Sunday, September 21, 2014

Time Heist [Spoilers]


I enjoyed Time Heist.

You know what it reminded me of? The Gunfighters. 

Stick with me with this. I'm not entirely mad.

Half the enjoyment in The Gunfighters - which a lot of people who like things serious miss - is the fact it is as much a parody of western television stories and films as well as being a Doctor Who story. Time Heist is as much as stylistic parody of television series like Hustle as it is a Doctor Who story. Douglas Mackinnon's direction - cuts, lens flares and slow motion etc - reflects that. And Mackinnon's direction is rather lovely. And was in Listen too.

This is the first story of the season where The Doctor leads the story and Clara gets to play the 'traditional' Doctor Who assistant. This is a Capaldi episode through-and-through and he's rather fantastic throughout. He gets great lines, delivers them with style and is rapidly setting a high standard that rises above whatever material he's given.

I'm not sure it's the most original script in Doctor Who ever but perhaps that's part of the point but I think there's a danger of over-analyzing these stories. Original ideas are hard to come by and the heist genre has its rules, which is fair enough. But there's a certain pattern emerging in this season, which is starting to irritate me mildly. It's the lack of proper villains. I'm all for 'shades of grey'. I'm all for villains who don't think that their plan is 'evil' but for heaven's sake does every story have to be like this? It's like a reverse Season 8 problem : instead of the villain being the Master every week, now we've got no villains. It's not a terminal problem but it's just getting a bit samey, particular when the ending of this story feels so much like that of Hide.

There's a lot of talk about plot holes from people that criticise The Moff's style of writing and I've argued that you'd struggle to find any Doctor Who story free of plot holes. It's just a question of what we're prepared to accept. Normally I don't really care about them unless there's an absolute gaping hole so big you could drive a tank through it. But there's one moment in this story that I found myself going...er...hang on. [SPOILER FOLLOWS]

And that's when Psi and Saibara turn up to save the Doctor and Clara disguised as guards in Ms Delphox's office. When The Teller is there. This is a creature that we've been told can detect guilt but doesn't notice Psi and Saibara...but maybe there's so much distortion going on as the - very - guilty Doctor and Clara are standing in the room. Perhaps I've been unkind. Perhaps not. Maybe it matters. Maybe it doesn't. Maybe I'm just looking for reasons to pick holes in something that I quite enjoyed. Who knows. Who. Knows.

Psi and Saibara were interesting additions to the 'team' and make a change from the Paternoster Gang. Neither character is spectacularly original : the half-man, half-computer and the shapeshifter but they're played well enough by Jonathan Bailey and Pippa Bennett-Warner. I get the feeling this isn't the last we'll see of either character.

I mentioned it above but this is the least Clara episode of the season so far. She's under-used - which some of the Clara 'haters' might have enjoyed - but I kind of think it is a waste of a good actress.

Kudos should also go to Keeley Hawes, who is brilliant as Ms Delphox. I'm not sure how they decided on her 'look' and who had input but I think someone in the production team - going back a while - has a thing for women in glasses and suits. Or eye-patches and suits. Or women in suits full stop. But Hawes is fab. It's another example of an actor doing a small-ish part in Doctor Who that makes you wish they'd been given something meatier and semi-regular.

The Teller looks great too. Surprisingly realistic and alive, which brings a certain charm along with it. The exterior shots of the bank also look fab and then it is nice to see we find ourselves inside a lot of Doctor Who corridors. In that sense - again - it feels very Classic Doctor Who.

Anyway re-reading what I've written I seem to have found less in it to enjoy that I my actual level of enjoyment would indicate. It was enjoyable. Not as much of a fun romp as Robot of Sherwood - which I found the most fun of the season so far, even if it isn't the best story of the season or perhaps it is - but fun enough. Not hugely original but that's not necessarily the worst of crimes (despite what some people seem to think.)

As I've said before the fundamental rule of Doctor Who for me is that it should be fun. Sometimes it's so fun that it over-rides all my standard adult analysis but sometimes it's just about fun enough. And that's how I feel about this story.

But still: Capaldi. Brilliant.



Thursday, September 18, 2014

Canon: What Canon?

