Queer As (Space) Folk: The rise and fall of sexual diversity in Who

607 jenny vastra flirty eyesIMG_0057 - Version 2Stephen Wood
Doctor Who has always flirted with a queer reading. As a young teenager, I found myself drawn to one of the few shows that portrayed a lead character with no interest in the opposite sex – one who embraced and protected the outsider. Who wasn’t afraid to challenge the social status quo, whether on Earth or a far-flung colony in the future. There are many acres of print to be written on why the show’s fan base has a disproportionately high number of queer fans – and in spaces such as the Queers Dig Doctor Who book or the recent Web of Queer podcast these are increasingly being heard.

Representation of sexual minorities changed immeasurably in 2005 when Russell T Davies, famous for his ground-breaking Channel 4 series Queer As Folk, took over the reins of the show. Pilloried at the time by some of the right-wing press and subsequently accused of a ‘gay agenda’ throughout his tenure by a minority of fans, he succeeded in bringing in authentic voices through his characters that spoke vividly of the transformed social landscape of contemporary Britain, both straight and gay.

One way in which he achieved this was to draw characters whose homosexuality or gender identity was an additional but non-essential part of their character. The moments where it was explicitly raised by other characters – such as Rose’s surprise when Captain Jack stepped forward to flirt with the army officer in The Doctor Dances or when Brannigan received an indulgent slap-down from ‘The Cassini Sisters’ for ignoring their marriage in Gridlock, were mildly political moments that forced the audience to widen their expectations about what family or sexual attraction might mean. Even period pieces like The Unicorn and the Wasp allowed space to show how bereavement could hit queer couples in quietly tragic ways. This was a period of the show when John Barrowman could kiss Christopher Eccleston before he went to his probable death,  raising the stakes of how important their friendship was, rather than feeling like tokenism or shock tactics.

Moving into the Steven Moffat era of Who, we had grounds to feel that this progressive social reading would continue, not least because Moffat had written publicly in defence of RTD’s approach and highlighted that Exhibit A of the ‘gay agenda’ – namely The Empty Child / The Doctor Dances two-parter was written by him, not Davies. And on the face of it, you could argue he has stayed true to his word. For the first time, we have two semi-regular characters in Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint who identify as lesbians.

However, when we look carefully at this romantic pairing and the general visibility of non-heterosexual, non-cis gendered characters in recent seasons – it paints a more worrying picture.  First of all – their prominence masks the fact that the sheer number of LGBTIQ characters has plummeted in concrete terms since Moffat took over in 2010. Canton Everett Deleware III in The Impossible Astronaut / Day of the Moon two-parter, the Thin One and the Fat One (a jokingly titled gay couple who act as pointless comedy minor characters to bump off) in A Good Man Goes To War, the male horse in A Town Called Mercy who wanted to be called Susan (not quite sure where to place him/her on the trans scale), a flippant bisexual comment from the newly introduced Clara in Asylum of the Daleks – and that’s about it. With the exception of Clanton, whose popularity went viral amongst certain sections of fandom, we have a marked ‘straightening up’ of the show since Moffat took over – gay characters serving as comic relief or straight-fantasy titillation when it came to those that are female.

Ah yes, so let’s move onto Vastra and Jenny. On the face of it, they represent a happy couple – married, smart and central to the stories they feature in. But scratch the surface and there is much to find in them that is limiting and fiercely traditional. They are married, seem to conform to rather strict ‘male’ and ‘female’ gender roles and their sexuality is played for titillating comedy effect. The male gaze wanders lovingly over Jenny as she strips to her underwear to be ogled upon by Vastra (and the audience), the Doctor kisses a rather unwilling Jenny in  a very awkward manner in The Crimson Horror and they are regularly dressed either in male clothing or tight-fitting leather fetish outfits during action sequences. The unhealthy power dynamics of Jenny being Vastra’s servant are highlighted but smirked at, rather than explored meaningfully. There is a sense that this is a lesbian relationship that appeals to the heterosexual man (with Jenny in particular being objectified as the uneducated, sometimes naive object of attention), rather than one that says something fresh about the realities of female-female love.

We can argue that this characterisation stems from a writing team for the last five years that is led by and predominantly comprising of heterosexual, white middle class men (Gareth Roberts and Mark Gatiss withstanding – although the latter’s contributions are hardly socially progressive). Frankly, I could be writing very similar articles on gender and race both in front of and behind the camera – and perhaps will, although I’d bow to the much more articulate critiques that the Verity Podcast team engage in regularly on the former topic. The inclusion this year (for the first time since season 4’s The Sontaran Stratagem / The Poison Sky (yes, that long ago) of a female writer to the show could be grounds for quiet optimism that a more diverse range of voices might be heard. But as it stands, I find it incredibly worrying that the high-water mark of gender, race and sexual representation is now five years behind us and with no real signs of changing.

