Sunday, 26 May 2013

Doctor Who at 50: The Best Companions

In a similar style to my Doctor Who's Best Monsters post a few months ago, I've picked my favourite companions. However, to have a range over the whole history of the show, I've chosen the best companion of each Doctor's era. Who is full of great companions of the Doctor on his travels - never 'assistants' and certainly never ever 'sidekicks' - but here are eleven of the best...

First Doctor: Ian Chesterton & Barbara Wright

The Doctor's original companions. The two teachers investigated an 'unearthly' schoolgirl's home to find she lived in a police box - and her grandfather was an alien time traveller! And that's how it all began...
Accompanying the Doctor until they returned to Earth using a stolen Dalek time machine, Ian and Barbara were fiercely brave, loyal and intelligent; perfect companions for the Doctor at any time of the show.

Second Doctor: Jamie McCrimmon

A young Scottish Highlander from the 17th century, Jamie was a companion of Second Doctor on nearly all his adventures. Other  companions - such as hyper-smart Zoe and super-screamer Victoria - came and went but Jamie was forever at the Doctor's side. It was only due to the intervention of the Time Lords themselves that Jamie was forced to leave the TARDIS and returned to his original time and place with his memories of the Doctor wiped. Sad.

Third Doctor: Josephine 'Jo' Grant

The lovable-but-clumsy Jo was hired as the Third Doctor's assistant - all right, in this instance, assistant is correct - when he worked as scientific advisor for UNIT. At first the Doctor disliked her but the two grew to be very close friends. One of the most stirring and understated companion leaving scenes occurred when Jo left the Doctor to marry scientist Clive Jones and travel the world. Recently, Jo returned to meet the Eleventh Doctor in the Sarah Jane Adventures episode 'The Death of the Doctor.'

Fourth Doctor: Sarah Jane Smith

One of Doctor Who's most beloved characters is journalist Sarah Jane, companion of the Third and Fourth Doctors, friend of the Tenth and Eleventh and acquaintance of the First, Second and Fifth. Sarah Jane is the classic template of a companion; young female from Earth with a keen mind who is looking for something more in life. Of course, a big reason for Sarah Jane's enduring popularity is actress Elisabeth Sladen who played the character with a spark that ensured her place in Who fans' hearts.

Fifth Doctor: Vislor Turlough

Sadly, during the Fifth Doctor's era the TARDIS was so jam-packed  with companions characterisation tended to be a bit thin. There was Mouthy Tegan. geeky Adric and, um, yes, Nyssa. However, Turlough has a unique angle as he was an alien fugitive disguised as a human schoolboy tasked to kill the Doctor. Obviously, he didn't and joined the TARDIS crew as a good guy who's enigmatic past was finally revealed in his last appearance.

Sixth Doctor: Perpugilliam 'Peri' Brown

American student Peri (don't ask about her full name) at first joined the Fifth Doctor on the TARDIS. However, shortly after he sacrificed his own life to save hers and regenerated into his arrogant, abrasive Sixth incarnation. Peri was a fine companion thanks to her tenacity and dedication to continue travelling with the Doctor despite his frankly terrible attitude - until the terrible events of the Doctor's corrupt trial at the hands of the Time Lords took place...

Seventh Doctor: Ace

Ace is perhaps the first of the 'modern' Doctor Who companions - a character with a proper character arc who makes the show just as much about them as the Doctor. Ace was a troubled teenager with a love of setting things alight and blowing things up. The Doctor found her on an alien world despite her being from 1980s London - a mystery that was solved in the penultimate story of the classic series. The relationship between the Doctor and Ace - one of mentor and student, father and daughter but also great friends is one of the best the show has produced.

Eighth Doctor: Dr  Grace Holloway

When the Doctor was shot in San Francisco he was operated on by the talented Grace who was confused by his alien physiognomy and, um, killed him. Neverless, when he regenerated the Eighth Doctor took a great liking for Grace - both doctors, they had a  respect for each other although Grace turned down the offer to travel with the Doctor at the end of their adventure. Grace has the esteem of being the first companion to snog the Doctor. Although she wasn't the last...

