Monday, December 9, 2013

Vincent & The Doctor



I enjoyed Vincent and The Doctor a little less this time than I did when I first watched it. I still like it, even with quibbles.

It benefits from a magnificent performance from Tony Curran as Vincent van Gogh at its heart. It helps that he does actually look pretty similar to how van Gogh actually looked, which is nicely signposted in that little moment where the Doctor holds up a van Gogh self-portrait in front of Curran's face and you find yourself thinking how alike they actually are. It's the strength of Curran's performance that enables the story to hang together as an emotional piece.

After all the monster in this, the poor lost, blinded Krafaysis is an aside. A thing included to make this feel like a normal Doctor Who story when it isn't. It's a Richard Curtis* story about van Gogh and depression. And about how a great man. A great and damaged man can twist his pain into something so wonderful as van Gogh's paintings.

I've been to the Musee d'Orsay in Paris. If my truth be told I think there's more great artwork in there than in the Louvre but everyone is a critic these days. I had never seen a van Gogh 'live' until then but when you do it is a sensuous experience of the first order. I never realised that colour could be so...colourful. The colours in his paintings fizz with energy and you find yourself wondering how people missed it at the time. How can you not see that this man is doing something absolutely astonishing. And, of course, this is now turning into a review of van Gogh's artworks and a consideration of what van Gogh means as an artist.

But then this story does that too. I love the scene where the Doctor, Amy and van Gogh lie on the ground in the night, looking up at the sky and van Gogh describes what he can see. You don't often get moments of great poetry in Doctor Who but that is one of them. I'd watch Vincent and the Doctor just for that scene really.

That and the scene where we get an insight into van Gogh's depression when the Doctor tries to hurry him along. Again Curran is truly heart-breaking in this scene. It's a little uncomfortable watch because it feels so true and the Doctor really, really doesn't know what to do to help.

Matt Smith is good in this, with the exception of his irritating childishness when van Gogh is painting. It's almost funny but the idea that the Doctor has to behave like a child in these circumstances doesn't entirely ring true. Especially as by this point you'd quite easily believe van Gogh would just wake him one for jabbering whilst he was trying to work. Thankfully the Krafaysis turns up in time for us to have a bit of fun.

The poor scared Krafaysis. Doctor Who doesn't often give consideration to fear when people die. Understandable really because with the amount of dying that goes on in Doctor Who it would become a completely different and rather bizarre programme if it did. But the Krafaysis is afraid and dying alone. Abandoned. Blind.

Then - as a reward - the Doctor and Amy take van Gogh to the future. To the Musee d'Orsay. To show him how he's valued in the 21st century and for a brief moment Doctor Who goes all Grey's Anatomy. I'm not sure really who this reward is for. The Doctor must know that van Gogh will still kill himself. Perhaps he's still trying to make it up to Amy for Rory's death that she doesn't remember but perhaps the real reason is revealed in the rather magnificent speech the Doctor gives Amy about life being made up of good moments and bad moments.

Van Gogh's suicide, despite his apparent validation, shows that there are some corners of the universe that even the Doctor cannot reach.

Add to that some rather magnificent design work by the art department that makes some of van Gogh's paintings really seem to live : the café, the interior of van Gogh's bedroom etc and there is some greatness in this story but for reasons I'm not quite sure of it affected me less this time than before. Perhaps I'm just getting more cynical in my old age.

I do know that once more Doctor Who steals the creative credit from an artist - see my quibbles previously in the blogs about The Shakespeare Code and The Unicorn & The Wasp (and my comments about Mary Shelley in Big Finish too) by making Amy give van Gogh the Sunflowers idea. Stop doing that producers of Doctor Who. It might be funny but it takes credit away from truly brilliant people and makes Doctor Who more like Goodnight Sweetheart. So stop it.

So to conclude in as sudden and as artificial way as possible I like this story a lot but there's something that I can't quite put my finger on that prevents it from being labelled a roaring success. I think it would have been a better story without the Krafaysis but then would it have been a Doctor Who story at all then.

Oh as it has just popped into my brain I did like the Scottish accent/Netherlands joke and the 'ultimate ginge'.






*I could waffle on about Richard Curtis but I think he's had enough comment to last a lifetime so I'm going to pretend for the purposes of this interview that he's just a jobbing Doctor Who writer. We can talk about Blackadder, Four Weddings and a Funeral etc another time. Next thing you know Doctor Who will be trying to get Tom Stoppard to write an episode.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Hungry Earth-Cold Blood

 
Hmmmm, I'm not sure what to make of that. A two-part story The Hungry Earth-Cold Blood sees the return of Homo Reptilia aka The Eocenes aka The Silurians.
 
Unfortunately they've had a makeover, which makes them seem less 'alien' and more 'Star Trek: Next Generation'. It's a lovely make-up job, it really is but it is less interesting than the originals. So there's an initial quibble for you.
 
I'm sure it's also film in the same place as Torchwood: Countryside, although that might be my imagination because it has a little of the same vibe and it is written by the same writer Chris Chibnall. Perhaps it's the Welshness of it.
 
Also I found the second episode awful in comparison with the first. What's the point in giving yourself two episodes if you're going to rush together the end of the story with a whoosh of convenience and farewells. Ah, but we have the season long arc to finish so we must spend a chunk of the episode pushing that along and killing Rory, for the first time. And removing him from existence. It's all rather rushed and despite Karen Gillen giving it her best Rory's death just didn't have the impact it should have done.
 
Perhaps though I am spoiled by knowing how it will all pan out in the end. Perhaps that has cooled the reaction. Perhaps but I suspect not. It's all so rushed and then we have to push it along a little more in order to sow another seed for the 'crack' arc. This is the problem with season long story arcs. If clumsily handled they get in the way of the story you are actually in and I think - in this case - that's what happens.
 



It's not all bad though. I like the Doctor's faith in humanity and his horror at Ambrose's (Nia Roberts) murder of Alaya (the Home Reptilia). Alaya, who like her 'genetic sister' is a Warrior, wants war with the apes and has spent time goading everyone - including the Doctor - into killing her in order to start a war. It's a sort of suicide for genocide. A reverse Spock.*

Alaya and Restac are both played by Neve McIntosh who has since gone on to be the Homo Reptilia of choice as Madame Vastra. Both her characters in this are of a nastier, more murderous inclination. They don't like apes and they want their planet back. They're not afraid to bump off members of their own race to do it. Or die. The end justifies the means.

McIntosh is pretty great actually.

Being a 'Silurian' story we get echoes of previous stories and a wiser, more peaceful Elder Eldane (Stephen Moore) is the other side of the Silurian character. He's looking for a peaceful solution to the problem. It's is Eldane's reaction to Alaya's death that convinces you that this will not end well. But in the end - and without much in the way of explanation as to why - Eldane trusts the humans and the Doctor enough to force his people back into suspended animation. Woo-hoo.

The guest cast is small and initially the two-part story looks like it is going to give us room for character development but then woosh it rushes away with itself so Meera Syal's Nasreen Chaudhrey realises that she loves Robert Pugh's (who I love btw - brilliant actor) Tony Mack but the whole thing seems as rushed in the end as Leela's departure in The Invasion of Time.

Oh but a big round of applause to Samuel Davies as Elliot for being a child actor in Doctor Who that isn't actually really annoying.

To cut this ramble short there's a good story in here somewhere with good characters but it doesn't quite escape from being squeezed by the need to fit a story arc. A decent-ish first episode is hamstrung by a rushed and disappointing second. Not horrible. Just eminently forgettable.

Oh and oh. Er, if this drill is has reached the furthest into the Earth ever then why isn't the planet screaming out its rage. Has nobody heard of Inferno.



*I knew what I meant by this when I typed it. I may have lost it afterwards but these are meant to be stream of consciousness, immediate reaction blogs so...and I still think I know. Sort of. Ish.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Amy's Choice


Amy's Choice is an odd little Doctor Who story. It's less about things happening and more about relationships. Yes, there's aliens. Yes, there's the Dream Lord. Yes, there's psychic spores but really it is a good, old-fashioned conversation about love, trust and being a gooseberry.

It's written by Simon Nye, who is best known for writing Men Behaving Badly, but actually there are probably less comic moments in this than in the average 'New' Doctor Who story. I think he's experience juggling the relationships in Men Behaving Badly obviously helped with this.

The story starts off in the peaceful village of Ledworth...sorry Upper Ledworth. Rory and Amy are married. Amy is heavily pregnant. Into this story pops the Doctor who was passing by. Sort of. This rural idle seems to be Rory's idea of paradise, less so Amy's. But then the three wake up in the TARDIS. Talking about their weird dream. Before popping back into Upper Ledworth. And back. It's all a bit dreamy-weamy. (Sorry)

Then up pops the Dream Lord, played with a fantastically sharp nastiness by the never less than brilliant Toby Jones. (Toby Jones following Helen McCrory following Iain Glen is a joy to be savoured. Doctor Who really is getting some master acting crafts people in this Series) This mysterious figure, cosplaying the Doctor when he first appears, has control of the TARDIS. And its occupants dreams.

