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.


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.

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 the head of the cavalcade of the unloved in Doctor Who terms this is actually rather wonderful. Hartnell's great 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 I suspect is 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. How can you not love it? Really. It's majestic. Troughton ends his time as The Doctor on a highest of high notes. 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 immediately 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 and 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 an England lost in the mist and is the perfect casting 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
**Richard Todd is also the focus of one of my favourite acting stories. During World War Two Captain Richard Todd was part of the second wave of British troops at Pegasus Bridge. When the film 'The Longest Day' was made Todd was cast as Major John Howard, who led the attack on Pegasus Bridge. Another actor played Captain Richard Todd. 
**Companion-Doctor favourites is a blog for another day.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Fun Stuff

Picture From Dorkly's 12 Types of Doctor Who Fan

I've been a Doctor Who fan for a long time and there has never been a better time to be a Doctor Who fan. The show is popular, possibly more popular than it has ever been, and it has a genuine global reach. There's enough merchandise out there to sink a battleship. You can watch it any time you like in a myriad of formats. There are websites and podcasts. You can interact with fellow fans on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and even in the real world. Being a Doctor Who fan is acceptable. We're fans of one of the most popular shows on British television. The Doctor is one of the few genuinely mythological characters created by television whose existence passes beyond just television.

It's great.

And I have to remind myself of this periodically because I remember being a Doctor Who fan in the dark days. When watching Doctor Who was like raging against the dying of the light. When 'it's not as good as it used to be' was regularly repeated like a mantra by Doctor Who fans and non-Doctor Who fans alike. When being a Doctor Who fan made you an acceptable target not just for ridicule but actual bullying at school. [As an example of how this worked watch the conversation between Paul Cornell and Dr Matthew Sweet in the latter's excellent Culture Show Doctor Who Special. If you can find it. That, my friends, is what it could be like at its worst]. 

Mostly, of course, it was mockery or bafflement that you were on the receiving end of, which are still quite common even today. If I had a pound for every time someone said "Yeah, but it's a kids show", I'd have £3,966. 

I was lucky. I never cared about how people felt about my Doctor Who obsessions to the point of being belligerently upfront about it. But I can understand why some Classic Doctor Who fans can come across as overly defensive and angry at new fans. The atmosphere in the tale end of Classic Doctor Who within fandom could be poisonousness. We learnt our debating styles when things were ugly (and very, very male). That doesn't excuse shitty behaviour but it does explain it a little.

Me, I always hung on to the joy that Doctor Who bought (and brings) me. It is still one of the few things that can make me deliriously and childishly happy. I watch every episode as two versions of me. The one is the now me. The bitter, cynical 43 year old git who is archly critical and capable of spotting a continuity error at a thousand yards. The other is the 11 year old me. Fresh-faced, excited and just in it for the FUN. He's the one that doesn't care about dodgy special effects, gaping plot holes, UNIT dating controversies or any of that kind of stuff. He just wants to escape. Sometimes the 43 year old me wins but mostly the 11 year old me does. 

And I try to hang on to that feeling because it is easily lost in all the criticism and cynicism and shear bloody smart-arsery of the modern 24/7 online culture.  We sometimes forget amongst all the words and noise to just have fun.

Doctor Who has never been more popular. It's never been more accessible in either Classic or New Who form (and I'm not going to rant on here about how much I hate the artificial seperation of Classic and New Who, even though I've fallen into the trap of using them myself all the bloody time).

It's fun being a Doctor Who fan now more than ever. Let's not lose that.


Friday, August 8, 2014

Telling Different Stories

So, I've been thinking about the 'Great White Saviour' that is the Doctor, although I usually don't think of him quite like that. There's a couple of reasons for that. Firstly Doctor Who is just a television programme so why would I think that deeply about the central character. [Yes, I know but imagine I am writing this as someone else who doesn't actually do that kind of thing.] Secondly it is embarrassing to admit that as a white, middle-class, straight man of a certain age I try to avoid thinking about the more 'old-school' aspects of the Doctor. Thirdly - and I apologise for coming over all Monty Python's Spanish Inquisition here - the Doctor's alienness seems to provide an excuse for excluding him from tedious Earth-bound questions about gender and race. He's from Gallifrey after all.

I blame the Verity Podcast for getting me thinking about this again. Having a voice outside my own head with experiences unlike my own and therefore perceptions of a different kind makes you think. And I hate questioning my own ways of privileges. 

Anyway...let's put a line of thought together. Let's assume Gallifreyans have a flexible approach to skin colour and sex. Let's assume that a Time Lord can be male in one incarnation and female in the next. Let's not get too hung up for the moment on how that affects sexual relationships.* And let us assume that your first incarnation is pretty much a lottery, although with a tendency towards the Caucasian - if stories set on Gallifrey are anything to go by.**

Tilda Swinton - Perfect for The Doctor?

So The Doctor's first incarnation is - by fluke - a white male. He ends up spending a lot of time on Earth. He likes it and it so happens that being a white man seems to be a pretty safe thing to be in most periods of Earth's history. So when he regenerates he sticks with the white male outfit. After all being white and male avoids a lot of tricky questions most of the time. (Lewis CK, the American comedian has an amusing routine along a similar line). Therefore the Doctor is a white male most of the time out of convenience.

There. I have provided a semi-logical reason for the Doctor's perpetual white maleness.

Now, let's step back into the real world - or what passes for the real world. What if we were to cast a black actor as the Doctor or a woman? I have no strong opinions on this any more. I did once. I think I might have got over it. But let's assume they do. 

We immediately have a potentially very different television series. Not just because we've got a different Doctor but because we now have a political issue to deal with. Does the production team ignore the change - except to make one or two jokes about it - or do we confront a genuine issues: power and who has it. In any Earth based story set in either the present or past does the production team behave as people are colour or gender blind to the Doctor's appearance (as they kind of did with Martha in the Shakespeare Code) or do we confront this head on?

What if a Black Doctor found himself in the US during the Civil War? How would the powerful of - most - eras of Earth history react to female Doctor? Would the silencing of the non-white and the non-male be reflected in the stories? The Doctor's opinions dismissed because of his colour or her sex? Does every story require the new Doctor to do something impressive to emphasise his or her credentials in order to get over this problem or does it become a running issue? Does Doctor Who confront these things or gloss over them?

It's a big question. 

The 13th Doctor?

Personally I'd love Doctor Who to get its teeth into these issues if we still have time for tea-time adventure. These issues can be tackled without being tediously politically correct or dull. The key is always the power of the story. And I'd prefer that to ignoring it all together.

I don't know whether these things will ever happen. It does seem more likely we'll get a black or asian Doctor before we get a female Doctor. But even that step - as I hope I've outlined - brings with it political decisions. It's wouldn't - couldn't? - be business as usual. The world doesn't give an equal hearing to people of colour or women (without a fight) and to pretend otherwise might be a grievous fault.  

It would though be an interesting choice. And a chance perhaps to tell some different stories. 

*For theories on the sex lives of Gallifreyans I think another blog would be required. Well, not required as such. 

**Although perhaps this all white male thing is a phase Gallifreyans are going through at the time, like a fashion. Even it does appear to have lasted a bloody long time.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

An Earthly Child

An Earthly Child is one of Big Finish's special releases. It's set on Earth. Thirty years have past since the Dalek Invasion and Susan Campbell is calling out to the Universe for help to re-build the Earth. An Earth that is suffering from a global post-traumatic stress disorder. They - we - are afraid of more aliens. Afraid of technology. Earth seems to be marching backwards into the future.

Susan's actions draw the attention of the Guldresi and another mysterious traveller in time and space: The Doctor.

I enjoyed it. It's an interesting postscript to The Dalek Invasion of Earth. It's surprisingly realistic. This feels like how Earth might react post-invasion.

That's certainly the case for Alex Campbell. He's Susan and David Campbell's son. He's half-Gallifreyan. On his mother's side. On heart. And he hates aliens. He's caught between the machinations of his mother and of Faisal Jensen of Earth Unity but eventually he tries to find his own way, despite Susan's intentions to send him off to Gallifrey for a proper education. He's played by Jake McGann, who is Paul McGann's son, which is interesting. It's a good performance as Alex struggles to come to terms with what is happening and who it is. We don't know - at this point - how things will end but it seems a fairly realistic take on what might happen.