Ninth Doctor: Rose Tyler

One of the most important people in the Doctor's lives, Rose Tyler helped heal the war wounds of the Ninth Doctor and became the best friend of the Tenth Doctor whom he felt the loss of for the rest of his life after they were separated at the Battle of Canary Wharf. Rose got her happy(ier) ending in the end as a duplicate half-human Doctor now lives with her on a parallel world.

Tenth Doctor: Donna Noble

In her first appearance Donna was a shouty gossip but proved herself as someone better when helping the Doctor defeat the Racnoss, also growing as a person over her travels with the Tenth Doctor. Donna's exit - saving the whole of reality before the Doctor was forced to wipe her mind of their time together, ridding Donna of the confidence in herself that she had gathered - is simply the saddest exit of a Doctor Who companion ever.

Eleventh Doctor: Amy Pond & Rory Williams

For viewers of the current incarnation of Doctor Who, Amy and Rory need no introduction. Unlike nearly every other companion in the show, Amy and Rory had a life e.g. got married, had a child, had jobs while also travelling the universe with the Doctor - albeit most of those things were given a timey-wimey twist. Sure, they may have died several times each and existed in several different universes and alternate timelines (let's not get into that now) but Amy and Rory, at the heart of it, were a couple who managed to remain so despite the terrible things that happened to them. It is perhaps too early to say just yet how Clara rates next to them but she has a hard job to beat the Ponds.

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Review: Doctor Who - The Name of the Doctor

Prior to the highly-anticipated fiftieth anniversary special expected to celebrate the history of Doctor Who, the equally-highly-anticipated ‘The Name of the Doctor’ beats it to the punch, offering us a story that encompasses the Doctor’s entire life. And intervenes in it liberally. A mysterious conference call from Madame Vastra and the scheming of the Great Intelligence takes the Doctor and Clara to Trenzalore, the one place in the universe the Doctor must never go; to his grave. Where his greatest secret will be revealed…Or will it? As we expect from Moffat series finales, this episode actually raises more questions than it answers. In this case, though, this is entirely fitting, meaning ‘Name of the Doctor’ is a fantastic way to conclude the series.

The atmosphere is unique compared to other episodes of this series (think, the thrills of ‘The Crimson Horror’ and the whimsical ‘Nightmare in Silver’), being distinctly funereal. There are a few surprisingly hilarious lines sprinkled throughout– when isn't there when Strax is involved? – but largely it's full of doom and gloom which, conversely, really, keeps the momentum up, aided by Matt Smith’s masterful performance and Saul Metzstein’s skilful direction. The fabled Fields of Trenzalore – first mentioned in ‘The Wedding of River Song’ back in 2011 – are suitably imposing and properly deathly-looking, with its thunder-clapped sky and the gigantic TARDIS tombstone being particular highlights.

The supporting cast is well-used. Vastra, Jenny and Strax add to that feeling that the series has come together and River Song also gets a touching fleeting appearance here that might possibly be her last ever. On the monster side of things, the Great Intelligence’s silent henchman – really, they must be related in someway to Moffat’s bulbous-headed, suited-and-booted aliens – are an absolute treat. Though they are not an integral part of the episode there is enough of them on show to make them memorable villains. Their penchant for speaking in rhyme is another Moffat monster masterstroke – slightly moving on from his usual repeated phrase motif. Richard E Grant of course entertainingly hams it up as Mr. G. Intelligence, intent on getting revenge on his old enemy.  However, he’s far from the only link to the Doctor’s past on show…

Yes, if any Doctor Who episode has been written for fans it is this one. This is an episode that rightfully revels in the show’s long past and literally inserts itself amongst it. The mystery of Clara, the Doctor’s impossible girl, is solved in the only way that made, a strange sort of, sense and the show is kicked off in an all–new direction with a flabbergasting cliffhanger that will definitely keep fans gnawing at their fingernails until 23rd November. It’s sure to be good.