Stephen Wood is still a major fan of recent Who – he just can’t help but feel that high concept ideas are being showcased at the expense of rich, fresh characters. He can be found on Twitter at: @StephenWood_UK


SPECULATION: could Missy’s return herald a shake-up of the companion role?

IMG_0057 - Version 2Stephen Wood
Let’s be honest, after THAT performance and the very visible kick that she got out of promoting her role, Michelle Gomez wasn’t going to be away from our screens for long as the Master / Mistress. That said, even I was taken aback a few days ago when a gloriously unhinged video clip dropped and reminded us how surprising, magnetic and off-kilter a presence she truly has carved out in the Doctor Who universe.

So now we know that Missy will return in the Season 9 two-part premiere “The Magician’s Apprentice / The Witch’s Familiar“. Do you know what? I think those titles might be saying something very particular about the format for next season. Here is why:

  1. New season, new line-up: For those of us who were glued to Doctor Who Confidential through the first few years of NuWho, it was clear that the production team encouraged a turnover of cast to keep the show fresh. We’ve had Chris/Billie, David/Billie, David/Freema, David/Catherine and Matt/Karen/Arthur. But, as has been remarked, we’ll be moving into territory where the companion has been around since Sept 2012. Now the novelty of Peter Capaldi has worn off, the press will need a fresh news hook – a new companion?
  2. Where does Clara go next? If they have any sense, the production team will be avoiding a romantic sub-plot for Clara next year and in all likelihood sowing the seeds of her departure. Much of last season’s reboot of her character worked towards delineating her need for control and mapped her growing confidence in her TARDIS life – even to the extent of Moffat trolling the trolls by giving her top billing in the finale’s credits! Breaking in a newcomer to time/space travel would play well into her teaching background, with the possibility of an explosive dynamic between both companions and a notoriously inaccessible Doctor. We saw hints of the possibilities of this in the wickedly spiky introduction of Courtney Woods last season.
  3. The Magician’s Apprentice: We heard two cracks about the Capaldi Doctor looking like a glorified magician last season – and both times featuring characters the audience earmarked for companion status: Psi and Saibra in Time Heist and Shona in Last Christmas. Shona (my personal choice) even bantered cheekily with the Doctor on this very point. Could the Apprentice of the title refer to a newcomer into the TARDIS, potentially one of these three? It’s all very possible – as far as I’ve seen, we’re into Block Two of filming and no exterior work of note has given the game away about new casting.
  4. The Witch’s Familiar: See how these titles complement each other? What happens if Missy is going to pick up her own companion during this story that finds a mirror in the new companion? Or even more radically, what happens if the new companion introduced in Episode 1 ends Episode 2 in the employ of Missy, yet travelling with the Doctor and Clara? We might be moving in the same vein as Turlough here – although I suspect in Moffat’s hands, this sort of plot line would yield some fascinating emotional insights into what constitutes a companion and build on the narrative promise that was a little squandered under JNT.
  5. Trying something new: Steven Moffat has famously adored the pairing of the Doctor with two companions and it probably is time to bring another guy onto the TARDIS, especially as Danny Pink sadly didn’t really qualify for companion status. I’m planning to write about it sometime soon, but I really think having a realistic gay man as the new companion would give a jolt of fresh energy into the companion dynamic. Plus, after Missy raised the bar for arch, camp divas in the show, what better foil might she have?

All this funny speculation aside, I’m realistic. We’re all used enough to Steven Moffat to know that he operates three steps ahead of fans and drip-feeds information in order to throw them off the scent, so I fully expect to be eating my words by autumn. Feel free to check back to see whether I excitedly link back to this article as evidence of my foreshadowing skills  or quietly archive this piece. 😉

Stephen Wood hasn’t even mentioned his excitement that Hettie “Beautiful Thing” MacDonald has been invited back to direct this season. He can be found on Twitter at: @StephenWood_UK

Breaking down the walls: can Big Finish make the leap to the NuWho universe?

unit-ex_image_largeIMG_0057 - Version 2Stephen Wood
It might not command the same level of excitement that filming reports about Season 9 gain across social media, but I detected a pretty strong ripple of interest last week when Big Finish announced that Gemma Redgrave will be reprising her NuWho character, Kate Stewart, for a new series ‘UNIT: Extinction‘, due to be released in November.

