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Doctor Who: The Day of the Doctor (Review)

Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one.

– Clara sums up the Moffat era in a nutshell

The Day of the Doctor was a suitable anniversary celebration for Doctor Who, feeling like Moffat had borrowed more from The Three Doctors than The Five Doctors in piecing it together, allowing for multi-Doctor interaction grafted over a fairly generic Pertwee-era alien invasion tale. (“Not now!” the Eleventh Doctor protests as the multi-Doctor tale intrudes on his paintings mystery. “I’m busy!”) In terms of scale and spectacle, The Day of the Doctor falls a little bit short. While it looks lavish and clearly had more than a little bit of money thrown at it, the episode lacks a strong central narrative thread.

Instead, it serves as a meditation on who the Doctor is and what that means in the grand scheme of things – looking at the tapestry of his life and character, and trying to reconcile everything that the show was and ever could be. It’s the story of the War Doctor in the Time War, of the death of the classic show and the birth of the new, suggesting that the rift left by the cancellation can finally be healed, that the bridge can be crossed and that wounds might finally be closed.

Well, most of them, anyway.

doctorwho-thedayofthedoctor11

The Three Doctors…

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Doctor Who: Time Crash (Review)

To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the longest-running science-fiction show in the world, I’ll be taking weekly looks at some of my own personal favourite stories and arcs, from the old and new series, with a view to encapsulating the sublime, the clever and the fiendishly odd of the BBC’s Doctor Who.

Time Crash originally aired in 2007.

To days to come.

All my love to long ago.

– the Fifth and Tenth Doctors look backwards and forwards

There is a strange school of thought about the revived Doctor Who, populated by a very vocal minority of fans, who insist that the new series hasn’t been paying nearly enough attention to what came before – that it’s really the show “in name only” or whatever extremist rhetoric you want to use. These are the fans who refuse to be satisfied with The Day of the Doctor because it’s not “The Eleven Doctors”, without having actually seen the anniversary special.

These are fans who are heartbroken that the show hasn’t found time to show Paul McGann regenerating into Christopher Eccleston, or who object to the destruction of Gallifrey or the re-working of monsters with messy back stories like the Cybermen in order to make them more accessible to modern audiences. It’s worth stressing that this viewpoint is very much in the minority, but it exists. Any journey into on-line forums or discussions about the show will inevitably trip across this particular viewpoint.

Of course, that’s complete nonsense. Even if it was ambiguous beforehand, Time Crash exists as nothing short a love letter to a very particular past era of the show.

More than just a tip of the hat...

More than just a tip of the hat…

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Doctor Who: Blood of the Daleks (Review)

To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the longest-running science-fiction show in the world, I’ll be taking weekly looks at some of my own personal favourite stories and arcs, from the old and new series, with a view to encapsulating the sublime, the clever and the fiendishly odd of the BBC’s Doctor Who.

Blood of the Daleks originally broadcast in 2006-2007.

Blood of the Daleks is an interesting piece of Doctor Who lore. It isn’t the first of Paul McGann’s audio adventures in the role of the Doctor. While McGann wasn’t the first of the performers to work with Big Finish, he recorded his first performance in 2001, half a decade before he recorded Blood of the Daleks. He’d gone through years of audio adventures and even a couple of companions before Blood of the Daleks.

Paul McGann been working on the character since before Russell T. Davies had had a chance to structure and plan the revival, and he has been a fixture of the line throughout the tenures of Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant and Matt Smith in the role. However, Blood of the Daleks marks something of a big moment for the character, a definite step forward for his version of the character, and a bold endorsement of his interpretation by the BBC.

Blood of the Daleks didn’t debut on audio CDs in collectible shops. It broadcast on BBC7, less than a week following the broadcast of The Runaway Bride.

doctorwho-bloodofthedaleks

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Doctor Who – School Reunion (Review)

To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the longest-running science-fiction show in the world, I’ll be taking weekly looks at some of my own personal favourite stories and arcs, from the old and new series, with a view to encapsulating the sublime, the clever and the fiendishly odd of the BBC’s Doctor Who.

School Reunion originally aired in 2006.

You can tell you’re getting older. Your assistants are getting younger.

– Sarah Jane to the Doctor

Coming at the start of the revived show’s second season, School Reunion changed the way that the show related to its long and complex history, explicitly confirming what had been implied at least as early as Dalek and Aliens of London, that this was indeed the same Doctor who had had all of those adventures for all those years on British television. Bringing back the iconic pepper pots was one thing, as was name-dropping the paramilitary outfit from early in the original show’s run.

