Watchmen – The TV series

At the time I’m writing this, the Watchmen HBO TV series is available on Hulu, and possibly other streaming platforms.

That first sentence was for the web-link summary. Let’s step back a bit.

I stated in an 2009 blog post that I felt that Watchmen was the finest comic I ever read. Part of the reason I got out of reading comics on a regular basis was I didn’t think I’d find anything better. It’s 11 years later, and I stand by that statement.

When I first heard that a sequel to Watchmen was being made for HBO, I was skeptical. The graphic novel told its story and was done. What more could be said? The answer, it turns out, was plenty.

The main theme of the Watchmen graphic novel was what might happen if people in our “real” world put on costumes to fight crime. It explored that idea and many practical consequences, including the reality of public reaction, government intervention, and the fact that underneath the costume there were still human beings. But the story was basically a self-critique of the “costumed superhero” concept, using and abusing the tropes of comic books to tell human stories.

The theme of the Watchmen TV series is racism. It’s clear why HBO has made the series available outside of its normal channels so that a wider audience can see it. Though the story involves costumed crime-fighters to some degree, this is definitely not a series for children, no more than the Watchmen was.

In particular, the series begins with a harrowing depiction of the Tulsa race massacre. I knew about the incident before I watched the series, but only because a friend had mentioned it at one time on his web site. It’s not a comforting sequence. Like the Watchmen comic, the TV series is not meant to make people comfortable.

As a fan of the comic, I have a few caveats:

– If you’ve never read Watchmen comic or seen the Zack Snyder movie, some of the plot points will seem opaque: Why is everyone so obsessed with “Dr. Manhattan”? Why are the Rorschach masks significant? Why should anyone care about the old guy in the manor?

– This is a sequel to the Watchmen comic, not the Watchmen movie directed by Zack Snyder. If you’ve only seen the movie, then you may have to get around the differences: Why do people keep talking about squids?

– The series has clever visual cues that readers of the comic will get, but will just slide past everyone else. These details are not critical.

I claim that the Watchmen comic is the best I’ve ever read. I won’t say that the Watchmen TV series was the best one I’ve seen. However, it does make a timely statement about the long-term effects of racism; the Tulsa massacre reverberates throughout the series.

This must be said: The series drops the ball on how law enforcement reacts to racial issues. In particular, the show only gives lip service criticism of suspending rights and due process when you’re the “good guy” and you’re fighting the “bad guys.” In that way, the Watchmen TV series is no better than the old pulp comic books that the Watchmen graphic novel condemned.


Warning: This post contains self-indulgent meanderings on the passage of time. If you young’uns can’t handle that, skip this post and get off of my lawn.

A few weeks ago I was in the lunch room of Nevis Labs. I was the oldest one there. The rest were summer students about 20 years old. The topic had shifted to assigning everyone there an alignment according to the D&D system. I was assigned “Chaotic/Good”, which I accepted.

I’ve had problems with the D&D system that were older than the students there, and its alignment system is one of those problems. In an attempt to be satirical, I said, “Okay, now we can figure out which of us is Samantha, or Carrie, or Miranda, or…”

Dead silence. They looked at me blankly. They had no idea what I was talking about.

I muttered something about Sex and the City and retreated into my private thoughts. Three feelings washed over me:

  1. I felt the usual disappointment of a geek who made a reference that no one else got.
  2. I felt old. I’m almost three times the age of the summer students this year. In a couple more years, I will be more than three times the age of summer students at Nevis. Will I even be able to understand what those kids are saying as time goes on?

    After all, it’s normal for most culture to be ephemeral. A couple of personal examples come to mind:

    • Back at Cornell in 1978, I had a friend named Adams Douglas; his mother wanted to remind him that he was a great-to-the-nth descendant of John Quincy Adams. You can try to do a web search on Adams Douglas, but he’s hard to find because you’ll get thousands of results about some other guy.

      Adams was the son of the actors Jan Sterling and Paul Douglas. They were household names in the early 50s. But by the time I knew Adams, they were already forgotten, footnotes in cinematic history.

