Sylvester McCoy was a great Doctor whose time was unfairly cut short. Lasting for three seasons, of which two of them are good, his Seventh Doctor still managed to leave quite an impression. His Doctor remains the most multi-layered performance to date and has earned his place among the ranks of Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker, David Tennant and Peter Capaldi. Let’s look back briefly at what I consider his best stories.
Remebrance of the Daleks
“All powerful! Crush the lesser races! Conquer the galaxy! Unimaginable power! Unlimited rice pudding! Et cetera! Et cetera!”The one and only Dalek story for McCoy’s tenure is also one of their best, featuring the return of Davros and the debut of the fan-favourite Special Weapons Dalek. It’s also the first time we see Ace take a trip in the TARDIS following her introduction in the previous story, allowing her to cement herself as one of the best companions to the Doctor in the history of the show by HITTING A DALEK WITH A ROUNDERS* BAT!!! Then it all culminates in the Doctor tricking Davros into blowing up Skaro (or its sun as we later learned) showing that maybe the Seventh Doctor isn’t a clowning buffoon as we’d been lead to believe so far. There’s also a cheeky reference to Doctor Who itself in the form of a BBC continuity announcer… except it’s the wrong time of day for that. Go figure!
*That’s Britain’s answer to Baseball for you Americans.
The Happiness Patrol
"What were these opportunities you gave them? A bag of sweets? A few tawdry party games? Bland, soulless music? Do these things make you happy? Of course they don't. Because they're cosmetic. Happiness is nothing unless it exists side by side with sadness.”It’s no secret that Doctor Who in the 80s was anti-Thatcher (look no further than Lenny Henry’s parody to see a satire on just how transparent it was – he’d actually make a good Doctor don’t you think?) but The Happiness Patrol took it to new extremes. Thankfully, the story is good. In it we meet Maggie T, sorry, Helen A: the tyrant ruler of an entire planet. Under her control is the titular Happiness Patrol who set out, at her command, to destroy the unhappy Killjoys. Peoples’ main complaint about this one is the Kandyman, a character that almost resulted in legal action from Bassetts (seriously), but that’s an easy way to identify people who haven’t seen the story as the Kandyman fits the tone perfectly. The Happiness Patrol requires you to embrace the madness, and if you ignore the blatant and almost-embarrassing satire you’ll find you enjoy this story about the Doctor and Ace bringing down a tyrannical regime.
“Don’t drink the soup.”The Seventh Doctor is a manipulative prat! In the final classic-Who story to go before the cameras we see him take Ace to face her fears at Gabriel Chase mansion in the 1800s, a full century before she burnt the place to the ground. The Doctor wants to find out why it left such an impression on her whilst he also investigates the mysterious house owner Josiah Samuel Smith, a pro-evolution scientist. Ghost Light is all about evolution – there’s even a Neanderthal servant! – and to make the point there’s a shed-load of dark humour, including an anti-evolution reverend who is transformed into an ape and an investigator from the police who becomes a bowl of soup (“the cream of Scotland Yard”). Throw in a rendition of “That’s the Way to the Zoo” and you’ve got Ghost Light. You have to watch this one two or three times to really get it (not even the cast understood it when they filmed it) but when you do you’ll realise that it’s nothing short of a masterpiece and, in my opinion, the best McCoy story of them all.
The Curse of Fenric
“The Wolves of Fenric shall return for their treasure, and then shall the dark evil rule eternally.”Story arcs are commonplace in revived Doctor Who, to the extent that it feels wrong nowadays to see more than two or three episodes in a row without some reference to one, but none yet have topped the final arc of the classic run: Fenric. Three years in the making, the confrontation between the Doctor and the Great Old One is the culmination of several then as-of-yet unexplained moments from McCoy’s tenure. What was the chess game about in Silver Nemesis? How did Ace get to Iceworld in Dragonfire? Fenric is the answer to both. And what a confrontation it is! The Doctor realises the only way to win is to make Ace lose her trust in him as he apparently rejects her and allows the villain permission to kill her. In a way, this makes 2011’s The God Complex a spiritual sequel to this story. Of course there’s a lot more to it than that. The Curse of Fenric blends a good mixture of horror and humour, in the unique way only Doctor Who ever can, and so it’s not undeserved that this is frequently included among McCoy’s best stories. There’s also a rare example of pre-Moffat “timey-wimey” when we meet some of Ace’s extended family when she assures her own existence.
“If we fight like animals we die like animals!!!”Final call for “Classic” Doctor Who and it’s a shame because the show had just become truly good again. Thankfully it goes out on a high. Survival is all about survival (surprise, surprise!) with the Doctor returning Ace to Perivale, having taken the scenic route of course, only for them to find all her old friends are disappearing. It turns out they’ve been taken by the Cheetah People to their dying home planet for the Master (in his only McCoy era appearance) who seeks to find a way to escape the planet to safety. He’s been waiting for the Doctor to show up – and now he finally has. With the best performance Anthony Ainley ever gave as the Master, a memorable supporting cast, an epic final fight sequence involving rocks being thrown and a motorcycle joust, Survival has it all. Look out also for Benny Summerfield actress Lisa Bowerman in her only televised Doctor Who appearance… so far – get Moffat on the phone!
I’ll leave you with the Doctor’s parting words to the audience as they thought Doctor Who was leaving their screens for good…
"There are worlds out there where the sky is burning, the sea's asleep, and the rivers dream. People made of smoke, and cities made of song. Somewhere there's danger, somewhere there’s injustice, and somewhere else the tea's getting cold. Come on, Ace — we’ve got work to do!"When he's not obsessing about Doctor Who whilst having I Am The Doctor play in his head, Dr. Moo can usually be found reading up on the latest in Quantum Physics. As you do when you're a physicist.