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23 April 2015

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Writer: Nicholas Briggs

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: February 2014

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online

 

“Jo Grant is shocked to find most of her colleagues are missing. Then she discovers that the Doctor has inexplicably changed.

But there’s no time to worry about it, as she and her misplaced Time Lord friend are whisked to the mysterious Delphin Isle on a matter of national security. There, they encounter a disturbingly odd form of local hospitality and learn of a highly classified incident that took place during the Cold War.

Why exactly have they been brought here? And what is the truth concerning the bodies in the harbour and the vast project being undertaken beneath a cloak of secrecy?”

***

Big Finish love stories! So they keep telling us with every advert going, but they also love a good old novelty hook to drum up a bit of publicity.  The Defectors kickstarts a trilogy already unofficially known as the “Locum Doctors Trilogy”, the sort of fan-pleasing label that will only ever crop up in reference books and threads on forums where people scoff at those who know them merely as ‘those three stories with the wrong Doctors’.

Bah! Pity those fools! I bet they’ve never had a sleepless night over the incorrect theme tune on the CD release of The Invasion of E-Space either.

The idea behind this run-up of stories leading into Big Finish’s 200th release is simple: we get companions from the Doctor’s past mixed with Doctors later on chronologically-speaking— so, the Seventh Doctor is here paired with Jo Grant whilst the Sixth Doctor will next month be paired with Jamie and Zoe. (Again. What? No, the novelty hasn’t worn off, sssh you.)  The trilogy will round off with the Fifth Doctor and Vicki and Steven, the latter of whom is the only pairing that really made me go “Ah! Yes, that could be fun!”

Whether that is the case remains to be seen, but with The Defectors, I was left slightly… confused.  A stutter start theme tune and UNIT does not automatically mean that a story is going to have a Third Doctor flavour, and that is certainly the case here.  Jo Grant may be present, and Mike Yates may be on hand complete with Greyhound insignia via a crackly radio line, but the story, in which the Doctor and Jo are taken to a mysterious village where people don’t quite act right, and the military are clearly hiding something alien, feels far more like a Fourth Doctor adventure than anything Pertwee ever came across.

It made me question what the point really was of the novelty of having the Seventh Doctor interacting with Jo, beyond it being just that: a novelty.  Certainly the script doesn’t feel very Pertwee-esque, despite the cast, and beyond one moment where the Doctor being the ‘wrong’ Doctor nudges the plot along slightly, there doesn’t seem much call for it plot-wise, either.  Not even the ending justifies it, where you think for one moment that the Seventh Doctor’s difference in approach to his predecessor may wind up being key to the conclusion, but then Jo steps forward and acts in a way that doesn’t feel particularly true to Jo at all.

I never once bought the comparisons being made between the Third and Seventh personas of our favourite Time Lord either. (Well, I say favourite. You may have a hankering for Coordinator Vansell, I couldn’t say.) There is a lot of talk about how certain and sure the Third Doctor was and how he’d have a plan and know all the answers… but that’s not really true.  In fact, that’s almost exactly how the Seventh Doctor is: the great schemer and planner who watches as carefully managed schemes unfold.  It makes me wonder if that will be a key part of the revelations further down the line, so for now I’ll simply leave a question mark over proceedings.

The play itself is fine with a touch of healthy paranoia here and some nice action from Jo there (before the aforementioned ending), who reminds us always that she was a cut above the generic screaming assistant.  In some ways, it feels a lot like a dry-run for Nicholas Briggs’s own take on The Prisoner (coming soon from Big Finish productions, fact fans) which, again, doesn’t feel very Third Doctor-y.  Briggs sets up a lot of intrigue in the opening couple of episodes though, the first one being especially strong in that regard, but without the Seventh Doctor being there, I doubt that The Defectors would really warrant much attention.

It also feels a bit sloppy at times, too.  If you want to be picky, then the theme tune is wrong as it has the stutter start dropped for Season 10 onwards, and it rather trips up over itself near the end, when the baddies-with-a-hint-of-Cyberman-about-them start talking with the exact same vocoder effect as the Cybermen themselves, leading me to wonder whether next month’s foes had already been taken before Briggs could write his script.

If you wish to be political about this, then there is also a bit of heteronormative eyebrow-raising to be had when men wearing make-up is noted as a strange and comment-worthy (shaming, almost) thing, which didn’t feel especially in keeping with the Doctor’s live and let live ethos.  I suspect he’ll start mocking ladies for not shaving their legs next.

As the start to a new trilogy, The Defectors didn’t so much whet the appetite as leave me hungry, but hopefully hindsight will be kind to it.  Hopefully, I’ll reach that milestone 200th release and go “Ah! Looking back now, that all made a lot more sense!”  We shall see.  In its own right though, there’s nothing much to see here.

 

23 April 2015

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Writer: Matt Fitton

RRP: £10.99 (CD) / £8.99 (Download)

Release Date: April 2015

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online

 

“The Death-Match is under new management. The Hunt Master's Champion has been installed. All regular players are welcomed back to the Pursuit Lounge to observe the contest in luxurious surroundings. Privacy is assured. For this reason we ask our elite guests to abide by the strict security protocols. Please note, the house has no limits.

In the Gallery, your combatants can be observed on the orbiting Quarry Station. A purpose-built environment filled with deadly traps and hidden dangers. Prizes are offered for every kill, with bonuses for rogue elements. Only an elite hunter can survive the End-Game. Do you have a worthy champion? Kill or be killed: the only rule of the Death-Match..."

***

Ah, the Master.  You don’t see him for an age, then he turns up all over the shop: in Dark Eyes 4 first, and then in last month’s Fourth Doctor Adventure, Requiem for the Rocket Men, before turning up again to face the Fourth Doctor and Leela once more. (This is no great surprising given the cliffhanger ending to Requiem, nor the fact that pre-publicity told us that this was to be the case, but still.)

