Sunday, 29 December 2013

Doctor Who's Greatest Moments - Part Five: The 10s (So Far)

In 2010, The Doctor regenerated. Usually on such occasions, viewers are eased through the change in the knowledge that even with a new Doctor, they are watching the same show. However, this time, Doctor Who  itself regenerated. In as big a change as when the show returned to TV screens five years previously, it had an entirely fresh cast, headed by rising stars Matt Smith and Karen Gillan, and a all-new production team, led by newly-appointed head writer Steven Moffat. Anyone expecting this new incarnation of the show to continue on with Russell T Davies' Earth-rooted, often-angsty, 'proper drama' approach was in for a shock; Doctor Who was once again proud of its sci-fi status, with the stories becoming increasingly fantastical, and also its own history. The First Doctor's image can be seen a number of seven times in Series 5 alone, fact fans. In short, the Doctor Who of the 2010s (so far) has been 100% Doctor Who featuring some of the strongest characters and stories the show has ever seen. And, of course, some of its greatest moments...

10.Goodbye Idris - The Doctor's Wife

Regular readers of this blog will know of my love for Neil Gaiman's The Doctor's Wife so it was bound to feature in here somewhere. The most affecting scene of the episode comes at its close when Idris, the Doctor's TARDIS trapped in a human body (yes, you read that right), is dying. This scene could have easily been over-egged but Idris' last words paired with Matt Smith breaking down get this blogger every time. 'Hello Doctor, it was so very nice to meet you.' Oh, here I go again....

9. Which day would you choose? - A Christmas Carol

As if you needed more evidence that 2010s Who could do sad well no.9 goes to a touching scene from the triumphant 'A Christmas Carol'. Miserly Kazran Sardick has been keeping his dying love frozen in a box for decades, never releasing her knowing that they can spend but one more day together. This scene, and the episode as a whole, perfectly capture that Christmas sentimentality that you find in festive films such as It's a Wonderful Life, making this Who's finest Christmas special. Along with the scene above (although she was the TARDIS), this moment proves that Doctor Who even creates supporting one-off characters that break our hearts.

8. River's reveal - A Good Man Goes To War

However, this era of the show is far from just about sobbing, on the contrary, it has become known for its timey-wimey plotting - and it doesn't come any timeier-wimier than the story of River Song. Finally, after the unsuccessful Battle of Demons Run, Amy and Rory (not to mention us) find out who the mysterious Dr Song is; Melody Pond, their daughter. It's a fantastic reveal, being one of those 'spanner-in-the-works' moments that Doctor Who (and particularly this version of it) can do so well. The moment of River's reveal perfectly captures the sense of the roller coaster that watching Doctor Who is; you might not know where it'll take you but you know it's going to be one hell of a ride.

7. Clara was born to save the Doctor - The Name of the Doctor

As mentioned above, 2010s Who is very aware of its past, with references to all eras of the show appearing all over the shop. This reached its pinnacle in the opening few minutes of the Series 7 finale when the Doctor's companion, Clara, was seen bumping into every Doctor. Including, most excitingly, the First Doctor on Gallifrey at the very moment he ran away to see the stars. The contemporary series is the only incarnation of the show that would ever do something as audacious as literally delving into its own history in such a way and also putting on screen such a significant part of the Doctor's origins. Moments like this encourage us to remember that Doctor Who isn't just a television series that we like watching on Saturday teatimes, it's a continuing legend that's been running for half a century.

6. The Pandorica speech - The Pandorica Opens

The Eleventh Doctor is good at speeches. And, at Stonehenge, in front of a legion of Romans, he delivered a belter. Every villain or monster he has ever faced has gathered in the skies for the Pandorica, an ancient mythical prison buried beneath the Henge. To stop all out war breaking out, the Doctor reminds them who is guarding it. 'Remember every black day I ever stopped you,' he says. 'And then - AND THEN - do the smart thing - let somebody else try first.' It's a bravura scene showcasing the fear the Doctor distills in his enemies, something not too well-explored at this point but has since become a running plot point (it was why he wiped his name from the universe, after all). Making the assembled horrors of the universe run away; the Eleventh Doctor is definitely good at speeches.

