Thursday, 31 October 2013

Boom Town, Bad Wolf & The Parting of the Ways

Boom Town

Annette Badland as Margaret. The mayor. of Cardiff.
This appears to be a bit of a filler episode, as we rush towards the season finale of two parts. I found it very solid, written by show-runner Russel T Davies. I suspect the main point was to save on budget, it doesn’t have a lot of characters – but we do have Mickey returning as does a Slitheen who survived the missile attack on 10 Downing street. Blon as she is known (her human visage is called Margaret), played by Annette Badland was perhaps the best of the Slitheen characters – when in human form. And this one is for the most part an enjoyable humorous tale.
The TARDIS is refuelling in the middle of Cardiff, outside the millennium centre to be precise. Ironically now that place houses the Doctor Who experience. The show has been mostly shot in Cardiff since the relaunch, so why not use the familiar sights of the city? It’s actually a really nice place. I visited once when I was having trouble with a bloke named Smythe. I couldn’t steer the TARDIS correctly. Was there for one or two minutes only. Should have spent more time there.
There’s not much to say on this one. Mickey works well when everyone’s laughing at him, and I think Noel Clarke is brilliant in Doctor Who. It’s not going to make anyone’s top ten I suspect, but it is what it is.

Bad Wolf / The Parting of the Ways

In the Big Brother house.
Where to start? I mean Christopher Eccleston – I want MORE! Come back! He was the life and soul of the series (1 or 27 If you like) so to say goodbye when we’re just getting to know him is difficult to do. RTD penned the story, as you’d expect a show runner to do. It works in ways and doesn’t in other ways. Obviously you try to build up to a big finale, and we certainly get that with thousands of Daleks flying through space, but the ending, the resolution, was rather poor. Not the way the Doctor ‘dies’, but it doesn’t make a hell of a lot of sense.
So I should mention ‘bad wolf’. These two words appear throughout the series here and there, and they refer to Rose. Ok. She sends a message through time to herself to go back for the Doctor. And it’s ‘bad wolf’. Why? What does it mean? Rose is the bad wolf right? Ummm… Why? What does she have to do with wolves? I really felt the thread was extremely weak and didn’t really build to the finale, rather it just posed a question to be answered later.
Rose plays 'The Weakest Link'.
The first episode of the two parts is focussed in pop culture and television, and I although I thought it was a good idea for an episode, I am less sure it was a good idea for the season finale. It’s worked in well enough but it’s a bit sad to think that so far in the future humans are still watching Big Brother. In fact it’s rather sad to think they are still watching it today! If RTD set out to make a statement on reality TV then I am unsure exactly what it is other than this is all going to pot very very quickly!
There are some great moments though, the Dalek reveal is surprising and the end of ‘Bad Wolf’ has the Doctor vowing he’s going to rescue Rose from the Dalek space ship and save the day. It’s actually a really strong and exciting take on the concept of a ‘cliff-hanger’, which usually just sees the Doctor’s life in peril. However, it’s let down a bit by the resolution when he rescues Rose in the first two minutes of the next episode, in my humble opinion.
The Dalek fleet.
We have an epic battle on Satellite Five in ‘The Parting of the Ways’ which should have appeased those out for stuff on such a grand scale. It’s pretty well done, although the Daleks’ invincibility prevents it from really being as epic as it could be. Audiences will at least be satisfied with the annoying Rodderick’s death. The Doctor appears to have something going with Lynda with a Y (played by Jo Joyner) which didn’t convince me because the character is played as pretty stupid.

Rose saves the day.
And then we come to the ending. Rose, sent back to Earth as the Doctor is planning on wiping out the Earth in the future and all the Daleks by converting Satellite Five into some sort of doomsday weapon, is determined to rejoin him. She looks into the power of the TARDIS, concealed in the TARDIS console, and consumes the power, allowing her to return and get rid of all the Daleks. She brings Captain Jack back to life (he died fighting the Daleks) but it’s a little unclear if she brought everyone back to life who died. It’s also unclear if the Daleks were destroyed or removed from time. Lucky that it was possible to just fix everything like that.
So long Christopher, wished you'd hung around longer.
There is a wonderful moment when the Doctor is about to destroy everything but he admits to being a coward when it comes to killing and backs out. He takes the power from Rose as it will kill her, and sends it back to the TARDIS. But this exchange of energy kills him, and so he is forced to regenerate.
So early on, to have such a scene, is it bad or good? It could be argued that it’s good on the basis that the new audience is introduced to the parameters of the show early on, but this viewer was left wanting more Eccleston pure and simple. Bille Piper does a good job as Rose, but Eccleston made the first series. In the finale, when things were a bit stupid to be honest (the stuff in the Big Brother house mostly), he was still shining as the Doctor. Another Doctor added to the previous three who I would have liked to have seen another series from. (or in McGann’s case, A series)


