Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Doctor Who's Greatest Moments: Part One - The 60s

Doctor Who has had many a memorable moment over the years and, this month, in a new series of posts dedicated to the series' best bits, we're looking at the show in its first decade of life; the swinging sixties! Moments like the ten below lodged themselves in viewers' heads, turning a generation of children into fans of this peculiar, sometimes silly, always wonderful programme. Some of those watching at this time, kids such as little Russel T Davies and miniature Steven Moffat loved the show enough to grow up and make it! So there we are, these moments that you are about to read about helped ensure Who is still with us today. Not bad for a show originally conceived as a children's educational series. Although it quickly grew into something much bigger. Bigger on the inside, you might say...                                                  

10. The First Moment - An Unearthly Child

The very first shot ever in Doctor Who is so indicative of the programme. As the chilling theme music fades out for the first time we are shown a out-of-place Police Box (still a familiar item to viewers at the time) standing in a junkyard, with a strange hum coming from inside...
Such an iconic image, the TARDIS returned to the same junkyard under the control of the Sixth (in Attack of the Cybermen) and Seventh Doctors (Remembrance of the Daleks) and it landed in a junkyard planet in the more recent The Doctor's Wife but this original moment is by far the most spine-tingling. Only a few seconds into the first episode and already we have the alien mixed with the everyday - the stuff Doctor Who is made of!

9. Cybermen from the Sewers! - The Invasion

In this Second Doctor adventure, present-day Earth is being invaded once again by the deadly Cybermen. The Cybermen had faced the Doctor already several times before (see Number 2) but this story features perhaps their most famous moment. Rising from the sewers of London, the metal men stride down the steps by St Paul's, ready to take the planet. Of course, they don't and, in a few episodes time, they're sent packing but in this moment the Cybermen seem a terrible threat. One of the original and best Behind-the-Sofa moments for which the show is so famed.

8. Time Can't be Rewritten - The Aztecs

In the early years of the show, the Doctor vehemently enforced the rule that you could not interfere with history. Many episodes saw the TARDIS crew witness history happening rather than getting stuck into it themselves. However, in The Aztecs, the Doctor's companion and history teacher Barbara tries to change history for the better by posing as an Aztec Goddess to stop them sacrificing people. Unfortunately, her efforts only cause more trouble and the Doctor gives her a stern talking to. Long before Moffat's timey-wimey plotting and Davies' character-driven stories, this is one of the show's first forays into the opportunities of time travel and also the effect it has on the Doctor's friends.

7. Mind Robbed! - The Mind Robber

In the climax to the opening episode of The Mind Robber, the Second Doctor, Jamie and Zoe are stuck in the TARDIS as it falls out of time and space and into nothingness. The Doctor's machine breaks apart and sends its insides - including the console and its adventurers - out floating into a black void until they are engulfed into a thick smoke. Expertly directed and scored with some throbbing, eerie music, sixties Doctor Who was never more psychedelic than in this moment which shows just how the series stretched and explored itself back in its first few years.

6. 'Nobody in the universe can do what we're doing...' - Tomb of the Cybermen

In the middle of this magnificent serial (Matt Smith's favourite classic Who story, don't you know) involving adventuring archaeologists and legendary Cybermen rising from their tombs comes a tiny moment between the Second Doctor and his new companion, Victoria, who is reflecting on the loss of her father (killed by Daleks in the previous story). Comforting her the Doctor tells her of the memory of his own family and how the life the TARDIS offers will help ease her grief, as there will be 'so much to see.' It's a terribly sweet scene that has nothing to do with the overall story but proves that the classic series can do moments of heart every bit as well as the modern series can.

5. 'No regrets, no tears, no anxieties.' - The Dalek Invasion of Earth 

And, just because I'm trying to get you crying, here's another tear-jerker. The Doctor's granddaughter, Susan, is torn between going with her grandfather or to help rebuild a Dalek-ravaged future Earth alongside David Campbell, a man she has fallen in love with. Making the decision for her, a hurt Doctor closes the TARDIS doors then gives her a farewell speech from inside. First Doctor William Hartnell usually hated giving long speeches but here he delivers every line with aplomb, putting a stiff-upper lip on as the Doctor tells Susan that she is a girl no longer and cannot travel with him anymore. It's the first exit of a companion and it is still one of the best.

4. Dalek! - The Daleks

In just the second story of Doctor Who ever, the Daleks make their first appearance. However, our first glimpse of the Dalek is not so much a great  reveal but more of a tantalising tease. At the end of the opening episode of the story, Barbara is wandering through the corridors of the Dalek's metallic city on Skaro when she encounters one of the creatures for herself. All we see, though, is her pinned to the wall by a sink plunger-like arm. There's not even a cry of 'exterminate.' A simple, suggestive and rather brilliant entrance for the Doctor's eternal worst enemies.

3. Trial of a Time Lord - The War Games

Nowadays, even casual viewers of  the series know a few basic things about the Doctor; and one of those is that he is a Time Lord. However, it wasn't until the Second Doctor's final episode, six years into the show, that the name of his race was revealed. Kidnapped by his people, the Doctor is accused for leaving his home planet and meddling in time - his punishment: he will be exiled to 20th century Earth and forced to change his face. It's a real turning point for Doctor Who; finally, we know something about the Doctor and it neatly sets up the premise of the Third Doctor's tenure. The show wouldn't be the same again.

