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12 April 2015

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

Day 832: Hide

Dear diary,

In my preview for Hide, back in 2013, I said ‘For the first half of its running time, Hide is part Ghost Stories for Christmas and part Most Haunted [and] it’s in this part of the story that the episode really sings, building up a nice amount of traditional ghost story terror, and providing plenty of opportunities to make you jump.’ I think, two years on, that I’d have to agree with this assessment of the tale; because my interest really drops once we start to get some proper answers about what’s really causing the ghost of this tale. Right up until about the point that the Doctor heads off for his whistle-stop tour through the history of this particular location, everything seems to change - the shot of Alec and Emma in the window of the house, with the ‘ghost’ stood behind them is one of the final big scares in the episode (in fact, it’s probably the most effective one), and I wish the rest of the story could have continued in that vein.
I’m not sure what it is that doesn’t work for me about the latter half, though. I mean, I like that *Doctor Who
always has some kind of ‘scientific’ explanation for things like ghosts, and actually I really like the idea that it’s a time traveller stuck in a different time line - I doubt anyone would have guessed it on first try, but it fits the facts as we’re given them. It’s just that once that has been discovered, the entire atmosphere of the story changes, and instead of moments that actually make you jump, we’re told that things are scary, and that simply doesn’t have the same effect. I vaguely recall people raving about the scenes of the Doctor alone in the woods and in a terrified state, but they simply ring false to me.

The direction seems to change as the story progresses, too. The early half of the story is directed as you’d expect - as a ghost story. Once the scientific explanations creep in it’s like it’s trying to continue the creepy visuals, but just not quite managing to pull it off.

There’s also a lot of back-and-forth between dimensions and monsters that only pop up when the plot requires them for a moment, and everything just sort of falls apart for me at that stage. On first watch, I remember making a note that the sudden realisation at the end that the Doctor’s got it all wrong and then having to run back into the other dimension felt weird, and that’s still true today - it comes across as almost ‘tacked on’ because the episode was running short. In some ways, it feels as though this one could do with an extra polish - maybe another draft or two, just to really focus in on the elements they want to play with, and make them work. The longer the episode goes on, the more it feels like attention is being split, and sight is being lost of the central ideas that work so well.

In the end, I have to appreciate this episode that little bit more simply for the storm it created when Matt Smith chose to pronounce ‘Metebilis’ differently to Jon Pertwee. For what it’s worth, I reckon Pert got it wrong…


11 April 2015

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

Day 831: Cold War

Dear diary,

I’m never quite sure about Cold War. There’s so many things that feel like they should be fantastic, but which don’t always sit that well with me. For starters, there;s the return of the Ice Warriors (well, an Ice Warrior) - lovely, and all that, but I don’t know if we were really crying out for them to come back, were we? People insist on describing them as being one of the most well-known of all the Doctor Who villains (after the Daleks and the Cybermen), but I’m not sure that to the general public at large they really mean anything. It’s just a big green lumbering creature.

Or, rather, it isn’t, in this case, because that’s the other thing I’m really not sure about; the Ice Warrior spends a lot of time out of the armour. Now, don’t get me wrong, I rather like the idea of finally getting some idea of just what’s hidden inside that big green shell, but what we get here feels… odd. I mean, I guess you could argue that the armour needs to be so big to contain a load of refrigeration equipment, but I just can’t imagine a creature as agile and powerful as the one we’re given here being content to slow itself down in such a bulky, slow suit.

I simply can’t help but feel that I’d have lapped this episode up were it just some creature they’d found out in the ice, which had managed to get aboard the submarine and was now causing this terror. Knowing that it’s an Ice Warrior just leaves me questioning things far more that I should be if I really want to engage with the story - it feels like it’s an Ice Warrior simply for the sake of having an Ice Warrior, and not because the story needs the appearance of such a creature.

That said, I can’t fault the redesign of the outer Ice Warrior shell. It’s another example of the programme taking a classic design and updating it just enough to be workable for the modern version of the programme, while still retaining everything that stands out as being so iconic about the design. I’m also somewhat impressed this time by the design of the creature’s head - whereas on first watch I wasn’t entirely sure by it.