Wednesday, 30 October 2013

The Long Game, Father's Day, The Empty Child & The Doctor Dances

The Long Game

Simon Pegg.
The Doctor and Rose are joined by Alex (Bruno Langley) from the previous story, who was such a great character I didn’t even bother mentioning him. Thankfully he is dropped off home at the end of this episode, hopefully never to be seen again.
‘The Long Game’ is perhaps a commentary on mass media consumption and a warning not to take anything you see written or presented on the news as gospel. We
Monster of the week.
have a monster on Satellite Five, a space station above Earth in the future, basically controlling all media and not just giving but making the news. People connect with Satellite Five via a strange contraption that appears in their foreheads. People are augmenting themselves and their brains, and Alex cannot resist the temptation. It’s a lesson for the audience, Alex is a tool and the Doctor doesn’t suffer tools lightly, and he gets bunged home at the first opportunity.
Connecting via a hole in the head.
Simon Pegg, who I think would make a brilliant Doctor one day if someone had a mind to offer him the part next time it’s available, is probably the highlight of the episode, which is steady without being brilliant. He plays the ‘editor’. It suffers from the fate that I suspect many single-episode stories will suffer from, that you feel like there’s more to the story but there’s no time to introduce new elements or twists, so instead the monster explodes catching Simon Pegg with its fleshy blast.
It’s full of characters not challenging or thinking about the world they live in, which is one of the major points to the narrative. It’s pretty well done, but it’s interesting that we’ve only had stories set on Earth or on space stations thus far – when will we see an alien planet? I wonder if anyone else got frustrated by this?
All in all, a solid episode without being brilliant.

Father’s Day

Shaun Dingwell as Pete Tyler.

‘Father’s Day’, by Paul Cornell, was a powerful and somewhat emotional story which I enjoyed thoroughly. Never in the history of the show have we gone back in time to visit a departed loved one, and then seen the consequences of changing your own timeline. To think that they went so long without doing that is interesting. In the new ‘domestic’ orientation of the series though, the perfect opening was there with Rose’s father.
Another... monster of the week!
Now I am not using the word ‘domestic’ in a derogatory way here, in fact I think it’s added positively to the series. Companions have always left loved ones behind when they travelled and then we never hear another thing about them. Take Peri and her stepfather Howard for example. Think about the fact that people are whisked out of time and must be the subject of missing person searches and the like, and it’s only once been mentioned in the classic series – not until ‘Aliens of London’ was it properly explored.
Touching final moments for Pete Tyler with Rose.
‘Father’s Day’ has some CGI monsters which frankly don’t look very convincing, but I guess CGI these days comes across as really obvious because we know how it’s done. The idea that the Doctor would take Rose back to see her father die not once but TWICE, seems very unlikely to me as well. Apart from that it’s a wonderful episode with lots of emotion. Every episode she is in Jackie Tyler becomes just that little more unlikeable. I really am growing to hate the character. Pete Tyler however, played by Shaun Dingwall, is actually a really likeable guy. Christopher Eccleston is again great in this episode torn between his care for Rose and his anger at her saving her father’s life and changing time. It’s also good in the evolution of the series to show why the Doctor doesn’t go around changing historical events.
The strength of Pete Tyler to throw himself in front of the car at the end to correct the timeline and save everyone is a really well handled emotional point. It’s really a beautiful, sad episode this one.