5. Lake Silencio - The Impossible Astronaut

Once upon a time, Doctor Who season openers would feature babies made of fat or fun, frothy stories about body-swapping. Not anymore. Ten minutes into Series 6, millions of viewers were gobsmacked when, at a picnic in Utah, an impossible astronaut rose from the lake and killed the Doctor, stone dead. With out any breathing room, this shock plunges you into the heady mix of intrigue, questions and twists that is Series 6 with terrific assuredness and a true cinematic feel thanks to the overseas filming. Doctor Who nowadays doesn't just expect you to be in the room when its on, it wants you to be glued to the screen.

4. Touched by an Angel - The Angels Take Manhattan

The longest-running companions of the post-2005 series, Amy and Rory, bowed out from the show when, after an exhausting adventure with the Weeping Angels, they met a solitary angel in a graveyard who sent them back in time. Amy's heartbreak at losing her husband, meaning she is willing to leave behind all of time and space, and her best friend to be reunited with him, answers the big question of their relationship since their introduction; Amy really does love Rory as much as he loves her. Particularly due to the performances of Matt Smith and Karen Gillan (for my money, the greatest Doctor-companion pairing we've ever seen) this is one of the saddest companion exits.

3. 'A pile of good things and bad things' - Vincent and the Doctor

As already seen, as well as the big attention-grabbing moments, the series can still do quiet reflections better than anybody. After revealing to Vincent Van Gogh that he will be adored, Amy returns to her time hoping to find that they saved Van Gogh from killing himself. At finding out otherwise, Amy breaks down but the Doctor reminds her that they did do some good. 'Every life is a pile of good things and bad things,' he tells her. 'The good things don't often soften the bad things, but vice versa the bad things don't always spoil the bad things or make them unimportant.' Written by the versatile Richard Curtis, this episode deals with a troubled lonely man rather than alien invasions and in this moment talks philosophically about life in a way that would not alienate children.They say Doctor Who is a kid's show yet I guarantee very few post-watershed shows would feature a moment quite as mature as this one.

2. 'Raggedy Man, Goodnight' - The Time of the Doctor

Granted a new regeneration cycle by the Time Lords, the Eleventh (or should that be Thirteenth?) Doctor is dying. But before he goes, he has time to reflect on the nature of change. 'We're all different people all through our lives,' says the Doctor. 'And that's OK... so long as you remember all the people you used to be...' Now this one was always going to be tear-jerking but Steven Moffat really pulls out all the stops to make sure we're blubbing all the way through our mince pies. The Doctor's brave speech of acceptance PLUS the dream of Amelia telling him goodnight PLUS the bow tie dropping to the floor are all sad individually but put together and topped off with Matt Smith crying (surely no sadder sight exists) produce possibly the most heart-rendering regeneration that would make even a Cyberman weep. Yet in a flash, a silver-haired man is making you laugh by talking about kidneys. That's Doctor Who.

1. The Doctors Save Gallifrey - The Day of the Doctor

Many moments from the past four years could have made number one. The reunion of Rory with an older Amy in 'The Girl Who Waited'? The hilarity of the mismatched Doctor and Craig from 'The Lodger'? The Doctor's tale of the TARDIS at Amelia's bedside in 'The Big Bang'? However, the top spot had to go to this scene from the spectacular 50th anniversary special from last month; what could be better than all the Doctor's working together to save the most important day in all of their lives?

To save himself from destroying Gallifrey, all twelve of the Doctor's incarnations (no, all thirteen!) team up to save his home world from the might of the Daleks and shunt it into another universe. With all of his guilt relieved, the Doctor has a new goal. He is not running away from Gallifrey, as before, but running towards it. A celebration of fifty years of Doctor Who, intervening into its own past, taking the show in a brand new direction as well as carrying an emotional weight, this scene literally has it all.