For all that I’m complaining here, there’s still a certain amount to like about Cold War, and as I’ve said, were it not for the fact that I’m supposed to be watching an Ice Warrior, I think I’d really lap up a lot of the tension and terror we’ve got here. ‘Powerful creature gets loose in confined space’ is a staple of horror and action, and it’s well presented here. you really do feel the claustrophobia of the situation, and in the same way that something like A Town Called Mercy expanded the scope and style of the series out wider than ever before, this does a similar trick - we’ve never had a setting down quite like this before now.

The other thing that I’m rather keen on today is the way that Clara is being written - as someone who’s really not sure about all of this. She wants to impress the Doctor (as Rory points out in Series Five, that’s the most dangerous thing about the man), but isn’t sure she’s up to the job. Clara’s first meeting with the Doctor was quite unlike any of the other new series companions - he specifically sought her out when she’d done nothing to prove herself to him, and that’s weighing especially heavy on her mind today. It’s an interesting new dynamic for the Doctor/Companion relationship, and one that I think gets picked up on again over the next few episodes, and which still resonates through to the programme into the next season.


10 April 2015

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

Day 830: The Rings of Akhaten

Dear diary,

In the last few weeks, The Rings of Akhaten has been included in a bundle of episodes designed to represent the ten years that Doctor Who has been back on screens, and everywhere I’ve seen people discussing said bundle, I’ve seem them completely confused as to why this - of all episodes - was deemed suitable to include. Which I don’t quite get, because I’ve always rather liked this one! This was the first episode for which I wrote a brief spoiler-free preview for Doctor Who Online, and I was pretty positive about it there, too.

Looking back at that preview now, I’m pleased to see that I was already commenting on something which I’ve been noticing again in the programme over the last week-or-so of the Diary;

There’s something of a vibe of the Russell T. Davies era present here, with our brand new companion out on her first adventure. The story serves the same purpose as The End of the World or The Fires of Pompeii, and there are elements of both those stories echoed here, opening Clara’s eyes to the wonder of the TARDIS.

This latter half of Series Seven really does feel like it’s reverting to the RTD staple for introducing a new companion. They get the modern-day story which opens their eyes to the wider world that’s all around them. We then take a trip forward in time to explore lots of the weird and wonderful aliens that are out there, and in tomorrow’s episode we’ll venture back into history, and see how that works, too. There’s certainly a reason for doing this - it works (and they did the same thing with Amy’s introduction, too, but it’s been so long that it feels like an absolute lifetime since we last had this set-up).

This really is perhaps most like The End of the World, because we’ve got a real parade of weird and wonderful aliens, which the Doctor is fairly clued in about, while the companion is less sure. There’s some great designs in here, too, and I’m somewhat surprised that none of them have since cropped up for return appearances. It does feel like a bit of a shame that we don’t have any of the old favourites, though. Would be nice to have an Ood wandering the streets, or maybe a Slitheen. I still hold out hope they’ll turn up again one day.

Where this differs from The End of the World is that Clara doesn’t really find herself overwhelmed by the prospect of all this. Instead, the Doctor actively vanishes from the story for a little while, and we get to watch through Clara’s eyes, as she introduces herself to all of this. She makes the decision to get involved - not because the Doctor guides her to, but because it’s naturally her.

But the real highlight of this story has to be those final speeches when the Doctor and Clara put an end to the ‘God’ at the heart of the Akhaten system. Matt Smith has continued to grow and develop in this role (in my preview for this episode, I commented ‘Matt Smith continues to - impossibly - keep getting better at simply being the Doctor’), and his monologue here must surely rank as one of his finest moments. As if that wasn’t enough, Jenna Coleman then shows up and continues that skill into her own performance. She really shows you why she won the role during these moments.

