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Doctor Who: Tales of the TARDIS

"Time is memory, and memory is time."

The 60th Anniversary of Doctor Who has officially kicked off with the release of Tales of the TARDIS on BBC iPlayer.

I'm not crying. You're crying.

A delightful anthology/retrospective series, Tales of the TARDIS is comprised of six episodes, each of which reunites a special pairing from the classic series. Sometimes a Doctor and Companion, sometimes two companions when their requisite Doctor is sadly no longer with us, and on one notable occasion... Well, we'll get to that.

The format of the series isn't particularly groundbreaking, although the conceit behind the way it's used here is both clever and well realized. The basic setup is much the same as was used in the The Doctors: Revisted series of specials that led up to the 50th Anniversary ten years ago. (My lord, how was that already ten years ago?) There's a basic framing device of new material book-ending a rebroadcast of a story from the classic series. This is a time honored (no pun intended) way to create new celebratory material while also re-introducing the old stories to a new audience, and Doctor Who is far from the first show to make use of it.

But, while the 50th Anniversary specials went with a documentary/interviews approach for the new material, Tales of the TARDIS has elected to make it all part of the fiction, with the new material taking place 'in universe.' Which is a lovely choice. Not only does it allow them to celebrate the show's history, it also gives long time fans a big enough dopamine hit to lay out an elephant as we're shown old friends, long gone, being brought back together inside the story itself.

Quite honestly, the obvious joy that radiates off of all the actors involved at the opportunity to have their characters reconnect is worth the whole experience on its own.

So, here's the basic setup. In each episode, a pair of characters from the classic years find themselves together inside a 'Memory TARDIS,' which is basically an amalgamation of all of the TARDISes from every era, all jumbled up together. It's described as a place for people to remember together. And so, in each episode we see our two characters of the moment find themselves there, joyfully reconnect with one another, and get to talking about some old adventure. At which point we segue into showing the story itself.

Then, once the story is over, we segue back to the Memory TARDIS for some emotional closure. And crying.

The new material isn't extensive; in each case it's somewhere around five minutes by my count. But it's all good stuff. And not to belabor the point, but watching those characters be this happy simply to be together again is exactly the kickoff I'd hoped for for this anniversary season.

The episodes are, somewhat irritatingly for the pedants among us of which I am one, not in what we might call 'Doctor Order.' We start with the Fifth Doctor, then jump around in sequence. I expect that this was an effort to make it less noticeable that Tom Baker, as is traditional for this sort of thing, isn't part of the series.


We begin with The Fifth Doctor and Tegan:

The endearing way that these two absolutely cannot resist the urge to take the piss out of one another, combined with little moments like the affectionate way that Peter Davison adjusts his hat on her head make this reunion irresistible. The way that they mourn Adric together while still acknowledging his flaws is the best possible way for them to have gone. The urge to retroactively beatify him could have been hard to resist, but I'm glad that they did.

My only two real complaints about this one are: 1. They also did Earthshock for The Doctors Revisited and it would have been nice to get a different story but I get why Adric's death and them coming to terms with it was too strong a hook not to go with. And 2. Nyssa should have been there with them. But I suspect budget limited them to only two characters per episode. Still, Nyssa should have been there.


Next up, Jamie and Zoe:

This one is explicitly framed as The Doctor (or perhaps the universe itself) fixing what was done to Jamie and Zoey at the end of 'The War Games.' They've been brought to the memory TARDIS to have their memories given back to them. I really appreciated that, particularly in light of a similar situation coming soon for Donna.

What can you even say about this episode beyond noting that the sheer amount of love and affection that Frazer Hines and Wendy Padbury clearly share after all these years of friendship is nearly blinding. Add to that their moment of gazing sadly at the Doctor's recorder and Frazer Hines' delivery of 'I hope she had a nice life' in which the losses of Patrick Troughton and Deborah Watling are physical presences in the room with them. I'm sorry, I'm going to need a minute.


And then, The Sixth Doctor and Peri:

Why, oh why, couldn't they always have been like this? When Nicola Bryant tears up over recounting how she wondered which star he was spinning around I damn near lost it. I loved their bit of comedy business in the beginning as they circled the little TARDIS console. I adored the fun they were clearly having among all the banter about the ballads sung to the Warrior Queen. And I for one really needed the moment about their being hope, even in the darkest of moments. And bonus points for the cheeky way they made the announcement trailer for the season 22 boxset into canon.

