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Doctor Who: The Runaway Bride (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 Runaway Bride originally aired in 2006.

What, there’s like a secret base hidden underneath a major London landmark?

Oh, I know. Unheard of.

– Donna and the Doctor present Doctor Who 101

The Runaway Bride is really more indicative of a Davies-era Christmas Special than The Christmas Invasion was. The Christmas Invasion came with so much narrative baggage to unpack that it even spilt over into the Born Again scene that aired as part of Children in Need. While The Runaway Bride does have to deal with some of the fallout from Billie Piper’s departure in Doomsday, it’s a much more stand-alone piece of Doctor Who.

It’s a very light piece of television, but that’s really the ideal kind of Doctor Who to air as part of the BBC’s Christmas line-up.

He's fire and ice and rage...

He’s fire and ice and rage…

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Doctor Who: Turn Left (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.

Turn Left originally aired in 2008.

You said I was going to die, but you mean this whole world is going to blink out of existence. But that’s not dying, because a better world takes its place. The Doctor’s world. And I’m still alive. That’s right, isn’t it? I don’t die. If I change things, I don’t die. That’s that’s right, isn’t it?

– poor Donna… poor, poor Donna

The fourth season is basically one gigantic victory lap for Russell T. Davies’ Doctor Who. Davies has done the hard work of returning the show to television. He’s made the Daleks threatening. He’s rebooted the Cybermen. He’s made the Master sexy again. The fourth season is really just about enjoying the success of the show, and using that success to do crazy things like bringing back the Sontarans or Davros. Because nobody was clamouring for another Sontaran or Davros story.

That sense of celebration is probably most obvious in Turn Left, the penultimate story of the fourth season. It’s basically It’s a Wonderful Life, starring the Tenth Doctor. Or, to be more accurate, It’s a Wonderful Life for the new series of Doctor Who. It’s an excuse to celebrate a raft of continuity from The Runaway Bride through to The Sontaran Stratagem, to bring back Billie Piper and just to celebrate not only the wonder of Doctor Who, but the virtue of Davies’ approach to the series.

Everything goes up in smoke...

Everything goes up in smoke…

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Doctor Who: Forest of the Dead (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.

Forest of the Dead originally aired in 2008.

Everybody knows that everybody dies. But not every day. Not today. Some days are special. Some days are so, so blessed. Some days, nobody dies at all. Now and then, every once in a very long while, every day in a million days, when the wind stands fair, and the Doctor comes to call, everybody lives.

– River brings Moffat’s contributions to the Davies era a full circle

There’s actually quite a lot to like about Forest of the Dead. Like Silence in the Library, it doesn’t really push Moffat’s work on Doctor Who that much further. A lot of its big ideas can be found in Moffat’s earlier Doctor Who work. Still, it is quite clever and quite well-written, and a pretty well-constructed episode. This is, after all, the last episode of the Davies era that is not credited to Davies himself. Given it’s written by the showrunner elect, that celebratory feel is justified.

At the same time, however, there are some very uncomfortable gender roles at work in Forest of the Dead for female characters like Donna or River. Moffat would come under a lot of fire during his tenure producing Doctor Who for the way that he wrote female characters, but I’d actually argue that the problems with Forest of the Dead are more in keeping with wider Davies-era trends towards the way that female characters are written.

It just clicked...

It just clicked…

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Doctor Who: The Unicorn and the Wasp (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 Unicorn and the Wasp originally aired in 2008.

Oh, it’s you… I was just doing a little research… I say, what are you doing with that lead piping? But that’s impossible. Oh, no!

– Professor Peach discovers the point of crossover between Agatha Christie and Doctor Who

The Unicorn and the Wasp is the most fun episode of the fourth season, by a significant margin. It’s a high-concept high-energy run-around that has a great deal of fun playing with a genre mash-up, as the Doctor intrudes on an Agatha Christie mystery (starring Agatha Christie!) to create curious horror/sci-fi/mystery/class drama hybrid of an episode. It’s an episode that really benefits from the lighter tone of the fourth season. Despite some of the darkness creeping in at the edge of the frame, especially towards the final scenes, it’s an astonishingly light-hearted and playful episode.

