What did the Fourth Doctor do for the show?

There’s a quick guide to the Fourth Doctor on the generally excellent BBC America website: ‘Doctor Who’: A Companion To The Fourth Doctor. It makes a few good points, but I’ve been thinking structurally. I’ll give a thumbnail view of the previous incarnations then hone in on the contribution of the Fourth Doctor. I’m ignoring time in role and excellent companions, this is just about the impact on the show’s DNA.

The Doctors so far

In the roughest of outlines, we’ve had:

  1. First Doctor: the TARDIS, companions, Daleks, pure historicals and regeneration
  2. Second Doctor: had to embed regeneration, brought some memorable new aliens and took us back to the Time Lords, opening up Gallifrey as a setting
  3. Third Doctor: the embedding of UNIT, the Master and the trapped on Earth / Quatermass feeling.

The Arc in Time

The sub-heading rather gives it away: my thesis is the Fourth Doctor really brought us the series arc. We’d had long themed stories before (mostly with Daleks), but this is something different, and something we’d not see again until the Sixth Doctor comes along (so you’ll have to wait for later in the year if your local time coordinates match mine when I write this (April 2019)).

The first Tom Baker series has stories set on and around Nerva. It’s a framing location but not an arc beyond that. It is a platform (in many senses) but not an active idea like Bad Wolf or the Trial of the Timelord.

Skip a few series and we get this set of stories in series 16:

  • The Ribos Operation
  • The Pirate Planet
  • The Stones of Blood
  • The Androids of Tara
  • The Power of Kroll
  • The Armageddon Factor.

Yes, it’s the Key to Time, White and Black Guardians and Romana, the first Gallifrey Companion since Susan. Unlike more modern arcs, this one is direct, clearly shaping and a good framing idea. Graham Williams deserves plenty of credit for this, so much so I can feel another Key to Time post coming on;-)

Between September 1978 and February 1978 we had 26 weeks dedicated to one great story, perhaps the last great Doctor Who story of the 1970s. Well, until City of Death!

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