In spite of the rapid overlap in casting from the actors who have featured in NuWho into Big Finish audio plays once the show returned (and a pre-10th Doctor appearance or two by David Tennant), the BBC has pointedly insisted that new characters, locations, monsters – and most importantly, Doctor and companions, should be kept at arms length. Creatively, I can see the merit in ensuring that BF doesn’t undermine plans for current characters or gobble up potential story ideas for the parent show to make use of, but we know that the BBC retains a strong right of veto for material produced by the audio company. The risks were fairly small, in my opinion..

The decision to erect paper walls between the current TV show and the Classic show has had mixed results. In some way it ensured that the Past Doctor stories featured in the main range have remained fiercely in tune with the sound and feel of their respective eras. Their innovations in terms of storylines and original companions have slotted neatly into our expectations of the production environments at the time.  In financial terms though, it hasn’t given Big Finish the same scope to draw in fresh audiences and popularise the 1963-1996 era amongst new and younger fandoms. Who else can feel their imagination tingle at the thought of Colin Baker facing off against the Weeping Angels, or Peter Davison negotiating the political intrigue in a pre-Gridlock New New York?

Would Big Finish be a good choice to tackle NuWho properties? I’ve got to be honest and confess that right now I have some reservations.  Where they have come closest to date in bridging the gap between older and NuWho has been in the Eight Doctor Adventures featuring Lucie Miller. As a range, it has varied significantly in quality and at it’s best, the portrayal of Sheridan Smith represents the companion that the current series might have tried  (and succeeded with) after Donna Noble, with episode lengths in-keeping with the current 45 minute format.

Yet Big Finish still struggles to find a consistent voice that captures the diverse lives and concerns of people other than the traditional white middle-class heterosexual male we’ve seen time and time again in older Who. I’m only a couple of years behind in the main range and continue to struggle to find myself and my peers reflected in the stories to the extent that I felt regularly during the Russell T Davies era. Even the amazing Sheridan Smith was saddled with the generic ‘chippy, argumentative northern lass’ persona at times, that as a northern bloke from a working class background myself, leaves me wanting to climb the walls, although her performance raises the material much more often than it might deserve. It just can’t shake that Radio 4, slightly-pleased-with-itself staidness for me – not terrible in itself, but rather old fashioned compared to NuWho at it’s best.

Big Finish mirrors the current production team under Steven Moffat in that it talks a good game around representation and diversity in it’s production and scripting, yet the evidence points to a boy’s only club that reinforces and reproduces the same world view and life experiences of those working on it, with a similarly slippery sense of gender, sexual and class politics that crumbles under even minor examination. Elements of Doctor Who production have become a closed system into which only token exceptions are allowed into the circle, whilst we are left with a sense that the centre is never transformed by the experience of hearing those distinct and at times challenging alternatives.

Without any more detail around the plot, supporting characters and writers, we can only speculate on whether ‘UNIT: Extinction‘ will prove to be a step in the direction of NuWho’s richness of characterisation, modernity and zip – although the choice of UNIT, which has traditionally been a byword for the more conservative political instincts of the show, doesn’t fill me with the greatest confidence. Either way, I’ll be engaging – I think a close study of this new production will have something wider to say about where the Big Finish licence might go next. This could be the first valuable step in a tonal broadening and renewal of what still remains the second most important source of current Doctor Who creativity behind the main show.

Plus, they might find a way to slip Osgood back into the picture…

Stephen Wood may have just betrayed his slight ambivalence about the McGann and Pertwee eras. He can be found on Twitter at: @StephenWood_UK

The evolving narratives of Who: inspiring the next wave of writers


Stewart Bint Writers and AuthorsStewart Bint
My wife doesn’t like Doctor Who, but the programme which is now well into its second half century, definitely holds a special place in my heart.

When the season’s running I’m glued to the box every Saturday. And the Sky + is set to record so I can watch it again the next day to pick up all the little nuances I might have missed in my over-excited state first time around.

Why do I like it so much? Not only are the stories charged with emotion, heartbreak, action and adventure – the very essence of a good yarn – but it was the original series way back in 1963 that inspired me to start writing fiction when I was just seven.

I became enraptured by the storylines which could take place at any time in Earth’s history and future, and absolutely anywhere in the universe and beyond. I started creating my own worlds and my own characters, writing my stories in little blue notebooks until my parents bought me a portable typewriter for my ninth birthday.

