31 December 2013

James Bond: Die Another Day

The final Brosnan movie and the final movie before the reboot, Die Another Day has a pretty bad reputation among James Bond fans in general - but is at all that bad? The answer has to be no... but with caveats.

Pierce Brosnan demonstrates the customary swagger of his 007, although his ability to pull a woman in the space of under four minutes is bordering on the unreal (one dreads to think what he could do in certain nightclubs) and lighting up a cigar isn't cool these days. Toby Stephens, who I've enjoyed in many things since this (Vexed seems to have disappeared, but he is appearing in Black Sails) also does great in the swaggering department, although a certain twist involving his character invades the unreal... this is not the Honor Harrington universe, thank you. There are some great lines in the script and much of the story is passable.

Problems? A good many. Slo-mo and camera swooshes have little real place in the Bond franchise, while the CGI would be an embarrassment to Doctor Who today, a show that has known dodgy effects. Halle Berry, the woman who got an Oscar and a Razzie in three short years is certainly not good enough here for the planned (and canned) spin-off franchise mooted at the time... Rosamund Pike out-acts her at times. The climax gets a bit silly - laughing is not something I should be doing in a Bond film unless it's for a genuine woofer of a one-liner, something this story on the whole lacks.

Finally, Madonna's theme is dire and her performance worse.


It's not quite as bad as some of the films in the franchise, but neither is it all that good. Few people walked away from this one with their careers improved, sadly.


29 December 2013

A hybrid instead of a true (Review: 'Doctor Who: Protect and Survive', 2012)

I was rather surprised (mainly because I'd just plain forgotten) that this was the first one of the Big Finish audios that I'd recorded from Radio Four Extra. Anyway, since it's up first (I thought it would be second), it's going to get reviewed first.

One of the more recent audio dramas, this is four episodes long, with each episode at about half an hour.

I will admit that I came in for this one purely because of the plot (the Cold War and nuclear weapons are subjects I find intensely interesting) and the title. The latter is worth explaining.

The title
Protect and Survive was the name of a public information series on surviving a nuclear attack made by the British government in the late 1970s-early 1980s i.e. during the time of the "Second Cold War". It included pamphlets, radio broadcasts and TV films, intended for broadcast if a Third World War broke out... but kind of ending up being released due to sheer public interest or just plain being leaked. Voiced by Patrick Allen, if you've ever heard "Two Tribes" by Frankie Goes to Hollywood, you'll probably have heard an excerpt from it - be it a lift from the tape or Allen actually repeating his lines.

How effective the advice would be is impossible to say (the answer here is not very... and in reality probably the same), but it was certainly memorable - we get a considerable amount of it excerpted here. The pamphlets are available from HM Stationery Office on a print-on-demand basis (£6 each) if you're into that sort of thing.


The Doctor disappears from the TARDIS, which lands with Ace and Hex in the North of England in November 1989... who arrive at a cottage owned by two elderly people a few hours before a nuclear war breaks out. That's just the start of things for Ace and Hex...


The story starts with the Doctor not in the TARDIS and the two companions arriving in England, heading for the nearby cottage, where they discover that a nuclear war is imminent. Soon they undergo the near full horror of a nuclear strike, something that covers the first episode and a half. Things then start to get a bit stranger and we enter a plot involving pocket universes, time loops and what it means to be human.

The opening episodes are very strong and with a strong horror air around them (people get radiation sickness, which is never pleasant), but as we head further into the story with the truth being unveiled it starts to become a bit repetitive. BF tends to use 30-minute episodes instead of the 25-minute length common at this time, so we are essentially dealing with a five-parter... and it's arguably one part too long. Items could be trimmed here and there, some things are definitely repeated (well it is a story involving time loops), although the Doctor's actions elsewhere in part three make a refreshing narrative change, really fitting this Doctor. The third part cliffhanger was a bit of an eye-roller for me.

After an interesting revelation of the moral (it involves the Prisoner's Dilemma) story ends on a cliffhanger - it is in fact the first of a trilogy. While it may well work for a Big Finish subscriber, I question the wisdom of putting this story in the Radio Four Extra series - a stand alone would have worked better.

Sound design

Again excellent, as to be expected from BF; the radio voice here (not the Patrick Allen original) is great and worked into the plot very well... mind you, there is only so much you can do with something as inherently visual as a nuclear explosion.

The regulars

The Seventh Doctor isn't in this a huge amount - in fact, he doesn't even turn up until the end of the second episode, but his manipulative streak is on full display here - he has in fact had a significant impact on the situation that Ace and Hex find themselves in, along with the other two people. In fact, I would go as far to say that what he does here is something that I wouldn't inflict on my own worst enemy... but then again, my enemies don't tend to be malevolent super beings with a taste for nuclear warfare.

I've not really heard Ace in BF before - actors do have some minor work to do to sound like they did 25 years ago and Sophie Aldred succeeds in that department. She delivers a strong, tough performance as Ace should, but one combined with great compassion and self-sacrifice... she is fully prepared to die for the Doctor if need be.

Thomas Hector "Hex" Schofield, a nurse from 2023, is an original companion for Big Finish, having featured in their audios since 2004... so pre-dating Rory by half a decade. A man who from his Tardis Data Core entry seems to have more than the standard share of misery head his way (here he ends up blind after a nuclear flash), he is a kind and caring man, but on the whole he doesn't massively stand out in what is a very crowded field of companions in the DWU these days.

The guest cast

Not a huge number here (six voice actors in the main plot total including the regulars); Albert and Peggy are well portrayed, especially when their true guises are revealed, but the villains of the piece do get a bit Evil League of Evil near the end. Maximum credit goes to Peter Egan as the voice of the announcer reading out the Protect and Survive advisories - an RP matter of fact voice is possibly just what you need to convey the atmosphere of nuclear war.


A strong start and a great deal of atmosphere, but it really starts to fizzle out near the end.


27 December 2013

A long one as well (Review: 'Doctor Who' 2013 Christmas Special, "The Time of the Doctor")

So, that's it for the Eleventh Doctor, who has made his final bow.

13 thoughts below:
  • The holographic clothes bit was a somewhat distracting joke for the first half of the episode.
  • Matt Smith has played a convincing old man through much of his time as the Doctor... and now we got to see him actually play one, although the make-up job was slightly less convincing than the one Karen Gillan had.
  • Speaking of Karen Gillan... nice to have her turn up.
  • Handles was lovely... shame we won't be seeing him again.
  • Hope we don't see Clara's family again, they weren't very effective here.
  • Again, no Dalek extermination effects; budget going elsewhere?
  • Perhaps having four different lots of aliens turn up in one episode, when that episode is only 60 minutes long, resulted in a basic lack of screentime for any of them... well, except the Daleks, who are pretty overused.
  • That's a simple yet effective way to get around the 13 regenerations issue.
  • And also the issue of the Doctor's name... now you think about it, the truth field wasn't actually an issue.
  • Worth pointing out that this is the shortest regeneration story to date in terms of run time.
  • And probably the longest in terms of real time for a main character... correction that's "The Big Bang".
  • I'd have liked the Twelfth Doctor to have a slightly longer scene than he actually did.
  • No preview from Season 34? At all?


Well this had a lot of enjoyable moments, I've got to confess a bit of disappointment in this one; much of it was spent (especially near the end) just waiting for Capaldi to show up and when he did, it wasn't a patch on Smith's first scene.


25 December 2013

Life after checkmate (Grand Review, 'Borgen' Season 3)

This is the third and final review I'll be doing for Borgen; the series was ended by DR after this run as the network doesn't like to run ideas into the ground.

Which means we sadly won't be getting any more of a wonderful political series.

(mild spoilers follow)

At the end of Season 2, Birgitte Nyborg called a general election, while spin-doctor Kasper Juul and TV journalist Katrine Fønsmark decided to have a baby together. Things, we soon learn, did not exactly go to plan - for one thing, the former lost and the latter two broke up.

Two and a half years later, ex-PM Nyborg (out of the Folktinge, plus no longer party leader) is now a highly paid business speaker with handsome English boyfriend and Kasper Juul is now a media pundit at TV1... while his ex-partner Katrine is having to juggle her job with being a single mother. Then a controversial new immigration bill from the Liberal government of returned PM Lars Hesselboe changes things for two of them, especially when Nyborg's Moderates back it.

Birgitte returns to Denmark where she tries a leadership challenge, recruiting Katrine as her spin doctor (an interesting role reversal)... which fails. So, Birgitte Nyborg decides to set up her own party and the New Democrats begin their attempt to change Denmark for the better from a ramschackle office (which once had a Nazi collaborator for an owner), but something is wrong with our politician...

We get an updated title sequence here to reflect the changes of the characters - it's one of the best things about the show.

Birgitte's family doesn't play as big a role here as in Season 2, although it does remain a crucial one. Her ex-husband and her get along (which is more than can be said for many divorced couples), while her daughter appears to have resolved her mental issues. Jeremy, a new character arguably added for the show's UK audience is enjoyable and has some great lines, but to be honest, he wasn't really needed. Nyborg's health issues are sensitively and well portrayed by Knudsen; she experiences something that many people have gone through, personally or through relatives having it - it mostly feels convincing, bar a final bit about it.

