10 of the Best: New WHO Continuity References

PrintE-mail Written by Phil Beresford Sunday, 08 May 2011



As we look forward to the return of Doctor Who it is already clear from the trouser-trembling trailer that we'll be treated to a series that will ensure a place on TV schedules for our beloved Time Lord well into the 21st century. Rarely has the show looked stronger and more secure, looking as much of a television event now as it ever did. One of the strengths of the show since its revival in 2005 is the way it has constantly looked to move forward, to find ways to keep the world's longest running science fiction serial fresh and enthralling for a new generation of Whovians.

However, it has also managed to carry with it an older generation of fans, those of us who still get misty-eyed at the thought of travels with Perpugilliam Brown, bags of jelly babies and reversing the polarity of the neutron flow. And it has done this not only by introducing new villains, characters and adventures but also by mining a past that frequently unearths some real gems of fan pleasing continuity. Whether it be a casual comment regarding the whereabouts of the Brigadier or a whole episode featuring the return of a fan favourite from many years ago, New Who sure knows how to please the more mature Who geek.

The simple truth is that for many of us, Doctor Who is at its brilliant best when it is both looking forward and looking back. So to illustrate the point here are 10 moments of continuity from New Who for the classic series fan. 10 nods to the past that will have gladdened the heart of anyone who first watched it wearing flared trousers and a paisley shirt with a ludicrous collar.

The Doctor's Library Card in Vampires of Venice (Series 5)

A delightful little touch this 'blink and you'll miss it’ visual reference to the original Doctor Who and the actor who played him when the show was first broadcast back in 1963.

Matt Smith's Doctor, having travelled to 16th Century Venice, stumbles into the lair of a group of female vampires who then demand to know who he is. Intending to brandish his psychic paper, he instead produces a library card bearing a photo of himself as he appeared in his original incarnation (as played by William Hartnell). The card also lists his name as Dr John Smith and his address as 76 Totters Lane, Shoreditch, London; the very junk yard where original companions Barbara Wright and Ian Chesterton first found the TARDIS 47 years ago.

It's a moment that works so well because it riffs on the Doctor's reliance on his psychic paper while at the same time giving long term fans a brief and totally unexpected glimpse of the man who started it all. But it's also the sort of moment that sometimes sums up how lonely it can be being a Doctor Who obsessive. I mean, how many of us sat there watching it, desperate to give the person next to us a nudge in the ribs and yell excitedly "Did you see that? It was Billy Hartnell on the library card! How superb was that?!" despite suspecting that they couldn't really give a toss? Oh well, never mind. To the forums!

Time Lord fashion in Last of the Time Lords (Series 3)

A brief scene from the Master’s childhood affords us a glimpse of a Time Lord stood surveying a landscape outside the Citadel on Gallifrey, bedecked in the classic attire of the High Council as seen in Doctor Who serials throughout the 70s and 80s. Groovy.

If your love of Doctor Who was first nurtured in the Tom Baker years then there’s every chance that this little flashback will have set your pulse racing, invoking as it does memories of Gallifrey set serials The Deadly Assassin and The Invasion of Time. And once you’d recovered from the trauma of recalling The Invasion of Time you may well have found yourself yearning for an era when fashion was king on Gallifrey, a time when big collars, wide shoulders and old ladies swimming caps were all the rage amongst the great and the good.

As far as costumes go, the ensemble of a Time Lord is as iconic as any that has ever appeared in the show, so it was refreshing to see no attempt made to change it in the brief flashback we see here. And while it is a look that could only have been born out of British SF  in the 70s, it was a surprise to see that it has in fact aged better than other costumes from the period (don’t believe me? Google the Movellans).

Regardless of time and trends, this scene was a pleasing moment of nostalgia for a generation of Who fans would forever remember the Doctor’s people rocking this very distinctive look.

When Autons attack in Rose (Series 1)

When deciding what villain to use in the first episode of the revived series, Russell T Davies may well have played a perfect hand in choosing the Autons, as there are few moments so iconic and well-remembered from the original series as the one where the shop dummies come to life and start attacking people in the high street.

It was something that resonated so strongly with the viewing public because writer Robert Holmes pulled a simple but very effective trick, one that Steven Moffat would again achieve years later with the Weeping Angels. Take an inanimate everyday object, something that we see regularly yet barely notice and give it terrifying, malevolent life.

The Auton attack in Rose is remarkably similar to the moment when they come to life in the Jon Pertwee story Spearhead from Space, as mannequins emerge from window displays, smashing department store windows, before indiscriminately gunning down members of the public.

The Autons themselves were not so huge a villain as to distract from the burgeoning relationship between The Doctor and Rose but in replicating this scene, Davies instantly reconnects older viewers with something familiar from the show's past, while still providing something that feels fresh and scary enough to engage new fans. In short it meant that the revived series was able to get off to a flyer.