This may have been more of a stream of praise than an actual review but that is because this episode does everything a finale should. Looking back to not only recent episodes but also the whole history of the series while also creating stepping stones to the future of Doctor Who. In all, ‘The Name of the Doctor’ is a triumph, concluding a short series of episodes of a great consistent standard. Fitting for this very special year for the show.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Top Five Fictional Characters With No Name

After fifty years of mystery, it has been promised that this Saturday in the current series finale of Doctor Who, the Doctor's name will be revealed in the aptly-titled 'The Name of the Doctor.' To celebrate the occasion I thought I would draw up a list of other fictional characters that remain nameless (one of whom the Doctor may cease to be come Saturday). It's not so much a definitive list than a few characters from disparate strands of fiction that, I think, use their namelessness effectively. So, please, read on, whatever your name is.

Nobody Owens
Appeared in: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

The protagonist of Neil Gaiman's excellent young adult novel The Graveyard Book, Nobody Owens, known as 'Bod', was made an orphan as a baby after a mysterious killer murdered his family. Instead, Bod was raised, naturally, by the resident ghosts of a graveyard he called home, with the novel following his adventures in and out of the cemetery. Technically, Bod may not count for this list as he is given a name by his surrogate spook-relatives but Nobody is only called such as his adopted mother says 'he looks like nobody but himself.' That's hardly a name now, is it?

 Captain Jack Harkness
Appeared in: Doctor Who and Torchwood, played by John Barrowman

If you only know of John Barrowman's flighty adventurer Captain Jack from Doctor Who, you may be a bit surprised by his placement on this list due to the fact that, well, he has a name. However, in his own spin-off series Torchwood, it is revealed that Jack stole the identity of the real Captain Jack Harkness, an American WW2 soldier, back in the days when he was a bad'un. It's a clear attempt to make Jack more like the Doctor and perhaps isn't mined to too large a degree but it does add to the character's enigmatic and very long life (he's immortal, remember).

The Joker
Appeared in: Batman comics and numerous film and TV adaptations

I'm sure you're all familiar with this fellow. Mad as a box of frogs, the Joker is Batman's arch-nemesis. Sometimes a fairly harmless trickster others a psychotic killer, whatever version of the character it is his past is reliably convoluted and unknowable. Apart from in Tim Burton's Batman where Jack Nicholson's Clown Prince of Crime is called, um, Jack, and in Alan Moore's The Killing Joke graphic novel, where his name is ... also Jack. Well, apart from those examples, the Joker is made all the more threatening due to his namelessness as the less we know of his origins and motives, the more we wonder. Which is far more potent; a large reason why he is such an effective and popular character.

Number Six
Appeared in: The Prisoner, played by Patrick MacGoohan

In the superb sixties series, The Prisoner, a man resigns from his (unknown) job returns to his London flat where he is gassed and wakes up in the Village. A surreal, remote town full of brainwashed individuals and run by the face-changing Number Two, he seems to have been brought there so 'they' may find out the reason why indeed he resigned. As each inhabitant of the Village is assigned a number, we never find out our protagonist's name as he, each episode, tries to escape the Village. The importance of Number Six's lack of a name and his constant refusal to back down to the powers behind the Village is summed up in his famous phrase: 'I am not a number, I am a free man!' The series itself I highly recommend; it's truly iconic and has influenced such modern successful series such as Lost and Life on Mars.

The Creature
Appeared in: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley and numerous film, TV, literature and theatre adaptations

The greatest nameless character from all of fiction surely has to be Mary Shelley's sorrowful, passionate and volatile creation. We're all familiar with his story: the outcome of an experiment to create life by Victor Frankenstein, the Creature is shunned by his 'father' and forced to fend for himself upon which he learns humanity's best and worst qualities. Played by Benedict Cumberbatch, pictured left, who shared the role with Johnny Lee Miller in the fantastic Danny Boyle stage production, the Creature is defined by his lack of identity; constantly searching for his place in the world rather than being the inhuman monster that the people he encounters take him for. The Creature's story perfectly encapsulates why our names and identity, things we take for granted, are so important to how the world perceives us and how we view ourselves.