As for her party, the New Democrats, they do seem to be a bit wishy-washy in their policy, trying to occupy the centre ground when in reality it tends to get you shot at from both sides. They seem to chop and change their policy pretty quickly (the episode on prostitution, while very thought-provoking is no doubt an example of this). While there are an number of great characters in there (Bent, Nete, Jon) one doesn't help feeling that this party is getting its popularity from being the Birgitte Nyborg party that isn't the "Right Moderates" and a crash is looming for them. Perhaps.

TV1 provides us with another interesting take on the principles versus popularity issue; some of the funniest moments in this run involve that station and Hjort's quest for ratings, although TV 2's handball game really takes the cake... I thought they were joking when it was first mentioned. Torben's affair and the ramifications of that is also well handled. Do Danish party leaders really have that many television discussions?

The overall plot and storylines are very good, even if the rise (well, relative rise) of the New Democrats isn't entirely convincing... but then again, sometimes elections do turn on single events, the 2010 UK one being a notable case. The prostitution episode as mentioned got me thinking my own views on the issue and the episode on pig farming was great for humour, albeit with a sad twist at the end. The Kasper-Katrine relationship was again well done; kudos for not taking an obvious solution, as this isn't a rom-com.

The final four episodes deal with a snap election called by Hesselboe and the New Democrats eventually playing a major role. The final 30 minutes twist and turn, with Birgitte facing a tough decision. Her choice was probably the best one for Denmark and I say this as someone who would vote for the Social Democrats (the RL equivalent of Borgen's Labour Party).


An excellent third run of a series with strong storylines and a lot packed into its ten episodes. It's a shame it ended, but it had run its course - reviews in Denmark were not as positive for this as the previous run and dragging this out for a fourth go might have been too much for it... like a certain show I'll be reviewing.

Tak, Birgitte. You'll be missed.


24 December 2013

Vale Undecim: Farewell, Matt Smith

How it began

It's been nearly four years since the last regeneration of the Doctor (in his chronology that is) and now the time has come for Matt Smith to hand over his TARDIS key to Peter Capaldi.

When you think about the Doctor in general, all of his incarnations have been rather different beasts; certainly there have been strong strands through all twelve, but William Hartnell and Matt Smith are not all alike. William Hartnell's Time Lord would not use a jammy dodger as a 'weapon' (well maybe he would) and Matt Smith's wouldn't abandon his granddaughter... well maybe they might, but it's not hugely likely.

Eleven (as the official numbering remains) is a very different character from Ten; much more quirky, alien and definitely not one familiar with human conventions. His style of dress was definitely 'Doctorish' but Tennant wouldn't wear a bow tie unless it was paired with a tux. This was a Doctor who for all his youthful appearance was a man over a millenia old... and he certainly played it convincingly.

Matt Smith was definitely the right choice for this role; capable of a great range of emotionsm, a superb style (the things the man did for bow tie sales) and the ability to pull off a gurn, a practical requirement for any Doctor.

While not as good as Tennant, he came very close and he'll be much missed.

Farewell Eleven.

22 December 2013

Merry Christmas and a Happy 2014

May I wish all my readers an enjoyable festive season as we remember the ultimate present that humanity has received - Jesus Christ.

Take care of yourselves and I wish you, not to mention your loved ones, a great 2014.

09 December 2013

I Am Bovvered ('Doctor Who' Season 30/Series 4, Part One, 2007-8)

2008 saw the launch of another Saturday night fantasy series produced by Shine Television for the BBC, Merlin, which focussed on the early career of a certain warlock and combined with it with strong homoerotic "hints" of the sort that are increasingly popular in buddy cop/adventure shows. While aimed at a family audience its rating demographic was actually over half 55+ and the show was successful enough to run for five seasons (as well as become the first British series to air on US network television for over 30 years when NBC aired the first season, but it went to Syfy after that) before the producers decided to wrap the show up. A show that definitely got better as it went along and realised that viewers weren't liking it staying in one place plotwise, its regulars included Richard Wilson and Anthony Head, both with notable Doctor Who guest appearances to their name. As well as the voice of one John Hurt.

The fourth season of the hugely successful revival saw the arrival of a new companion in the TARDIS, one whose casting was not exactly welcomed by fans who had seen her in a previous episode.

Supertemp - Donna Noble
Donna, who only appeared in the 4th season, was a markedly different character to Rose and Martha - especially in terms of the relationship with the Doctor, where her description of him as a "long thin streak of nothing" made it clear there wasn't going to be a romance in the TARDIS (although we did get one kiss... in an emergency situation). With a sharp tongue and short temper, it was going to be difficult to keep up with the long-temp temp from Chiswick (West London seems to be popular with companions).

Like Billie Piper before her, Catherine Tate (1968-) was already a 'known' in Britain, with her comedic background not exactly giving the devoted much to hope for. After her schooling in a convent school in West London (she does indeed hail from Chiswick), she spent four years attempting to get into the Central School of Speech and Drama, getting in on the fourth attempt. After the usual bit parts in serials (yes, including that one...), she started in stand-up comedy in 1996 and appeared in various sketch shows on TV, where her comedic talent was pretty obvious; she soon began to develop some notable characters of her own. Not only that, she did some work with the Royal Shakespeare Company.
Approached by the then controller of Comedy at the BBC at the Edinburgh Festival, she was encouraged to go further with her best known character, chavvy schoolgirl Lauren Cooper, with her most notable catchphrase "Am I bovvered?". She got her own TV show, The Catherine Tate Show, which ran for three seasons and two Christmas specials, with Tate playing a variety of comedic caricatures - including one that caused an Ofcom investigation for perceived stereotyping of people from Northern Ireland as terrorists (it was deemed not in breach). Notable among this were two Comic Relief skits in March 2007, one featuring David Tennant as a teacher and another featuring Tony Blair. Tate did another special in 2009 and in 2013 brought out "Nan" for Children in Need.

Since Doctor Who, she has had a regular role in the US version of The Office, appeared with Tennant at the RSC and most recently played a French teacher in a BBC1 comedy called Big School.

In terms of production codes, Series 4 continues all the way up to Tennant's departure in "The End of Time, Part Two" (4.18), but for discussion purposes, the series is frequently split into two - this run and the December 2008-January 2010 specials. Nearly all of the shooting scripts for these stories are available to download freely on the website for Russell T Davies' book covering the making of this, The Writer's Tale.

This would be Phil Collinson's final season as producer - he departed to become Head of Drama at BBC Manchester, then took his dream job as Coronation Street series producer for ITV Studios in 2010, stepping down in 2013 after a tenure that saw declining ratings and criticism of excessive numbers of LGBT characters.

A pretty strong season, with no clunkers, but also no stand out greats bar the Moffat one, the arc featured references to disappearing planets - why they were disappearing would soon be revealed...

Time Crash (8 minute mini-episode for Children in Need)
The Doctor says goodbye to Martha... and then crashes into the TARDIS of his fifth incarnation!

The first multi-Doctor episode of the new era, with David Tennant getting to act alongside his personal favourite Doctor (and later father-in-law!) Peter Davison[1]... with the former being a fanboy in character. A superb episode with lots of great jokes (a common rule is that the Doctor does not get on well with himself); this is available on DVD.

Voyage of the Damned (72 minute Christmas special)

Then something else crashes into the TARDIS - the space liner Titanic... the Doctor and waitress Astrid must stop the crippled ship from crashing into Earth. It's another spectacular Christmas...

Featuring a big name guest star, namely pop princess Kylie Minogue (who of course was an actor in Ten Network's long-running soap Neighbours down under), this Christmas special contains some great jokes, a particularly fiery Doctor who finally gets to say 'Allons-y, Alonso!' and a poignant ending.

This special, originally titled "Starship Titanic" until it was pointed out Douglas Adams had done a novel and video game of the same name, is the first appearance of popular recurrer Wilfred Mott, played by Bernard Cribbins[2]. Intended as a one-shot news vendor called Stan, the illness and subsequent death of Howard Attfield (who played Donna's father in "The Runway Bride", doing some filming for "Partners" before his health failed him), his role was renamed and expanded.

Partners in Crime (50 minutes)
Donna Noble's hunt for the Doctor proves successful, but she also finds an alien conspiracy involving diet pills...

Featuring some great scenes with Tennant and Tate, a great villain and some of the cutest aliens ever featured in the show (they later got a stress ball version of them sold), this is an enjoyable season opener that also featured the surprise appearance of a returning character; it was known they would be making another appearance, but not in this episode as the press copies edited it out that scene[3].

The Fires of Pompeii (50 minutes)

Aiming for ancient Rome, the two time travellers end up in Pompeii... and it's Volcano Day.

A strong tale with some good jokes (including the names of a family actually deriving from a Latin textbook) and the partial debut of the concept of "fixed points in time", events that the Doctor cannot change without putting all of spacetime at risk; the ending is particularly emotional for Donna.

