The Cosmic Hobo

Thoughts & reviews about the science fiction series Doctor Who.

Archive for the category “retrospective”

Remembering Maggie Stables

Colin Baker & Maggie Stables

Colin Baker & Maggie Stables

I just read of the passing of Maggie Stables, and had to write something about such a wonderful member of the Doctor Who family. Those among you who have never had the pleasure of listening to a Big Finish audio play may not know who she was, but those who did will know how great a voice actress she was. She was absolutely among the best actors in Big Finish’s stable, and her primary role as Evelyn Smythe is easily among the most memorable of any characters in Doctor Who.

When I first saw the Sixth Doctor, I thought he was kind of funny. He was such a jerk to Peri that I couldn’t help but laugh, though I found him to be a bit one-note. The writing during his time on the show didn’t do him justice, and I read after the fact that he and the writers had a big plan in mind for his character, that he would soften and become warmer over time. This kind of ambition was really interesting, and Colin Baker finally had the opportunity to try that in his audio plays. Maggie Stables was a huge part of why Colin Baker is now one of the more memorable Doctors in the show’s history.

Evelyn Smythe was an older companion, which is something we hadn’t seen before, and she was the perfect counterbalance to Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor. In the same way Sarah Jane forced the Fourth Doctor to be more human, Evelyn Smythe was able to bring out all the goodness in the Sixth Doctor. She wouldn’t take a single bit of his bullshit, and it made the Doctor a better person because of it. Maggie Stables completely killed it every time she was in a story. In the same way that Jenna Coleman now is able to carry entire episodes on the strength of her performance, Maggie Stables could do the exact same thing with her voice alone.

I’ve only actually heard about half of the Sixth Doctor and Evelyn audio plays, but I would already put her in my top ten favorite companions in the history of the franchise. Even in episodes that didn’t have a lot going for them, Stables was perfect. There were a few classics in the bunch, too, including “The Spectre of Lanyon Moor” (where the Sixth Doctor meets the Brig for the first time) and “Jubilee,” which would later be changed and adapted to become “Dalek,” a TV story that a lot of people seem to think is great. Having heard the original, I can’t help but see “Dalek” as a hollow imitation.

It seems that we’re saying goodbye to great people from Doctor Who far too often nowadays, and I’m afraid that there are a lot of Whovians out there who just aren’t aware of how great Maggie Stables was. Although I never had the pleasure of meeting her, I’ve heard nothing but good things about her as a person, and can vouch for the quality of her work myself. I’m so glad that I have so many hours left of Evelyn Smythe to hear for the very first time, and very sad that there will never be anymore. When I think “Sixth Doctor,” I think “Evelyn Smythe,” and I don’t see that ever changing. Thanks for all of your wonderful work, Ms. Stables.


Thoughts on the Jon Pertwee era

Thoughts on the Jon Pertwee era (now that I’ve seen it all.)

I feel like, in the history of Doctor Who, Jon Pertwee is really an anomaly. He was a comedic actor brought on to play a role that is now purely associated with being slightly off the wall in various ways, and ended up playing the part very straight laced. If Jon Pertwee’s Doctor wasn’t called “The Doctor,” you would never know it was meant to be the same character that was played previously by William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton, or would next be played by Tom Baker, et al. It’s hard to say whether this is a good thing or a bad thing, but I did really enjoy his era.

Though I didn’t necessarily love Pertwee’s interpretation of the Doctor, I can’t help but be impressed by the overall quality of his performance. As someone who loves an actor who can act and who dreads one who can’t, I appreciated Pertwee as the Doctor. He is not one of my favorites, but he is not on the bottom of the pile, either. He is a respectable middle of the pack, one of many Doctors I would say I really like, but not one I love.

Pertwee himself aside, I think the writing on his era of the show was usually pretty good. Taking a quick glance at the serials that he was in, I think every season had more good in it than bad, with the unfortunate exception of season eleven, his final season. The first four serials of his run make up what is often cited as one of the best seasons in Doctor Who history, and I have a hard time arguing with that. Anyone who has been reading this blog knows that I’m stingy with ratings, and yet readily give two of the stories an A, and another a B. I wasn’t particularly enthused by “The Ambassadors of Death,” but I think it is worth a re-watch, as I love every other Malcolm Hulke story.

I was very optimistic in the early days of Pertwee’s run as the Doctor, because I was not only very enthusiastic about the quality of his first season, but also his first companion, Liz Shaw. I found having a very intelligent and headstrong female companion in 1970 to be entirely refreshing and brilliant. I was absolutely heart broken when Katy Manning’s Jo Grant came along the season after, and stayed around for longer than I could stand. She has her moments where she can be kind of adorable, but the I spent the vast majority of the time she was on screen shaking my head and sighing, longing for the days of Liz Shaw, and waiting in anticipation for the era of Sarah Jane. This isn’t meant as an insult to Katy Manning as an actress; I think she is solid, and I never really felt like she was having a bad performance, but I will never be a fan of Jo Grant as a character.

Despite my feelings about the second of Pertwee’s trio of companions, those middle three seasons of Pertwee’s run had some great stories, too. I deeply enjoyed “The Daemons,” “The Curse of Peladon,” “The Three Doctors,” “Frontier in Space,” and “Planet of the Daleks.” I also see a lot of merit in others like “Terror of the Autons,” “The Claws of Axos,” and “Carnival of Monsters,” but by far my favorite of that three season block is “The Sea Devils,” which I hope to own on DVD very soon so that I may watch it again and again. I love just about everything about that story, just as i feel about “Doctor Who and the Silurians” in season seven.

I was excited to come to Pertwee’s final season because of the companion change, but ended up being disappointed by it. I reviewed the serials of this story in detail, as I watched these stories after starting this blog, and thought “The Time Warrior” was crap, despite the introduction of the Sontarans and Sarah Jane. I actually DID enjoy the stories most often hated (“Invasion of the Dinosaurs” and “Planet of the Spiders”), but was let down by “The Monster of Peladon” and found “Death to the Daleks” charming but average.

Jon Pertwee is the classic Doctor that I have now seen every story by, and I have to say it was a heck of a ride. Being that I enjoyed 16 out of 24 of his stories, I think it’s a pretty solid ratio. Where would I rank Pertwee, though, based on what I already know? Well, I think about fifth. Higher than Hartnell, Eccleston, Davison, Tennant, Tom Baker, and McGann, but lower than Troughton, McCoy, Smith, and Colin Baker, though on pure acting ability it’s hard to say anything bad about Jon Pertwee.

Three Favorite Stories:

3a. “Spearhead From Space”
3b. “The Three Doctors”
2. “The Sea Devils”
1. “Doctor Who and the Silurians”

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