Written by Big Finish stalwart Matt Fitton, Death Match starts off in the middle of a great fight and then switches to a rather grumpy Fourth Doctor, kicking things in the TARDIS and generally causing K-9 grief, when Marshall, Leela’s trainee-to-be and potential love interest, contacts them: Leela is missing, and the Master is responsible.

Given that last month’s release had the Master actually kill the Doctor and feel rather muted by it all (granted, that wasn’t really the Doctor, but the Master was not aware of this at the time), it was always going to be tricky to follow up the threat levels, and Fitton wisely decides instead to zone in on Leela and Marshall: their reunion, their relationship, their future.  The fact that Leela was kidnapped is quickly skipped over (really, it serves as little more than a decent cliffhanger for Requiem and a good way to include her in the action here without doing an Arc of Infinity-style false-ending with co-incidental reunion later on) and we soon shift our focus to the main attraction: the titular death match.

For reasons unknown and sinister, the Master has decided to mussel his way into control of these death matches, where people are made to fight one another in arenas to the death for glory, gambling purposes, and above all survival.  It takes a leaf from cult classic Battle Royale and also The Hunger Games (which in turn very much took its inspiration from cult classic Battle Royale… that film/novel has a lot of weight behind it) and focuses not so much on the fighting but the human element behind it, which proves to be a good move, allowing Louise Jameson to continue the sterling work she put in throughout Requiem and build on that here, culminating in one of the most satisfying Leela tales that Big Finish have given us so far, and one of Jameson’s finest hours.

Returning as Marshall and the Master respectively, Damian Lynch and Geoffrey Beevers both give it there all, too, though Marshall is a bit too nudge-nudge-wink-wink towards Leela throughout the play to ever really warm our hearts or convince us that this is a love for all time, growing a bit tiresome with his innuendo-laden patter instead.

There are some especially fiery scenes between Beevers and Tom Baker though, with the latter spitting out his lines with as much gusto as he gives nowadays. (He’s more muted than he ever was on TV and even at his most furious sounds more ticked off that apoplectic, but still.) The Master also gets to indulge in some enjoyable flirting with Susan Brown’s Kastrella, and some aurally nasty killing, which makes the Tissue Compression Eliminator genuinely horrifying beyond concept for once: there’s no doll Logopolitans or CSO scientists in lunchboxes here.

The story arguably never quite lives up to its foundations but the final scene lets Jameson, and Leela alike, shine and that’s no bad thing.

What is a bad thing is that the scripts overrun massively, with the first episode clocking in at a whopping 38 minutes’ length and the second only shaving two minutes off of that.  I’ve praised the other stories in this series for really working in the two-episode-long format for the first time since the Fourth Doctor joined the Big Finish fold really, so it was a shame to see that good work undone here, especially when despite the additional length, it still feels strangely… lacking.  Maybe it needed the confidence to be a full four-part adventure, or maybe a good editing down, but as it stands, an extended length and an underwhelming set of death matches (especially notable seeing as that’s what the play is titled) leads to a release that never quite gets to where it arguably ought to be, given its cast, characters, good points and scenarios.

A disappointment then, but far from the worst that Big Finish, and The Fourth Doctor Adventures as a range, have ever given us.

 

21 April 2015

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...

Day 841: Robot of Sherwood

Dear diary,

It’s strange, watching this one today, because I’ve never seen this episode in its broadcast form. The preview copy that Doctor Who Online received to review last year arrived before the decision to edit events from the end of the episode in which the Sheriff gets beheaded. There was a lot of complaints around when the announcement of the cut was made, but it’s perhaps notable that watching today, I couldn’t even tell you exactly where the minute or so was removed from. I mean, I know generally where it was, but I couldn’t pinpoint the exact moment, and the loss of it didn’t impact my enjoyment of the story at all. The only slight issue it causes is that there’s later mention of the Sheriff having an engine for a body, which feels somewhat odd now we’ve lost the reveal that he himself is a robot, but even that isn’t the end of the world!

Oh, but I rather love this episode. As much as I’ve enjoyed the Twelfth Doctor being so rude and dismissive (what people on the internet insist on calling ‘dark’) over the last couple of episodes, this is the first story of his era to really capture the right balance of this incarnation’s personality. He is still incredibly rude at times, and arrogant, and short tempered, and stubborn, and all of those things… but he does it with a real twinkle in the eye that can’t help but evoke the Doctor Billy Hartnell was playing before the end of his time. The man Peter Capaldi plays in this episode is far closer to the Doctor that I’ve known and loved from all his previous selves than he’s been allowed to explore so far.

And it means that I’m really enjoying the company of the Doctor in this one, and frequently finding myself laughing at more-or-less everything he says. There was a huge guffaw (and that really is the only word) when he counters Clara’s suggestion that they visit Robin Hood in exactly the way she’d predicted, much smiling as the Doctor and Robin then proceed to bicker and argue their way through the next half an hour, and I couldn’t even help but laugh at how angry the Doctor’s face gets when the button is cut from his coat. Those eyebrows really could cut you in half from twenty paces.

The episode is further strengthened by the simply gorgeous direction. Paul Murphy makes his Doctor Who debut here (though he’ll be back again shortly for The Caretaker), and he chooses to do some really lovely work with the programme, giving us a palette that I don’t think we’ve ever really seen before. The Doctor comments that everything is ‘too green’ and ‘too sunny’ ,and that comes across beautifully on screen - this really is Doctor Who shot as though it were part of the Robin Hood legend, and there’s not a lot else you’d want. I’m also particularly keen on the way that Murphy shoots the TARDIS scenes - finding a new way of approaching a set in danger of becoming familiar. More from this director in the next series, please!

In many ways, this episode reminds me of The Shakespeare Code - probably the historical that has appealed most to me from the 21st century run of Who. It’s got that same vivid sense of colour that presents history as bold and exciting, and a central historical guest star who’s a little bit cocksure, but completely endearing at the same time. I have a feeling that Robot of Sherwood is likely to become the episode I watch when I really want to experience this era at its best… 

21 April 2015

BBC Worldwide have unveiled a new promo picture [pictured-right] featuring our first glimpse at a new monster for Series 9 of Doctor Who.