I also feel the need to make a rare point of praising the soundtrack here - an area which I sadly tend to overlook when writing this Diary. The music to this episode, and again especially during those final scenes, is so beautiful and well done - it’s no wonder that they reused several cues from this one to underscore the Doctor’s regeneration several months later; there’s a really hauntingly beautiful quality to it all, and it really does pull at your emotions in just the right way…


9 April 2015

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

Day 829: The Bells of Saint John

Dear diary,

I mused the other day that the arrival of Kate Stewart in the programme was sort of the first ring of the Cloister Bell as far as The 50 Year Diary was concerned - a character being introduced to the programme who is still an active part of it now. Today’s episode brings that realisation even closer to home, because not only do we have the first appearance of the ‘prime’ Clara - who’s still the main companion in the programme at the time of writing - but The Bells of Saint John was the first ‘new’ episode of Doctor Who to air once I’d embarked on this project.

Specifically, it was broadcast on March 30th 2013, making that the first day that I watched more than one episode of the programme on the same day during the course of this marathon - watching The Bells of Saint John simply because it was brand new Doctor Who on the telly, having already watched Trap of Steel, the second episode of Galaxy 4. I gave it a 5/10. Trap of Steel, that is, not this one. (Actually, I watched three episodes that day, because I followed the broadcast of Bells with the preview tape for The Rings of Akhaten, making something of a ‘new Doctor Who double bill’ that evening). It meant it was also the first time that I realised this marathon could and would be affected by what was happening in the continuing world of the programme, and it meant a few weeks later that I spent much of my write up for The War Machines comparing that story to this one.

Why do I bring it up again here? Well, because, while I was watching this one I made a note that the story bore several similarities to The War Machines, and it was only when I mentioned that to a friend that he pointed out to me that I’d already made that connection, two years ago. To be fair, that was around Day 130, so I’ve been through a fair bit of Doctor Who since then…

Specifically, I noted that The War Machines felt like a real breath of fresh air to a programme that had started feeling increasingly stale, despite one or two recent gems, and that the fresh air is provided by new companions (Ben and Polly / Clara) being introduced in a story that’s set firmly in ‘present day’ London, utilising ‘modern’ technology that’s being controlled from the city’s newest landmark (The Post Office Tower / The Shard).

After all this time, I’m somewhat pleased to see that The Bells of Saint John can still feel like such a fresh start for the programme. As I seem to have said a lot over the last few weeks, I’ve been enjoying this era far more than I did first time around, but several of the faults that irked me in the past are still present - and this story really does feel like it’s casting off the shadow of the last few years and striding towards the anniversary with a renewed spring in its step.

I don’t know if I really appreciated before just how much the Doctor’s new purple costume helps to define the change - it’s such a different look to the tweed that matt Smith has sported up until now, and really does carve his era into two distinct phases - the ‘Pond’ Era, and the ‘Clara’ era. Everything feels new and exciting again, and that’s always the best thing that Doctor Who can be.

(I should note, I’ve not touched in the last couple of days on the return of the Great Intelligence and how it impacts the timeline for the character that I’ve been drawing up in the Diary since The Abominable Snowmen - I’m saving that for The Name of the Doctor next week…)


8 April 2015

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

Day 828: The Snowmen

Dear diary,

What a difference a year makes! Sitting down to watch this one, Christmas day 2012, was akin to some kind of religious experience. The Ponds were gone, the Doctor was about to get a whole new costume (it wouldn’t debut until the next episode, but the tweed was gone, and with it the weight of the entire era up to this point), there was a new companion about to debut, along with a new TARDIS, the return of Vastra, Jenny, and Strax, who’d been rather fun during their brief appearance eighteen months earlier… 

And as if all that excitement wasn’t enough, the episode was bloody brilliant! Haha! Oh, I mean, come on, watching this less than a week after the last Christmas special really does serve to highlight how much better this one is. Watching it today has been one of my absolute favourite parts of this entire marathon, and it easily slides into the ’10/10’ bracket.

I’ve got simply loads of notes for today’s episode, but I’m going to try and refrain from turning this entry into some kind of gushing list of everything I like about this one. Instead, I’m going to try and focus in on a few things that stand out as particularly brilliant.