Time Lord of Gallifrey. Not in 1966 he wasn't.

Apparently Doctor Who has 50+ years of canon and beware fiddling with the canon. Canon is a word we've borrowed from religion to describe - effectively - the facts that are apparently non-negotiable in the world of Doctor Who.

Of which I'd argue there are precisely...none.

Now the pure 'canon' is, of course, only what we've seen on television. So that would exclude Virgin New Adventures, Big Finish, The DWM Comic Strip and a lot of other Doctor Who apocrypha. Now me, I like to think it is all canon. Even when it makes no sense or utterly disgrees with something we've seen elsewhere.

Why?

Because Doctor Who is a time travel series that accepts the existence of multiple universes and alternative timelines. Generally, of course, like in all these things there is a hierarchy of what might be acceptable and what isn't. To me - pretending to be a neutral observer - this hierarchy is based on the degree of seriousness involved in the material plus the format it is presented in. So Big Finish and Virgin New Adventures, BBC Eighth Doctor Books, Missing Adventures et al are easier to swallow as part of a canon that the First Doctor's adventures with John and Gillian in the TV Comic Comic strips.

But mainly what is canon is what we as individuals get hung up on.

So when it was first said that Time Lords could only regenerate 12 times, back in the mists of the 1970s, fans were annoyed. This wasn't something that had ever been established. Or said. In fact you can argue that the 'regeneration' from First to the Second Doctor wasn't even an actual 'regeneration' as it is understood now. We've retrospectively decided that the First Doctor was a Time Lord from Gallifrey with two hearts. Even though none of those things would be 'canon' if you only watched the First Doctor's era.

The Daleks, created as they were for a one off story, were trapped in their city. Unable to move outside, operating on static electricity. They weren't the intergalactic threat they became. They weren't Kaled mutants. They were Dals. There was no Davros. All these things came later and retrospectively we - as fans - have tried to pull all the threads together.

So what am I saying here? Well there is a canon. But it isn't set in stone. Doctor Who's canon is what the last story tells us it was. So 'New' Doctor Who stripped all the baggage away from The Cybermen and popped in on an alt-Universe version with a whole new creation myth.

Could The Moff have ignored the 12 regenerations rule? Yes, he could have done. He could have come up with any number of explanations but he wanted to make a big deal out of it because he wanted to set up that big end of an era feeling, even though he's tied some poor future Doctor Who producer/showrunner to having to go through the whole thing again in 11 regeneration time. By which point of course accepted Doctor Who canon could be completely and utterly different.

As Doctor Who fans - as opposed to the general viewer - we choose what is canon based on personal preference. Me, I think all of it counts. Except the bits I don't. So important was canon once upon a time that the JNT used Ian Levine as an advisor on Doctor Who's past. So successful was that exercise that we got Silurians with third eyes that - for reasons that passeth all understanding - operate to let us know which of them is talking as opposed to being the focus for mental weaponry it was in The Silurians. So that went well.

Terrance Dicks, and I paraphrase here drastically, said that there was no Doctor Who 'bible' just what he could remember of his predecessor's work. And what those that followed remembered of his. Others have pointed out that this stuff shouldn't get in the way of a good story. I'm inclined to agree.

So to cut this short enough for me to get back to my proper job I'd say this. Canon is what I care about. Canon is what I - or you - choose to accept. And we can all go down the pub together and discuss how we can explain the triple destruction of Atlantis or why all those monsters that were busy helping humanity to develop in order to improve their plans weren't tripping over each other (and forgetting about it in the case of the Silence) or how the Skarasen and the Borad manage to co-habit in Loch Ness.* It's more fun that way.

For me it's one of the reasons I love Doctor Who. It doesn't have a set in stone, nothing can ever change approach. Sometimes a writer changes something I liked and makes it something I don't - yes, Mr. Moffat I'm looking at you - but that's my issue to deal with.

Doctor Who never stays the same. That's one of its glories.



*They didn't. I suspect the Skarasen had the Borad for breakfast on about the third day. That's my theory and I'm sticking to it.

PS I almost wanted to call this Canon & Balls but thought better of it.