In spite of Christie’s stern admonishings, it’s hard not to seize on the story with same glee as the Doctor does.

A sting in the tale...

A sting in the tale…

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Doctor Who: Planet of the Ood (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.

Planet of the Ood originally aired in 2008.

How many Ood in total?

I’d say about two thousand, sir.

We can write them off. That’s what insurance is for.

– Halpen and Kess remind us that these are not nice people

Planet of the Ood is a bit blunt. And by “a bit”, I mean “a lot.” It’s an allegorical exploration of unchecked capitalism and slavery, using the science-fiction setting to tell a story with a familiar moral.Then again, Planet of the Ood largely works because that moral remains rather timely and relevant, but also because it’s a fantastically produced piece of television. It’s fast and pacey, it looks stylish, it has a fantastic cast and an efficient script. Sure, there are rough edges, but Planet of the Ood continues a fairly strong start for the fourth season.

Soaring...

Soaring…

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Doctor Who: The Fires of Pompeii (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 Fires of Pompeii originally aired in 2008.

Pompeii. We’re in Pompeii. And it’s Volcano Day.

– turns out the Doctor likes Steven Moffat scripts as well

What does it mean to be “just passing through” history? To watch events play out, knowing the expected outcome to every major event? To realise that the people you meet have all turned to ash before you were even born? If the Doctor travels through history fighting monsters and saving the world, how can he allow people to die needlessly? Surely it would be just as feasible for him to prevent the Challenger disaster as it is to foil the Nestene? Why can’t he warn people about impending natural disasters? Why do people killed by the Judoon matter more than people killed in car accidents or lightning storms or murdered by other human beings?

The answer is, of course, “because this is a television show”, but it puts the Doctor in a decidedly uncomfortable position. The show is fond of championing the Doctor as a romantic idealist out to make the universe a better place, and one who can’t abide oppression or suffering. And yet he only ever intervenes in cases involving aliens or futuristic technology. Rather than seeming like an agent of radical social change, this tends to make the Doctor feel a bit like an agent of the status quo.

It’s something the show has wrestled with quite a bit, particularly during the Jon Pertwee era. The Fires of Pompeii doesn’t necessarily provide satisfying answers to those questions within the narrative, but it does a lot to develop the role of the Doctor and his own relationship with history.

Come with me if you want to live...

Come with me if you want to live…

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Doctor Who: Partners in Crime (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.

Partners in Crime originally aired in 2008.

Would you rather be on your own?

No. Actually, no. But the last time, with Martha, like I said, it, it got complicated. And that was all my fault. I just want a mate.

You just want to mate?

I just want a mate!

You’re not mating with me, sunshine!

A mate. I want a mate.

Well, just as well, because I’m not having any of that nonsense. I mean, you’re just a long streak of nothing. You know, alien nothing.

There we are, then. Okay.

– Donna and the Doctor sort out the ground rules

From the outset, Partners in Crime makes it clear that the fourth season of Doctor Who is probably going to be lighter going than the show’s third year. To be fair, it was heavily foreshadowed by a Christmas special that drew heavily from the work of Douglas Adams, whose influence is keenly felt across this entire season – right down to repeated references to the bees disappearing.

Casting Catherine Tate, best know for her work on The Catherine Tate show, as the season’s female companion was a bit of an indicator, but Partners in Crime makes it quite clear – playing more as an affectionate spoof of a classic Doctor Who run-around rather than something equal parts witty and terrifying.

Then again, given that the end of the third season featured the death of one tenth of the world’s population, the assassination of the President of the United States, the destruction of a companion’s life and the Doctor’s crushing realisation that he’s so lonely he’d retire to serving as the Master’s warden, one might argue that “lighter” was the only way to go.

Things are looking up...

Things are looking up…

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