The Cosmic Hobo

Thoughts & reviews about the science fiction series Doctor Who.

Archive for the category “sixth doctor”

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.

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Audio Review: Project Twilight

“Project: Twilight” (Big Finish #23)
Written by Cavan Scott & Mark Wright, directed by Gary Russell
Featuring the Doctor, Evelyn Smythe, and vampires

Rating: B

I’ve mentioned before in the Doctor Who podcast I co-host, The Raggedy Podcast, that Joss Whedon really has a lot to answer for. Since the introduction of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer television show in 1997, vampires seem to be consistently “in.” Every fantasy and science fiction story delves into the idea of vampires at one time or another, and with crap like Twilight and The Vampire Diaries releasing their various plagues on the entertainment world, it seems like the genre-spanning trope is here to stay.

Doctor Who has ventured into vampire territory several times, including on television (Fourth Doctor story “State of Decay,” new Series Five’s “The Vampires of Venice”), novels (Virgin New Adventures Blood Harvest, Paul Cornell’s Missing Adventure Goth Opera, Eighth Doctor Adventures Vampire Science and The Eight Doctors), and as of “Project: Twilight,” the audios as well. These various stories have been met varying receptions, but I think generally Doctor Who has managed to handle vampires pretty well.

The Doctor and Evelyn Smythe (a far superior companion to either of Colin Baker’s television sidekicks) find themselves in southeast London, on the bank of the river Thames, looking for a good Chinese takeout place. Some kind of inhuman stalker is killing a bunch of locals in the nearby streets, and the Doctor realizes something strange is going on when the bodies appear to be not only mutilated, but eaten.

“Project: Twilight” is a really brilliantly paced story; the way the first part is written, I was very quickly engaged in how the story was rolling. I knew right away that vampires were involved, and it took the Doctor and friends the first half of the story to figure it out, but I really enjoyed the ride, despite getting a little irritated that it took the Doctor so long to figure it out.

I think some of the performances in this story are particularly strong, even from the supporting cast. The bad guys are clearly bad guys from square one, but I don’t think Doctor Who has ever been really known for ambiguity in its villainy. Maggie Stables is awesome as Evelyn Smythe; it really makes me wish Colin Baker had been allowed to actually have a decent companion on screen. This isn’t an awe-inspiring story, but I really enjoyed it anyway.

Audio Review: Bloodtide

“Bloodtide” (Big Finish #22)
Written by Jonathan Morris, directed by Gary Russell
Featuring the Doctor, Evelyn, and Silurians

Rating: B

Being a fan of the Silurians in general, I was pretty excited when I saw a story featuring them was coming up as I go through the Big Finish audios in order. My excitement was compounded when I saw that it was a Sixth Doctor/Evelyn story, being that I think, although I love Sylvester McCoy, Colin Baker is really the best Doctor when it comes to the audio adventures. As weak as his scripts were on television, Baker has really vindicated himself in the audios, constantly turning in brilliant performances that show what his Doctor could and should have been on screen.

“Bloodtide” is a realitivly normal Silurians story for the first half or so. The Doctor and Evelyn arrive on the Galapagos Islands, just in time to meet Charles Darwin as he begins to develop the theory of evolution. Meanwhile, the Doctor becomes distracted by a distraught woman who claims her brother was falsely accused of treason, and had been acting strangely only over the past few days. The Doctor quickly realizes the Silurians are the cause of his troubles, and naturally he jumps in to investigate, while Evelyn looks into where the Doctor has disappeared to.

There’s a pretty crazy twist in the second half that I thought was great (though I could see it being controversial), and it turns out to be an above average story. Everyone in the voice acting cast brings their A game, aside from an absolutely hammy performance from the actress potraying the woman concerned over her missing brother. Maggie Stables is as brilliant as always as Evelyn Smythe, and it is much the same from Colin Baker. I generally think the supporting cast in these audios can be a bit weak, but aside from the one aforementioned exception, I think this one was pretty well acted.

Although I wouldn’t consider this an essential Silurians story, I still enjoyed it. I tend to give most of those stories the benefit of the doubt, and in this case I don’t think I needed to. It isn’t one of the best audios I’ve heard so far (Loups-Garoux, The Fires of Vulcan, The Holy Terror, The Fearmonger), but it was enjoyable, and I have to reiterate that I love the twist.

Book Review: Past Doctor Adventures – Players by Terrance Dicks

Players by Terrance Dicks
Past Doctor Adventures #21 – Sixth Doctor
Featuring the Doctor, Peri, & Winston Churchill

Rating: C+

Players is a Past Doctor Adventure by Terrance Dicks that features the Sixth Doctor as played by Colin Baker, and Peri, his first companion, is in many ways a Doctor Who continuity nut’s wet dream. In one sense, it is the predecessor to the series five episode “Victory of the Daleks.” In “Victory,” Winston Churchill shows previous experience with the Doctor, and this novel features their first several meetings. Being that the episode is written by Mark Gatiss, who has written many audio plays and tie-in novels himself, it is perfectly reasonable to think Gatiss wrote “Victory of the Daleks” with the continuity established in Players under some consideration.

Another storyline in the novel causes it to serve somewhat as a sequel to Dicks and Malcolm Hulke’s epic season six serial “The War Games,” featuring the Second and later Sixth Doctors meeting Lieutenant Jeremy Carstairs and ambulance nurse Lady Jennifer after having their memories wiped and being returned to their own time following the events of “The War Games.” To make things even more fanboyish, the novel places the Second Doctor cameo storyline firmly in Season 6B. Being that the novel is written by Terrance Dicks, long time writer of the classic series and script editor for the brilliant Jon Pertwee era, this novel is really as close to surefire canon as can be.

Despite never having written an episode during Colin Baker’s era as the Doctor, Dicks perfectly encapsulated the Sixth Doctor in the novel. His characterization overall is excellent, especially if you can just allow yourself to accept that being an English writer, Dicks doesn’t have anything bad to say about Winston Churchill. Reading about the future’s of Lady Jennifer and Lt. Carstairs, whose personalities are re-captured perfectly, is probably my favorite part of the novel.

Dicks’ prose is nothing extraordinary, but something I can overlook. The biggest issue with the novel is the plot: it just doesn’t really go anywhere. I was so engrossed in the fanboy continuity references that it wasn’t until about page 150 or so that I realized that the story had gone nowhere. The villains are barely present, and aside from a few minor action sequences, the entire flow of the story is practically non-existent. It ends up being just a generic Doctor-goes-to-war romp, with not a lot else to say.

The Doctor Who fan in me still enjoyed Players for all its continuity goodness, but the reader of fine literature in me has to say that this is kind of crap. Big Doctor Who fans will find something to enjoy here, but I couldn’t recommend this to a casual fan.

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