Talking of fictional characters.... Before we get too philosophical, this post acts as a forebear for an upcoming small blogathon I'm hosting concerning our Favourite Fictional Characters. If this interests you, have a read about it here.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Review: Doctor Who - The Crimson Horror and Nightmare in Silver

The Paternoster Gang must be the most-widely loved Moffat creations for Doctor Who. While characters such as Amy, Rory and River Song have perhaps divided viewers, you’ll be hard pressed to find a Doctor Who­-viewing soul who dislikes either Madame Vastra, the ‘Lizard woman from the Dawn of Time’, her feisty cockney wife, Jenny Flint or their loveably dim Sontaran butler, Strax. It was a joy then to see the gang again in Mark Gatiss’ latest episode ‘The Crimson Horror.’ However, there was much more than just the terrific trio to love in this audacious, hilarious adventure.
The plot is wonderfully mercurial – I challenge you to guess what’s behind Ada’s secret door or indeed the identity of Mr Sweet. It also feels all there; the characters and the story are explored enough so we don’t leave feeling short-changed. That said, the episode’s worth of story could easily fill a novel, one of Mark Gatiss’ Lucifer Box novels, perhaps (which, on a side note, if you haven’t read but enjoyed this episode I heartily recommend). The two stars of the supporting cast also shine. Dianna Rigg gets the tone of the episode perfectly in her nutty-as-a-fruitcake performance as the scheming fascistic Mrs Gillyflower, who has a sinister plan involving some red gloop in her idealistic Yorkshire factory, Sweetville. If Rigg brings the villainy, Rachel Stirling, her daughter both on and off-screen, brings the heart as the blinded put-upon Ada whom her mother shuns for her ‘imperfections’.  

If you like your Doctor Who full of horrific mysteries, over-the-top villains and memorable side-characters, ‘The Crimson Horror’ encapsulates all that to a tee. Drawn from a variety of sources including Sherlock Holmes, Hammer Horror and James Bond, Gatiss’s script aided by fine performances makes this episode perhaps the best of this series. And, it’s final moments link directly into the following story. The Cybermen are returning…

Neil Gaiman’s second Doctor Who after 2011’s unique ‘The Doctor’s Wife’ is a wholly different episode. Whereas ‘Wife’ is kooky and sad, ‘Nightmare’ is action-packed and twisty-turny. But this doesn't necessarily mean it's worse. Taking Artie and Angie to Hedgewick’s World, the best amusement park in the universe, the Doctor and Clara encounter a bunch of oddball characters and the resurrection of the long-dead Cybermen…
Firstly, this episode is simply the best the Cybermen have been in years. Nearly every story they've appeared in since their reboot in 2006, the Cybermen have virtually just been gun fodder, exploding metal heads would  fly everywhere. Here, decked out in all-new superpowers – and even a fresh name, ooh spoilers – they are almost undefeatable. For any Cyber-fan, seeing them as a more than formidable foe is a reason to thank and give big hugs to Mr Gaiman.  However, despite how good they are, they may still be upstaged by a truly superb performance from Matt Smith. We've seen him emotional, funny, heart-broken but here we get to see him menacing, giving us a whole new aspect to his Doctor. Mention must also be given to Warwick Davies for his portrayal of Porridge, a tough but sympathetic and mysterious character. He joins the ranks of great Doctor Who characters who deserve a return appearance – and these days they seem to get them so fingers crossed.
On the whole, ‘Nightmare’ is another madcap, slightly oddball episode from its author that draws from past Cyber adventures – too many to go through here - to create something original and highly-Gaimanesque. It has the odd fault – really, why were the kids there? – but its certainly fantastic Doctor Who. Gaiman has said he is interested in writing another and after his track record so far, I eagerly await the next one, like a Cybermen resting in its tomb... 

Next week, it is all revealed. As his friends start to go missing, the Doctor is drawn to Trenzalore, the place his whole life has been heading towards but also the place on which he must never set foot. Will we really find out who Clara actually is? And, finally after 50 years, will they reveal his greatest secret, ‘The Name of the Doctor’? Find out Saturday 18th on BBC One. 

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