And those make-believe worlds became invaluable after my Dad died when I was 11. I retreated more and more into those places where I was in control of my characters’ fate – knowing that whatever happened to them during the story I would make sure they were okay in the end. My worlds were certainly better than the real one at that time.

These days my fiction is purely to entertain others, and inspiration for the storylines can come from anywhere: they’ve included a walk in Cranford Park in London, reading an article on the Chernobyl disaster, and a couple of real-life brushes with the supernatural.

But it all started thanks to Doctor Who. So that lonely, maverick wanderer will always hold something just a little bit special for me.

As writing my little stories all those years ago eventually acorned into the great Oak of me becoming a novelist, I got somewhat irked when certain sections of the Whovian fandom started a vociferous campaign against current showrunner Steven Moffat for the artistic and creative direction he’s taking the show in.

Yes, the programme has changed since RTD’s era – but it had to. Russell T Davies brought Doctor Who back to our screens in exactly the right way for the mid 2000s. But my personal opinion as a professional writer and former BBC producer, is that the show has to move with the times.

Think back to how the writers and creative team handled Jon Pertwee’s tenure. He was the all-action hero. What was the biggest film franchise at that time – who was the hero’s name on everyone’s lips? James Bond. The Doctor Who writers kept the series fresh and alive by tapping into what was current at that time.

Each series of Doctor Who reflects the times in which it is broadcast, and that truism stretches right back to the first series in 1963. The dilemma facing the current creative team of Doctor Who writers, producers and directors, is that they have such a diverse range of fans to please. There are the older Classic Who fans – not those who were inspired to watch the Hartnell to McCoy stories in retrospect, having been brought up on Eccleston, Tennant, Smith and Capaldi, but those of us who watched when those “classic” episodes were screened first time around.

Then there are the fans who have only seen NuWho, as it’s called in some fandoms. The show’s style has changed so much in the ten years it’s been back. This is because the artistic world of films and TV has changed too. The hard-core sci-fi films and series have been replaced with more fantasy-style offerings. So, naturally, Doctor Who has developed and grown along those same lines in order to stay fresh and relevant to its target audience.

And that’s the relevant word: “Relevant.” The show has to attract and maintain new audiences, even if that’s at the expense of a small minority who would prefer its artistic direction to have retained the path it trod ten years ago.

This modern, relevant, approach inspires a whole new generation of people to start writing. There is a thriving community of genuine Doctor Who fans on my favourite communications medium, Twitter. And the programme has inspired so many of them to write themselves, ranging from fanfic writers, right through to writing as full-time professionals.

Doctor Who, I salute you for 50+ years of inspiring those of us who feel there are stories inside us that other people would like to read. Without you, our creative   aspirations would have withered and died on the branch without ever flowering. And the literary world would be so much a poorer place.

Stewart Bint is a writer, novelist and columnist. He can be found on Twitter at @StewartBint

Shaking up fan consensus surrounding William Hartnell

new-matt-smith-eleventh-doctor-who-first-william-hartnell-desktop-wallpaper-1239447189IMG_0057 - Version 2Stephen Wood
Amongst the long list of people who have contributed to Doctor Who’s success, William Hartnell continues to remain the most elusive. Compared to his successor, the majority of episodes featuring him at his prime are available to be enjoyed, picked over and analysed. Yet his reputation and standing compared to the men who followed him into the role remains stubbornly low amongst fan communities.

Unlike every other actor to have played the title role, Hartnell never had the opportunity to engage with fandom in any significant sense. Even those Doctors whose performance or era failed to impress (or has fallen out of fashion) have been rehabilitated through their engagement on the Who convention circuit. This didn’t exist in the form we now understand it until the mid to late 1970s. Additionally, where Hartnell particularly suffers is that until virtually three years ago, there was barely any visual material that gave him a right of reply to his critics,  endeared him to people or put his performance choices into perspective. The only other person to come close to him in terms of invisibility and inaccessibility is Christopher Eccleston, who tellingly has a similarly problematic relationship in fan circles as a result of his disinterest in returning to or discussing his time in the role.