One of the two scenarios outlined above is real. One is a dream. In both the TARDIS crews life is at risk. They have to decide which is real and which is the dream. In the dream your death will just mean you're waking up. In reality, of course, your dead.

In Upper Ledworth the TARDIS crew are besieged by a gang of alien infested old people. Inside the TARDIS meanwhile a failing ship is heading towards an icy doom. Which one is real, which one is fantasy. I'm just a poor boy etc.

The story turns on Rory and Amy's relationship. Once more Arthur Darvill is brilliant, although this time everyone seems to raise their game. Matt Smith is great, particularly when he realises who the Dream Lord actually is (that's a spoiler I'll let you discover for yourselves). He does play the Doctor as a sort of modern day version of the Second Doctor with a dash of excitable toddler. It works for me. I like it.

Karen Gillan too is better in this than in the rest of the season so far. The scene when Rory is killed her anger and sadness is genuinely pretty moving and she gets to be cruel to the Doctor as a result. That 'then what are you for?' line is really, horribly unpleasant and feels like grief.

But it is the loss of Rory that decides for Amy which is the real reality and which is the dream. Or at least pushes her to the point of not caring either way. A universe without Rory is not one that Amy Pond wants to live in.

It's all rather sweet. It manages, just, to avoid turning into the sort of saccharine horror that we might come across at other points. Amy and Rory are the first 'real' couple to inhabit the TARDIS so undoubtedly their relationship will crop up again. And the Doctor's role as gooseberry/rival too.

I do like Amy and Rory. They feel like a real-ish couple. Not just an artificial creation. It's not perfect and I'm not sure how Doctor Who it is but then, as I've said before and I'm sure I'll say again, the format of Doctor Who allows you to put a lot of stuff in it that might not fit comfortably in to other series. Why can't Doctor Who be a science-fiction romantic comedy occasionally? Well, it can. Like it can be a Western, a soap opera, a space opera, a surreal unworldly thing, a historical drama, a War film or any other blessed thing. The joy - and greatness of Doctor Who - is its utter ability to absorb pretty much any genre into its DNA.

That you've got to love.

This is definitely a step up from Vampires in Venice. Next up our second two part story of the series: The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood. My review that will probably not go up until Sunday as there's a busy weekend ahead at Patient Centurion Mansions.



Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Vampires of Venice



The Vampires of Venice is a disappointment. Normally 'New' Doctor Who suffers from trying to get in too much in too short a time but here I think there's not enough. It's a bog standard Doctor knocks off new Monster in passing whilst we focus on the bigger picture stories.

Sometimes 'New' Doctor Who stories suffer from a sort of fictional insecurity when they're not key parts of whatever arc the showrunner is obsessed with at the time. They're kind of throw away entertainments. Neither awful nor good The Vampires of Venice is one of those stories. It's all just feels like a first draft. Or a final draft that no one was paying proper attention to because they were all distracted by the big shiny story arc which gets a nod here.

There are some nice moments, but that can be said about the whole of The Moff's era. It's all about the cool moments: The Doctor popping out of the cake at Rory's stag night in the pre-credits sequence, Rory's brave but incompetent battle against Guido, Rory's stinging telling off of the Doctor for being dangerous because people want to impress him...in fact there's a pattern here.

The best thing in this story, for me, is Arthur Darvill's Rory who is both comic relief and the most normal person in Doctor Who since Griffin the Chef in The Enemy of the World. Darvill has fantastic comic timing and can act without looking like he's acting, which is one hell of a talent. His addition to the TARDIS crew is a good thing. He's bounces off both Matt Smith and Karen Gillan as well as making both of them better.

Although I'm a bit disappointed with Matt Smith in this story. He's great in parts but also on occasion I think he's relying too much on ticks and tricks. He's still pretty damn good to watch but sometimes you just want him to do a little bit less.

Maybe I'm just grumpy.

Helen McCrory is rather brilliant as Rosanna though. Another fine actress whose talents are almost wasted in the part but who - paradox alert - makes Rosanna a far better character as a result. The balance in a performance between acting and writing fascinates me. How much of a good performance is the lines and how much the acting. Great actors can make (mostly) banal lines seems golden, bad actors can make Shakespeare as clunky as a clunky thing.

So yes I think Helen McCrory is a far better actress than a part like Rosanna deserves but because she is such a good actress she makes Rosanna a far more memorable character. The scene between her and Matt Smith, which ends with the Doctor angry that she couldn't remember the late lamented Isabella's name, is brilliant. And that's because of McCrory. In the hands of an average actress it would probably be nothing more than yet another dull clash between the Doctor and a villain.

Final conclusion: reasonable entertaining but pretty tediously average in both ambition and result. If I were a teacher I'd be finishing this with that tried and tested phrase: "Could do better."



Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Time of Angels / Flesh and Stone

 
 
Overall, I enjoyed both The Time of Angels and Flesh and Stone. Although there were a couple of things that irritated the hell out of me.
 
 
River Song.
 
 
River River Song Song.
 
 
Right, I don't actually mind River Song as a character most of the time. Even if the idea of the Doctor running around the universe as some kind of taxi service rescuing anyone seems a bit odd. If he could do that why is he not constantly picking up and dropping off companions? Oh, I hear you cry, River Song's special.
 
 
Yes, I'm sure she will be. But at this point she seems irritatingly over-confident and pushy. The sort of person for whom the phrase 'high maintenance' was invented. She can't just fly the TARDIS, she can fly it better than the Doctor. Oh and that joke about the handbrakes was worth it wasn't it. Ha ha. And never heard of again. Indeed so never heard from again that the Moff makes the sound of the TARDIS materialisation the sound of hope by the time we get to The Day of the Doctor.  (Oops spoilers).
 
 
I'm not sure how much I can blame Alex Kingston for her choices or the original character outline for this but it's bloody irritating. Although - to be fair to everyone - it does calm down a bit after the initial twenty minutes or so.
 
 
The other irritating thing was the Moff's decision to turn the Weeping Angels into cold bloodied killers. OK so their original modus operandi didn't make much sense but at least it made them different to your bog standard beasties. It doesn't reduce their creepiness I will admit but then that creepiness was there when they didn't break people's necks. Or whatever it is they actually do.
 
It does present us with the nasty form of poor old Angel Bob though whose fate is rather unpleasant and clearly has an effect on the Doctor's response to the Angel's, which leads to the 'Into a trap' cliffhanger which Matt Smith delivers with some panache. And on DVD at least it wasn't ruined by the voice of Graham Norton. (Although I'm surprised that option wasn't available on the DVD for that full 'as live' experience).
 

 
Those are probably my only complaints. The rest of it is pretty damn good. 
 
 
 

Karen Gillan is starting to grow on me as Amy Pond and her walk through the Forest of Angels is incredibly tense, although it's a shame she has to come over all Susan and trip over, especially as she's...well let us move on. Oh and bonus points for the countdown to the Moff. That was nicely done and rather spooky.


Matt Smith is excellent. There's some lovely moments but the best for me are the 'Trap' speech as outlined above, the 'Hold On' moment and best of all Octavian's death (which is to some degree the Doctor's fault for faffing around too much.)


In fact my favourite thing in this whole story is Iain Glen's Octavian. No one ever seems to bring his performance up when talking about guest appearances but he's brilliant and his death scene is one of the most moving and brilliantly played in all Doctor Who history. I'm a big fan of Iain Glen's and have been since I saw him in a rather fantastic little series called 'Frankie's House' back in the early 1990s. He's been on my list of possible Doctor's for a while too. So it was nice to see him do such a fantastic job throughout.

So my early complaints aside I should reiterate how much I did enjoy this. It looked fantastic, had a real tension about it from the moment we first see the Angel on video to the end...and I liked the fact  that the Angels sealed their own fate.

It also keeps the arc ticking along nicely as we see the crack from Amy's wall appearing and doing some rather unpleasant things to soldiers and Angels alike.

A much needed improvement on Victory of the Daleks and perhaps the sign of good things to come.

Ah, one final not so sure about it moment. The end of the episode with Amy trying to get off with the Doctor. I'm not sure if that doesn't quite cross a line that Doctor Who shouldn't cross. I'm not entirely sure but it felt a bit awkwardly tacked on to me. But we shall see.

Good stuff. More of this please.






Monday, November 25, 2013

A Personal Pointless Top 10 Things From the 50th Anniversary


So that was the 50th Anniversary that was. Did we all enjoy ourselves? Good. Here, for no reasons apart from personal ego, are my Top 10 Favourite Bits from the 50th Anniversary. I'm sure you've got your own.

1: The Curator

I've watched this bit of Day of the Doctor about six or seven times and I love it a little more each time. It's beautifully played by both Tom and Matt and because Tom is my Doctor this scene meant quite a lot to me. The perfect Doctor Who moment for me.

