As you’ll have realised, should you be reading this blog, we’ve had an extended break from the blog, following the end of Series 4. This was obviously to make sure we made absolutely no headway whatsoever on the back of the plug the Who Cast kindly gave us back in July…
So let’s start this creaky machine back up again… And we have things to talk about.
There’s a new Christmas special now only 5 weeks or so away (the Children In Need sampler of which got me whimpering with excitement like the man-child I am),
Obviously the news that now not just RTD is going, but David Tennant too, the prospect of a spectacular end for their tenures and the brave new world of the Vast Toffee MN – and the inteminable debate on who should take the role. Expect the Sun to fill pages with these rumours. Its nice to know that a national “News”paper is interested in the show… but maybe not if they’re going to suggest Ross Kemp has accepted the role…
The year of the special next year, of course…
There’s also the little matter of the Ood Cast writers coincidentally all turning up to the National Theatre on the South Bank here in London to see Russell talk to Benjamin Cook about their new book – hang on, no, not a coincidence, Andrew bought the tickets…
On the subject of that book (The Writer’s Tale), Richard and Judy have picked it as part of their Christmas book campaign… and it’ll be reviewed on their shiny new show on Watch by none other than Uncle Stephen Fry – I think on 26th Nov.
So, people, we are returning. Plans are afoot to do something new with the blog, but as the break has not been because we’ve each bought an island in the carribean and spent 5 months developing an EasyJet glow, there simply hasn’t been time to return with a bang and a glitter.
Better to just return sometimes, I think! So here we are. The bang and the glitter will come limping in eventually. We wouldn’t want you to be over-whelmed, would we?
See, dear reader… always thinking of you…
If there is anything you want to see on the site, anything you want us to look at or discuss, please use the comments on here to do it – always very happy to hear from people – and desperately glad for some ideas we didn’t have to sweat over!
Now it’s my turn to be the contrarian.
I really didn’t like it.
I actually nearly switched off after the resolution to the multiple cliffhanger. Sorry, I said resolution, I was aiming at cop out and accidently said resolution. No one was in any danger at all. Come ON! I lost count of the number of characters in there, shoe horned in like Old Mother Wotsit and her shoe. Davros did practically nothing, what a waste! A new Doctor was grown so Rose could have him, blergh. It was all, oooooo we are in danger!!! Oh, no we are not so that’s all right then.
Towing a planet through space? No, come ON! What would happen to the gravitational forces and therefore the atmosphere? Someone tell me if that’s possible?
You had to have some knowledge of the Christmas Invasion (the hand and Harriet Jones) and Doomsday (Rose, Bad Wolf Bay, Jackie and Mickey). You had to know who Captain Jack and Martha were. If all those companions hadn’t been involved then we might have had more plot.
What a build up to Davros’ end of series entrance only for him to do almost nothing. The comparision of the Doctor and Davros as the two destroyers of worlds was interesting and I was surprised that it wasn’t explored further.
One thing did work for me! (Hooray!). The Doctor Donna. Nice idea; the companion that becomes the Doctor but cannot ‘take’ being part Time Lord. (Loved the opportunity to show that Doctor could fix the chameleion circuit if he wants to). How sad that this wonderful hero will never know what she did with the Doctor. What a down beat ending too. I hope Donna does make something of her life now. But then, it’s only a story.
Oh well…. I love Doctor Who. And I love what Russell T Davies has done with it. It’s just this time I didn’t.
Saturday was supposed to be a momentous day for Doctor Who – it was RTD’s big finale, in effect. An episode where he pulled together as many loose strings from the last four years as he could fit into an hour and tried to tie them all together once and for all.
We finally saw the door slammed on the ridiculous Doctor-and-Rose-sitting-in-a-tree… “tension”. Mickey finally moved on (to Torchwood?). Martha finally seems to have joined Torchwood permanently. Donna is back with her family – having got better and better as the series rolled on. And we got that answer to the regeneration question.
But did it all come off?