First of all - the pacing of the episode. It’s another one of those stories that plays out with no real desire to rush. The Doctor, The Widow, and the Wardrobe crashes onto Christmas Day screens with an exploding spaceship and the Doctor plummeting to Earth, whereas this is an altogether more measured affair. It’s very talky, as episodes go, and despite the odd menacing snowman popping up from time-to-time to give us a bit of action, not a lot really happens in that regard until the Ice Nanny arrives on the scene. It’s never boring though. There’s no danger of my attention wandering off this Christmas, because every scene is so perfectly crafted, and it all sweeps you along with the story.

That’s likely my second point, actually - how well crafted the whole piece is. Take a scene like Clara’s first meeting with Vastra, for example, and just watch how it’s constructed. The one word test is so clever, and the exchange of information handled so well between the pair. We could have done with something like this when Dodo was introduced. That careful back-and-forth of information between characters allows the story to play out in its own way, allowing the audience to work it out as we go, as opposed to trying to shove it down our throats and explain everything as it drudges along.

All of that makes it sound a little bit dry - especially for post-Christmas Dinner - but that’s not the case at all, because Strax has been turned up to eleven, and works as simply brilliant comic relief throughout the story. Oh, I hooted along as I quoted all his lines back at the screen today. Frankly, it was all a bit pants in here at some points, but I don’t care because it was brilliant.

And then there’s the reveal of the big bad villain behind it all - and it’s only the Great bloody Intelligence! Haha! Oh, that shocked me first time around. I worked it out fairly early on while watching first time around, but then decided that I was probably wrong, and it was only there to wrong-foot us fanboys who’d be giddy at the thought of the Intelligence making a return. But then it is him! Oh, I should have guessed with a title like this, frankly, but it’s such a brilliant reveal. And voiced by Sir Ian McKellen of all people! I can bang on about the scope of the programme increasing in terms of its visuals, but when you can lure stars like this for what’s seemingly quite a small part, that’s when you know how big Doctor Who has gotten…

In case you can’t tell, I’m just rambling now. This always happens when an episode comes along that I don’t just enjoy but actively love, and The Snowmen is certainly in that top tier. I’ll stop now otherwise today’s entry will just become unbearable, but I think this has to be by far my favourite of the Christmas specials, and the perfect way to begin a big new chapter in the programme’s life.


7 April 2015

Doctor Who fandom is amazing! We're lucky enough to hold some of the most creative and inventive fans around (it's no wonder it's the Doctor Who fans who end up running the series) - and two such fans have created something a little bit special for those of us who love the classic series.

Christopher Thomson and Siobhan Gallichan have produced an unofficial Minisode titled 'The Glimpse', featuring the 1st and 2nd Doctors, with, perhaps, the finest impersonations you have ever heard of William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton, respectively.

The Doctor and Jamie accidentally slip into another, rather familiar, time zone.

DWO caught up with Christopher and Siobhan to discuss the project.

Christopher Thomson discusses the genesis of the story:

"I've been an impressionist for many years, but aside from making people laugh for a moment, I wanted to go further. Michael Sheen is no Rory Bremner. And Patrick Troughton was an obvious choice.

I adored his Doctor, but also himself as an actor. I've watched many of his work that I could, and the more I read about his background made me more interested in him. In fact, I want to make a biographic film of his life after Who. If there's a real person I wanted to play in a film, like Sheen, then it would be Pat.

There sadly isn't much of Pat's Doctor we can watch. I've listened to the audio-books of his missing adventures, which is sadly half a performance, but you can vision in your head how great he was. I wanted to keep working on the voice to try and bring that enjoyment in new adventures. My aim was for people to sit back, listen to Patrick. Not me. And judging from the wonderful response I've had... I think I've succeeded.

I'm always working on the performance with each attempt. I don't want to disrespect his family or people who knew him. So I'm constantly learning and improving. Anything to keep Patrick Troughton going, and show the many fans the wonders of the Second Doctor that they've sadly missed.