By far the most notable aspect of this episode is the guest cast... namely two of them who would go on to bigger roles in the show. Karen Gillan's role as a soothsayer would be notable enough, but topping that (and he would also play another role in Torchwood) was a certain Scottish actor by the name of Peter Capaldi...

Planet of the Ood
The Doctor takes Donna to her first alien world, where they discover just what humanity is capable of...

Guest starring Tim Mclnnerny (best known for appearing in a regular role in three of the four Blackadder series), this tale featuring one of the most popular aliens in the modern era is good, has some strong scenes for Donna, but is otherwise fairly unremarkable... it was in fact intended to go second in the run. A "moderately gory" scene where a character is turned into an Ood (he deserves it) got this episode and its DVD release rated a 12 in the UK, as opposed to the usual PG.

The Sontaran Strategem/The Poison Sky
52 people die at the same time. The one link, their sat navs... the galaxy's greatest warriors are planning to attack Earth.

The first appearance of the Sontarans in the modern run (with a slight redesign, but for a race of clones they have been surprisingly variable in their appearances) and with Martha Jones getting to play a villain as well as her regular role, Helen Raynor's two-parter is good, but arguably less than the sum of its parts. It features Christopher Ryan[4] and Dan Starkey among those in the Sontaran masks, the latter who would be better known for one particular Sontaran, Strax.

The Doctor's Daughter
Arriving in the midst of a war on the planet Messaline, the Doctor, Donna and Martha encounter the Doctor's... daughter?
The one in which Peter Davison's daughter Georgia Moffett (whose first line "Hello, Dad" is even more ironic in hindsight) turns up, there's a lot of fun to be had here - she's great, Donna gets some of the best lines in the show[5] and the Doctor's not so bad either.

The Unicorn and the Wasp
Just what did happen during the ten-day disappearance of Agatha Christie in October 1926? Did it involve a giant wasp?

Another strong Graeme Harper-helmed episode best known for referencing (by dialogue or other things[6]) at least 23 Christie works - there was a competition to spot them all - this originally had a different opening and conclusion, the deleted scenes turning up on DVD.

Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead
The Library, an entire planet dedicated to the written word... but when the Doctor and Donna arrive it is deserted, except for a group of archeologists, one of whom seems to know the Doctor very well. As well as something deadly in the shadows.

Steven Moffat's final episode not as showrunner (he did not write for the 2009 specials), I rewatched this recently and found it remains very strong indeed; although not his best work. It was nominated for a Hugo, but lost out to Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog by a bored-during-the-writer's-strike Joss Whedon. However, this will live longer in the memory for who it introduced.

Trouble and Strife - River Song

One thing you can definitely say about Steven Moffat is that he doesn't half do complex plots; the one with River Song aka Melody Pond aka Cleoptara... the Doctor's first encounter with her is her last with him for one thing. A frisky, strong-willed woman with a deep love for the Doctor (who she frequently called 'sweetie'), she also was an archeologist of the Indiana Jones variety. In light of later revelations about her parentage, any scene with the Doctor and Amy looks rather different.

Alex Kingston (1963-) hails from London and started her TV acting career in 1978 on Grange Hill, appearing in three episodes. After a number of bit parts, she appeared in thirteen episodes of the Customs and Excise-based drama The Knock on ITV in 1996. This was followed by her breakout role as the titular character in The Fortunes and Misfortunes of Moll Flanders, a literary adaptation of a rather saucy novel that got her a BAFTA nomination. At this time, her brief marriage to Ralph Fiennes broke up after he left her for another woman - she has since remarried.

Hollywood, or rather Burbank, soon beckoned with seven seasons as Elizabeth Corday in the long-running medical series ER; she left in Season 11, but returned for two episodes in the final run. Turned down for Desperate Housewives for being too curvy [Some people are shallow - Ed.], she has since done a number of guest and recurring roles in network US dramas, including Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (as a character called Miranda Pond) and Arrow - she is based in the country. However, she has also appeared in British shows, including miniseries Marchlands for ITV and also looked at her family tree in the BBC's geneological show Who Do You Think You Are?

The Doctor, while holidaying on the planet Midnight, leaves Donna behind to go on a bus trip to see the Sapphire Waterfall. Said bus then gets infiltrated by a mysterious entity and no-one can be trusted... not even him.

Not one of my personal faves; even if it does feature strong acting from Tennant, Lesley Sharp and Patrick Troughton's son David (not his first appearance in the show either) and a chance to see the Doctor as others frequently see him, it just didn't sit right with me for some reason.

Intended as the 50th episode since the revival (a change in transmission order meant it went out 52nd, but the name of the bus shows the original plan), this story was a replacement for a planned story called "Century House" focussing on a haunted house, but dropped because RTD wasn't happy with the premise[7]. This is a Donna-lite tale; she's only in a couple of scenes.

Turn Left (50 minutes)
What if Donna never met the Doctor? Courtesy of a big spider, she's about to find out...

The Doctor-lite story in this run (it was double-banked with "Midnight" so both could be shot together) with Ten only appearing at the beginning and the end - his other appearance is from "The Runaway Bride" with this story, inspired by the 1998 film Sliding Doors, having Donna see a vision of a world where she'd not taken a job and a result the Doctor had died in that story.  This is a very strong episode with some pretty moving scenes (in this alternative universe, most of the other regulars in then three shows die off-screen[8]), a chance to see what Donna would be like without the Doctor and great direction from Graeme Harper - the slot was specially extended by five minutes so the cuts would not be excessive.

The Stolen Earth/Journey's End (second episode 65 minutes long)

27 planets, including Earth, disappear... the man responsible is the creator of the Doctor's deadliest foe with a plan to destroy the universe. It will take more than just the Doctor and Donna to stop this one...

Featuring characters from all three series in the main Whoniverse, as well as killing a recurrer who had frankly completed this arc, this one is RTD's vision for the show at its maximum volume... and the point where he probably began to outstay his welcome. It's not bad and certainly has some great moments ("MY VISION IS NOT IMPAIRED!" and Wilf's actions before that), but it's not his best finale.

Perhaps best known for the surprise cliffhanger to the first episode[9], this also features the very sad departure of Donna, the conclusion of Rose's arc and is also the final regular story of this era... the rest would be specials.

When the final ratings came in "Voyage of the Damned", they were planet-shattering. 13.31 million. The highest rating since "Dimensions in Time", one of the highest in the entire run and the second most watched programme of the entire year (there were no big football tournaments in 2007) - beaten only by the episode of EastEnders airing immediately before it. Even then, this was the first #2 for the week for the show... "The Ark in Space" had only managed #5.

The rating success continued - the average of this run was 8.6 million, although that was skewed towards a highly successful final four episodes that, with heavy media promotion helped by that cliffhanger, came in #5, #4, #2... and #1, "Journey's End" topping the ratings with 10.6 million viewers, not counting iPlayer.

The public acclaim for the show was even clearer on 29 October 2008  when it won the publicly voted for Most Popular Drama award in the 2008 National Television Awards (its fourth win in a row), broadcast on ITV. David Tennant accepted the award by video link and dropped a bombshell... while there had been speculation about this, it was still a shock - the plan kept secret under the codename Cobra[10].

He would be filming four more specials as the Doctor in 2009, fitting them in with his committment to Hamlet, which was actually not the main reason for not doing a full run (it had been planned since 2007) - then he would be handing over the TARDIS key to another man. While the public waited to find out who would replace him, the Tenth Doctor faced the wait for four knocks...


[1]A line about "shortening out the time differential" (a concept nicked from "Mawdryn Undead") is used to explain the fact that Davison looks, well, nearly 25 years older than he ever was in his tenure. Davison's costume is partly original, partly a recreation and one part Colin Baker's trousers from his first scenes, as Davison's natural increase in girth precluded him from wearing his original pair.
[2]Who many years earlier had played PC Tom Campbell in the second Peter Cushing film Daleks' Invasion Earth 2150 A.D.
[3]Russell T Davies omitted scenes from preview tapes, shot extra stuff in secret and sometimes outright lied to hide plot spoilers... Steven Moffat just asked the press of four countries nicely to not reveal a key point of "Asylum of the Daleks".
[4]Whose role in rubber as Lord Kiv in "Trial of a Time Lord: Mindwarp" makes him one of the few actors to have appeared in classic and new Who, but is best known for The Young Ones.
[5]The one about the Child Support Agency is particularly brilliant.
[6]RTD when rewriting this considered a more explicit reference to the original, non-PC title of the novel now called And Then There Were None, but decided it was too risky.
[7]Other dropped stories from the RTD era include a planned take on Sir Gawain and the Green Knight written by Stephen Fry, originally planned for Series 2 and replaced with "Fear Her" due to a lack of time on his part to do the rewrites - this appears to be permanently shelved.
[8]And shortly after this, one of them would die in the regular continuity - and we're not talking Captain Jack here.
[9]Which was omitted from the preview tapes of "Stolen Earth"; "Journey's End" did not have any sent out at all. Steven Moffat has said that the Doctor did use one up there, which will be interesting come Christmas 2013.
[10]Later codenames for things would include "Panic Moon" (the casting of Amy Pond, an anagram of "companion"), "Men on Waves" (Clara, an anagram of "Woman Seven") and "Houdini" (for the Twelfth Doctor).