So, let’s wrestle with the main criticism of Hartnell. His characterisation of the Doctor hinged at times on being a difficult, absent-minded patrician, with a tendency to forget his lines (I’d fiercely argue with comedic results).  These performance ‘shortcomings’  are charitably read by some to be as a result of his well-documented ill-health – but is it really true in every case?  I’ve talked previously about the subtle undercurrents of emotions he brought to his scenes. His frequent misnaming of Ian, for example (“Chesserton”, “Chesterfield” etc) are actually neatly scripted moments that William Russell or Jacqueline Hill play up to – the crowning glory of which is his hilarious “Barbara’s calling you” retort from Episode 1 of The Romans which floors me every time. This could be read as Dennis Spooner playing fast and loose with a problem the production team had identified explicitly in his script, but I suspect Verity Lambert and William Hartnell would had needed to have been comfortable with this.  I expect that Lambert especially would have the good grace not to make fun of her leading man so directly, especially as we know from interviews with others from the era that he was at times prone to over-sensitivity.

This is why the discovery last week of a fragment from Hartnell’s appearance on Desert Island Discs has set a quiet earthquake underneath fandom. He sounds exceptionally different – cultured, thoughtful and articulate. Some commentators have admitted to not being 100% sure it was him speaking, there was such a contrast. I’ve sensed from these responses that it has given fandom a collective pause for thought.  It begs the question as to where the line should be drawn between where his acting choices begin and his private persona ends.

Similarly, the addition of a newly-found short Hartnell interview post-Who on The Tenth Planet DVD release (whilst hardly the most flattering portrait of an actor) belies conventional wisdom that Hartnell became increasingly erratic and incapable throughout his last year in the part. Season 3 is virtually decimated in the archives, with whole swathes of missing material. These gaps in our collective vision of Hartnell during his last year make it easier to perceive him as becoming absent and irrelevant from his own set. Yet in this backstage interview within a theatre dressing room, here he is, sharp, acerbic and less of a portrait of a man in serious decline.

Quietly, under the surface, these new discoveries  are perhaps doing more than the finding of Episode 3 of Galaxy Four to start a minor reappraisal of his work. The slow process of dragging the real Hartnell into focus continues apace.

Stephen Wood’s preferred corner of the show to lose himself in is the Hartnell era. Did you guess?  Find him on Twitter at: StephenWood_UK

Emotional nuance in Doctor Who started in a classroom, not a council estate

The criminally overlooked Eccleston / Piper pairing.

StepIMG_0057 - Version 2hen Wood
Why not start a new article with a bit of fighting talk, eh? 😉 Don’t worry, if there was a possibility of anything within striking distance of dethroning my love of Hartnell, it would undoubtedly only be found somewhere within the Russell T Davies era of Doctor Who. The reputations of both periods of the show are safe in my hands.

These two ‘launches’ of Doctor Who, 1963 and 2005, tend to find themselves on the frontline of the great schism of fandom: the birth of emotional literacy in the show. There is a sense that much of what crystallised the renewed popularity of the show after it’s return stemmed from Davies’ ability to inject a hitherto unseen emotional journey of the companion (and their family members) with as much energy and flair as he threw into sketching out the year 5 billion.

A common argument amongst fans is that by bringing emotionally charged relationships to Doctor Who that weren’t too out of place on a soap opera, he succeeded in making the show popular with the female viewers necessary to make the show a cross-over hit. I must confess I’ve always found find this a bit overstated, not least in the suspect presumption that women have such a narrowly confined range of interests when it comes to television. 🙂 More importantly, Russell succeeded in that incredibly tricky tightrope that good Who writers struggle to negotiate – melding unexpected combinations of the fantastic to the mundane in ways that leave both elements sparkling just as strongly as the other. The freshness of this alchemy succeeded for me in raising the bar high enough for the talented and naturalistic performances of Eccleston, Piper and Coduri to dance off the screen. And they made us care. Really care.

The converse argument, that Classic Who relied more on a B-movie thrills, spills and spectacle at the expense of character investment, is equally trite, especially for those of us old enough to follow the show for a significant period of time in it’s earlier incarnation. Fans would not be still debating the merits of Jo Grant, Barbara Wright (or Dodo Chaplet for that matter), if they weren’t invested in their emotional journeys, subtlety and charm each actor or actress brought to their performances. Whilst I have vague memories of Leela, the companions whose departures affected me most incredibly deeply were Romana II, Adric and Tegan, two of which not normally associated with being tear-jerking moments. Hang on, make that all three. 😉

Turning right back to the beginning, part of what appeals to me about how characters within the first couple of seasons of the show responded emotionally with each other is the same quality that contemporary TV viewers find in spades on a show like Mad Men. The 1960s-set Madison Avenue drama, based during a historical and cultural context where emotions were confined to an internal life rather than shared with even the closest of friends, illustrates that understatement and an absence of dialogue can speak volumes. Watch Barbara and Ian step outside of the TARDIS for the first time in Episode 2 of An Unearthly Child and count those short seconds of silence while they struggle to accept the enormity of what has happened. My heart aches for them in moments like this – or even more poignantly during The Rescue, when the Doctor absently calls on newly-departed Susan to open the ship’s doors, checks himself and Barbara gently fills the too-long painful silence with a tentative suggestion that he show her how she can do it.