Very little is known so far as to the monster's identity, but it will feature as part of the third block of filming. Accompanying the image was the following text:

"What’s that in the shadows? New monster about to meet Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman in Doctor Who Series 9"

+  Series 9 of Doctor Who airs Late August / Early September 2015

[Source: BBC Worldwide]

21 April 2015

Our friends over at Whovian Companions have launched a brand new dating site for Doctor Who fans in the UK.

Whovian Companions is a FREE dating site with no monthly subscription. You can display your favourite Doctor or Companion on your profile, allowing you to break the ice when meeting a new Whovian on the site.

The company is even backed by the Virgin StartUP campaign and with over 400,000+ single Doctor Who fans in the UK, they believe they can find your perfect match!

+  Check out Whovian Companions at: www.whoviancompanions.co.uk.

[Source: Whovian Companions]

20 April 2015

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...

Day 840: Into the Dalek

Dear diary,

I’ve always had a bit of a problem with new incarnations of the Doctor facing off against the Daleks too soon. It somehow seems fine to me when they do it with Patrick Troughton (perhaps because it’s simply the first time they do any of that ‘new Doctor’ stuff, or perhaps because at that point in the programme’s history, you really need the Daleks to ensure that the audience can go along with it), but when Matt Smith encountered the pepper pots in his third episode, it just seemed too soon for my liking. I preferred it with David Tennant - for example - where we had almost a whole series before they show up. Or even most of the other Doctors, where there’s a fair chunk of time before the ultimate foes show up. Imagine my displeasure, then, when it was announced that Peter Capaldi would be facing off with the Daleks in his second episode.

It’s entirely a personal issue, so it’s not really fair for me to let this hang-up affect my enjoyment of the stories at all, but even watching Into the Dalek again today, I simply feel odd, almost, watching the Twelfth Doctor, who’s only been in his iconic outfit for about five minutes, coming face-to-face with his mortal enemy. I can’t even explain it - I’m certainly making a bad job of trying to, here - but it just doesn’t sit right with me for some reason.

And it’s not helped that I simply can’t get a handle on this episode in itself. In many ways, the idea of shrinking down the Doctor and his companion and sending them inside a Dalek is so obvious that I’m astounded it took them 51 years to actually do it. We even had the Doctor cloned and put inside his own head after only 14 years! But once they’re actually inside the Dalek… it just doesn’t feel like a lot happens. They encounter a couple of perils, but it doesn’t seem to take them long to get to the problem that’s turning this Dalek ‘good’, and fix it. Or, rather, not fix it, but make the Dalek back into, well, a Dalek again, at least temporarily. We then get lots of action and battles to fill up the remainder of the episode, which leaves all the ‘inside the Dalek’ stuff feeling a bit pointless beyond creating an evocative title.

All those battles and fights that we get, especially towards the end, are for me the very best bits of the episode, and I can’t help but thinking I’d have liked 45 minutes later in the season which would simply have the Doctor and Clara getting caught up in this big asteroid-belt battle with the Daleks, and having to rub up alongside soldiers to fight the mutual threat. It perhaps wouldn’t be as big and brassy as this episode tries to be, but judging by the simply fantastic shots of Daleks exploding left, right, and centre as the episode draws to a close, I think I’d have enjoyed watching more of that than what we’ve actually got here… 

19 April 2015

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...

Day 839: Deep Breath

Dear diary,

Oh, the excitement was high for this one. New Doctors are always something to look forward to, but somehow it felt different this time. I think because there was less time before the announcement that Matt Smith would be leaving and him actually vacating the TARDIS (with David Tennant, we had getting on for eighteen months, whereas with Smith we only had around six or so), it was all caught up in a kind of whirlwind of change. And what a busy six months they’d been! We’d seen the Eighth Doctor’s regeneration! And been introduced to a whole incarnation we’d never even known about! We dived into the Time War and came out fighting, with Gallifrey safe and sound, and the Doctor pocketing a whole new run of regenerations. Oh, it was exciting. And then… well, nothing, sort of. Christmas passed us by, the Eleventh Doctor became the Twelfth, and then we were back into one of those long waits for any more adventures.

I was lucky enough to attend the world premiere of Deep Breath in Cardiff in early August of last year, and by the time that day rolled around, I don’t think I could have been more excited for the return of the show. Frankly, they could have shown an hour of Peter Capaldi licking the screen and I would have thought it was the best thing ever. The whole atmosphere of the event was electric - I had friends visiting the city for the premiere, so got to catch up with them and show them round, and then soak up all the joy from the red carpet, and the real buzz of the day. There’s also something just so fun about watching an episode in a large hall like that - everyone laughing at the same time and really getting caught up in the narrative. By the time the episode finished, I thought it was probably one of the best we’d had in a long time, and that Capaldi was rather good (if different, we’ll come back to that in a moment), and the Q&A that followed the screening left me certain that the future of Doctor Who was in very safe hands.

When the episode aired on telly a few weeks later, I watched it again. Of course I did, I’d enjoyed it that much! It didn’t quite have the same pull for me second time around, but then it wouldn’t, would it? I wasn't watching it in a big excitable group, and I already knew all of the twists and turns to come. Still lots to enjoy, and I still came away terribly excited for the rest of the run. Watching it back today, a rare third viewing for a Doctor Who story… Well…

It’s not that I don’t like this one. Of course I like it. It’s generally a very good story, which does a good job of introducing the new Doctor alongside familiar elements (but still finding a way to keep those elements fresh), and looks visually stunning. It’s just a bit of a drag, isn’t it? The Day of the Doctor runs to about the same length as this one, give or take a couple of minutes, but whereas that one ran that long because that’s how long the story felt like it needed, Deep Breath feels like the plot of perhaps an hour expanded out to fill the longer time slot. In some cases, having the extended running time gives the story room to breathe, and we get to have lots of nice, still, quiet moments that you wouldn’t otherwise get, but I found myself four or five times looking at the clock and wondering how there was still that much time left to go. I can’t help feeling that the extended running time would have been better spent on The Time of the Doctor, while this would have worked better as a nice, hour-long opener for the new Doctor.