06 December 2013

Nelson Mandela 1918-2013

"The right man in the wrong place can make all the difference in the world." - The G-Man, Half-Life 2

Some great people never get to see the world they create - they are taken too soon, frequently by someone else. Martin Luther King and Gandhi both are cases in point.

Mandela was one of the other type - those who live long enough to receive the plaudits they deserve, 95 is a superb innings for anyone let alone someone who spent 18 years in a horrible prison. He did not bring down apartheid single-handedly; Oliver Tambo (who died in 1993 before Mandela's election) did a lot of the legwork in that department and others played their roles. Apartheid would have ended without him when the Cold War's finish eliminated the reasons for the West not to go all in on sanctions.

But it would have been a very different end and a very different South Africa. This was a man who could have easily gone Robert Mugabe on the country when he took power, but chose not to. There could have been hangings galore and the white population ending up largely in other countries, but he chose not to. (I suspect some of those singing his praises for the peaceful actions he took would be backing him if he had went Mugabe...)

Without Mandela, who had to bring along a very reluctant ANC at times (and frankly, his successors as head of the Rainbow Nation haven't been great), it is entirely possible that South Africa could have ended up in a Syrian-style civil war... with nuclear weapons.

For that, he will justly be respected for centuries if not millennia.

Rest in Peace, Mr. President.

03 December 2013

A Literal Dog's Dinner, but not a metaphorical one (Twelve Faces of Who: "The Hounds of Artemis")

With the addition of another Doctor to the canon (if we get any extra works with the 'War Doctor', I will review them as part of this, but until then...) and another due at Christmas, I've now got twelve Doctors to look at in this series. The anniversary has seen a number of audios being aired on Radio 4 Extra, including "Protect and Survive", which I was planning to buy and two McGanns. The BBC have saved me some money.

Going ahead slightly to Matt Smith. As we approach the end of this Doctor's era and learn just how the Moff is going to deal with the twelve regenerations thingy (as they've all been used by by his own statement), it might be appropriate to go back to near the beginning of his time... when he was travelling with a Scottish strip... sorry, kissogram who hadn't yet gotten married. In reality, it's been sitting on my shelf for a couple of years and this series was an excuse to get it out of the way.

"The Hounds of Artemis" was intended to be the first Eleventh Doctor audiobook, but somehow got delayed by an entire year and ended up becoming the fourth. Having listened to it, it's not really got the quality to be the first in a new run...

Where we're at
Season 31, early Eleven. Just Amy and the Doctor - no Rory, indeed no mention of him at this point. Doctor Who Reference Guide sticks this before "The Time of Angels", but that's an arbitrary guess.


The Doctor and Amy Pond turn up in Smyrna, Turkey in 1929, just as an archeological expedition breaks open the fabled Tomb of Artemis... and unleashes some very nasty doggies.

"Artemis" breaks out a well-worn Doctor Who plot, a variant on the 'base under siege' one in fact - group of stereotypes opens ancient whatever and releases alien menace that then tries to a) kill them and b) get out into the wider universe. It goes back to "Tomb of the Cybermen" if not before and indeed, I've reviewed something in this vein previously. This can be done extremely well or extremely badly.

This one's particular take on the theme involves a bunch of British upper class folk getting glamoured by the illusion of a sumptious (and very English) dinner that turns out to be something much more unpleasant. Mary Whitehouse's "tea-time brutality for tots" comment does have some point to it. There is a good deal of content in the show that can give adults nightmares when you really think about it... "The Ark in Space" anyone?

The plot goes along pretty slowly, but that could have been the way I was listening to it, on and off over a couple of months. The atmosphere is ominous, the climax is strong and the way the monster is defeated is a good one, although it does rely on a certain character's unlikely choice of undergarment. I also wasn't too keen on the Turkish villagers,

The story itself is split up into two distinctive story-telling methods; a standard third-person narrative and a woman writing a letter to a museum, in which she reads extracts from Amy's diary. Now Amy is later established to be a published children's author and her early life probably involved prose fiction about "the Raggedy Doctor", much to her teacher's annoyance, I would imagine. I can get her writing a diary... but people do not write diaries while hiding behind a pillar on the run from evil creatures. Even Bram Stoker never did something like that in Dracula (worth reading if you've not already done so, BTW). This latter part gets seriously unconvincing.

Sound design
The late AudioGo did some great stuff with sound design on their audiobooks; this is not just someone doing some straight forward reading. There are rumbles, creaks and so on... with the book also featuring the opening and closing themes in use at the time.

The narrators

Matt Smith provides the primary prose narration and of course the voice of the Eleventh Doctor; turning in a strong performance (doing the other voices very well), but I'm not so sure about Clare Corbett, some woman I've never heard of who does Amy's diary and the letter writer. Not doing a great job at Karen Gillan's distinctively Scottish voice and otherwise uninspiring, she hasn't contributed much to the Whoniverse outside a few BBC Audio/AudioGo audios.


A good story, but badly damaged by an absurd plot device. It's also not the fastest thing in the world.

Final note

While I was listening to this, AudioGo discovered financial irregularities and shut down. While this doesn't affect BF, it could cause problems with other audiobooks in the pipeline.

23 November 2013

The Power of Thirteen (Review: 'Doctor Who', "The Day of the Doctor")

Doctor Who's 50th anniversary episode was subject to intense secrecy - with no press screenings or preview tapes, as well as a global simulcast to minimise spoilers. Sometimes hiding your completed work is a sign that it's awful.

Not in this case. After a slightly disjointed start, Steven Moffat's 75-minute long tale proved to be a worthy and brilliant tribute to the world's longest running sci-fi/fantasy show.

This review contains minor spoilers

Thirteen points that stand out for me:
  • The use of the original Derbyshire theme at the beginning was great, along with the starting location at Coal Hill School.
  • Steven Moffat's ability to rewrite the show's history and still leave all the old stuff intact is superb; the climax here is a lovely example.
  • Mind you, we're going to need to alter a good number of Wiki articles on the Doctor.
  • I've visited the National Gallery and most of it doesn't look like that - it's full of religious painting, nudes and the occasional religious nude.
  • The Zygons were great fun - it allows for Moffat to easily wrong foot the audience, although one of those transformation scenes did look a bit overly gruesome for kids (hence the time slot, I would say).
  • Three Doctors in one scene, all arguing with and insulting each other; that was superb in 1972 and it's just as good now. "Sandshoes" and "Grandad" will last long in the fandom's memory.
  • What was the fez doing in the Under Gallery in the first place?
  • We've now got an explanation for that scene at the end of "The Shakespeare Code" and a reference in "The End of Time".
  • I guess that the Could Have Been King was a bit beyond the budget. I don't think we actually saw any Dalek extermination effects here either and some of the CGI in the final shot was a bit obvious, but it had to be with three Doctors no longer with us and four no longer looking like they did.
  • The appearance of [censored] at the end was a great one, which was a lovely bit of the past.
  • I thought we might get an appearance from [spoiler], although it was a very brief one.
  • The lack of an appearance from [spoiler] was got around nicely and we've now managed to get all the [spoiler] on camera.
  • So, we are going to Trenzalore for Christmas... counting the one in "Journey's End", we've used up all twelve regenerations, so that will have to be dealt with then.

A bit disjointed to begin with and I was wondering how Moffat was going to deal with the previous canon near the end, but he managed it admirably. Well done to all involved.


50 Years of Doctor Who

Today is the 50th anniversary of the first episode of Doctor Who going out on BBC TV, broadcast 80 seconds behind schedule at 17:16:20 GMT according to BBC records.

Yesterday, I attended the Doctor Who Celebration event at the ExCeL in London's Docklands. I enjoyed the event and seeing the rare props, costumes etc, although I can't say I liked the long queues for nearly everything, including the BBC Shop.

There were a good number of people of all ages in costumes (you frequently got three or four different Doctors standing together, which must do something in terms of the space-time continuum) - there were indeed a good number of 'femme' Doctors. That was one of the more charming parts of the day.

It really says something about the success of this show that you can hold a sold out event in the London convention centre, have itself regularly appear on the cover of major TV magazines, have its every plot twist scrutinised in multiple countries... and still remain brilliant.

Happy Anniversary, Doctor Who. Here's to the Diamond Jubilee.

22 November 2013

50 Years since the death of JFK

Fifty years ago today, John F Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. Who killed him and why will be conspiracy theoried until the end of this current human civilisation, if not more, but it is clear that it is a defining moment in the 20th century.

If JFK had lived, it is possible that the US might have avoided being bogged down in Vietnam... but the Civil Rights movement might have taken longer to achieve its goals as he had difficulties getting the legislation through Congress. Also, what if his philandering came out?

Whatever happened or might have happened had it not occur, you have to feel for Jacqueline; even the Zapruder footage doesn't quite convey the pure horror of seeing your husband get shot in the head in front of you.