2: "Whatever you guys are up to. I'm in. Work permitting of course."

The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot was fantastic. Congratulations to everyone involved, particularly writer - director Peter 'Fifth Doctor' Davison. There's so much good stuff in here but Paul McGann's bit cracked me up. Which brings me neatly on to...

3: The Night of the Doctor

I can forgive the Moff a lot of Doctor Who related writing crimes for this 7-ish minutes. My pre-50th Wish List had Paul McGann coming back quite high up on it. And here we are. Yes, he doesn't get to be in the special (which is odd because you could have put the McGann Doctor in there instead of John Hurt's and it would have still worked. Possibly a little better in fact.) but this was a nice little moment. And we get to see him regenerate. Closing a irritating little gap. At least for me.

4: "I don't want to go"

An Adventure is Space & Time was, for me, rather wonderful. Kudos to Mark Gatiss for his fine work. I'm sure those who've research the era can find reasons to niggle about facts & faces but I thought it was lovely. And I was a bit teary all the way through from the moment David Bradley's  - who was fantastic - Hartnell broke down to the end.

5: Fleeing in Terror from the War Machines (see picture)

This one is very personal but on the morning of the 50th myself and Leslie McMurtry, editor of the fine Doctor Who fanzine "The Terrible Zodin" went out & about in London exploring Doctor Who filming locations. We concentrated on The War Machines with a brief digression into Remembrance of the Daleks. It was great fun and there's a little geek frisson when you realise you're standing where a War Machine or a Dalek once stood.

6: The Regenerations Panel at Excel

If The Five (ish) Doctors Reboot hadn't conclusively proved it to the nation that Davison, Colin Baker & McCoy make a fine comedic partnership then this panel would have done. Their timing is excellent but on top of that they are genuinely interesting to hear talking about Doctor Who. All three of them a great advocates of the series and all three of them make fantastic Big Finish Doctors. Which brings me to...

7: The Light at the End

Big Finish's Anniversary story featuring the first 8 Doctors was a majestic tribute to both Doctor Who itself and the Big Finish version in particular. If you haven't listened to it already then I recommend it. A lot.

8: "It's a scientific instrument"

The best bit of multi-Doctor stories is the interaction between the Doctors and this was a big part of The Day of the Doctor too. Hurt's Doctor was particularly brilliant at mocking the childishness of the other two but they also worked exceptionally well together helping to make the central part of the story hold together whilst The Moff's usual fireworks were going off around them. So let's hear it for John Hurt, David Tennant & Matt Smith.

9. "I'm a bit of a tosser."

Another - probable - personal moment for me. This occurred whilst listening to David Quantick's excellent and amusing 'Blagger's Guide to Doctor Who'. (It's on BBCi-player but was split into two bits by whichever muppets were in charge. This might have changed. UPDATE: full version is now here) The quote above turns up as Michael Grade describing himself after the 'hiatus/cancellation' is discussed. I know it is petty and silly but you know I laughed a lot.

10. Being a Doctor Who fan

Yes, there will be differences of opinion about how good the 50th story was. Yes, there are people who would have preferred anyone but The Moff to be writing it. But you know overall it has been a fantastic time to be a Doctor Who fan.* Whether you've watched since the first episode or came on board with Matt Smith it has been a fantastic experience. As a said in the blog previous to this one - and Paul Cornell's 'bullying' comment in the Culture Show's Doctor Who special (which just misses out on this Top Ten) made clear - being a Doctor Who fan wasn't always as wonderful an experience as it (generally) is now.

So the fact that we're still here. That the programme is still here and reaching out to new fans and new countries all the time** is bloody brilliant.

Here's to the 100th.


*But dear BBC let us never speak of the Live After Show Party again.

**Excel had German, Russian and American fans in attendance (that I heard/spoke to). There were probably many, many more.


PS I've left out a lot of other great things. 

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Night Before a Whovian Christmas


I was at the first day of the BBC's Official Doctor Who Convention at Excel today. And whilst it came with a lot of queuing it was a brilliant day. The culmination for me of the run up to tomorrow's Day of the Doctor.

I've become increasingly excited as we've crept towards the 23rd November, possibly to the annoyance of all my non-Doctor Who fan friends and family. There's been Paul McGann's return and regeneration. There's been last night's rather fantastic An Adventure in Space and Time, which I'm afraid to say had me blubbing away through the last ten minutes or so. There's been trailers. There's been programmes on radio and television. There's been posters. There's been newspaper reports and (more) rumours of Missing Episodes. It's been brilliant.

It's like Christmas.

Before Christmas. We've still got that Christmas Special and regeneration to come. The Eleventh Doctor's time is almost up. The Twelfth Doctor, Peter Capaldi, sits waiting in the wings. Doctor Who carries onwards and upwards.

The international nature of Doctor Who fandom was bought home to me today too. Is there a country where the Doctor doesn't have a fanbase these days? Probably but it's a rather giddy experience meeting German Doctor Who fans. Or sitting next to Russian fans. Or realising that The Day of the Doctor is being shown live in 84 countries. It'll be in cinemas. It'll be in 3D.

As an old school fan. As someone who remembers how oddly Doctor Who fans were perceived in the late 1980s and 1990s. As someone who remembers how unloved it was by the BBC and how badly those making it were treated as they were starved of support and funds. As someone who watch Season 24 and still came back for Season 25 to be rewarded with the simply magnificent Remembrance of the Daleks. As all those things (and more) this validation of the greatness of Doctor Who feels both wonderful and uncomfortable.

On the one hand I want to stand on the rooftops and shout 'SEE I WAS RIGHT' but I don't need to. The BBC is doing that for me. Steven Moffat is doing it. On the other I feel as dazed and confused as someone who watches their lower division football team climb up to the top of the Premier League. Where were you when we were shit? Where were you all when I needed you?

Then I remember it doesn't matter. You're here now. Welcome to the party. There's drinks and nibbles. There's fun and games. There's arguments but most of them don't matter. It's just a joy to be here.

I've been watching Doctor Who for as long as I can remember. My earliest memories of life are tied up with my earliest memories of Doctor Who.

Like Nick Hornby's Arsenal fixation I sometimes wonder if Doctor Who has come to mean too much.

That a lot of my politics comes not from the works of Marx or Benn but from Doctor Who sometimes embarrasses me a little. That Rose Tyler's 'Chip Shop Speech' about the Doctor is how I wish I could behave when it comes to politics : "You don't just give up. You don't just let things happen. You make a stand. You say "no"! You have the guts to do what's right when everyone else just runs away!" That's my definition of political courage.

Is it bad that I set my moral compass with the assistance of a fictional character in an almost 50 year old children's programme? Possibly but I don't care. Or most of the time I don't.

I've spent a lot of time and money on Doctor Who since watching - and probably not understanding much about them - back in 1975/1976. I've met a lot of good people as a result and I've been vastly entertained. I've written about it, talked about it and dreamt about it. I've seen - or listened to - every episode.

I love the discussions, the obscure theories and the rumours. I love the fact that the old series could pop a rubbish monster into a story and still produce something magnificent: I'm looking at you Skarasen and Magma Beast and plastic Kinda snake. I love the intelligence of it and the silliness. I love The Web Planet, The Horns of Nimon and The Happiness Patrol. I think the first episode of An Unearthly Child is one of the finest pieces of television ever made. Full stop.

I love Hartnell's grumpy grandfather, Troughton's interfering explorer and Pertwee's neck rubbing James Bond. I adore Tom Baker. I loved rediscovering the unshowy brilliance of Davison. I love Colin Baker's bombast and McCoy's devious angel. I love McGann's coolness. I love that Davison, Colin Baker, McCoy and McGann have been given a second lease of life by Big Finish and given a chance to show what they could have done if the BBC had cared. I like Eccleston's seriousness and Tennant's joy de vive. I love Matt Smith's alienness.

I know, in the end, it is just a television programme but it's the best bloody television programme ever made.

Here's to another fifty years.











Sunday, November 3, 2013

Adventures With The Wife in Space [Book Review]



When I first stumbled across Adventures With The Wife In Space I was incredibly jealous. Why? Because here was I watching Doctor Who from An Unearthly Child to The Name of the Doctor and blogging about it, trying my best to find something interesting and amusing to say and I'd been out-witted by Neil and Sue.

Their take on things was annoyingly funny. And even when I disagreed with Sue's scores (5/10 for Robots of Death I ask you and don't get me started on the wonders of The Web Planet) the blog was well-written and interesting and I wondered why I was bothering.

Fortunately my ego got the better of me and I've carried on slowly blogging my way through the Whoniverse. But I still have to admit to admiration for Neil and Sue's blog.

Perhaps the best thing about it was here were two people who seemed normal doing something pretty abnormal. I mean what sort of weirdo watches Doctor Who from 1963 to 1996? But neither Sue nor Neil (for all his protestations of geekdom) seemed particularly weird.