      Adams himself has become a footnote. He passed away in 2003, a year before his mother did.

    • Also in 1978, I happened to read a play called Captain Jinks of the Horse Marines. It was written in 1901, and assumed that the audience would be familiar with a song of the same title that was written in 1868.

      The song had been popular for 33 years at that point. It probably felt reasonable to assume that it would stand the test of time. It didn’t. When I read the play 77 years later, I had no idea that the song existed. It’s now 41 years after that, and despite an opera written in 1975, I’m probably one of the few people left who still remembers that the song/play/opera ever existed.

  3. Triumph! The geeks had won after all!

    Let’s look at some dates. Sex and the City was broadcast from 1998 to 2004. It’s only 15 years later, and it’s beginning to fall off the “cliff of relevance”. If you consider the Nevis summer students as a representative sample (and there are many arguments that would suggest they are not), then if you’re 20 years old or less you will never have heard of it.

    Dungeons & Dragons was first published in 1974. It’s 45 years later, so it’s three times older than Sex in the City. (Note the similar age ratio of me to the summer students.) Some of the students took the superior-intellectual stance and claimed they had never played D&D, but they all knew what it was and knew about the alignment system.

    I got my copy of D&D in 1975. (I still have it; it’s probably worth some money.) I remember parental disapproval, the claims that D&D caused teenagers to commit suicide, the claims that it was Satanic (BADD). All of that has pretty much fallen off the cliff of relevance (though my father still doesn’t “get it”).

    What’s survived? The D&D alignment system, obviously. So have half-Orc Barbarians, Lawful/Good Paladins, dual-class Sorceror/Rogues, Dwarven warriors, Elvish wizards, Mages’ towers, Lich pits, Demogorgons, Beholders, platinum pieces, Bags of Holding, armor classes, experience points… and of course, dungeons filled with treasure and dragons filled with menace.

    They’ve not only survived, but thrived. Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte, and Samantha are fading. The geek dream lives on!

Obviously, I’m glossing over a lot of cultural complexity in order to make a mildly amusing point. Sex in the City appealed to thirty-something women looking for relationships; that’s not likely to have much appeal to 20-year-old science students. For my part, I may have seen no more than three episodes out of the 94 made, though I do know about SitC‘s four-fold path.

Also, the “cultural competition” associated with SitC is different than that of D&D. There are lots of relationship comedies out there, and the genre is continually reinventing itself as new issues come to light. For example, did SitC ever explore the difficulties of the transgendered to find relationships? (I have no idea.) I know such series exist… but they’re not SitC.

On the other hand, D&D is a tabletop role-playing game fixed in a general fantasy setting. The existence of other media in the same setting (the Lord of the Rings movies, the Game of Thrones TV series) tends to increase interest in D&D, not push it off the cliff of relevance. Even the existence of competing fantasy role-playing games such as Pathfinder and Rolemaster tends to reinforce the ideas and memes associated with D&D even if their players have never read the D&D rules.

Does this mean D&D will pass the “test of time”? By my own arbitrary definition, we won’t know until everyone who was alive in 1974 has passed away. If they’re still talking about hit points and character stats by then, then the geeks can score permanent victory. By that definition, I will never live long enough to be certain.

In the meantime, I can stave off some of the pang of aging into cultural irrelevance by shouting out with glee: “Stuff it, Carrie! And suck it, Captain Jinks!”

Tally marks

A couple of days ago my friends saw a series of posts on Facebook.

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As a couple of people guessed, this had to do a fictional race called The Silence from the TV series Doctor Who. In the show, the chief property of The Silence is that you forgot about them the instant you looked away. The only way to be aware of them was to make quick tally marks on your arms for every one you saw… and then forgot.

A couple of weeks earlier, someone posted about doing the tally-mark bit as a prank. In a comment, there was a suggestion that this be done on April 23, the date that the Doctor Who episode The Impossible Astronaut aired. That was the episode that introduced the The Silence.

It was just a bit of silliness. If you do some searching, you’ll find other people celebrate Tally Mark Day.