I think so, yes – but to be honest, I’m not all that sure.
It was fantastic to watch – a real visual feast. But it was a disappointing way to close off such a massive story… There was so much to go on, so much promise, and we got a bit of a cop-out and a lot of confusion…
Personally I didn’t mind the cheesy family-stuff with the Doctor and his “children of time” as Davros put it. Actually, the way he said it made it all pretty chilling. I loved the delightfully-mad Dalek Kaan, his false prophecies and ultimate betrayal – and that the Doctor even offered to save Davros’ life at the end.
But I didn’t really understand why all the companions were needed – excepting maybe as a distraction for the Doctor. A particular highlight for me was Davros. The scenes involving him were magnificent – and particularly when he thought he was in total control. Ahough they could have and should have done a lot more with him than they did.
The two-way meta-crisis: interesting idea, although its back to RTD’s “imaginative” science… I really enjoyed the consequences – the Doctor who talked like Donna, and finally an explanation to the Ood’s mysterious Doctordonna… But for me, it was more Star Trek than Doctor Who, and I have never been a huge fan of Star Trek…
I thought what they did with Donna’s “death” was excellent – and she was finally properly likeable – proper human emotions in trying to deal with a situation so far removed from being “just a temp. From Essex.” The extra Doctor was borderline for me. I sort of saw it coming, but hoped that it would be something else. I think it was handled well until the Bad Wolf Bay bit, and then it got nauseating, but at least it got the romance element out of everything (every cloud and all that).
The ending in particular, with Wilf, was lovely. Very sad, and I am particularly sad to see Bernard Cribbins’ place in the series go with Donna. But it was a good ending to a very good year in Doctor Who.
Three things though – C, G and I.
The Daleks, for me, had their appeal in being an endless force – no matter how many were destroyed or disabled, more and more came after it. Part of the secret was that you couldn’t see or know just how many there were. Genesis, Revelation or Planet of the Daleks wouldn’t have been as tense or dramatic or good if you could seen thousands of them flitting around on their way to battle stations, coffee breaks etc…
But when the Doctor walks out into a massive space, filled with flying Daleks, I lose interest. It looks like a hoard of fruit flies bustling around a discarded apple core. Its not threatening, or scary. It’s preposterous.
The other bit that bothered me was the whole “towing the earth back home” bit. As a concept and a plot point, its fine – it’s a very Doctor thing to do. But why oh why oh why did they have to show it? It looked cheap and silly. We didn’t need to see it.
I could see it working with say, Tom Baker – but it would certainly not be shown… It would have been one of those little asides… You know, like this:
Sarah: But Doctor, what about the Earth?
Doctor: What about it?
Sarah: For goodness sake, its still stranded miles from where it should be!
Doctor: Oh that. I towed it back into position using the TARDIS. (Teeth fill the screen) Come on, let’s go and find a cup of tea…
And that scene where they’re all flying the TARDIS… it was the first time in a long, long time that I’ve wanted to go and make a cup of tea in the middle of Doctor Who (for the record, the last time was while I was watching a video at uni… and my VCR was a fancy model with a pause button and everything…)
All in all, it was brilliant – if self-referential and a bit messy- a real climax to the first four seasons, and despite its flaws, I’m glad it was so big and bold. What a fantastic way of clearing the decks for the Vast Toffee* to step in.
And then there was the trailer (or should I say “spoiler”) for the Christmas special. What was it again?
Oh yes:”Coming this Christmas… The return of the Cybermen.”
That’s the surprise taken out of that one then. Where are your spoilers now, River Song?!
Still, I suppose that stopped The Sun leaking it later on.
*Vast Toffee MN (Master of Nightmares) – Steven Moffat – brilliant anagram courtesy of Staggering Stories…
I find straight-up horror films pretty boring these days. I almost think its fair to say that if a film states that it is a horror film, and is not made in Japan – its probably not very scary unless you’re a horror virgin or too young to see one. They generally end up in three categories, in my experience – the unheard-of, non-english-language original version, the plastic-bimbo-populated Hollywood remake, and the half-baked predictable teen-horror.