Just like the moments in 60s Doctor Who inspired Steven Moffat and Russel T Davies to grow up and write for the show, maybe this moment and the preceding nine will enthuse a whole new generation of fans. Doctor Who is the reason for its own longevity simply because, although it constantly changes, as this series of posts show, in whatever incarnation it is in, Doctor Who is always supreme television delivering moments of drama, pathos and, most importantly, fun. And as long as its keeps on doing that, there's no reason it should stop.

Thursday, 26 December 2013

Review: Doctor Who - The Time of the Doctor

It's Boxing Day (at least for us here in the UK) so all of you at home are most probably still full from the previous day's celebrations; full on food, drink - but also writhing emotion as this Christmas Day, the Eleventh Doctor, Matt Smith, took his final bow in a climactic battle that saw all his enemies attack. You know what, I'll let Clara explain...

'Now it's time for one last bow, like all your other selves. Eleven's hour is over now, the clock is striking Twelve's.'

Like a Christmas dinner piled high, there were ingredients aplenty to this very special episode, with a trio of main areas to cover. Firstly, it had to act as frothy, Christmassy entertainment to satisfy the festive folks at home, secondly, it had to tie up all the ongoing plot lines of Matt Smith's tenure - and there were many - while also, and this is the thirdly, delivering enough emotion to serve as a fitting farewell for Doctor Eleven. His final hour was certainly packed, so did it make the most of ‘The Time of the Doctor’?

As for balancing Christmas with continuity, while there is some fun early on with Clara’s timey-wimey turkey and Handles the friendly Cyberhead, festivities largely fall by the wayside when, ironically, the Doctor treks to Trenzalore, taking up residence in a town called Christmas to stop the amassed evil of the universe from restarting the Time War. There’s cracks in time, every alien from Silents to Weeping Angels, the first question and so much more that would leave a casual viewer scratching their heads so much they resemble a shaved Matt Smith.

In actual fact, it’s a little too crammed with ideas to make for a perfect Doctor Who episode. Some of the time it sagged under the weight of all the plot threads, certain ideas such as Matt Smith's Doctor being the last and the inclusion of the Time Lords were not given enough room to make suitable impact. Likewise, the ageing of the Doctor sadly meant less of Matt Smith's physicality which has been such a large reason his incarnation is so beloved. However, most of the episode’s faults could easily have been fixed with a tad more running time – although maybe that’s just me being indulgent after the movie-length ‘The Day of the Doctor’? 

The high point of this episode truly is the final scene, Matt Smith's last as the Doctor. If the rest of the episode has a problem with heart then the reason could be that it's all been squeezed into the last ten minutes. The Doctor approaches his change with optimism to counter the heartbreak and there’s some touching talk of the necessity of change. Staying on the right side of sentimental, the Eleventh Doctor’s regeneration joins the long list of sad farewell scenes in modern Doctor Who, lifted beyond the norm by Matt Smith’s effortlessly endearing, emotive performance that he has delivered every episode for the past four years as the Doctor. Yes, Matt Smith, we will always remember when the Doctor was you.

Despite its problems (and who can blame a bit of overfeeding on Christmas Day), ‘The Time of the Doctor’ was a truly eventful episode that gave us answers to long-asked questions and, most importantly, a tearful goodbye to the latest, greatest Time Lord. The ground is now clear for Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor to start a brand new golden age of Doctor Who. The eleventh hour has ended and it has now turned Twelve. A new day has begun. But what a day yesterday was? With a terrific lead actor and an abundance of intelligence and imagination (ably summarised in this episode), it really was Christmas. 

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

The Twelve Regenerations Before Christmas

Twas the night before Christmas and all through the web and social media, not a creature was stirring not even on Wikipedia. Apart from me, that is. It's Christmas Eve, which can only mean one thing - its the Doctor Who special tomorrow! As you must already be aware, this final special of the show's 50th anniversary year will see the final hour of Matt Smith, before he regenerates into Peter Capaldi. And so, in fittingly festive decoration, what follows is a look at the Doctor's previous regenerations, which coincidentally happens to be twelve. It's 'The Time of the Doctor' tomorrow but first it's time for a Christmas song...

'On the twelve days of Christmas, a Time Lord gave to me...'