2. 'It's far from all over...' - The Tenth Planet

The jaws of many viewers at home must have hit the floor when they saw this for the first time. After his first meeting with the Cybermen, the Doctor, old and tired, falls to the ground. Surrounded by his friends, Ben and Polly, the Doctor seems to be dead - but, wait -  in a flash of light, the old Doctor is gone and the Second Doctor is born. Watching this scene back now just reminds you what a fantastic idea that of regeneration is. Not only because it keeps the show going but also for its dramatic potential; Can Ben and Polly trust this new man? Can he really be the Doctor? Fab stuff.

 1. The First Journey - An Unearthly Child

Twenty minutes after Number Ten on this list, we follow Ian and Barbara as they follow their oddball student Susan home - to an out-of-place Police Box in a junkyard. Inside, they discover a gleaming console room of a spaceship and that Susan and her crotchety grandfather are actually time-travelling aliens. Believing that Ian and Barbara would tell his secret, the Doctor takes off from Earth, bringing the school teachers with him. As we hear the familiar wheezing noise for the first time, the TARDIS materialises in a prehistoric landscape. Just as a shadow passes over it. It's a simply sublime moment, taking us from an ordinary junkyard to millions of years into the past in an instant. It's bread and butter Doctor Who but here it really does feel brand-new; no other scene of the TARDIS disappearing one place only to reappear somewhere else is as enthralling as this one. No wonder Messrs Moffat and Davies were inspired.

Return next month for more of Doctor Who's Greatest Moments!

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Journey to the Set of the TARDIS

Just a few days after my meeting with Neil Gaiman on Sunday, my poor fan-brain hadn't had time to cool down before I went off to Wales yesterday to visit the Doctor Who Experience, with its limited edition exhibit - a tour of the actual, proper TARDIS set!

After enjoying the fruits of the good ol' Experience - which now features some costumes from the latest series including the beautiful new Cybermen and Skaldak the Ice Warrior - me and a small group were taken into Roath Lock Studios that resides just over the road from the Experience building. With special passes we were able to walk through the studios past rooms dedicated to the other shows filmed there - including Wizards Vs Aliens, according to a sign I spotted a sign on one door - until we reached Studio Four, which was bigger on the inside...

Sitting in the front half of the studio is the set of the TARDIS, like a great wooden pumpkin (something that designer Michael Pickwood based this version on, apparently). The back half of the studio was veiled from view by a long black curtain. Behind it were sets ready for Peter Capaldi's first episode as the Doctor, to be filmed next month. It took a lot of restraint not to run off and have a look.

Split into even smaller groups, while waiting to go in the TARDIS, a man who works there chatted to us about Doctor Who's filming at the studios and his own personal connections to the show that made us all jealous; he played a Slab in David Tennant episode 'Smith and Jones', a dead body in a Torchwood and was the first fan Peter Capaldi shook the hand of at the live event that announced him as the Doctor. Then, we were led up some stairs to a set of Police Box doors. The TARDIS beckoned.

First and foremost, the TARDIS set is superb. I've heard it said by other fans who have visited the set that it seems small but, to my eyes, it was vastly bigger than it appears on screen. If I'm honest, I've been a little indifferent to this new model since it first appeared in 'The Snowmen' as I was used to the TARDIS being a more hodge-podge, home-y sort of construction but, after seeing it in the metal, it's completely won me over. When standing inside it, it really does feel alien but still has the sense of wonder you get from recent less sci-fi TARDISES.

This TARDIS has four levels - and the only one we weren't allowed on was the top one, used heavily in 'Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS' which has adjoining doors that lead to the TARDIS' other rooms. Pity, I would have liked a wander round the library...

The third layer is a 'landing' between the main console floor and the bottom one, which holds the roots of the time rotor (the big glowy tube thing in the middle). You might recognise it from 'The Bells of St John', where Matt Smith pulls a chest of clothes from one of the compartments seen below.

And, after a few short, sweet minutes, we were escorted out. Sigh.

Overall, the experience was a wonderful one; although we didn't spend a great deal of time inside the set, the tour guide did allow enough time for us to take photos and tell us some interesting facts. Seeing that the exhibit has only been running for six weeks and closes for good (at least for this year) on Sunday, I feel very privileged to be one of a fairly small group of fans who have got to see inside the spaceship. I'd have liked it to take off and be whisked into time and space but I can't be too picky.

Monday, 19 August 2013

A Day with Neil Gaiman

Faithful readers of this blog most likely know of my admiration for the works of the eminent and messy-haired fantasy author Neil Gaiman (which I have commented on herehere and here. Oh, and - well, you get the idea). Yesterday, on a trip over the water to Portsmouth (for overseas readers, that's on the south coast of the UK), I was very thankful to meet the man himself. And I am pleased to say he was as friendly and funny as his reputation suggests.