What’s impressive with Doctor Who at the moment, is how far they seem willing to push the boundaries for the timeslot they’ve been shoved in (I say shoved in: series 1-3 were all shown in a slot an hour later – and all pulled in roughly a million more viewers per week).
But this hasn’t quietened down the ambition of the production team. This series has had a feel of the inevitable about it – a kind of running dread that has wound its way around the storylines. But – no stories that have tried to freak viewers out with “scary” CGI monsters… Not that spring to mind, anyway.
And RTD’s episode, Midnight, seems to be the pinnacle – so far, anyway.
I’ve said before that I have my doubts about some of RTD’s episodes. In fact, I wasn’t overly impressed with Partners In Crime – although I enjoyed it…
I have found some of his other episodes a bit suspect – especially with Rose and the 10th Doctor. My personal view being that series 1 served Rose better as a character than series 2 with all the will-they-won’t-they rubbish that came along with it… A main culprit of that must have been RTD, being in charge of the overall “story arc”, and it seemed to be his episodes where that whole romance thing was dwelt on. I was disappointed with the start to series 2 – in particular New Earth, and I really wasn’t sure about the Peter Kay monster and pavement-love in Love and Monsters.
But, with Martha, his writing seemed to hit the mark more. And even more so with Donna. Or in the case of Midnight, without Donna…
This showed how far Doctor Who has come, I think. It wasn’t a monster-fest. It wasn’t a space war. It wasn’t an invasion. We didn’t even see the monster or get to hear what it was. And that was its strongest hand. Something that particularly Steven Moffatt has played on regularly is what people genuinely fear, and RTD has just pushed on into the psychological territory with this episode. People have an amazing talent by blowing fears up to huge proportions just by talking themselves into believing it… Just like this group of tourists.
Opinion seems divided with the newspapers, anyway. The Times were broadly critical, the Guardian were extremely enthusiastic. Out of the two, the Guardian had the better-written review, even if that’s because the reviewer seems to have approached the episode in a better frame of mind. The Times had a point, possibly, about the episode being a bit wordy, but it the reviewer was needlessly cynical, and doesn’t seem to have bothered either doing any research on this year’s series or taking a sense of humour to the sofa with him.
I agreed with this:
“Midnight felt too much of a writing exercise to be really scary”
Well, to an extent. I think its proved with the moment when Sky looks up at the Doctor for the first time after she is possessed. Her head movements and the way she looks through him really was frightening.
I don’t agree that Tennant’s Doctor is becoming irritating, though – in context of the whole series, he’s not been short on confidence (after all, why should he be?), and I personally found the arrogant comments funny.
But on the whole, Midnight was great. RTD may well have been watching the Horror of Fang Rock when writing – the claustrophobic atmosphere is every bit as good, and its well-realised without going OTT with the effects.
There is just one thing though. I don’t see why the “hostess” would do what she did. She seemed far more concerned with rules and regulations than the good of her passengers…
Strong performances from another really good cast made this even better. And at least this monster wasn’t unrealistic!
I’d like to be ten again. I think it was when I watched Dalek in the first series that I first thought that. Watching that final scene where the mutant inside the machine realises the bigness of life and that it would have to stop being a Dalek to cope with it. But it realised that this conflicted with its prime motive in life: to be a soldier to advance the Dalek race. Big stuff done big.
In my first post on this blog I looked back at what Doctor Who had meant for me as a kid. So what’s it mean to me now? What makes it stand out as must see telly?
Its uniqueness is always going to be its biggest selling point. A quirky, unpredictable traveller in a time-space machine that looks like a phone box who never carries weapons and has an unshakable moral backbone faces a limitless diversity of situations and sets out to right wrongs. You can’t beat that for an idea. It’s incongruous, enchanting. It makes you think and it’s entertaining. Gotta love it.