Susan is played by Carole Ann Ford. Obviously. It's nice to have a Susan story forty years later that gives her something useful to do. This isn't the Susan of the television series. Obviously. She's older. She's a mother. She's stuck on a backwards planet with nowhere to go. It's almost like the Third Doctor's exile but with the additional burden of a family. She's very good. I particularly like the scene when she's first re-united with the Doctor in a police cell in Bristol. It's rather sweetly done.

The Doctor's on his own this time. So I've slotted this review in here assuming he's just left Lucie Miller at the end of Death in Blackpool. I'm not sure if this is correct or not. But it's my blog, my rules etc.

Paul McGann's brilliant as usual and there's something about his performance now that makes it seem like he's more comfortable with it. Happier being the Big Finish Eighth Doctor. Occasionally - back in some of the Divergent Universe stories for example - he did sound a bit like his heart wasn't in it as much. Perhaps I'm wrong.

Also worthy of applause is Leslie Ash as Marion Fleming. Fleming is a teacher at Bristol University. She's teaching Alex Campbell and ends up assisting the Doctor. It's a nice performance.

The story is written by Marc Platt, who seems to have an interest in the Doctor's family life going all the way back to Lungbarrow, and I like the story, which I think is about fitting in under all its science-fiction pretensions. It's not the most action packed of tales. It's about politics and families so there's a lot of talking* but it's all rather enjoyable.

And it is nice for the Doctor to finally pop back to see Susan, even if it has taken him a long time to do so.

*I KNOW it is audio so it is bound to be wordy but there's wordy and there's wordy. Pfft. I know what I mean. Even if you don't.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Script Doctor: The Inside Story of Doctor Who 1986-1989 by Andrew Cartmel

Andrew Cartmel's book Script Doctor: The Inside Story of Doctor Who 1986-1989 is a niftily written account of his time as Script Editor of Doctor Who as the series came stuttering to the end of what is now pointlessly called 'Classic Who'. It wasn't the best time to be working on the series as those in charge of the BBC had gradually come to find the whole existence of Doctor Who something of a tedious embarrassment. Having tried and failed to kill it off once during the Colin Baker era they wisely decided that instead of going through the hassle that resulted from that debacle they'd kill off Doctor Who by a thousand cuts: moving it to go head-to-head with Coronation Street for example.

However that didn't stop the production team from doing their best to turn things around. This is Andrew Cartmel's account of those events and his - and other writer's attempts - to freshen up Doctor Who with new writing blood and a restoration of mystery. In some ways the template they laid in Season 25 and 26, which carried on through to the Virgin New Adventures, is the template for New Doctor Who. After all, as I've said elsewhere in this blog, who is Rose but Ace without explosives and Survival could very easily have slid into New Who with hardly a word changed.

There's a set of people who claim that the Sylvester McCoy era of Doctor Who is rubbish. That Sylvester isn't properly Doctor Who-ish. I think these people are wrong. Now I'll admit Season 24 isn't the series finest hour - and Andrew Cartmel looks far more fondly upon Delta and the Bannermen than I do for example - but Seasons 25 and 26 contain some of the series all time great stories: Remembrance of the Daleks, The Happiness Patrol, Curse of Fenric and Ghost Light.

It's good to get an insight into some of the ups and downs of that period. To hear about how each story was nursed through production to the screen. It's definitely a book about writing and writer's. Naturally. But Cartmel comes across as much more hands on as a Script Editor than usual: visiting sets, organising meetings between actors and writer's, looking for new writing blood etc.

This book is also, mainly, a positive look at the period. It's certainly a nice contrast to the much more depressing JNT : The Life and Scandalous Times of John Nathan-Turner* by Richard Marson. Indeed it makes an interesting companion piece to that book (or vica versa) as John Nathan-Turner is a key figure in Cartmel's book too. Obviously. There are battles fought here between JNT and Cartmel but the book handles them without bitterness, which I like. Even Cartmel's dislike of Pip and Jane Baker's Time and the Rani script (and their attempts to undermine Cartmel) isn't reflected in anything over-acerbic. It's rather refreshing.

It also makes an interesting companion to RTD and Benjamin Cook's The Writer's Tale. The Classic Who v New Who story. Although personal this doesn't feel as personal as RTD's book. That's probably for a couple of reasons: partly because RTD is showrunner, which gives him broader responsibilities and stresses than Cartmel and partly because RTD's book is written in the heat of battle whereas there is some distance between the events in Cartmel's book and the present. The interesting thing is the amount of common problems the two  books highlight. Even with its increased budgets some of the problems with producing Doctor Who never seem to change.

The book covers each story of the Seventh Doctor's era and has insights into the whole production process: from casting through to broadcast but with a clear focus on the writing side. I was also mildly amused by Cartmel's wistful fondness for attractive ladies, which occasionally pops up.

I also like the fact that whilst this is Cartmel's story he doesn't get too egotistical. Indeed one of the other heroes of this book might be Ben Aaronovitch whose two stories Remembrance of the Daleks and Battlefield meet interestingly different fates. This is definitely a story of how what the writer wants to do and what eventually gets delivered is often a very different thing. Battlefield is the classic example of a potentially great story let down massively by its production values - especially sound design.

This was first published - I think - in 2005 but is out in a new edition now via Miwk Publishing**. My copy comes with autograph and some rather natty freebies : including a Silas P Business Card (which I adore).
If you like Doctor Who this is a great introduction to the series final three seasons. It's surprisingly positive, well-written and a fine insight into the process of turning ideas into scripts into programmes.


*Miwk also published the JNT book, which I also recommend but which can be a horribly depressing slog at times. Not because the writing is bad but because there is behaviour and events in there that can only be described as a bit sad and pathetic. A lot of people don't come out of the story well. If you don't want your illusions shattered I'd stay away but

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Patient Centurion : What Happens Now?

So having reached The Time of The Doctor the Patient Centurion has hit the present day so what's next? There's two likely strands: blogging the stories that weren't covered previously & blogging the new series when it starts on August 23rd.

If you go back to the first post on The Patient Centurion you'll note I only started blogging the individual stories from Season 8 so I shall be going back to the beginning and covering those stories, from An Unearthly Child to Inferno that I haven't already covered. This will be a slower process as I'm expecting to cover one story a week (roughly) due to real life commitments but that should keep me busy.

Plus I'm intending to do a massive Shada special covering the surviving television material, the McGann audio version, Gareth Robert's novelisation and the Lalla Ward reading of it. This might be a bit of over-kill but it is my blog, my rules. The other likely special will be on The Gunfighters, which I've been working on for a while in a half-arsed way.

I'll also blog immediate post-episode blogs for Series 8. I'll make these spoiler free. I'm obviously excited about Capaldi's Doctor but I'm beginning to worry that I'm letting my expectations reach an impossible to satisfy levels. Perhaps it'll be rubbish. But I can't quite convince myself of that, even though The Moff's still in charge.

I have my issues with The Moff's version of Doctor Who but whilst the BBC remains happy with what he's doing then I can't see him changing. The danger for us - and for The Moff - is that he finds himself turning into the New Doctor Who JNT. However a new Doctor gives The Moff a chance to take the show in a new direction. I'll probably be more concerned if at the end of Series 8 the same Moffat clich├ęs are being trotted out, just with a slight Capaldiesque spin.

I half-jokingly suggested before that Capaldi himself might end up as the next Showrunner. I'm going to suggest it again here, even though it is highly unlikely to ever happen. After all an actor with so much power might be dangerous.

I'll also be starting to blog more Big Finish and Book reviews too. The sister site to this is The Audio Centurion and that's a bit dusty and unloved at the moment. The book reviews will go here in the Patient Centurion blog. I've got a pile to read at the moment, mostly from Miwk Publishing including The Quest For Peddler by Michael Seely, Script Doctor by Andrew Cartmell and Unnatural Selection: The Natural History of the Natural History of Fear by Jim Mortimore.* Plus Telos Publishing's Robert Holmes: A Life in Words by Richard Molesworth. So watch this space for reviews of these books. Eventually.