Oh, but that new Doctor is the real joy of this episode. I came away from the premiere screening thinking that Peter Capaldi was absolutely brilliant casting for the Doctor. My friend Nick, who came along with me offered a slightly more cautious view, but one that I can’t help think is absolutely what they’ve aimed for (and gotten) with this incarnation; “I love Peter Capaldi’s Doctor… but I don’t know if I like Peter Capaldi’s Doctor…”. In some ways, the Twelfth Doctor feels entirely familiar - the somewhat brash personality he displays here is reminiscent of several previous incarnations, notably the First, Fourth, and Sixth Doctors. In others, he’s new and unpredictable, and after two incarnations that - as Vastra says - were playing at being the companion’s boyfriend, wearing the faces of young men to fit in, there’s something really exciting about the programme taking this new direction, and it’s not one I thought they’d embrace so whole-heartedly as they have.

So, away from the crows, and the atmosphere, and the red carpet, Deep Breath is perhaps a bit bloated and in need of some trimming down. It feels like a bit of a bulky way to start the bold new era. But equally, it still has all the makings of a grand new step, and once again, I’m excited to dive into the rest of Series Eight… 

19 April 2015

Speaking on yesterday's edition of the Loose Ends show on BBC Radio 4, Christopher Eccleston (The 9th Doctor) discussed his reasons for joining and leaving Doctor Who.

DWO have transcribed the Doctor Who segment of the interview, below:

When you accepted the role of Doctor Who were you talked into that decision?

CE: "No I wasn’t talked into that decision, that was my decision, I approached Russell T. Davies, I emailed him and said I know you’re gonna do this, I think you should think about me. Because, I’d acted a lot for adults, and I wanted to do something for children. I wanted to try and learn a lighter way of being."

Did you achieve it?

CE: "I think I over-pitched the comedy. If I had my time again I would do the comedy very differently but I think obviously where I did possibly succeed was in the tortured stuff - surprise, surprise!"

So why did you go - you were so good!

CE: "Thank you very much! What’s interesting in this country is whenever a story like this emerges, they concentrate on the negative. I don’t think it’s important that I left, I think it’s important that I did it in the first place."

OK, it may not be important, but to fans it was a bit of a shock because you could have stayed for 4, 5 or 6… you could still be there now! So that was a big decision not to do any more after the first series.

CE: "Im still there! I was in David Tennant, I was in Matt Smith (are we gonna edit this?) I was in Peter Capaldi. Nobody knows this about the Time Lords. I’m always there in spirit."

OK, but talk me through the decision to leave. Was it because you didn’t work within that structure of a rigorous show running show?

CE: "Myself and three individuals at the very top of the pyramid clashed - so off I went. But they’re not here to say their side of it so I’m not going to go into detail."

[Source: BBC Radio 4]

18 April 2015

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...

Day 838: The Time of the Doctor

Dear diary,

To me, The Time of the Doctor is just a little bit… frustrating. It has the burden of not only writing out the Eleventh Doctor, but also tying up strands of story which have been angling since as far back as The Eleventh Hour. On top of all that, there’s no ‘extended-length two-parter’ treatment here like the Tenth Doctor had for his swan song - this one has to do it all in an hour. That’s a tall order.

It’s also one which, sadly, I don’t think it quite manages to pull off. The Time of the Doctor is peppered with lots of nice little moments which shine light on earlier events, but I can’t help but come away from thins thinking that it wasn't supposed to end this way. It’s as though, after all that lovely long build up, we’ve suddenly had the last quarter of the story crammed into a single hour when it should have played out across at least a few episodes. Maybe a series of specials like the ones David Tennant went out on? One which is just the Doctor and Clara travelling together - he’s got a renewed energy following the events of the 50th Anniversary. Then he finds himself drawn to Trenzalore, where the siege plays out, and he slowly finds himself trapped and drawing to the end of his long life. Somehow, if simply doesn’t ring true with me that all of this should pass us by in such a short space of time - the Doctor’s age almost doubles in the course of this episode! I really think that this episode is a rushed alternative to the original plan, and that’s a shame.

Still, in a nice mirroring of the Doctor’s comments to Amy during Vincent and the Doctor, the bad bits of this story don’t necessarily spoil all of the good bits! For starters, there’s Handles. Frankly, you shouldn’t get emotional at the death of a Cyberman head who’s only been in the programme for about twenty minutes, but somehow, it’s genuinely moving when he misses his final sunset. Then there’s finally getting to see all the things that do come into play as a final summing up of the era. The battle of Trenzalore. The Papal Mainframe. More information about Madame Kovarian, and her plans throughout Series Six. It’s not bad… but it’s not quite what I’d be hoping for after so long. It felt like a bit of a let down on first viewing, but I can feel the blow that little bit more now because I’ve watched the entire arc in such quick succession.

If there’s one bit about tying up the arc which really does work for me (although I do sort of wish that they’d made more of it), it’s the fact that Clara saves her Doctor one last time. We learnt only a few episodes ago that jumping into the Doctor’s time stream meant that Clara would be there to save him in every moment of his life - including the adventures that were still to come. Of course, those adventures were supposed to end with this story - he was on his final incarnation, and he was supposed to die here on Trenzalore - we saw the grave. But then Clara steps in for his ‘final’ two adventures and puts things right - first by helping him to realise he can save Gallifrey, and because of that, then convincing the Time Lords to grant him a whole new regeneration cycle. Oh, Impossible Girl, you did it again.