However, bringing back the most fondly remembered companion of the classic television show and affirming that she had travelled with this man for several years provides a firm anchor to the past. Looking back now, it’s hard to appreciate how dramatic a shift this was, and just what it represented. However, it’s hard to imagine that Doctor Who could get to the point where the Doctor could recruit a Silurian detective and her Sontaran butler in Victorian England without School Reunion.

It changed the game.

(Anthony Stewart) Head master...

(Anthony Stewart) Head master…

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Doctor Who: Smith & Jones (Review)

To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the longest-running science-fiction show in the world, I’ll be taking weekly looks at some of my own personal favourite stories and arcs, from the old and new series, with a view to encapsulating the sublime, the clever and the fiendishly odd of the BBC’s Doctor Who.

Smith & Jones originally aired in 2007.

It’s only roentgen radiation. We used to play with roentgen bricks in the nursery. It’s safe for you to come out. I’ve absorbed it all. All I need to do is expel it. If I concentrate I can shake the radiation out of my body and into one spot. It’s in my left shoe. Here we go, here we go. Easy does it. Out, out, out, out, out. Out, out. Ah, ah, ah, ah! It is, it is, it is, it is, it is hot. Hold on.

Done.

You’re completely mad.

You’re right. I look daft with one shoe.

– the Doctor and Martha get off to a good start

I’d argue that Smith & Jones is Russell T. Davies’ most successful season-opener of Doctor Who. By its third year, Davies had firmly established the format of the show, to the point where he could successfully lose both of his leading actors. Christopher Eccleston had been replaced by David Tennant at the end of the first season, and Billy Piper had departed at the end of the second. Davies had demonstrated that the series could survive a cast rotation like that, and there’s a sense of looseness about Smith & Jones that suggests the show has really found its comfort zone.

The reason that Smith & Jones works so very well is not that it has an abundance of ambition. Its goal is relatively modest: to tell an enjoyable modern day adventure while introducing a new companion to the show. The beauty is in the execution. Smith & Jones races along, barely pausing to catch its breath, relying on Tennant’s abundant charisma, a constant flow of clever high concepts and a charming new companion to carry it through.

It works surprisingly well.

Standing in the Earthlight...

Standing in the Earthlight…

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Doctor Who: Logopolis (Review)

To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the longest-running science-fiction show in the world, I’ll be taking weekly looks at some of my own personal favourite stories and arcs, from the old and new series, with a view to encapsulating the sublime, the clever and the fiendishly odd of the BBC’s Doctor Who.

Logopolis originally aired in 1981. It was the second instalment in the “Master” trilogy.

It’s the end… but the moment has been prepared for.

– the Doctor finally figures out what this year has been about

I don’t think the departure of a Doctor has even been a bigger deal than it was with Tom Baker. Sure, Christopher Eccleston’s first season was so fixated on death that his departure seemed preordained, even in the episodes written before his decision to leave. Similarly, Peter Davison’s final year seems designed to demonstrate that the universe is no longer suited to this particular iteration of the Doctor. Maybe David Tennant’s final year is focused on his passing, but the episodes are so spaced out that it makes little difference. However, we’ve just spent an entire year focused on the idea of entropy and decay, the inevitably of change and the notion that death is just a nature part of the cycle of things.

When the Doctor assures his companions that “the moment has been prepared for”, he may as well be looking at the camera, assuring those of us at home that the past year has been spent readying them for the unthinkable: the time when Tom Baker might not be the Doctor.

Final destination?

Final destination?

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Doctor Who: Dalek (Review)

To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the longest-running science-fiction show in the world, I’ll be taking weekly looks at some of my own personal favourite stories and arcs, from the old and new series, with a view to encapsulating the sublime, the clever and the fiendishly odd of the BBC’s Doctor Who.

Dalek originally aired in 2005.

I’m sorry. I’m so sorry! I swear, I just wanted you to talk!

Then hear me talk now. Exterminate! Exterminate! Exterminate!

– Van Statten and the Dalek

Dalek is a pretty effective reintroduction of the show’s most iconic villain. It’s also something of a tour de force for lead actor Christopher Eccleston and Dalek vocal performer Nicholas Briggs. It’s full of interesting ideas, and perhaps the biggest swipe the show would make at “superfans” this side of Love & Monsters. That said, Rob Shearman’s script is occasionally a bit clumsy in its execution, never quite managing to convince the audience that the Doctor might be turning into a Dalek, no matter how firmly it labours to point. Still, minor quibble aside, it’s a wonderful way of welcoming the Daleks back to the fold.

The loneliest Dalek...

The loneliest Dalek…

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Doctor Who: Utopia (Review)

To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the longest-running science-fiction show in the world, I’ll be taking weekly looks at some of my own personal favourite stories and arcs, from the old and new series, with a view to encapsulating the sublime, the clever and the fiendishly odd of the BBC’s Doctor Who.