It wasn’t the first time I did something like this. Many years ago, I celebrated Towel Day: In honor of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, I wore a towel for the entire day draped around my shoulders. It showed all the hoopy that I was a frood who deserved to be sassed.

It turned out to a practical prank. During that day, a friend of mine called me and asked me to pick up his girlfriend at a local airport. How was she to identify me? No problem, I said. Just tell her to look for the guy wearing the towel.

As I drove her to my friend’s home, he asked that we stop and get some pizzas. They were really hot, straight from the oven, but the back seat of my car was filled with stuff. My passenger had to hold the hot pizza boxes on her lap. Was it a problem? No, because we had a towel. It kept her from getting burned, and soaked up any potential pizza juices that might have leaked.

So if you see someone wearing a towel on their shoulders, or with tally marks on their arm, it’s just a celebration of geekdom. It doesn’t mean the Earth is about to be destroyed to make way for a hyperspacial bypass or annihilated to prevent the Last Question from being answered. Probably.


This is one of those “Oh! I just watched this incredible thing and I gotta tell you about it!” posts. If you’re feeling a bit media-saturated and would rather just wait until the female Doctor is unveiled in the next Christmas special, I’ll understand if you want to skip this post.


Sense8 is the series that I just watched and I gotta tell you about, mainly because I don’t think it’s received the attention it deserves. I think the reason folks have not gotten into it is that, as reported by almost everyone who’s reviewed Sense8, the first three episodes are slow-moving. We know the premise already, let’s get into it! But by the fourth episode the potentials begin to gel, and it becomes a compelling story.

That central premise is an old one in SF, but has never been presented visually in this form before: A group of eight people (the sensates) become telepathically linked with each other. At first it’s a matter of them seeing and talking with one another, then they learn they can share each other’s skills.

The mythology surrounding this idea is also fairly conventional: They are not the only sensate cluster. There’s a shadowy organization bent on controlling or eradicating the sensates. Some clusters are in hiding, others are collaborating with the enemy.

If Sense8 can be described in such conventional terms within the genre, why is worth watching?

  • The series was created by Lana and Lilly Wachowski, the sibling team responsible for the film The Matrix, and J. Michael Straczynski, best known the TV series Babylon 5. They bring their full stylistic talents to this series. The action sequences sparkle in a way that I can’t bring myself to spoil, except to say that they adopt a visual language to show how the different sensates’ skills blend together.
  • I’ve watched enough media to know when I’m being emotionally manipulated. However, the Watchowskis and Straczynski know how to sell those moments. The first major sequence in the series is a group karaoke shared among the sensates in the fourth episode. They don’t entirely understand their connection yet, but you become immersed in their shared joy. If your heartstrings aren’t pulled by that when you watch it, then Sense8 is not for you.
  • Speaking of shared emotional sequences: The telepathically-linked group orgies. Nope, don’t watch the series for that if you can’t take the karaoke. Really. No orgy without karaoke.
  • Speaking of orgy sequences: The frank handling of gender and sexuality. One of the sensates is a trans woman; another is a closet gay actor. Their feelings and identities are treated just as seriously as any male-female relationships depicted in the show.
  • Did you get my reference to Doctor Who in the first paragraph of this post? Then you might like to know that Freema Agyeman, who played Martha Jones in the 10th Doctor era, plays the girlfriend of one of the sensates; Sylvester McCoy, the 7th Doctor, shows up the second season. The show definitely has Doctor Who street cred.
  • For even more genre cred, Jamie Clayton, who plays one of the sensates, supplies the voice of the character Jien Garson in Mass Effect: Andromeda. Bae Doona, another sensate, was in Cloud Atlas and Jupiter Ascending. Let’s not forget Darryl Hannah, from the films Splash, Attack of the 50 ft. Woman, and My Favorite Martian. Now that I search through Wikipedia entries, I see that Tuppence Middleton was also in Jupiter Ascending. So let’s just say: plenty of cred!
  • There’s more: the quality of the cinematography, the use of world-wide locations, the acting talent.