And this comes across in the book, which is fantastic. [So if you've got a short attention span there's the review in a nutshell.] It's fantastic partly because it is pretty damn funny, partly because there are parts of it that any Doctor Who fan can relate to but mainly because it isn't really about Doctor Who. It's about growing up and - most importantly of all - it's a love story.

For, if anything, this book shows that Neil and Sue have got Doctor Who in its proper perspective and that there are clearly more important things in the world and this book does a fine job of demonstrating that.

It also goes to demonstrate that actually watching Doctor Who is a social thing. It features that Tom Baker quote about Doctor Who being watched on different levels by different people in each household and that just reinforces my belief that I have the most fun as a Doctor Who fan when watching episodes with other people, even people who know diddly squat about the programme and end up asking loads of basic questions. And no one is better at taking the piss out of Doctor Who stories than Doctor Who fans.

I said at the beginning of this review that my first reaction to Adventures With The Wife in Space was jealousy. There's still some jealousy there now, but for different reasons. So I recommend this book whole-heartedly: it's funny, it's smart, it's about Doctor Who but most of all it's about love & affection.

Read it. You'll like it.

PS Appendix 1: Glossary is very funny

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Victory of the Daleks


OK people this might be something of a rant so forgive me. I loathe Victory of the Daleks. I loathe the re-designed clumpy, colourful Daleks clearly designed with merchandising in mind. It's an object lesson in re-designing something to make it worse. Raymond Cusick must have wanted to take a large metal spanner to them.

On the other hand the Ironside Daleks look lovely. It's a clever little conceit.

I loathe the glib way it handles World War Two. The way it takes a series of clichés and makes them seem even more clichéd still. I loathe the way that the loss of one WRAF women's other half is thrown away to show the sorrow of war. As if Mark Gatiss doesn't trust us with the concept of war and loss. The annoying thing is that he's could have made his point so much better through Bracewell (Bill Paterson) and almost does.

The best scene in this is their attempt to talk Bracewell in to his humanity. The fact that the Doctor, not being human and filled with so much grief, can't do it and it needs Amy to do so is rather nice. It takes a human to humanise. (And there's a distant echo of the Doctor's own story in there). So kudos for that to Mr. Gatiss.

And whilst we're on the subject of things I liked I should admit to liking the Doctor's Mexican stand-off with the Daleks armed only with a Jammy Dodger and a brain. I like Spitfires in Space, even though that makes no sense. I like Spitfires though so I'm inclined to be generous. I like Ian McNeice's Churchill too and the fact they get him to say Nazi in that distinctively Churchillesque way. I like Bracewell. I like Karen Gillan in this too.

But it really is rather awful. It's certainly Gatiss's worst script so far. I mean the references back to Power of the Daleks would be fine if this script were even a tenth as good as that. Oh there's the 'amusing' Broadsword/Danny Boy reference too, which is oh so hilarious.

The thing is I know this is Doctor Who World War Two, which is Indiana Jones World War Two (and even Where Eagles Dare World War Two). It's not meant to be a documentary and Doctor Who is probably not the place to tell harrowing tales of the War, which is why the throwaway weeping WRAF officer at the end is so out of place. It's tonally wrong.

It's as if Gatiss (or someone else) thought: "Actually this script is fine but we need someone to represent the sacrifice of the British people. Forget about the two Marines the Daleks exterminate or the two Spitfire pilots who die attacking the Dalek saucer, they're just the usual throwaway dead of Doctor Who. Let's make our point in five seconds using a weeping woman. Yep, job done. Would you like a cup of tea?"

I know I'm making a lot out of this but it really, really annoys me.

Even Matt Smith struggles to make this work. I think - with the exception of the Jammie Dodger scene and a couple of little moments - this is his least impressive episode so far. The thing is I don't blame him. I blame the script and the direction.

This might be one of my least favourite episodes of Doctor Who ever.

Anyway, I'm done.

At least it wasn't boring.


Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Beast Below


What can I say about The Beast Below? Well, it has its moments but mostly it is pretty average. Which is OK. Not every story can be a work of genius and after The Eleventh Hour anything was going to be a come down. Well, almost anything.

Once more though the highlight of the episode for me was Matt Smith's performance as the Doctor. How good or not this episode is I'd have watched it just to see what Matt was doing. Throughout this he's wonderful. From his analysis of the darkness at the heart of Spaceship UK all the way through to the end. There are three highlights for me.

There's the little moment when he explains - as indirectly as possible - that he's the last of the Time Lords without making a huge song and dance of it.

Then there's the moment where,  having looked at the 'tail/sting things' (that's my technical term for them and I'm sticking to it), he turns to Amy and explains that they really shouldn't have come. It becomes obvious later that he can hear the pain of the Star Whale, which he allows the human beings to hear. It's an echo of the scene in Planet of the Ood where the Doctor let's Donna hear the Ood song. In a way there's a thematic echo there to: what humans will do to enslave and control others.

Finally there's virtually the whole last five minutes or so when he tells Amy off for trying to stop him knowing something, even if it is something terrible (although she still won't tell him about her wedding at the end) and his speech, which ends with him saying something along the lines of: "And then I'll have to change my name because whatever I'll be afterwards I won't be the Doctor."  [An interesting line that in view of what happened at the end of The Name of the Doctor but I'm jumping ahead again. Damn this knowing stuff thing.]

His response to Amy's little speech about the Space Whale being the last and how its age and loneliness just made it kind is also nice, although it is laid on with a trowel a bit. I don't mind being moved but I do slightly object to being so obviously manipulated. Perhaps I'm being harsh.

So watch this to watch Matt Smith in action.

I'm still not sure about Amy Pond/Karen Gillan. There's some nice bits 'n' bobs in here and I do think there's some nice chemistry between the her and Matt Smith but she still seems to be feeling her way in the part. Maybe that's harsh again just because Matt's just taken his part by the scruff of the neck.

Again there story isn't really the thing, although I love the idea of being allowed the choice to forget and The Moff's low opinion of human nature that makes him think that we'd be horrible enough to do it. We can't face the truth. It's another kind of perception filter really.

The throwaway line about Scotland wanting its own ship is rather funny as is the idea that the rest of the UK was so inept they almost got burnt to a frazzle because they couldn't get a spaceship up and running in time, whilst the rest of the world did. Including Scotland.

Oh and we get a little glance at one of those cracks again. In time and space. Oooh with these story arcs you are spoiling us. [Must resist this cynical tone]

Again a series of excellent actors flash by in small-ish parts but kudos to Sophie Okonado as Liz 10, the reigning British monarch (but obviously this Moff future Scotland is a republic). She plays her as a bit less posh than the current mob of actual royalty but that's reasonably apt and I do like her story echoing that of her subjects in terms of forgetting and remembering is rather nice.

See now I've written all that I feel I enjoyed it rather more than I thought. Hmmm, I really haven't got my head around this review lark.

Terrance Hardiman as Hawthorne does a fine job to, although he obviously is the one person on Starship UK that actually is aware of the whole terrible truth: the banality of evil. Or more truthfully another in the long line of Doctor Who people who believe the end justifies the means. Hence the police state, the Smilers (which are oddly sinister to start off with and then mildly disappointing when 'released')

Any road up to cut a long review short. It's not bad. Better probably than I felt at the beginning but not great.





Friday, October 18, 2013

The Eleventh Hour


And so it begins. A whole new era. It's Matt Smith as the Eleventh Doctor and - something I didn't particularly hammer on about in the last Tennant blog - the departure of RTD as showrunner and his replacement with the man who I am hereafter going to refer to as The Moff.

It's a pretty good first story actually and Matt Smith is bloody fantastic from the off. Like Troughton in Enemy of the World Smith is the star of the show. He's Doctor-ish as hell and his youth - which worried me when he was cast - is utterly not an issue. Somehow he seems to be able to carry the weight of a person far, far older than his looks, which is quite a skill. He gets some lovely little bits 'n' bobs to set up to the character but it is his 'Is this world protected' speech to the Atraxi that stamps his authority all over the part.

That and the Fishfinger Custard.

So fantastically cast as he is he rips through the episode. And he bounces off of young Amelia (Caitlin Blackwood) in some style too, which is to her credit as well. They make a good team. But, as we are to discover, this being The Moff there's timey-wimey stuff to be had.

The Doctor jumps into his damaged TARDIS for a quick bit of repair and promises to come straight back. Well, in five minutes.

Obviously he doesn't and after some light-hearted japes we're introduced to Amelia the Elder (Karen Gillan) hereafter called Amy. She's dressed as a Police Woman. She's a kiss-a-gram. I've commented on The Moff's women elsewhere so I'll ignore this all for the moment.

Which brings me on to a slight problem with reviewing this episode. It's the baggage of knowing the future. Of knowing the clues and hints in the episode to the arc that will unfold across this season, the next season and yea even unto the very end of the Moff's era itself. Whenever that will be. You get the impression that the Moff has decided how to end the Eleventh's story as he begins it, although I could be doing over-estimating his deviousness.

