The third season for the Seventh Doctor started on the 6th September 1989 and by the time it finished fourteen weeks later many fans and viewers were left with the feeling that they had seen the show transform to one where there was a much darker and mysterious Seventh Doctor. Unfortunately they had also witnessed what could have been the very last broadcasted Doctor Who story.
Like the previous Seventh Doctor’s seasons this season consisted of four stories and fourteen twenty-five-minute episodes. Unusually for a Doctor Who season, aside from some scenes in "Survival", all the stories took place on Earth and apart from "Battlefield", the stories followed a loose character arc (known as the ‘Ace Trilogy’), as Ace came to terms with her past. Season Twenty Six continued to push the series towards a darker approach and as well as focusing this time more on Ace's personal life it also delved a bit more into The Doctor’s past and manipulations of his travelling companion – including the tying together elements mentioned in passing in previous stories. Specifically Ace's journey to Iceworld in the 1987 story "Dragonfire".
Finally Sylvester McCoy got the chance to portray the Seventh Doctor as he wanted. No incarnation of The Doctor had seen his personality develop so much and as quickly as the Seventh Doctor. Originally, the new Doctor was portrayed as something of a clown - tripping over himself, spouting tangled clichés, and apparently saving the day more by accident than by design - although his vast intelligence was still evident. As time went on, the Seventh Doctor darkened considerably as hints were unveiled that there was far more to his past - and to himself - than had previously been made known. The Seventh Doctor began meeting his foes on his own terms. He became more of an aggressor than any of his previous incarnations, and even his companions were not safe from the tangles of the webs he wove. The results were often more devastating and more decisive than ever before. All this became much more apparent in Season Twenty Seven – and who knows how The Doctor, Ace and the show as a whole would have developed had it continued beyond this season.
Behind the cameras not much had changed from the previous season. Producer John Nathan-Turner had once again been forced to produce another season. Even though he was happier with this position during Season Twenty Five – thanks to a better working relationship with the show’s Script Editor and that Sylvester McCoy was more settled in the role as the Seventh Doctor. John Nathan-Turner however, was again faced with an ultimatum: produce Doctor Who or quit the BBC. And so reluctantly, John Nathan-Turner was back at the helm for his ninth, and his final season.
This season heralded two new writers Marc Platt ("Ghost Light") and Rona Munro ("Survival"). It also saw the second televised story written by Ben Aaronovitch ("Battlefield"). Both Marc Platt and Ben Aaronovitch would go on to write numerous spin-off stories, including The New Adventures novels for Virgin Books and the Doctor Who audios for Big Finish Productions.
The first story, that made up Season Twenty Six, was "Battlefield" which featured the return of Nicholas Courtney as The Brigadier – his last appearance in the show. This story was also the first UNIT story since 1976. The second story was the confusing but awe-inspiring "Ghost Light" and this was followed by the breathtaking themes of "The Curse of Fenric". The season concluded with "Survival" and contained the first appearance of Anthony Ainley, as The Master, since the 1986 Sixth Doctor story "The Ultimate Foe" - the final two episodes of The Trial of a Time Lord season. "Survival" though was his last televised appearance in the show. It was also the final story for Sophie Aldred, as companion Ace.
It is though "Ghost Light" that has the claim to fame as being the final story to be recorded, even though it was the second to be broadcast. "Ghost Light" therefore marked the final regular participation in the show for Sophie Aldred (who was only contracted for the first eight episodes of what would have been Season Twenty Seven), Andrew Cartmel and of course John Nathan-Turner.
It was not clear whether or not Andrew Cartmel would have continued as Doctor Who's script editor for any future seasons. Following the completion of Season Twenty Six, Andrew Cartmel worked on the drama series Casualty for a year before leaving television to write for various computer-related magazines. Andrew Cartmel wrote three novels for Virgin Books’ The New Adventures series. These were: "Cat's Cradle: Warhead", "Warlock" and "Warchild". He also wrote the Doctor Who audio story "Winter for the Adept" for Big Finish Productions.
Despite his protestations to the contrary, John Nathan-Turner would have likely been forced to remain on Doctor Who for Season Twenty Seven. He finally left the BBC in August 1990, but maintained his relationship with the show for several years thereafter, producing several special video releases, and producing and co-writing the Thirtieth Anniversary Children In Need special "Dimensions in Time" in 1993.
Sophie Aldred continued to act, both in television (concentrating on children's programming) and in the theatre. She returned to play Ace in "Dimensions in Time" and in the 2001 BBC Online audio adventure "Death Comes to Time". She can also still be heard in several Big Finish Productions audio releases. Sophie Aldred also recounted her time on Doctor Who in the 1996 book Ace! that was co-written by Visual Effects Designer Mike Tucker.
Sylvester McCoy had considered leaving Doctor Who after this season but was persuaded to remain for one more year. It was though very likely that Season Twenty Seven would have been his last. Like Sophie Aldred, Sylvester McCoy still works prolifically on stage and screen, and returned to play The Doctor in "Dimensions in Time" and "Death Comes to Time". He can also still be heard playing the Seventh Doctor in the Big Finish Productions audio stories. "Ghost Light" though was not his last involvement in a televised Doctor Who story as he would record a regeneration scene for the 1996 Eighth Doctor film "Doctor Who: The Movie" - so giving him the chance to hand over properly to the Eighth Doctor.
