“This song is ending,” the Tenth Doctor is told as he limps painfully back to the TARDIS to begin his regeneration in “The End of Time,” “but the story never ends.” It’s an incredibly Doctor Who thing that this poignancy is delivered by a choir-backed, tentacle-faced psychic alien with a glowing ball attached to said tentacle face. The other incredibly Doctor Who thing is that it’s truest line of dialogue ever spoken in 60 years of the franchise.
Things change on Doctor Who all the time—companions come and go, new places in time, from ancient days to the farthest tomorrows, are visited every week. TARDIS interiors grow and change and redecorate. Enemies are defeated, and either stay gone or evolve into some even deadlier threat. Doctors die, and they live, and they die again. A show about time travel that has been consistently on the air for the best part of 60 years is always going to be about the inevitably of that, on screen and off it. Doctor Who is still thriving today, telling new stories, because 57 years ago someone decided that show shouldn’t stop when William Hartnell was set to depart it.
But just because things change doesn’t mean that there isn’t stuff that sticks around in your heart and minds—time changes, yes, but the memories of all these heroes and villains, all these adventures, the happiness and the heartbreak, they all live on, within Doctor Who fans as well as the show itself. It is this idea that Tales of the TARDIS, the new series of shorts the BBC has created to launch its new “Whoniverse” streaming archive of over 800 Doctor Who episodes, is a love letter to, and in it, the promise of something magical: that these stories can go on forever if we want them to.
Tales of the TARDIS operates a series of special omnibus collections of classic Doctor Who stories: the Fifth Doctor story “Earthshock;” the Second Doctor’s “The Mind Robber;” the Sixth Doctor’s “Vengeance on Varos;” the anniversary special “The Three Doctors;” the First Doctor’s “The Time Meddler,” and the Seventh Doctor’s “The Curse of Fenric.” Each story is condensed into a single edited episode, bookending new material featuring a veritable cast of Doctor Who icons, as they find themselves gathered in a TARDIS that is a mashup of 60 years of console room designs, cramped, stuffy, but also oddly homey because of it.
This “Remembered TARDIS” is how Tales of the TARDIS both excuses that its stars have aged since we last saw them, and also how it reunites Doctors and companions, and old friends pulled apart after their adventures in Time and Space. The Seventh Doctor and Ace (Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred) physically reunite after their brief moment in “Power of the Doctor,” as do the Fifth Doctor and Tegan (Peter Davison and Janet Fielding) and the Sixth Doctor and Peri (Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant). Jamie McCrimmon and Zoe Heriot (Frazer Hines and Wendy Padbury), who lost their memories of traveling with the Doctor when they parted ways with him at the climax of “The War Games,” are back with those memories fully restored, while first Doctor companions Steven and Vicki (Peter Purves and Maureen O’Brien) are reunited across time after the latter left the TARDIS life behind to live in ancient Greece. Some of the connections are more recent—like Jo Grant and Sarah Jane Adventures’ Clyde Langer (Katy Manning and Daniel Anthony)—but no less resonant, tied by those they both left behind. In this magical, psychically resonant amalgam, it’s as if Doctor Who history itself is alive and in flux, shards of these people, these memories, pulled together into this one place.
But while memories are fixed upon moments, these new scenes with all these characters are about acknowledging that time has indeed changed. Jo and Clyde reminisce over the people they’ve lost in Sarah Jane and Jo’s husband, Cliff Jones, as do the Fifth Doctor and Tegan over the death of Adric in “Earthshock.” Zoe and Jamie and Steven and Vicki all reflect on how their lives have changed since traveling with the Doctor, and in an especially touching arc the Seventh Doctor and Ace finally reconcile their dark, twisting relationship and all the anger and hurt that came between them as a result of the Doctor’s machinations. It’s an acknowledgement that these characters don’t ever have to be held in amber beyond their last official appearance in whatever you consider “proper” Doctor Who to be—even if we didn’t see some of them for years, these characters went on and had lives, changed and grew as people. Just because they don’t look exactly the way we remember them doesn’t mean that they aren’t those people in the here and now.
And in the here and now, in this TARDIS of memories—where it’s never really sure if these people are their physical selves or some sort of memory ghost, none of which really matters either way—these stories can never end. Each of the Tales of the TARDIS shorts ends with that kind of hopeful reminder. In some cases it’s literal, like Ace, Tegan, Peri, and their respective Doctors deciding to use the chance of their reunions to travel the universe together again. More bittersweetly, in the case of Jo and Clyde, they strive to continue their adventures in the spirit of those they’ve lost, keeping them in their hearts and minds forever. But they are all united in this idea that these characters and stories are timeless as long as we remember them, generations after generations of Doctor Who to be kept alive across many years to come. Their may come and go, or take a pause, but the stories? They always go on.
We’ll find out in a few weeks if the return of another set of nostalgic memories—albeit a more recent one in the return of David Tennant and Catherine Tate as the Doctor and Donna Noble—will serve as a fitting tribute to mark 60 years of Doctor Who’s adventures. But if the Tales of the TARDIS were the only treat Doctor Who fans were getting to mark that achievement, it would be a fitting, loving thing to have received.
Tales of the TARDIS is available to watch now in the UK and Ireland on the BBC iPlayer. An international release is currently not planned.
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