Having now consigned Season 24 almost exclusively to the bottom ten, I would now like to conjecture on what could have been done to salvage the show – because in reviewing the four serials that made up Sylvester McCoy’s first season I was struck that none of the stories were irredeemable, merely badly executed.
Now the first point to be made of course is that the show runners could have done in 1987 what they did in 2005 – give Doctor Who a decent budget, invest heavily in special effects, and keep the 45 minute 13 episode run introduced in Season 22. So of course they could have done this in 1985 with the hypothesised Season 22b. Sadly of course the original Season 23 was dropped for The Trial of a Timelord and the series reduced to 14 episodes of 25 minutes. But assuming that we settled in the very least for a good budget and better production values – what might we do with Season 24 to make it enjoyable?
Well first and foremost, we’d rescind the frankly idiotic decision of the BBC not to give Colin Baker the send off he deserved.We would combine Seasons 24 and 25 into a proper full length season of 13 45 minute episodes, in which Baker would get half the season before handing over to McCoy. One of the major motivations for this is that I never felt that McCoy and Langford worked well as a team, whereas Terror of the Vervoids showed that Baker/Langford had quite a good chemistry. It is alas only half the season however – for the simple reason that to me, Ace is so part and parcel of the Seventh Doctor’s character that it wouldn’t have worked to have her meet the Sixth Doctor.
To make my scheme work, a number of changes would be made. Firstly, I would have dropped The Happiness Patrol and The Greatest Show in the Galaxy to be used the following season (or, given how poor the stories are, just dropped them altogether) – that leaves us with 6 stories. The order then would have run like this:
Delta and the Bannermen [2 episodes]
Paradise Towers [2 episodes]
Time and the Rani [3 episodes]
Dragonfire [2 episodes]
Remembrance of the Daleks [2 episodes]
Silver Nemesis [2 episodes]
It had been intended had Baker continued that the first serial of Season 24 would have been an introduction story for Mel (her first on-screen appearance occurs at a point where she has already met the Doctor). Aside of lacking time to expand the backstory, the main problem with Delta and the Bannermen was that Ray made Mel utterly superfluous. By replacing Ray with Mel, and replacing McCoy’s bombast, this actually would have made a decent opener.
I would keep Paradise Towers as the second story – but with some dramatic changes. First of all we would allow Baker the costume change he had always wanted – black velvet. As I opined earlier we make the story similar to Vengeance on Varos – dark, sinister, and without the Red and Blue Kangs or the overly hammed acting. Finally though, we would have a cameo appearance by Michael Jayston at the very end – indicating the looming threat of the Valeyard.
Because in a season of 13 serials, Baker would get 6 episodes – the third story being a largely rewritten Time and the Rani. Instead of regenerating at the start, Baker would instead be tricked into helping the Rani as originally written. The trick however would be increasing the story from a two-parter (as would be with 45 minute episodes rather than 25 minute) to a three parter. And that’s because I would add the Valeyard into Time and the Rani. I claim no credit for this idea – other fiction has the Sixth Doctor hiding away, fearful that he might become the Valeyard. Episode 2 of Time and the Rani (Mk2) would instead run like this.
The original episode 3 cliffhanger of the Doctor strapped into the machine would become the cliffhanger of the new episode 1. The Doctor is rescued, but where McCoy was unharmed, Baker would realise his days were numbered. Where the Watcher in Logopolis and Cho-Je in Planet of the Spiders are benign projections of the future incarnation of a Timelord, the appearance of Jayston’s Valeyard would reflect Baker’s fear of becoming him. Episode 2 would therefore centre on the Doctor fighting with his own nature fearful of whom he is about to become. The Rani meanwhile would be bemused at the prospect of two Doctors – one striving to help her (the Valeyard) and one seemingly a schizophrenic. The episode would conclude with Baker saving the Lakertyans from the menace of the Rani’s deadly insects, knowing that in so doing he would trigger his own regeneration – and that would be the cliffhanger!
So Sylvester McCoy would play out the final part of Time and the Rani, very similar to how Time and the Rani actually concluded. From this point on, the only difference to the remaining three stories would be the additional run-time to Dragonfire and Silver Nemesis. And of course the much better production values, and allowing McCoy to start as the darker Doctor he was always meant to be.
That then is my opinion on what would have made Season 24 not just better, but actually a reasonably decent season. Having just lambasted the original and suggested how to improve McCoy’s first season, I’d love to hear what the readers think!