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Doctor Who: The Next Doctor (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 Next Doctor originally aired in 2008.

Oh, goodness me. Well. But this is… but this is nonsense.

Well, that’s one word for it.

Complete and utter, wonderful nonsense. How very, very silly.

– Jackson Lake and the Doctor

The Next Doctor actually has a pretty audacious concept. It’s one gigantic tease that plays off the audience’s media savvy. Airing after David Tennant’s departure from the role had been announced, but before Matt Smith had been named as Tennant’s successor, The Next Doctor is one gigantic tease. Like the surprise “regeneration” at the climax of The Stolen Earth, it’s a shrewd attempt to turn the audience’s expectations against themselves.

After all, the gap between an announced departure of an existing lead and the point where he actually leaves is rife for experimentation – particularly in a show about time travel. Up until The Next Doctor actually aired, it was quite possible that David Morrissey was Tennant’s successor, and The Next Doctor was a rather clever twist on the classic “multi-Doctor” story by having the Doctor team up with his future self.

Of course, as with The Doctor’s Daughter, Davies was just teasing. It’s to Davies’ credit that The Next Doctor remains interesting even after the illusion begins to slip. The first half is actually a wonderfully solid mystery and character study, albeit one that descends into confusion and chaos in the second half of the episode.

The Next Doctor...?

The Next Doctor…?

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Doctor Who: Voyage of the Damned (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.

Voyage of the Damned originally aired in 2007.

I’m the Doctor. I’m a Time Lord. I’m from the planet Gallifrey in the constellation of Kasterborous. I’m nine hundred and three years old and I’m the man who’s going to save your lives and all six billion people on the planet below. You got a problem with that?

No.

In that case, allons-y!

– of course, the Doctor’s boasting would be much more effective if most of the cast didn’t die

Voyage of the Damned is an ambitious piece of Doctor Who, at least in terms of scope. It’s very clearly an attempt to do The Poseidon Adventure in space, on a television budget, with a sinister corporate conspiracy layered on top. It’s all this and a big Christmas Special guest starring Kylie Minogue to boot. That’s a lot to pile into a single episode, and Voyage of the Damned strains under the pressure.

There are various flaws that chip away at Voyage of the Damned. It’s very hard to do a disaster movie with about six sets and only one big set piece. The fact that this was all planned ahead of time gives the Doctor a convenient adversary to face, but it does over-crowd the script somewhat; Max Capricorn feels like a cardboard cut-out of a baddie. And Astrid feels less like a fully-formed companion in the style of Donna and more like a generic secondary character.

And yet, despite that, Davies’ ambition is infectious. Even if Voyage of the Damned struggles to carry off everything that it attempts, it’s still a remarkable accomplishment of tea-team Christmas viewing.

Ship-shape...

Ship-shape…

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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: Survival (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.

Survival originally aired in 1989.

Where to now, Ace?

Home.

Home?

The TARDIS.

Yes, the TARDIS. There are worlds out there where the sky is burning, where the sea’s asleep, and the rivers dream. People made of smoke, and cities made of song. Somewhere there’s danger, somewhere there’s injustice, and somewhere else the tea’s getting cold. Come on, Ace, we’ve got work to do!

– the Doctor and Ace turn off the lights on their way out

There was a long gap between Survival and Rose. It was filled with stuff. It was filled with lost of interesting and different Doctor Who stuff. There were books and audio plays and even a television movie to help fill the decade and a half when Doctor Who was not a regular feature of British television. A lot of that stuff was important, and a lot of it helped determine and shape what Doctor Who would become when it did return. It’s telling that the many members of the writing staff on the revived Doctor Who cut their teeth on novels and short stories and audio plays and specials in the wilderness years, while no writers returned from the classic show.

At the same time, however, the gap between Survival and Rose doesn’t feel as profound as it might. It’s misleading to suggest that Survival was a clear bridge towards the Russell T. Davies era, or even to hint that the revival could have emerged fully formed from this three-part closing serial. At the same time, Survival is really the closest that the classic series ever came to the spirit of the Davies era, hitting on quite a few familiar themes and ideas and settings, as if Cartmel’s vision of the future of Doctor Who was not too far from the version proposed by Davies.

Survival was the end of an era, but it also motioned towards the start of another.

Riding into the sunset...

Riding into the sunset…

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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: The Web 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 Web of Fear originally aired in 1968.

See, now this is interesting.