Sunday, September 14, 2014

Listen [Spoilers]


Listen is one of those Doctor Who stories that I feel I need to watch again. And again. There might actually be nothing going on here but the Doctor trying to sort out his own issues but then again there might be an entire new race of creepy creatures to be added to the canon. There might not be a villain here at all, except possibly the Doctor himself in a strange way.

I think I liked it.

It intertwines the Doctor's dangerously focused desire to get to the bottom of a dream he's had with Clara and Danny Pink's date. It's a mixture of the extraordinary and ordinary. It's about fear and how we deal with fear.

It has some genuinely creepy moments, especially the scenes in young Danny Pink's room and those on the ship with Orson Pink. There's no actual answer given either. Was the thing in the bed a monster or was it one of Danny's friends playing a trick on him? Was there a monster outside the airlock or was nothing out there? I like the fact that there are loose ends going on here. We don't need answers to everything, although being Steven Moffat this episode might end up being key to the whole story arc. The less that happens, the more I'm wondering what I'm not supposed to see. I think I might have to call this parmoffatanoia, except that's a terrible word.

But does it matter that we don't see the thing? Probably not. The whole young Danny scene is about getting an insight into Danny's character. People say that Clara's involved in every aspect of the creation of the Doctor, particularly after the final moments of this episode on Gallifrey but she's also creating Danny Pink too. Here she takes Rupert and makes him Danny. It might not be intentional but she's trying to help. Indeed if she makes Danny a soldier, in the final scenes perhaps she stops The Doctor becoming one, based on the overheard conversation by his 'parents'.

Yes, I'm a bit uncomfortable about Clara having to be intertwined with the Doctor's whole history but it doesn't mean Clara's THE only reason the Doctor becomes the Doctor. She perhaps gives him just the boost to be less afraid but there's a long, long history between the young Doctor and the First Doctor fleeing Gallifrey with Susan.

Also Clara's involvement with the Doctor seems to have had little in the way of consequences for her so far. Perhaps her interference into Danny Pink's life might have a different effect. After all Doctor Who can't kill off Doctor Who but it might be able to bump off Danny Pink. But perhaps I'm over-analyzing. It's easily done.

There are hints in the conversation between her and Orson Pink about what is to come but who knows what if anything that will mean.

My quibbles aside I think Jenna Coleman's doing a stonking job as Clara this season. Now she doesn't have to just be the 'Impossible Girl' she's developing into a character, although some of the banter between her and the Doctor re. her appearance borders on the uncomfortable. Now that might be because there's a British piss-taking friendship thing going on - certainly at one point Clara's reaction is an amused smirk - but occasionally it seems played too seriously. Maybe I'm just being ultra-touchy about it.

The thing that I will say without quibbles is that I'm really enjoying the Capaldi Doctor. He feels properly Doctor Who-ish. It's not darkness so much, which has become a massively over used phrase attached to the Capaldi era already, as alien. Capaldi's Doctor Who isn't human. And it shows. It's a nice change to both Tennant and Smith, although it has a certain resonance with Eccleston (who often gets forgotten in these discussions). But we're only four episodes into the season so things have a long way to go yet.

I haven't really talked about the more domestic scenes between Clara and Danny at dinner. You know what's strange I'd have hated this kind of scene back in the Eccleston era but now I find them quite fun. Their a nice counter-balance to all the alien madness that's about to come. Ordinary people trying to live ordinary lives who turn out to be extraordinary. Again having been Moffated once too often I find myself wondering whether the waiter might turn out to be significant or that line about twenty-three wells will be important. But that way madness lies.

The other thing to note is the sound design on this is incredible. In some ways it would be a brilliant Big Finish story. Perhaps 'Listen' can be seen as a massive advert for audio Doctor Who. But the scenes inside Orson Pink's ship are atmospheric as hell as much due to the sound design as the performances.

So after all that I can say I enjoyed it. It wasn't as much fun as Robot of Sherwood but it has a certain creepy charm of its own. There are unanswered questions and seeds sown for the future of Series 8 but I bet there are kids up and down the country hiding in beds tonight in an attempt to scare their friends and family.