Utopia originally aired in 2007.

Ooo, new voice. Hello, hello. Hello. Anyway, why don’t we stop and have a nice little chat while I tell you all my plans and you can work out a way to stop me, I don’t think.

Hold on. I know that voice.

I’m asking you really properly. Just stop. Just think!

Use my name.

Master. I’m sorry.

Tough!

– the Master, Martha and the Doctor welcome a new old face back

It’s very hard to talk about Utopia without seguing into talking about The Sound of Drums or The Last of the Time Lords. Certainly the third season finalé is the most ambitious of Russell T. Davies’ end-of-season adventures. It’s a three-part adventure, the equivalent to one of those classic gigantic six-part serials. If you accept that logic, it breaks down neatly into the old two-parter-and-four-parter format that the writers used to use to prevent an extended story from dragging too much.

Utopia, of course, serves the function of the two-parter in this classic structure – the smaller chunk of the episode with its own plot points and characters and settings, but with very definite connections to the rest of the adventure. However, I’d argue that Utopia is a lot more successful than either of the two episodes following, and a lot of that stems from the fact that it devotes a considerable amount of time to quietly setting up plot points and characters that will pay off down the line.

It’s also a powerful subversion of the fundamental ethos of Doctor Who, which makes it particularly effective as we head into two episodes where the Master hijacks not only the TARDIS but the show itself.

No time like the end of the universe...

No time like the end of the universe…

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Doctor Who: The Parting of the Ways (Review)

To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the longest-running science-fiction show in the world, I’ll be taking weekly looks at some of my own personal favourite stories and arcs, from the old and new series, with a view to encapsulating the sublime, the clever and the fiendishly odd of the BBC’s Doctor Who.

The Parting of the Ways originally aired in 2005.

Everything must come to dust. All things. Everything dies. The Time War ends.

– Rose

And so the first season of Russell T. Davies’ revived Doctor Who comes to a close. If you asked me, it’s the best season of the show that Davies has produced. The year contains a few clunkers, and it doesn’t contain the highest concentration of enjoyable episodes, but I think the first year has a much clearer direction and purpose than any of the years that followed. Although apparently Christopher Eccleston’s departure was only decided after the show went into production, the first season seems like it is constantly building to the death of the Doctor. The entire first season seems to build, logically and rationally, towards that moment.

He's not all there...

He’s not all there…

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Doctor Who: Bad Wolf (Review)

To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the longest-running science-fiction show in the world, I’ll be taking weekly looks at some of my own personal favourite stories and arcs, from the old and new series, with a view to encapsulating the sublime, the clever and the fiendishly odd of the BBC’s Doctor Who.

Bad Wolf originally aired in 2005.

The Dalek stratagem nears completion. The fleet is almost ready. You will not intervene.

Oh, really? Why’s that, then?

We have your associate. You will obey or she will be exterminated.

No.

Explain yourself.

I said no.

What is the meaning of this negative?

It means no.

But she will be destroyed.

No! Because this is what I’m going to do. I’m going to rescue her. I’m going to save Rose Tyler from the middle of the Dalek fleet and then I’m going to save the Earth, and then, just to finish off, I’m going to wipe every last stinking Dalek out of the sky!

But you have no weapons, no defences, no plan.

Yeah. And doesn’t that scare you to death. Rose?

Yes, Doctor?

I’m coming to get you.

– the Daleks, the Doctor and Rose give the Ninth Doctor perhaps his best moment

Looking back at the first season, I’d argue that it’s the most cohesive run of episodes that Russell T. Davies produced on the dhow. Now because of the whole “bad wolf” thing, as that feels a bit like a clumsy link randomly inserted. Instead, as we watch the final episode, it becomes quite clear what Davies was trying to do with his first year on the show. The patterns, the themes, the subtext, the references – it all becomes quite clear. More than any other season of Davies’ tenure, the first season is really one gigantic story – and not just because the show never leaves Earth or the finalé returns to the setting of The Long Game.

The first season is a bridge. It’s a link between the last years of the classic series into the new and revived show as written by Davies. It’s a moment to gather up the dead, tidy away the loose ends and basically manage the stage so that the show can really come into its own. One of the things I loved about Davies’ Doctor Who was how accessible it all was, but it still had all this continuity ticking away in the background.

This first season finalé feels like it isn’t only a conclusion to Christopher Eccleston’s time in the lead role, it’s also closing the last of the dangling threads from the eras of Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy in the eighties. As soon as David Tennant steps into the lead role, it seems the show is entirely and utterly free of everything that came before. It’s a testament to Davies’ skill that we’re not even sure that he’s doing it.

Come with me if you want to live...

Come with me if you want to live…

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