So it's impossible to watch this with entirely fresh eyes.

But back to Amy Pond. She's got a bit of oomph about her but it might be early days to comment on her good-bad qualities. Gillan doesn't hit me from the off like Matt Smith but I think that's partly because I like Caitlin Blackwood's Amelia better I think but obviously you can't have a small child as regular companion so Amy it is to be.

There's a couple of stylistic bits 'n' bobs here. The Doctor's analysis of what he missed whilst looking at all the people videoing the Sun is technically interesting (and can be seen as lying a bit of a foundation for The Moff's Sherlock...and damn I'm looking ahead again) but possibly a bit annoying if it is going to happen every week.

Loved the Prisoner Zero/Perception filter stuff. I love the idea of perception filters as a thing. We've all got perception filters - just look at how people react to Prime Minister's Questions depending on their political beliefs regardless of what's actually happening in front of their faces. The whole idea is explored magnificently in China Miéville's, The City &The City but I digress.

It's also another one of those episodes with a series of brilliant actors in tiny little parts, which is either a sign of Doctor Who's increasing pull, a love of the series amongst actors and/or good money. I suspect the former, rather than the latter. Here we've got Annette Crosbie, Olivia Coleman, Nina Wadia and Patrick Moore (admittedly playing himself but it is still a remarkable thing surely.)

Oh and there's a nice turn from Arthur Darvill as Rory Williams, Amy's boyfriend. I wonder whether we'll see him again he says in heavily sarcastic tones. He's actually very good and sparks of Matt Smith remarkably, even if - for the moment - he's the comic relief.

There's some sowing of seeds for future episodes via the incredibly well informed Prisoner Zero: The Silence will Fall etc. How Prisoner Zero knows this I don't know. Probably some kind of inter-dimensional Facebook.

The basic story isn't much to write home about but then it's a Doctor introduction story so we don't really care too much. It's all about getting us to meet the new Doctor, his new TARDIS interior (which looks lovely btw), his new companion and his new sonic screwdriver. And that it does rather well.



Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Dreamland


Dreamland is a bit of an oddity. An animated story broadcast in six parts (originally) on various BBC website type things. It's actually quite hard to review because in the end it is mostly harmless.

The story drags in a handful of clichés from various bits 'n' bobs: there are Men in Black, there's Area 51, there's Native Americans protecting aliens from a rabid US military led by Colonel Stark (voiced by Stuart Milligan. Oh and then there's two types of alien (three if we exclude the good Doctor himself): the Viperox, led by Lord Azlok (voiced with his usual excellence by David Warner) who are militaristic bugs and the 'Greys' (who look like the aliens of abduction mythology).

It's basically Doctor Who does the X-Files but without Mulder & Scully. Even the Native Americans would slot right in to the X-Files Universe. The only problem would be Scully's nervous breakdown on the realisation that Mulder was right and that there are aliens.

Instead of Mulder & Scully the Doctor gets assistance from Cassie Rice (Georgia Moffet sounding remarkably like Nicola Bryant doing Peri imo) and Jimmy Stalkingwolf (Tim Howar), a waitress and a Native American farmhand. I think.

Anyway the story for what it's worth rolls along rather nicely. There's good guys, bad guys and confusion. There's a bit of Red baiting from the Colonel, who does at least end up being less nasty than he began the story, which is nice.

The Greys were the last survivors of a race the Viperox had all but wiped out. Rivesh Mantilax (Nicholas Rowe) had developed a genetic weapon designed to wipe out the Viperox but was...oh look basically the Viperox are not very nice and the Doctor won't let Rivesh Mantilax wipe them out. No one has that right says the Doctor. In Fourth Doctor style.

Rivesh's wife, Saruba Velak (Lisa Bowerman), has been on Earth and in Area 51 since 1947. She's the Roswell Grey...see what I mean. It's like someone put a series of X-Files plotlines in a hat & drew them out to write this.

Look I'm beating it up a bit and that's unnecessary really. It's a mostly harmless, reasonably entertaining collection of clichés. It even has lots of Doctor Who running, which is a shame as the running is the weakest part of the animation.

That's it.

It's OK. You don't ever have to watch it but you won't feel like you've made a terrible mistake if you have forty-five minutes or so to spare to watch it.

I really should learn to take these things less seriously.

Really.

Or get out more.

Anyway after that I fancy watching some X-Files.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

The End of Time Part I and II



And so the end has come. The Tenth Doctor unwillingly exits, all the talk of 'knocking four times' is finished. The Tenth Doctor has ceased to be.

Now before I talk about these stories in particular let me just briefly say how much I enjoyed re-watching the Tennant era. I hadn't re-watched much of it since original broadcast so that helped I think. Series 4 in particular was fantastic but there were highlights throughout.

Yes, Tennant's Doctor can be arrogant, selfish, glib and over-human. Yes, Rose's repeat exits suffer from the law of diminishing returns and yes, the 'dragging the Earth across the Universe' scene at the end of Journey's End still makes me want to bang my head against the table. O and let us never speak of Fear Her again. But balanced against that were School Reunion, The Girl in the Fireplace, Love & Monsters (No scoffing at the back), Gridlock, Human Nature-The Family of Blood, Blink, Utopia, Planet of the Ood, Silence in the Library-Forest of the Dead, Midnight, Turn Left and The Waters of Mars.

So it's been fun. In a way it reminded me of how I felt re-visiting the Fifth Doctor's era: more fun than I remembered.

But what of The End of Time I hear you cry impatiently.

Well, it has great moments. It has a ridiculously annoying cliffhanger at the end of Part 1, which seems to be based purely on the chance to get in a line about 'The Master Race'. A-ha-ha. Oh and all that 'Book of Saxon' bollocks at the beginning of Part 1 is positively embarrassing. What next magic spells?

The best bits throughout the stories for me are the moments between The Doctor and The Master and The Doctor and Wilf. The quiet moments between all the excitement. They're emotional in the right way. The moment when the Doctor realises that the sound in The Master's head is real for example being tremendously well-played by both Tennant and Simm; their quiet chat in Part II when they're wondering what they would have become without each other; the last stand as the Doctor tries to decided who to kill in order to end Gallifrey's return. All brilliant.

Then there's the Doctor and Wilf (Bernard Cribbins). Again scene after scene where their brilliant together: the café discussion, the scene in the Vinvocci Space Craft when Wilf is trying to get the Doctor to take the gun and that (almost) final scene in which we realise the significance of Wilf to the Doctor. Yes, the Doctor's tantrum doesn't seem that Doctor-ish but then how many Doctor's have had a long, long warning of their impending regeneration? Even The Fourth only had the Watcher about for a short moment or two.

Also the scenes between Wilf and The Woman (Claire Bloom) are rather lovely too. I especially like Wilf's response to The Woman saying that he'd never taken a life.




The big set pieces leave me pretty cold. The Vinvocci Space Ship attacked by missiles scene with added Star Wars rip-off doesn't even look that good. There's some pleasure in seeing the Time Lords returning but they're surprisingly uninteresting once they're up and running plus what's with Rassilon's 'Magic Hand'? And although it's great to see an actor of Timothy Dalton's stature playing Rassilon I think he's rather wasted. He gets to do a lot of booming voice bad guyery but that's about it. Give the man something excellent to do.

On the subject of actors being wasted stand up too David Harewood, who does a fine job as Joshua Naismith but again you ask why such a brilliant actor gets such a limited part. Yes, his relationship with his daughter borders on the creepy (and I hope I'm not the only person who thinks that) but fundamentally I think he's wasted in the part. Give the man something to get his teeth into.

And what about The Master? Well, I prefer John Simm's performance in this to Sound of Drums-Last of the Time Lords and he does a wonderful job with Tennant in some of the scenes I've outlined above. The question is though how do you bring the Master back from that? He's realised what the sound is in his head. He's no longer being driven mad by it. He realises he's been manipulated by the Time Lords. He sees that the Doctor isn't prepared to kill him and he's prepared to save the Doctor. Then he seems to be dragged back into the Time War at the end. Even if you can bring him back, how can you bring him back as the same old Master. He has to have changed*

The other issue with this story of course is the long ending, the Doctor's 'reward'. Now I don't actually mind this too much and some of it is rather nicely handled (although I'm not too enamoured of the Mickey-Martha marriage. It seems a bit throwaway but hey ho.)  It's an extended farewell to a whole era and if you like just a glorified version of all those disembodied heads that swim around a regenerating Fourth and Fifth Doctor.

The big problem of course is that regeneration is now set-up as a BIG thing requiring build up and an over-hanging sense of doom. So big is the part and so big the series now that you can't just have the Doctor's regeneration happen as a part of a story but it has to be the focus of the story. But then perhaps I'm just being unfair. Thinking about it that's been t he case almost forever. Regeneration is a big thing and in a way this regeneration reflects back to the Fifth Doctor's. After all the big threats - The Master, the Time Lords and their bizarre plan etc - the Doctor sacrifices his life for one single person. For Wilf.