The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances

Rose dangles over London.
Am I lessening the value of these reviews by admitting some of these episodes nearly made me cry. ‘Father’s Day’, ‘Dalek’ and now ‘The Doctor Dances’. Steven Moffat presents us with a wonderful two-part story here, the man who gave the world ‘Press Gang’ is a massive Doctor Who fan and a celebrated writer, and this effort only enhances his reputation.
The Doctor dines with some street kids.
We are introduced to Captain Jack Harkness, who ends up going with the Doctor and Rose at the end of the story, and presented with a story set in the London blitz back in World War II. John Barrowman, a Canadian born actor, provides the enthusiasm and cockiness required in spades.
So let’s start with the negatives, because there are a couple. And pretty much no more.
Firstly, in the opening five minutes Rose grabs hold of a rope whilst chasing a lost boy on a rooftop. The rope is connected to a massive air-balloon. She has plenty of chances to let go before she is hundreds of
Meet Captain Jack (John Barrowman)
metres above London, and the scene is handled (and I think conceived) poorly. To think that she could hold onto the rope for quite some time raises question marks for me as well. Secondly, my other main issue is the kids. They are supposed to be street kids, yet they all look so clean!
Anyways, enough of that, it’s bloody brilliant otherwise! It’s atmospheric and full of characters that the audience will care deeply about. It’s very well shot and has some great
Florence Hoath as Nancy confronts her son.
ideas – the square gun for one!
Don't forget Nancy, the mother of the 'empty child'. Florence Hoath played the young mother and really gave a powerful and moving performance. The issues dealt with too - a young mother in 1940s Britain - are new for Doctor Who. Certainly didn't go there in the first 26 years. So there's some real gritty reality, and also, technically a story without monsters (which is a great change of pace). The idea that there's no real evil or baddie at play in the story, that it's just advanced technology (nano-bots) gone a bit wrong, provides a great twist to the tale and a satisfying ending. Also, Richard Wilson gives a great performance and Doctor Constatine.

Captain Jack works brilliantly with Eccleston, who may not be my favourite Doctor, but I really enjoy stories merely because of him, and that’s a darned good sign. The sheer joy at the end of ‘The Doctor Dances’ when everybody lives on his face says it all. All the death, the time war, the sadness, but sometimes everything goes right. Steven Moffat, a great pair of episodes.


Sunday, 27 October 2013

Aliens of London / Dalek

Aliens of London & World War Three

Ship crashes into the Thames.

A Slitheen,
As much as I enjoyed the domestic elements to this story and particularly the Doctor’s reactions to them, and as much as I understand that sometimes the show must be orientated towards its youngest viewers, I found this a very hard couple of episodes to enjoy.
It’s mostly about the Slitheen, from a planet with a deliberately long name because it’s amusing, who look a bit ridiculous all said (but who’s to say aliens don’t look like that?) and who fart an awful lot. These episodes have made me question where Russell T Davies is aiming the program (what age group) because this seemed to be aimed at the under tens. If this is so and it continues in this vein then my interest in the series is going to wane very quickly.
Let's find a solution!
Having said that there are a few nice things in there. Mickey basically being the hero of the day, when he was treated as a simpleton is one. The domestic stuff as I mentioned, I liked, especially arriving twelve months later than they expected and finding a mad hunt for Rose has been going on. That certainly is the sort of thing never addressed in the original series and something that has been crying out to be addressed, so I was impressed by that.

Apart from that though, these episodes I guess seemed a bit cheap. The explosion at the end and the missile looked less than perfect, and the alien pig was truly awful. (ok, normal augmented pig but still awful!) It was disappointing as the first double episode of the new series, but perhaps it had its place in the scheme of things.


