With the start of Season Twenty Five, in October 1988, Doctor Who celebrated its silver anniversary. For this special milestone in the show’s history Producer John Nathan-Turner decided to bring back at least one of The Doctor’s two most popular nemeses: the Daleks and the Cybermen. Both, in the end, would be featured.
|The Doctor and Ace
This season again consisted of four stories made up of 14 twenty five minute episodes. Being the silver anniversary season, it included several stories making note of the milestone: "Remembrance of the Daleks", as well as featuring the Daleks and Davros was set in Coal Hill School and I.M. Foreman’s junkyard - settings seen in the first episode of the 1963 First Doctor story "An Unearthly Child". While "Silver Nemesis" – the actual Twenty Fifth anniversary story – featured the Cybermen. John Nathan Turner went to great lengths to make sure that the first episode "Silver Nemesis" was actually broadcast on the 23rd November 1988 – the actual Twenty Fifth anniversary of the show.
It was originally thought that this season would begin on the 7th September 1988, but coverage of the Summer Olympics in Seoul forced a revision of these plans. In the end the first episode of this season was transmitted on the 5th October 1988. Because John Nathan-Turner also wanted to begin this season with "Remembrance of the Daleks", this left only three weeks in between "Remembrance of the Daleks" and "Silver Nemesis". As a result, "The Happiness Patrol" was moved up into this gap - so swapping places with the four-part "The Greatest Show in the Galaxy". This though resulted in a number of unforeseen continuity problems with an earring, belonging to a character called Flowerchild in "The Greatest Show in the Galaxy", being seen on Ace’s jacket before she found it and Ace searching for her rucksack after it had been destroyed in an earlier story.
Behind the scenes Producer John Nathan-Turner had once again had his request to be moved off Doctor Who turned down. The reason given him this time was that new Head of Drama, Peter Cregeen, wanted time to settle into his role, and did not want to make any major changes to his department. Since John Nathan-Turner was not willing to resign from the BBC, this meant that he would have to remain on Doctor Who for an eighth season. The benefit of this was that it meant there was considerable stability in the production office, allowing John Nathan-Turner and Andrew Cartmel to begin planning for the show's future. They both felt that Doctor Who had lost some of its sense of wonder, and The Doctor himself was no longer a very mysterious figure.
Therefore beginning with Season Twenty Five they decided to take steps to restore both of these elements, aided and abetted by a number of eager new writers they had started to build up, Ben Aaronovitch amongst them. In particular, Cartmel wanted to start laying hints that there was more to The Doctor's background than had been revealed so far. Sylvester McCoy, who himself had finally had time to think more thoroughly about his portrayal of The Doctor (after being cast virtually at the last minute prior to the start of production on Season Twenty Four), was enthusiastic about this new direction for his character and worked closely with the production team in its development. And so with the start of this season the Seventh Doctor became much darker and less cartoonish.
The Doctor's hint, in "Remembrance of the Daleks", that he was present at the creation of the Hand of Omega, was the first outward statement of this new direction and more hints about the mystery to The Doctor's origins would surface over the next two seasons. But as the programme ceased production in 1989, the intended revelations never came to pass.
This season also featured the first full season of stories for new companion Ace, played by Sophie Aldred, who had joined The Doctor in his travels during "Dragonfire" – the final story of Season Twenty Four.
Ace was a troubled teenager from Perivale in England. Her real name was Dorothy, but she utterly despised it - a trait effectively symptomatic of Ace's rebellious personality in general. She lacked self-confidence and was burdened by angst and turmoil. Originally, Ace found respite only in making explosives - especially her beloved homemade nitro-nine. But since joining the TARDIS, she found a new outlet for her inner rage, channelling it into destroying the evils that she and The Doctor encountered in their travels together. Ace would go on to be a prominent figure in the spinoff fiction that kept Doctor Who alive following its cancellation in 1989.
As well as featuring the return of Davros, the Daleks and the Cybermen this season introduced new villains including: Helen A, the Kandy Man and the Gods of Ragnarok. However, because of the show’s cancellation in 1989 this would be the last appearance, in the original run of the show, for Davros, the Daleks and the Cybermen. It would also be the last for writer Stephen Wyatt; and also for directors Andrew Morgan and Chris Clough.