Rest in Peace, John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

10 November 2013

Remembrance 2013

You may not agree with the conflicts, but you can certainly agree that those who have been involved in war are worthy of our consideration and our thoughts - in many cases, they made the ultimate sacrifice willingly for the sake of humanity.

We will remember them.

20 October 2013

Aliens, Smith and Jones ('Doctor Who' Season 29/Series 3, 2006-7)

Well, we've found some more missing episodes... nine of them in fact. I've updated the article on Season 5 to reflect this amazing find. What's even more amazing is that these two stories topped the UK iTunes for Film and Television the week when they came out - and also are doing very well on Amazon.

2007 saw a major change in British television with the launch of the BBC's on demand service, iPlayer. This service, which other UK networks soon copied, allowed online viewing of most BBC programming for a week after transmission - and would seriously alter British viewing habits. The BBC regularly releases reports on how many views its most popular programmes get on iPlayer - and Doctor Who regularly gets well over a million, if not two million.
ITV, seeing the success of the show, attempted to get in on the act with their own time-travel/fantasy show, Primeval, involving a variety of scientists dealing with prehistoric creatures (frequently dinosaurs) coming through anomalies into the present day - the first season aired in the early part of 2007. While getting good reviews (although its lack of ethnic minority cast was criticised by RTD) and fairly good ratings, it was cancelled after three seasons in the context of a major financial loss for the third channel - they simply didn't have the money for it. A co-production deal with digital channel Watch and German broadcaster ProSieben led to two more seasons in 2011, but a Canadian spinoff last year was axed after one season. It is probably fair to say that the show is extinct - it never endangered Doctor Who (the only time they were scheduled against each other, Doctor Who won comfortably with the 2009 Easter Special "Planet of the Dead").
The third season of the revival saw Tennant now fully settled into his award winning tenure as the Doctor. The show's international success was assured - it had even been sold to The Sci-fi Channel in the US and its domestic success would continue, as a new companion stepped into the TARDIS.
Martha Jones - is there an actual doctor in the house?[1]
Medical student Martha Jones (later Dr Martha Smith-Jones) gets a good deal of stick for fans for not being Rose and for falling in love with the Doctor, then clearing off when she found it he didn't love her back. While she's not my favourite companion, I've got to call myself a Martha fan.
(Martha's family make a number of appearances, but are not as prominent as the Tylers)
Frema Agyeman (1979-), the first non-white woman to play a companion - she's of mixed Ghanian and Iranian heritage., added a second e to her first name to become Freema Agyeman when she started acting so people said her name correctly, started off in TV in Carlton's 2001-3 revival of the long-running and notoriously cheap ATV/Central soap opera Crossroads as Lola Wise.
Once that was canned, she did a small number of guest parts, including two different ones in The Bill before getting the part of Adeola Oshodi in "Army of Ghosts", her role there (where she was killed off) getting her part of Martha Jones, later stated to be the former's cousin. She was written out at the end of the season by RTD, who decided that the unrequited love arc wouldn't work into a second season - with the aim of bringing Martha back into the part for Season 30 a little older and wiser.

While she did make a number of further appearances (six more in Tennant's era) and even did a stint in Torchwood, further appearances were precluded by her next big role. Before that, she appeared as Tattycoram in a BBC adaptation of Charles Dickens' Little Dorrit (alongside two other Torchwood alumni) and was prominently featured in the publicity for the BBC remake of Terry Nation's Survivors... where she got killed off by the global pandemic in the first episode.
Agyeman in fact switched channels at this point, appearing in 39 episodes of Law & Order: UK, playing junior prosecutor Alesha Philips, later alongside former Doctor Peter Davison. Her role in that came to an end when she headed stateside to appear on the CW's 1980s prequel to Sex and the City, The Carrie Diaries, which is due to start it second run on 25 October in the US.

This was another 14 episode run with a concert for Children in Need and a animated episode for CBBC thrown into the mix. The third lot of episodes doesn't have an outright stinker like the previous two, although many were distinctly unimpressed by the Dalek two parter. The Doctor gained a second regular costume - a blue suit to provide some variation from his brown pinstripe (for one thing, it was easier to animate).

The logo was slightly altered, changing the font and making the design a bit cleaner.

The 'arc words' for this one were 'Mister Saxon', a mysterious British politician who would soon be causing Team TARDIS a lot of problems...
The Runaway Bride (60-minute Christmas special)
When a rather annoyed bride turns up in his TARDIS, the Doctor is in for a very turbulent Christmas.
The first appearance of Donna Noble, this Christmas special contains some pretty enjoyable moments, including the sight of the TARDIS flying down a highway, something that RTD had wanted to see since childhood. Donna is pretty annoying - she improved considerably on her later appearances, but the characterisation of the character made her announcement as a regular cause some considerable consternation among fans.

This story was intended for Season 28, but put back when the third Christmas special was ordered.
Smith and Jones
A group of alien police officers steal a hospital[2] and take it to the Moon... with the Doctor, plus one Martha Jones inside.
The first appearance of the popular 'space rhino' Judoon (if there's a major Doctor Who event involving monsters in costume, expect one to turn up) and featuring a villain who sucks blood through a drinking straw [Must be a sharp straw - Ed.], this one has a good number of moments but drags a bit towards the end.
The Shakespeare Code
The Doctor takes Martha to London in 1599, where strange things are going down.
Written by Gareth Roberts, a big Shakespeare fan who included him as a character when he'd previously written a Ninth Doctor comic strip for Doctor Who Magazine, this enjoyable tale contains lots of jokes about Shakespeare, including over claims he was bisexual and the soon-to-be-published final Harry Potter novel[3].
The costumes and sets (not to mention the trip to London to film in the reconstructed Globe Theatre) cost a fair bit of money, but BBC Wales were able to re-dress these sets for other things, including for The Sarah Jane Adventures.
The time travellers return to New Earth, where they discover an epic traffic jam and the Doctor learns a big secret...
The final part of a loose trilogy of stories (starting with "The End of the World") focussing on the human race in the far future and featuring the ancient Face of Boe, this pretty good story written by an atheist ironically got nominated for an award for the positive depiction of faith.
This is also the 727th episode of the series, the point at which the show beat the entire Star Trek television franchise for most episodes aired[4].
Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks
In New York in 1930, the Cult of Skaro (the four surviving Daleks from "Doomsday") continues to try to become supreme and further develop their race.
With Helen Raynor becoming the first woman to write for post-2005 Doctor Who, this frankly mediocre tale saw a key plot twist spoiled by RTD for the sake of a Radio Times cover (something the show now has no problems getting) and the first overseas location filming for the BBC Wales era - with second unit establishing shots filmed in New York, as Doctor Who Confidential were going there anyway.

Significant guest stars including Miranda Raison, then of Spooks and since then a number of other things - she's one of those actors who pop up quite frequently on the box in Britain.
The Lazarus Experiment
The Doctor prepares to drop Martha off back home, but then learns of Professor Richard Lazarus and his plan to change what it means to be human...
Featuring Mark Gatiss in front of the camera for a change (as Professor Lazarus), this rather good tale features some nice jokes, including on 'reversing the polarity' and also extensive Mr. Saxon references.

A crazed crewmember sabotages a cargo vessel and sends it, along with the time travellers heading towards a star. They have 42 minutes before impact...
A story that runs in more-or-less real time (a homage to 24 in concept and title), this contains a good number of dramatic moments but is probably one of the weaker stories of this run - it's certainly less remembered.
Aired after a week's break for the Eurovision Song Contest[5], this story saw a bunch of actors (including Michelle Collins, best known for EastEnders) pretending to be in an increasingly hot spaceship while in reality in a disused Welsh warehouse in February... something that required ice cubes and baby oil to a) avoid their breath from misting and b) make them look suitably grimy.
Human Nature/The Family of Blood
In a English private school in 1912, teacher John Smith has a secret... but even he doesn't know that he is the Doctor.
Adapted by Paul Cornell from his novel of the same name as the first part, this story excels at almost every level - brilliant acting (especially from Tennant), a strong story and demonstrating just what happens when you truly get on the wrong side of the Tenth Doctor. It was nominated for the same Hugo that the next episode would win and came sixth in the Doctor Who Magazine Mighty 200 poll, one of two Tennant stories in the Top Ten.
Game of Thrones fans may spot not one, but two actors from the show in this two-parter, which also includes a wonderful reference to Sydney Newman and Verity Lambert.

An abandoned house holds the deadly Weeping Angels and only Sally Sparrow can stop them. All she has to do is not blink...
After last season's dog's dinner of a Doctor-lite tale, this is much better... to the point of winning a third Hugo for Steven Moffat and coming second in the Mighty 200 poll - beaten only by "The Caves of Androzani". Introducing the very popular Weeping Angels, who became an A-List race straight off the bat, this is a superb tale loosely based on a short story by Moffat from the 2006 Doctor Who annual and also features an early role for Carey Mulligan, who would later be nominated for Best Actress for An Education, losing out to Sandra Bullock's role in The Blind Side[6].
Utopia/The Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords (final part 51 minutes long)[7]
When the TARDIS arrives at the Cardiff rift to refuel, Captain Jack jumps onto the ship (literally) and the crew are flung forward to the very far future, where another Time Lord is lying dormant... It's only the start of a very bad year for the three of them.
A suitably epic season finale that features the return of that old favourite the Master, who doesn't have a beard, but does have a wife. While there are some very strong scenes in this, the final episode in which the Tenth Doctor progressively ends up looking like Dobby the House Elf and then Jesus arguably marks the point where RTD began to wear out his welcome.

