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Doctor Who: Journey’s End (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.

Journey’s End originally aired in 2008.

Stand witness, humans. Your strategies have failed, your weapons are useless, and… oh, the end of the universe has come.

– Davros, master of understatement

Journey’s End covers a lot of ground incredibly quickly. Even running one-and-a-half times the length of a regular episode, Journey’s End feels like it’s ready to burst at any given moment. Those who don’t like Davies’ finalés will find a lot to complain about here. The stakes are raised so high as to become almost abstract. The plot is written into a corner where it takes nothing short of a convenient deus ex machina to resolve it all. The Tenth Doctor and Rose are as annoying together as they have ever been, despite both being quite awesome apart.

However, if you’re looking at The Stolen Earth and Journey’s End as a story, you’re missing the point. The real news is that this was a crowning accomplishment for the series. Not only did The Stolen Earth and Journey’s End both pull a record high Appreciation Index of 91, Journey’s End edged out East Enders and Coronation Street to become the most-watched show on British television that week. This was the first time that Doctor Who had accomplished this since it came back.

The Daleks' master plan...

The Daleks’ master plan…

The only comparable accomplishment in the history of the show is City of Death scoring the show’s highest ever ratings. And that only happened because an ITV strike made it quite difficult for anybody to watch anything else at the time. So, no matter how you cut it, Journey’s End is a phenomenal piece of event television, one that really solidifies the importance of the resurrected Doctor Who in British popular consciousness.

In a very real way, the title feels somewhat apt. The long journey of Doctor Who from a failed science-fiction show in the wilderness to a crown jewel in British television was finally over.

It's been a hell of a ride...

It’s been a hell of a ride…

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Doctor Who: The Stolen Earth (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 Stolen Earth originally aired in 2008.

Someone tried to move the Earth once before. Long time ago. Can’t be.

– the Doctor reminds us that just because the Daleks are threatening doesn’t mean they aren’t completely insane

The Stolen Earth and Journey’s End are not, by any stretch of imagination, tightly-constructed episodes. They don’t represent the pinnacle of the Davies era from any technical or production standpoint. The story logic is questionable at best, and Davies’ primary concern seems to be keeping the script moving fast enough that the plot holes and illogical narrative loose ends never overwhelm the production. It is basically the most bombastic and large-scale season finalé of the Davies era. And given that it’s measured against The Parting of the WaysDoomsday and The Last of the Time Lords, that’s really saying something.

And yet, despite that, I have a strange affection for this season finalé. It’s an excuse for Davies to really bask in the success of the revitalised Doctor Who, creating a plot that draws together all manner of disparate elements into one gigantic tribute to the past four years of Doctor Who. It’s hard to hate, on those grounds alone.

An explosive finalé...

An explosive finalé…

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Doctor Who: Midnight (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.

Midnight originally aired in 2008.

And you be careful, all right?

Nah. Taking a big space truck with a bunch of strangers across a diamond planet called Midnight? What could possibly go wrong?

– Donna and the Doctor tempt fate

Midnight was the fiftieth episode of the revived Doctor Who to enter production. It had been intended to air as the fiftieth episode of the new series, but plotting similarities between Forest of the Dead and Turn Left forced Davies to shift the broadcast order of the episodes. As a result, we end up with the longest consecutive streak of Davies-written episodes in the history the show, stretching from Midnight through to The End of Time, Part II. In essence, although it’s not really intended as part of the over all arc, Davies’ swan song begins here.

And it’s the best episode that Davies has ever written. It might be the best episode of the fourth season. It might even compete for the best episode of show produced by Davies.

So it’s pretty great.

The long dark midnight of the soul...

The long dark midnight of the soul…

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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: The Doctor’s Daughter (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 Doctor’s Daughter originally aired in 2008.

Not what you’d call a natural parent, are you?

They stole a tissue sample at gunpoint and processed it. It’s not what I call natural parenting.

Rubbish. My friend Nerys fathered twins with a turkey baster. Don’t bother her.

You can’t extrapolate a relationship from a biological accident.

Er, Child Support Agency can.