I'm also hoping, now I've got the equipment properly set up, to add more interviews to the sites. So far only India Fisher has been interviewed. I hope to add some more soon.

Finally I may also throw in a one-off Podcast when I can find a reason to justify it.

So there you go. A list of plans and schemes. But, as the poet once said, the best laid plans o' mice an' men gang aft agley.

Be seeing you.

*I should declare that Unnatural Selection features a quote from my review on its cover & my full review of the story inside (alongside many others), which obviously makes me a potentially biased reviewer.

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Time of the Doctor

So I've finally reached the end. The moment has been prepared for, which will mainly involve going back to the beginning again. But more on that later.

The Time of the Doctor sees an end to the Matt Smith era of Doctor Who. In my 'umble opinion he's been a fine Doctor. He's up there with Tom Baker and Pat Troughton as one of my favourite actors to have played the part.

The problem is it isn't the best of stories. The Moff has too many threads to tie up to which he has added a final problem: how is the Doctor's final regeneration not going to be the Doctor's final regeneration. The Moff's painted himself into this corner because he decided that Tennant got two and created the War Doctor.

The problem is that The Moff throws everything into this story including a kitchen sink and a turkey. We find out who blew up the TARDIS, what the Silence were up to and our friendly neighbourhood crack in the Universe pops up for a final bow. It turns out that the crack is now Gallifrey calling. They're asking the question that we have been pinging backwards and forwards for a while now and that seems to be a particular Moff fascination: Doctor Who? Pfft.

Then there's the usual 'every villain in Doctor Who history' is hovering above a planet. There's Cybermen who are being as rubbish as usual even though the wooden one is quite cool - if pointless. There's a couple of comedy Sontarans, which reminds me once more that The Moff has forgotten that Sontarans aren't supposed to be jokes. There's throwaway mentions of other species. And then there's the Daleks. Again.

Fundamentally the problem with this episode is that it isn't a proper farewell to Matt Smith more a Moff greatest hits. In a way it does Matt Smith a disservice. There's a few moments that shine: the scenes with Barnable (Jack Hollington), the end of Handles, the final reunion with Clara and the moments before the regeneration. The moment he drops the bow tie did genuinely bring a tear to my eye. But perhaps I'm going soft in my old age.

There's too much going on. Take a deep breath Mr. Moff and drop a couple of tricks. Do we need to throw another feisty mysterious psychotic female into the Whoniverse? This is Tasha Lem* (Orla Brady) who is apparently head of the papal mainframe. Now Orla Brady does a great job with the part and the 'I died screaming your name' moment is genuinely dark. But these kind of women are becoming a Moff cliche. I suppose River Song wasn't available. And I say that as someone who actually likes River Song.

It's not meant to be about the writer showing off his cliches and tricks this stuff it's supposed to be a farewell to Matt Smith and it just doesn't work for me. The first time I watched it I actually got quite annoyed about the whole thing because it doesn't do Matt Smith justice. This time round I was less annoyed just because I let it flow over me. I tutted at certain points. The naked stuff still doesn't work for me. It's gratuitously silly as opposed to gloriously silly - which is how I describe Season 17 btw.

I've no complaints about any of the performances. Jenna Coleman does a wonderful job, especially as she has to spend a lot of this story being sad. Can we have a bit of happy Clara in the new series please, although I'm not going to hold my breath. Matt Smith does what he's done throughout his time in the series and that's raise the quality of a story through his brilliance. So whatever my rants about this episode are I'll never forget when the Doctor was him. *Sniff*

Next up Peter Capaldi.

And yes I am excited.

*There is still some possible mystery about the identity of Tasha Lem and her relationship with the Doctor, which the Moff might come back to. Or not. I suppose we don't need ever loose end tied up do we.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Day of the Doctor

The Day of the Doctor is pretty damn good. The 50th Anniversary Special was always going to be something of a challenge with fan want lists - including mine - being so long. I got most of them. Yes, the McGann appearance and regeneration was in the online Night of the Doctor but still we got that little gap closed. Yes, I'd have liked the War Doctor to have been a broken, battered McGann and not a newly created incarnation. But although I didn't get that wish we did get John Hurt as The Doctor instead so I can't really complain.

It rattles along at a fair old pace, jumps about in typical Moffatesque timey-wimey stylee and is stonkingly well directed by Nick Hurran. I didn't get to see it in all its 3D glory on a big screen but even on my pathetically small screen here at Patient Centurion Towers it looks (and feels) like a movie.

The way the story twists the Zygon-Elizabeth I-UNIT sub-plot into a much bigger story about the day the Doctor decided to end the Time War is rather well done. The idea of 'The Moment' - an ultimate weapon with a conscience - is the best idea in the whole piece in my ever so 'umble opinion. It gives The Moff a chance to give Billie Piper an appearance in the 50th Anniversary Special without her having to be Rose. The Moff seems to have been of the opinion that the Rose - Tenth Doctor story had run it's course and so Billie Piper gets to be the Moment's 'hot interface'. Which also gives Piper the chance to be rather good playing a different part. I like it. It's a good decision done well.

The Moment presents the War Doctor with the chance to see his future. To see what his decision will lead to: "The man who regrets and the man who forgets." That involves him in the Zygon-UNIT-Elizabeth I shenanigans.

My only real quibble with this story is Elizabeth I (Joanna Page). Not so much the performance, which initially seems to be channeling Queenie from Blackadder but improves from the moment there are two of them. More the general portrayal of the woman herself. I won't rant on about this but Elizabeth I isn't the sort of woman who'd have agreed to marry the Doctor at the drop of a hat. This was a woman that survived the political machinations of Tudor Court life. The kind of machinations that lead to early, unpleasant deaths. She wasn't a ditz. So please don't do that kind of thing again Mr. Moffat.

But I can forgive this because the rest of the story is so good. And rather moving.

To cut a long blog short the Doctors get together, which is really what we're all looking for. We want the banter. And we get that in spades. Particularly the disapproving grumpiness of John Hurt's Doctor who basically represents Classic Doctor Who. His criticism of the two younger Doctors is basically the Moff channeling the complaints and digs about the New Series from Classic Who fans. There's even an amusing line about kissing in there.

I shall stop here for a brief paragraph of John Hurt praise. He's wonderful. Clearly a brilliant actor with a long line of fantastic work behind him Hurt manages to bring the War Doctor to life. His curmudgeonly take on the Doctor nicely balances out Matt Smith and David Tennant's performances. In fact this is a moment to applaud all three Doctors for some fine work all round. I'm a particular fan of the scene in the Tower cell, which manages to cover a number of important issues.

Meanwhile the Zygon's are about to seize control of the UNIT's black archives and all the goodies that are contained therein. They've duplicated Kate Stewart (Jemma Redgrave), Osgood (Ingrid Oliver) and McGillop (Jonjo O'Niell), which means Clara is in trouble but fortunately Clara's a clever woman and does the time travelling equivelant of a runner. In the meantime the real Osgood, who escaped her Zygon duplicate, has freed the real Kate and etc etc. Kate's going to blow up London in order to destroy the Black Archive. The Doctor's arrive determined to stop them and using the Black Archives memory wiping technology (another minor quibble of mine that but more about UNIT's employment practices than anything else) to force both sides to the negotiating table.

This demonstration of what the War Doctor's future seems to have done convinces him that he should go through with his final destruction of Gallifrey to bring an end to the Time War. Yet it isn't over. The Moment brings the two future Doctors along. It initially looks like things are going to go ahead as we've always assumed they were at this point: Gallifrey's destruction. However Clara's reaction stops things in their tracks reminding the Doctor of the promise his name represents (and dropping a couple of classic Terrance Dick's lines in to proceedings.)

At this point the Doctor's come up with a plan, which may or may not work, to save Gallifrey. It involves all of them working together and lo we get to see all twelve THIRTEEN as Capaldi's eyes get a quick guest appearance.* It's nice to see a little nod to the Classic Doctors here even if their bits are cobbled together from older episodes or an impressionist.

