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.