The Glimpse came to be after Siobhan's fantastic suggestion late one night, which I immediately fell in love with. If I could bring back the Second Doctor, then why not have him meet the First (beautifully performed by SIobhan!)? Combined with telesnaps, which were fun to use, it really gave it that missing episode feel - almost as if Loose Canon had reconstructed an actual recorded episode!

I'm immensely happy and ecstatic with the response it's had. I'm a pessimist, and it's really shown me I should believe in myself more. I couldn't have done it without Siobhan, and she has been remarkable. 

I also voiced Jamie (for the first time) and have heard very little comments regarding it, which is pleasing!"

Siobhan Gallichan discusses working with Christopher and tackling the 1st Doctor:

"Whilst not as acomplished as Chris, I leapt at the chance to work with him. His script was very sympathetic and true to the characters. When I read it I imagined it being done as a charity thing - maybe for the Blue Peter Appeal, 1968, where Hartnell comes back - ill, but having the time of his life. Hence him sounding so happy. Like Chris, I too would very much like to work for Big Finish: as a new First Doctor in my case. We have been overwhelmed by the support and good wishes we have recieved for The Glimpse. And I'm sure that we'll do more..."

Watch 'The Glimpse' in the player, below:

[Source: Siobhan Gallichan]

7 April 2015

GALHA LGBT Humanists, the LGBT section of the British Humanist Association, were thrilled to welcome actor and writer Mark Gatiss as the guest of honour at their 2014 Annual Lunch last November.

Among other things Mark talked about his thoughts on taking over as show-runner on Doctor Who, whether or not Russell T. Davies had a ‘gay agenda’, and what he really thinks of organised religion…

A video of GALHA Chair Richard Unwin interviewing Mark after the meal is now available to watch in the player, below:

(Video shot and edited by Jon Bagge)

To find out more about GALHA LGBT Humanists, visit their website at: www.galha.org

[Source: Richard Unwin]


7 April 2015

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

Day 827: The Angels Take Manhattan

Dear Diary,

I mentioned a few days ago that one of the most exciting aspects of moving to Cardiff was getting the chance to see bits of Doctor Who 'live' as filming went on. This episode was the first time I encountered the 'dark' side of all that. I'd been invited along to a local pub to meet with other fans who enjoyed seeing the filming in action. Upon arrival, I was handed a bundle of papers - about half the script for this episode. Upon wondering where they'd managed to get a hold of such a thing (several months before it was due to air), I was told that a member of the crew had left it on the seat of a car and 'not locked the door'. Suffice to say I didn't bother going back to that particular grouping again and the idea of watching filming suddenly lost its appeal pretty sharpish. I've seen a fair bit since then, but usually only when I happen to be walking past as it's happening.

Even standing there with part of the script in my hand, I can't say I was particularly enthused about this episode. I'd worried that the Weeping Angels making a return in Series Five would only serve to lessen their previous impact and had been thrilled to see how well they were handled upon their return. A third outing was simply another chance for them to lose their appeal. I wasn't even that bothered by finding out how Amy and Rory were going to be departing the TARDIS - as far as I was concerned, they were somewhere well past their optimum 'use by' date, and I was more excited to see how the new companion was going to arrive in the Doctor's life. This episode was simply the final hurdle in moving on to the new era. Watching through the Eleventh Doctor's life again for this marathon, I have to admit that I've actually enjoyed the presence of Amy and Rory far more than I have done in the past, but I still can't help but feel that the time really is right for them to go - having been teetering so closely on a great goodbye towards the end of Series Six, it doesn't matter how much I've enjoyed these final few adventures with them - they feel a bit out of place.

