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Classic Doctor Who: Specials, Spin-offs, and the Eighth Doctor!

Now that we have covered the essential serials of the First, Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Doctors, the time has come for us to look at the contribution to the wider narrative made by Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor. But given that he only has one TV movie to his name (though his off-screen adventures are legion), I thought it best to add his adventure to some other compulsory Special Events.



1. THE THREE DOCTORS, Season 10, Episodes 1-4
Written by: Bob Baker and Dave Martin
Directed by: Lennie Mayne
Setting: UNIT HQ, Gallifrey, the Anti-Matter Universe (yes, really)
4 Episodes: “Part One ” (December 30, 1972), “Part Two ” (January 6, 1973), “Part Three ” (January 13, 1972), “Part Four ” (January 20, 1973)

Okay, so maybe this one isn’t technically a special—more the landmark opening serial of the tenth season. However, since it is still considered a Tenth Anniversary Celebration, and also since I’d have had to eliminate an otherwise deserving story from the era of the Third Doctor in order to honor it in his “essentials,” I have decided to deem it so, regardless of official status. (Oh, such power I do wield!) This convoluted, captivating and yet relentlessly silly outing—the Gel Guards! Never had it seemed so likely that Doctor Who shared an art director with Blue Peter—sees the Third Doctor joined by his two predecessors (though the visibly ailing William Hartnell mainly via view screen) to stop a ancient menace from destroying reality as they know it. If, like me, the brain-scrambling vagaries of time travel are your bête noir, then you won’t want to think about how this one works too much—and certainly the story has its weaknesses, and the direction even more. But given that it not only gives us some excellent badinage between Doctors Two and Three but also releases Three from the enforced exile in early 70s Earth under which he had been laboring a tad too long, The Three Doctors is a must-see, as well as being a fitting farewell to Hartnell, for whom this was a last thespian hurrah.

EXPLAINED! Why the Doctor isn’t constantly bumping into himself (though he does it rather more frequently than he should, when all’s said).


Written by: Terence Dudley
Directed by: Andrew Morgan Setting: 1980s Earth
1 Episode: “A Girl’s Best Friend ” (December 28, 1981)

A bit of background. With the retiring of K-9 from the TARDIS after his second incarnation, the Mark II, was marooned in E-Space with Romana (also Mark II) during Season 18, there was something of a hue and cry set up by the show’s younger audience, of whom the robotic dog was quite beloved. Meanwhile, series exec John Nathan-Turner was anxious to find a way to get Elisabeth Sladen’s delightful Sarah Jane Smith back in acton again, but she was so totally over being a mere sidekick. And so, K-9 and Company was born, a Doctor Who spin-off which, hearkening back to the show’s roots, was aimed squarely at the kiddies. While the result is all a bit The Wicker Man, and the pilot never led to a full series—more for bureaucratic reasons than any lack of quality or viewership—it is still an important addition to the canon, especially as it pertains to the much-later spin-off, The Sarah Jane Adventures.

EXPLAINED! How K-9 ended up on Earth with Sarah Jane.


Written by: Terrance Dicks
Directed by: Peter Moffatt
Setting: The Eye of Orion, Earth, Gallifrey
1 Episode: “The Five Doctors ” (November 25, 1983)

There is a “the gang’s all here” feel to The Five Doctors that makes it a fun game of spot-the-favorite (kind of like those scenes in Wreck-It Ralph when we see all the video game characters moving around the concourse of Game Central), without it necessarily being what you might call a, well, good story. However, given that the narrative’s main shortcoming is that it is simply stuffed too full of beloved Doctors, companions and enemies, much can, and must, be forgiven. Ignore the ludicrous nature of the Gallifreyan president’s quest for immortality. Set aside the stilted dialogue assigned to companions almost at random, and the fact that Susan (Carol Anne Ford) is still acting like the indulged teenage granddaughter she was back in Episode 1. Disregard, even, the absence of Tom Baker in any guise other than in unused, shoehorned-in footage and the odd flashback—that is hardly the production’s fault. Instead, glory in the return of, among others, Jamie (Frazer Hines), Romana (Lalla Ward), Sarah Jane and hey! Zoe! (Wendy Padbury.) Delight in Doctors Two and Three being awesome again, while stand-in Richard Hurndall puts in a valiant effort replacing the sadly deceased William Hartnell as One. And enjoy the violent yet strangely satisfying spectacle of a squad of Cybermen mowed down effortlessly by one of the show’s coolest villain-types, sadly never to be seen again: The Raston Warrior Robot! I mean, come on, that thing is freaking cool—it deserves its own spin-off, or at least an appearance in the revived series. Dare we hope for one in the 50th Anniversary Special? (No, probably not. But a girl can dream.)

EXPLAINED! More “Season 6b” theory, and why we’re all still pretty sad that Douglas Adams’s Shada didn’t complete production.


