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Doctor Who: Series Four (or Thirty) (Review/Retrospective)

The fourth season of the revived Doctor Who is probably the most consistent of the seasons produced by Russell T. Davies. The first season had a very clear arc running through it, building to a fantastic final run of episodes; the second season had some strong individual elements, but suffered from a lot of behind-the-scenes shuffling; the third season suffered from a shoddy opening stretch, teething difficulties with the show’s first new companion lackluster finalé, despite some great ideas and wonderful experimental plotting.

While the fourth season is far from perfect, it does hang together a lot better than any of the previous three seasons. Watching from Partners in Crime through to Journey’s End, it definitely feels like Russell T. Davies had a stronger sense of where he wanted to go than he had with any of the previous three seasons. It helps that the past three seasons had been spent trying to acclimatise viewers to the workings of Doctor Who. The first season introduced the first Doctor and companion and the Daleks. The second introduced the first new Doctor and the Cybermen. The third introduced the first new companion and the Master.

doctorwho-theunicornandthewasp

So the fourth season is the first time that the show doesn’t really have too much of a mission statement. Unlike the Daleks or the Master or the Cybermen, nobody was really clamouring to see the Sontarans reinvented, let alone to reintroduce Davros. Like a lot of the foruth season, it seems like the show was really enjoying any freedom from a sense of obligation. The public knew what Doctor Who was. The rules and players had been set out, the past had been acknowledged and the show defined.

As such, the fourth season feels a lot more relaxed for everybody involved.

doctorwho-planetoftheood12

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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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Doctor Who: The Leisure Hive (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 Leisure Hive originally aired in 1980.

Look what you’ve done.

What have I done?

You’ve got the century wrong, you’ve got the season wrong and you’ve got K9’s sea-water defences wrong.

Well, I can’t get everything right.

Just something would be a help.

– Romana and the Doctor really do seem like an old married couple, don’t they?

The Leisure Hive represented a bold new beginning for the show, as it saw John Nathan-Turner move into the role of producer, very quickly putting his mark on the show with a new theme tune and opening sequence, a stronger emphasis on science-fiction and arguably a very “gimmick-y” approach to the show itself. Nathan-Turner would go on to be the longest-serving – and most controversial – producer of the show, serving in the role until the series’ untimely cancellation in 1989. It really is quite tough to discuss The Leisure Hive without getting side-tracked on to any number of tangents, isn’t it?

Is Baker getting to old for the role?

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Doctor Who: The Pirate Planet (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 Pirate Planet originally aired in 1978. It was the second part of The Key to Time saga.

Excuse me, are you sure this planet’s meant to be here?

– The Doctor

I have to admit, I admire The Pirate Planet for its lofty aim. Douglas Adams’ script is vast and impressive and epic, incorporating and number of brilliant high concept ideas, traditional science-fiction story-telling devices, and healthy sense of humour into one Doctor Who story. Unfortunately, the production is restricted both by the technical limitations of the time, but also by the sense that there’s simply too much going on over the course of this four-episode adventure. Still, it’s as bold, fun and imaginative as any Doctor Whostory, and showcases the series at its most ambitious. There’s nothing wrong with that.

Pulling a fast one...

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Doctor Who: The Ribos Operation (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 Ribos Operation originally aired in 1978. It was the first part of The Key to Time saga.

Your name!

What about my name?

It’s too long… by the time I’ve called out “Look out Romanadv…” – what’s your name again?

Romanadvoratrelundar!

By the time I’ve called that out you could be dead! I’ll call you Romana.

I don’t like Romana!

It’s either Romana or Fred!

All right, call me Fred!

Good! Come along Romana!

The Key to Time was a rather ambitious project for the time – the idea being that an entire series of the show would centre around one core arc, suggested in the first story, developed through the rest of the season, and tied up at the end of the year. It helps, when you’re doing something like that, to have an experienced hand at the reins. While The Ribos Operation doesn’t stand as Robert Holmes’ finest contribution to the series, it’s a suitable introduction to the adventure.

Time Lord and Lady...

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Doctor Who: Destiny 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.

The Last of the Time Lords originally aired in 1979.

Oh, look! Rocks!

– the Doctor

Destiny of the Daleks is a bit crap. I know that there’s a whole bunch of “a bit crap” Dalek episodes, but Destiny of the Daleks doesn’t suffer because it doesn’t make sense, or it hangs on plot contrivance. Instead, it’s just a little bit dull. At least Resurrection of the Daleks bangs along making no sense in a reasonably exciting manner. In contrast, Destiny of the Daleks just sort of… is. In a way, it serves as the perfect opener to Graham Williams’ final year as producer, perfectly capturing the gap between the production staff the cast and the writers that so often led to bit of a mismatch in this part of the show’s history.

While I have a fondness for Terry Nation, I think it’s perfectly reasonable to argue that his style was hardly progressive or dynamic when he first wrote for the show in 1963. Indeed, my fondness for his work in the early years of the show is mostly down to how it harks backwards to pulpy classic science-fiction. If Nation wasn’t the most forward-looking of writers in 1963, then perhaps he really wasn’t best suited to open a season for Graham Williams and Douglas Adams in 1979.

Romana II goes through one of the oldest companion rites of passage...

Romana II goes through one of the oldest companion rites of passage…

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Doctor Who: The Infinite Quest (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 Infinite Quest was originally broadcast in weekly instalments on Totally Doctor Who in 2007.

… And then I’ll have my revenge! Revenge! REVENGE!

– just in case you didn’t get that Baltazar was evil

The Infinite Quest is a 45-minute animated episode of Doctor Who that was broadcast as part of Totally Doctor Who in 2007, during the third season of the revived show. It was written by Alan Barnes, who has written a number of Big Finish audio plays for Doctor Who, and was directed by Gary Russell. The animation was produced by Cosgrave Hall, who animated the missing episodes of The Invasion for its 2006 DVD release. So there’s a fairly considerable amount of talent involved in this project, which is notable as not only the first full-length animated Doctor Who episode to be broadcast on television, but is the first fully serialised story to be told since the show was revived. It was originally broadcast in chunks of three-and-a-half minutes.

Flight of fancy...

Flight of fancy…

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