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Doctor Who: The Waters of Mars (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 Waters of Mars originally aired in 2009.

Adelaide, I’ve done this sort of thing before. In small ways, saved some little people, but never someone as important as you. Oh, I’m good.

Little people? What, like Mia and Yuri? Who decides they’re so unimportant? You?

For a long time now, I thought I was just a survivor, but I’m not. I’m the winner. That’s who I am. The Time Lord Victorious.

– the Doctor does a pretty poor job of comforting Adelaide

The Waters of Mars is the strongest of the specials that ran from the end of the fourth season of Doctor Who through to David Tennant’s regeneration into Matt Smith on New Year’s Day 2010. Despite teasing the issue in The Next Doctor and Planet of the Dead, The Waters of Mars is the first time that the show really engages with the mortality of the Tenth Doctor – exploring the idea that it might be time for the Tenth Doctor to leave. As much as the Tenth Doctor might be reluctant to leave, The Waters of Mars suggests that the character’s flaws are gaining critical mass and that his ego runs the risk of collapsing in on itself.

It’s a very bold and daring piece of Doctor Who, which is quite striking given the audience-pleasing “comfort food” nature of the other specials. Reinforcing ideas that Davies has been hinting at since the very start of the relaunch, The Waters of Mars is about how the Doctor can sometimes be absolutely terrifying.

This is what happens when the Doctor goes wrong.

This is what happens when the Doctor goes wrong.

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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: 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 Poison Sky (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 Poison Sky originally aired in 2008.

They’ve taken it. I’m stuck on Earth like, like an ordinary person. Like a human. How rubbish is that? Sorry, no offense, but come on.

– take that, Jon Pertwee!

Like The Sontaran Stratagem before it, The Poison Sky is pretty effective at accomplishing what it sets out to do. The first two-parter was always a troubled part of the Davies era, and so it feels strangely appropriate that the production team should manage to nail it on the fourth and final go-round. The Poison Sky isn’t the best episode of the show’s superlative fourth season, but neither it nor The Sontaran Stratagem are the worst, either. Instead, it’s a solidly entertaining feature-length adventure featuring the return of various old favourites from the classic show (U.N.I.T.! Sontarans!) and the revived series (Martha! the Valiant!).

It is goofy, silly, and fluffy, but it’s entertaining fluff.

His finger on the button...

His finger on the button…

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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: The Aztecs (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 Aztecs originally aired in 1964.

Don’t you see? If I could start the destruction of everything that’s evil here, then everything that is good would survive when Cortes lands.

But you can’t rewrite history! Not one line!

– Barbara and the Doctor discuss time travel

The Aztecs is generally considered one of the show’s very best historicals, so I think it’s absolutely wonderful that the adventure has managed to survive the purges that wiped out a significant portion of the Hartnell era and a huge chunk of Patrick Troughton’s work.

A low-tec culture?

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