We're not sure at this point whether Gallifrey has been saved or not but we do know that the Doctor didn't blow the whole planet up. Of course this potentially makes all the 'last of the Time Lords' stuff nonsense and might undermine the Ninth, Tenth and Eleventh Doctor's air of tragedy. Except there's the effect of the time lines, which conveniently will wipe their memories to the point at which they'll only remember that they tried to destroy Gallifrey. It's closure of a kind for the Eleventh Doctor but not for the rest of the Doctor's. It's both a potentially happy ending and a rather sad one.

The War Doctor and the Tenth Doctor leave. We get to see a bit of the regeneration between the War Doctor and the Ninth (but not the full thing). It does mean that we've tied up all the regenerations now, which I'm happy about. Even if it isn't that big a deal for most other people.

The Eleventh Doctor sits down to have a moment with his picture. Being a great reviewer I've failed to mention this picture up until now. My apologies for this. It's the problem with doing these reviews as stream of consciousness immediate reactions. Basically there's a piece of Gallifreyan art called 'Gallifrey Falls' or 'No More' one of t'other. It's a three dimensional picture of a moment in time at the Fall of Arcadia (as mentioned previously). It's the day the Doctor decided to say 'No More'. It's the day of the Doctor. Boom Tish.

Anyway The Eleventh Doctor sits down but is interrupted by the Curator. Now who the Curator is or might be or was is a matter for a far longer conversation than I've got time for here but I loved this moment. It bought a tear to this old fan boy's eye. I'm not going to spoil it but it's a lovely scene and it made me happy. As did the final moment in the story.

Basically this story is packed full of goodies and The Moff manages to balances the celebrations aspects of the episode with a decent story in general. It's well-directed, well-acted and well good. Innit. You couldn't have wished for a better 50th Anniversary special. It managed to honour the Classic series and Doctors whilst giving the show a new direction.

Gallifrey falls no more.

*I didn't have a problem with all the Doctors turning up btw. My theory was always that the Time War was such an epic Universe time line shaking event that there was no way that Time Sensitives couldn't have picked up on what's going on even if only peripherally. It might be interesting if the Doctor originally fled Gallifrey to avoid the oncoming Time War.

Friday, July 4, 2014

The Name of The Doctor

And so Series Seven comes to an end with The Name of the Doctor, which on original viewing I utterly adored from the moment we found ourselves on Gallifrey a very long time ago. On this second viewing I still enjoyed it quite a lot, but not quite as much.

Things I ignored on the original watch popped up to annoy me a little more this time. Then I told myself off for being a grumpy old-school Doctor Who fan. Then I thought that a bit of quibbling does no one any harm. Then I thought I should stop thinking quite so much about the whole thing and get on with writing this blessed blog.

As I mentioned this starts of magnificently with Gallifrey, Hartnell and Clara. Yes, Clara. We are finally going to get to the bottom of 'The Impossible Girl'. Eventually. We get a nice, if odd, selection of old Doctors running in and out of Clara's life. Or visa versa as it turns out. Jenna Coleman gets to wear a fine selection of outfits and hair styles. It's an interesting set up, which is then topped by a brilliant sequence revolving around a 'Conference Call'. It balances funny, odd and then genuinely creepy as someone gets at Madame Vastra and Jenny. Yes, the Paternoster Gang are back. And Dan Starkey, Catlin Stewart and Neve McIntosh are as brilliant as usual. I like The Paternoster Gang. They should have their own show. Also back is River Song. It's all hands to the pump here for the season finale.

Matt Smith is brilliant in this. Absolutely wonderful. In a few short minutes he goes from a rather silly scene to a genuinely heart-breaking moment when Clara mentions Trenzelore. The Doctor knows what Trenzelore is. It's where he's buried. It's where he shouldn't go but it is where The Whispermen want him to go. But The Whispermen are just minions. Our real foe is an old enemy, The Great Intelligence. As played by Richard E. Grant.

The Great Intelligence's plan seems rather odd. He drags the Doctor to Trenzelore because he wants access to his grave. He requires The Doctor's name to access it. So will we finally discover the Doctor's name a secret almost no one watching Doctor Who has ever been bothered about, except The Moff himself. We do, of course, never learn the Doctor's name because The Moff knows it would be a stupid thing to do. Either because it'll be a massive disappointment or a ridiculous joke.

Being a Time Lord the Doctor's less a corpse more a very impressive floaty light thing. A timey-wimey scar across the Universe. The Great Intelligence plans to step into that timeline & wreck his rewenge on The Doctor, even though it will destroy The Great Intelligence to. The process creates a Universe without the Doctor. Again. Like The Big Bang. And the stars start going out. Again. Like The Big Bang. Which is one of my quibbles about this episode.

The concentration on the personal impact of the Doctor's disappearance though - via Madame Vastra's loss of Jenny & Strax's reversal to normal Sontaran behaviour - puts a slightly different spin on things. As does our realisation that this isn't the living River Song, but the echo. Theoretically only Clara can see her. Although it turns out the Doctor can too.

I know a lot of people don't like River Song, but I do. She's well portrayed by Alex Kingston and I don't mind the romance with the Doctor. I think Matt Smith sells it well and their little scene here is lovely. I do think though that the story might have run its course, although that remains for The Moff to decide.

The Great Intelligence is doing his worst - and being destroyed, which is the bit of his plan that baffles me a bit - but Clara steps in to the Doctor's timeline too and undoes all the bad stuff whilst explaining why she's been in the Doctor's timeline before. Why she's the 'Impossible Girl'. Except now we know the truth she's no longer impossible. She's The Explained Girl.

Jenna Coleman's great here. Despite my slight mehness bout the whole Impossible Girl thing I've quickly grown to like Clara and a lot of that is down to Coleman's effective performance.

The first time I watched this the last sequence annoyed me a bit as I thought The Moff's rescue of Clara by The Doctor was a cop-out. Clara's inside the Doctor's timeline, which just looks a bit like Trenzelore if we're honest. Perhaps it is. And the Doctor saves Clara via a leaf & some words that might as well be anything they're so meaningless. "You're my Impossible Girl" could have been "Izzy Whizzy Let's Get Busy" for all that it actually explains. But this time I found it less bothersome. I think because I deliberately decided to enjoy it and pretend it makes some kind of sense.

And then...ah...and the The Doctor's true secret is revealed and that is a magnificent coup de theatre. Here is a new old Doctor. Played by an absolute legend in John Hurt. It's perhaps a measure of how far Doctor Who has come that an actor of Hurt's stature would accept the part. It has to be one of the great cliffhangers in the series history.

Whilst The Name of The Doctor is pretty good it really feels like the first part of a two parter that will conclude with Day of the Doctor. It also ends the first arc of Clara's story. Tying up one of the strands of the Eleventh Doctor's era as we head towards the final two stories of Matt Smith's time in the TARDIS.  

Basically though I really enjoyed this partly because it has great bits in it: Gallifrey, old Doctors, the Doctor's tears, Clara's courage, The Paternoster Gang, The Whispermen's creepiness, The giant TARDIS, the Doctor's farewell to River and the John Hurt Doctor. It also has bits that annoy me in terms of lacking sense but I choose to just ignore those and have fun instead. Perhaps I should do it more often.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Nightmare In Silver

Nightmare in Silver is rather disappointing. After Neil Gaiman's rather brilliant The Doctor's Wife I had high hopes for this story but in the end, with a couple of exceptions, I didn't enjoy it very much.

Firstly the two children - Angie and Artie - are an annoyance of the highest order. Is there anything more tedious than children complaining about being bored whilst travelling through space and time? Plus neither of the child actors does much to make me like either of them. Thankfully they're side-lined pretty quickly, which saved me from actually turning the blessed thing off.

Secondly the Cybermen. I've said often in this blog that the Cybermen often disappoint in televised adventures, whilst Big Finish seem to do a proper job with them.* This is another example. There's no point throwing in nods to Earthshock or Tomb of the Cybermen if you're going to make another disappointing Cyberman story.

