Friday, 29 November 2013

Doctor Who's Greatest Moments: Part Four - The 00s

After sixteen years in the wilderness (apart from one TV movie), Doctor Who returned to the nations' screens anew. Previously seen in the public consciousness as a cheerful children's show with wobbly sets and cheap monster costumes, viewers had their prejudices blown away when, in 2005, acclaimed writer Russell T Davies brought it back as a 'proper drama.' Of course, fans had always seen it that way but now the rest of the world had caught up. Doctor Who was prime time material once again - but there were a few changes. It was grounded in human characters and relationships, rooted to modern-day Earth and, most importantly, that eccentric wizard Doctor was now a survivor of a terrible war, recovering from the horror he had seen. However, underneath it was still exactly the same show, with the same brew of humour, drama and scares that had made the original twenty-six year run a success. The Doctor Who of the 00s was greater than ever before - and so were the moments...

10. Run! - Rose

Let's start at the beginning. Shop girl Rose Tyler is at the end of another boring day when things take an unexpected turn - confronted by living dummies in a stock room she encounters a strange man who takes her hand and tells her to run. And her life is never the same again.
A perfect kicking point for the adventure, this moment absolutely captures the effect meeting the Doctor has to a companion's perspective. You have a normal, boring life and then suddenly the Doctor appears, a wonderful, charming, insane man, with danger all around him. When the Doctor tells her to run, Rose does. And if the Doctor did the same to you, wouldn't you run too?

9. Don't Blink - Blink

Inquisitive (and all round fantastic character wonderfully played by Carey Mulligan who - ok, I'll stop now) Sally Sparrow has been caught up in a mystery involving the predatory statues, the Weeping Angels. In spooky old house, she and Larry Nightingale stick on a DVD - a message from the Doctor, giving them advice on how to escape the angels... that are (slowly) gaining on them. This scene makes it onto the list as the most memorable scene in arguably the most memorable episode of Doctor Who. Exceedingly clever and scary in equal measure, it properly established the most notorious monster of the 00s series. If you're walking through a graveyard and you come across a statue of angel, there's just one thing you have to remember: don't turn your back and, whatever you do, don't blink. Good luck.

8. The Family lives forever - The Family of Blood

At the end of exceptional two-parter 'Human Nature/The Family of Blood', after leading another life as a human, the Doctor returns and punishes those who forced him to change his identity in the first place - the Family of Blood - in particularly harsh ways. Father of Mine he wrapped in unbreakable chains, forged in the heart of a dwarf star, Mother of Mine was tricked into the event horizon of a collapsing sun, Sister of Mine became trapped inside a mirror world and Son of Mine was put into suspended animation to watch over England's fields - as a scarecrow. They wanted to live forever,' says Son of Mine (Harry Lloyd, in one of the show's best guest performances in recent years), 'so he made sure that we did. Obviously the Family were nasty individuals, but the callous comeuppances the Doctor dishes out to them are rather chilling examples of the dark edges of the Doctor's character.

7. Everybody lives! - The Doctor Dances

On the exact opposite side of the Doctor, we have this triumphant moment from Steven Moffat's cracking Doctor Who debut 'The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances.' With half of war-torn London converted into gasmask zombies, it all looks bleak for humanity until the Doctor is able to guide the nanogenes that created the virus into mending everyone affected. 'Everybody lives,' cries an ebullient Ninth Doctor,' just this once, everybody lives!' It is an extremely rare occurrence that everyone survives a Doctor Who story (it's contains an inordinate amount of death for a family-aimed series) but here the Doctor has his greatest wish granted - he saves everyone. It's wonderful to see the Ninth Doctor, often morose and hurt (oh no, he came before), so full of joy. A heartwarmer.