Did someone order a lunatic? Master No Six[8]
The Master has always been a bit mad; someone who on their first appearance tried to remotely strangle someone with a telephone cord isn't quite right in the head. Over the run of the show he's gotten progressively crazier... and this one is the least sane of the lot. Consider his scheme in this episode, which involves creating a giant paradox.

John Simm (1970-present) born in Leeds, started off supporting his father in performances at working men's clubs[9]. At 16, he started going into musical theatre, but decided it wasn't for him and went for more serious acting, training at the Drama Centre London. He was also in a rock band.
His professional acting debut came in 1992, when he appeared in Rumpole of the Bailey for Thames Television (an earlier BBC role ended up on the cutting room floor) and after a variety of bit parts, including, you guessed it, The Bill, he broke through with a role as a troubled teen in Cracker in 1995. Further film and television roles followed to more acclaim, including Human Traffic and by the time he played a reporter in the BBC political thriller State of Play in 2002 (a highly acclaimed mini-series that got a US film remake), he was clearly a name to watch.
Then came Life on Mars, where he starred as Sam Tyler, a modern day detective who found himself back in 1973 after being hit by a car. While upstaged by Philip Glenister's DCI Gene Hunt[10] (who would also appear in sequel Ashes to Ashes, not featuring Simm), he achieved huge success in a series that won two International Emmys, got him a BAFTA nomination and is considered a masterpiece of 2000s UK TV, probably because it was deliberately ended after two seasons to avoid it going stale.
The Doctor Who role followed shortly after (he took it so his son could have something to watch him in as most of his work is post-watershed) and was well received. Since then, he has appeared in the first season of the BBC historical drama The Village (which aims to cover the life of a Derbyshire village over the 20th century and is planned to last seven seasons) and also in all three seasons of the rather trippy Sky 1 series Mad Dogs, also with Philip Glenister.

The Infinite Quest (animated, 12 3'30" episodes aired as part of Totally Doctor Who and final chapter included in an omnibus broadcast - not officially part of Series 3)
The Doctor and Martha must find a legendary lost spaceship before Baltazar, the scourge of the galaxy.
A full-length episode with Tennant and Agyeman voicing their roles and featuring an animated version of the regular title sequence in its full broadcast, this is a de facto 14th episode and actually pretty good. It's clear why another of these was commissioned for the following run.

Average ratings (not counting iPlayer) were a little down 7.5 million, but no episode went below 6.5 and three from the main run exceeded 8.4 million, with "The Runaway Bride" hitting a final figure of 9.4 million, although the audience does tend to be a little more 'captive' on Christmas Day.
The BBC, fresh off the success of this and Robin Hood, now had another fantasy series in development, which we will discuss next time, as we look at the first part of Season 30, which would last over two years. The Doctor was about to meet another lady, one who was surprisingly bothered...
[1]Whether the Doctor has an actual doctorate in medicine (or anything else for that matter) isn't confirmed; he certainly demonstrates a strong knowledge of the subject and has stated that he studied with Lister (no, not that one) in Victorian Scotland.
[2]The fictitious Royal Hope would later appear in the first episode of Law & Order: UK... albeit as somewhere where a dead baby is found.
[3]The ending of that book is one thing that the film improves on. Since then Rowling has written two adult novels - The Casual Vacancy and The Cuckoo's Calling (under the name Robert Galbraith). The latter (which was not revealed to be penned by her for four months... then shot up in sales once it did so), which I'm currently listening to on audiobook, contains a lead character by the unlikely name of Cormoran Strike. Even Richard Castle from the ABC series Castle (him of Nikki Heat) would reject that as excessively silly.
[4]Though Star Trek beats Doctor Who when it comes to overall screen-time.
[5]Serbia won the contest held in Helsinki, Finland - the UK came joint 22nd (with France) out of 24, gaining 19 points with Scooch.
[6]The previous year she won a Razzie for All About Steve - and collected it!
[7]There is a debate as to whether this is a three-parter or a one-parter and a two-parter. The BBC goes for the latter, but Russell T Davies counted it as a three-parter when he designated "Planet of the Dead" as story 200 and TARDIS Data Core goes with the former too.

[8] Russell T Davies insisted that the anagram of "Master No. Six" (this was the sixth incarnation of the Master as seen on TV) was a coincidence. Pull the other one...
[9]Social clubs for working men, typically found in Wales and the North of England.
[10] The boorishly un-PC Hunt became a rather unlikely sex symbol and cult figure through his (largely unprintable in a family blog) bon mots [Speak English, you soft Southerner! - Gene], combined with considerable swagger. It's no accident I based (and use an image of him for) Pierce Langer on Gene Hunt.

11 October 2013

Doctor Who Season 5 (1967/68): More bases under siege

(Article originally published 14 April 2012)

Update - 11 October 2013: The discovery of nine missing episodes from this run in one go has made many of my comments more than a little redundant. I will retain the original text but add my corrections below in italics.

This forty-episode fifth season of Doctor Who is another lost season – only one story is intact and that is only due to it turning up entirely intact in the archives of Hong Kong broadcaster ATV in 1991.[1]

Make that two, with another two essentially intact through reconstructions.

There was another change in production team mid-season, with Innes Lloyd moving on to pastures new and story editor Peter Bryant taking on the producer role. The new story editor was Derrick Sherwin, who appointed Terrance Dicks as an informal assistant. We’ll be hearing more about Mr Dicks as this story progresses – he was and still is a big cheese in Who. The transition was entirely smooth and Bryant saw no reason to change a formula that had been working well.

It would continue to work – despite all bar one story being a “base under siege”, many fans see this as a classic season (although one can’t but wonder if nostalgia plays a part in this as most of the episodes are missing).

The Tomb of the Cybermen (4 episodes, complete)

The Doctor, Jamie and Victoria arrive on the planet Telos, where a group of archaeologists are trying to get into the lost tombs of the Cybermen. The Doctor helps them out, not knowing just what is inside…

The first appearance of the Cybermats, “Tomb” is considered a classic of Troughton era Who, with scenes that live long in the memory. It’s current Doctor Matt Smith’s favourite story and from what I remember of it, I can see why.

The Abominable Snowmen (6 episodes, only Episode 2 survives)

The time travellers arrived at a Tibetan monastery in 1935 – a monastery that is under siege from the robot Yeti…

One of the guest stars in the story, Jack Watling, who played Professor Travers, was actually Deborah Watling’s father.

The Ice Warriors (6 episodes, 1 and 4 to 6 in the archives, but 2 & 3 have been animated for DVD)

Arriving on Earth at the time of a new ice age, Team TARDIS arrive just in time for the revival of a humanoid creature found in a glacier. A humanoid creature who has mates and wants to conquer Earth…

This is the first appearance of the Ice Warriors, one of the B-list Who villains, a large bulky Martian race with a hissing voice. Of course, back then, we thought that Mars might have had some form of life in the past.

I now have this on DVD and a review is planned when I get to watching it.

The Enemy of the World (6 episodes, only Episode 3 survives complete)

A sort of Doctor Who meets James Bond story (it’s the only non-base-under-siege story of Season 5), where the Doctor arrives on Earth in 2017 and is mistaken for Ramón Salamander (Troughton playing both roles), a scientist/politician who is trying to take over the world via causing ‘natural’ disasters… So, the Doctor decides to impersonate him and get to the bottom of this.

Episode 3 was the first story filmed with 625-line video tape as opposed to 405-line, the “high definition” of its day.

Found in Nigeria in 2013 and available on iTunes with a DVD release scheduled. Not sure if I'll buy this one.

The Web of Fear (6 episodes, only episode 1 survives episode 3 missing)

Another go for the Yeti, this time in the London Underground (an excellent recreation in studio), forty years or so after the events of “The Abominable Snowmen”[2]. Probably the story that fans most want to see back, I’ve seen Episode 1 and quite enjoyed it. 

And they've now got it back - episode 3 is currently a telesnap reconstruction from 37 images and the audio, but who knows, it might be animated for DVD?

There’s one other thing that this story is notable for:

Brigadier Sir Alastair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart

Although he’s only a Colonel in this story (and UNIT doesn’t exist at this point in time), “The Web of Fear” is the first appearance of one of Who’s much loved characters. 

Only a pair of boots in Episode 2 and his first full appearance is still missing.

Appearing alongside all seven of the classic Doctors (although one of those was non-canonical) and also appearing in The Sarah Jane Adventures, “The Brig” was a true warrior, facing the unknown while remaining completely unflappable and putting his own life on the line many times. One of the few military men the Doctor really liked, it’s fitting that the Doctor learning of his death is such a pivotal point in “The Wedding of River Song”.