There is a emotional richness to Doctor Who that threads through that 51 year narrative. Sometimes it is incredibly easy to see, other times it arguably fades from the screen for episodes on end and exists in the gaps in between, nurtured by our imaginations. Sometimes it gets lost in a dusty film can and disappears from public view for 45 years, only to be unexpectedly discovered in the flirtatious verbal dance of Troughton and Astrid Ferrier – or the dignified, yet righteous anger of Fariah, trying to make sense of and own the choices she has made in her life.

And sometimes, it can be found in two teachers debating a problem pupil as school empties out, an unexpected, shared intimacy transforming a previously cordial working relationship before our eyes as they head off towards the foggy car park and a date with a battered police box.

Stephen Wood admits it: his first emotional moment in Who was K9’s head being smashed off by a Marshman and the TARDIS dematerialising, leaving Romana trapped with those spiders in Full Circle. Harrowing.  Find him on Twitter at: StephenWood_UK 


How Who marathons rekindled our love affair with the show

Somebody just told the TARDIS crew that the Troughton era was hit far harder by episode junking.

IMG_0057 - Version 2Stephen Wood
A rather interesting trend has taken hold within Doctor Who fandom over the last couple of years. Perhaps the nostalgia surrounding the 50th Anniversary contributed, or perhaps the emergence of podcasting into the mainstream of fandom led us to a tipping point – but re-watching and reflecting on the show in chronological order is more popular than ever before. There is something fascinating about hearing a newcomer capture that ‘lightning in a bottle’ moment of discovering the joys of our show for the first time and vicariously enjoying how their journey resonates with or echoes your own personal history with the show.

This isn’t a particularly new phenomenon – even before all stories had been released on sale, people would watch bootleg copies or settle down with their stack of Target novelisations, but the prevalence of ‘introcasts’ or ‘re-watch’ podcasts are gathering apace. And taking longer – the stretch from An Unearthly Child to The Magician’s Apprentice is widening by the day.  Why are they so popular?

Well, the first thing they do is to help contextualise how the show was experienced by viewers way back in 1963. Watching the stories in order, often in small bite-size chunks, has allowed us to escape the tyranny of full-story viewings that DVDs encourage and also allow the contrasts between adjacent stores to come more to the fore.  Those of us who are just as fascinated by the production process as what appeared on screen can also map the evolution of thinking, creative choices and challenges as they unfolded much more easily too. One of the most successful podcasts in this regard is Flight Through Entirety which I must give a shout out to and encourage you to subscribe to immediately. Discussing the stories with this approach allowed the FTE team to really tell the story of Season 3 (a notoriously difficult period of the show to pin down, with numerous cast and production crew changes happening from story to story) in a way that brings a visceral sense of how the show was struggling to reinvent itself post-Verity Lambert.

It isn’t just in the audio world that these reappraisals of conventional fan wisdom are taking place. For the more literary-minded with a taste for placing each era of Doctor Who within it’s broader historical, literary, cultural and social context, Phil Sandifer’s series of books,  TARDIS Eruditorum are a joy to be savoured, putting their predecessors in this field in the shade. His work has been particularly good in allowing space for the overlooked or dismissed stories to get a convincing defence, whilst other unassailable classics get placed under a critical microscope when seen alongside peers from their seasons. Yes, Sensorites and Pyramids of Mars, I’m looking at you.

I won’t lie to you. Any scheme that puts the Hartnell era in the path of a reappraisal gets my vote anyway. After a glorious failure with my friend @antoinefruit to re-watch the series prior to the screening of the Day of the Doctor (we stalled at The Smugglers Episode 2, just scant episodes from the glorious Underwater Menace!) I’m currently savouring a slow trip across Cathay and a beat by beat reappraisal of how the four leads gelled in those first few months in the TARDIS. Joyful. It’s like I’m experiencing those heady first-date feelings… again.

Stephen Wood wrote this entire article just to trick you into finding out that those three episodes with cavemen are actually rather good. Find him on Twitter at: StephenWood_UK