6. Time Lord Victorious - The Waters of Mars

However, it's not always so easy to save everyone, as the Tenth Doctor found out in his penultimate adventure 'The Waters of Mars.'
The defining characteristic of the Tenth Doctor could be said to be how much he felt the losses he had experienced in his long life. From his own people to Rose Tyler, he could hardly take it when he failed to save someone. Here, it seems the Doctor finally snaps and resolves to break the laws of time to save the crew of Bowie Base One on Mars from their deaths, a fixed point in time. His ego boiling over to dangerous levels, the Doctor proclaims himself 'Time Lords Victorious' and that time 'will obey [him].' The scene is such an important one as it details perhaps one of the significant changes to the Doctor's character in the entire series. For a few moments, in his manic state and blind assuredness, the Doctor virtually becomes the Master - prepared to do anything to get what he wants. This growing coldness to the character could be said to stem from a terrible event in his past...

5. The Survivors of the Time War - Dalek

Locked away in billionaire alien collector Henry Van Statten's vault, the Doctor is horrified to find a lone Dalek survived the Time War (give it a while, Doc, and I'm afraid you'll find there's a lot more). Despite both being the last of their kind, the last soldiers of the Time War, the Doctor is blinkered with his hatred for the Daleks and his usual compassion dissipates. In many ways the Dalek is more human in this scene, despondent and alone, while the Doctor gloats about the Dalek species' destruction - and even tries to 'exterminate' it before Van Statten intervenes.
Making the Dalek the fearsome force it hadn't been since the 60s, this scene really captures the impact the Time War had on the Doctor. A fine example of how the revived series knows how to pitch the drama of the series perfectly.

4. 'I'm regenerating...!' - The Stolen Earth

The cliffhanger of Series 4 finale 'The Stolen Earth/Journey's End' is one of Doctor Who's most 'coffee-spurting' scenes. Finally about to see Rose again, the Doctor is shot down by a Dalek - and begins to regenerate! For a whole week, the entire viewing public believed that come next Saturday David Tennant would cease to be the Doctor. Of course, at the beginning of the following episode we found out it wasn't the case - the Doctor is able to siphon the excess regenerative energy into his spare hand in a jar (just accept it). But this scene meant that, at the height of its 00s popularity as it was, Doctor Who was the focus point of every conversation in Britain (or at least at my school, ah those were the days) for seven days and so it stands as a testament to the power Doctor Who has in grabbing people's attention. Every now and then, it likes to remind us that it's the biggest drama on TV.

3. 'I think you need a Doctor...' - The Parting of the Ways

The Daleks have conquered the Earth. Yeah, I know, we've heard it a dozen times but this time they really are unstoppable. Unless you're Rose Tyler, and you've hoovered up the heart of the TARDIS to become a God-like entity. Deux Ex Machina it may be, but this end to one of the series' strongest sees the touching demise of Eccleston's Doctor. In exactly the way the Doctor should go, he sacrifices himself to save his companion. Restrained but emotional, the Doctor gives a few last jokes, almost says his feelings for Rose and bows out with grace and gravitas. While Eccleston is not my favourite of all-time Doctor, he is most probably the best all-round actor to play the role, and watching him here it's hard to say differently. He is simply fantastic.

2. The Most Important Woman in the Whole of Creation - Journey's End

It seems that the aforementioned Series 4 finale had two brilliant episode closes with the, uh, end of 'Journey's End'  being the devastating farewell to companion Donna Noble. After touching the Doctor' spare hand, full of regenerative energy, Donna gained the Doctor's mind - becoming the DoctorDonna, part human, part Time Lord. However, it was impossible for anyone to hold all the Doctor's knowledge in their head and so, to save her life, the Doctor had to wipe Donna's mind of all her adventures with him. The growth of Donna from mouthy trivia-obsessed temp to a grown-up woman who realised her true potential was the story of Series 4 and so to have the character robbed of not only her wonderful time in the TARDIS but also her improved sense of self-worth is utterly heartbreaking. The script and the fine performances of Tennant and Catherine Tate collide here to create the saddest companion exit ever.