He was played by Nicholas Courtney (1929-2011), a lovely man who I had the honour to meet at one of my local department stores a few years before he passed away – no-one really has a bad word to say about him.

Fury from the Deep (6 episodes, none complete)

Victoria’s last story, this story involving mind-controlling seaweed in a gas refinery has a reputation for being very scary. Pity most of it doesn’t exist in video form… It’s also the first story to feature the sonic screwdriver, favoured ‘get out of jail free’ card of many a Who writer in both the classic and new era.

The Wheel in Space (6 episodes, 3 and 6 available)

With Victoria gone, it was time for another female companion. This one would be Zoe Heriot, mathematician from the 21st century, who combined high intelligence with high hemlines[3]. She joins the TARDIS at the end of an adventure which involves the Cybermen trying to take over a space station – so they can use it to invade Earth.

Following the conclusion of “The Wheel in Space”, a repeat of “Evil of the Daleks” with a specially added voiceover with the Doctor talking to Zoe (as he was mentally relaying the adventure for her to give  an insight into what she’d be facing) was aired. This then led straight into the first story of Season 6, a run that was going to see some classic moments indeed.

[1]Since  Between 1991 and 2013, no other story has been was completed due to the finding of lost episodes.
[2]We’ll be discussing UNIT dating next time.
[3]This, after all, being the late 1960s.

You wait ages for a missing Doctor Who episode...

Then nine turn up at once!

The discovery of the five missing episodes of "The Enemy of the World" and four of the five from "The Web of Fear", along with their immediate release on iTunes (I'll wait for the DVD release) is great news for fans of the world's longest-running science fiction show. It's the biggest haul in three decades - one more than the previous finds combined.

I'll be updating my Season 5 article to reflect these discoveries.

02 October 2013

Starter for Ten ('Doctor Who' Season 28/2, 2005-6)

It's fair to say there has never been a poor Doctor... even Colin Baker has vastly improved his reputation over the years from his Big Finish work.
With one of its leads departing 13 episodes into the run, things could have gone very wrong very quickly for the show. Interestingly enough, it was at this time that Kate Todd departed NCIS in truly dramatic style[1] and was replaced by Ziva David, who was initially played as untrustworthy for an audience who arguably missed the haughty agent... the show went from strength to strength; it ended Season 10 as the most watched scripted show in the US and the 2nd most popular overall[2].
Anyway, enough discussions about women from crime shows and onto a guy who has been in a couple himself...
Fire and Ice and Rage - The Tenth Doctor
The British media site Digital Spy recently held a Best Doctor poll... and the Tenth Doctor won with just over 50% of the vote. It is completely true to say that David Tennant's portrayal has dethroned the previously most popular Doctor, Tom Baker, to be considered the best of the lot.
The Tenth Doctor was certainly a very well-developed character. From his initial "Cockney wideboy in space" persona, a much deeper man emerged. He could be highly enthusiastic, prone to go off on a tangent mid sentence and always attempted to give an enemy a chance to leave without violence. However, he was firmly of the "no second chances"... you angered this guy, you paid hard - very hard.
The human who would play this alien was David McDonald (1971-), far better known by the stage name he had to take for Equity reasons, David Tennant - a surname taken from Neil Tennant of The Petshop Boys. Growing up in Renfrewshire, where his father was a priest and later held the post of Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland - a year long position but a hugely important one for religious Scots ("Sandy" McDonald would later cameo in "The Unicorn and the Wasp"). His love of Doctor Who in his youth led to him in going in to acting - and he went totally starstruck when he actually got to act alongside Lis Sladen.
 After a spot of roles with the Royal Shakespeare Company, he got his TV break with (appropriately enough) Takin' Over The Asylum for BBC Scotland[3], where he played a bipolar contributor to a hospital radio station. Moving to London in the 1990s, lodging with Arabella Weir (who would later appear in "The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe" alongside Tennant's successor), a batch of further television work followed, along with stage work and audio - including Doctor Who stuff for Big Finish, as well as "Scream of the Shalka". He attempted 14 times to get an appearance in STV's Taggart, but did do an episode of The Bill in 1995. There were a couple of series appearance, the biggest of these being the musical series Blackpool in 2004, where he was increasingly considered one to watch. His role as Casanova then followed, working with Russell T Davies for the first time.
Shortly before his debut proper as the Doctor on 25 December 2005, he appeared in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire as Death Eater Barty Crouch Jr, although his character spends most of that movie being played by Brendan Gleeson. What screentime Tennant does get allows him to exercise a good deal of evil ham.
His time as the Doctor, where he chose to use an Estuary English accent instead of his native Scottish brogue (a line about Rose's accent 'imprinting' on him got cut from the script), saw him gain considerable critical acclaim and thirteen awards. However, he still wanted to take to the stage and did a highly regarded turn as Hamlet for the Royal Shakespeare Company alongside Sir Patrick Stewart as Claudius - which was subsequently filmed for BBC2, being aired in December 2009 as he was preparing to depart the role of the Doctor. I've seen this and his take on "To be or not to be", which involves Hamlet pointing a gun at his head (it's a modern dress production) is one highlight of an excellent performance.
After Doctor Who, he made an attempt to break into the US with an unbroadcast pilot for a show called Rex Is Not Your Lawyer, where he played a panic attack prone lawyer who helped clients represent themselves, but the show was not ordered to series.[4] A return to the UK followed in due course, where he took leading roles in Single Father and most notably, ITV's highly acclaimed Broadchurch (renewed for a second season and with a US remake planned for next year), as DI Alec Hardy.
Tennant also does a great deal of voice work - he has done a good number of adverts and Party Political Broadcasts[5] for the Labour Party (although he declined to do these while he was playing the Doctor as he didn't want the character to be seen to be politically partial). He also is planning to appear as Richard II, another well known Shakespeare role... I'm going to say that if any Doctor were to get a CBE or even a knighthood, it would be him.
The expansion of the run to 14 full length episodes meant that it became necessary for the creation of a "Doctor-lite" episode to allow for filming these in the same time to do thirteen otherwise; a trend that would continue[6] with the later addition of "companion-lite" episodes. Each episode after "New Earth" saw minute-long "TARDISode" prologues, downloadable from the BBC website and also intended for smartphones. For the second year in a row, the show started on Easter Saturday, something now pretty standard for the show.
Russell T Davies took a slightly reduced role in the writing of the season; it would allow some other writers to shine. Again, these are 45 minutes unless specified and two-parters are grouped in the obvious way. The run is a strong one, although it lacks some of the heights of the previous run (most of the writers didn't have the knowledge of Ten that RTD had to this point).
As for grouping, the Christmas specials are generally filmed and production code numbered in-house with the following season (as 2.X in this case), so will go with those.
"Born Again" (7-minute Children in Need special[7])
A canon special that follows the Doctor and Rose in the minutes after the regeneration, this is the shortest televised Doctor Who episode of them all ("Time Crash" is a minute longer). With the fundraising scroller removed at RTD's request, you can focus on a short and quite good scene, albeit one somewhat forgotten - you'd be forgiven for jumping straight to the next story...
The Christmas Invasion (Christmas special, 60 minutes)
The first Doctor Who Christmas special since the questionable in every aspect one that was "The Feast of Steven" (part of the "The Daleks' Master Plan) back in 1965, the show has not skipped a year since and is considered a key part of the BBC1 Christmas Day lineup. It's not hard to see why based on this. While the Tenth Doctor spends much of this episode unconscious, but when he awakes and has fully arrived as the Doctor (albeit in his pyjamas[8]), he rocks from the first line. There's also some political comment in a story that sees the first mention of the Torchwood Institute, most notably a bit on Margaret Thatcher and the sinking of ARA General Belgrano in May 1982 (see my article in The Burning Question #10 for more on that).
This episode also sees a new orchestral arrangement of the closing theme and the change of the lead character's credit back to "The Doctor" at Tennant's request - it has remained so ever since.
New Earth
The Doctor and Rose head to New Earth in 5,000,000,023, where they meet an old friend, an old enemy and a load of cat nuns with a questionable attitude to medical ethics.
A sequel to "The End of the World" that RTD intended to use to show that things would not change with a new Doctor (it also contains the first extrasolar trip since 1989), this had significant production problems - bad weather, damaged props and CGI issues, as well as major rewrites when RTD was advised by Steven Moffat that he had a habit of creating interesting characters and then killing them. While this has some good moments, it ultimately isn't the best of the run.
Tooth & Claw
Team TARDIS arrive in Victorian Scotland, where they have to save a monarch from a werewolf.
An enjoyable episode with a lot of action, including wire work, plus some great lines (including a reference to Jamie). The events of this result in the creation of Torchwood - which will soon employ one Jack Harkness.
School Reunion
The Doctor, Rose and Mickey Smith (her former boyfriend) investigate a haunted school. Also on the case is K9 and Sarah Jane Smith.
Featuring Lis Sladen's first appearance in the show since the non-canon "Dimensions in Time" in 1993 - she took some persuading and with a villain played by Anthony Head (Giles from Buffy), this one is a great story, with some superb moments and one-liners. Indeed, I named a TV Tropes entry after a line from this (The Missus And The Ex) in fact.
This also features the final work done by the BBC Model Unit (responsible for many great models, most notably on Red Dwarf) before it was closed down - it's members, most notably Mike Tucker, went freelance and have contributed to the show since.
At the end of this episode, the Ninth Doctor acquires another companion...
The Tin Human - Mickey Smith
When Rose first appeared, she had a well-meaning but not exactly smart boyfriend named Mickey Smith, a car mechanic - a man obsessed with football, sex and conspiracy theories. Mickey got captured by the Autons and his reaction to alien life did not impress the Doctor, who did not invite him into the TARDIS when he left with Rose - resulting in Smith getting suspected of her murder when she failed to come home for a year. He then proceeded to get considerably better all-round, showing strong computer and physical "hacking" skills in his other Season 27 and 28 appearance, so became a companion as of "School Reunion".