By the time recording for this season finished it was not realised that it would be the final season of the original run of the show. Even when the first episode of the final three-part story "Survival" was broadcast it was still not certain that this was the case but John Nathan-Turner had his suspicions. It soon though became clear that the next season, that was already being planned, was going to be at the very least delayed, and possibly not occur at all - so making "Survival" potentially the final Doctor Who story to be broadcast. Because of this it was felt that a more suitable conclusion should be given to the final episode. Andrew Cartmel therefore wrote an appropriate short closing monologue for actor Sylvester McCoy to say which was then dubbed over the closing scene as The Doctor and Ace walk off into the distance, apparently to further adventures.
And so as the final episode of "Survival" was broadcast, on the 6th December 1989, the show ended. There was no direct indication given to the public that this was to be the final regular instalment of Doctor Who. However, unlike previous season’s final episode, the final episode of Season Twenty Six featured no announcement in the closing credits that the show would return the following year.
With this season containing such great stories with a number of memorable and key-elements – many of which set the tone for the spin-off media and some were have even been carried forward and used when the show finally returned in 2005 - and with great plans for the future, surely the show had been safe from cancellation? Unfortunately, at the time the answer was – No. By the time "Ghost Light" began airing in October 1989, it was already clear that Doctor Who was in trouble. The show’s viewing figures had been low ever since the 1985-86 hiatus between Season Twenty Two and Season Twenty Three, and although there had been some signs of improvement the previous year. Compared to previous stories the ratings for "Battlefield" had sunk even lower to the point that this story actually received the lowest ratings of any Doctor Who story. Unfortunately, the viewing figures for "Ghost Light" were not much better. The BBC held a second press launch to promote the final two stories of the season and the situation did improve somewhat. But the damage had already been done and the decision was finally taken by the BBC to place Doctor Who on hiatus, indefinitely.
Despite assurances that Doctor Who would return, and that it was just a longer-than-usual wait before the next season, the show’s cancellation was virtually a forgone conclusion when the BBC finally announced, during 1990, that it would not be producing a 27th season. Not only did this mark the end of Doctor Who in the Eighties, but it also brought its time as an ongoing show to a close. Despite persistent promises, from the BBC, this so called ‘hiatus’ was effectively a cancellation and this was all but confirmed when the BBC’s Doctor Who production office finally closed down in August 1990, having been in continuous operation since 1963.
Doctor Who was gone, yet not forgotten... two years later, the Virgin Books’ The New Adventures range of original novels would begin, telling the further adventures of the Seventh Doctor and Ace (along with new companions including Bernice Summerfield, Chris Cwej and Roslyn Forrester) and this would develop into a second range, known as The Missing Adventures, which would cater for the growing interest in original stories for the previous incarnations of The Doctor.
But this was not the end of Doctor Who on our television screens. The Seventh Doctor did return, in 1996, for that all important regeneration scene in the one-off Eighth Doctor film "Doctor Who: The Movie" that was co-produced by the BBC and FOX Television. This though was a long way off and Doctor Who fans would have a very long wait before the show returned to our screens and an even longer wait for the show to return for another full season of stories...
Despite once again containing, once again, only four stories this season contains plenty of things to watch out for. The first story, "Battlefield", contains the return of one of Doctor Who’s most popular of characters. This is Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart who is better known as The Brigadier. This much liked character, that became a fundamental part of the show during the Third Doctor’s era, returned after a six year absence, with Nicholas Courtney reprising this famous Doctor Who role. Look out for the scenes, at the beginning and very end, where we get to see The Brigadier enjoying his retirement with, for the first time in the show, by his long-mentioned sweetheart (now wife) Doris.
|The Seventh Doctor
It is clear that "Battlefield" owed a lot to the legend of King Arthur – even to the point of Ace obtaining a sword and then appearing out of the lake with it clutched in her hand. So mimicking the legend of Excalibur and the Lady from the lake.
The most memorable scene from "Ghost Light", the second story of this season, was when all the insects, that up until now have all been dead natural history specimens, come to life. This made the creepy house, that The Doctor has taken Ace to, even more creepy and mysterious.
The best story of this season though is "The Curse of Fenric". Look out for some brilliant scenes for both The Doctor and Ace as they interact with each other and the other human characters as well as the vampires and Haemomovores. With a secret naval base, the invasion of Russian soldiers, the strange mists and strange goings on underwater in the nearby North Sea results in a classic and well liked story of the Seventh Doctor’s era.
In this story also look out for the scenes where Ace falls in love with Kathleen’s baby – which she is not aware is in fact, thanks to the TARDIS being a time machine, her mother - whom she hates. Unknown to Ace when she gets Kathleen to leave the naval base with her baby, before the Haemomovores attack, to go and stay at her Nan’s house results in Ace creating her own future. This story also reveals that it was Fenric who created the time storm that brought Ace to Iceworld in the 1987 story "Dragonfire".
In the final story, "Survival", you need to ignore the very poor portrayal of the Kittlings and the unrealistic Cheetah People costumes. Then you get a great story with The Master trapped on the Cheetah Planet who is desperate to escape, Ace being taken over by the planet and influenced by Karra to join her in the hunt.
At the start there are mysterious disappearances, strange cat-like creatures on horseback and the comical scenes of The Doctor trying to capture a cat unaware at first that he is being monitored from afar by The Master. It is though the scene in the General Store with Sylvester McCoy and comedian duo Hale and Pace that is one of the more memorable scenes. But it is the very last scene when The Doctor and Ace walk off together into the distance, supposedly for new adventures, that is considered to be the key moment in the show’s history – unfortunately all for the wrong reasons.