1. I'm the Last of the Time Lords - The End of the World 

While there may be funnier, snappier moments out there this affecting scene sums up the ethos of the Doctor Who of the 00s and so claims the decade's greatest moment. After witnessing 'The End of the World', the Doctor and Rose return to modern-day London. Reflecting on how nothing lasts forever, the Doctor reveals who he really is; the last of his race, the Time Lords, who were destroyed in the Last Great Time War. A discussion of cosmic battles between alien races, but fuelled with such emotion - and taking place in an everyday street - this scene is quite simply 100% 00s Doctor Who. Just as 'The Day of the Doctor' recently made a major move to ensure the longevity of Doctor Who, this scene - and the changes it brought to the series - guaranteed that Doctor Who came back changed but still the same - letting it sail into its 50th anniversary and beyond.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Review: Doctor Who - The Day of the Doctor

The day has come and gone. Christmas day for 77 million Doctor Who fans worldwide, the 23rd November 2013, is now over. The surprises have been unwrapped - so was it worth the wait? In a short answer; most certainly so! For a longer answer: read on...

'Never cruel or cowardly.' 'Never give up. Never give in.'

When UNIT call the Doctor in to investigate an impossible incident at the National Gallery, he is swept into an adventure involving Elizabeth I, shapeshifting Zygons and his past self! But there’s more, an even older incarnation of the Doctor is returning, and the Last of the Time Lords is going to have to visit his darkest day all over again...
A few months ago, we thought Series seven finale ‘The Name of the Doctor’ was a liberal re-shaking of Doctor Who history - yesterday the 50th anniversary special materialised in our dimension, pointing and laughing at that episode for its half-hearted attempt. For at its heart, 'The Day of the Doctor' treads a very clever line between changing a defining part of the revived series of Doctor Who while also, actually, not. For once, though, it can be said that the show will be the same 'no more...'

Away from the plot (spoilers), the special was released in cinemas worldwide – one screening of which I was lucky enough to attend – and so had extra pressure to reach the filmic quality that the Doctor Who of the past year has aimed for. And to all intents and purposes, it achieved it. Many fans have been after a big-screen Who outing for years, but surely if one ever came it couldn’t look anymore gorgeous than this (oh, those beautiful Zygons). As for the 3D element, it was a potentially superfluous but enjoyable addition to proceedings and was quite effective on several occasions. Nick Hurran, the show's current stand-out director, certainly handled it well and it really aided to the cinematic feel that the special possessed. 

As well as Moffat’s script and the whole sheen of the special, the performances are really what held the whole shebang together. It was wonderful to see Billie Piper back, bringing new aspects to her character, Jemma Redgrave was once again solid as the Brigadier’s daughter and UNIT lead, Kate Stewart while Jenna Coleman was as likeable as ever, albeit in a diminished role. However, the sure stars of this special are certainly the three Doctors. John Hurt brings his usual gravitas to the 'War Doctor' while the riffing of David Tennant and Matt Smith is a true treat to watch. The return of Tennant was an exciting prospect alone but its extra pleasing to see him playing a fun Doctor again, not the tortured version of his later years in the role. Every exchange between the two Doctors is laugh-out-loud funny and work in tandem next to the special’s unfolding drama.
Unfortunately, there are a few nitpicks to be had – I'm unsure of the characterisation of a hopelessly besotted Elizabeth I and a resolution to the Zygon subplot would have been nice (I just want more Zygons) but, really, when the rest is as bold and exciting as this these foibles are forgiveable

Overall, 'The Day of the Doctor' is a fast-paced blockbuster as well managing to be a portrait of the Doctor's character, with a flavour of Dickens' A Christmas Carol. After the release of 'The Night of the Doctor' and the reveal that it was going to reveal secrets of the Time War, there was the worry that the episode would be low on shocks (we, of course, know how it ended). However, Moffat pulls out all the stops to produce an exceptional piece of television (even if you don't see it on a TV). Congratulations to all involved for creating something that, as with much of Doctor Who this year, celebrates the show’s illustrious past and aims to ensure its future. After this 50th anniversary (very) special was broadcast in 97 countries across the world, it’s fair to say that Doctor Who will be with us for a good many years yet. Another fifty? For those of us without a TARDIS, we'll have to wait and see. 