                                                      '...One Wearing Thin...'

In: 'The Tenth Planet' (1966)
Cause: Old age, died in the TARDIS
Verdict: The original regeneration still holds it's own after fifty years. While its sad that the First Doctor doesn't bow out in a blaze of glory, the thrill of it being the very first shines out. See here for more.
Regeneration-ometer: 4

'...Two's Change of Appearance...'
In: 'The War Games' (1969)
Cause: Exiled to Earth and forced to 'change his appearance'
Verdict: While it is a game-changing moment for Doctor Who - the Doctor's own race is finally revealed and he is exiled to Earth- the regeneration itself is let down by not featuring the change into Pertwee. See here for more.
Regeneration-ometer: 3

'...Three's Valedictory Victory...' 
In: 'Planet of the Spiders' (1974)
Cause: Radiation poisoning on Metebelis Three
Verdict: A touching, brave swansong for the Third Doctor, and the first Doctor-Death to be thematically resonant within the story; this serial features much Buddhist symbolism, including the idea of reincarnation... 'Here we go again...' See here for more.
Regeneration-ometer: 4

'...Four's Final Fall...'

In: 'Logopolis' (1981)
Cause: Fall from radio telescope at the Pharos Institute
Verdict: The bombastic and eccentric Fourth Doctor gets a surprisingly low-key downbeat end although Baker's tenure is celebrated with a montage of past villains and companions. See here for more.
Regeneration-ometer: 3 1/2

'...Five's Significant Sacrifice...'
In: 'Caves of Androzani' (1984)
Cause: Suffered from Spectrox Toxemia on Androzani Minor
Verdict: Sacrificing himself to save his companion, the Fifth Doctor is gifted the perfect death of a Doctor. See here for more.
Regeneration-ometer: 5

'...Six's Silly Slip...'
In: 'Time of the Rani' (1987)
Cause: Rani's hijack of the TARDIS/Fell from exercise bike/ Colin Baker was sacked
Verdict: Sadly the definite weakest regeneration. At the start of the episode, the evil Time Lady the Rani attacks the TARDIS, entering to find an already-regenerating Doctor, laying prone next to an exercise bike. Colin Baker wasn't even brought back for the scene - incoming Doctor Sylvester McCoy had to wear a wig...
Regeneration-ometer: 1

'...Seven's Risky Resurrection...'
In: 'Doctor Who: The Movie' (1996)
Cause: Botched operation to remove bullet in San Francisco
Verdict: A solid regeneration for the Seventh Doctor that makes use of an interesting Frankenstein's Monster comparison as the Doctor is reanimated from the dead in a morgue.
Regeneration-ometer: 3

'...Eight's Grave Decision...' 
In: 'The Night of the Doctor' (2013)
Cause: Spaceship crash on Karn, guided by the Sisterhood
Verdict: A long-over due finale for the Eighth Doctor was given to us this year, forming an integral part of the ongoing story of Doctor Who in that it details the beginnings of the War Doctor. See here for (no) more.
Regeneration-ometer: 4

'...War's Reborn...'
In: 'The Day of the Doctor' (2013)
Cause: Old age, died in the TARDIS
Verdict: One of the great things about 'The Day of the Doctor' (and there were many) was that it gave us the complete set of regenerations! After realising he was still the Doctor, before he forgot the good he had done, the aging War Doctor accepted his regeneration with dignity. Here's to John Hurt's Doctor! May we see more of him in the future...
Regeneration-ometer: 4

'...Nine's Triumphant Transformation...'
In: 'The Parting of the Ways' (2005)
Cause: Consumed the power of the time vortex
Verdict: Most probably the greatest regeneration, fed by excellent writing and fine performances from Eccleston and Billie Piper as the woman he saves. The Doctor saving his friend and dying with a brave smile on his face. It's how he should always go. See here for more.
Regeneration-ometer: 5

'...Ten's Cheeky Cheat...'
In: 'The Stolen Earth' (2008)
Cause: Shot by a Dalek
Verdict: Played for shock value by Russell T Davies, this sneaky surprise  made us really think Ten's time was up - until he shot the regenerative energy into a handy nearby mcguffin. See here for more.
Regeneration-ometer: 4