The re-design does look lovely I'll give them that but Gaiman makes the mistake of 'upgrading' them to an almost invincible Borg style creature, which is supposed to make them more terrifying but only ends up making you think that the writer is painting himself into a very difficult corner. The ending isn't a terrible one but there really isn't that much tension to it from the moment The Doctor throws off his Cyber mind sharer. Basically somewhere along the line, despite all the clever new Cyber tricks, Cybermites and Cyber special effects, the Cybermen still aren't scary enough.

I'm not sure what the solution is. I think it might be that the Cybermen are at their best not in huge armies. At least not originally but when they're small in number, lurking in the shadows and when we see the horror of the conversion process. Their vulnerability had become ridiculous in the later years of Classic Who but re-jigging them to these invincible things removes some of their - and yes, this is an odd word to choose - 'humanity'. The horrifying thing about the Cybermen was always the fact that they were 'once like us', which is why despite their old-fashioned look now the original Tenth Planet Cybermen would be the scariest. It's why when Star Trek : The Next Generation created the Borg they kept some of that human flesh in there. They're us as we might be.

I also like the setting. The abandoned Theme Park with its Comedy Castle with its weird hints of Scooby-Doo is rather interesting. It's a twist on a base under siege ending as it does in a last stand at the Comedy Castle.

Also I quite liked most of Matt Smith's battle with the Cyber Planner. The inside of the Doctor's mind has certainly improved in quality since we last saw it in The Invisible Enemy and not a prawn in sight. Matt Smith's performance is mostly excellent but I think I could have done without the Ninth and Tenth Doctor impressions.

Ignoring the children - and I intend to never speak of them again - most of the performances are good. I can't really fault the acting from the rag-tag punishment unit that is basically a selection of cliches, including Tamzin Outhwaite's Captain; Jason Watkins as the poor unfortunate Webley and especially Warwick Davis as Porridge. I like Porridge. I hope we get to see him again, even if his secret is now out.

So it wasn't all bad but it was mainly not that great. Perhaps I was more annoyed at the time because I had high expectations of Neil Gaiman. He's a fantastic writer but I suppose to hit us with two brilliant stories out of two would be too much to ask. It is, for me, the weakest story of the second part of the Seventh Season, which is a shame.

*If you want to see how to do a genuinely creepy surviving Cyberman chess playing robot story then I recommend you listen to Big Finish's The Silver Turk, which I reviewed here, which I'm afraid makes A Nightmare in Silver look very poor indeed.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Crimson Horror

Ah The Crimson Horror. I wrote, at the time of broadcast about some of the more troubling aspects of this story in a blog called Doctor Lad so I don't propose to re-visit those issues in detail. Suffice it to say on re-watch I'm still not entirely comfortable with some of what is going on, particularly with the Doctor and Jenny but hey and ho.

The thing is apart from that this is a pretty good story. It's Mark Gatiss's second story of the season, after Cold War, and possibly his best so far. It's got a nice period setting, Victorian Yorkshire with a touch of the gothic. It has a sort of contemporary Talons of Weng-Chiang aspect to it.

It's structured in an interesting fashion with the initial part of the story revolving around Madame Vastra (Neve McIntosh), Strax (Dan Starkey) and Jenny (Catrin Stewart) aka The Paternoster gang investigating the 'Crimson Horror' on behalf of a very fainty gentleman whose name escapes me as I write this. It turns out that the last thing the most recent dead man saw was The Doctor. So off to 'The North' goes The Paternoster gang.

Jenny gets sent inside the rather mysterious 'Sweetville', a model village project of the kind so favoured of the forward thinking Victorian philanthropist. In this case the mysterious Mr. Sweet* and Mrs Gillyflower (Diana Rigg) who is both villain and archetypal blunt talking Yorkshirewoman. Mrs Gillyflower has a blind daughter that she rolls out to convince potential settlers in Sweetville of the horrors of the demon drink. This is Ada (Rachael Stirling, who is Diana Rigg's actual daughter.**)

Diana Rigg is brilliant. Mrs Gillyflower is sharp, cold and focused on creating a perfect world for her people to settle down in. To achieve this she's prepared to sacrifice everyone else, including her daughter. The relationship between Ada and Mrs Gillyflower is probably the darkest part of this story, which is helped by Rachael Stirling's sterling - sorry - performance as Ada. Who it turns out saved the Doctor. The actual main villainous plan is a bit bog-standard Doctor Who. It could even be a steam-punk James Bond story if it wasn't for the identity of Mr. Sweet.

Mr. Sweet it turns out is a surviving member of a parasitical leech-like creature that Madame Vastra's Silurian kinsfolk had issues with back in the day. He's become 'close' to Mrs Gillyflower, who has been milking his venom for her plans. It is highly likely, of course, that Mr. Sweet will come to a sticky end but I'll let you see that for yourselves.

The Paternoster gang are as much fun as usual and this story gives Jenny a real chance to shine. First undercover and then when - in a Victorian Emma Peel cat-suit - she dispatches a number of Mrs Gillyflower's servants. Strax is still the comedy Sontaran: a toddler with laser weapons and grenades. I like Strax. I just wish he hadn't become the pattern for all Sontarans. It's a waste of a good race of baddies. Although you could argue Classic Who got there first with their portrayal in The Two Doctors but that would mildly undermine my sniffy little point so I shall pretend I haven't mentioned it and move on.

The Paternoster Gang are, of course, a bit surprised to see Clara but the Doctor never gets around to answering their questions about who she might actually be. As the season approaches its end I'm beginning to suspect we're getting close to an answer. There's a nice moment in the end scene with the annoying children*** where she sees a picture of herself that is supposed to be Victorian London but it isn't her. It's the other Clara.

Oh and before I forget I love the way they do the Doctor bringing Jenny up to date on how he ended up dipped in red gunk. It's all sepia, snaps and short scenes. It's rather cleverly done. And there's even a Tegan reference for the Dads and Mums, which is nice. It certainly helps make the story more structurally interesting than the plot probably deserves.

Which makes me sound like I didn't enjoy it but I did. I enjoyed it because it was although the plot wasn't radical it was a solid story well-told and it was fun (with my Doctor Lad issues put aside). I enjoyed it because of Diana Rigg and Rachael Stirling. I enjoyed it because of the creepy cuteness of Mr. Sweet. I enjoyed it because it did interesting things structurally. And I enjoyed it because the Paternoster Gang were in it.

Would happily re-watch this one.

Next up...Nightmare in Silver

*I swear for a moment I thought they were going to sneak the Kandyman back in to Doctor Who when I heard about this story and saw the red gunk that was going to appear, which I thought was a bizarrely radical decision from Mr. Moffat. Alas I was wrong.)
**I'm sure you all know that but I'm putting it in as one of those pieces of standard trivia so as to earn myself some obvious trivia points. As you do.
***I'm sorry but they manage to be annoying in the short scene at the end of this episode and it doesn't bode well for the next story that they're in it for much more. I mean what does the threat to tell your Dad that Clara is a time traveller actually mean? Dad's going to go..."Oh really. Well you're fired." And not go 'O don't be silly. Time travel.' Even the pictures could be explained away if you wanted. Plus who took the picture in the submarine...and...oh don't get me started. I'm beginning to dislike Nightmare in Silver already and I've not even seen it. Again. Talk about pre-judging a story. But really Mr. Moffat what were you thinking.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Journey To The Centre of the TARDIS

Journey To The Centre of the TARDIS (hereafter JCT for the benefit of my fingers) is an odd little story. It's not particularly a story with much of a story. Indeed it almost feels like a story that has only two objectives: firstly to show off the inside of the TARDIS properly and secondly as a shaggy dog story leading up to a joke about Big Friendly Buttons (BFB). Oh and sorry to come over all Monty Python Spanish Inquisition it has a couple of little 'Clara-Doctor Arc' bits to get across.