– Donna and the Doctor discussing parenting

The Doctor’s Daughter is the weakest script of the fourth season. It’s just a mess of high concepts and ideas and in-jokes mashed together and then cut down to fit into a forty-five minute time slot. It’s a fundamentally flawed episode that has some meritorious elements, but a whole host of other ingredients that just fall flat. It’s the speed bump in the fourth season of the show, Russell T. Davies’ final season of Doctor Who, which had started out of the gate so very strong.

I suppose the real positive of The Doctor’s Daughter is that it doesn’t cause too much damage as it stumbles.

The ball's in his court...

The ball’s in his court…

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Doctor Who: The Green Death (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 Green Death originally aired in 1973.

Where are you off to?

To pack a suitcase.

Oh, good. Give me a couple of minutes and we’ll be off.

Off? Off where?

Well, Metebelis III, of course.

I’m not going to Metebelis III.

Why? Where are you thinking of going to?

Well, South Wales, of course. Llanfairfach.

– the Doctor and Jo discuss travel plans… why would you want to go to Metebels III when you can visit South Wales?

The Green Death is a great example of the Jon Pertwee era. It offers a pretty solid showcase of the best of the era, along with the glaring structural and thematic weaknesses that the show never really tackled head-on. It’s a great yarn, an affectionate run-around. There is a reason, after all, that the overgrown maggots have managed to wedge themselves in British popular consciousness. There’s a conscious sense that The Green Death is a season finalé, in the biggest and boldest terms possible.

In an era where television wasn’t really structured in that way, you can trace a pretty clear line between The Green Death and the big epic series finalés of the Russell T. Davies era of Doctor Who.

And the Beatz go on...

And the Beatz go on…

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Doctor Who: Army of Ghosts (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.

Army of Ghosts originally aired in 2006.

How long are you going to stay with me?

Forever.

– the Doctor and Rose tempt fate

It’s only logical that anybody diving head-first into a fifty-year-old television show is going to have an opinion that radically diverges from the fandom consensus on a couple of stories. So, for example, I’ll concede that I like The Talons of Weng-Chiang, but less than most. However, the biggest divide – and the point on which I feel furthest from consensus – comes with Army of Ghosts and Doomsday, Russell T. Davies’ massive farewell to Rose Tyler, the companion he introduced all the way back in Rose. It’s generally acknowledged as one of the high points of Davies’ tenure and one of the truly great Tenth Doctor stories.

I am far from convinced.

The cracks are starting to show...

The cracks are starting to show…

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Doctor Who: The Hand of Fear (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 Hand of Fear originally aired in 1976.

Come on, where are we?

We’re in a quarry.

Yes, I know we’re in a quarry, but where?

Well, how do I know? I don’t know all the quarries that–

– the Doctor and Sarah Jane get a bit meta

The Hand of Fear is odd, because it’s the end of an era – but it’s not the end of the era for the rather obvious reason that it bids farewell to one of the franchise’s best-loved companion character. The Hand of Fear is best known as the final story to feature Sarah Jane Smith. Indeed, the DVD comes with a helpful sticker informing any potential purchasers of the story’s significance.

However, watching The Hand of Fear with the benefit of hindsight, it isn’t Sarah Jane’s departure that is the most striking part of the show.

Keep it handy...

Keep it handy…

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Doctor Who: Dragonfire (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.

Dragonfire originally aired in 1987.

You’re going to go looking for the dragon?

Absolutely.

Oh, cool. Can I come too?

– Ace introduces herself to the Doctor smoothly

Dragonfire is better than Delta and the Bannermen, which is certainly damning with faint praise. Like the rest of Sylvester McCoy’s first season, Dragonfire suffers because of a gap between concept and execution. There is a wealth of good ideas here, but Dragonfire can’t seem to develop any of them to the point where they stand out. Of this troubled first season, it’s perhaps the serial where the conflict between the show’s old-fashioned production and more modern writing are thrown into sharpest contrast. Dragonfire looks like it wants to be a classic Doctor Who episode, even though it’s written like anything but.

"I'm melting!"

“I’m melting!”

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