And that's rather lovely.

So to cut a long blog short. It's not bad this but I like it more for the quiet scenes than for the rushing around.



*I have a pet theory of my own that if The Master came back he should be The Meddling Monk. Still a little bit dodgy but not a galactic psychopath. I know. I know. But I like it.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Waters of Mars



Waters of Mars is good. It is the best of the Specials so far. It balances an excellent base under siege story, which would have fitted rather nicely into the Troughton era, with the darker story of the Tenth Doctor's impending death and the whole idea of the Time Lord Victorious.

It helps that it is directed by Graeme Harper who is one of the best directors of Doctor Who there has ever been. He certainly knows how to pace a story.

Add to that a slightly mysterious water based enemy - which the Doctor refers to as The Flood, which is implacable, indestructible and patient. As the Doctor himself says "Water always wins". Plus the human-Flood creature is wonderfully realised and genuinely rather creepy. Oddly the cracked mouths reminded me of the Ice Warriors, which might just be me.

Of course the Martian location makes that kind of thinking unsurprising. It certainly looks great. Even the quarry looks like how Mars looks from the pictures we've seen so far. Bowie base nestles nicely in its valley. They've also made the base look as realistic as possible. You could picture Bowie base being built now. That additional realism adds to the strength of the story. The slight quibbly exception being the 'Gadget' sequences when the Doctor soups it up. They just seem a little silly in a story that is distinctly short on silliness, but then perhaps that's part of the point.

It has an excellent performance from David Tennant as the Tenth Doctor struggles with the desire to interfere, his knowledge of the fate that awaits the crew of Bowie base, his awareness of the Laws of Time and then his desire to save someone, even though he knows that sometimes - like in The Fires of Pompeii he sometimes causes what he is seeking to prevent.

Then when he cracks and the Doctor becomes this Time Lord Victorious Tennant really excels himself. It's as if all the death, all his guilt and all the pain that the Doctor has experienced fuses with the awareness of his impending death to give The Doctor a nervous breakdown. And, as at a lot of points in The Doctor's history, it takes the actions of a human being to snap him back. That person is Captain Adelaide Brooke (the quite brilliant Lindsay Duncan).

Adelaide's response to the Doctor's decision to save them when he shouldn't is a distorted echo of what Mr. Copper said back in The Voyage of the Damned about having the power being able to decide who lives or dies would make the Doctor a monster. And here he is a monster. The Tenth Doctor's confidence explodes into the arrogance of a Time Lord (although that line about "We're not just fighting the Flood. We're fighting Time itself. AND I'M GOING TO WIN" is horribly clunky.)

This is the Doctor as close to The Master as he has ever been. The history of the programme seems to imply that approaching mortality drives Time Lords mad plus it is reminder that the Doctor shouldn't travel alone as it pushes him away from humanity into Time Lord.

Its dark and rather wonderful. We see what he COULD be. He's contemptuous of humans, arrogant and lost. Raging against the dying of the light.

So watch this. It's good.

And I haven't even touched upon the excellent performances from the minor parts in this story. People who get minimal screen time but who we actually care about. For example Steffi Ehrlich's 'death' is genuinely moving for which Cosima Shaw deserves some applause.

So its good.

The end.

Nearly.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Planet of the Dead


Planet of the Dead wasn't quite as naff as I remembered it. It's fun in many respects, a proper old-school Doctor Who adventure story. It rattles along at a fair old pace, although I think it takes a little too long for the real threat to be apparent. There's no real villains because the horrible creature threat comes from something that's natural.

I think the problem is Lady Christina de Souza (Michelle Ryan). Lady Christina is a jewel thief of the Raffles school. In it for the thrills as opposed to the money, although she knows the value of the Cup of Athalstan so I suspect the money might have been part of it. She is the companion de jour and it doesn't quite work.

I don't think it is the actress, I just think there's not much genuine chemistry between her and the Doctor. However much the writer's try and crowbar it in with the witty banter and light flirtation. It just feels like everyone's going through the motions and as a result there's a little glitch with the whole story.

Also the dialogue seems not to have the right rhythm. It's trying to hard. Like the 'That's how I like things. Extreme." It just lies there. Flopping about. Perhaps I'm being harsh.

There's a scattering of other actors doing good jobs in minor roles. It's nice to see Noma Domezwani back again as UNIT Captain Erisa Magambo. An actress clearly far better than the part she's been given.

Meanwhile there's UNIT's scientific advisor, Malcolm Taylor (Lee Evans). The first time I watched this I found Malcolm bloody irritating. This time I quite enjoyed it. Yes, it's a bit over the top but it just about works because he does manage to convey the brains behind the eccentricity. And if you're going to have a character like that - who is always going to play second or third fiddle to the Doctor - then getting someone like Lee Evans in to do the part is ideal.

There's also the problem of the Tritovores who seem to be there purely to explain the plot. They might as well be call the Expositionovores and it just makes it look like no one could work out a story that could fill an hour. But it does fit with RTDs fetish for animal aliens: Rhinos, Cats and - now - Flies. A throw back to The Web Planet. Perhaps everyone is too used to that 45 minute slot.

It looks great though. The Dubai location looks fantastic and it feels like an alien world. Not a quarry, which makes a change and there's something inherently dramatic about huge shots of the desert dunes fading out to the distance. Call it the Lawrence of Arabia effect.

So to cut this short. It's OK.

Oh and there's a little foreboding and foreshadowing of the Doctor's impending doom as one of the passengers, the rather sweet, Carmen (Ellen Thomas) is a latent psychic. She tells him at the end that his song will end soon and that he will knock four times.

The end is approaching. But first The Waters of Mars.

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Next Doctor


The Next Doctor isn't bad. Being a Christmas Special it has that additional level of feel good cheesiness that seems to have become de rigeur, although we do get one or two hints at a far darker story here. Not just with the Doctor's story but in Miss Hartigan's (Dirvla Kirwan), in Rosita's (Velile Tshabalala) and in Jackson Lake's (David Morrissey).

In fact at points in this story we get to see the darker Doctor. The man with nothing to live for. The survivor. I've said before that in my head there's a dark, dark version of Doctor Who where a post-Time War Doctor burdened with survivor guilt and a death wish goes out there to fight the monsters and occasional, like here, there's a hint at that in RTD's Doctor Who. With the implication that it is his companions that have saved him. I suspect my version of Doctor Who would get cancelled in a week. It's RTD's great skill to tell good stories, with humour, but still give us a taste of the darkness.

RTD gets criticised - sometimes - for bringing too much humour into stories but for me Doctor Who has always had a splash of humour, even in the Classic Doctor Who years. The key - as Douglas Adams once said - is that the comedy doesn't encourage the actors to play it for laughs. They're not in a sit-com. They're in a family drama series. It's the difference between City of Death and Timelash both of which would be far different stories if the first were played like the latter.

Anyway back to the story. This is entertaining enough and I love the way we're plunged straight into the mystery. Who is this other Doctor? Why doesn't he recognise his younger self? And the gradual revelation is both rather nicely done and movingly played by both Tennant and Morrissey. You feel for both of them as the one's fate echoes the other.

And Morrissey's Doctor is brave and clever and resourceful. He's even built his own TARDIS  - the revelation of which is one of my favourite moments in the episode - so he's pretty cool all things considered. His companion - who is forced to live up to the clichés - is Rosita. There's no real explanation of who Rosita is but Miss Hartigan's little dig implies that she is - to use a phrase of the time - a woman of ill repute. She's got guts though and like proper companions doesn't take orders from the Doctor particularly well.

The Cybermen are back. I don't like New Who Cybermen. I think that whilst they look rather nice all that marching makes them rather tedious and to be honest if there's one thing that my Doctor Who re-watch has taught me it is that Cybermen stories aren't generally very good (with a couple of honourable exceptions). On paper they're a horrific foe and the horror that they represent as a future version of us is rather good but it doesn't work often enough, although Big Finish seem to have cracked it on audio. Perhaps someone at the BBC should ask Big Finish for help the next time the Cybermen crop up.

Miss Hartigan is the human villain and fits into that long, long line of human allies of the Cybermen that fail to realise that at some point the Cybermen will turn on them. Miss Hartigan, whose clearly a woman with a strong mind, almost turns the tables on them though. Her story, which is hinted at, is clearly not a pleasant one and she's become hard and cold.

The problem with this story is that the ending just seems too easy. There's something vaguely cheating it. I can't quite put my finger on why but would Miss Hartigan really have gone from what she was to screaming self-destroying in such a short hop? This is a woman that was able to overcome Cyber Control and make them obey her. It just seems to undermine a strong female villain by turning her into a screaming hysterical girly in the last frame, which ends up blowing up the Cybermen and her for some bizarre and convenient reason. And odd though it is to say this I don't think it is fair on Miss Hartigan's character.