There's a lot of whinging by Doctor Who fans - myself included - about 'cheating' endings in New Who (as if Classic Who didn't have its fair share of deus ex cop outs). The main complaint of course is the constant re-booting of the Universe to save everyone, which sometimes feels like cheating and sometimes seems like an unwillingness to confront the full horror of what has been created. The desire to make sure that everybody lives. JCT has the mother of all these kind of 'cheats', except it isn't cheating. The Big Friendly Cop Out is sign-posted right from the start and additional sign posts pop up throughout the story : the Doctor stealing the 'BFB', Clara's burnt hand etc. So yes, it might be a bit of a sneaky but it isn't an unfair re-set. We've been told it is coming. So when it arrives we shouldn't really complain. And I suspect the production team will have loved it knowing how much fan rage it would generate, although I could be wrong.*

Anyway mainly though it is a lovely opportunity to banish memories of The Invasion of Time and explore the inside of the TARDIS. Now, of course, budgets and technology allow us a proper taste of the infinite size of the TARDIS with its swimming pools, observatory and immense library filled with books from all over the Universe, including a rather interesting liquid talking Encyclopedia Gallifrey and a big chunky impressive History of the Time War. Not sure who the author of that book would be. Perhaps the Doctor himself. It certainly contains the Doctor's real name because Clara - for a while - knows what it is. Anyway I digress. I love all that stuff, even if I miss  the roundels. The corridors look a little dull without them I feel. It just reminds you how far Doctor Who has come in terms of technology and budget. Now the producers of Doctor Who can do all those things that in the past either couldn't be done or were done badly.

After Hide this is another small cast. There's the Doctor and Clara plus Gregor Van Baalen (Ashley Walters) , his brother Bram (Mark Oliver) and Tricky (Jahvel Hall).These are the crew of the salvage ship whose attempts to nick the TARDIS kick-starts the whole mess. Gregor and Bram are human, Tricky is an android. A very human looking android. Unusually for Doctor Who Gregor, Bram and Tricky are black, which must make the only Doctor Who story where white actors are in a minority. All three put in solid performances but I think Jahvel Hall gets much more to do with his character and therefore is much more interesting. They have a story of their own but I won't reveal too much of it here to avoid spoilers. However the story's ending has a nice moment in it, which echoes a scene that happened earlier.

There's also some rather unpleasant creatures lurking aboard the TARDIS, which seem intent on killing everyone aboard. Clara wants to know what they are but the Doctor is unwilling to tell her. The Doctor knows what they are but, as he tells Clara, sometimes there are things you don't need to know. What they are is rather horrible. However they're really just there to push people in the direction that the story wants them to go in. They look rather good, especially in the longer shots, in the dark or through the heat haze. Again, like Hide, there's a couple of shots that are too close up and the costumes look a little costumey but I'm being harsh indeed. Mat King, the director, mainly does a fine job with this whole episode. Lots of interesting shots and cuts to make being trapped inside a box, even if it is an impressive and infinite box, rather interesting.

There's not much else I can say about this story. Matt Smith and Jenna Coleman are brilliant as usual. There's a couple of good scenes between them. Where we see how much the mystery of Clara has got under the Doctor's skin and also how scary the Doctor can be. Clara's line about the Doctor being the thing in the TARDIS she is most scared of reminded me of Rose's line in Dalek about the Doctor pointing a gun. It is nice to be reminded that there is something dangerous about the Doctor, especially to a new companion. The sliver of ice in his heart, as Emma Grayling says in Hide. But in general Matt Smith & Jenna Coleman make a rather brilliant team. There's a good solid chemistry between them. Their timing and delivery is a finely tuned as a couple dancing together.

So to cut a long blog mercifully short this ain't bad this. But not special.

*And if I am right this shouldn't be the reason for the production team to do stuff in the future because that way lies the Whizzkid.

Sunday, June 22, 2014


Hide has some rather good bits, a bit of average and a bit of hmmm about it. In fact for about thirty minutes it is spectacularly good: atmospheric, well-acted and occasionally terrifying. Then we discover what the 'ghost' is, which is clever but a little dull. Then we get a bit tacked on at the end that is nice in its sentiment but rather silly.

Other good bits. A fine pair of performances from Dougray Scott as Professor Alex Palmer - a relation of Harry Palmer's perhaps - and Jessica Raine as Emma Grayling. Both characters have a little more depth than is sometimes the case in Doctor Who. Professor Palmer is a button-up and closed down incredibly modest war hero. The sort of man that might keep a Victoria Cross in his attic.

Actually before I go on brief moment of quibbling here. The Doctor's a bit glib at dropping in information about people in this story. He does it with Professor Palmer - and reveals to Emma that the Professor has been lying about his war service - and he does it later when he spits out a lot of information about Hila Turkurian (Kemi-Bo Jacobs). The Doctor gabbles a lot in this story. Perhaps it is because he's been more scared than usual. He's certainly less good at hiding it than usual here.

Anyway back to Dougray Scott and Jessica Raine. Whilst Professor Palmer is emotionally buttoned-up Emma Grayling is a psychic empath, which means she's able read people's feelings, which brings its own difficulties as the Doctor explains without realising the impact his little information dump is going to have on Emma. It takes Clara to stop him. So as well as gabbling in this story the Doctor does his fair share of babbling too.

Both Scott and Raine give excellent performances and their strength helps pull the story through its less impressive final fifteen minutes.

At points during the first half-an-hour this story is genuinely quite scary and atmospheric. It seems to have picked up hints from both The Stone Tapes and The Omega Factor in terms of how to do haunted house stories. I love the hints of things in the dark.

I should also point out that once again I like the fact that Clara is actually genuinely quite scared at points throughout this story. Barry Letts once said that key to Elizabeth Sladen's performance was her ability to act scared and brave at the same time and Jenna Coleman has this knack too, which makes her a highly likable companion.

Part of this story's purpose is to remind us of the mystery of Clara's situation. The TARDIS doesn't seem to like her very much for mysterious reasons, although the TARDIS does do the right thing in the end. The Doctor also had his own hidden reasons for bringing Clara here. He wanted to run her past Emma Grayling. However that doesn't reveal anything much to us. She is, Emma insists, an ordinary woman. To the Doctor though she's the great mystery to be solved. Anyway whatever she is Jenna Coleman is pretty good.

Matt Smith's good in this even allowing for the excess babbling. There's a couple of lovely scenes : one with Dougray Scott in the dark room where Professor Palmer's reasons for wanting to go ghost hunting are explained and one in the TARDIS with Clara when they're talking about how the Doctor sees people.

The problem is it all becomes a bit dull once the ghost is explained. Then there's the secondary monsters. These are brilliant handled and their movements are creepy and strange. The only mistake is to show it close up when its more obvious costume nature is a tad obvious. It doesn't happen often in New Doctor Who so it is more noticeable when it does.

So it isn't a bad story this but the final few minutes don't quite live up to the brilliantly atmospheric first half an hour.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Cold War

Cold War is a lovely new Doctor Who tribute to Patrick Troughton's era of Doctor Who. It's got a 'base under seige', it's got an Ice Warrior and it's got HADS (last seen in The Krotons is my battered memory serves.)

We find ourselves on board a Russian submarine. It's 1983. The Cold War is on. [D'oh] Mankind edges close to it's own mutually assured destruction. It's a tense time. And as Stepashin demonstrates this is a Cold War with hotheads on both sides.

It's an interesting choice to make it a Russian submarine and not a US or UK submarine. It adds a certain amount of tension that might not have been there in those circumstances. It also makes us - and how intentional this is I don't know - that we are all humans. We've all got families. We're all afraid. It asks us to be sympathetic to a group of poor Russian submariners who get bumped off rather unpleasantly, particular the poor two crew members who get diced and sliced to help Skaldak 'understand' humans. It's a nice touch by Mark Gattiss. This is a far better attempt at showing the horror of battle and war than Victory of the Daleks, because it is far more subtle.

It also rattles along at a hell of a pace, even with a few slower scenes in there to allow us to take a breath. The action starts from post-credits and doesn't really stop. There are however a couple of fine slow moments. All of which involve Clara.