So how does this episode stack up? Well, on the whole I think I like it. Far from reducing the stature of the Angels, it manages to take their original concept from Blink and expand greatly upon it, really using the ideas to their full extent and making something truly creepy with it. The idea of the Angels 'setting up shop' and creating some kind of battery farm for time energy is wonderful, and it's nicely explored here (even if poor Rory has to die a few more times before he's allowed to say goodbye to the programme…)

But I really can only say that I think I like it, because I'm really not sure. For all that it's a creepy and effective use of the modern programme's most famous villains, it also doesn't feel like an awful lot actually happens. They chase after Rory for a bit, and then the Ponds are gone. Game over. That's probably me being a bit disingenuous (I'm sure you could wittle most Doctor Who stories down to make them sound that simple - 'The Doctor opens the Cybermen's tomb, and they attack…', 'The Doctor gets sent back to the creation of the Daleks. He doesn't stop them…', etc), but it really does seem to stand out with this episode for me. Perhaps because it's such a big event in this Doctor's life, and it means he can never go back and see the Ponds again, it feels as though it should somehow be more?

One last thing I wanted to touch on, because it always seems to come up in discussions of this story - the Weeping Statue of Liberty. When it first happened, I thought it was an awful idea. Largely because it was the first joke everyone made when they announced a New York-set story that featured the Angels and that seemed too obvious to actually make it into the episode. Oh, I had so many issues with it, though. The statue isn't made of stone, for a start, and there's no way that it could actually make it across the city without being seen by someone. If the Angels freeze the second living eyes fall on them, then this one wouldn't make it two feet from its plinth! Watching it back today, though, none of that actually bothers me. It's a great visual image, and I think if you're a kid then it's just the image you want to see from this story. The most famous statue in the world is actually a Weeping Angel! There's plenty of ways to justify all my concerns from before, but I'm glad to see that I don't even need them - it just goes along with the story being told.


7 April 2015

Theatre actress and 70s child star Bonnie Langford is joining the cast of EastEnders, the BBC has confirmed.

She will take the role of Carmel Kazemi, Kush's mother and will start filming her scenes this month, with her first on-screen appearance in June.

Known to Doctor Who fans for her role as The 6th Doctor's companion; Mel Bush, Langford said:

"I'm so thrilled and delighted to be part of EastEnders. 
I'm a great fan of the show and think the recent 30th anniversary was sensational and shows just how good British television can be. To be part of this family is an absolute privilege."

[Source: BBC News]

6 April 2015

Speaking in the latest issue of Doctor Who Magazine (485), Steven Moffat has discussed the future of Doctor Who.

In the 'Ten Years At The Top' feature, which celebrates the past 10 years, Moffat confirmed that the show will continue for at least another 5 years:

"I thought it would last ten years. I didn't think it would last ten years with Worldwide trying to get me in a room to talk about their plan for the next five years! So it's going to do a minimum of 15. I mean, it could do 26!"

[Source: Doctor Who Magazine]

6 April 2015

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

Day 826: The Power of Three

Dear diary,

For all that I’d been enjoying this new series, I have to admit that I didn’t really pay much attention to this episode. I was visiting family back home when it aired, and know I watched it with my grandmother, who isn’t a big fan of Doctor Who, and spent must of the episode asking me what I could possibly find to enjoy about it (after this, the next episode she watched was Deep Breath, after which she proceeded to tell me that she wasn’t overly keen on the ‘fat one’ - Strax, as best I can tell - or the ‘green one’ - Vastra, I presume - because ‘they’re a funny looking lot’). What I did see of the episode, though, I didn’t really enjoy, so once I was back home to Cardiff I didn’t have any pressing desire to catch up and see what I’d missed.

It’s meant that ever since, there’s been quite a few question marks about this one in my mind. I knew that it was about a load of little black boxes which suddenly appear one day and take a year to activate, with disastrous consequences… and that’s about it. Couldn’t tell you what the little girl in the hospital was all about, or who the cracked-face-man at the end was. Having now actually watched the episode properly… nope, still couldn’t tell you what the little girl was about (or, for that matter, why the spaceship opened up into the hospital?), but I do quite like the idea of a race from another dimension seeing humans as some great virus that spreads out across the universe. I can’t help but think that there’s more to that idea which means it’s a bit wasted on this episode.