If nothing else, then the final scene, with Matt Smith taking his final bow in the TARDIS, with a final goodbye to his Amy Pond, is lovely. It’s a really nice way for him to depart the series, managing to pack all the emotion of the Tenth Doctor’s farewell, but do it in a way that feels both familiar and completely new. That’s very Doctor Who. And then, of course, the Twelfth Doctor bursts into life in the blink of an eye! I seem to recall people hating that online, but I thought it was brilliant! No warning, just bang!

And with a crashing TARDIS and a confused Doctor, I’m off onto my final run of adventures before my own story comes to an end… 

17 April 2015

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...

Day 837: The Day of the Doctor

Dear diary,

Oh, d’you know, as the TARDIS was hauled across London and David Tennant’s name flashed up on the screen, I felt really excited for this one. I’ve been excited by several episodes through the course of this marathon - one’s I’d never seen before, ones that have been recently recovered, ones that I’d recalled liking a lot on first run through… but this was somehow different. There’s something in the air about this 50th anniversary episode that even eighteen months on still makes it something really special. A chance for the programme to stop and congratulate itself for being something so brilliant for so long. Steven Moffat is right when he says you couldn’t do a story like this every week, because the series would drown in self congratulation, but let’s be honest, when you reach the golden anniversary, it’s only fitting that the show should get something so good.

I think there’s also an extra thrill because this episode is very special in terms of The 50 Year Diary - because it was supposed to be the final entry! The 50 Year Diary. The clue is in the name, really. The plan devised way back in the dying days of 2012 was to start the marathon with An Unearthly Child on January 1st, and then watch every episode in order, one a day, until I hit the 50th anniversary story. The first 50 years of the programme neatly summed up. Only then Matt Smith went and threw a spanner in the works by announcing that he’d be leaving in the episode immediately after the 50th. Right, okay. Not an issue, I’d go the the 50th and then finish the marathon off with his final story. Done. Easy. Oh, but those decisions were made way back when, and now I’m here… well, as someone pointed out when I raised the question with you lot, it would be a shame to end here, only a handful of episodes short of doing them all in this format, so you’re stuck with me for another two weeks yet.

So. The Day of the Doctor had a pretty unenviable task, didn’t it? Work as a standalone episode celebrating the first 50 years of the programme for an audience that would no doubt be significantly higher than usual, while at the same time provide the kind of fitting multi-Doctor extravaganza that we fans are always so keen on, just like they did for the 20th, 30th, and 40th anniversaries. I can remember watching the Tennant era and thinking ahead to the 50th anniversary which felt like just a million miles away. As things always tend it, it came round rather fast and I think it did the best possible job of being everything it needed to - I still see people complain that it’s an ‘8th anniversary special’ as opposed to a ‘50th anniversary’, but frankly they always come off as stubborn for the sake of it. Did they miss the frankly brilliant ending in which all the Doctors turn up to save Gallifrey?

You might have noticed that I’ve not really got a particular focus today, because it’s tricky to do that with an episode quite as expansive as this one, so I think I’m going to have to resort to simply going through things in brief as I think of them. Bear with me…

First of all, that multi-Doctor thing. I think we all assumed that it would be happening because that really is the template. I think we also had a fairly good inkling that Christopher Eccleston wouldn’t fancy popping back to Cardiff for a bit. What we didn’t expect, I feel pretty confident in saying, was a whole new incarnation of the Doctor that we’d never even known about before. Oh, but it’s clever done, isn’t it? John Hurt (also, while I’m on the point: John bleedin’ Hurt!) doesn’t just get dropped into the programme and left for us to accept as a whole new Doctor - they went to the trouble of getting Paul McGann to come in for a regeneration scene! Oh, all those years where his regeneration only took place across a million YouTube videos! Hints and suggestions that we’d be getting such a scene were fairly thick in the air, but it didn’t stop it from being any less amazing when a friend text me at work to say that the scene had arrived on the website, and I found an excuse to leave my customer for ten minutes while I went and watched the birth of the War Doctor. And he’s good, isn’t he? I mean, obviously, when you canst John Hurt as the Doctor, you’re bound to get something a little bit special, but I mean he’s really very good. A world weary soldier who still can’t quite shake off that twinkle that the Doctor always had in his eyes. He plays so well opposite Tennant and Smith, and really is a fantastic edition to the world of Doctor Who.

As for the story itself, I rather like that, too. I remember coming out from the cinema screening of this (which I’d told myself I wouldn’t go to until about eleven pm on November 22nd, when I realised that of course I would), and wondering what happened with the whole Zygons plot. Not even a cursory line to the effect of things being resolved. And yet, watching it again today, I realise that you don’t need that line. That’s part of the point - the Zygons adventure is something the Doctor would usually be all over (and indeed is with queen Elizabeth), but not today, because before the adventure can even get started, he’s been whisked off to meet his former selves and start devising a plan to end the Time War without killing them all. As stories go, it’s a pretty perfect idea for the 50th - it’s an excuse to pick up on all these elements of the programme’s mythology, and to bring back lots of Doctors, while also taking something the show has been for the past few years and shaking it up again, setting up the next stage of its long history. Well played, Steven Moffat.

And then there’s that moment at the end - ‘you know, I really think you might…’. Oh, the chills that caused. A whole ripple of emotion across the entire cinema screening (and, if it doesn’t sound too hokey, right across the world), because of course Tom had to be in there somewhere himself. Even after all these years, he still very much is Doctor Who. I remember people being incredibly impressed because he’d never come back to the programme before (which is wrong, he came back for Dimensions in Time, too, which is surely a career highlight), but I was just impressed that they’d managed to slip such a wonderful moment in right at the very end - the final treat in this great big box of chocolates. Had this ended up being my final entry in the Diary, I think I’d have been pretty pleased with it. 

17 April 2015

Doctor Who has become part of the leaked Sony email saga, as revelations of a planned movie are leaked.

The emails, which were published by Wikileaks, show internal discussions at Sony, as well as emails from Sony to the BBC Director of Television, Danny Cohen.