I like my telly to be challenging. You can be challenged by all sorts of telly but Doctor Who does it in a way that embraces and salutes life. It doesn’t dwell on negatives. It takes the challenges of life and reflects them in ways that bring them to the fore in fresh and sparkling ways. The Lazarus Experiment’s discussion of immortality, The Last of the Time Lords on political power and the untapped power of the masses, Girl in the Fireplace, Human Nature and The Family of Blood on unrequited love and self sacrifice. Gridlock as brilliant satire and an exploration of community and, oh all sorts of things (I could watch it over and over), Utopia on the potential of the very wicked (Derek Jacobi’s take on the dim awareness that Yana was more than he thought was amazing), Fathers Day on self sacrifice and parenthood. Ha! Take that Eastenders! Ya boo!
It’s thanks to Russell T Davies, the head honcho of the series, that it’s been so good, been written and made in such a full blown gutsy, hard hitting, clever, provoking and rigorous way. And the production team. What a team. RTD’s bold and un-dentable enthusiasm and self assurance in what he wants to achieve is a huge inspiration. He just knows what he wants to achieve and does it. Each episode of the series shines with this commitment and assurance and it’s a rare thing. Fourteen episodes a year of rigorously written creative television that is really, really different each week is not a mean feat. It’s always fascinating and challenging, whether it’s the Doctor’s insistence on giving any villain a chance to change their ways or the uncomfortable way that he has sometimes dealt with them – it has created splendid debate in my office and, I hope, in the playground too. The depth of life experience too. The horror of and the choices in war, the reality of relying on people, the Doctor and Rose’s friendship – the most platonic relationship ever portrayed. The madness of the Master. Donna’s desire for betterment. The acceptance of the diversity of life. What a smorgasbord.
My personal favourites are each of the stories written by soon-to-be head writer Steven Moffatt. He hits a deeper resonance than RTD, who I think underwrites. (I thought RTD’s Midnight didn’t quite make it as a truly extraordinary exploration of human fear but was close). With the Moff you get the full whack every time, his plots are so intricate and his themes so solid. And his dialogue must make actors melt with delight. Who can forget the exploration of the Doctor’s relationship with Rose in the exchange, Rose: ‘Don’t tell me the Universe implodes or something if the Doctor dances. Go on then, show us show us your moves.’ The Doctor: (flustered) ‘Rose…. I’m trying to resonate concrete.’ And in Blink, the extraordinary reflection on Sally and Billy’s relationship that never was summed up when Old Billy shows up in the present: Billy: ‘It was raining when we met’ Sally: ‘It’s the same rain’. And Miss Evangelista’s final words: ‘I… I …. Ice Cream’. Or was it ‘I scream’? Goodness. Brrr. I wonder how the Moff gets away with such unveiled full-on drama in a family show. Whether referring to sex as dancing or the Doctor’s yearning for a normal, mortal life in the Girl in the Fireplace he breaks all sorts of assumed Who rules and no one complains. The mark of a great writer. Obviously the deeper and more adult stuff goes right over the kids heads and that’s fine. I hope he has the same overall creative vision as RTD cos if so we are in for a few more years yet of this remarkable show reaching the heights that I have almost started to take for granted.
I’d like to be ten again so I could be inspired by all this great telly at the right age. Doctor Who was doing all this in the 1980s but today it’s just better. Telly is produced better these days. There are less restrictions. Doctor Who is so richly written and made with such assurance and shining team work. It speaks of the reality of life in a way that is always realistic, inclusive and optimistic and mostly outstandingly moral. What’s not to like? Darn, the series will be over soon!
I’m still shaking. No really, I am. It’s about 45 mins since Silence in the Library finished and I can’t decide if I need a cup of tea or a whisky. Actually I might plump for both. I’m leaving the lights on that’s for sure. And did anyone else get a slight fear of ice cream?
