Thursday, 9 April 2015

Doctor Who: Step Back in Time - The Unquiet Dead

To celebrate Doctor Who's tenth anniversary, it's time to look back at the story that started it all. Well, for this fan anyway...

'What the Shakespeare?' 

*Disclaimer: As mentioned in several previous posts, 'The Unquiet Dead' is a very important Doctor Who for me so this review shall be shamelessly personal*

I have a very vivid memory of 9th April 2005, ten years ago this very day. It was a Saturday evening and I was settled in front of the TV, happy to be finally about to catch an episode of this new sci-fi series that I had managed to miss so far. Whizz forward 45 minutes, and I was even happier - it was fair to say this Doctor Who had captured my attention. In no small part due to the episode I had chosen to watch first.

'The Unquiet Dead' is the first in the distinguished line of the so-called 'celebrity historicals', a subgenre of new Doctor Who that includes 'Vincent and the Doctor,' and last year's 'Robot of Sherwood' (sort of) - and I think it's one of the best, delivering an enjoyable snapshot of its guest star. Simon Callow plays 'ol' Charlie boy' to a T (a role he's returned to in the Whoniverse in 'The Wedding of River Song'). His Scrooge-like awakening might be swiftly-handled but it is well done, particularly the Tiny Tim-quoting final line. It might not be as deep a character study as the aforementioned Vincent but it is probably the best episode for taking a famous author on an adventure just like their own fictions.
As such, the usual stars of a Doctor Who episode - its monsters - might not be as good as many others but the Gelth deserve something for being the first controversial creation of the revived series (the visceral sound of the Gelth snapping their victim's necks is not something I think the BBC would allow now). Importantly, this episode told us that Doctor Who could still scare the Dickens out of us.

As with every Doctor Who, it's the Doctor who makes the episode and Christopher Eccleston's number Nine is at his best here. Going from cheeky and charming to commanding and stubborn in a flash - just look at the seance scene where he goes from quipping one moment ('I love a happy medium!') to outlying his alien nature, by allowing the Gelth to inhabit human corpses, the next. Also of note is the chemistry he and Billie Piper share here. Much is made of that between Tennant and Piper but the still-grieving Ninth Doctor is positively bursting with love for Rose, just as she has burgeoning feelings for him. In short, this episode has both salient parts of the show in check - the love and the monsters.

In retrospect, this was the perfect Doctor Who for me to catch first - I love a bit of Victoriana and you can't beat a good ghost story - but those interests actually came later. What struck me at the time about 'The Unquiet Dead' was just the power of the show. The time travel, the monsters, the adventure and the amazing, eccentric man at its heart. This episode isn't one you often see on best episodes lists, even on lists of the best episodes of this series, but it's always been special to me. It might not be up there with the absolute classics but it contains all the elements that make Doctor Who great. The best evidence for that is the fact that I am writing these words at all, all these years later, now a seasoned Doctor Who fan - something for which I have this episode to thank.

And so, as Charles Dickens almost observed, God bless 'The Unquiet Dead', everyone!

Ghost town - The Ninth Doctor and Rose find Victorian Cardiff swarming with spectres.

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Monthly Scribbles: The Spectre of Sherlock and Doctor Who

This month we have the ultimate crossover as the Doctor, James Bond and Sherlock Holmes team up ... in this retrospective on March.

Doctor Who at 10

If you're a Doctor Who fan you'll no doubt know that the revived series turned ten last month, causing much celebration internet-wide.
One of the most fun was this series of birthday wishes, seen on the Radio Times website, from most of the major - and many minor - members of the cast and cr-Who. Here's a selection (click to enlarge). 

Personally, as I (whisper it) missed the first couple of episodes on original transmission my tenth anniversary of being a Doctor Who fan comes on 9th April (when 'The Unquiet Dead', the first episode I saw, was shown). I talk about the beginnings of my Doctor Who viewing here (please excuse my younger self his love of exclamation marks!).

SPECTRE trailer released!

As a fan of Casino Royale and Skyfall (let's not mention Quantum of Solace) I'm eagerly awaiting Daniel Craig's fourth outing as the not-so secret agent, Spectre. The trailer's a well-done teaser (love the tinkly, slightly sinister version of the Bond theme) and demonstrates just why I like Craig's films. Rather than just mindless action flicks, they have character and mood which makes them, in my opinion, even more exciting. Have a look for yourself below.

Absolutely squee-inducing, eh? The trailer has whet my appetite so much I have many questions - but there's one thing in particular I want to find out about this film. Not the mystery of Bond's childhood or if Blofeld really is back but rather how are you meant to write that title? SPECTRE? Spectre?

SpEcTrE comes out this October.

Sherlock Series Four will be 'tougher', says Steven Moffat 

March was definitely the month for news on Britain's greatest heroes. On the Sherlock front, Steven Moffat revealed that, after the positively cuddly Series Three (for three quarters of it, at least), the next series will be 'tougher' and there will be 'consequences' to Sherlock's actions. It's all very intriguing and reminds me very much of how Moffat described Series 8 of Doctor Who. It seems that Moffat's in the mood for writing 'dark' at the moment. Work on Series Four is in the early stages but a Christmas special, set in Victorian times, is upcoming.

Highlight of the month

The film, TV show or book I've decided to highlight this month coincidentally fits into the impromptu 'British heroes' theme of this post as we look at one of the forgotten heroes of World War Two...

The Imitation Game

I've heard mixed reactions to The Imitation Game, the story of the man who cracked the Enigma Code Alan Turing, but I'm glad to say I fell on the positive side. Cumberbatch is tremendous as Turing, employing an entirely different physicality from his other socially-awkward genius so you don't simply see him as, as he put it, 'Sherlock in tweed.' Away from its lead, the film as a whole is intelligently done, with many an affecting moment. It's always difficult for biopics to straddle the line between historic fact and good drama but I think Imitation largely manages it. The emotional elements may cause the film to overlook the fine points of how Turing built his machine and solved Enigma but this isn't a documentary. What it succeeds in is presenting a truly inimitable individual who deserved to have his story remembered.

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