The day itself was a perfect day for any Gaiman fan to attend. Portsmouth being Neil's hometown, I leapt at a ticket when I found out he was holding a talk there, part of his worldwide book tour for his latest novel, The Ocean at the End of the Lane. However - there was more - that very day an unnamed road leading to the beach was to be officially renamed The Ocean at the End of the...Lane in a ceremony led by Neil that afternoon. Yes, I was going. 

My day started as odd as it was going to continue. Myself and my self-confessed fan of 'fictitious worlds' sister (known to the blogging world as Miss Misspent Youth) wandered into the Canoe Lake Cafe which we knew to be near Neil's road to ask directions. It turned out there was no need, as Neil himself was dining inside. 

I know!

Arriving at the road with plenty of time, it was great to see so many fellow Gaiman fans there - and to watch the already-substantial crowd grow as Passing Portsmouth Pedestrians stopped to have a look at what was going on. The ceremony was entertaining enough but afterwards was the icing on the fantasy-author-flavoured cake. Once the official people of the event had left, Neil stayed behind to chat, sign and pose for photographs with fans. It's a considerate gesture and one I hadn't expected. My thoughts on the occasion are summed up perfectly in the tweet below:

The Cyberman in question is a small pin that Mr Gaiman was wearing on his lapel which can sort of be seen in this photo. 

You know, that silver speck. Trust me, it's cool.

The talk later on was great fun and extremely informative for anyone interested in the behind the scenes of his writing. It must also be the only event I've been to that, while waiting for it to start, most of the audience were avidly reading novels, comics and other Neil-affiliated materials. Assisted by an interviewer and, naturally of course, a Dalek, Neil talked about everything from his latest projects to being a villain in The Simpsons. He also gave two great readings, one from his newest children's book Fortunately, the Milk which had the whole place laughing. 

The signing afterwards clearly exceeded the organisers' expectations, as such was the number of fans eager to meet him that Mr Gaiman was signing all the way up to one in the morning (the talk finished about 9.45)! When I eventually met him again, Neil was as amiable and chatty as he was at the unveiling, thanking people for waiting so long to see him, and even taking the time to provide a mini-illustration alongside his signature. Plus, on a personal note, he shook my hand, saying 'it's a pleasure to meet another writer' (I told him, by the way, he doesn't have a sort of sixth sense for perceiving writing folk. Though maybe he does, I wouldn't tell people if I did, would you?).

It was, overall, an extremely enjoyable day and it was a pleasure to meet someone who's a great inspiration as a leading player in a field I'd like to break into. An added bonus was that he turned out to be so nice. Also, weirdly but wonderfully, I met someone I previously only knew on the internet through her site, namely Katie Edwards of Katie's Book Blog, who has also written an account of the day over on her blog, in which I, ahem, feature in a supporting role. Go check it out! In a paragraph's time...

I've been saving up to read The Ocean at the End of the Lane until after this event, feeling that this was a perfect introduction for the book. I look forward to plunging myself into it right away, though, and, have no fear, will be inflicting my views on the book to you all in an upcoming post. Till then, I'll leave you with the scrawlings and scribble creatures of Neil Gaiman himself. A lovely chap, don't you know.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Peter Capaldi is the Doctor!

After months of rumours and anguish for Doctor Who viewers across the world, today in the specially-dedicated programme Doctor Who Live: The Next Doctor it was revealed that the twelfth incarnation of the greatest alien on television is to be played by Peter Capaldi! Unlike his predecessor, Capaldi, 55, is an established actor, currently most well-known as foul-mouthed spin doctor Malcolm Tucker in acclaimed BBC sitcom the The Thick of It. However, he's soon to be universally seen as the Doctor...
Capaldi's no stranger to the Whoniverse, having appeared in both Doctor Who and Torchwood. Although he didn't get much of a chance to show of his acting chops in 2008's 'Fires of Pompeii' he was the standout performance in mini-series Torchwood: Children of Earth the following year, heading the supporting cast as conflicted politician Mr Frobisher. As an excellent example of his acting range and confirmation that he can play sci-fi credibly, the series should definitely be watched. Apart from his onscreen links to Who, though, the man is a lifelong fan of the show; he even wrote a fan letter to the Radio Times as a teenager.
Quite the big name and one of the oldest actors to take the part, it's a brave choice to appoint Capaldi but, in many ways, absolutely the right one. Immediately his age and experience set him apart from Matt Smith and so he fills the quota of the new Doctor being different from the last one. Intriguingly, head writer and 'guardian angel' of Doctor Who Steven Moffat mentioned in the live show that he wanted to do 'something a bit different' with the new Doctor, his tone suggesting that Capaldi's take may be quite radical for the show. Although only a fool would speculate, I'm going to make a prediction now: I'm perhaps expecting him to be on the more sombre side of the Doctor spectrum, closer to, say, Christopher Eccleston's Doctor than David Tennant's. But Who knows...
What is for sure is that Doctor Who has regenerated and the show is brand-new once again. It's an anxious time for a Who fan but, as an old Doctor once said, it's change, my dears, and not a moment too soon.

And I'll leave you now in the company of Doctor Number Twelve to sign us off. Welcome, please, Mr Peter Capaldi...

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