Steven Moffat. What a genius. Ever since ‘Are you my mummy?’ became a national phrase meaning, ‘You are about to get brown trousers’ this genius, this extraordinary talent has been giving us an annual dose of the most clever telly ever seen. Plot lines that are tightly woven, with characters perfectly drawn and all crafted with an understanding of exactly what the most basic scares are for people aged three to 103 and beyond. This is telly that scares the whole family in equal measure. It’s amazing and terrifying and hugely enjoyable.
I remember the wide-eyed fear and not a little bit of boyish anticipation which accompanied the possibility that any character, might at any time, turn into a zombie with a gas mask fused to what was left of their head. Then there’s the chilling riposte to Madame de Pompadour, ‘We do not require your feet’. I have a friend who still freaks out if you put your hands in front of your face and tell her not to blink.
The Moff’s understanding of what scares us witless is not all though. He really gets character and dialogue. And his plots: he makes ‘What on earth is going on? How is that possible?’ into a finely crafted art form. Gotta love the way the final reel explains everything, turning the impossible into a beautiful logical gem. And all the while giving the regulars a lease of life and an extra dimension that just sings.
I wish I had discovered his series Press Gang. My wide-eyed colleauge tells me that one episode was set inside a freezer chest. That’s genius. I loved his series Coupling; better than Friends, and somehow more real. He gets people and character and his plots are perfect, see. Ooooo, and he’s written the script for the upcoming Tintin film.
This is going to be a long week. But I’m going to have some fun thinking about what was going on in Silence in the Library. The concluding episode is called Forest of the Dead. It used to be called Rivers Run. What does that tell us? I don’t know. I’m gonna try and work it out, but you know what; I’m not going to be able to. Forest of the Dead will no doubt be wonderfully scary and thrilling, full of character, wit, extraordinary revelations about the Doctor and River Song and a denouement eliciting a national, ‘Oh! That’s brilliant. Just brilliant’.
He’s going to be head writer of Doctor Who after next year. That’s brilliant news. I say an enormously grateful thank you to Russell T Davies. He has created something awesome in the last few years and done what we all knew could and very blimming should be done by turning Who into the wonderful thing it is after a stupidly long time off our screens. But I’m also very excited about whatever Steven Moffat is going to do with this most special of telly formats.
PS I loved The Unicorn and the Wasp.
It will be pretty obvious to everyone by now that I’m the weak link in the chain. The faulty circuit, the twisted wire in a RTD-scripted deus ex machina finale where it turns out there’s a setting on the sonic screwdriver that can fix everything. My v. professional and v. insightful friends are two episodes ahead of me, seem to recall detail with startling clarity and have the intellectual kapow to back up those recollections with solid critique. All this while rooting the new series squarely in the context of the show’s mythology and (quite possibly) making stacks of fluffy pancakes with maple syrup and crispy bacon just the way I like them.
I’m not going to attempt the trick of catching up, of trying to shoehorn in an alternative perspective for each episode when they’ve been thoroughly interrogated already. That’s a lot of words and my fingers are like thick frankfurters tripping greasily across the keys, I don’t have the wpms in me. It’s a fool’s errand exacerbated by the following points:
a) I love Dr Who. Love it. Consequently any attempt on my part to go all Siskel and Egbert on its ass is doomed to failure. My utter unfeasible love for the programme renders me a dribbling moron with the analytical prowess of toast. I try to be insightful and unbiased but I’m not and it’s stupid to pretend otherwise.
b) As soon as I try to write a review, I think to myself “I’m writing a review now” and suddenly I revert to school mode and it stops being fun. I find myself clicking the word count every sentence and mewling to myself in irritation. Have you ever heard a grown man mewl? It sounds exactly like a cat. It’s uncanny, I don’t know how I do it. Make it stop. Make it stop.
c) I can’t remember the first two anymore, the third one’s getting fuzzy now too. They’ve all kind of blended together into a Rutan-alike amorphous blob entitled something like Dr Who and the Planet of Fiery Crime or Ood in Pompeii.