Both seasons of Sense8 are available on Netflix. Unfortunately, Netflix cancelled the show after the second season, probably because the cost of the series (on the order of $9.5 million per episode for the second season) was too high given the viewership. However, due to fan demand, there will be a two-hour series wrap-up in 2018. And there’s still a possibility that, if viewership increases, Netflix will consider extending the series… hence this blog post.

There’s an interesting wrinkle to the renewal story: The porn site xHamster wrote to the Watchowskis suggesting that they’d be willing to continue Sense8. It’s probably just a publicity stunt. In general, though, it’s an intriguing idea. There are some SF stories, such as Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, that might be (ahem) too visually challenging outside of a porn site. But, as I understand it, xHamster would not be an appropriate venue given their pejorative stance towards transgendered people.

Bottom line: See Sense8. Even if it remains forever incomplete, it’s still compelling viewing.


This past weekend I turned on my HBO subscription in order to watch Game of Thrones. It gave me the opportunity to binge-watch another HBO series, Westworld.

I have mixed feelings about the series. As I’d heard, the show has a narrative complexity and messes around with the viewers’ perceptions in an intriguing way. This sustained the show all the way until the ending of the final episode of the first (and so-far-only season), where it dropped the ball and became annoyingly conventional.

I’ll eventually watch another season of Westworld if they make another one, but I’m not going to activate an HBO subscription just to watch it.

The Hollow Crown

There’s a lot of good television becoming available right now (e.g., American Gods and Doctor Who). There’s one more show that’s a bit harder to find in the US that I’d like to bring to your attention.

The Hollow Crown is a British TV series that presents Shakespeare’s cycle of plays on the events that led to the War of the Roses:

Season One
Richard II
Henry IV, Part One
Henry IV, Part Two
Henry V

Season Two
Henry VI, Part One
Henry VI, Part Two
Richard III

What distinguishes this series is the quality of the production, bringing a Game of Thrones vibe to the battle sequences. Because the series was conceived as a whole, the same actors play the same characters throughout the plays, which helps the viewer understand the flow of events in a way that’s harder to appreciate when the plays are presented individually.

The level of acting talent is also impressive. There are two key roles played by actors familiar to genre fans: Tom Hiddleston as Prince Hal (later Henry V), and Benedict Cumberbatch as the Duke of Gloucester (later Richard III). I have to say: Cumberbatch is far better playing the villainous Richard III than he was at playing Khan Singh or Stephen Strange; there’s even a hint of Smaug in his approach.

My conscious compels me to make two disclaimers:

– Shakespeare’s historical accuracy was shaky at best, and this production makes no attempt to correct that. Don’t watch these as a history lesson.

The Hollow Crown reduces the plays somewhat, to fit a two-hour time limit for each play and to make the material more suitable for a screen presentation. In particular, Shakespeare wrote Henry VI in three parts, which The Hollow Crown reduces to two. This does not hurt the production, since you’re not likely to be bothered by the omissions (e.g., Shakespeare’s depiction of Joan La Pucelle as a witch who conversed with demons).

You can find many guides to Shakespeare and history to help you appreciate the series. As I watched, I followed along with Asimov’s Guide to Shakespeare. It explained the differences between Shakespeare and history (and the likely reasons for the differences), and provided background for the plays’ events that would not be evident to modern viewers.

I watched The Hollow Crown on discs rented from Netflix. It was broadcast in the US on PBS, and might still be available on the PBS streaming channel. Otherwise you can purchase it on Amazon and Vudu.

20th-century Doctor Who

Edit: In the four years since I wrote this post, I’ve offered its link to many folks who expressed an interest in Classic Doctor Who. Over time, this post became a bit obsolete: The current Doctor Who series has increased its references to the classic series; previously “lost” serials have been recovered and are worth inclusing. In Dec-2017, I decided to revise this post to change my recommendations somewhat, to update some reference information, and to edit for style when my prose becomes so egregious that even I can’t stand it anymore.