The highlights of The Power of Three are, I think, in the guest cast. Obviously, we’ve got the return of Brian again (and once more I can’t help but wish we’d had a bit more of him. I’ll never forgive the BBC for not making ‘Brian’s Log’ a daily web series on YouTube. I’m calculating how to hire Mark Williams myself as I type), but we’ve also got the first appearance in actual, real, official Doctor Who of Kate Stewart! I’ve been trying to think all day, but I’m fairly sure it’s safe to say that this is the only example of a character first appearing in a fan-made spin off production making the leap to actual Doctor Who on the telly?

There’s something a little bit wonderful about that, and I can’t help but love Jemma Redgrave in the role. I’m so pleased that she’s gone on to become a recurring part of the programme, because I’ve really missed having some kind of consistent UNIT presence, and the character is just right for heading up this new ‘science leads’ version of the organisation. The only thing that troubles me slightly is that this is entirely not the character we had in Downtime. In fairness, I’ve not watched the follow up video (Dæmos Rising?) in which she makes her second appearance, but something does feel a bit off about suddenly picking up with her here not only a part of UNIT, but actually in charge of the UK version! Oh, I can’t complain, because I do love her, but her arrival on the scene marks the first piece being put in place for the end of this marathon for me! All the threads are drawing together now, and I’m closing in on the finishing line. Now that’s been a ‘slow invasion’ (I’m sorry. No, really, I am sorry).


5 April 2015

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

Day 825: A Town Called Mercy

Dear diary,

I seem to be saying it over and over again (which, really, translates to ‘I seem to be rediscovering over and over again’) just how much the 21st century series expands in size as the years go on. It’s been particularly noticeable of late, what with all the attention being turned over to Rose in the wake of the 10th anniversary week, but when you look at an episode like this one next to an episode like that, it’s amazing to think that such little time passed between them. The 2005 series looked massive in scale compared to the stuff that had come before it (the ‘classic’ series evolved massively over time, but it largely shared a very similar overall look, give or take the few seismic shifts you experience when moving from 1969/70 or 1979/80), but this episode, for example, is in a whole new league. Quite simply by this point in time the series really is producing a Hollywood film every week and on a budget which was - I think - actually down from 2005!

The split in Series Seven hugely benefits these opening five episodes, which feature the snowcapped mountains of the Dalek Asylum, the Wild West as depicted here, and scenes filmed in New York for the Pond’s farewell adventure. Quite simply, the programme has never had a visual style as broad as this, and I don’t think it’s really managed to achieve it again since, even though it’s continued to alter and expand its scope in different areas. It means that these Series Seven-A episodes really highlight that wonderful ability of Doctor Who to be different every week. The tone of the programme shifts hugely across this batch of episodes, and it’s almost as though the programme is returning from that big nine-month break in transmission by reminding you just how wild, and brilliant, and - frankly - sexy it can be.

For me, the location filming (actually, the overall design of this entire serial, if I’m honest - it’s telling that I often can’t tell here where location ends and studio begins) has to be the real highlight of this one. The story itself is alright, I suppose, but I can’t really claim that it’s grabbed my attention in the same way that the headline Dinosaurs on a Spaceship did. Once again, this is an excursus in creating a bit of a blockbuster, and it’s got everything I’d expect to have in a Western. I’m not by any stretch of the imagination an expert in the genre, but I’m versed enough in simple popular culture to know some of the key features (and of course the Doctor was going to end up Sheriff). Frankly, the only thing missing is a homage to The Ballard of the Last Chance Saloon

A few days before reaching this block of stories, I was pointed towards a theory online that the episodes from The Doctor, The Widow, and the Wardrobe to The Angels Take Manhattan are happening in reverse order for the Doctor, compared to the Ponds. The idea - in a nutshell - is that Amy’s letter in the Angels story, telling him to go back to her as a little girl, gives him the idea to work his way back through their time stream, and enjoy as many adventures with them as he can, knowing that he’ll not be able to see them again once they’ve reached New York. I’ve been watching with this in mind up until now, but I think I’m actually just finding it more distracting than anything. The idea sounded quite good on paper, but I’m finding lots f little things which seem to contradict it while I’m going through. Today’s episode is the only time that something seemingly more concrete crops up - there’s reference to an adventure with Henry the Eighth which won’t take place until the next episode, but I think that’s easily chalked up to them visiting that time period twice…