A Journal of Impossible Things in Human Nature/Family of Blood (Series 3)

Thanks to A Journal of Impossible Things, Paul McGann fans could at last breathe a sigh of relief as New Who confirmed the 8th Doctor as canon (yes, Big Finish fans, we realise you never doubted it).

In order to escape the very persistent Family of Blood, the Doctor converts his biology to that of a human, stores his Time Lord essence in a pocket watch and hides himself away as a schoolteacher in 1913. However, the disguise is so good it means that he really believes himself to be John Smith, a man who records the strange dreams he has of the Doctor's travels in a notebook entitled 'A Journal of Impossible Things’.

While the 1996 TV Movie got a few things wrong (not least of which was some ludicrous sounding Daleks) it did feature Paul McGann, an actor with whom the character would have been quite safe had the attempted revival been a success. So to see his portrait in John Smith's journal, slap bang in the middle of a page also prominently featuring Sylvester McCoy's 7th Doctor, was a sight to behold for those of us who’d have loved to see him get a longer run on television.

Mind you, the suggestion that the Doctor dreams of his previous selves does make you wonder what Tennant's Doctor must have made of visions of brightly lit corridors, Bonnie Langford exercising in the TARDIS, and being shouted at by Brian Blessed during his time as Doctor number 6.

Macra! in Gridlock (Series 3)

A vastly underrated episode, Gridlock sees the return of an enemy from a series of episodes that don’t even exist anymore, the Macra first featuring in a Patrick Troughton serial appropriately entitled The Macra Terror, a serial long since wiped.

At that earlier stage in their evolution the Macra were an intelligent crab-like species who could manipulate human perception by the power of hypnosis. By the time of Gridlock however they have devolved into mindless gigantic beasts (still crab-like mind you) that exist in the pollution choked depths of New New York on the planet New Earth in the year 5 billion and fifty three.

The reveal of the Macra in Gridlock is a clever one as we initially glimpse only their distinctive white eyes peering through the carbon monoxide filled depths. This hint of a physiognomy most fans will have only seen in stills from the original story will have had all but the most ardent struggling to put a name to the claw. But as the Doctor shouts “Macra!”, devotees of the reconstructions, too young to have caught the original story, could be forgiven for weeping gentle tears of gratitude, as they get to see these formidable creatures come to life on television for the first time.

Reviving an enemy that most fans won’t have seen may strike some as being wilfully obscure but the Macra were perfect for this episode, being creatures who feed on toxic fumes and gases. Plus there’s some justice in allowing an old enemy thought forever lost to finally have its moment in the sun. Metaphorically of course. You couldn’t see the end of your nose down there.

The faces of the Doctor in The 11th Hour (Series 5)

We’d seen footage of all the previous incarnations of the Doctor used before in the David Tennant story The Next Doctor. But what made the use of a similar device so memorable in The 11th Hour was that it occurred in Matt Smith’s debut, functioning as a reminder to alien race The Atraxi that if they were to ever threaten the planet Earth again then they’d be wise to think on and look sharp.

Basically, it’s the Doctor proving what a badass he is, as we see a procession of his defeated foes from both the classic and the new series, followed by images of the Doctor himself from Hartnell through to Tennant. It’s rousing stuff and the cherry on the cake is that we get to see McGann again. Hooray!

It’s a clever utilisation of the Doctor's awe inspiring record of victories and alien bashing in a life spanning over 900 years, as well as enhancing his reputation as something of a legend throughout the Universe, as evidenced by such monikers as The Lonely God, The Destroyer of Worlds and The Oncoming Storm.

But it’s also worth considering what a vote of confidence in Matt Smith this run though of former incarnations is, clearly suggesting that here is a Doctor who can stand alongside any of the previous versions. And it’s a testament to how completely he’s already made the role his own, that when his face appears straight after Tennant's, it feels like a natural evolution and that all is well in the Whoniverse.

Sarah Jane and Davros in Journey's End (Series 4)

What is it about scenes involving the wonderful Lis Sladen that can make the long term fan break out in a plethora of goosebumps? In Journey's End we see her come face to face with Davros for the first time since she travelled with Tom Baker's recently regenerated Doctor back in 1975, and it's another moment to send classic series fans giddy with delight.

As the Doctor's companions attempt to rescue him from the Dalek crucible, Sarah Jane and Captain Jack appear on a video transmission threatening to detonate a Warp Star unless the Doctor is released. Julian Bleach (as Davros) plays the scene to perfection as it dawns on him that he's looking into the face of someone who helped to defeat him long, long ago. And as he utters the line, "Impossible. That face...After all these years..."  the urge to shout out "Genesis of the Daleks!" to anyone who'll listen has to be fought by fans who immediately get the reference.

