The McCoy Years: A Look Back

seventhThe Sylvester McCoy years of Doctor Who are relatively short: three seasons, four stories per season. Granted, it is still longer than the Colin Baker era, but Colin’s era felt longer.

As the Doctor changed from 6 to 7, a more significant and essential change happened behind the scenes, Andrew Cartmel became script editor. This change was significant because Cartmel had no particular opinions about what Doctor Who needed to be within the context of the show’s history. He didn’t try to define “proper” Doctor Who. In one of the special features in the Big Finish release The Lost Stories: Thin Ice, Cartmel said that he didn’t think about Doctor Who when he wasn’t at work. It was a job. He deferred to writers for the passion for the show, be he acted as overseer to the effectiveness and direction of the stories. He did his job, basically. He brought a fresh approach. Doctor Who, to my eye, fails when it places too much emphasis on its past, trying to re-create forms that worked in the past. It can comment upon the past, it can mess around with in-universe continuity, but when anyone tries to impose a definitive approach to telling a
Doctor Who
story, the show tends to struggle. These defining boundaries need to be kept loose.

And so, the McCoy era is one of deconstruction and reconstruction. It has growing pains, as all things undergoing change do, but the ideas circulating inside the stories are compelling and fascinating. On the surface, stories in this era are hit or miss, but the depth of almost all the stories is worth exploring. A word of caution, though, this era of the show works best when watched in sequence. The development of ideas and characters in this era is far more rewarding as you watch it unfold. Watching Ace evolve from violence-glorifying teenager to merciful young woman is missed when the show is viewed piecemeal. The cancellation of the show brings this development to an abrupt and somewhat irritating end, but even Survival, while not being an epic end to a 26-year show, is a satisfying thematic end to the story of Ace and the Doctor.

Because of this, I’m not sure I am willing to do a most favorite/least favorite list. On some level, I think all the stories are essential. They all provided the ups and downs, movements and rests for the unfolding story. Season 26 is most satisfying having watched season 24 and 25.

With the DVDs going out of print in the U.S., it is hard to pick up stories I am missing. Battlefield, Ghost Light, and The Curse of Fenric are all essential to the story of this era. Thankfully, between Hulu and iTunes, all these stories are available. My DVD shelf may have a few holes, but at least the era can be complete one way or another.

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