Many of my friends are just getting into Doctor Who. This poses a problem for those of them who want become Doctor Who geeks. The newer series, started in 2005, makes frequent references to events and characters in the “classic” Doctor Who series that ran from 1963 to 1989.

Depending on how you count them, there are 157 serials in “20th-century” Doctor Who (it seems so strange to say that). Each serial typically ran between 4-6 half-hour episodes, which works out to roughly 400 hours; it’s actually less than that, since many early serials were destroyed. That’s a lot of time to invest on geekery, especially since some of those serials are pretty awful.

To ease my friends’ entry into Doctor Who geekdom, I offer my list of the key episodes in the saga of the earlier series. Since the quality of the serial often does not correlate with its significance in the development of Doctor Who, I offer a rating of one to four stars for quality, along with the reason why I feel the serial is worth watching.

There are more serials that I’d rate three or four stars than those listed below. I tried to keep the total down to a reasonable number, and to give a representative sample of each Doctor’s era.

It’s about 96 hours of television, 60 if you stick to ones I rate three stars or higher. That’s still better than 400! For comparison, to watch all the Bond films takes about 50 hours, and to watch all seven seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer takes about 128 hours.

Some good resources for information on the Doctor’s adventures are:

First Doctor, played by William Hartnell: Cranky, cantankerous, and often downright unfriendly, but with that core of wisdom and a sense of adventure that’s essential to the Doctor.

“An Unearthly Child” (***) – Season 1, 1963, the first serial. Just watch the first episode, which introduces the key story elements that would be part of the series for its entire run: the theme song, the TARDIS, the mystery surrounding the Doctor’s background. The rest of the episodes in this serial I’d only rate as one-star, though episode 2 has some observations about what would be eventually dubbed “the chameleon circuit.”

“The Daleks” (***) – Season 1, 1963, serial 2, 7 episodes. Introduces the Doctor’s most persistent foe.

“The Dalek Invasion of Earth” (**) – Season 2, 1964, serial 10, 6 episodes. The Daleks become a continuing element of the series. It also features the first departure of a companion, when the Doctor leaves Susan behind without asking her permission. It’s worth it to watch just the last ten minutes of the last episode.

“The Tenth Planet” (*) – Season 4, 1966, serial 29, 4 episodes. It introduces the Cybermen, and is the first regeneration story.

Second Doctor, played by Patrick Troughton: Clownish, friendly, and tends to deal with enemies by running away. Every time you hear the Doctor telling a companion “Run!” it’s a reference to the second Doctor.

“The Ice Warriors” (**) – Season 5, 1967, serial 39, 6 episodes. The Ice Warriors from Mars don’t appear as often as the Doctor’s other foes, but they do pop up from time to time in both the classic and modern series.

“The Enemy of the World” (***) – Season 5, 1967, serial 40, 6 episodes. In an acting tour-de-force, Patrick Troughton plays two different roles. It also features a strong black female character in an era when Lt. Uhura on Star Trek was the only other role model.

“The Web of Fear” (***) – Season 5, 1968, serial 41, 6 episodes. This is the one of the best examples of the “base under siege” template that characterized much of the Patrick Troughton era. It introduced Alastair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, played by Nicholas Courtney, the character with the longest history connected with the Doctor.

“The War Games” (**) – Season 6, 1969, serial 50, 10 episodes. This gets two stars because I think it’s overlong for the story it tells. This is significant because it’s last serial for the second Doctor, and introduces the Time Lords face-to-face. Again, you may want to watch just the last ten minutes of the 10th episode.

Third Doctor, played by John Pertwee: Action-oriented, witty, and more earth-bound than the other incarnations of the Doctor. The third Doctor usually worked with UNIT, a United Nations task force dedicated to dealing with alien invasions, led by Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart.

“Spearhead From Space” (**) – Season 7, 1970, serial 51, 4 episodes. Introduces the third Doctor, his exile on Earth, and the Autons. The Autons also pop up a few times in the series; they’re the first enemy that the ninth Doctor faces in “Rose”, the first episode of 21st-century Doctor Who.