'And the Actual End of Ten...'
In: 'The End of Time' (2010)
Cause: Slow radiation poisoning in Naismith mansion, died in the TARDIS
Verdict: An emotional farewell for one of the most beloved of the Doctor's incarnations. It is simultaneously made by its indulgence and hindered by it. I'm afraid 'I don't want to go' is still a bit too much for this fan. Here's hoping that in the Doctor's next, thirteenth (and surely final) regeneration, he holds himself with a little more decorum.
Regeneration-ometer: 4

As Christmas Eve draws to a close, it's time for Matt Smith's last bow, like all his other selves. The Eleventh Hour is over, the clock is striking Twelve's...

Have a very merry Christmas!

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Favourite Fictional Characters: The Doctor by Doctor Who fans

Look everyone, it's Christmas! But if you're a Doctor Who fan, this month won't just mean it's coming to the end of another year but that the greatest show on the planet's 50th birthday year is drawing to a close. To celebrate, here's the next entry in this blog's 'Favourite Fictional Characters' series which will focus this time on that oft-mentioned character on this site, the lost Time Lord, the Oncoming Storm, the Threatener of Rabbits, the Doctor. And to help me talk about him, I've got in contact with some people in the know...

Firstly, perhaps the immediate thing that comes to mind when thinking of the Doctor is that he is, first and foremost, a hero, as @Face_4radio quite rightly said on Twitter.
Literature, books, television and  films are full of heroes. We like a good hero. However, what sets the Doctor apart from most is that he chooses to be one. James Bond is employed to stop bad guys, Sherlock Holmes solves crimes as mental stimulation and Batman only prowls Gotham City every night so he doesn't have to mope around Wayne Manor. In contrast to these fellas,  the Doctor grew as a character - beginning as someone tottering around the universe to gain knowledge, by the time of his second incarnation he was proclaiming 'some corners have bred the most terrible things... they must be fought!' Nowadays, the Doctor is a hero through and through, with the Moment in 'The Day of the Doctor' saying that the 'sound [of the TARDIS] brings hope wherever it goes.' As a boiled-down statement of the role the Doctor has in his own show, 'he is there to save the day', is right on the nose.

Although sometimes, he doesn't manage it...
Despite being an alien, there is much humanity to the Doctor. Like the best of us, he is kind and brave and fights for peace but, like all of us, he is flawed. He is often reckless - messing up Amelia Pond's life by promising he'd return in five minutes  - or conversely, manipulative - using Ace as a pawn in a game with an ancient evil. Often, as these examples illustrate, it is the Doctor's closest friends that bear the front of his mistakes. Often embarking on trips in the TARDIS for the time of their lives, in extreme circumstances, while with the Doctor his companions sometimes reach their end of their lives, as Richard George points out above. Katarina and Sara Kingdom met their deaths while fighting the Daleks and, most famously, Adric died trying to destroy the Cybermen.
This is, for me, one of the key reasons he is such an interesting character. While The Doctor is not infallible he always carries on, hoping to make up for those he failed to save. As in 'The Day of the Doctor', sometimes he even changes history just to save the day. He is certainly an imperfect hero, but a hero nonetheless.

As writers and Doctor Who fans Anthony Burdge and Jessica Burke say above, the show is effectively limitless. I would argue that the same is true of the Doctor. While heroes who sometimes fail to save the day do exist, the Doctor is truly unique in that he can be stretched in all directions, he can be entirely different - a wholly different man, even - yet still be the same character. He can be old and crotchety, young and energetic, middle-aged and eccentric and anything in between.

And, finally, to round off:
On this, the eleventh day of the twelfth month, when soon the Eleventh Doctor is about to face his final hour before he becomes the Twelfth, we know very little about the future of the Doctor. But, wherever he's headed, he'll always be a near-immortal (in the narrative of the show and in the public consciousness) children's hero with proper foibles who never stops growing and changing yet will always be the same man. That's why he's our favourite fictional character.
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