Reviewed By: Drew Vogel
Review Date: 8/5/17 2:39 am
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I always seem to like beginnings more than endings. When I was a kid, my local PBS station used to show movie-length episodes of "Doctor Who" every night at 9:00pm. Normally, I wasn't allowed to stay up later than 9:00pm, but my parents made an exception for Saturdays so that I could watch "Doctor Who". And I always fell asleep on the sofa, and my dad would carry me up to bed. The next morning I would get up, run downstairs, rewind the VCR, and start again from the very beginning. I wonder if that's why I like beginnings so much.
By the time we get to the last two episodes of this story, I don't really have much interest left in the plot. There's this alien creature, and it's threatening Earth, and yadda yadda yadda. I'm sure I'm being terribly unfair, but that simply isn't what interests me about this story. Instead, it's the Doctor and Susan. And the beginning of this story is much more about the Doctor/Susan side of things, while the alien plot is allowed to build up slowly.
Geoffrey Bayldon's alternate version of the first Doctor, originally introduced in "Auld Mortality", is utterly delightful. His enthusiasm for travel and adventure is infectious. It's a joy to watch him match wits Francis Drake, John Dee, and Zeuro. Bayldon's Doctor is not an imitation of Hartnell's original, and he isn't meant to be, but the characters have a lot in common. I think of it as a kind of re-interpretation of the same character. Bayldon's performance captures the range of Hartnell's, giving us a Doctor who can be stubborn, obstinate, and downright rude, and yet also deferential, charming, and utterly devoted to his granddaughter.
This is a Marc Platt story, so it's no surprise that it presents us with a world that seems strange, and yet feels totally genuine. This story gives us an alternative history where Francis Drake was exploring space, facing off in pitched battles against the Mayan Empire, and trying desperately to get back to Earth in time for Queen Elizabeth's re-election. With evocative dialogue and compelling characters, the setting is instantly believable. This is one of Platt's greatest strengths, and one reason why he's one of my favorite writers.
It's also fascinating to get a version of the first Doctor era where we're allowed to talk about Gallifrey and Time Lords and stuff. Usually, stories involving early Doctor avoid these things in order to preserve the authentic feel of those eras of the television series, and I wouldn't have it any other way. But with the Bayldon Doctor, such constraints can be safely relaxed, and that's fun too.
I would have loved to have heard more adventures with Geoffrey Bayldon in the role. But even with just these two outings, he was a truly wonderful Doctor.