Cohen claimed that the popular TV series will become a film under an eight-year plan to keep the franchise alive. But the show’s team are "very hot under the collar" because they feel "their position on it is not being listened to or accepted." They want to wait until the time is right and have made their feelings "very clear" on the matter, one Sony email reveals.

Mr Cohen claims there is "tremendous interest" in a Doctor Who film and says there has been "pressure" to make it from BBC Worldwide.

The plans for Doctor Who were put in an email sent in January last year from Andrea Wong, president of International Production for Sony, to the company’s chief executive Michael Lynton.

A Hollywood version of Doctor Who could be extremely profitable for the BBC - but risks ruining the brand if it is done badly.

The email says:

"He (Cohen) said that while there has been tremendous interest (and pressure from BBCWW) (BBC Worldwide) to do a Dr Who film, the show runners feel very clear that they don’t want to do one at this moment. 
That said, over the course of the coming months, the show running team is coming up with an 8 year timeline for the brand – laying out all that will happen with it. He says that a film will certainly be a part of that timeline. So the answer is that a film won’t happen in the next year to 18 months, but it is expected that it will happen after that within the 8 year horizon."

Lynton’s response was:

"Sounds like we need to meet with the show runners."

A follow up email from Wong reads:

"Spoke to Danny and he doesn’t think it makes sense right now and actually might hurt our cause. He said that the creative team on the show have been having the movie conversation with BBC Worldwide in recent weeks and are very hot under the collar that their position on it is not being listened to or accepted."

The tranche of emails were stolen last year by group calling itself Guardians of Peace

[Source: The Telegraph]

16 April 2015

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...

Day 836: The Name of the Doctor

Dear diary,

In the run up to The Name of the Doctor, Doctor Who Online was sent a list of stories from which clips would be taken for use in this episode. The likes of Dragonfire, Arc of Infinity, and The Invasion of Time… well, the list was obviously a fake, because despite the relative merits of those stories, if this was to be some kind of ‘classic’ Doctor Who love in, then those wouldn’t be the episodes they chose to represent each of those Doctors! But, as you’ll obviously know, they are the episodes from which clips are taken! Among others, of course, but they’re some of the most prominent ones. Oh, it somehow makes it even more brilliant that these lesser-loved bits of Doctor Who’s past have resurfaced for the 50th anniversary. Can you imagine watching that Dragonfire cliffhanger in 1987 - head in your hands - and thinking that during the celebration’s for the programme’s golden anniversary, almost eight million people would be watching it on prime time BBC One?! Hah!

Oh, but how exciting is this? In many ways, this is the Steven Moffat equivalent of Journey’s End; the current Doctor’s last season finale, with the return of several key characters from across the previous three years, all teaming up against an acclaimed enemy returning from the ‘classic’ run. River, and the Paternoster Gang… I’m really surprised they didn’t find a way to work the Ponds in somewhere. Probably for the best, though, because this episode is filled to bursting with things around the main event of Clara scattering herself down the Doctor’s time stream. Of course, just when you think it’s all over, another mysterious figure turns around, and it’s a whole incarnation of the Doctor we never even knew about! As cliff-hangers go, that’s got to be right up there…

There’s lots of other things that I could pick up on to discuss today, but I sort of set out my stall for this entry two years ago, with The Abominable Snowmen

For ages, I’d always found the idea of the Great Intelligence somewhat confusing. The version of the creature seen in The Abominable Snowmen and The Web of Fear didn’t really synch up in my head with the version that appeared in Downtime, and then when he made a return to Doctor Who in The Snowmen, The Bells of Saint John, and The Name of the Doctor, it didn’t seem to quite match up between those three stories, let alone any of the earlier ones! To that end, I put together an imagined ‘timeline’ for the being that tried to make sense of everything. That was two years ago during the Patrick Troughton stages of this marathon. Now I’ve been through these recent adventures once more, I’ve boiled everything down, simplified it, and think I’ve worked it all out…

1) A shapeless, formless being, the Great Intelligence lives in the Astral Plane. It’s immensely clever, but longs for a true physical form. Over the centuries alone on the Plane, the Intelligence devises many plans for creating a physical body for itself. Eventually, Padmasambhava manages to make contact with the creature, and it possesses the man’s mind. The human brain is too small to hold all the knowledge of the Intelligence, so Padmasambhava is set to work creating a vessel to hold the being.

2) But, as we’ve seen, the Intelligence is clever. It doesn’t want to put all its eggs in the one monk-y basket, so it places some of itself in snow, which is then directed towards London - the heart of the British Empire. There, it meets a lonely little boy, and whispers in his ear over the next half century, slowly formulating a plan to populate the Earth with Ice People. Now, you’ll have to excuse a leap of assumption here as I say that the Intelligence’s ultimate plan is to distribute itself across a world of living ice people because… for some reason that works. Possibly. The Doctor gets a lot wrong in this episode, largely because he never quite realises who the Intelligence is, but based on what we’re told and what we know of the creature from other appearances, it would seem to make sense. Anyway, point is, the Doctor stops the Intelligence’s plan here and all the snow melts, which forces the Intelligence held inside it back out onto the Astral Plane.

3) Which is fine, because he’s still in contact with good old Padmasambhava in Tibet, and so decides to just carry on with that plan for the time being. The work continues for the next thirty-or-so years, including the construction of Robot Yeti to keep inquisitive minds at bay. Just as they approach the end-game, though, after two centuries of whispering in the Monk’s ear, another ‘Doctor’ arrives on the scene and manages to thwart the plan again.

4) This time, as the Intelligence is pushed back onto the Astral Plane, he doesn’t have any backup. His only remaining contact to the physical world is via the robot Yeti, and they’ve all been deactivated. From where he is now, though, he’s able to monitor the Doctors’ travels, and grows jealous of the Time Lord. By sheer chance, Professor Travers - one of the people who helped the Doctor in Tibet - reactivates a Yeti control sphere in London, 1967, which reminds the Intelligence of something the Doctor said during their first meeting; ‘A map of the London Underground, 1967. Key strategic weakness in metropolitan living, if you ask me, but then I have never liked a tunnel.’