Anyway, here’s my review of Ood in Pompeii …
Isn’t the Doctor good? He just sets the screen on fire, doesn’t he? I mean even when everything on screen is literally on fire he still lights up the place like a magnesium flare. Any plot hole, any slight wobble with the dialogue can be relied upon to be ironed out by the sheer titanic steamrollering presence of the Tenth doctor. God, it’s brilliant to have him on the show- all crackerjack energy, wisdom, wit and rage. DT, in my humble opinion, is the broadcast equivalent of MSG in Chinese food – only good for you.
And this series has raised its game to keep pace with its star. The scope, the ideas, the FX execution is really quite brilliant. From those cute little teddy bear blobs of fat through choking volcanic ash to an ICE PLANET we’ve been spoiled in a way comparable to having the ambassador unload a dump truck’s worth of Ferrero Rocher on our front porch. I love the confident referencing of the show’s history, I admire the temerity of the writers to tackle complex and morally dubious issues, I applaud the skill and joie de vivre of a crew working at the very top of its game. This is a TV show don’t forget, and a British one at that, it has a tight schedule and a budget that Hollywood would laugh at and called ‘titch’ or ‘small fry’ while making derisive snorting noises through their cocaine-decimated blow holes. Well screw you Tinsel Tossers because this little Welsh televisual engine that can has delivered ancient cities, lava-veined granite homunculi, skin-rending, tentacle -spewing species switching and an orange rocket ship with go faster stripes. All within a budget that wouldn’t even cover Teri Hatcher’s mid-morning smoothie. Hooray for you BBC.
Oh dear, now that I’ve started there’s so much I want to talk about. The theory of Whoniverse time travel that I’ve cobbled together from years of trying to make it all make sense. The difference between a show like Lost that has been worked out 4 series in advance and a show like DW that has a spaceship that looks like a Police Box because they had a spare one lying around when they started filming. A show where layer upon layer of lore has been added by different artists with no rhyme or reason other than expediency and practicality at any given moment in its history and that now stands proudly unbent beneath the accumulated mass of more than six decades of creativity.
But perhaps I’ll be contented with unburdening myself of these furious narrative flights of fancy in short bursts throughout the week. What say you chaps? Are you up for some full on geek-flavoured navel gazing to break the humdrum passage of quotidian reality? Shall we free ourselves from this rigorous prison of academic discursion and plot our own course through the vortex?
Or shall we fall back on well-worn terrain because I tell you what … I’m still not sure about Catherine Tate.
At last! Andrew summed all that sentiment up perfectly, so I won’t add to that, except to say that I am glad its back, if a little nervous.
I have several gripes with Catherine Tate. Not least the idea that The Guardian put out there on the same day as episode 1 was broadcast that she’s “Britain’s best-loved woman comic”… I don’t particularly find her sketch show all that funny and there are characters on that which make me want to put my foot through the telly.
But in 2006, whether I liked it or not, she encroached on my ground… She was in Doctor Who. And she was, well, alright. It wasn’t a great story, and the character was pretty unlikeable. But it was alright. It was watchable – but having David Tennant in the cast does that to a programme…
So what on earth was this going to be like with the grating Donna by DT’s side, combatting what looked to be the least-threatening menace since the half-painted Myrka stumbled into the Sea Station in Warriors of the Deep? Its so much harder to get away with crap monsters these days. It was much easier when it was very clear to all that this hideous alien/creature was obviously a man in a half-painted suit – because Doctor Who fans didn’t care – its about getting lost in the fantasy of it all, letting your brain compute this as real for 20 minutes a week. Now, though, CGI has added it’s double-edged twopenneth in. On the one hand, they’re able to create the most stunning things I’ve seen on UK telly. On the other hand, there isn’t anything to be left to the imagination. So how were they going to pull this off?
