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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 – The Shakespeare Code (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 Shakespeare Code originally aired in 2007.

Goodnight, Doctor.

Nighty night, Shakespeare.

– talk about your British icons

The Shakespeare Code is the third season’s opening trip into British nostalgia, a celebrity historical where the Doctor journeys back in time to meet a famous character and to deal with alien menaces masquerading as something altogether more sinister. This time, the Doctor and Martha travel back to meet William Shakespeare. It’s a little on the nose, but perhaps that’s not a bad thing. After all, teaming the Doctor up with Queen Victoria in Tooth and Claw did seem a little cynical when the show opened with a gag at the expense of Margaret Thatcher.

The rather safe and occasionally quite “postcard-y” portrayal of British history aside, The Shakespeare Code is more interesting as a rather novel form of arc-building for the show. “Saxon” was the arc word for the show’s third season, but restricted to those episodes set in the present. However, The Shakespeare Code winds up offering major thematic foreshadowing of the season ahead.

Where there's a Will...

Where there’s a Will…

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Doctor Who: The Reign of Terror (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 Reign of Terror originally aired in 1964.

Hush, child. Say your goodbyes and remember, we shall be leaving almost immediately

– the Doctor, about two minutes into the first part of a six parter

The Reign of Terror represents a fairly disappointing conclusion to a reasonably solid first season of Doctor Who. I won’t argue that the show’s first year can be ranked among the finest in the fifty-year history of the show, but I do think that the stories generally did quite a decent job of introducing the characters and concepts and setting them up so that they could support a lot more. It’s interesting to compare the title character introduced in An Unearthly Child to the version presented in The Sensorites.

While The Sensorites is still a story far too long and far too generic for its own good, it still feels like it solidifies a version of the character who – broadly speaking – resembles the Doctor we know and love. While I’d argue the Doctor was only absolutely solidified as a hero in The Dalek Invasion of Earth, there’s a very clear through-line from An Unearthly Child to The Sensorites which charts the evolution of the character. The Sensorites would make a decent (if unspectacular) place to end the first season.

Unfortunately, the first season continues on for one more episode. The Reign of Terror is just as over-long and just as padded out as The Sensorites, but it suffers because it feels like a massive step backwards in a season that has been very clearly moving forwards.

An animated sort...

An animated sort…

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Doctor Who: Timelash (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 (and not-so-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.

Timelash originally aired in 1985.

I don’t trust you. You’re being too reasonable.

– Peri’s on to him

Timelash is on the short list of serials broadly agreed to be “the worst Doctor Who stories ever.” Given how prone science-fiction fans are to bickering about absolutely everything, and how impossible it is to find consensus, that’s really saying something. More than that, it ranks with quite a few Colin Baker stories among that list. I can’t help but wonder if part of the problem with Baker’s tenure isn’t a lack of classic episodes (Revelation of the Daleks and Vengeance on Varos surely count), but the batting average skewed by so many truly terrible stories.

Any season containing Timelash would be ridiculed, but it’s hard to imagine that any year of television containing Attack of the Cybermen, Timelash and The Mark of the Rani couldn’t help but raise questions about the show’s future at the BBC.

The face of evil...

The face of evil…

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Doctor Who – School Reunion (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.

School Reunion originally aired in 2006.

You can tell you’re getting older. Your assistants are getting younger.

– Sarah Jane to the Doctor

Coming at the start of the revived show’s second season, School Reunion changed the way that the show related to its long and complex history, explicitly confirming what had been implied at least as early as Dalek and Aliens of London, that this was indeed the same Doctor who had had all of those adventures for all those years on British television. Bringing back the iconic pepper pots was one thing, as was name-dropping the paramilitary outfit from early in the original show’s run.

However, bringing back the most fondly remembered companion of the classic television show and affirming that she had travelled with this man for several years provides a firm anchor to the past. Looking back now, it’s hard to appreciate how dramatic a shift this was, and just what it represented. However, it’s hard to imagine that Doctor Who could get to the point where the Doctor could recruit a Silurian detective and her Sontaran butler in Victorian England without School Reunion.

It changed the game.

(Anthony Stewart) Head master...

(Anthony Stewart) Head master…

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Doctor Who: The Face of Evil (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 Face of Evil originally aired in 1977.

The Evil One!

Well, nobody’s perfect, but that’s overstating it a little.

– Leela and the Doctor make a great first impression

The Face of Evil is probably the most underrated story of the entire Hinchcliffe era, and it’s not hard to see why. For one thing, it is positioned in the middle of a run of classic stories. Any story sitting between The Deadly Assassin and both Robots of Death and The Talons of Weng-Chiang is probably going to be written off for being anything less than a perfect piece of Doctor Who.

More than that, though, The Face of Evil feels like it arrive a bit too early. Doctor Who is a show that can be many things at many different times, and The Face of Evil eschews the gothic horror evident throughout the Hinchcliffe era for the more intellectual and abstract science-fiction of Tom Baker’s final year. The Face of Evil feels more like a companion to Warriors’ Gate or Full Circle than to Planet of Evil or Brain of Morbius.

Still, it’s a triumph for the show, and one highly recommended. A wealth of good ideas, a great execution and the introduction of one of the show’s more iconic companions.

Face to face with evil...

Face to face with evil…

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Doctor Who: The King’s Demons (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 King’s Demons originally aired in 1983.

Do our demons come to visit us? Bid them attend us.

Demons? Very odd indeed.

Makes a nice change for you not to take everything in your stride, I must say.

– King John, the Doctor and Tegan set the mood

The show’s twentieth anniversary deserved better than this. Okay, there are a number of qualifications that can made, excuses that can be offered. The King’s Demons was never intended to close out the season, and was instead intended as a two-part episode to bridge into the triumphant return of the Daleks, a return that ended up postponed a year and reworked into Resurrection of the Daleks. There’s also the fact that The King’s Demons wasn’t the last piece of Doctor Who to air as part of the show’s twentieth anniversary year, even if it was the season finalé. The Five Doctors would be broadcast later in the year to celebrate the anniversary.

However, none of these excuses take away from the fact that The King’s Demons is an exceptionally weak piece of television, and a demonstration of everything wrong about how John Nathan Turner and the Doctor Who production staff approached the show’s twentieth season.

Hardly a Master piece...

Hardly a Master piece…

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