Written by: John Nathan-Turner and David Roden
Directed by: Stuart McDonald
Setting: London’s East End
2 Episodes: “Part One ” (November 26, 1993), “Part Two ” (November 27, 1993)

Non-canonical, schmon-canonical. I know that this short two-part semi-spoof is in no way considered a part of the official Whoniverse as we know it, especially as it is a crossover featuring several characters from popular UK soap opera EastEnders and was filmed as a charity special. But I would be remiss to leave it out of this list—if The Five Doctors is like a class reunion then Dimensions in Time is the entire school back for Homecoming, giving us all the Doctors (except William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton, both deceased by this time) and close to a dozen companions (notably missing: Zoe, Jamie, Tegan and Turlough—it’s sweet to see Susan call for Ian and Barbara in vain), as well as Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney) and Mike Yates (Richard Franklin) of UNIT. The story itself is a very silly timeloop nonsense involving 1973, 1993 and 2013, at the instigation of—of all possible villains!—the Rani (Kate O’Mara). I know I said back in the Seventh Doctor Essentials that all things Rani should be avoided, but given that her appearance here allows for an hilarious swipe at her abiding lameness (“I take back what I said about an ingenious operator being behind these time jumps” quoth the Doctor) then her tiresome over-acting is just about worth groaning through. Also worth your time—and not very much of your time at that; this thing is just shy of 13 minutes, all told—is Sarah Jane Smith’s truly appalling outfit. Pink overalls and a raspberry beret? Was she going to a costume party dressed as Strawberry Shortcake’s tomboy sister after this adventure? Meanwhile, speaking of clothing… it’s 2103 this very year, as you know. Are flares back in fashion? You’d tell me if flares were back in fashion, right?

EXPLAINED! That even the Who staff hated the Rani.

And now we at last come to…


Played by: Paul McGann
Style: Regency Buck
Catchphrase: “Who am I?”

Characteristics: We don’t really get time to get too familiar with this Doctor here, so as far as we can tell he’s pretty much just like every other Doctor in some way or another, except a tad more… well, soulful, perhaps? He’s also just a little bit criminal, pick-pocketing people left and right, inordinately fond of a cup of tea (stereotype alert!) and somewhat prone to delivering spoilers about his chance-met acquaintances’ future lives. In all, an eccentric and enthusiastic character later explored in much greater depth across a plethora of related media.

Companions: As the Seventh Doctor seemed to have been alone at the outset of this adventure (bye, Ace, I guess!), Eight ends up with doe-eyed and defiant American heart surgeon Dr. Grace Holloway (Daphne Ashbrook) as his one and only assistant—though she refuses to accompany him on any further adventures after this one is done. Hmm. Interesting.

5. DOCTOR WHO (AKA Doctor Who: The Movie)
Written by: Matthew Jacobs
Directed by: Geoffrey Sax
Setting: San Francisco in 1999
US Air Date: May 14, 1996; UK Air Date: May 27, 1996

It was partially funded by Fox, bullets fly less than five minutes in, the Master turns into a body-snatching sepulchral snake, the TARDIS control room looks like a cross between the inside of a Borg Hiveship and Dr. Forrester’s Gizmonic lab, it takes forever for the Eighth Doctor to even show up and his companion is the type of woman who wears a ball gown to the opera. But leave all of that aside and Doctor Who: The Movie (a would-be pilot for a series reboot that never was) is a… well, a wasted opportunity to reinvigorate the franchise. Still, it’s hard to hate it, because not only does it give us the most likeable Doctor since Five, it also gives us a scenery-chewing Eric Roberts as the Master—his awkward embrace with minion Lee is a highlight—some enjoyable callbacks and the first evidence we’d ever seen that the Doctor might occasionally fall prey to the sins of the flesh. Whether any of us wanted to see a Doctor Who set in America, and whether or not we could ever have forgiven this installment for giving us the conundrum of the somehow “half-human” Doctor, it is hard to know. Regardless, this movie is absolutely, without question the very essence of essential viewing, as it is the only onscreen outing of the Eighth Doctor—which must be even more frustrating to those responsible for doling out our favorite Time Lord’s thirteen lives than Christopher Ecclestone’s single season in the reboot. I know it’s been fifty years, but they really do need to learn to pace themselves…

EXPLAINED! That American candy stores evidently don’t stock jelly babies.



Written by: Paul Cornell
Directed by: Wilson Milam
Animated by: Cosgrove Hall
Setting: Rural England, 2003
6 Episodes: “Episode 1 ” (November 13, 2003), “Episode 2 ” (November 20, 2003), “Episode 3 ” (November 27, 2003), “Episode 4 ” (December 4, 2003), “Episode 5 ” “December 11, 2003), “Episode 6 ” (December 18, 2003)

Before there was Reboot Who there came this BBC-approved web serial, broadcast to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the show. While the later Russell T. Davies canon would go on to contradict this version of events entirely, making The Scream of the Shalka retroactively unofficial, this six-part animated series is entirely worth a visit, giving us a very different Ninth Doctor (Richard E. Grant) in a truly entertaining adventure. I have always enjoyed Paul Cornell’s work in the wider Whoniverse, and here the quips fly thick and fast as he pits his snarky and superior (but occasionally even humble) Doctor against an intriguing alien menace—and working alongside, of all people, The Master (Derek Jacobi), albeit in ill-explained computerized form. There is a whole back story to events that is only hinted at here, which some might find annoyingly opaque; the voice work isn’t always a glowing success; the animation is simplistic to the point of being Spartan; and apparently the Doctor can do magic now (there is no other explanation for some of the feats he performs in this tale.) Nevertheless, given that it will take up little more than an hour of your time and some of the dialogue is actually laugh-out-loud hilarious, I recommend it whole-heartedly… maybe even more than Dimensions in Time, though for entirely different reasons.

Watch it here.


NEXT TIME: The Parodies, Homages, and Spoofs!

Rachel Hyland is Editor in Chief of Geek Speak Magazine.


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