bad” – though I would probably have put the word ‘very’ before it!

      Maybe I am biased being a proud Scot but I have a soft spot for Tooth And Claw. Ignoring the irritating Doctor/Rose chemistry and the tired “One is not amused joke” I actually really enjoy it. If nothing else, you can’t deny that it has one of the best ever pre-credits scenes since the revival.

      I also agree that School Reunion and The Girl In The Fireplace are episodes that truly established 10 as the Doctor and what he could be!

    • TimeChaser

      I pretty much agree with your summation of these episodes, Moo.

      At the time of airing, you always feel different. You get caught up in the enthusiasm and you’re just happy yo bits that you’r watching new Doctor Who in the 21st century, But then, time passes and you have the ability to re-evaluate things, and to me all of these episodes come up a bit lacking. RTD’s major flaw with his era will always be the Doctor/Rose relationship that defined the character way too much. Without it, David could have risen to even greater heights, but it holds him down and gives him irritating character flaws, finally ending in the emo nightmare that was The End of Time.

      • Dr. Moo

        Honestly, the Rose Romance stuff is just one part of the larger whole with why 10 is without doubt my least favourite Doctor. He’s still very good and Tennant almost-never puts a foot wrong in his performance but all too often he simply doesn’t feel like the same man as all those before and after him.

        • Robin Bland

          I feel the same way about Christopher Eccleston – Tennant was an incredible breath of Doctorish fresh air after a well-written first series performed by an actor who seemed to me to not want to be be there. But, each to their own, and all that.

          • Dr. Moo

            I never had any issues with Eccleston. You’re right that he didn’t really want to be there but, personally, I never felt like that came across on screen and I think that his performance never missed the mark. The Ninth Doctor is in the top half if I were to list them in order of most to least favourites.

            P.S. I love your username!

          • Robin Bland

            Thank you! (Re: the username.) Regarding Eccleston, I saw a behind-the-scenes feature early on when a kid asked him if he was the Doctor and he replied, “For now,” in such a way that hinted he wasn’t happy to be there, which spoiled the illusion for me somewhat. Don’t get me wrong – I think he’s a fantastic actor (no pun intended). But Tennant’s obvious joy in taking the role seemed infectious.

          • Dr. Moo

            Tennant’s obvious joy in taking the role seemed infectious.

            I’ll give you that. It’s one of the things that does work for me in his performance (I refer you to earlier comment to TimeChaser for my thoughts on that).

  • Robin Bland

    I’ve never understood how anyone could dislike *all* of Series 2, but I’d definitely put NE and TaC at the lower end of what that season achieved, in large part due to the unsettling Doctor /Rose dynamic. But it’s also partly what makes the denouement work. And much of what makes the season successful is just Tennant’s likeability – sometimes in spite of how he was written.

    • TimeChaser

      For me, the only episode I really enjoyed was School Reunion. It has it’s Doctor/Rose problems as well, but the return of Sarah Jane more than makes up for it’s flaws.

      I do enjoy David for his breathless energy, and I still think the Ten/Donna team is one of the best in the history of the series, but in the end David’s Doctor never fully lived up to his potential due to the many foibles of RTD.

      • bar

        Donna and Ten did a great deal to redeem David’s Doctor from all the ‘wose/ten’ stuff, which you can’t even try to rationalise away by saying it was part of post War’s PTSD recovery. Then even Donna’s season train-wrecked spectacularly and worse still after the specials. I was so relieved to have Russell T’s Emo era make way for the Moff, and the whirlwind of fresh air that was Matt Smith.
        I agree with what you said before about being glad to watch any new Doctor Who, and how time gives a different perspective. There are some GREAT Ten stories, but very rarely do I feel he’s the best thing in them, whereas some other Doctors’ stories are pretty rubbish but the lead actor is so watchable you enjoy it anyway.
        I remain grateful however that so many people loved Ten and Rose that they rocketted Who back to major popularity, and established it safely for the future.

        • Dr. Moo

          Yes to this! While 10 is my least favourite by a long way and has overall the weakest run out of any Doctor (statistically I rate Colin’s era higher) we cannot deny Tennant’s influence in bringing the Doctor to a whole new audience and helping make it the huge success it is.

    • Dr. Moo

      Series two has got in it two solid 10/10 stories with The Girl in the Fireplace and The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit, it’s got an 8/10 with School Reunion and it has a 6/10 with Rise of the Cybermen / The Age of Steel. The rest of that season doesn’t go above a 3/10 in any episode, the worst offender by far being Love & Monsters. So while I technically don’t dislike all of the season it doesn’t come out looking very good at all and is easily my least-favourite season this show has ever produced – yes, even worse than season 24!

    • Philip

      Great username! Very much approve.

      I can’t understand how anyone could dislike all of S2 either. It baffles me because it’s got The Impossible Planet/Satan Pit in, my favourite Tenth Doctor tale. Girl in the Fireplace is great. I like School Reunion, Rise of the Cybermen/Age of Steel, Army of Ghosts/ Doomsday, and even Idiot’s Lantern too. Tooth and Claw’s rep shocks me, though. I think it’s fantastic! The Doc/Rose issues weren’t that bad in it, except from the “not amused” gag rearing its head too often.

      • Robin Bland

        I also love The Impossible Planet / Satan Pit. Not a list-writer, so tend not to give things scores, but that’s definitely one of my favourite New Who stories and Tennant is magnificent in it. School Reunion reduced me to tears on first viewing, and it still packs a punch. Girl in the Fireplace is wonderful and strange and The Christmas Invasion remains one of the best specials, in my view. And all of the other episodes are, at the very least, highly entertaining – all the Cybermen episodes get an unfairly bad rep. (Okay, so maybe I don’t like the stomping.) But somehow, Series 2 as a whole has garnered a rep for being a bit wet and Tennant’s Doctor overly human and all-too-emo. Yet the Doctor, since 2005, in all his incarnations, has been incredibly emotional, even in his repressed first Capaldi year. if anything, the twelfth Doctor has stopped at nothing to demonstrate how supremely in touch with his emotions he is. Tennant’s first year seems to be the blueprint for that tendency, but I can’t think of any other way the character could’ve gone at that time. Partially, it’s due to Rose’s presence, and much of what makes a great Doctor is about how a great companion brings out his best characteristics. Certainly Donna did that ably, but even Martha got all soppy about Ten at first (and that’s down to the way RTD wrote her). For me, there’s so much other stuff in Tennant’s performances, so many hints at greater depths of remorse and pain that it’s impossible to watch him without seeing those nuances. Overall, it’s a fascinating performance, because this is the Doctor at perhaps his most heroic but simultaneously his most self-deluded. And yeah, much of it is a hell of a lot of fun, too.

  • JOHNBOY!

    Series two is pretty poor overall. It was fun the first time but nostalgia is a funny thing and watched today it mostly fails to hold up. I still haven’t got over the Abzorbaloff, he haunts my nightmares to this day.

    • Dr. Moo

      The Abzorbaloff will do that. I sympathise fully with your suffering! What could possibly be worse than exposure to Love & Monsters?
      (FPD, you’re up.)