His arc saw him staying in a parallel universe to fight Cybermen and then eventually returning home, seemingly working with Torchwood (a planned appearance in Children of Earth was dropped due to Noel Clarke getting another part). The Rose-Mickey relationship broke down, but he later married her replacement, Dr Martha Jones.

Noel Clarke (1975-present) is the first non-white actor to play a companion in the television series. Hailing from London, his first TV role was in 1999 and after a few guest roles, he appeared in 14 episodes of the BBC revival of Auf Wiedersehen, Pet (a comedy drama about a group of British migrant construction workers) from 2002 to 2004, when the run concluded. He then went on to Doctor Who, where he admits he pitched his performance too comedic initially as he thought he was doing a children's show - it gets dialled in for his later appearances.

He also wrote an episode of Torchwood ("Combat") - the first companion to also pen a script for the franchise and also did some BF audio.

Since Doctor Who, he has become a rising actor and especially director, with Kidulthood and sequel Adulthood gaining plaudits for his turn behind the camera, but also acting in films like Storage 24, Fast Girls (a film about an athletics championship that was not the London Olympics as the IOC wouldn't let them use their trademarks) and most recently Star Trek: Into Darkness.

The Girl in the Fireplace
The three TARDIS crew arrive on a deserted spaceship in the future, containing clockwork robots and portals to 18th century France...

Another Hugo-winning story from Steven Moffat, which sees Sophia Myles (who would later have a relationship with Tennant) as Madame de Pompadour, this one contains many a funny line and a thrilling moment, as well as a scene that possibly implies the Doctor discussed Uganda, if you know what I mean, with Louis XIV's mistress. Sad ending too.

Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel
The TARDIS ends up on a parallel Earth, where a new and terrifying race is about to be born...

Partly inspired by a Big Finish audio ("Spare Parts", reviewed on this blog), this two-parter has some great moments and a strong new interpretation of the Cybermen - they even acquire a catchphrase, but ultimately not the best Cyberman story. Noel Clarke gets to play two parts (Mickey and alternate universe version RIcky), with his character chosing to stay here at the end of the story. The lead villain is played by Roger Lloyd Pack, best known for his role as Trigger ("because he looks like a horse") in Only Fools & Horses.

This story also sees the directing return of Graeme Harper in his first of nine contributions to modern Doctor Who.

The Idiot's Lantern
The Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II is looming and many people are buying their first television sets... but something is lurking in the airwaves.

An enjoyable episode (although not perhaps best for young Rose fans) with some good jokes - although a "Logopolis" reference got cut from the script before filming; this is a demonstration of why Mark Gatiss keeps getting asked back. It's also a strong early example of what happens when you annoy the Tenth Doctor.

The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit
A base orbiting a black hole is home to an awaking entity that wants to feed on its crew.

A horror two-parter that has fun with the marker pen and killing guest casts as well as references to HP Lovecraft (especially the Ood, who make their debut here) and Alien - indeed one of its actors appeared in the third film. Might need to rewatch this one; I don't remember being massively keen on it, but it has its moments - as well as an ominous prediction for Rose.
Love & Monsters
A London man by the name of Elton Pope becomes obsessed with the Doctor and Rose, discovering other dangers when he joins a fan club.
The "Doctor and companion-lite" episode (the two regulars only appear in a few scenes), this story focuses on a character played by Marc Warren, a well known British actor who has turned in shows on both sides of the pond. It also features a monster designed through a competition on Blue Peter, the woman who played Moaning Myrtle in the Harry Potter films and one of the dirtiest jokes yet to feature in any Doctor Who[9].
It's also an extremely poor episode - the worst of this run and quite possibly the worst post-2005.
Fear Her
The 2012 London Olympics are about to begin... but a creature in a girl's closet could ruin that.
One I found OK, but which gets a very bad rep from fans in general for being a bit boring, ranking 192nd in the Mighty 200, the lowest of the post-2005 stories in that poll. This tale is interesting in its setting and depiction of the then recently-won London Games; the logo used is the bid one (the proper one wasn't revealed at this point) and interestingly enough, David Tennant didn't get to carry the torch in RL but Matt Smith did[10].
This is the first explicit discussion of child abuse in Doctor Who, but there have been implications before this - an allusion to paedophilia in "The Empty Child" and going right back to the very first episode, the reason that Ian and Barbara pushed their way into the TARDIS was because they feared Susan was being abused by the Doctor.

Army of Ghosts/Doomsday
A mysterious army of ghosts have appeared... and Torchwood are involved. Little do they know what they are about to unleash...
The first and so far only Daleks vs. Cybermen fight (the former arguably win as they get away), this also sees the debut of the Doctor's "Allons-y!" catchphrase, Graeme Harper directing, Freema Agyeman appearing in a role different to the one she would take the following season, the setting up of the Torchwood spinoff... and the departure of Rose in a heartbreaking manner. She may not have died, but to the Doctor it was basically the same thing.
This is a strong season finale capped by a strong climax, some great deaths and that final moment...
The average ratings, not bolstered by the big debut of "Rose", were a tick down at 7.8 million, with "The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit" averaging about 6.2. This was still however very good all round.
The continuing success of Doctor Who was such that the BBC decided that Saturday evening family drama was worth doing more of - so they launched Robin Hood, a new take on the legend of the redistributive robber that sometimes shot up historical accuracy with a sheaf of arrows. It lasted three seasons (and gave David Harewood a notable role pre-Homeland) before declining ratings and several characters leaving, including Robin himself, led the BBC to pull the plug there.
Russell T Davies was one for subterfuge when it came to concealing plot spoilers... the final scene of "Doomsday" was filmed during the wrap party with the script limited to only those involved (IIRC, it was left off the preview tapes). The previous year had actually seen a fake ending for "The Parting of the Ways" filmed with the intention to drop the regeneration on everyone before Eccleston's departure leaked.

The surprise was kept this time and so after the harrowing departure of Rose Tyler, the Doctor had to come with Catherine Tate turning up in his TARDIS.

It would be a very interesting year for the Time Lord...
[1]The statute of limitations on spoilers isn't quite up for that one. Sasha Alexander now plays a doctor herself... Dr Maura Isles in TNT's Rizzoli & Isles, arguably the funniest of the 'forensic scientist in 4-inch heels' brigade.
[2]And I've just compared the Tenth Doctor to Ziva David... oddly enough, Cote de Pablo was one of the 'played by' possibles for Romana VI.
[3]The BBC regional stations do produce a number of local only shows, such as River City for BBC Scotland, although these can be found in iPlayer and in the upper reaches of the Sky EPG, which has all the BBC versions available.
[4]The fate of most pilots in fact. Every year, hundreds of Anglophone actors try to get cast in pilots that may never make it to air as a full series - sometimes they end up marrying drug dealers and accidentally ODing on heroin (as Uma Thurman's character did in Pulp Fiction)
[5]With political advertising banned on TV, parties are instead allowed to broadcast short films at certain times e.g. during the week of the Budget or during elections to persuade people to vote for them. Most people, myself included, just reach for the remote.
[6]While a good number of US shows happily clear 15 episodes a season or more, Suits (to give one example) is an ensemble show that does not require Gabriel Macht or Gina Torres to, say, engage in night shoots in on the freezing battlements of a Welsh castle, stand in front of a greenscreen and look terrified at a tennis ball, or engage in a running gun battle. Unless Louis Litt were to eat a particularly dodgy steak and start hallucinating.
[7]The story was explicitly left untitled on screen, but the official guides seem to have settled on this one for a title.
[8]This Christmas special was filmed in the midst of a warm June, so David Tennant appreciated being able to run around in his pyjamas while everyone else was wearing thick coats... he also mooned the paparazzi that flock around this show in droves now.
[9]Kids' writers, remembering that adults usually end up watching these things too, frequently chuck in references and jokes that will go over the heads of the younger audience, but be appreciated by the adults. The joke in question just beat another one by Steven Moffat on a similar theme.
[10]The cauldron itself was also not lit by a Time Lord... after much speculation, it was brought into the stadium by Sir Stephen Redgrave, put into seven smaller torches and given to teenage athletes for the actual lighting - which was a nice way of doing it.