One of which is unusual in Doctor Who. It starts when they find the - off-screen mutilated bodies - of the two Russian crewmen. Clara's reaction is genuine shock and then afterwards she has a conversation with Professor Grisenko - played by the legend that is David Warner - about how what she's just seen makes her realise that this just got 'real'. It's very rare for Doctor Who to acknowledge the horror of what a companion sees and how it might effect them. It's not dwelt on for long obviously because we can't have Doctor Who getting 'too real'. Let's face it lots of people die in the Doctor Who universe. In a myriad of different horrible ways. They die individually. They die in millions. They die on screen. They die off screen. The good guys die. The bad guys die. Death is ever present in Doctor Who but rarely to we actually dwell on it because lets face it if we did then the whole Doctor thing would be a lot less fun and the series incredibly bleak. [This subject has been on my mind today as I'm listening to the audiobook of The Greatest Show in the Galaxy and am reminded of how utterly bleak Bellboy's death is in that story. Possibly the bleakest moment in the whole history of Doctor Who]

Anyway enough about death.

The Ice Warrior looks fab. They've tweaked the design a bit but it is pretty faithful to the original design. And it looks massive and genuinely rather terrifying and unstoppable. I do have a quibble with the creature inside it. It just lacks the same kind of imaginative oomph that the external design does. It's a sort of Pensioner Ninja Turtle merged with the fingers and hands of a Martian from the 50s film version of War of the Worlds, which may or may not be deliberate. They're both Martians after all.

The Ice Warrior's are one of those old-school Doctor Who monsters that have a culture. It's more hinted at in the television series than explored but both Big Finish and The New Adventures Novels explored things in more details. They've been under-used throughout really and Steven Moffat wasn't a big fan because he saw their slow, heavy breathing lumbering ways as the perfect bad monster to translate into the modern era. Mark Gattiss apparently sold him on them with this story. It should be noticed that Skaldak's voice was far less hissy, which helped with clarity. It is, of course, provided by Nicholas Briggs.

Skaldak's given a bit of character beyond just the big bad guy. He's woken up having slept for 5000 years. He thinks his race is gone. He misses his warrior daughter and their Songs of the Red Snow - if I've remembered that right - which gives Clara a chance to reach him by singing. Quietly. In fact, with the exception of Clara's singing moment, the final confrontation between Skaldak and the Doctor reminded me of the final confrontation between The Seventh Doctor and Morgaine in Battlefield as the Doctor tries to convince an alien menace of the dangers of releasing a single nuclear weapon. Whisper it but I think the Battlefield scene is done better.

Matt Smith's good in this but Jenna Coleman really shines. It's nice to see a companion who is genuinely scared and worried about what she is caught up in. The rest of the cast are also excellent Liam Cunningham does stolid bearded work well. David Warner plays the eccentric Professor Grisenko with style and his scene where he tries to distract Clara from everything that is going on around her is lovely.

So whilst it isn't the best Doctor Who story ever made it does a fine job of being both entertaining and a rather wonderful throwback to the Troughton era. A Classic Doctor Who story in New Who clothing. Even down to the return to (sometimes obvious) model work whenever we see the outside of the submarine sitting on the rocky sea bed. I like it.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Rings of Akhatan

Ah, The Rings of Akhatan. I really should dislike this story intensely. It's packed full of sentiment, it has a child actor at its centre and it features singing. A lot of singing. That sort of thing normally annoys me intensely. Especially in Doctor Who.

But I love The Rings of Akhatan and I'm not entirely sure why. Which I suppose makes this a pointless blog in many respects.

Let's start with the easy stuff: Matt Smith and Jenna Coleman. I love Matt Smith's Doctor. The way he manages to be both childish and grown-up at the same time is utterly magnificent. Then there's the way he can jump from frivolity to seriousness in the blink of an eye. He's funny peculiar and funny ha ha. It's rather brilliant. People talk a lot about the brilliance of the speech to the big starry parasite thing aka Grandfather and I do like that. It's nicely delivered. (And there's a nice version of Colin Baker doing the Sixth Doctor doing the same speech, which you can find here) But I also like the moments before that when Clara and he are discussing what to do. The 'I've seen bigger' bit. F'narr, F'narr.*

So Matt Smith brilliance. Tick.

Then there's Jenna Coleman. She's hit the ground running. To me there's a real chemistry between her and Matt Smith - or should that be Clara and the Doctor. Whatever. In this story she gets to be brave, kind and slightly magnificent. Her moment in the sun follows Matt Smith's speech. I'm going to call it the 'leaf speech'. It's that bit I like the most. After Matt's Doctor moment comes something even better. And nice moving speech about the infinite possibilities of those lost days and lost opportunities. The things we might have been and could have been but never got the chance to be.

To me this story, written by Neil Cross (No relation), has lots of nice moments in it like that. The Doctor's speech to Merry (Emilia Jones) about her uniqueness - "All the elements in your body were forged many, many millions of years ago, in the heart of a faraway star that exploded and died...Until, eventually they came together to make you. You are unique in the universe." - and how our soul is the stories we are made up of. A line that echoes something the Doctor says to Amy in The Big Bang : "We're all just stories in the end." This is no fairy tale. Part of me feels this story is about what makes us who we are. Our souls. Our memories. Our potential. Our responsibilities. Because in the end this story is also about doing the right thing, even if we are afraid. It's about standing up to be counted, even when the odds are against us. It's a very Doctor Whoey Doctor Who story.

Also that line about "You are unique in the universe" is a nice little juxtaposition with Clara's story. Because as far as we can tell she isn't unique in the universe and neither we nor the Doctor know why. As far as he can tell, from his pre-credit, stalking Clara is just a normal woman but something isn't quite right. Obviously that means another function of this story is for us to get to know a little more about Clara and for her to get to see what travelling with the Doctor is actually like. Welcome Clara to the strange, strange universe of Doctor Who. It's just possible the real Universe is as strange of course but I'm unlikely to find out.

So there's lots of reasons to like this story.

The singing doesn't bother me. It's part of the plot for heaven's sake. It's not the gratuitous and random singing of chart singles for the sake of it. There's a reason for it. And when Merry starts singing again towards the end it is her attempt to help the Doctor. If you want to be pretentious - and I do quite like a bit of pretension here and there - you can call it a metaphor for our profound interconnection in a complex universe. I wouldn't try and get away with that too often though. People may laugh.

Emilia Jones is also a child actress who isn't incredibly irritating. Unlike say that small child in Dragonfire or the children...ah...I'm getting ahead of myself. She's got a lot to do in this story does Emilia and I think she does it well.

Now talking of Dragonfire, if you want to see how much Doctor Who has changed then compare the under-budgeted, over-lit, under-populated cafe/bar scene where Ace gets introduced with the alien marketplace that we see here. Imagine what Dragonfire would look like now. We forget sometimes quite how far we've come as watchers of Doctor Who. It's nice to be reminded occasionally.

So there you have it. Hopefully I've explained a little why I like this story, which seems - from the DWM poll recently published - to be slightly unloved.

Give it another go. I hope you'll enjoy it a little more.

*For my foreign/younger readers 'F'narr, F'narr' is a sound made by Finbarr Saunders in Viz's fantastic comic strip: Finbar Saunders and His Double Entendres. I recommend its use whenever you hear a double entendre being used. At least until people start begging you to stop.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Bells of Saint John

Clara 'Oswin' Oswald must be the most introduced companion in Doctor Who history. First she pops up in Asylum of the Daleks then in The Snowmen and once more here, in The Bells of Saint John. The Doctor doesn't seem to be having a problem with goodbyes at the moment but he is struggling a bit with hello.

Anyway The Bells of Saint John is a reasonable start to the second part of Series 7. It re-introduces Clara and this time she appears to be about to actually come on board the TARDIS in order for the Doctor to solve the problem that she appears to represent; it sets up the return of a returning villain and lets Steven Moffat make jokes about Twitter. It also features one of my all time favourite creepy moments in Doctor Who, but we'll come on to that.

The only problem is that because its main function is to get the Clara story rolling along - again - the actual adventure itself feels a little inconsequential. The Doctor seems to knock off the enemy in an afternoon. He almost doesn't have to break sweat, which is slightly annoying because I love the idea of 'something in the internet' : a World Wide Web of Fear if you will. And yet it almost seems thrown away here.