“Doctor Who and the Silurians” (****) – Season 7, 1970, serial 52, 7 episodes. The Silurians (like the Daleks, Cybermen, and Sontarans) still play a significant role in the 21st-century series; for example, Madam Vastra (“A Good Man Goes to War”, “The Snowmen”) is a Silurian. This was the first Doctor Who serial I ever saw, back in the early 70s when it was shown on public television in Los Angeles.

“Terror of the Autons” (***) – Season 8, 1971, serial 55, 4 episodes. Introduces the Master, played by Roger Delgado in the Third Doctor era.

“The Daemons” (**) – Season 8, 1971, serial 59, 5 episodes. I can’t help but include this one, because it includes some phrases found in standard Wiccan rituals. I assume that the writer found a typical Book of Shadows in a shop and chose to borrow some material. If you’re not Pagan, skip it.

“The Curse of Peladon” (****) – Season 9, 1972, serial 61, 4 episodes. Not only a good serial, but we get more Ice Warriors, and King Peladon is played by David Troughton, son of Patrick Troughton.

“The Three Doctors” (**) – Season 10, 1973, serial 65, 4 episodes. The first serial in which different incarnations meet each other. I wish the story were better. This serial also features the first glimpse of the Doctor’s home planet, and marks the formal end of the Doctor’s exile on earth.

“The Time Warrior” (***) – Season 11, 1973, serial 70, 4 episodes. Sarah Jane Smith, the most popular of the Doctor’s companions, appears for the first time. It also introduces another of the Doctor’s recurring enemies, the Sontarans, and mentions the name Gallifrey for the first time.

“The Monster of Peladon” (***) – Season 11, 1974, serial 73, 6 episodes. A fun follow-up to “The Curse of Peladon”, featuring some of the most curious wigs ever used on the series.

Fourth Doctor, played by Tom Baker: Everyone has “their” Doctor, and Tom Baker is mine. The first four seasons of the Tom Baker era were repeated endlessly on TV in the early 80s, and I grew to know almost all of them by heart. It’s hard for me to restrict myself to just a few serials, but I’ll try.

“The Ark in Space” (****) – Season 12, 1975, serial 76, 4 episodes. A good story, featuring some very effective set design.

“The Genesis of the Daleks” (****) – Season 12, 1975, serial 78, 6 episodes. The introduction of Davros, who would appear in every Dalek story for the rest of the classic series. This is my favorite serial from the earlier series, and turned me into a permanent Doctor Who geek the first time I saw it.

“The Brain of Morbius” (***) – Season 13, 1976, serial 84, 4 episodes. The Doctor meets “Frankenstein.”

“The Seeds of Doom” (****) – Season 13, 1976, serial 85, 6 episodes. A giant plant tries to eat the Earth; what more do you need to know? This a good “stand-alone” serial to test whether the 20th-century stories can hold your interest.

“The Hand of Fear” (***) – Season 14, 1976, serial 87, 4 episodes. Apart from being a good story, this serial marks the poignant farewell of Sarah Jane Smith as a companion.

“The Deadly Assassin” (****) – Season 14, 1976, serial 88, 4 episodes. The Doctor returns to Gallifrey, and we get our first look at Time-Lord society.

“The Talons of Weng-Chiang” (****) – Season 14, 1977, serial 91, 6 episodes. The Doctor as Sherlock Holmes in Victorian London.

“The Invasion of Time” (***) – Season 15, 1978, serial 97, 6 episodes. The best look we ever get into the structure of Time-Lord society, and we voyage deeper into the TARDIS than any serial before.

“The Ribos Operation” (***) – Season 16, 1978, serial 98, 4 episodes. The first serial in the “Key to Time” saga, which would span all of season 16. It also introduces the character of Romana.

“The Armageddon Factor” (***) – Season 16, 1979, serial 103, 6 episodes. The end to the “Key to Time.”

“City of Death” (**) – Season 17, 1979, serial 105, 4 episodes. John Cleese is in a Doctor episode… for about 30 seconds.

“The Keeper of Traken” (***) – Season 18, 1981, serial 115, 4 episodes. Introduces Anthony Ainley in the role of the Master, whom he would play until the end of the 20th-century series.