P.S. Rather wonderfully, this is my fiftieth blog post this year. If Doctor Who has taught me anything, I now need to pop back into my own time stream to ensure that it turns out this way...

Friday, 15 November 2013

Review: Doctor Who - The Night of the Doctor (Minisode)

Unless you've been living in a cave on the planet Karn for the past day or so, you can't help but have been swept up in the hype over this very special minisode (hey, it's Matt Smith's term). If you haven't seen it yet, trust me, the hype is entirely justified as this is literally a seven minute chunk of Doctor Who history. If you don't trust me, see for yourself here:

A surprise appearance of a past Doctor! The Time War! A hitherto unseen regeneration! If these six minutes forty eight seconds contains all of that what in the name of Rassilon will the actual special contain? Well, that's a question for another day.

The best thing about this minisode is, of course, the fact that it stars Paul McGann, previously only seen onscreen for the 1996 TV Movie in which McGann gives a truly brilliant turn as a romantic, thoroughly hands-on (and lips-on, eh, know what I mean? Nudge nudge) version of the character who lives for the adventure. The Eighth Doctor is arguably the Doctor in his purest form, an alien with a love for humanity who can always be relied upon to save the day (no pun intended). So it is of course, fantastic to see him back but also incredibly sad to see perhaps the nicest, and most heroic incarnation of the Doctor forced to make the most difficult decision of his lives.

The switch around of the oh-so familiar set-up of Doctor Who - young brave woman swept off feet by the Doctor before being whisked off in the TARDIS - with Cass shunning the Doctor in disgust is simply heartbreaking, providing a fascinating insight into the effect the Time War had not just on the Doctor's race but the man himself. That he would refrain from partaking in the war for so long seems totally appropriate for his character, in particular, this incarnation. His ultimate decision to join the fight being due to the Sisterhood of Karn is also a nice touch, raising interesting questions and nodding back to fab Tom Baker story 'The Brain of Morbius'.

Another element of the episode worth a mention is the references to the Eighth Doctor's companions from the audio adventures produced by Big Finish, which finally creates a connection for at least one branch of Doctor Who spin-off media to the main series. My only gripe is that as Moffat had done that why couldn't he have had the Doctor mention, say, Fitz from the Eighth Doctor novels or Izzy from the glorious comics featuring this Doctor (she's still one of my favourite companions ever). It's a tiny nitpick but one small adjustment that would have truly brought all of Doctor Who together which would have added a little more icing on the cake. Although there is a hell of a lot of icing already. Maybe it would be one of those edible ball bearings on the cake instead. The Doctor does love ball bearings...

The scope and ambition of this short really shows that Steven Moffat is the perfect man to guide the show through its 50th year - he's the only writer with the sheer gall to liberally change massive parts of Doctor Who history. For one thing, does this affect the oft-argued '12 regeneration' rule? With the inclusion of the John Hurt 'War Doctor' (I personally prefer the term used by some fans prior to this episode - 'The Mayfly Doctor') it pushes Capaldi up to No.13 but does it also give the writers a legitimate excuse to continue on after him?
Whatever the answer to these questions, 'The Night of the Doctor' must be commended for being a seven-minute masterpiece of a web-only minisode that manages to significantly alter the course of Doctor Who. It certainly lays the groundwork for 'The Day of the Doctor', just a little over a week away. Now that we know who the John Hurt Doctor really is, we will surely find out what horrors he committed during the Last Great Time War. He is a Doctor, after all, but probably not the one we expected.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

My Top Three Doctor Who Stories: The Doctor's Wife by Neil Gaiman

In the lead-up to Doctor Who's fiftieth birthday - it's only David Tennant days away, folks! - I'm penning a trilogy of posts concerning my three favourite Doctor Who stories ever. It's a tough choice, to boil down (debatably) 238 stories down to just three but, after much deliberation, I have made my choice. First up, we go to the scrapyard at the end of the universe to meet a very important woman to the Doctor, his soul mate, his significant other, you might say, his... well, his TARDIS.

