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Doctor Who: Into the Dalek (Review)

Fantastic idea for a movie. Terrible idea for a proctologist.

– the Doctor’s ten-word review of Fantastic Voyage

If you’re looking for a writer to collaborate with on a “dark Doctor” story, it would seem that Phil Ford is your man. Phil Ford collaborated with showrunner Russell T. Davies on Waters of Mars, the penultimate story of David Tennant’s tenure. Here, he finds himself writing with showrunner Stephen Moffat on the second story of Peter Capaldi’s tenure. So he also does symmetry where Scottish Doctors are involved. That’s a pretty solid niche, as far as Doctor Who script-writing goes.

Both Waters of Mars and Into the Dalek are stories that serve to problematise the Doctor; but each does it to a different purpose. Waters of Mars was positioned as the second-to-last story of the Davies era. It serves as the point where the Tenth Doctor’s hubris reaches massive proportions and explodes. It serves, in a way, as the justification for his departure in The End of Time. In contrast, Into the Dalek serves to solidify a character arc that was hinted at in Deep Breath, the Twelfth Doctor’s existential crisis.

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Into the Dalek is the source of the much-hyped exchange between Clara and the Doctor about the latter’s nature as a Steven Moffat protagonist. “Clara, be my pal and tell me: am I good man?” the Doctor asks. The best that Clara can manage is, “I don’t know.” The Doctor responds, “Neither do I.” This isn’t the first time that the show has dared to present a morally ambiguous lead character. Colin Baker’s infamous Sixth Doctor comes to mind, but Christopher Eccleston’s Ninth Doctor was arguably a more successful attempt to give the audience an ambiguous Doctor.

As such, Into the Dalek cannot help but invite comparisons to Eccleston’s morally charged confrontation a broken Dalek in Dalek. Sadly, it’s not a comparison that does Into the Dalek any favours.

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Doctor Who: The Next Doctor (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 Next Doctor originally aired in 2008.

Oh, goodness me. Well. But this is… but this is nonsense.

Well, that’s one word for it.

Complete and utter, wonderful nonsense. How very, very silly.

– Jackson Lake and the Doctor

The Next Doctor actually has a pretty audacious concept. It’s one gigantic tease that plays off the audience’s media savvy. Airing after David Tennant’s departure from the role had been announced, but before Matt Smith had been named as Tennant’s successor, The Next Doctor is one gigantic tease. Like the surprise “regeneration” at the climax of The Stolen Earth, it’s a shrewd attempt to turn the audience’s expectations against themselves.

After all, the gap between an announced departure of an existing lead and the point where he actually leaves is rife for experimentation – particularly in a show about time travel. Up until The Next Doctor actually aired, it was quite possible that David Morrissey was Tennant’s successor, and The Next Doctor was a rather clever twist on the classic “multi-Doctor” story by having the Doctor team up with his future self.

Of course, as with The Doctor’s Daughter, Davies was just teasing. It’s to Davies’ credit that The Next Doctor remains interesting even after the illusion begins to slip. The first half is actually a wonderfully solid mystery and character study, albeit one that descends into confusion and chaos in the second half of the episode.

The Next Doctor...?

The Next Doctor…?

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Doctor Who: Born Again (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.

Born Again originally aired in 2005.

Can you change back?

Do you want me to?

Yeah.

Oh.

Can you?

No.

– Rose and Doctor

Davies revived Doctor Who devoted considerable time to reintroducing the core concepts of the series. Unlike The TV Movie, Davies saw no need to over-complicate Rose by featuring the regeneration from the previous Doctor to the current lead. The Ninth Doctor was introduced as-is to an entire generation of new viewers. Only a quick examination of his features in Rose seemed to hint that he was getting used to his new face.

The prospect of “regeneration” hadn’t been flagged too heavily by the time The Parting of the Ways aired. This makes sense. For one thing, there’s a sense that Eccleston’s departure was not something that the production team had accounted for – which makes it even stranger that the whole first season seems to be building towards his redemption in death. For another thing, it’s very hard to drop “by the way, I change into somebody else when I die” casually into conversation.

So the regeneration at the end of The Parting of the Ways was kind of a big deal, and a huge moment for the series. After all, the classic Doctor Who had enjoyed more than three seasons with its lead character before having to swap him out – Hartnell being the last member of the original ensemble to depart. And, given the rules of television narratives in 2005, there was no way that the show’s first regeneration wasn’t going to be a pretty significant event.

Somebody needs a Doctor...

Somebody needs a Doctor…

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Doctor Who: Battlefield – Special Edition (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.

Battlefield originally aired in 1989.

Pitiful. Can this world do no better than you as their champion?

Probably. I just do the best I can.

– the Destroyer gets to know the Brigadier

Battlefield gets a bit of a bum rap as the weakest story in the final season of the classic Doctor Who. This isn’t entirely fair. Battlefield is a well-produced and thoughtful piece of Doctor Who, it just happens to be inferior to The Curse of Fenric, Ghost Light and Survival; it’s hardly the most damning indictment possible. After all, Battlefield would arguably be treated as an unsung gem had it aired during Colin Baker’s time on the show.

In keeping with Ben Aaronovitch’s last season opener, Remembrance of the Daleks, Battlefield is preoccupied with the history of the show – of its legacy and the artifacts that it carries with it. Archeology is a key theme here, but juxtaposed against a near future setting and the clever conceit of the Doctor manipulating his own history. There’s a wealth of great material here, even if the production never quite lives up to the potential teased.

A beacon of light...

A beacon of light…

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Doctor Who: Gridlock (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.

Gridlock originally aired in 2007.

The sky’s a burnt orange, with the Citadel enclosed in a mighty glass dome, shining under the twin suns. Beyond that, the mountains go on forever. Slopes of deep red grass, capped with snow.

– the Doctor takes us to Gallifrey, for the first time in ages

Gridlock is the final (and best) of Davies’ “New Earth” trilogy, encompassing The End of the World and New Earth. The decision to focus the opening futuristic stories of the first three seasons around the same strand of “future history” is a very clever move, and perhaps an indication of how acutely aware Davies is of the way the modern television differs from television when the classic show aired. In short, it creates a pleasing sense of continuity between episodes that are very disconnected from the show’s main continuity.

This is far from the Powell Estate as you can get, and yet – three years in – it also feels strangely familiar.

The skyline's the limit...

The skyline’s the limit…

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Doctor Who: The Two Doctors (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 Two Doctors originally aired in 1985.

That is the smell of death, Peri. Ancient musk, heavy in the air.

– welcome to the Colin Baker era

The Two Doctors is an oddity. It’s the only story of the Nathan Turner era that runs over two hours, unless you choose to count The Trial of a Time Lord as a single story. It’s also the only “multi Doctor” story that wasn’t filmed on one of the show’s significant anniversaries. (Time Crash was, after all, filmed in the show’s forty-fifth year.) It’s also notable for the fact that it completely eschews the charmingly impish portrayal of the Second Doctor that fans have come to know and love over the course of reunion stories like The Three Doctors or The Five Doctors.

Indeed, The Two Doctors is almost the exact opposite of the show that you would expect it to be. The low opinion in which fans seem to hold the serial confirms that writer Robert Holmes has delivered a story that is markedly different from what those waiting for a team-up between Colin Baker and Patrick Troughton would have been expecting. Far from a nostalgia-packed love-in, The Two Doctors is written with Holmes’ trademark cynicism. This time the writer is directing that cynicism towards the show itself.

Patrick Troughton! In colour!

Patrick Troughton! In colour!

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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.

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