So whilst this is OK enough it's not the greatest of stories.

Applause for the Tennant and Morrissey whose 'Two Doctors' moments are quite fun. Plus the joy of a nice squee moment when we get to see all the previous Doctors via a Cyberman infostamp but in the end it is rather disappointing.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Stolen Earth-Journey's End


And so Series 4 comes to an end in spectacular fashion.

Admittedly some of that spectacular comes from the stupid end of the spectrum: dragging the Earth through space on a tow line to the TARDIS I'm looking at you. And judging you unfavourably. Very unfavourably. But also there's some spectacularly good stuff in there. The multi-layered cliffhanger that ends The Stolen Earth is stunning (and we'll come back to that).

Journey's End does a fine job of setting everything up for the finale, getting all our characters in place and is the better of the two episodes. In my humble opinion. And there's a lot of characters to pull together. We get Sarah Jane and Luke, Torchwood (Captain Jack, Gwen and Ianto), Micky and Jackie from the parallel universe, Rose Tyler, Wilf, Harriet Jones and, of course, The Doctor and Donna. It takes some juggling to move them all around without it being chaotic and RTD does a grand job of that. It almost makes you wish RTD was writing the 50th Anniversary story because he'd definitely be able to handle multiple Doctors on a grand scale. And in once sense of course this does end up being a multi-Doctor story.

I also like the fact that when we get the reveal that it is the Daleks via their rather terse broadcast to the world those characters that have already met and know the Daleks react in fantastically terrified manner. It's the seriousness of the responses that make the Daleks seem so terrifying. These are the universe's ultimate killing machines so people should be scared of them.

Oh and I love the German Daleks. In fact that whole little section in Germany I rather like. It'd be nice to have a Doctor Who story or two set in Europe. For variety's sake.

So we build up to the climax. Harriet Jones dies sacrificing herself to find the Doctor. The Daleks have found Torchwood and Gwen and Ianto are fixing to die fighting. Sarah Jane has lept into her car and gone off to find the Doctor. Captain Jack too is about to arrive. It's all kicking off. And then we get the Rose and Doctor meeting scene. It's all looking a little saccharine for an episode but what's this? Lurking behind a van. It's only a bloody Dalek. And the Doctor's down. Badly wounded. Dying. Bloody hell he's regenerating. How did they keep THAT a secret...? Music. Titles. Godsmacked.

It's rather impressive.

However the follow-up is slightly odd. The Doctor doesn't actually regenerate. Or does he? He certainly blows up in spectacularly energetic style but then he using the energy to heal himself and pumps the residual into his old hand that he's been conveniently lying about the TARDIS for just such an eventuality.

So much meh.

Have Time Lord's always been able to do this? If so why 'use' a regeneration. Or does this count as a regeneration. Is Matt Smith actually Doctor Twelve (or Thirteen if we're counting John Hurt)? Does any of this really matter in the grand scheme of things? No, not really but for some reason I find it bloody irritating. But that's just the grumpy middle-aged man in me.

Sarah Jane gets rescued by Micky and Jackie. Gwen and Ianto are saved by a Time Lock security system aka The McGuffin. Now we're talking.

Everyone rattles together coming up with various ways to bring destruction to the Dalek's: warp stars, Osterhagan Keys etc etc. But the Daleks are ready for all this.

Oh in the meantime The Doctor, Rose, Captain Jack and Donna. Donna gets locked in the TARDIS which is about to be destroyed and its not looking good for our heroes. Captain Jack dies. Again.

Everyone gets captured. Except Donna who has been saved by a new Doctor grown from the Doctor's old hand via a metacrisis (whatever) with Donna. The new Doctor is human-Timelord. He sneaks off to build a weapon on which to attack Davros (Julian Bleach) and the Daleks.

Ah...Davros. How could I have got so far in this review and not mentioned him? He's back. And he's utterly barking mad. Not quite as mad as the Davros in Big Finish's Blood of the Daleks who is truly loopy but pretty much as mad as a box of angry frogs. He's build a reality bomb. Sorry a REALITY BOMB that is capable of destroying everything everywhere in all universes. It's a big bomb and Davros isn't afraid to use it. Though it makes no sense and seems to just be an attempt to stick two fingers up at the rest of the Universe: if you won't let us conquer you then we'll bloody destroy you all.

Julian Bleach is brilliant as Davros. Not quite as good as Michael Wisher, who I think is outstanding in Genesis of the Daleks but pretty good nonetheless and I like the little moment between him and Sarah Jane when he realises who she is. The circle is complete indeed.

How the Daleks are supposed to get on after they've destroyed everything else is in the Universe is a moot point. Where will they get their supplies from? Who will they fight? They're a race that thrives on conquest who are they going to conquer if there's no one left? Surely it is a recipe for a Dalek Civil War? And which Supreme Dalek would trust Davros in the first place, especially a Davros who seems to be taking advice from a now loopy Dalek Caan.

Dalek Caan: also a mad as a box of frogs. Possibly madder than Davros. Possibly not. But referred to as 'The Abomination' by other Daleks (which can't be good for ones self-esteem) and apparently driven mad by forcing it way into the Time War and dragging Davros out during which it apparently saw 'time itself' whatever the heffelumping hellfire that's supposed to mean.

By this point all the plans have led to nowhere. The Doctor has been given a quick lesson in what an utter bastard he is by Davros, which is a bit like the kettle calling the pot black, but seems to upset him.

Then Doctor Ten Point One comes dashing in with Donna and fails to save the day but what's this. The REALITY BOMB has failed to detonate. How did this happen? Well it seems that Donna has had her brainwashed with the Doctors as part of the metacrisis that created the Doctor Ten Point One and knows how to say lots of scientific gobbledigook at a ridiculous high speed in order to explain that she's basically pressing some buttons.

The Doctor wins. Davros looks like he's going to die but not before he gives the Doctor one last - short - lecture on the inappropriateness of his behaviour. Everyone gets to pilot the TARDIS, which apparently needs six crew members to pilot properly now, which is fine. They then drag the Earth back to its proper place in the Universe by a sort of intergalactic tow rope attached to the TARDIS in one of the great comic scenes in Doctor Who history. Well, I laughed.

The Doctor drops everyone off at Earth. Captain Jack, Sarah Jane, Micky and Martha all drift off into the distance. The Doctor takes Rose and Jackie back to Bad Wolf Bay to say goodbye. Rose is a bit confused by this. She wants to stay with the Doctor but he can't but he can leave her with Doctor Ten Point One who is basically human. And basically him. (And in one of my favourite retro re-writes grows up to be Peter Cushing, which is wonderful.)

I'm not sure whether that's a nice thing to do or not. It's certainly a novel way of getting ride of a clinging ex-partner.

Then we're about to set off to the stars with Donna and the Doctor but alas Donna can't process the Doctor's mind properly and it's going to kill her so the Doctor has to remove all her memories of their time together (although surely someone is going to bring up what happened at her wedding at some point.)

All mocking aside Donna's departure is genuinely moving. It's played with genuine conviction by both Tennant and Tate and reminded me of the departure of Zoe and Jamie at the end of The War Games. I did shed a little tear and again when Bernard Cribbens had his little doorstep chat with the Doctor in the rain.

The end.

So the edited review. Great first episode. Not so great second episode. And I going to bloody miss Donna. She was fantastic. Best companion in New Doctor Who so far. FACT. (Actually OPINION)

Next up: The Next Doctor





Turn Left


Turn Left is pretty damn brilliant. A look at what might have happened to the world if The Doctor had died defeating the Empress of the Racknoss because Donna wasn't there to stop him. An elegy to the importance of companions in the Doctor's life if you like.

It also sees the return of Rose (Billie Piper) and UNIT headed up - in this instance - by Captain Mogambo (Noma Demezwani*). It's a 'Doctor-lite' episode with Tennant only popping up at the end to roll us into the next episode so Catherine Tate, with able support, has to helm this episode and does so in fine fashion, proving once more what an utterly brilliant choice she was as a companion and how good a character Donna is.

Rose's return is all rather dramatic even if Billie Piper looks a little odd. Like RTD got trapped in the Land of Fiction and had to reassemble her face Jamie and The Doctor style and didn't get it quite right. But that aside she too does an excellent job, especially portraying a rather more world weary and unhappy Rose.

Kudos too for the mighty Bernard Cribbens as Wilf. Cribbens is such a good actor that every scene he's in, whether it is comedic or serious, is lifted by his presence. Jacqueline King does her usual excellent work too as Sylvia Noble and she gets a bit more to do in this episode than just nag.

Perhaps the best guest performance though comes from Joseph Long as Rocco, a fellow London survivor billeted in Leeds with the Nobles and doomed to be driven off by the army as the post-apocalyptic Britain goes fascist. Fear makes companions of us all, the First Doctor said a long, long time ago, but actually it can make nasty little tyrants of us too. That was reflected not just here in Turn Left but also in The Doctor's Daughter and - most obviously - in Midnight.