A second viewing is needed though.



Saturday, September 6, 2014

Robot of Sherwood [Spoilers]


Here's the first thing I should say and get it out there straight away. I loved Robot of Sherwood. Adored it. And do you know why? Because it was fun. There. I've said it. It was fun. And it won't matter a jot that tomorrow I'll probably start finding the plots holes or the bits and bobs that I can pick at like the fan that I am. At this point I'm feeling nothing but joy.

And you know in the end what more can you ask for from an episode of Doctor Who than that joy. All the analysis that follows and the picking apart of every single moment and the reassessments that will follow the seasons end is just frippery really. The key thing is - and should always be - was watching that Doctor Who episode fun. Did I enjoy it. And I did.

Why though?

Partly because it wasn't weighed down with much in the way of overall story arc, even if there was one reference. There's no Missy. Partly because it was clearly meant to be fun. This isn't dark. This is what Robin Prince of Thieves would have been like if everyone decided to have as much fun with their parts as Alan Rickman did.

And Capaldi is bloody brilliant. His utterly denial - both of Robin Hood's actual existence and his role as hero and legend - is key to this story. Plus his refusal to play second fiddle to Robin Hood who in turn refuses to play second fiddle - or should that be lute - to The Doctor. This is two alpha males with a lot in common. Robin says it himself at the end. These are two aristocrats come into the world determined to do good. It's another piece in the Doctor's own post-regeneration puzzle about whether he's a good man or not.

But in a way this is as much Clara's story as it is the Doctor and Robin's. She's more in control and less involved in trying to prove herself top dog than either of them. It is Clara that gets to the heart of the Sheriff's plan. It is Clara who looks and sounds like the sensible one. She chooses not to go into denial and swallows up the whole Robin Hood and his Merry Men thing in one fell swoop. Jenna Coleman's having so much fun and her character now seems to actually be coming into focus now she's not just a mystery for the Doctor to solve.

By the way I'm with the Doctor on banter. It should stop.

And I love the Robin v Doctor sword v spoon fight. I bet there are people out there whinging about it being silly. About this whole episode being silly but you can't be deadly serious every time and I adore silliness in Doctor Who. My favourite season is Season 17. My fandom was tested in silliness. Smart silliness I accept but silliness nonetheless. Or whimsy. Or whatever you want to call it. Give me more of it I say. More than the tedious dragged out season long portentous story arcs. Give me fun. Please just fun.

I mentioned Robin Prince of Thieves early. Everyone except the Sheriff of Nottingham is played with a Rickmanesque touch. Ben Miller's Sheriff is actually rather serious. He doesn't get much in the way of laughs and his ruthless streak is demonstrated very early on. I can't have been the only person thinking how Ainley he looked. Indeed in Classic Who the Sheriff of Nottingham would probably have turned out to be The Master in one of his disguises and strange choices of accent. Miller's good.

The other thing it reminded me of was The Gunfighters in both tone and with the fact that it almost - but not quite - got its own Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon courtesy of  Alan-a-Dale. I'm a big fan of The Gunfighters as the regular reader of this blog will probably know so obviously that also inclines me to look upon this favorably.

I love Tom Riley's Robin. There's a touch of seriousness under all the banter and laughter, which he manages to bring out rather well. But he's what you'd want Robin Hood to be like if he really existed. You want the legend, not the likely historical truth.*

New Doctor Who likes celebrity historicals and Robots of Sherwood is one of those but with a historical figure that probably didn't exist. Alas. However as Robin says perhaps it is better to be a story that will inspire others than been burdened by history.

Oh and hurrah for the database Robin Hood bit with the Troughton Robin Hood picture. And the little throwaway references to Classic Doctor Who that add a little frisson of fun for the Classic Who fan like me without over-ladening the story with baggage.

So well done Mark Gatiss. Thank you for putting fun back on the Doctor Who menu again.

This feeling I have at the moment is why I love Doctor Who so much. It's a kind of giddy joy. I'm almost tempted to go and watch it again. Now.






*I studied Robin Hood as a historical figure at University. I won't bore you with the details. It's an interesting thing to study. Feel free.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Into The Dalek [Spoilers]


I found Inside The Dalek really rather entertaining.

