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Doctor Who: Born Again (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.

Born Again originally aired in 2005.

Can you change back?

Do you want me to?

Yeah.

Oh.

Can you?

No.

– Rose and Doctor

Davies revived Doctor Who devoted considerable time to reintroducing the core concepts of the series. Unlike The TV Movie, Davies saw no need to over-complicate Rose by featuring the regeneration from the previous Doctor to the current lead. The Ninth Doctor was introduced as-is to an entire generation of new viewers. Only a quick examination of his features in Rose seemed to hint that he was getting used to his new face.

The prospect of “regeneration” hadn’t been flagged too heavily by the time The Parting of the Ways aired. This makes sense. For one thing, there’s a sense that Eccleston’s departure was not something that the production team had accounted for – which makes it even stranger that the whole first season seems to be building towards his redemption in death. For another thing, it’s very hard to drop “by the way, I change into somebody else when I die” casually into conversation.

So the regeneration at the end of The Parting of the Ways was kind of a big deal, and a huge moment for the series. After all, the classic Doctor Who had enjoyed more than three seasons with its lead character before having to swap him out – Hartnell being the last member of the original ensemble to depart. And, given the rules of television narratives in 2005, there was no way that the show’s first regeneration wasn’t going to be a pretty significant event.

Somebody needs a Doctor...

Somebody needs a Doctor…

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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 Beast Below (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 Beast Below originally aired in 2010.

What are you going to do?

What I always do. Stay out of trouble. Badly.

So is this how it works, Doctor? You never interfere in the affairs of other peoples or planets, unless there’s children crying?

Yes.

– Amy and the Doctor reiterate the way things work

Steven Moffat’s first season producing Doctor Who owes a conscious debt to the rigid structure of the seasons produced by Russell T. Davies. There’s an opening episode in contemporary Britain, followed by one episode visiting the past, one visiting the future. There are three two-parters – the season finalé, a “monster”-driven two-parter and a more atmospheric and moody piece. There’s even a brief spell in the middle of the season where Moffat spices up the TARDIS dynamic by adding in a temporary companion.

This approach worked quite well. It’s worth noting that Moffat’s first season was the only point following the departure of Russell T. Davies that Doctor Who was able to deliver thirteen episodes of the show on thirteen consecutive weeks. It struck something of a happy middle between Davies’ more episodic approach to the show that the more arc-driven storytelling favoured by Moffat. Still, there are moments when it seems like this approach isn’t quite the perfect fit, with Moffat’s voice struggling to fit into the structure established by Davies.

Essentially Steven Moffat’s impression of Russell T. Davies’ update of Andrew Cartmel’s social allegory stories, The Beast Below is an interesting – if slightly unsuccessful – experiment. Moffat’s second season would feature much more effective attempts to evoke the Cartmel era of the classic show, without the sense that Moffat was trying a little too hard to emulate his predecessor.

The space in-between...

The space in-between…

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Doctor Who: The Long Game (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 Long Game originally aired in 2005.

No, no, you stick with the Doctor. You’d rather be with him. It’s going to take a better man than me to get between you two.

– Adam outlines another reason he had to get kicked out of the TARDIS

The Long Game is a breathtakingly ambitious piece of Doctor Who, for a variety of reasons. The most obvious is the fact that it’s basically Russell T. Davies pushing through a story idea that Andrew Cartmel rejected when he pitched it to the classic show in the eighties, but there are a whole bunch of other reasons. The Long Game is trying to do so many things at once that it ends up getting a little lost. However, it does serve as an example of what Davies was really trying to do with this first season of the revived Doctor Who.

On the surface, The Long Game a clever and daring piece of science-fiction television, a piece of social commentary hidden behind funny-looking aliens and scenery-chewing villains. It’s really a spiritual successor to the science-fiction stories of the Cartmel era. However, it’s also something else entirely. It’s a conscious embrace of the new realities of television, an acknowledgement that these trappings have be blended with character-based storytelling and more modern tea-time telly conventions.

After all, for a show about the manipulation of the media to corrupt the public consciousness, the teaser doesn’t end on a monster reveal or a shocking twist, but a pithy personal comment. “He’s your boyfriend.”

Body of work...

Body of work…

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Doctor Who: The Day of the Doctor (Review)

Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one.

– Clara sums up the Moffat era in a nutshell

The Day of the Doctor was a suitable anniversary celebration for Doctor Who, feeling like Moffat had borrowed more from The Three Doctors than The Five Doctors in piecing it together, allowing for multi-Doctor interaction grafted over a fairly generic Pertwee-era alien invasion tale. (“Not now!” the Eleventh Doctor protests as the multi-Doctor tale intrudes on his paintings mystery. “I’m busy!”) In terms of scale and spectacle, The Day of the Doctor falls a little bit short. While it looks lavish and clearly had more than a little bit of money thrown at it, the episode lacks a strong central narrative thread.

Instead, it serves as a meditation on who the Doctor is and what that means in the grand scheme of things – looking at the tapestry of his life and character, and trying to reconcile everything that the show was and ever could be. It’s the story of the War Doctor in the Time War, of the death of the classic show and the birth of the new, suggesting that the rift left by the cancellation can finally be healed, that the bridge can be crossed and that wounds might finally be closed.

Well, most of them, anyway.

doctorwho-thedayofthedoctor11

The Three Doctors…

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Doctor Who: Night of the 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.

Night of the Doctor originally aired in 2013.

I’m a Doctor. But probably not the one you’re expecting.

– isn’t that the truth?

Paul McGann. The “sort of” Doctor; the version of the character that is highly contested by fan and casual viewer alike. With only a single televised story to his credit, produced and filmed in America, McGann was always a controversial part of Doctor Who lore. Before his face appeared in a notebook in Human Nature, there was even debate about whether or not the movie “counted” in the grand pantheon of Doctor Who.

Ironically, McGann’s Doctor has gone on to have one of the most prolific lives of any Doctor. He has appeared in Big Finish audios, webcasts and even a series of audio plays broadcast on BBC radio. McGann has had an impressive volume of output, even without counting the tie-in novels and comics featuring his character, made without his input. The state of limbo in which the character seemed to hover seemed monumentally unfair, a quirk of fate that was the result of powers far beyond those of McGann himself.

So The Night of the Doctor is a pleasant surprise, conferring the ultimate legitimacy upon Paul McGann’s interpretation of the character, effectively confirming the Eighth Doctor as the version who held the flame for the classic series, and whose regeneration marks a turning point for the show.

He really eights himself...

He really eights himself…

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Doctor Who: The Time Warrior (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 Time Warrior originally aired in 1974.

Look, will you excuse me? I’ve got to go and find a young girl. I’ll see you later, I hope.

Young girl? I should have thought he was a bit old for that sort of thing. Oh well.

– the Doctor and Rubeish discover that Jo’s departure isn’t affecting him too much

The end of an era is fast approaching. Jon Pertwee departed Doctor Who after spending five years in the title role. The end of his fourth year saw the departure of his longest-serving companion, Jo Grant. The start of his final year would see the introduction of Sarah Jane Smith, perhaps the most iconic companion of all time. However, watching the first serial of his last year – The Time Warrior – there is a sense of pending change in the air, a sense that show in the cusp of a very significant shift. The Time Warrior isn’t necessarily explicit about this, but you can almost feel it.

Time is running out...

Time is running out…

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