Donna's final solution to closing down the alt-universe she's in is a brave and moving one setting up a slightly darker tone for the last two episodes of Series 4.

In my opinion Series 4 has been the consistently best of New Who. The quality of the stories, the performances (especially those of Tennant and Tate), the plotting and the shear unadulterated fun of the thing. This is RTD's best work, so far. Even the arc of the season has been built with some subtlety so that we know something is up but we're not quite sure what it is. Except it is bad. Very bad.

O and I like the way RTD sows the fates of The Doctor's companions into the plot of Turn Left and that Sarah Jane, Martha Jones, Captain Jack and Torchwood all get a mention (and it is another little bit of foreshadowing what is to come) and they all go out in this alt-universe defeating the monsters the Doctor should have been there to defeat. Illustrating that the Doctor's a THE proper professional in the field of monster defeating and what his companions are capable of without him even if, as in Martha's case, they were never to have met him.

And that was Turn Left a superbly crafted bit of RTD Doctor Who and possibly one of the all time great Doctor Who stories.

Next up The Stolen Earth - Journey's End




*I saw Noma Demenzwani in a brilliant play at The Hampstead Theatre called 'A Human Being Died That Night', based on Pumla Gobodo-Madikezela's book. I recommend both the play, in which Noma was excellent, and the book. You can buy a Kindle copy here . Advert over.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Midnight



So Midnight turned out to be rather fine.

A claustrophobic little number, with a fantastic cast and which - at points - was genuinely amongst the creepiest Doctor Who episodes ever.

It was Donna light as she stayed in the leisure palace getting some hefty sun rays whilst the Doctor decided to take a sight-seeing trip and as he says himself in the pre-credit sequence, 'What could possibly go wrong?'

The usual.

Even planets bathed in sunlight and made of diamonds have their shadows and if anyone can find a shadow it is the Doctor.

It starts with an engine failure, then there's a mysterious hammering on the ship's hull. And like knocks on a submarine in empty water it definitely rattles you and then...

Well then Lesley Sharp steps into the limelight and gives a genuinely disturbing performance as the possessed Sky Silvestry. First she's silent, immobile and staring and then she starts copying what people are saying, which is creepy. But then she's starts speaking the same words at the same time, which is really, really creepy.

At which point the passenger hysteria begins to build, although there's a hint that their increasingly argumentative nature is partly the effect of the thing - as I'm going to have to call it - that's taken over Sky.

There's some fine work from everyone in the cast at this point and as they - almost as one - turn on the Doctor you begin to think this is going to end badly.

Then Sky steals the Doctor's voice.

And at this point you are remind of precisely how brilliant an actor David Tennant is. Even as he's trapped, voiceless and about to be thrown out you can see the Doctor in there. Fighting.

At this point - even though I have seen this story before - I was genuinely on the edge of my seat. It looked like the manipulation of the thing plus the hysteria of the passengers was going to make this a bad trip for the Doctor.

Of course he survives but you get the impression from the ending that this really took it out on the Doctor and that this was one adventure he wasn't likely to get over quickly. Another sacrifice is made and the Doctor lives to fight another day.

There's a brilliant moment where one of the passengers, Val Cane (Lindsey Coulson), says 'I knew it was her' and the Doctor's look of absolute cold contempt is a wonder to behold. He knows what she tried to do. And she knows too, which is why her discomfort that follows is pitch perfect.

I think everyone in the cast deserves applause for this because it was so much about the people, their relationships and their fear that it would have fallen apart if anyone hadn't been up to snuff. There's David Troughton's slightly fuddy-duddy Professor Hobbes who might have problems re-building his professional relationship with his assistant Dee Dee (Ayesha Antoine) who is one of the few people who in the last terrible moments seems to keep her head.

There's also Colin Morgan, Merlin to be, as Jethro who also seems to be pretty sensible and who the Doctor seems to take a liking to.

Daniel Ryan as Biff Cane (husband of Val) does a good job of illustrating that special kind of male fear that displays itself through belligerence. He gets a lot of shouting. Him and Val make a very domestic kind of Lord and Lady Macbeth.

Finally there's the nameless Hostess who is the real hero of the piece. Who not only sees what's going on, like Dee Dee, but acts on it. Action is everything. Her namelessness makes for a rather sad little moment at the end.

I could rave about this even more but I think I've done enough.

For me this THING is the scariest monster (if it can be called that) in New Who so far. It certainly freaked me out more than the Weeping Angels ever have.

Brilliant stuff.

Summer Time: And It's All Been Very Quiet


So my loyal reader. How have you been keeping?

My apologies for the lack of updates. There's been - with a couple of exceptions - something of a summer hiatus here at The Patient Centurion. I wish I could give you a decent reason but I can't.

However things begin again from this weekend when I final get around to reviewing the final stories of Series 4. (Pause for applause & cheering etc).

The plan is then to finish reviewing Series 5, 6 and 7 in time for the 50th Anniversary Episode. And straight after the 50th Anniversary I'm going to go back to the beginning and cover the Hartnell, Troughton and Pertwee stories that I have yet to review. Thus making 'The Patient Centurion' complete. And I am nothing if not a completist.

I'm also (for reasons too insane to go into now) beginning a re-watch/watch of both Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures. At the moment I haven't any intention of blogging my reviews of either of these but you can follow my tweets about them - if that's your bag baby - on Twitter. Obviously. Where I lurk under the name of Lokster71, which I might change as I've come up with a cracking couple of alt-names recently.

Meanwhile I have opened a new incarnation over at The Audio Centurion where I shall be blogging all the audio related Doctor Who reviews & other gumpf I get my hands on: soundtracks, non-Doctor Who audio that grabs my attention, e.g. I'm very excited about The Avengers from Big Finish. But we shall see. The brief for The Audio Centurion is a bit up in the air at the moment.

I'd like to move the existing audio reviews from Patient to Audio at some point but that's not too urgent. And if anyone knows how to move a blog from one blog to another without too much tedious mucking about in hyperspace, I'd be very grateful.

So there you have it.

See you on the other side of Midnight.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Perspective: On Comic Con Trailer's & Being Told How To Feel




So I over-reacted a little to the news that the San Diego Comic Con got to see a 50th Anniversary Trailer before we in the UK go to see it. I tweeted an instantaneous reaction - ah, the foolishness of a social media spasm. It was a bit silly.

But then I saw a tweet - not aimed at me but aimed at the over-reaction in general - that said "Get some perspective." Which pissed me off.

So I started thinking about my 'perspective' on Doctor Who. And I wanted to explain. Because I think being a UK based Doctor Who fan in 80s had a weird effect on me. Now I don't know if other fans who grew up in that period had the same issues. I don't want to suggest my experience was a common one. But it is mine.

I said - half-jokingly - that I had become like one of those irritating people who followed a small, unknown band around the country from tiny venue to tiny venue who then has to deal with the realisation that other people like the band. So many people that they're now playing stadiums, not pubs. And that I'm not dealing with it very well.

But that's not fair to me.

The problem is I spent a huge chunk of my early years as a Doctor Who fan almost permanently on the defensive. Fending of accusations of being a weirdo, because then the geeks weren't everywhere just somewhere. Fending off terrible jokes about crap special effects, bad acting, silly stories. Watching the BBC kill its own creation out of what looked like spite. I spent a lot of that time telling people they were wrong & extolling the virtues of the programme. I defended Doctor Who in the face of every accusation - some of which fans themselves still make.

I kept Doctor Who on my list of interests on my CV even after I was told to take it of because prospective employers would think I was a weirdo. Every new job, every new friend - with the occasional miraculous fan exception - would see the same conversations & I honed my "Why Doctor Who is Brilliant" speech to such a fine degree it was almost a sales pitch.

Even my parents thought Doctor Who was a phase I was going through.

And through the hiatus I kept the faith. I bought - and loved - the Virgin New Adventures (ah, & didn't that Virgin word lead to some hilarious office jokes). I tried to get everyone I knew to watch the McGann TV Movie. I bought videos. All of them. I had faith.

So when finally Doctor Who came back & it was brilliant & popular & friends kids started to ask me questions - or challenge me to quizzes about it - it was something of a personal vindication.

That's my perspective. It's why I - irrationally & unfairly - react to Doctor Who things that I feel ignore me [Vanity, Vanity All Is Vanity] I get a little Cross.

It's why I think that whilst launching the trailer at Comic Con is understandable someone in the BBC should think let's make sure this goes out in the UK too as soon as possible because otherwise there will be a rubbish phone copy up on YouTube & also its a nice thing to do & perhaps even the right thing to do.

As I end this blog I'm aware that like Nick Hornby & Arsenal perhaps Doctor Who has come to mean too much to me. And perhaps it has.