I know you could pull it to death by focusing on all the stuff it borrowed from elsewhere. From Dalek*, from The Invisible Enemy, from Fantastic Voyage and so on but equally I'm gob-smackingly surprised it hasn't been done before. Surely this is the idea that everyone must have had. And yet it took until 2014 for someone to actually get around to doing it.

I fear 'originality' is a stick to beat many a Doctor Who writer or show runner to death with. It's as if Doctor Who was entirely original from 1963-1989 and never borrowed from other sources. Or from itself.  I mean Terry Nation wrote virtually the same Dalek story time and again, although I'm not sure ripping off yourself is entirely unfair. If you have a good idea why not hammer at it again and again. After all Robert Holmes wrote The Caves of Androzani twice. It's just the first version was called The Power of Kroll. Doctor Who has always been a magpie television series and without undertaking a proper scientific review I'd wager that genuinely original stories are few and far between. Mostly Doctor Who picks up something and metamorphoses it into something distinctly Doctor Who. So I'm not quite sure lack of originality is as bad as all that.

It's a tale of morality. The Doctor's morality. Is he a good man? Or is he a good Dalek?

It's a big question. I think we like to find a Doctor that fits our own image and the new Doctor Who has certainly been slightly less ruthless than the Classic Doctor could be. Or at least has always made more of a big deal out of his morality, which makes the scene here where he uses a soldier's impending death to find an escape route ice-cold shocking. No 'I'm so sorry's' etc. Just 'this man is going to die but I'm going to save everyone else.' It really does feel different this time.

He's still finding his way this new Doctor. He's clearly not the man he was. There's a ruthless streak of logic, sharp snark and a lack of neediness about this new Doctor. He doesn't have the time to care about whether people like him or not. He is just going to do his thing.

And I love Capaldi's take on the part. He's such a brilliant actor.

Then there's Jenna Coleman's Clara. She's developing a character, which is nice. Now she's not a puzzle for the Doctor to be solved. The Moff gets a lot of criticism for the way he writes women characters in Doctor Who and the Doctor makes one or two unnecessarily snide comments about Clara's appearance that veer dangerously too close to 'banter' for my liking (although I was reminded of the Fourth Doctor's digs at Sarah Jane in The Ark in Space whilst they were crawling through the ducts). Anyway I thought Clara / Coleman was great in this. The Doctor deserved his slap and it was nice to see Clara turn the tables on the Doctor after Deep Breath by getting him to focus on the right lesson to take from the day.

I also liked her scenes with Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson). The Clara-Danny thing is endearingly awkward, which I confess to liking. I get the impression that The Moff could quite happily write a sit-com revolving around those two. Danny Pink is another teacher at Cole Hill School. He's an ex-soldier with a secret. He's also got one of the best and brightest smiles I've ever seen. It seems the Clara-Danny thing is going to be a 'thing' for the whole season so it is early days for judgment (although when has that ever stopped me).

The soldier thing is going to be one of the threads of the season I think. Along with Missy, who makes another appearance here. Ah, Missy. The face that launched a thousand theories. I'm not going to comment here. I've got ideas. Too many ideas but being this is The Moff at work it wouldn't surprise me if Missy turns out not to be a villain at all but a friend of the Doctors. But who knows. It does seem though that The Moff's confident that the Missy pay-off is worth her regularly pop up appearances, although it does have a touch of the Madam Kovarians about it. [There's me ignoring my own earlier paragraph about the dangers of whinging about originality. I'm such a hypocrite.]

Where was I. Ah, the soldier thing. Yes, the Doctor dismisses Journey Blue (Zawa Ashton) at the end when she asks to come along with him by saying he doesn't like soldiers. I'm assuming that's just this Doctor because the Eleventh Doctor was quite upset when he found out that his soldier friend Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart had died. But it's a new Doctor. I suspect his judgmental approach will come and bite him on the arse before the season is out.

Oh and Danny Pink and Journey Blue. Is this colour thing also going to be a 'thing.' How many 'things' can the Moff get into a single season? How many of them will be - and forgive me - red herrings. Doctor Who fans: always finding patterns in things that aren't there.