Now I often don't like Steven Moffat's ideas about who the Doctor is or how he should behave. Or his ideas about what constitutes a good companion in Doctor Who but I am beginning to admire his craftsmanship. The way he allows us to take a breath in the middle of a manic romp so that we have time to gather our thoughts before the next rush is admirable. Sometimes he gets a bit carried away and the rush overwhelms the story so that you find yourself at the end thinking, "Well, that was good but I'm sure there's something wrong there somewhere." Then you pick holes in the thing until all you have is holes. But when he gets it right, he gets it right.

And The Bells of Saint John gets it mostly right. It just feels a little throwaway.

There's a wonderful performance from Celia Imrie as Miss Kizlet - also a favourite in Patient Centurion Towers anyway since Acorn Antiques. Plus she appears in one of my favourite films of all time Heartlands, which stars Michael Sheen and I heartily recommend - which ends with that creepy moment I mentioned earlier: her reduction to her original factory settings. The realisation that she's just a lost little girl is both sad and rather creepy. It's not often you end up feeling sorry for a villain, but then Steven Moffat does like shades of grey.

I'm not going to say too much about Matt Smith. There's only so many times I can say how much I like his performance, although I'm not sure I'm entirely comfortable with the Doctor being quite so 'touchy-feely' with women he doesn't know. I know the whole 'Clara thang' means that the Doctor feels that he has a mystery to solve but - just occasionally - the Doctor seems to behave like an intergalactic stalker. I mean does the Doctor strike you as the sort of person who would go off to a Medieval monastery to paint pictures of Clara and contemplate what she means by her last words? The Doctor's an 'on his feet' thinker not the contemplative sort. After all that's why he left Gallifrey in the first place. This is a point I may come back to. Or not. Let's see how my whimsy takes me.

I do like Jenna Coleman though. Two (and a tad) stories in and her performance has won me over in a way that Karen Gillan's Amy didn't initially. [I grew to really like her and Amy in the end. It just took a bit of time to warm to her.]  She's got energy and a certain sparkiness, which combined with her timing makes her rather interesting to watch. Yes, on the base level she's another pretty female companion that is part of a problem for the Doctor to solve but if you're going to do that as your cliche de jour then best get an actress that's can make that character interesting. Still early days yet. I may change my mind. It happens. More often than you'd think based on my ranting.

The Spoonheads are a nice little thing too, although I'm never quite sure why neither Clara nor Miss Kizlet run away from the thing when it tries to download them. Perhaps you can't but it does seem a bit odd. The scene in the cafe in particular with Clara just feels wrong. Maybe it is just me but as soon as I realised that the Spoonhead was a Spoonhead I'd be on my feet and away as fast as possible. I know I'm a coward but would you really just sit there and stare?

Love the Motorbike. Especially up the Shard. That's the sort of moment that people always think is rather silly but I always think of as being the sort of thing you can only do in Doctor Who and get away with it. There's not many other series that could - or would - try that sort of thing. Of course I have a high tolerence for the 'silly' in Doctor Who, which would probably not endear me to Christoper H. Bidmead but you can't have everything.

So that's pretty much it. The Bells of Saint John was a fun piece of Doctor Who fluff. It's entertaining, a little silly and gets the job of re-re-introducing Clara to the audience. Let's see how that goes shall we?

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Snowmen

Just as I was about to watch The Snowmen I realised that I hadn't actually watched it before. Bizarre. That makes this a landmark. It's the last Doctor Who episode - before the Capaldi - that I have never seen or heard. Obviously I'm too young to have seen the Missing Episodes. So woo-hoo.

Anyway that was rather fabulous. Mostly. It probably ties with A Christmas Carol as my favourite Christmas special so far.

We finally get to meet Clara. For a bit. She seems to have issues with dying of a similar nature to Rory. From Asylum of the Daleks we know that there is something odd about Clara. Something mysterious. As an audience we're allowed to be ahead of the Doctor on this. We know this is Clara because we've seen what she looks like. Although why it takes the Doctor so long to pick up on her voice sounding exactly the same as Owin's is rather odd.* But I'm putting it down to the Doctor being a little rusty after a prolonged post-Amy and Rory sulk.

There's no surprise that the Doctor has retreated to a cloud in a sulk. The first part of Series 7 - and the latter part of Series 6 - seemed to have been calculated to make the Doctor feel incredibly guilty. So he's changed his outfit to something darker, something Dickensian and gone for a long sulk. The Paternoster Gang - Jenny, Madam Vastra and Strax - have been keeping an eye on him and tried desperately to get him to cheer up but so far they've failed.

It takes Clara to do that.

Now I'm an old-fashioned Doctor Who fan and another companion with wrapped in a mystery is initially going to get me a bit antsy. I'm longing for a companion without baggage but if you're going to make the woman mysterious then making her interesting helps. It's early days for Clara so I'm not going to comment too much but I like the cut of Jenna Coleman's jib. She's got good comic timing, which I like. She also gives Clara a bit of spirit. (I refuse to use the word feisty. It has become something of a New Doctor Who cliche.) She's got the companion qualities of dangerous curiosity and selective hearing so is ideally placed to get herself into trouble. Let's see how this all pans out shall we. Even if it'll be a different Clara. Or the same one. Who kno...sorry, I said I wouldn't do that again.

Another good thing in this story is Richard E. Grant as Dr. Simeon. The main face of the enemy. His delivery is suitable cold and he's blessed with a face of such angularity that you'd cut yourself on the sneer. The voice of the enemy is Sir Ian McKellan. Mostly.

It's interesting that the end of this story sees the Doctor helping to birth an enemy that he has already fought and defeated twice. A long time ago. He also - for reasons I haven't quite worked out - give that enemy a tip on a strategic weakness that will lead to trouble for his earlier self. Good old Steven Moffat. He can never avoid a bit of timey-wimeyness if given the opportunity. I'm not sure why the Doctor doesn't recognize the name of the enemy he creates at the end. I'm not sure whether we will get an explanation or not at some future point. I'm not even sure if it is important. I'm being a little vague about who the enemy is just in case - like me - you've not actually seen the episode. Although why you would read a blog about a story you haven't seen slightly baffles me. If that's what you're doing go away and watch it now. Then come back to me.

It seemed to zip along at a heck of a pace, even when we stopped briefly for breath a couple of times. There's a nice scene in the TARDIS between the Doctor and Clara. Clara's dialogue here seems designed to show how different she is from previous companions. She doesn't say the usual thing on entering the TARDIS for example. And she's quick on the uptake. Very quick.

Matt Smith's excellent in this. The way he goes from the grumpy and sulky Doctor in the beginning of the story and is gradually re-born is wonderfully handled. There's a nice little moment when on seeing himself in the mirror he realises that he's still put on the bow tie. It's a signal to himself that he's still the Eleventh Doctor and that he isn't quite as lost as he thought.

Kudos to Neve McIntosh, Catrin Stewart and Dan Starkey for their usually high standards of work as the Paternoster gang. We get to learn a little more about Madame Vastra and Jenny's living arrangements, which is nice. Dan Starkey's Strax is great. The Sontaran Butler with a penchant for a violent solution to any difficulty. The problem now of course is that you're in danger of being unable to have the Sontaran's return as out-and-out villains if you keep playing them for laughs, which seems the waste of a good enemy if you ask me. Which you didn't.

I would quibble about the kiss, which seems almost gratuitous, but I won't because I genuinely ain't that bothered. New companions kiss the Doctor now. It's a thing. I'll get used to it in the end I'm sure. I will quibble about casting an actor like Tom Ward and giving him next to bugger all to do.

Ironically I almost forgot the Snowmen. I liked the idea of man-eating Snow(men) but after our pre-credit sequence they didn't really do much except pop up here and there and look snarly. The same thing goes for the Ice Governess. Impressive to look at. Quite scary in her way but underused.

However let's face it this story was all about getting the Doctor back up and running after a difficult time, introducing the mystery that is Clara Oswin Oswald and saying hello to an old enemy. Everything else was mere decoration.

Loved it.

*This comment of the Doctor's about her voice makes the issue of why Clara's voice was human over the microphone in Asylum of the Daleks but Dalek when she was in front of him. I'm sure Steven Moffat has an explanation. Actually I'm not sure he does but it probably isn't that important so I should stop worrying about it.