Like the Fifth Doctor's segment, they used the same story as had been used for The Doctors Revisited which is a little disappointing. But I can't complain too much when we get Colin and Nicola gleefully hitting buttons and setting off for new adventures.


And then there was Jo Grant and... Clyde?

This one hurts.

There are so many people who should be here with us to celebrate this era. But they aren't. And Katy Manning, Jon Pertwee's coat draped over her shoulders, ends this one alone in the TARDIS with the memory of so many friends gone. While the sound clip of Stewart Bevan gives a ray of comfort at the end, the reality remains painful.

I confess, I haven't seen much of The Sarah Jane Adventures, so I don't have a strong association with Clyde beyond being aware that Katy Manning guest starred on the show at least once which is how she knows him. Still, her 'passing the torch to the next generation' moment is touching and the entire thing is a reminder that we should all celebrate the people we love while we can.


Which leads to Vicki and Steven:

I freely admit, this is the one that I was looking forward to the most, and it doesn't disappoint. If you've watched the 'Behind the Sofa' bonus features on the 2nd Season Collection Boxset you'll know just how much respect, admiration, and fondness both Peter Purves and Maureen O'Brien have for one another and for Bill Hartnell. And it's on full display here.

This is by far the most emotionally uncomplicated of the episodes. There are no betrayals to sort out, fresh losses to grieve, or interpersonal complications to put to bed. It's two dear friends getting together to fondly remember old times. The button of having William Hartnell return to them in the final moments via (again) audio clip is the icing on the cake.


And finally, The Seventh Doctor and Ace:

Kind of the opposite of Vicki and Steven, they do a good job of recreating the general atmosphere of Season 26 by leaning heavy into the emotional complications. We get some emotional closure on the falling out that we heard about in 'Power of the Doctor' and a long overdue open statement of love from each of them to the other.

Ace may have never gotten a goodbye scene in the series, but I feel like they've made up for that here.


Highly recommended, all around. Even if you just watch the new material and skip the classic serial repeats, although they remain worth your time as well. Bring on the 60th Anniversary specials!

Tales of the TARDIS is available in the UK on the BBC iPlayer. It won't be released on Disney+ for the rest of us, as Disney didn't contribute any money to the production. As of the time of writing the new segments can be found on Youtube through a channel that looks to be official as far as I can tell, but I couldn't swear to it. Best to check them out now before they disappear.

Mikey Heinrich is, among other things, a freelance writer, retired firefighter, and roughly 78% water. You can find more of his work at the 42nd Vizsla. If you'd like to see his raw notes for this and other reviews, you can find them at What Was Mikey Thinking.

4 comments:

  1. Ok. I need these in my life! It'll be nice to see all these familiar faces, although I feel sad Katie Manning had no contemporary to join her, was John Levene not available or willing? Benton is a beloved UNIT character and they always were good together on the show!

    Clyde being there reinforces that we lost the beloved Elisabeth Sladen too. Always my favorite companion. Nothing with Tom Baker either? That's a shame too.

    And I admit, I'm glad that they have now made canon that Peri didn't die in Mindwarp. Peri always felt like she was treated so badly in the show, and it's nice to see Colin and Nicola together in more pleasant circumstances.

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    1. And the Sarah Jane Adventures are quite good, if obviously kid-focused. I enjoyed them more than Class or Torchwood.

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  2. This is Mikey. Google won't sign me in again.

    I was thinking a lot about John Levene and Richard Franklin, both of whom are still with us and could theoretically have participated. The one thing that would have been a little off about either of them though is that neither character really traveled in the TARDIS. Richard Franklin never even went in it, at least on screen.

    I suspect that avoiding having to address that was at least a small part of the decision to lean into her being alone and making that part of the point of her segments rather than a problem with them.

    There's a lovely little tribute to Lis Sladen with Sarah Jane's owl in that one as well. Actually, there's lots of love thrown Sarah Jane's way in it, which was nice.

    I'm sure I'll get around to watching SJA eventually. It might be long enough now that it wouldn't be too painful.

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    1. I watched it just a couple years back as part of the overarching chronological order I found. It still hurt, as I adore Sarah Jane and Liz Sladen, but it was a decent show that I would have loved as a kid! It even had the Brigadier once as well as Jo Grant!

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