The Enemy of the World had the luxury of arriving almost unannounced, a genuine honest-to-goodness classic story that had been written off by all but a minority of fans as a generic run-around James Bond pastiche. It was recovered, it turned out to be quite brilliant, and so was a massive surprise. Indeed, even if it had been merely “good” or “fine”, it would have been a joy to watch, because the episode was being measured against a popular imagination that had never really been too bothered with it. I don’t think it was too near the top of the majority of fans’ “would love to recover…” lists.

There were no expectations, so The Enemy of the World didn’t have to worry about measuring up to anything. The fact that it was quite brilliant was icing on the cake. In contrast, The Web of Fear has a lot of expectations to live up to. It is being measured not against the weight of continuity – featuring a much loved monster and introducing a recurring character – nor the sky-high expectations of fans. It is measured against the popular imagination. While The Enemy of the World probably seemed like an after-though to most Doctor Who fans, The Web of Fear is a massive part of what Doctor Who is to the general public.

Fur and loathing...

Fur and loathing…

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Progress (Review)

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is twenty years old this year. To celebrate, I’m taking a look at the first season. Check back daily for the latest review or retrospective.

Progress is the best episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine‘s first season to date. Of course, there are better episodes ahead – two of them clustered at the end of the show’s truncated first year – but Progress still represents a considerable improvement over anything that has come before. It isn’t quite perfect, but it does have a nice character focus and takes advantage of the show’s unique perspective and position. It’s evidence that the writing staff were at least engaging with the show’s status quo and trying to work with it to tell interesting stories, with Progress offering an early pure example of what Deep Space Nine story should probably look like.

While the first season has been quite bumpy (although notably less bumpy than any of the opening seasons of the other three Star Trek spin-offs), Progress offers a demonstration that we are getting somewhere. The title might apply as much to the status of the show itself as to the themes of the episode.

Burning down the house...

Burning down the house…

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Non-Review Review: RED 2

Red 2 is a stronger film than Red, although it’s still not quite a wholly satisfying cinematic experience. There’s a certain charm to watching all these veteran stars reuniting on the screen together, with a considerably lighter touch than The Expendables. What’s interesting about Red 2 isn’t a dearth of good ideas or interesting hooks in the set-up of this sequel, it’s just a littler rushed, a little unfocused, a little disjointed. However, Red 2 generally moves so fast that these problems never quite reach critical mass. The result is more-than-occasionally great fun, but also just a little too light for its own good.

Growing old disgracefully...

Growing old disgracefully…

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Flashpoint: Project Superman (Review/Retrospective)

To celebrate the release of Man of Steel this month, we’re going Superman mad. Check back daily for Superman-related reviews.

I actually quite liked Flashpoint. I can accept that the event had its flaws. It was a less than ideal set up for a radical shift in the status quo and a significant proportion of its tie-ins were absolutely terrible, but these are problems that seem inherent to any big “universe-altering comic book event.” However, despite that, I liked the idea of viewing the DC universe “through a glass, darkly.” Seeing familiar, but distorted reflections of DC icons cast as terrifyingly cynical nineties anti-heroes.

By positing that any world inhabiting these grim anti-heroic substitutes was severely broken, Geoff Johns was able to reaffirm the idealism of the Silver Age. Contrasting DC’s stable of iconic heroes to their darkened reflections allows us to take stock of what is really essential to them as characters. Project Superman provides a glimpse at an alternate version of Superman, one raised under very different circumstances. It dares to ask what is the essential ingredient in making Superman the character we know and love.

It’s a deeply flawed three-issue story, and can’t measure up to Brian Azzarello’s superb Batman: Knight of Vengeance, but it’s still a fascinating look at what makes Superman into Superman.

A broken world...

A broken world…

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Doctor Who: The Name of the Doctor (Review)

How do we get down there? Jump?

Don’t be silly. We fall.

– Clara and the Doctor set things straight

Like The Wedding of the River Song, The Name of the Doctor suggests that Moffat might be better served by reverting to the Davies-era model of two-part season finalés. The strongest season ender of the Moffat era (and probably the best season finalé of the revived show) was The Big Bang, because it felt like Moffat had enough space to allow his ideas to breathe. The Name of the Doctor is a lot sharper and a lot more deftly constructed than any of the closing episodes from Russell T. Davies’ seasons, but it feels a little too compact, a little too tight for its own good.

To be fair, Moffat is has very cleverly structured his season. The mystery of Clara was seeded as early as Asylum of the Daleks and hints have been scattered throughout the past year of Doctor Who. Even the build-up to the final line of the episode feels like an idea that Moffat has been toying with since The Beast Below. Despite all this, it still feels like The Name of the Doctor could do with a little more room to elaborate and develop the concepts at the core of the story.

Journey to the centre of the Doctor?

Journey to the centre of the Doctor?

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