The other thing worth mentioning - apart from Michael Smiley's appearance as Colonel Morgan Blue - is Ben Wheatley's fab direction. He actually manages to make the Daleks look like warriors. And Rusty the Dalek gets a fine line in snark, which is unexpected in a Dalek.

Oh and praise for Nick Briggs whose Dalek voice work reaches pretty impressive heights in this story. The slight change in emphasis between the 'good' Rusty and his return to Dalekness is rather brilliant and subtle.

So...I enjoyed it. With quibbles.

Next week Robots of Sherwood which looks whimsical. And there's not a lot of love for whimsy in the Doctor Who fan world. Me, I'm a big fan of whimsy. Lord Peter included.


*I listened to Big Finish's The Genocide Machine today too and that's got a similarities with this story thematically too in terms of what happens when a Dalek changes.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Deep Breath [Spoilers]


If you're new to this blog then I should explain that what follows isn't a review in the traditional sense. That would involve critical faculties. What this is is a collection of immediate reactions, thoughts, ideas and bees in bonnets that pop up following the episode I've watched. This blog will contain spoilers so if you've not seen the episode then go and watch it and then come back. You. Have. Been. Warned.

So Deep Breath launches the Capaldi era of Doctor Who and it seems that the story was designed to do a few things. To introduce us to an older Doctor and deal with the New Doctor Who audiences fears of the that older Doctor. Hence a lot of the conversations Clara gets involved in with either the Doctor or Vastra are aimed at us, which makes her decision to leave the TARDIS before being reassured by the Eleventh Doctor's phone call an plea to the audience: "Don't leave. It's still Doctor Who." In that sense it is quite different to a lot of new Doctor's first stories, which just assume we'll pick up with the new Doctor and run with it. We don't normally need this much reassurance. And in a way it's insulting to both us and Capaldi but perhaps I'm being harsh.

There's also a dig at us the audience. The whole 'I'm not your boyfriend/You might as well flirt with a mountain/He wanted you to like him' stuff is a criticism of our apparent need for a younger actor. Even though it was Steven Moffat that chose Matt Smith.

Then there's re-booting Clara. Now she's no longer 'The Impossible Girl' she needs to actually have a character and this story is designed to give her one. I'm not sure I've seen enough 'control freak' in Clara so far to justify the Doctor's accusations that she is one. Jenna Coleman's clearly a good actress so it would be nice to see her given more scenes like the one when she's confronted with the Big Bad. She gets to do the whole Sarah Jane Smith brave and scared at the same time trick rather well. It's a step forward.

It also seems to me that the Big Bad guy's 're-building' of himself is a shadow of regeneration. It shows how weird regeneration actually is. I mean this is a man with a new face for heaven's sake. The Big Bad guy is regenerating the slow way round. Piece by piece. Could you apply the Doctor's broom analogy to the Doctor himself?

There's also seed sowing for other things to come. First off, where does the Doctor get his faces from? Or any Time Lord for that matter. Is there a database of faces. A Facebook perhaps. (Sorry, I'll get my coat). The Doctor's face thing - like the Doctor's name - seems to be Steven Moffat's latest bee in the bonnet as a result of casting Capaldi but I did think some of the best lines came as a result of this. I especially liked "Who frowned this face" and "It's like I'm trying to tell myself something." The face is going to be a thing. Let's see where that goes.

Secondly, who is Missy and what's she up to. This being being New Doctor Who we need an big season long arc don't we. Sigh. Do we though. Do we? Perhaps we do. Or perhaps we could just have a run of adventures that are just fun. Without the need for us to see how clever Steven Moffat is. In the end though we should judge the arc on its quality. If it turns out to be good then...good. If it turns out to be bad then can we stop and do something else instead.

Quick diversion: title sequence and theme tune. Loved the new title sequence. Hate the theme tune, which sounds like it was played on a weird combination of elastic bands, bells and kazoo. The new series has never cracked the theme tune in my opinion but perhaps one day they will.

