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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: The Hungry 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 Hungry Earth originally aired in 2010.

Oh look! Big mining thing! Oh, I love a big mining thing. See, way better than Rio. Rio doesn’t have a big mining thing.

– the Doctor looks on the bright side of arriving in not!Rio

The Hungry Earth represents the biggest structural shift of Steven Moffat’s first season of Doctor Who. The writer would indulge in a number of radical structural changes over his time running the show, but his first season as showrunner conforms to the pattern of Russell T. Davies’ four full seasons. There’s the introductory present/past/future trilogy, the two mid-season two-parters and the gigantic two-part season finalé. The content of Moffat’s season might have been markedly different (actual romantic snog! a season building an arc that isn’t just references and easter eggs!), but the format was carried over faithfully.

Moffat’s following two seasons would get more experimental. For one thing, both seasons would be split in half. This allowed Moffat to offer the first genuine cliffhanger in the revival’s history to last more than a week, with a gap of several months between A Good Man Goes to War and Let’s Kill Hitler. His second season would feature the first two-part season opener (and first one-part season finalé) of the revived television show. His third season would feature no two-part episodes, spread across two calendar years.

However, sitting at the tail end of his first season, The Hungry Earth feels like the strangest structural element of Moffat’s first year in charge of Doctor Who. It’s what would traditionally be the first two-parter of the season, pushed back towards the end of the year.

Balancing the scales...

Balancing the scales…

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Doctor Who: Planet of Fire – 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.

Planet of Fire originally aired in 1984.

I don’t know where the girl is. I don’t have the comparator!

Commence the burning!

No! You must believe me!

Oh, but I do believe you. Commence the burnings!

Stop this!

You are quite powerless. Continue the sacrifices. See that this Doctor burns slowly.

– The Doctor and the Master continue the theme for the year

Planet of Fire is a strange little episode, positioned as it is directly before The Caves of Androzani. Writer Peter Grimwade was effectively assigned a set of list of story points to get through (write Kamelion and Turlough out, kill the Master, write Peri in) and manages to hit just about all of them successfully. It’s a wonder that the serial isn’t a gigantic mess, especially given that it comes from the writer of Time-Flight. On the other hand, though the serial starts off in a rather interesting manner, it ends as a disappointingly conventional adventure, calling to mind Frontios from earlier in the season.

Davison's not waisted here...

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Doctor Who: The King’s Demons (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 King’s Demons originally aired in 1983.

Do our demons come to visit us? Bid them attend us.

Demons? Very odd indeed.

Makes a nice change for you not to take everything in your stride, I must say.

– King John, the Doctor and Tegan set the mood

The show’s twentieth anniversary deserved better than this. Okay, there are a number of qualifications that can made, excuses that can be offered. The King’s Demons was never intended to close out the season, and was instead intended as a two-part episode to bridge into the triumphant return of the Daleks, a return that ended up postponed a year and reworked into Resurrection of the Daleks. There’s also the fact that The King’s Demons wasn’t the last piece of Doctor Who to air as part of the show’s twentieth anniversary year, even if it was the season finalé. The Five Doctors would be broadcast later in the year to celebrate the anniversary.

However, none of these excuses take away from the fact that The King’s Demons is an exceptionally weak piece of television, and a demonstration of everything wrong about how John Nathan Turner and the Doctor Who production staff approached the show’s twentieth season.

Hardly a Master piece...

Hardly a Master piece…

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Doctor Who: Enlightenment – 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.

Enlightenment originally aired in 1983. It was the third and final instalment in the Black Guardian Trilogy.

Enlightenment is easily among the very best adventures to feature Peter Davison in the role of the Doctor. It helps that it has a story that seems to perfectly suit his version of the character, one that’s arguably more cerebral and fanciful than it is dark and horrific or adventurous and action-packed. Enlightenment features one of the most quintessentially British storylines in Doctor Who, capturing the quirky appeal of the series almost perfectly, with a boat race in space… with pirates! It’s fun, it’s clever and the special effects aren’t ground-breaking, but they’re stylish enough to pull it off.

No matter how you cut it, Enlightenment is a win.

Sailing into the sunset...

Sailing into the sunset…

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Doctor Who: Time-Flight (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-Flight originally aired in 1982.

I’ve never heard such an extravagant explanation.

– Hayter’s gonna hate

Time-Flight is a much maligned piece of Doctor Who, and hardly the best way to round out a season that has, generally speaking, done a reasonable job introducing a new lead actor following the departure of the most iconic actor ever to play the role. The show’s nineteenth season holds together reasonably well, with Earthshock generally highly regarded and only Time-Flight considered to be a complete failure.

And yet, despite that, I can’t hate Time-Flight. That’s not to suggest that the traditional criticisms of the serial are off-base. They are entirely spot-on. The production is shoddy, the plot is nonsense and the dialogue is terrible. It seems like everybody was trying to push one last story out the door before breaking for holidays, and nobody cared too much about the final product. And yet, despite that, I find myself able to forgive quite a lot of the show’s problems.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not good Doctor Who. It’s not even passable Doctor Who. However, I’d argue that it is nowhere near the worst that the Davison era would produce.

Keeping the nose clean...

Keeping the nose clean…

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Doctor Who: Castrovalva (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.

Castrovalva originally aired in 1982.

Welcome aboard. I’m the Doctor. Or will be if this regeneration works out.

– the Doctor greets Adric

Tom Baker did seven years of Doctor Who. That is impressive. No matter which way you look it, and no matter how cynical you might be, it’s hard to argue that Baker’s departure wasn’t a fundamental and radical change to the series. In fact, his influence is so great that Castrovalva even opens with a rare pre-credits sequence, just to make sure that the viewers know that Baker is gone. (Despite the fact that John Nathan Turner apparently asked that the scene be shot so that the new season could open without having to show Tom Baker.)

Baker was going to be a tough act to follow. In fact, to many people, Tom Baker is still the Doctor. I don’t mean that in a sort of “stubborn fans refusing to acknowledge change” sort of way. I mean that in a “when The Simpsons make a Doctor Who reference they use Tom Baker” sort of way. He cast one hell of a shadow, and it’s hard to truly fathom how daunting it must have been to try and step out from that show.

That Peter Davison manages to do so is nothing short of amazing. Equally impressive is the fact that Castrovalva manages to be its own story. While it suffers – as with so many Bidmead scripts – from the fact that the technical limitations of the show can’t keep pace with his ideas, there’s still a lot to love here. And not just Peter Davison. Though he helps.

“Oh! The brainy specs!”

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