Now THIS is what can be done with the old to make it new and exciting. This is a simply wonderful 45 minutes of TV, albeit with some pretty awful American accents. Henry Van Statten is a collector of alien ‘things’. He’s a bit of an evil man in his way, and has advisors by the plenty. Locked away underground in a huge concrete bunker with hundreds of levels is his collection, and the prize of his collection is his only living specimen – a Dalek.
And here we are with the first Dalek story in forever not to have Davros in it, in fact just the one Dalek (the title says it all right?). It’s very well done. Wherever they shot this was perfect for a concrete multi-layered bunker, but what really shines in this story are the relationships. Between the Doctor and Rose, between the Doctor and Van Statten, the Doctor and the Dalek and between Rose and the Dalek above all.
Rose’s compassion for the Dalek is moving. This is Billie Piper’s best performance so far. Thanks to Rose touching the Dalek, it found the energy to come alive. A Dalek which feels something for a human character? That is simply not something that has ever been done before. We can see here that there is a lot of mileage in it. The poor lost Dalek, left over from the time war which we discover in this episode was between the Time Lords and the Daleks.
Inside the Dalek.
And the lost Time Lord, also left over from that war, the Doctor. Christopher Eccleston again shines in this episode. Davies couldn’t have picked a more perfect actor to bring the part back. Here we see a twisted and bitter Doctor who wants nothing more than to destroy the Dalek. The Dalek says to the Doctor ‘You would make a good Dalek’ before it kills itself. It’s brilliant, emotional stuff. By keeping the parameters of the episode limited, Robert Shearman has shown the sort of story suited to this format. Also a very ‘grown-up’ episode too, quite a polar opposite to the previous two-parter.


Saturday, 26 October 2013

Rose / The End of the World / The Unquiet Dead


Christopher Eccleston, the Ninth Doctor.
As we move into the modern series, my reviews may from necessity get a little shorter! After nearly 16 years and only one TV movie to show for it, Doctor Who burst back onto the television screens of millions with ‘Rose’. Russel T Davies helmed the new series as ‘show-runner’, chief writer and many other things, and achieved great success.
Mickey (Noel Clarke) and Rose.
This opening episode is pretty much everything it needed to be. It was a little light-on for plot, which it needed to be, because it introduced the Doctor and the TARDIS to a new audience through the eyes of new companion, Rose. In many ways it was the exact opposite of the TV Movie, a story where none to little prior knowledge was required to understand the story. It saw the return of the Autons, a pretty good choice all told, and we are introduced to our new Doctor, Christopher Eccleston, who it has to be said was an inspired choice to play the role.
He is great in this episode, a wonderful mix of humour and crotchetiness. Not to the same extent as William Hartnell, but his disdain for the mundane shines through and appears to be one of the main characteristics of the ninth Doctor. Even Billie Piper as Rose was a good choice. It was great to see the show return to its roots and see the Doctor through the companion’s eyes. Rose is central to the plot and that’s great, rather like Barbara and Ian were in the very first episode in 1963.
Billie Piper as Rose
The effects are now of course CGI, and for the most part, it’s a slick production although some of the shots of the Nestene Consciousness weren’t great. The show also has a more ‘domestic’ feel to it with Rose’s mother, Jackie Tyler (Camila Coduri) playing a role in the story as well as her boyfriend, fantastically play by Noel Clarke, Mickey. It will be interesting to see what role they play in the rest of the series.
In a nutshell this is a wonderfully basic story which focuses on the introduction of the Doctor and Rose, to set the basis for the rest of the series and the new series as a whole. They got a lot right in this one.

The End of the World

Presenting... Cassandra (Zoe Wannamaker)

We move from modern (2005) times to the far future for the second episode of ‘NuWho’. Russel T Davies also penned this episode, which includes a myriad of aliens from different world and looks pretty spectacular at times. It’s an enjoyable episode, a simple story told well, and that’s all you can ask in 45 minutes to be fair.
Jabe (Yasmin Bannerman)
It has some wonderful ideas in it, I love the idea of trees being a species that evolves to a point where it can walk and talk. Jabe (Yasmin Bannerman) is a great character played with a lot of heart. The Face of Boe is a lovely creation well realised by the effects team, and all the blue people look rather good too. This is the tip of the iceberg because there are many more creatures, and clearly one of the aims of the episode was to ‘Wow’ the audience with what could be achieved.
We have a basic plot line involving the last human, Cassandra (Zoe Wanamaker) who is in fact a piece of skin stretched out with a face in the middle. She plans to mastermind a hostage situation for money. So it’s not that intricate but nevertheless all that was required and we see that the Doctor and Rose can travel into the far future and meet weird and wonderful creatures.
We get a glimpse into the Doctor’s more recent past – between the show’s incarnations if you will. The Time Lords, in this reality at least (and I didn’t get the memo so it must be in my future!) have all been destroyed along with Gallifrey in a great war. As Gallifrey stories kept getting worse and worse in the original series, perhaps that’s for the best and it’s a good starting point. Eccleston continues to impress, and Billie Piper’s sudden realisation (as Rose) that she knows nothing about the Doctor and wonders what the hell she is doing is well written and played, and a moment that seems perfectly natural and something we never saw from previous companions save perhaps Tegan Jovanka. The new series appears to be on a solid footing!

