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Doctor Who: The Two Doctors (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 Two Doctors originally aired in 1985.

That is the smell of death, Peri. Ancient musk, heavy in the air.

– welcome to the Colin Baker era

The Two Doctors is an oddity. It’s the only story of the Nathan Turner era that runs over two hours, unless you choose to count The Trial of a Time Lord as a single story. It’s also the only “multi Doctor” story that wasn’t filmed on one of the show’s significant anniversaries. (Time Crash was, after all, filmed in the show’s forty-fifth year.) It’s also notable for the fact that it completely eschews the charmingly impish portrayal of the Second Doctor that fans have come to know and love over the course of reunion stories like The Three Doctors or The Five Doctors.

Indeed, The Two Doctors is almost the exact opposite of the show that you would expect it to be. The low opinion in which fans seem to hold the serial confirms that writer Robert Holmes has delivered a story that is markedly different from what those waiting for a team-up between Colin Baker and Patrick Troughton would have been expecting. Far from a nostalgia-packed love-in, The Two Doctors is written with Holmes’ trademark cynicism. This time the writer is directing that cynicism towards the show itself.

Patrick Troughton! In colour!

Patrick Troughton! In colour!

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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: Turn Left (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.

Turn Left originally aired in 2008.

You said I was going to die, but you mean this whole world is going to blink out of existence. But that’s not dying, because a better world takes its place. The Doctor’s world. And I’m still alive. That’s right, isn’t it? I don’t die. If I change things, I don’t die. That’s that’s right, isn’t it?

– poor Donna… poor, poor Donna

The fourth season is basically one gigantic victory lap for Russell T. Davies’ Doctor Who. Davies has done the hard work of returning the show to television. He’s made the Daleks threatening. He’s rebooted the Cybermen. He’s made the Master sexy again. The fourth season is really just about enjoying the success of the show, and using that success to do crazy things like bringing back the Sontarans or Davros. Because nobody was clamouring for another Sontaran or Davros story.

That sense of celebration is probably most obvious in Turn Left, the penultimate story of the fourth season. It’s basically It’s a Wonderful Life, starring the Tenth Doctor. Or, to be more accurate, It’s a Wonderful Life for the new series of Doctor Who. It’s an excuse to celebrate a raft of continuity from The Runaway Bride through to The Sontaran Stratagem, to bring back Billie Piper and just to celebrate not only the wonder of Doctor Who, but the virtue of Davies’ approach to the series.

Everything goes up in smoke...

Everything goes up in smoke…

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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: The Sontaran Stratagem (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 Sontaran Stratagem originally aired in 2008.

Sontar-Ha!

– Sontaran hakka

The expectations for the opening two-parter of any Russell T. Davies season are markedly different from the expectations surrounding the second two-parter or even the season finalé – just as the expectations for the opening few episodes are different from the expectations for a mid-season stand-alone. It should go without saying, but it’s worth stressing at this point. The opening two-parter of a Davies season isn’t meant for the adults in the audience – it’s traditionally aimed towards the kids, with big epic iconic monsters, ridiculous set-pieces, broadly-defined settings and little room for nuance.

That’s not to excuses messes like World War III or Evolution of the Daleks, but simply to place them in context. The Sontaran Stratagem and The Poison Sky aren’t quite as profound or weighty as The Fires of Pompeii or Planet of the Ood. Instead, they offer bombastic spectacle, goofy visuals and a heightened sense of absolutely everything. In other words, The Sontaran Stratagem and The Poison Sky combine to form the strongest opening two-parter of the Davies era.

They hardly represent a crowning artistic accomplishment for the show, but they do a great job of accomplishing what they set out to do.

There's a potato eyes joke here, but I just can't make it work...

There’s a potato eyes joke here, but I just can’t make it work…

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Doctor Who: The Trial of a Time Lord – The Ultimate Foe (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 Trial of a Time Lord originally aired in 1986.

In all my travellings throughout the universe I have battled against evil, against power-mad conspirators. I should have stayed here. The oldest civilisation, decadent, degenerate and rotten to the core. Ha! Power-mad conspirators, Daleks, Sontarans, Cybermen, they’re still in the nursery compared to us. Ten million years of absolute power, that’s what it takes to be really corrupt.

– the Doctor

There really are no excuses for the mess that The Trial of a Time Lord became. I mean, seriously. The producers had eighteen months to plan everything out. The task shouldn’t be that difficult. If you are going to fictionalise the persecution of Doctor Who by the BBC in the form of a trial, you really should have some idea what you plan to do or say at the end of it. If your fourteen episode season-long story arc is about defending a show that is coming close to cancellation, then perhaps it might be a good idea to be able to tell us why it shouldn’t be cancelled. The Trial of a Time Lord is a gigantic mess, and something that makes a stronger case in favour of Michael Grade’s attempts to cancel that show than it does against them.

The Ultimate Foe isn’t as soul-destroyingly horrible as Terror of the Vervoids, but that may be because Pip and Jane Baker only wrote half of it.

Only himself for company...

Only himself for company…

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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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