Doctor Who: Eighteenth Series and Fourth Doctor Summary
Doctor Who pulled out all the stops to say goodbye to a legendary lead.
The Eighteenth Series bounced back from the doldrums of the Fourth Doctor’s last three years, and it bounced high. It started well with The Leisure Hive, carried well through the E-Space Trilogy (Full Circle, State of Decay, and Warriors’ Gate), and then hit the gas with The Keeper of Traken and Logopolis.
In fact, the only low point was Meglos, and that was still an average performance.
This series was a combination of tying off threads while setting up the weavers of the future with Adric, Nyssa, and Tegan. I already discussed my feelings on Romana in the Timestamp for Warriors’ Gate, and I’m okay with the three new companions. I love Tegan’s brashness so far, but I’m apprehensive about Adric and Nyssa. My biggest fear is that they are included on a “children’s show” in order to engage children, and while that’s not necessarily a bad thing, Adric seems to be out Wesley Crushering Wesley Crusher. In the first and second seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation, child prodigy Wesley Crusher often saved the day by figuring out a problem that a ship full of trained professionals couldn’t reason out, many times by subverting the command structure in a blantant statement that adults are too locked in their ways.
It certainly wasn’t the first time Gene Roddenberry played with that trope, but I digress.
Adric is being painted as an incredibly lucky or intuitive boy. He has come to the right answers before the Doctor (and Romana) multiple times, and often because of taking a random action instead of reasoning out the solution. He pilots the TARDIS (a baffling act to begin with) by the flip of a coin.
I hope that aspect of his character mellows in the Fifth Doctor’s run, or is at least mitigated by Nyssa and Tegan.
Out of the Fourth Doctor’s legendary run, this series was the highest rated, barely beating out the first of his seven-year set. In terms of the franchise so far, this one ties the Fifth Series at third, coming in behind the Eleventh and Ninth Series.
Series Eighteen Average Rating: 4.2/5
We have had the Wise Grandfather, the Sly Jester, the Secret Agent Scientist, and now we have the Whimsical Warrior. In fact, the Fourth Doctor is summarized in something he told Sarah Jane in his first adventure:
There’s no point being grown-up if you can’t be childish sometimes.
The Fourth Doctor was, in part, an evolution of the Second and Third Doctors. He was playful and capricious, but also fueled by righteous anger at injustice in the universe. The last seven years (mostly) ditched the James Bond tropes and focused on making each story an adventure, adding fun back into the mix by dialing back the Jon Pertwee seriousness. The character kept the arrogance (and some of the rudeness) from the past two incarnations, which brought us closer to the trope of the Doctor being the smartest man in the room.
For better or for worse, of course. It gets annoying when each story is solved by the Doctor pulling out a fact that only he knew – preventing the audience from being able to solve the mystery on their own – but it makes the stories like Logopolis where the companions actively drive the adventure so much more sweet.
But there are caveats in my joy with this incarnation. Frankly, I think he overstayed his welcome.
Back in the Third Doctor’s Summary, I discussed the balance between longevity and consistency in television series. Doctor Who has obviously been evolving in its eighteen years to this point, often at the sake of consistency with canon and tone. What’s interesting with that in mind is taking the Fourth Doctor’s run as a subset and watching how it mirrors long-running television series. It started strong in the first three years, changed things up, languished as it struggled to get back to the golden days, hit refresh, and then ended on a strong note.
Just like how Doctor Who had to evolve (regenerate) leading into the Third Doctor’s run in order to survive as audiences grew, it had to do so again. The results weren’t so good as the years went on. From some of the classic Whovians I’ve spoken too, the road to recovery from here was long and arduous.
Some even claim that the show never really recovered before classic Who ended.
In terms of pop culture, Tom Baker’s run left a significant mark. These seven years were a starting point for many people, and the combination of the TARDIS, jelly babies, companions, and that iconic scarf are touchstones that link with the barest thought of Doctor Who to this day.
I even have a handmade scarf in the process of being knitted for Dragon Con.
Even despite the drop in quality over the years, the Tom Baker era of Doctor Who was fun and exciting. I see a lot of myself in the Fourth Doctor, and even though he’s not my favorite, he made a distinct impression on me. It’s easy to see why he has a spot in so many hearts within fandom.
That said, I’m ready for a change of pace.
By the numbers, the Fourth Doctor ties with the Second Doctor in second place. By overall gut feeling, he’s at third. Patrick Troughton is just that hard to beat in my heart.
Series 12 – 4.0
Series 13 – 3.8
Series 14 – 3.8
Series 15 – 3.3
Series 16 – 3.2
Series 17 – 3.3
Series 18 – 4.1
Fourth Doctor’s Weighted Average Rating: 3.67
Ranking (by score)
1 – Third (4.00)
2 – Second (3.67)
2 – Fourth (3.67)
4 – First (3.41)
Ranking (by character)
1 – Second Doctor
2 – Third Doctor
3 – Fourth Doctor
4 – First Doctor
Okay, I know, I know, we’re in the middle of a loose trilogy. I’m interrupting the flow by doing this, but now is a great time to close off this era of Doctor Who by visiting Fourth Doctor companions Sarah Jane Smith and K9 one more time.
After that, it’s back to the mission to defeat the Master with a new Doctor.
UP NEXT – Special #3: A Girl’s Best Friend
The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.