The answer, came from the mind and keyboard of RTD. This wasn’t a sparkling story by any means. It had the required numerous pointless chases (I’m not saying that’s a bad thing) that it takes to be an RTD script. But there is so clearly a chemistry between Tate and Tennant that is such a winning formula that its impossible to misfire (it seems). Incidentally, I agree, Andrew – RTD’s opening episodes have tended to be up and down – the first season’s Rose was stunning. The second season’s New Earth was a huge disappointment to me – I found it all rather boring, to be honest. Last year’s Smith and Jones was just about perfect in pitch, script, acting and drama. And this year, well, it hit a nice middle ground. A concern that nagged at me was that Tim’s comment about Star Trek films in the majestic series Spaced (“Sure as night follows day, sure as eggs is eggs, sure as every odd numbered Star Trek movie is s**t.”) would become true for RTD’s season openers. It had been so far, with season two being a real fly in the ointment. Sure it wasn’t s**t, but it wasn’t all that good either. If cat nurses can’t save the thing, its a wonder the doctor managed to.
What saved Partners In Crime, though, was the script and the acting performances. Sarah Lancashire and Bernard Cribbins (I hope he’s a regular occurance!) really added brilliant depth to it all, and the sparks between the Doctor and Donna were gloriously not romantic, but oh-so-funny! To avoid quoting the “mouthing” scene again, I’ll go for the confrontation with Mrs Foster in the building – it was tense, climactic and ended with a moment of comic brilliance from Tennant (“Do you know what happens when you put two sonic devices together? [Mrs Foster: No] Neither do I – let’s find out!”)
My instinct was that I hated the aliens. But after a second watch, actually I didn’t. It wasn’t that I hated them – I hated what they stood for. Yes, they were a deceptively clever conception with the name and some of their reasonings for coming to earth, but I’m always uneasy at social comment in Doctor Who. And this felt clunky and not at all suited. It has happened before – the whole Slitheen saga in Season one had huge echoes of the debates surrounding the Iraq war – but that was more used for comic effect really. This seemed and felt more like comment on society. I guess its fair game, and you never know, it might convince some youngsters to shed a few pounds to avoid dissipating into a bundle of cute aliens. But it just felt wrong to me.
It was OK. I really did enjoy it, and I watched it twice without balking, but there were too many things that rankle slightly. And coming back to a point Andrew made… yes – I sat there at the end and thought that Rememberance of the Daleks was a better season opener. In fact, in the week since, I’ve seen some of Spearhead From Space and Robot… Both excellent openers. My goodness, I sound like a fan. When did that happen?!
And Tate? You’re alright by me if things carry on like that. I can only see it getting better and it didn’t start in a bad place…
New Doctor Who! Quite simply, Doctor Who is the best and most extraordinary format ever devised for television. It can go anywhere in the Universe, at any time. It can tell almost any kind of story and cover almost any genre. Because of this it is endlessly surprising and watchable so the anticipation of any new series is in some way like looking forward to Christmas Day. The potential for it to be something really special must not be disappointed. You want surprising and unexpected presents. Some that blow you away, some that make you go, ‘Oh, that’s good. Actually the more I think about it, it’s just brilliant’. On the whole you want them to be things you would never have expected but what you have really really always wanted.
As ever one or two intriguiging scenes were released early – one in particular that elicited a ‘Wooooaaah’ (a woman disintegrates into a load of cute aliens. On BBC1 on Saturday. At tea time. Oi,‘Alien’! Ha! You ain’t got nothing on this!*).
So. Episode one. ‘Partners in Crime’. Any good?
Russell T Davies has consistently written some rather breezy opening stories. They’ve been episodes that I have generally quite enjoyed but been under whelmed by. Anyone else agree? They have been scene setters for the new companion (or in the case of series two the new Doctor). A chance for the Doctor and his companion to meet each other, find they work well together and like each other because they have overcome extraordinary odds. The challenges in their relationship and its subsequent development come in the following episodes as they get to know each other and work together more. This is probably a realistic way of developing each series – that’s what we should expect from Russell T Davies who above all else knows how to write character. But I do gag for something that feels like a proper kick off. Something to make you boggle. Remember the old days? Series openers like Spearhead from Space, The Masque of Mandragora, The Leisure Hive.