5) A plan is formulated to trap the Doctor, and by this point, the Intelligence’s plans are starting to change. He’s no longer interested in simply gaining physical form - he want’s to drain the Doctor’s mind of all its experience. Using the Yeti as foot soldiers - simply because they’re there - he sets the plan in motion, but once again the Doctor manages to out smart the Intelligence. This time, he almost manages to destroy the Intelligence for good. By this point, as I’m sure you can imagine, the creature is starting to get a bit annoyed with the bloke.

6) From now on, for the Intelligence, it’s as much about - perhaps more about - gaining more knowledge as it is getting some kind of physical form. It can’t bear the thought that there’s a man in the universe more intelligent than it is. It’s in this guise that we find it in Downtime - utilising the early days of the internet to gather knowledge from the students, with the ultimate aim of manifesting itself on Earth in the long term. The Doctor’s friends are able to stop the creature this time, but it’s only a set back, because…

7) By the time we reach The Bells of Saint John, we’re still seeing this same plan, but in a far more advanced stage. The Intelligence is no longer possessing people via the internet, but having their minds uploaded directly to him. Much more elegant. Once more, though, the Doctor shows up and manages to put an end to it. In fact, this time, the Doctor never even needs to set foot in the building, he reprograms a foot soldier to do it for him. From here, the Intelligence’s motives change once again. It’s now all about revenge against the Doctor. It might take centuries - millenia - but eventually, the Intelligence acquires knowledge of the Doctor’s grave and the battle of Trenzalore, and he formulates a new plan to utterly defeat the Doctor.

7a) As an aside - in The Web of Fear, the Intelligence claims he doesn’t want revenge against the Doctor, as it’s a ‘very human emotion’, but by The Name of the Doctor, that’s clearly what he’s after. Either he’s simply changed him mind after so many successive defeats by the Doctor and his allies, or the emotion has somehow been uploaded to him as a side effect of absorbing so many human minds via the wi-fi. I rather like the idea of this latter explanation.

8) The Doctor is lured to Trenzalore and the Great Intelligence finds its way into his tomb. Once there, he throws himself into the Doctor’s time stream. It kills him, but in doing so he’s able to completely destroy the Doctor, too, shattering his every victory throughout the ages. What it doesn’t bank on is the fact that Clara will be so willing to jump in after him and put everything right again. A rather sad end for a bitter, twisted being consumed by lust for life, knowledge, and revenge. It’s actually quite a neat little story in the end… 

15 April 2015

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...

Day 835: Nightmare in Silver

Dear diary,

During the promotion for Nightmare in Silver, Neil Gaiman commented;

“I thought, 'Let me see what I can do when I take the 1960s Cybermen and [incorporate] everything that's happened since'. So that's what I'm trying to do. I don't know if it will work.”

Indeed, a lot of the promotion for this episode saw both Gaiman and Steven Moffat talking about the way that this episode starts with the idea of taking the Cybermen right back to their 1960s roots, and trying to recapture some of the terror they embodied during that period. I think that, much as with the ‘Ever Dalek Ever’ claims at the start of the series, it’s simply a good line to feed to the press and get people interested in story, because I don’t think there’s much of a harking back to the 1960s in these new models at all, and even if it was the starting point, the journey has led them quite a way from there.

Where they have succeeded, though, is in making the Cybermen scary again - I think this might be the scariest they’ve ever been in the modern programme. I’ve always said that my favourite Cybermen story is the Doctor Who Magazine comic strip The Flood from 2005. For me it was (and still is, to some extents) the only story that has really captured the sheer terror in what the Cybermen are, and the way they think. Oh, I love that story. This episode, though, comes closest to making me think that there’s a completely different way of looking at these monsters - from a more technological point of view.

I can’t really describe how much I love the idea of Cybermen that can use the ‘upgrade’ catchphrase to mean - literally - upgrading themselves. The Cybermen in this story are very much presented as part of a computer system (again, I love the idea that the weaknesses to gold and cleaning fluids etc were down to flaws in the software, and that there’s still elements of that buried deep within them. It might not make a lot of sense when you really think about it, but in the moment of the story it’s an absolutely brilliant idea), and that’s a way that they’ve never really been seen before. It’s almost a pity that when they come back for the Series Eight finale, they’re not really presented in the same way (in fact, they’re little more than robot drones, there…).

And then there’s the design of the new Cybermen. I can’t deny, they do look rather a lot like Iron Man, but my word aren’t they beautiful? When the 2006 model of Cybermen were revealed, I wrote a letter to DWM being all pretentious and saying ‘I don’t know if I like them or not’. There was none of that with this design - I’ve loved it from the moment I saw it. There’s something so sleek and sexy about this particular look, and it fits so nicely with the idea that these are the most advanced Cybermen we’ve ever seen.

And they’re really unstoppable! That ability to constantly upgrade themselves to adapt to differing forms of attack makes these Cybermen a really powerful threat. I’d like to see this lot go up against the Daleks! The only problem this causes is that I worry their future appearances will see them slowly pared back in the same way the Daleks have been. I’ve already mentioned that they didn’t get a lot to do in Death in Heaven, but when the only way to defeat them in this story is to blow up an entire planet, it does make it a little trickier to actively fight them on a smaller scale…

One last thing I just wanted to mention - the children. I’ve seen so much hate directed at the idea of them being in this story over the last couple of years, but I think it rather works! Matt’s Doctor has always played well against children, and I rather like the idea of Clara getting ‘caught’ and blackmailed into a TARDIS trip (though, equally, I can imagine that if they had told their dad about it, as they threaten, he’d have told them to stop making up nonsense). It also has to be said that this particular pair of kids are written very believably - Angie in particular - which makes it all the more interesting as a sideline to the main Cyberman action.

15 April 2015

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...