The Unquiet Dead

Mark Gatiss’s first episode for the series (he has been a lifelong fan) is a solid continuation of where the new series had started. We started in present day, went to the future so logically the past is the next place to explore, not just for Rose but for the audience too. We travel back to 1869, although that’s not strictly where the Doctor was aiming, and the Doctor and Rose are quickly embroiled in a ghost story which is naturally really an alien invasion!
Christopher Eccleston.
Simon Callow as Dickens.
The show is being made in Cardiff, so naturally they wanted to set a story there, and here we are! It’s a solid story involving ghosts that inhabit gas and are invading the bodies of the dead, taking them out to the theatre to see… Charles Dickens! Simon Callow guest stars brilliantly as Dickens which was very well written by Gatiss. It’s another way of introducing the audience to the parameters of the series, going back in time and meeting well-known figures from the past.
It seems to wane a bit 30 minutes in, but the set up is strong and the eventual resolution is also good. We have Gwen, the servant, who is the key to it and there’s some wonderful dialogue between her and Rose as Rose realises slowly attitudes towards many things were different back in time. Eve Myles plays Gwen, and does a particularly good job. Her death is very moving and sad.
The production is near faultless too, the BBC still do period extremely
Gwen (Eve Myles) talks with Rose.
well. My only criticism of the story is it’s not as exciting as the first two. Generally, as great as the series has been thus far, it also misses the build up over 90-odd minutes plus that the original series had. You look for more twists than there is feasibly time to put into a 45 minute story. But that’s just me getting used to the format.


The TV Movie

Sylvester McCoy returns for the first 15 minutes.
1996 saw the relaunch which failed of Doctor Who.  Aiming primarily at the American market, the ‘TV Movie’ as it’s known in fan circles attempted to bridge the gap between the British and the American set in San Francisco but filmed in Vancouver, Canada. Philip Seagal was the driving force by this bid which went no further than the movie, and he cast Paul McGann in the lead role as the Doctor in what is so far his only TV appearance as the Doctor.
Daphne Ashbrook as the 'sort-of' companion, Dr Grace Holloway.
Let’s start there because it’s good to start at something they got right. Paul McGann effortlessly steps into the role of the Doctor. I have heard criticism that he was a bit ‘generic’, but in my mind that’s a tad unfair because the guy only had 90 minutes to prove himself really. He is certainly charming and fits into the Doctor’s shoes with ease.
If you want to ask the logical questions, why did this not result in a full series (which was the aim) there are a lot of reasons like publicity and timeslot, but let’s concentrate on the storyline which quite frankly is nearly as baffling as Season 26 and makes less sense.
Sax delivered some great visuals in the movie.