It's quite hard to describe Doctor Who to someone who's never seen it before. The main character,you might say, is an alien. Oh, they reply, what kind of alien? Actually, he looks human. Who plays him? Hmm, several people. Okaaayy, well, where is it set? Oh, boy...
The one way you can sum it up is about a man and his blue box, with the occasional stray, who go travelling around time and space. That broadly encapsulates every Doctor Who story under one (question-marked) umbrella. Every story, that is, apart from 'The Doctor's Wife'.

In this episode, acclaimed writer Neil Gaiman takes this core idea of Doctor Who and completely turns it on his head. What if the TARDIS wasn't a police box but a woman? Landing in a bubble universe outside our own, The TARDIS' internal matrix - it's soul - is ousted by the machine and put in the body of human woman. The episode involves a wonderful subplot with Amy and Rory trapped in a dangerous TARDIS (complete with CORRIDORS - trust me, corridors are exciting) but its core is the relationship between the constant companions, the Doctor and his TARDIS. What exactly are they to each other? Who owns who? Are they mother and son? Husband and wife? It's left suitably undefined but we see that they are perfectly matched for the other. The Doctor's loneliness as the last of the Time Lords is here temporarily lifted; until the eventual heartbreaking end. TARDISes aren't meant to live in human bodies... 

A great strength of this episode is its use of Doctor Who continuity that, rather than seeming superfluous and shoehorned in, adds another layer to the story. References go from The Doctor's leaving from Gallifrey (untouched in the series up that point but recently seen in 'The Name of the Doctor') to the Eleventh Doctor's first episode (in his calling the TARDIS 'sexy') and many others in between. Other stories have chucked this many references to earlier episodes in, making the whole feel like its desperately trying to please fans but merely ends up alienating most of the audience. Gaiman, on the other hand, handles the kisses to the past beautifully in a way that celebrates the legend of the show. The upcoming 'The Day of the Doctor' could do far worse than to take its lead from this story in how to commemorate Doctor Who's long and illustrious history.  

Away from the excellent script, Gaiman's words are brought to life by some tremendous acting. While Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill are of course endearing as Amy and Rory they are secondary characters, although Darvill does get to do some frightening crazed Rory acting and Karen, the horror of believing that she's lost her husband (again). Also, a nod must be made to the talented Michael Sheen who lends his voice to House, the sentient asteroid that eats TARDISes. It's a shame you can't really hear its him but there's still a certain gleeful maliciousness to House that makes him a memorable villain. 
However, there are really two stars of this show. Suranne Jones as Idris gives a great turn in a very difficult role. All the backwards-words and predictions of the future the TARDIS babbles about could have fallen flat if delivered by a different actress but Jones pitches the role expertly, playing Idris as a quirky, mad woman - a perfect foil for Matt Smith's madman without a box. Speaking of which, Matt Smith, as ever, is tremendous. His distilled anger and hurt when he discovers that the Time Lords he hoped he would find are, in fact, dead is only trumped by the Doctor's breaking down into tears at the episode's close. When Matt Smith cries in a Doctor Who episode it is always sad. And, here, his acting and the sentiment of the scene arguably make this the most affecting moment of his era. 

A funny, touching fairy tale of a Doctor Who story, 'The Doctor's Wife' is a seminal adventure that is simultaneously strong enough as a piece to have its own identity as well as being a wholly celebratory affair of the entire story of Doctor Who. However you look at it, though, 'The Doctor's Wife' certainly deserves to go down as one of Doctor Who's stand-out stories.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

The Month of the Doctor!

And here we are. After fifty years of humour, heart but above all adventure, Doctor Who this month reaches its half-centenary - and it looks like its going to celebrate it with a blast! There's programmes on BBC Three, Watch, Channel Five - far too much to list here but, rest assured, Doctor Who is taking over television. Let's see what we've got in store..


