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Doctor Who: Twice Upon a Time (Review)

“What was that?”

“To be fair, they cut out all the jokes.”

– the First Doctor and the Twelfth Doctor discuss the power of editting

Snow escape.

Twice Upon a Time bids farewell to Peter Capaldi, perhaps to Murray Gold, and to Steven Moffat.

It does all of this within the context of a holiday special, much like The End of Time, Part I and The End of Time, Part II bid farewell to David Tennant and Russell T. Davies with a two-part bonanza split across Christmas and New Year’s. In a way, this makes sense. Christmas is a time for indulgence, and these sorts of grand farewells lend themselves to a certain sense of self-congratulations and celebration. Davies went bigger and bolder for The End of Time, Part I and The End of Time, Part II, opting for a cameo-stuffed blockbuster affair, his style turned to eleven.

Cooler heads prevail.

Twice Upon a Time does something similar, albeit in the style of Steven Moffat. Davies tended to jump from set piece to set piece with his bombastic Christmas specials like The Runaway Bride and Voyage of the Damned, with only the thinnest of plots holding them together. Moffat’s Christmas specials like A Christmas Carol or The Husbands of River Song have set pieces, but they often feel incidental to the characters and dialogue. Twice Upon a Time is a collection of witty banter and wry observations held together by a plot that even the Doctor has to admit does not exist.

In some ways, this feels like an appropriate way to bid farewell to Steven Moffat’s tenure as showrunner on Doctor Who, to draw down the curtain on an impressive and momentous six seasons (and almost eight years) that radically redefined what the programme could (and even should) be. Twice Upon a Time is a Christmas indulgence, but one that feels earned. It is an adventure that doesn’t really need to exist, and one which accepts that premise as its starting point. It is an episode dancing around the inevitable. It is not especially graceful, but is charming nevertheless.

The Twelfth Day of Christmas.

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Regeneration (Review)

Next year, Star Trek is fifty years old. We have some special stuff planned for that, but – in the meantime – we’re reviewing all of Star Trek: Enterprise this year as something of a prequel to that anniversary. This April, we’re doing the second season. Check back daily for the latest review.

It seems like a bit of an understatement to describe Regeneration as highly controversial.

The blu ray release of the second season of Star Trek: Enterprise includes two commentaries for the episode, a sure sign that there is a lot to talk about. On a track recorded in 2005, writers Mike Sussman and Phyllis Strong describe the episode as “infamous.” On a track recorded in 2013, John Billingsley describes how certain segments of fandom considered it a “jumping the shark” moment for the show. That last statement illustrates one of the perverse qualities of Star Trek fandom; one would assume that the viewers turned off by Regeneration would have already tuned out with Acquisition.

We are Borg.

We are Borg.

After all, the decision to bring back the Ferengi in Acquisition is hard to explain. Nobody was clamouring for more Ferengi episodes after Star Trek: Deep Space Nine had gone off the air. Outside of Deep Space Nine, the most enduring impression of the Ferengi was that they had begun their life as “villains that didn’t quite work” and bad quickly been transformed into “comic relief that didn’t quite work.” As such, it is hard to account for the decision to bend continuity in order to introduce the Ferengi into the first season of a prequel show designed to escape the baggage of the larger Star Trek franchise.

On the other hand, it made a great deal of sense to bring back the Borg. After all, the Borg were one of the few Star Trek aliens created after 1969 to make a genuine impression on popular culture. The Borg will never be as iconic as Klingons or Vulcans, but they will always be more iconic than Cardassians or Bajorans. They were also stars of the best-loved Star Trek movie starring the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation. The Borg are a big deal; there is a reason that Star Trek: Voyager ran them into the ground.

"Assimilate this!"

“Assimilate this!”

It is no wonder that the Borg are frequently cited in discussions around the future of JJ Abrams’ Star Trek reboot. Asked if the creative team would consider bringing the Borg to the rebooted twenty-third century, Roberto Orci answered, “I think we would think about it.” Damon Lindelof was even blunter in his assessment, “You can’t talk about Trek and not talk about the Borg.” While they have undoubtedly been over-exposed and over-used since they first appeared in Q Who?, the Borg are the most distinctive and most successful addition to the Star Trek mythos outside the classic show.

While common sense and experience seemed to weigh against bringing back the Ferengi in Acquisition, it seems that continuity is the only thing holding the Borg back from making an appearance on Enterprise. That said, Sussman and Strong find a clever way around that issue, by remembering the suggestion in Broken Bow that Enterprise is as much a sequel to Star Trek: First Contact as a prequel to the rest of the Star Trek universe.