What of Capaldi himself? I think he's great. He has an edge that Tenant and Smith didn't have. It's not darkness I don't think. It's just a sharpness. A lack of botherdness about how people see him, which I like. He's able to do both the comedy and the darker stuff. I like the fact that we're left to decide for ourselves whether the Doctor threw the Big Bad to his doom or whether it was self-destruction but this isn't the Sixth Doctor. The last scenes give us a vulnerability to this new Doctor underneath his crusty exterior. So yes, I'm happy with Capaldi.

Oh and do we really need all the hilarious Scottish stuff. The Doctor's been Scottish before and didn't seem to think it was a big deal. But then the showrunner then wasn't Scottish. RTDs gay agenda* has been replaced with a Scottish agenda.** Damn that McMoffat chap.

I'm less happy with what's happening with Vastra/Jenny and Strax. All three are brilliantly performed but Strax has become only comic relief. I'd like him to have a bit more edge. I really wish Steven Moffat would have had the courage to give Vastra and Jenny a proper kiss without having to give them a 'breath' excuse. It's just a loss of bottle. The Paternoster Gang are great when used properly but not when they're just there to provide some exotic sexual background and dumb comedy. Use them better Mr. Moffat. Use them better.

So after all that rambling I should say that I enjoyed it a lot but there's a lot of quibbles. It's lifted by the brilliance of Capaldi and it's excellent design. Doctor Who looks great these days, although Strax's disappearing bucket seemed to skip someone's attention in the edit.***

More Capaldi please.

* There was no gay agenda.
**There isn't a Scottish agenda either
***Or it'll turn out to be a key thing in the forthcoming story arc. The Bucket of Rassilon. Or something. [It won't.]

Monday, August 11, 2014

A Purely Personal Top Ten Doctor Who Stories (Classic)

I thought, whilst this blog is at a loose end, the time had come for a Patient Centurion Top Ten Doctor Who stories. This is, of course, a temporary Top Ten. Ask me again in a month and it will probably change but nevertheless here goes...

Oh and there in no particular order of Top Ten-ness. I've chosen them on the basis of...well...I'll explain...



The Web Planet: I know. I can hear all your whinging now. It's so slow. It's direction is so slipshod. But you know I don't bloody care. I love it's vaulting ambition. It's attempt to show an utterly alien world on a budget that can barely cover the cost of a single moth costume. I love this period in the Hartnell era when the Doctor Who production team kept trying everything. Some things work. Some things don't. And I still maintain that there's a couple of moments in it that are among the most horrible and heart-breaking in the series history. Honestly it's a magnificent effort. It doesn't all work but I love it anyway.

The Gunfighters: Once head of the cavalcade of the unloved in Doctor Who terms this is actually rather wonderful. Hartnell's wonderful in it. There's some comedy accents. It's tone shifts rather dramatically when Johnny Ringo arrives. It's historically inaccurate and it has a song. A chorus rising above the action. That's I suspect because the writer had recently seen Cat Ballou. It's a fine parody of television and film westerns. But really it is worth watching for Hartnell's comic timing. Just don't take it too seriously.

The War Games: Ten episodes long. Ten. It shouldn't keep us glued to our seats but it does. Yes, there's lots of escaping, getting captured and escaping again but it is done with such panache that how can you not love it. Really. It's majestic. Troughton ends his time as The Doctor on a high note. Jamie and Zoe get possibly the saddest departure of any companions ever. We finally meet the Time Lords. And the scene where the Doctor and The War Chief set eyes on each other for the first time - and in an instant recognise each other - is rather brilliant. The Troughton era suffers from a lot of missing stories, which is a shame for a lot of reasons but mostly because it deprives us of Troughton himself.

Invasion of the Dinosaurs: If you can ignore the rather dodgy T-Rex - which is the worst of the dinosaurs by miles - this is all rather brilliant, even if the whole thing seems to be a massive grandfather paradox waiting to happen. It's got a deserted London, it's got UNIT, it's got Sarah Jane, it's got Pertwee at his most majestic and it's got Captain Yates, whose story is perhaps the most complicated of any 'companion' in the series history. It's a story arc before Doctor Who was supposed to do story arcs. It manages to feel epic despite the short-comings of budgets and effects.