After Davros reminisces about their time together on Skaro, Sarah Jane responds that she has learnt to fight since then. This leads to a wonderfully dramatic moment as Davros uses this to show the Doctor how he, the man who abhors violence, fashions his companions into weapons. We then get to see a flashback of all those characters that have died after meeting the Doctor and sacrificing their life for him or his cause. It should be noted that, to add insult to injury, poor Adric doesn't get a look in.

Past Masters in Utopia (Series 3)

The moment when Derek Jacobi's Professor Yana looks directly into camera and whispers, "I...am...The Master!" may well be responsible for the greatest number of spontaneous cartwheels attempted in the history of television viewing. But what sets this revelation up so beautifully is hearing Roger Delgado and Anthony Ainley (two previous incarnations of The Master) form part of the chorus urging Yana to open the pocket watch containing his Time Lord essence and assume his Masterly form.

The point at which the viewer realises Yana is The Master varies but by the time we get to hear Ainley's malevolent chuckle, followed by a line of Delgado dialogue taken from 'The Daemons', there's no doubt about it. It was confirmation that compelled many of us to abandon all semblance of dignity, and some folk still tell tales of grown men lying on carpets, kicking their legs and punching the floor in paroxysms of fan boy ecstasy.

Part of the reason The Master's return was so memorable was because it wrong footed many fans. We'd known well in advance of this episode that The Master would be returning to Dr Who and we also knew he'd be played by John Simm. What most of us didn't see coming was that he would first be played by Sir Derek Jacobi in a story that built brilliantly on the concept of a Time Lord's ability to change his biology, first introduced in Human Nature/Family of Blood.

But it was in its subtle use of Ainley and Delgado's dialogue that Utopia not only hinted at a depth of character and a personal history to rival that of the Doctor's, but also offered a timely reminder of two actors who had each made the part of The Master very much their own.

"Doctor!? THE Doctor!?" in Dalek (Series 1)

Fans had waited 17 years for the return of the most notorious of Dr Who villains and this was an episode worth waiting for, delivering a confrontation which exploits the Dalek's long and mutually destructive relationship with the Doctor to the full. There's always been something about the moment of the big reveal in all Dalek stories that can make you catch your breath and this time the effect was compounded with great dialogue, superb acting and a fantastic Dalek redesign.

In an episode bursting with continuity references (note the Cyberman helmet and Sea Devil head on display in Henry Van Statten's museum) there is one particular line that resonates resoundingly through the show's past. Having answered a distress call emanating from an underground base, the Doctor addresses an imprisoned alien in a darkened room, not yet aware that he stands before his most reviled enemy. The moment when the Dalek recognises him is brilliantly realised, as lights go on, the Dalek is revealed and a horrified Doctor realises what was sending the distress signal. The Dalek's cry of 'DocTOR!? THE DocTOR!?' is less a query and more an accusation, a disbelievingly indignant howl of outrage that echoes across 42 years of television history and thwarted megalomaniacal ambition.

It's also a moment when we learn a lot about Eccleston's Doctor. This man has changed since he shrank from committing genocide in Genesis of the Daleks and we can see that he will not hesitate to do so now. Realising the Dalek is helpless he grabs a nearby power tool and begins to drill into the Dalek's casing. The Doctor, torturing a helpless foe? You betcha. It was an unsettling sight and one that made us realise that, thanks to the Time War, this guy really did have some serious baggage.

Hello again, hello in School Reunion (Series 2)

In an episode chock full of emotion, there is no moment more powerful than when Sarah Jane Smith sees the Doctor again after almost 30 years. For many, Sarah Jane is THE Doctor Who companion and it is testament to the charisma and charm of an actress who will be sorely missed, that Lis Sladen is the only person in the show’s 48 year history to establish a whole new generation of fans a lifetime after her first appearance.

Sarah Jane's travels with the fourth Doctor came to an abrupt end when he had to drop her back on earth prior to answering a summons from Gallifrey. One of the things that made her departure from the original series all the more heart-breaking was that she wasn't ready for it, and in School Reunion we discover that she'd always thought he would come back for her, never allowing herself any sense of closure.

But Sarah Jane gets her goodbye after declining a chance to travel with the Doctor once more at the episode's conclusion and you'd have to be as heartless as the Cyber-Controller to not shed a tear when she tells him, "The universe has to move forward. Pain and loss, they define us as much as happiness or love. Whether it's a world, or a relationship... Everything has its time. And everything ends."

The plot of School Reunion concerns the Doctor's attempts to thwart a race of aliens trying to control all of time and space but what it's really about is the Doctor's relationship with his companions and the loss and emptiness that can consume them when he leaves them behind. And as if that wasn't enough, it’s got K-9.

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0 #2 jim 2011-05-16 13:09
Quoting J.R. Southall:
Excellent piece of writing - almost had me misty-eyed! Ten of something else next time, maybe...?

Agreed 100%!
+1 #1 J.R. Southall 2011-05-16 11:27
Excellent piece of writing - almost had me misty-eyed! Ten of something else next time, maybe...?

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