The Doctor's second decade on air famously has many of the shows best received episodes. The decade was also dominated by arguably the best Doctor, Tom Baker. And during the majority of these years, there's hardly a dud episode.
We start off with the tail end of Jon Pertwee's era. Here we see the departure of Katy Manning's Jo Grant. I never really liked her, she seemed to only be there because she was pretty, though she did fulfil the grandaughterly role the Doctor hadn't had since probably Victoria. Anyway, to replace her we had the fantastic Sarah Jane Smith. While I don't think she's quite as good as everyone says, she's definitely a decent companion and better than most that came before.
So once the Doctor regenerates into Tom Baker, we have almost a completely different show. The format changes from the mainly Earthbound stories of Pertwee's era to travels in time and space. The way Doctor Who should be. But not only that, once we get into Baker's second season, we enter into some very dark territory.
It was during this time that the programme had many advocates against the horror and violence it portrayed. I've scoffed at these in the past, and even today, I will remind anyone that there is an 'off' switch and you are not required to watch anything. However, having now seen the transition from the beginning, through four different incarnation of the main character, and for it to almost suddenly change into this weekly horror, I can kind of understand their viewpoints. Doctor Who used to be good family viewing; by the mid seventies, it was great mature horror. I can only imagine what it would have been like to be a child in 1976 watching the Deadly Assassin and seeing the Master in his emaciated form. Even today the work stands up well.
But then, of course, due to all this pressure from 'television decency campaigners', the show went on a lighter road. But for the most part, it didn't descend into silliness (they would save that for the late eighties). Once the rather fantastic, but violent, Leela left, we are treated to one of the best seasons ever, the Key to Time. Unlike every other season to date, this one followed a loose arc around the Doctor and new companion Romana to recover the lost segments for the eponymous Key. This also introduces two characters who are begging for a return in the new series, the White and Black Guardians.
But it is Tom Baker's last season that I think is better even than the Key to Time. Disregarding the first two stories, The Leisure Hive and Meglos, we have the E-Space Trilogy, a series of loosely connected serials about the TARDIS being lost in another universe. And at the end we have the wonderful return of the Master. This season has many themes that flow from one to the other, the theme of entropy and decay, the feeling of being at the end. More than anything else to come before it, this feels like the last season. And I will argue to the ends of the Earth the Logopolis is the best and most epic (by a MASSIVE margin) departure for a Doctor. Nothing like it before or since has ever even come close.
It was the Master's first proper story since kind of regenerating, and he ends up destroying a sizeable chunk of the known universe! But what got me is the cliffhanger when the Doctor agrees to work with the Master to rectify his mistakes. It's odd because in pretty much every story involving the Master up until this point has concluded with this same scenario. But because of the epic scale of the destruction, and the general epicness of the entire serial, and indeed the season as a whole, it is just such a powerful moment.
And then the Doctor regenerates into Peter Davison. Now before embarking on this marathon, I had only watched a few serials from this era. I had enjoyed Davison's portrayal, but felt some of the stories had been a bit lacking. But having now watched two seasons with him, I don't think the show really put a foot wrong. You've got some cracking tales like Kinda which has an incredibly creepy dream sequence and some good psychological horror. The wonderful Earthshock which managed to make Cybermen good again after to rather poor Revenge of the Cybermen; it also did double duty of making the death of Adric a sad occasion, when usually I, and most fans, would have been overjoyed. Yeah, Adric was the only companion since Susan that I have hated. And who can forget the Black Guardian trilogy? For the first time since the very beginning, we have open distrust in the TARDIS, with a possible murderer onboard. And within this arc, we have some cracking serials with the overarching theme of immortality and death, something I have been writing about for the past year in Emergence. It's a very dark season when you get into it, but then we finish off with the gratuitous romp that is the Five Doctors, ready for Davison's final season, and the unfortunate decline of the programme.