"Oh no, Cap'n, they've discovered the mood lightin' settin'."

“Oh no, Cap’n, they’ve discovered the mood lightin’ settin’.”

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Doctor Who: The End of Time, Part I (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 End of Time, Part I originally aired in 2009.

The human race was always your favourite, Doctor. But now, there is no human race. There is only the Master race.

– the Master always did like a good pun

The problem with The End of Time isn’t a lack of good ideas. Indeed, there are far too many good ideas here. There are enough large concepts here to sustain an entire season of Davies’ Doctor Who, from the resurrection of the Master to the return of Gallifrey to the resurrection gate to Naismith to the Tenth Doctor’s impending mortality and quite a few more. The End of Time is bristling with so many ideas and concepts that only the truly outrageous examples really stick. Is that really the Tenth Doctor’s mother?

The End of Time is fundamentally flawed, but it remains intriguing. There’s a wealth of good ideas here that tend to get drowned out in the spectacle and fury of it all, a sense that Davies had a wealth of clever ideas but was unable to tie them into anything fully satisfying.

Ten cedes the floor...

Ten cedes the floor…

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Doctor Who: Time and the Rani (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 and the Rani originally aired in 1987.

Right, that all seems quite clear. Just three small points. Where am I? Who am I? And who are you?

– the Doctor

A Doctor’s first story is always difficult. Even if it’s not as explicit as it was in Power of the Daleks, the new actor his constantly fighting against the weight of expectation, trying to cast off the spectre of their predecessor and make the show their own. There’s also a sense that the production team is trying to reinvent the show around their new lead. It’s transitional, and it’s not too difficult to see how the task could be daunting.

If that’s a typical first story, imagine how frustrating Time and the Rani must have been at the time. Hastily cobbled together in a rush, coming out of a season that had been a spectacular failure and with the shadow of cancellation looming heavy, there’s a lot of pressure on Time and the Rani. It is a story that is routinely trashed and mocked, and perhaps deservedly so. However, I must concede, it’s not as bad as it could have been and I’d be very reluctant to rank it among the worst Doctor Who serials of all time.

He's got an umbrella and he's not afraid to use it!

He’s got an umbrella and he’s not afraid to use it!

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Doctor Who: Planet of the Spiders (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 Spiders originally aired in 1974.

Oh dear, this is getting monotonous.

– the Doctor sums it up

Jon Pertwee’s final season is a real shame. The actor was, at the time, the actor who had served the longest period of time in the lead role. Starring as the Doctor for five years, and appearing as the face of the show during an era of renewal and reinvention, the actor deserved a much strong swansong. The year had started relatively strong with The Time Warrior, which I would rank among the best stories of the Pertwee era. However, every story after that just felt like it was treading water, revisiting old triumphs while biding time until the finalé. We had a Dalek episode in Death to the Daleks. We had a Malcolm Hulke lizard story with Invasion of the Dinosaurs. We had an off-world social commentary story in The Monster of Peladon. All felt like the cast and crew were just worn out, just going through the motions.

Sadly, Planet of the Spiders continues this trend, rather than bucking it.

Kiss of the spider-queen...

Kiss of the spider-queen…

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Doctor Who: The Caves of Androzani (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 Caves of Androzani originally aired in 1984.

Androzani Major was becoming quite developed the last time I passed this way.

When was that?

I don’t remember. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t the future.

You’re a very confusing person to be with, Doctor, you know that?

I tried keeping a diary once. Not chronological, of course, but the trouble with time travel is one never seems to find the time.

– The Doctor and Peri reflect on travel in the TARDIS

At the risk of succumbing to cliché, The Caves of Androzani is my favourite Doctor Who serial from the classic series. A perfect encapsulation of Peter Davison’s tenure, a fitting farewell story that incarnation of the Doctor, and arguably the perfect regeneration adventure, The Caves of Androzani is one of the very few DVDs that I happen to own twice. And that’s quite a ringing endorsement.

Five outta five?

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Doctor Who? A Tennant Era Retrospective…

Well, with The Eleventh Hour airing over the weekend, it seems like the perfect time for a reflection on the end of the Russell T. Davies era of Doctor Who. I’ll probably go back and do a retrospective on the Eccleston era at some point in the future, but Tennant’s four years in the brown trenchcoat provide a fertile enough starting ground.

Has the Tenth Doctor got a screw loose?

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