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Doctor Who: Frontier in Space (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.

Frontier in Space originally aired in 1973.

To celebrate the tenth anniversary of the show, the four-part serial The Three Doctors was produced. However, it was also decided that Jon Pertwee’s fourth season in the role should also contain something quite a bit grander than the average Doctor Who serial. Clearly intended to rival the epic (and lost) Daleks’ Master Plan in terms of scale and scope, an epic twelve-part adventure was conceived that would run across two back-to-back serials. It would open with Frontier in Space, before easing gently into Terry Nation’s Planet of the Daleks.

Unfortunately the adventure was never quite able to measure up to the series’ earlier Dalek epic, primarily due to problems with the second serial. Still, though somewhat weakened by the necessity to dovetail into the story directly following, Frontier in Space remains a rather wonderful example of the series on its largest scale, offering epic space opera with large-scale consequences.

Lost in space…

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Doctor Who: Victory of the Daleks (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.

Victory of the Daleks originally aired in 2010.

Would! you! care! for! some! TEA???!!!

– the Daleks

Ah, the Daleks. They tend to rise and fall. They get built up and then they fall back down. Like the show itself, they come and go in cycles. The Dalek Invasion of Earth has the psychotic pepperpots invade Earth, while The Chase reduces them to little more than comic foils. Destiny of the Daleks makes jokes about them being unable to climb stairs, while Remembrance of the Daleks then proves that they can. In 2005, both Dalek and The Parting of the Ways invested considerable effort in making them scary again. The show eroded that away over time, turning them into bitchy foils for the Cybermen in Doomsday for the Doctor to hover up and competing to create the most phallic monster ever in Evolution of the Daleks.

Steven Moffat took over the show in 2010, and that means that he also took over the Daleks. Tending to the Doctor also means tending to his worst enemies. And, to be fair, that’s a bit what Victory of the Daleks feels like. It feels like an obligation, a bit of business to get out of the way quickly (the first episode not penned by Moffat) so that the fun stuff can commence.

Exterminate the rainbow...

Exterminate the rainbow…

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Doctor Who: Asylum of the Daleks (Review)

You’re going to fire me at a planet? That’s your plan? I get fired at a planet and expected to fix it?

In fairness, that is slightly your M.O.

Don’t be fair to the Daleks when they’re firing me at a planet.

And more wacky structural hijinks ensue.

The sixth and seventh seasons of the revived Doctor Who are strange beasts, for a number of reasons. The decision to split the seasons stands out, but there is also a sense that they are structured in a counter-intuitive manner. The Impossible Astronaut and Day of the Moon served as a two-part season finalé, despite opening the sixth season. In contrast, Let’s Kill Hitler played like a frothy season premiere. (The Wedding of River Song is perhaps the most difficult to place; while certainly not a light run-around season opener, it was nevertheless a bit light for a finalé.)

Things are looking up...

Things are looking up…

The seventh season arguably streamlines the structure a bit. The Name of the Doctor plays almost like a season premiere, revealing the origin story for “the Impossible Girl” and teasing ideas like the War Doctor and Trenzalore relentlessly. In contrast, Asylum of the Daleks feels like a season finalé, teasing a new companion as the existing companions struggle to get on with their real lives, featuring fleets of Dalek ships destroying planets and massive amounts of continuity.

Indeed, the biggest problem with Asylum of the Daleks is that it has not enough time to establish all its core elements. Plot points come out of nowhere. Character beats are established in the same scenes that resolve them. Asylum of the Daleks is a big episode in keeping with the “blockbuster” aesthetic of the anniversary season, but it also establishes the limitations of that approach.

Moffat’s crack at writing a Dalek episode…

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A Matter of Time – Doctor Who: Season 5

Sorry… Sorry! Dropped it!

Hello, Stonehenge! Who takes the Pandorica, takes the universe. But bad news everyone… cause guess who! Listenw you lot, cause you’re all whizzing about – it’s really could distracting. Could you all just stay still for a minute? Because I. am. talking!

Now, question of the hour: who’s got the Pandorica? Answer: I do. Next question: who’s coming to take it from me?

C’mon!

Look at me: no plan, no backup, no weapons worth a damn – oh, and something else I don’t have? Anything to lose! So if you’re sitting up there in all your silly little spaceships with your silly little guns and you’ve got any plans on taking the Pandorica tonight, just remember who’s standing in your way; remember every black day I ever stopped you; and then – and then! – do the smart thing: let somebody else try first.

– The Doctor, The Pandorica Opens

Well, the first season of Stephen Moffat’s run of Doctor Who is over. And what a ride it was. On one hand, you had budget cuts at the BBC, putting an even great financial strain on the show’s transition to high definition, the first wholsecale chance of the entire cast between seasons since the show’s transition to colour in 1970 (and, fittingly, this was the show’s transition to high definition), and you had the World Cup skewing ratings towards the backend of the season. On the other hand, you had the writer of some of the show’s best episodes directing the entire run behind the scenes, the exploration of the time travelling nature of the central protagonist, and a blatant admission that the show is more a fairytale than a science fiction epic. And along the way, there was barely enough time to catch your breath.

No time to lose...

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Sympathy for the Daleks: Steven Moffat & The Shifting Status Quo

I suppose you could bring them back, but I’d be slightly puzzled, because they were robots that went wrong. Generally speaking, and maybe Russell wouldn’t agree with a word I’m saying right now, but my favorite Doctor Who story is the one with brand new monsters that you see once and once only. The moment you start crowding the universe with familiar monsters, I think it’s less interesting. Two of the words that you could reasonably apply to the Daleks are ‘reliably defeatable.’ You know those guys are going to lose at the last minute anyway, and you always know what they’re up to, so the best bit about bringing back old monsters is the reveal. After that, it’s all downhill. It’s like Agatha Christie deciding that the butler should always do it, because it was successful in the last book, so that’s not my favorite kind of Doctor Who story. I like brand new monsters.

– Steven Moffat

That answer comes from an interview he gave waaaay back in 2006 – about the time he was writing The Girl in the Fireplace, his second story for the relaunched Doctor Who. I don’t know if he knew then that he was heir apparent to the throne and would succeed Russell T. Davies, but I wonder if being positioned as showrunner has somewhat changed his perspective. In his inaugural year running the show, we’ve already had the return of the Daleks, three episodes in with Victory of the Daleks, next week we’ll witness Moffat returning to one of his own monstrous creations in The Time of Angels and previews have already confirmed that the Cybermen themselves – foes dating from the show’s first leading actor – will be returning as well (with Roman centurians). I’m not complaining at all (a writer as talented as Moffat can do pretty much whatever he wants and I’ll trust him), but I can’t help wondering if perhaps Moffat is playing his own long game with the franchise in his opening season.

Don't worry, this Cyberman is mostly 'armless...

Note: This article contains spoilers for the end of this week’s episode, The Victory of the Daleks, so those who haven’t caught it yet might want to look away or come back to this when they’ve seen the episode. You’ve been warned, so you have.

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