First of all, a few weeks ago, we were treated to a 60 second trailer encompassing the whole history of the series. Fans who were after footage from the special episode were ready to complain about getting a half-baked teaser, but no one was complaining after they saw it. A glorious, gorgeous feast for the eyes (of a Doctor Who fan, at least), it manages to excite and entertain without giving us a single tidbit of information about the special. But who cares when it's this good? Let's have another watch, shall we?


One of the great things about this month is that there are a number of programmes being broadcast about the show as well the special itself. One of these is  The Science of Doctor Who, hosted by Professor Brian Cox (who had a cameo in last year's 'The Power of Three'), which will look at real theories on time travel and other science fiction concepts raised in the show - for instance, whether you could really build a TARDIS!
Have a butcher's at the trailer below for more - featuring a guest spot from the Doctor himself...


Now here's the one fans are waiting for the most - some, I've heard, more than the special itself. Written by Mark Gatiss, An Adventure in Space and Time (based on the original sub-title for the series) is a one-off biopic focussing on the creation of Doctor Who and the people behind it. Brian Cox (nope, a different one this time) is Sydney Newman, the BBC head of drama who came up with the original concept as an educational children's series and Jessica Raine (Emma in Hide, earlier this year) plays Verity Lambert, Doctor Who's first producer who made the show the all-ages entertainment machine we all know and love. However, the star of the show is 'Dinosaurs on a Spaceship''s David Bradley as William Hartnell, the first actor to take on television's greatest role. The whole thing sounds like a wonderful nostalgia fest (several scenes from early story are being recreated) as well as a dedication to the people we have to thank for making the show what it is. So far a trailer hasn't materialised but we do have these great retro posters!


And now for the big one; 'The Day of the Doctor', the feature-length special that will bring together Matt Smith's and David Tennant's beloved incarnations of the character alongside John Hurt's never-before-seen mystery Doctor. You can't help but know about it as the BBC has been plugging like mad - and rightly so. As you will have noticed in the trailer at the beginning of this post, an official hashtag has been created to get people talking about the show online - #SaveTheDay. And if that wasn't enough, recently, a cool spin-off website has been released in which sneak peaks of the special will be unlocked the more people tweet, facebook, tumblr ad infinitum about Doctor Who, using the hashtag. It's a nice idea and things are already starting to appear over the internet...

Like a trailer...?

Whoah, hold back. First, let's look at a few of the photos released so far...

Fab, aren't they? Thanks to these babies we now know that the rumour that Joanna Page (of Gavin and Stacey fame) was playing Queen Elizabeth I is indeed true (a character who was previously stated to have a fling with the Tenth Doctor...), there'll be a character wearing a Tom Baker scarf and... oh, just look at that, it's John Hurt in the TARDIS!

Not much, plot-wise, has been released as of yet but we do have this juicy synopsis:

The Doctors embark on their greatest adventure in this 50th anniversary special. In 2013, something terrible is awakening in London's National Gallery; in 1562, a murderous plot is afoot in Elizabethan England; and somewhere in space an ancient battle reaches its devastating conclusion. All of reality is at stake as the Doctor's own dangerous past comes back to haunt him. 

Oh, and, of course, there's this...

I know! Three Doctors! The Time War! Rose! A Fez! I need to sit down. Oh, I am sitting down. Good.

Going by this trailer, 'The Day of the Doctor' looks set to be a grand spacey-wacey adventure set in a ton of locations and with quite a big budget it must be said, by the looks of things. You could easily mistake this trailer for a new Star Wars film or something. The most striking things for me were David Tennant and Matt Smith together - I didn't expect to be so excited to see Tennant back as the Doctor  - and the biggest question the trailer raises - how, why and what the hell is Rose doing in the Time War? Well, as she says, the Moment is coming... And I wouldn't miss it for the world.

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