Day 834: The Crimson Horror

Dear diary,

This is probably the closest to producing a ‘back door pilot’ episode for another series that Doctor Who has come since Mission to the Unknown right back in 1965. For the first third of this episode, the Doctor only appears as a still image reflected in the eye of a dead man, and then even when he does show up, he spends another few minutes being not quite his usual self before he’s back to normal and able to really join the story properly, catching us up with the story you might have expected to see via a series of brief flashbacks.

Up to then, this is very much The Paternoster Gang’s story, with Vastra, Jenny, and Strax undoubtably the main stars for a good while. Indeed, it’s almost a shame once the Doctor and Clara have been revived that they return to the centre stage, leaving the Paternosters somewhat sidelined. Oh, they still have a part to play, of course, but it feels like they were only ever here to keep us busy until the Doctor showed up.

Oh, but isn't that first third proof that they would work in their own programme? I perhaps can’t imagine full 13-episode seasons like Doctor Who gets, but maybe occasional specials at Christmas, or the odd mini series from time to time, in which people present ‘The Great Detective’ with cases, and they head out across the empire to investigate. You could even have the Doctor pop in from time to time, if you really wanted. I simply can’t help but love them here, and once again it’s Strax who takes the spotlight, and keeps me laughing throughout. Watching all these episodes in close succession, you really do notice how much this is a whole different character from the one we were introduced to in A Good Man Goes to War, but it’s hard to care because he’s just so brilliant. If there’s one let down, it’s that he doesn’t get to spend any real time with the Doctor - and their scenes together in The Snowmen showed just how well the pair gel.

On the whole, I think The Crimson Horror serves as a rather good example of what any potential Paternoster spin off might be like. I’m reminded of the old anecdote about exiling the Doctor to Earth leaving Doctor Who with only ‘alien invasion’ or ‘mad scientist’ as story options, and then how Doctor Who and the Silurians comes along to prove that there are other stories to be told. This one does a similar job, picking up on threads of the Silurian mythos once more to tell a very different kind of story (albeit with traces of mad scientist involved).

Indeed, I don’t think I appreciated first time around just how ‘mad’ bits of this story are in general. It’s not often that the reveal of a story’s monster comes in the form of someone opening their top to reveal that the creature is connected to them in such a way! Diana Rigg plays the part of Mrs Gillyflower with a real relish, and it’s one of those fine performances which teeters on the brink of going too over the top, but always manages to fall on just the right side of the line, which makes it all the more fun to watch. Similarly, her daughter (both in the real world and within the episode), Rachel Stirling, turns in a fantastic performance, which helps to nicely ground some of the more ‘out there’ moments in the narrative.

Now, really, though, when will the Paternosters be getting their own show?

13 April 2015

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...

Day 833: Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS

Dear diary,

I try to keep generally pretty positive in these Diary entries, and I like to think that’t by-and-large I’ve managed to do so. As a part of that, I try to be as fair and polite about everything - even when I’m not enjoying a story, I try to find the things that do stand out as being rather good, or at the very least I try to explain why I’ve not enjoyed it in the best way possible. It’s all very much that ‘if you’ve nothing nice to say, then don’t say anything at all’ mentality. To that end, I’m not going to hark on about it here, and I won’t name names, but this episode for me is home to the worst performance in the entire history of Doctor Who. Yes, even worse than the ‘ha ha ha’ kid from An Unearthly Child. It’s a performance so bad that I actively can’t take the episode seriously while said performer is on the screen, and it genuinely baffles me how the casting was made for such a prominent role in the BBC’s flagship programme.

Right then! Now that’s out of the way, there’s quite a lot to really enjoy about Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS, isn’t there? Indeed, were it not for such a poor performance in one quarter, I dare say that it would rate significantly higher with me, because it really does do exactly what it says on the tin. At the time this went out, I can remember Steven Moffat describing a viewing of The Invasion of Time as a child, and deciding that one day he’d like to ‘do that properly’, and that’s very much what he’s commissioned in here.

We get a break-neck-speed tour of some of the TARDIS rooms we’ve only heard mentioned before now (and is that the telescope from Tooth and Claw in the Doctor’s observatory? Did he sneak back to Torchwood House and do it up as a functioning piece of equipment while Queen Vicky was looking the other way?), and they really do look quite exotic. I love the idea of seeing all these little glimpses simply through the open doorways, and it somehow adds to the magic and the scale of the place to be given just little teases as opposed to full explorations.

It’s also a great way for the Doctor and Clara to really reveal themselves to each other - several episodes in this half of the season have felt with the fact that the pair don’t really trust each other (the Doctor’s been sneaking around in Clara’s past, and she’s appeared to die twice in quick succession during his recent adventures), and it’s really rather powerful to watch them snapping at each other as all the pieces fall in to place. ‘I’m more scared of you right now than anything on that TARDIS’ she tells the Doctor, and it’s fitting, because we’re seeing that dangerous version of the Doctor that Smith does so well when required. 

The only thing that doesn’t quite work for me, I’m afraid, is Clara discovering the Doctor’s name. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I have no issue with her actually finding it out, but I do have a problem with just how easy it was for her to do. Over the last few years especially, lots has been made about the fact that the Doctor’s name is some great big secret, and it’ll go on to hold such mythic status again before Smith’s era is done, and yet all Clara has to do is turn to a random page in a book that’s already laying out for her, and there it is!

I think I’d perhaps have gathered it not be his name that she discovers here (especially since her knowing it doesn’t actually play any part in their relationship hereafter), but the fact that it was the Doctor who ended the Time War. I’d have liked to see her finding out in an episode before this that the Doctor is the last of his kind, and that ‘someone’ ended the war that wiped out his race - and then she looks in this book and discovers that it’s him who pressed the button. It would help to play quite nicely into her fear of him later on in this episode, and then when she starts to remember these events during The Name of the Doctor, it could come back to haunt her, because all the Great Intelligence’s taunting about the Doctor’s blood soaked history would ring especially true for her…

 

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