What we got was the usual opener. But this time I loved it. Run around and defeat a quirky threat and imbue with plenty of comedy. Thing is with Partners in Crime it has enough depth to make you think about it for a few days afterwards and go, ‘Oh, that’s clever’. Monsters called the Adipose (look it up) – tiny cute alien babies formed from fat in overweight people (‘We’ve travelled a long way to find a country as suitable as this’!). It seems to be a win win because earthlings lose wait and the Adipose family grows in number. But something goes wrong and people literally start falling apart to create these little bubbas. RTD is interesting on the moral side of things. It ends with a memorable line. The Doc is asked if he will blow the Adipose up. ‘No, they’re babies. They can’t help where they came from.’ There’s one to ponder.
But there’s more to this than a tale of human hosts and ruthless aliens. There’s Catherine Tate. Goodness, who’d have thought it. Especially as when we first met her in the Christmas special a couple of years back her character was dreadfully irritating. I liked her then though, Tate gave a great performance and did what was on the tin: irritating one-off companion to show just what a companion can’t be. Thankfully she was changed by her encounter by the Doctor, and really wants to find him again. I like that. I mean you would wouldn’t you? She devotes her herself to being in places that the Doctor might turn up. And when they finally meet we are treated to a scene that really deserves an award. Come on there must be a gong for that one! A scary interrogation scene that is also a central piece of plot exposition is cut off for a glorious comic interchange between David Tennant and Catherine Tate – mouthed through a window. A perfect example of superb writing, pitch perfect acting, direction and music. Just glorious. And then they get spotted and its back to the plot; plenty of running away, delving into complex computer systems and saving the human race through quick thinking wit. While she may be the Marmite of companions I think I’m gonna like her. The Doc needs to be challenged. Bring it on!
There’s plenty to enjoy and each character is three dimensional, (gotta love Miss ‘Health’ and the Doctor’s reaction to her pick up attempt; very Doctor Who… ‘Ah, no. That would er contravene paragraph four subsection three. Sorry…’. Actually, I rather liked her.). The running gag with the journalist getting tied to a chair is funny (but should probably be irritating, love that. Doctor Who can be all sorts of genres at once). Miss Foster (Sarah Lancashire) is great and has a nice Mary Poppins moment just before her demise – surely they could have got an umbrella in there? Sylvester McCoy’s perhaps? Then there’s Donna’s family. When I was a boy the companion was just the companion and we knew no more about them. These days it’s all so much more real; and lovingly done. And: B.e.r.n.a.r.d C.r.i.b.b.i.n.s. how about that!
But as ever with a RTD story there were things that niggled me. It’s always little things that he puts in to move the plot along or to resolve the story. There’s a moment where the Doctor (somehow, but how??) electrifies a doorway to stun the guards. Then the Adipose are prevented from turning a million humans into alien babies because the Doctor can neutralise the signal that is causing it. It so happens Donna has the gizmo that makes this possible. Let’s flick a switch and make it all ok. That’s way too simple – it’s a real let down if a big threat is just switched off. Come on, Doctor Who has a proud history of characters fighting against the odds and cobbling together a plan from little more than wit, bravery, pieces of string and a teaspoon.
Then there was Rose. Well that was unexpected! The surprise was completely ruined by a friend who texted me after the program aired (but while I was hastening back home to watch it on video) going ‘Woah, Rose!’. So wot’s going on there then? The web forums are no doubt bursting with theories, all of which I am refusing to read. All I know is that while I get frustrated by some of RTD’s plot resolutions I do trust and admire what he does with the series overall, and especially with the characters. Let’s wait and see. Let’s have no idea whatsoever and be so stunned that we have to spend ages going on about it. Hooray!
All in all this was bright, inventive, thoughtful tv with two leads at the top of their game, a splendid supporting cast, lovingly and fearlessly put together. We know from previous years that the best is still to come and my goodness next week looks GOOD!!
* Some have wondered if Alien was inspired by the 1970s Doctor Who story The Ark in Space.