The new series of Doctor Who appeals to fans of the classic series by occasionally referring to events or characters who appeared in the show before its return to the small screen in 2005. We’ve had reappearances of companions like Sarah Jane Smith and K-9, revisitations to locations like Gallifrey and the I.M. Foreman scrap yard, and reinvasions by evildoers familiar like Daleks and Cybermen.
Production design, at least by the 1980s, worked for television. The scriptwriting ranged from somewhat interesting to enlightening. It certainly held my attention as a kid. Today, as viewers have come to expect higher production values, where television dramas are more like mini-films than British television drama of the twentieth century, rewatching the classic series can be a painful experience.
A strong villain like the Zygons can come back to the new series thirty years since their only appearance in the classic series and still be acceptable for new viewers, as Stephen Moffat showed the audience in the 50th anniversary special. But even as late as the 1980s, as I’ve discovered while watching Tom Baker’s final season and the first season with producer John-Nathan Turner at the helm of Doctor Who, there are some things from the classic series that could never make the jump to today’s audience.
Yet there are also aspects that have stood the passing of time. I remember these early 1980 episodes most from my first watching due to the music. At the time, I was a big fan of synth, and Doctor Who was probably my biggest exposure to that music. The music surprisingly holds up to listening in 2013. It’s clearly a style that fits the late 1970s and early 1980s, but it is composed well and goes a long way to assist the on-screen drama.
Characters, especially aliens, from this era of the show don’t hold up as well. Meet Meglos, the villain in the series of the same name, the second story in season 18 of the classic series, aired in 1980. The freelance writers hired for this episode apparently drew inspiration from a wilting cactus in their English flat.
The design of the alien monster was approved because it was something that hadn’t been seen on Doctor Who in the show’s previews 17 years. And it hasn’t been seen since.
That said, there’s always a possibility that the show’s current creative team could take one of the worst aspects of the classic series and give it a rebirth for a new series. That might be a good idea for old aspects that have a strong foundation. Good writers could turn yesterday’s garbage into something fresh and engaging. But why bother when you can start from scratch?
Unfortunately for the series as a whole, Meglos, the character, story, and the broadcast, is what exemplifies the typical opinion of the series by non-fans: ridiculous costumes, unbelievable design concepts, and bad acting.
Next time you’re driving through the desert in Arizona, you may look at the landscape differently after watching this story. Let’s let this villain die.