This season though was the first for writer Ben Aaronovitch – who would write one further televised Doctor Who story and would go on to write numerous The New Adventures novels for Virgin Books. It was also the first for music composer Mark Ayres – who would continue, long after the show’s cancellation to be involved in the show producing CD’s, released by Silva Screen, containing music from the show.
For this season the show was shifted from Monday evenings - as had been the case in the previous season - to a Wednesday. To John Nathan-Turner's disappointment, though, Doctor Who was still scheduled opposite the ITV soap opera Coronation Street and this again affected the show’s viewing figures. Despite this the last episode of "The Greatest Show in the Galaxy" (which was also the final episode of the season) received the highest viewing figure (6.6 million) for a story during the whole of the Seventh Doctor’s era.
Because John Nathan-Turner, Andrew Cartmel, Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred had become a great team with this season the show had entered a period of stability the likes of which it had not enjoyed in five years. The character of The Doctor had become less comical and much darker and more mysterious. But as we now know it would not last long which is a great shame as it seemed at the time that Doctor Who was showing signs of having overcome the difficulties of its recent past and this was despite it still being pitted against Coronation Street.
Season Twenty Five became a ground breaking season and was seen by many as a turning point of the show and a possibility that it could once again be a programme that the BBC could be proud of. It certainly led the way for a better direction that would be seen even more in Season Twenty Six.
Being the silver anniversary season, this season had a number of elements to celebrate this special milestone in the show’s history. Of the four stories two of them included The Doctor’s two most popular nemeses: the Daleks and the Cybermen.
For the first story, "Remembrance of the Daleks", we had the return of Davros and the Daleks in a story that also returned The Doctor, now accompanied by his newest companion Ace, to the very place where the show started - Coal Hill School and I.M. Foreman’s junkyard - in the first episode of the 1963 First Doctor story "An Unearthly Child". "Remembrance of the Daleks" also contained many memorable scenes and introduced new elements to the show.
Look out for Ace attacking a Dalek with a baseball bat and trying to escape from one of the classrooms in the school that ends with her crashing through an internal window. We witnessed the one and only use of the Special Weapons Dalek as well as the first time that a Dalek is seen ascending stairs (resulting in one of the most memorable cliff-hangers of all time) and the first use of the ‘skeleton effect’ caused by Dalek weapons - an effect that would be used in every subsequent Dalek story in the revived series.
This story is peppered with memorable scenes but possible the most unusual, and one that has caused a great deal of discussion, is the scene when Ace leaves the living room, at the boarding house, and on a television set a continuity announcer is heard to say: ‘This is BBC television, the time is quarter past five and Saturday viewing continues with an adventure in the new science fiction series Do...’. Could this be a reference, within the show, of the show itself? We may never know for certain as the BBC continuity announcer is cut off by a scene change before completing the title.
For the actual silver anniversary story, "Silver Nemesis", Producer John Nathan-Turner chose the silver giants themselves, the Cybermen. This story is also has many memorable scenes. For lovers of Jazz there is the guest appearance of Courtney Pine and his musicians. Being set in Windsor Castle and Windsor itself (it was actually filmed in Arundel in West Sussex) there is the comical short scene of the Queen (played by impersonator Mary Reynolds) with her corgis. This story also includes a brief guest appearance by Hollywood and Broadway musical star Dolores Grey.
But of course it is the appearance of the Cybermen, at the very end of the first episode, that makes this story special. Their arrival takes place when a spaceship touches down near Windsor and the occupants emerge. Ace is heard asking The Doctor who they are, for which The Doctor replies: ‘Cybermen’.
These Cybermen were of a different design to those seen previously. Known as Mk 4 Cybermen because "Silver Nemesis" is the final appearance of the Cybermen in the original run of the show. Because they would not be seen again until the 2006 Tenth Doctor story "Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel" – were again they would undergo a redesign - this story has become the Mk 4 Cybermen’s only appearance.