Horror of Fang Rock: I could pick lots of Tom Baker but this is the first one I remember with absolute clarity as a child. It's the first one that I can remember being genuinely frightened of and it is still rather wonderful now. It's claustrophobic, relentless and dark. Everyone - almost - dies. It's got Louise Jameson as Leela in a rather fetching wooly jumper*. Tom is brilliant. It has some fine lines in it and it is still rather creepy. Age has not - quite - withered it. Definitely a story for winter's evenings.



The Horns of Nimon: This is where I will lose a lot of people. I can hear the tutting from here. But I don't care a jot. This is my comfort Doctor Who. The story I reach for to cheer me up on those horrible days when nothing seems to go right. I'll admit now that I have a soft spot for all of Season Seventeen. That might be nostalgia but I love the Fourth Doctor - Romana combination, even if they are dangerous close to be too smart-arsey for their own good. I like K9. I like Graham Crowden's mad, mad Soldeed. I find it utterly joyful to watch from the first 'weakling scum' to the very end. How any Nimon have you seen today?

Kinda: Utterly unlike most other Doctor Who stories this is all a little weird. Too weird for some people but I love it. I love the fact that it has layers. I like the fact that Janet Fielding gets to be more than just a walking Aussie whinge - at least for a bit. I like Simon Rouse's performance. I love Nerys Hughes understated Todd. I love Richard Todd's appearance as a sort of representative of a England lost in the mist and is the perfect actor for the bumbling colonial chap. It's a story you can watch over and over again. A story to get lost inside. Just be careful you don't find the Mara inside.

Vengeance on Varos: The Colin Baker era gets a constant kicking. It's usually the butt of jokes. And yes, it has its problems. The Sixth Doctor's costume is ridiculous, he stays dark and unsympathetic for too long - something that must surely weigh upon Moffat as he plots a darker, less sympathetic Capaldi incarnation - and there's just not enough joy to out-weigh the death and bleakness in some of the stories. This story has moments where the Doctor isn't behaving as the Doctor should - or the version of the Doctor in our heads - but it is still rather well-written and directed. Writer Philip Martin wrote the marvellous Gangsters, which I recommend to your perusal - and plays with the fourth wall here a little too. Add Nabil Shaban's memorable Sil and you've got a winner.

Remembrance of the Daleks: Anyone who thinks Sylvester McCoy isn't a good Doctor should be strapped to a seat and made to watch this. Over and over again. This is a real tour-de-force and I remember this as the story that restored my shaken faith in Doctor Who after Season Twenty-Four (which in retrospect has more positive moments than I felt it did at the time.) It's well-acted, well-directed and well-written. This is the moment Ace and the Seventh Doctor establish themselves up there with Leela and the Fourth Doctor and Romana II and the Fourth Doctor as my favourite Doctor/Companion pairings** It really is better than it probably had any right to be at this point. If you've not seen it you really should stop reading this immediately and go and watch it. Go on.



The Happiness Patrol: I love this story. For similar reasons to why I love The Web Planet. Only Doctor Who could - or would - do this kind of thing. Only Doctor Who would make such a wonderful parable on the wonders of melancholy and what it means to be a minority in a tiny studio with pink wigs and a villain that looks not unlike a certain Bertie Bassett. People get rather sniffy about this story. It's too obviously sets. Of course it is. Terra Alpha is a Potemkin Village writ large. It looks artificial because it is artificial. Terra Alpha is an illusion. It's the creation of a woman who tried to do the right thing but couldn't understand why her people weren't happy with this right thing. It's pink and fluffy and all rather lovely.

There you go. That's my ten.

I'm sure you'll viciously disagree with some - or all - of my choices. You'd be wrong of course. My life in Doctor Who fandom has taught me that however bad a story is seen to be by fan consensus it is always someone's favourite. And however brilliant a story is there's always someone out there that hates it. Sometimes to a baffling degree of rage.

That's another of the fun bits of being a Doctor Who fan.

Be seeing you.


*I may have become obsessed with Louise Jameson in knitware since watching The Omega Factor
**Companion-Doctor favourites is a blog for another day.