Launching in the States, they would have wanted to capture a new market, so they needed to start off somewhat from scratch. You can’t imply any sort of knowledge from the viewers, and hence it is an interesting decision to bring McCoy back for the first ten minutes and do a regeneration story. Not only are the audience dealing with ideas such as the TARDIS and who the Doctor is, they have to get their heads around a regeneration 15 minutes into the story. It was really nice for continuity to have McCoy come over the Vancouver to be involved, but we could have been spending time discovering the character rather than having him pronounced dead and the pointless exposition that went along with. The TARDIS however looked magnificent, I really took to the new design. It’s a pity that so much of the explanation for things was done at breakneck speed. I think it was hard to follow.
The new Doctor, Paul McGann, up close and personal in a lift. Wait, no, elevator.
The Eye of Harmony, last seen on Gallifrey in ‘The Deadly Assassin’ if my memory serves me correctly, is now in the TARDIS. That didn’t really make sense to me. But the real issue is the resolution. By going back to before he arrived, the Doctor saved the day. At no point did he undo anything. What about the two TARDISes being in the same place? How was everything undone? He didn’t turn back time, as far as I could see. It really made no sense at all I’m afraid.
Eric Roberts as the Master
It’s very American, it’s odd it feels like a different show with various Doctor Who elements included. I didn’t mind it, but obviously it was full of stuff which made me raise an eyebrow or three. The ‘half-human’ thing for instance. Dear oh dear!
Action aplenty!
However there’s a great motorbike chase, it looks great, and I think Geoffrey Sax’s direction is very good, his shot selection is top notch. I liked the referencing of ‘Frankenstein’ as the Doctor regenerates that was a very nice touch. Eric Roberts as the Master was… actually not that different to the previous guys, camp, silly and
over the top. But American, there’s the difference.
McGann has several nice moments, especially when he gets happy about the shoes fitting perfectly. Grace Holloway played by Daphne Ashbrook would have made a somewhat different companion I suspect, I’m not sure the character would have worked long term, I think they would have brought in a romantic angle with her and the Doctor and that would have been very strange. The begins of it are there in the movie.

All in all, I didn’t hate it at all.

Thursday, 24 October 2013


The final story in the show’s first 26 years, before a break of seven years, is quite a good one written by Rona Munroe, one of a select group of women to have ever written for Doctor Who. When you look back through the first 26 years to find a female writer for Doctor Who is not easy. There’s Jane Baker, part of the husband and wife team, Barbara Clegg, there aren’t many others which is really disappointing. It could ask the question – is Doctor Who a male-only domain. Verity Lambert was the first producer, but again the only female in that role too. It is definitely disappointing.
Hale and Pace guest star,
Nevertheless, here’s a writer that created a story somewhat simpler than the other three in season 26, and that certainly didn’t harm the story. But it’s not that it’s not complex, just compared to ‘The Curse of Fenric’ it unravels in a far more straight forward way. Add the use of great music (Dominic Glynn) and special effects, great dialogue, the show finishes at least on a high.
It features the return of Anthony Ainley to the series as the Master, a more base and desperate Master, which worked rather well. He was certainly less camp than in the past which was obviously a good thing.
The Master's new look.
The use of modern (at the time obviously) Perivale as a location was great too. It’s very rare Doctor Who goes into domestic lives, if ever, but it did here. We go back and forth from the planet of the Cheetah people to Perivale.

I liked and was intrigued by the idea that the cheetah people were connected to their planet. I wanted to learn a bit more about that relationship and how it came about. The idea that the fighting would destroy the world, whilst literal in the sense of the storyline I think was also meant metaphorically to the human race (and I guess also a little literally as well, fighting will destroy the Earth).
Near the end we have a huge explosion on top of a hill as a supposed result of two bikes crashing into each other (when of course that never happened) and that looks great from the effects team. The cheetah-people costumes have copped a fair bit of criticism though from fans. I can see why in some respects, the heads, although the mouths move rather well, are bulky and fluffy and the actors couldn’t move smoothly in them like real cheetahs. To be honest I didn’t mind them and had a hard time picturing what else they could have done. I guess they expected them to be more human and less cheetah, but that would have aroused criticism as well I suspect.
26 years of Doctor Who, And I have got through it all since February! The only ‘cheat’ in all that time was watching the condensed versions of Marco Polo and Galaxy Four, although Galaxy Four was much closer to full length. Since then I have also seen Enemy of the World and Web of Fear, returned to the BBC recently in their entirety. It’s been a great ride, BUT it is not yet over. I think by the end of the year I can cover ever televised adventure, so it’s on to the TV movie next, and then the new series.

To see it all as a whole is interesting, in the order intended. In some ways the
final season of the show was really starting to produce some interesting television, however the stories were very complicated and I suspect the casual audience may at times have felt alienated and unable to follow. The show had its ups and downs through the years, but was strongest and most stable through the Pertwee and Tom Baker years. But most fans would say as much. The John Nathan-Turner Years, from season 18 through 26, had great highs and lows. Most seasons, save season 24, had at least one really
good story, but always there was dud or two where the production team dropped the ball. Now things change, budgets increase, and for a one-off movie, we head to America…

The Doctor and Ace walk off for the final time...