“Logopolis” (***) – Season 18, 1981, serial 116, 4 episodes. The last Tom Baker story.

Fifth Doctor, played by Peter Davison: No offense to the actor, but I didn’t like him the way I did Tom Baker. His more restrained approach to the role was too much of a contrast to the more flamboyant image of the fourth Doctor. Also, the series began a gradual decline in quality.

“Castrovalva” (**) – Season 19, 1982, serial 117, 4 episodes. The reason why I’m including this serial on the list is that it’s a regeneration story, and “The Keeper of Traken”, “Logopolis”, and “Castrovalva” are often linked together as “The Master Trilogy.” There’s more of the TARDIS interior, and the set design of Castrovalva is interesting, but otherwise the story is weak.

“Kinda” (***) – Season 19, 1982, serial 119, 4 episodes. One of the better fifth-Doctor stories, taking a mystical approach that was unusual for the series.

“Snakedance” (****) – Season 20, 1983, serial 125, 4 episodes. The follow-up to “Kinda.”

“Mawdryn Undead” (**) – Season 20, 1983, serial 126, 4 episodes. The return of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart after a long absence. Also notable for the origin of the UNIT dating controversy.

“The Five Doctors” (***) – Season 20, 1983, serial 131, one hour-long episode. The only time we get to see four incarnations at once (Tom Baker didn’t choose to appear).

“The Caves of Androzani” (**) – Season 21, 1984, serial 137, 4 episodes. It’s a regeneration story. The common opinion of this serial differs from mine: I don’t like it much, but many think this is one of the best stories of the series.

Sixth Doctor, played by Colin Baker: The era of this incarnation marks the creative nadir of the series. Many toss the blame at Colin Baker, who is often regarded as the Jar Jar Binks of the Doctors. I see him as an actor whose intended interpretation of a dark and conflicted Doctor was contradicted and altered by his superiors. There’s little in this era I can recommend.

“The Mark of the Rani” (***) – Season 22, 1985, serial 140, 2 episodes (the episodes in the sixth-Doctor era were 45 minutes long). I’ll damn this one with faint praise as the least-objectionable of the period.

“The Two Doctors” (**) – Season 22, 1985, serial 141, 3 episodes. Patrick Troughton appears in the last “Doctor crossover” serial of the 20-century series.

Seventh Doctor, played by Sylvester McCoy: Puckish, mysterious, with a twinkle in his eye. The series began to recover from the poor decisions made in the time of the sixth Doctor, but it wasn’t enough to save the series from cancellation in 1989. Many of the seventh-Doctor serials have frantic and confused stories that don’t appeal to me, but there are a few gems.

“Time and the Rani” (**) – Season 24, 1987, serial 147, 4 episodes. A regeneration story. It has some clever moments, such as when the Rani (a Time-Lord villianess) impersonates Mel, the Doctor’s current companion.

“Remembrance of the Daleks” (***), Season 25, 1988, serial 151, 4 episodes. The final appearance of the Daleks in the classic series; we see them climb stairs for the first time. It’s also intended be a direct sequel to the first Doctor Who episode, “An Unearthly Child.”

“Silver Nemesis” (***) – Season 25, 1988, serial 153, 3 episodes. The final appearance of the Cybermen in the classic series. It attempted to increase the mystery of the Doctor’s background, which had been considerably demystified in the fourth-Doctor era.

“Battlefield” (***) – Season 26, 1989, serial 155, 4 episodes. Lethbridge-Stewart returns in a story based on Arthurian legend.

“Survival” (**) – Season 26, 1989, serial 157, 3 episodes. The last of the classic serials, the final appearance of Anthony Ainley as the Master.

To be complete, I should include the 1996 Doctor Who movie (**), the only appearance of the eighth incarnation of the Doctor, played by Paul McGann. In it, the Doctor says that he’s half-human on his mother’s side; whether this statement is canonical or another example of “the Doctor lies” remains to be seen. The Doctor kisses a companion for the first time… but not the last!