4 April 2015

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

Day 824: Dinosaurs on a Spaceship

Dear diary,

When this episode first aired, I recall simply thinking how much it reminded me of the Doctor Who we used to have in the Russell T Davies era. Watching again today, I’m struck by that same thought. And yet, even having just seen that era again in the last few months, I couldn’t actually put my finger on why it reminds me so much of that phase of the programme’s history. Actually, the more I think about it, the more I think that lots of episodes from across Series Seven remind me of those first few seasons, and I’m wondering if I’m alone in that? Is it the colour palette? I’d say it’s the sense of fun in the adventure, but the same could be said of episodes like The Curse of the Black Spot, and that one didn’t feel like a Davies story…

I should clarify that I think this is a good thing! As much as I’ve grown to really appreciate Steven Moffat’s take on the Doctor’s adventures throughout the course of this marathon, I can’t help but innately love the RTD-era. I think it’s because I’d only dabbled with the programme before then, those Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant episodes are what turned me into a full-on, card-carrying fan. When this one went out, fresh on the back of Asylum of the Daleks being rather good, it really felt like Doctor Who had slipped back into my groove again, and this was the series for me once more.

So what’s to like? Well, it would be easier to list the things that I’m not keen on, but let’s stick with the far more positive view of events; first and foremost it has to be the Michell and Webb robots. Oh, I love them for so many reasons. Partly because they’re great-big-live-action-men-in-costumes. When they first turned up in a shot of the trailer, I assumed that they’d have to be some kind of CGI creation simply because of the scale and the practicalities of them… but they’re not! There’s something extra special about that (and the same goes for the front half of the Triceratops being a live-action creation, too). Secondly there’s the personalities of them. Yeah, they might be great big towering-way-over-your-head robots, but they spend much of the episode throwing tantrums, and there’s something inherently funny about that. Thirdly is the fact that those personalities wind up those fans who insist on taking Doctor Who far too seriously! Oh, reading the internet posts complaining about this pair made them all the funnier.

Then you’ve got Brian. Brian may be one of my favourite things to come out of the entire tenure of the Ponds in the programme. He’s a fantastic character, and he’s so perfectly cast, too. I did wonder initially if I’d be able to get Mr Weasly out of my head while watching (as Mark Williams has become so embedded in that role in my mind), but he completely inhabits Brian in these two appearances, and I really wish we could have seen a bit more of him - it’s such a shame that he only crops up during the Pond’s final days in the series.

And then there’s the story itself. I know they were aiming for big blockbuster episodes with ‘slutty’ titles for this half of the series, but Dinosaurs on a Spaceship has to be my favourite of them - it does exactly what it says on the tin and I just know that were I eight years old and watching this, I’d be even more enthralled.

One thing I really can’t forgive, though… that awful postcard from Brian at the end. I love the idea that he sets of travelling, and I like that he seems to have adapted shop-bought postcards for use by simply taping holiday snaps of himself to them, but that one sticks out like a real sore thumb - not just because it’s not particularly well put together, but because the TARDIS is the old David Tennant model, and I simply can’t stop looking at it!


4 April 2015

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3 April 2015

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

Day 823: Asylum of the Daleks

Dear diary,

This episode seems to be at the eye of two storms that continue to rage within fandom. Firstly was the fact that Series Seven didn’t actually start until September, which means that all the talk about ‘never being more than three months away from new Doctor Who went right out the window, and we were actually treated to the longest gap between new episodes since the programme returned in 2005! Oh, the rage that caused at the time. Three years on, and I still see people complaining on the internet (just imagine) that we’re now effectively a series behind, and all because Asylum of the Daleks had the audacity to start late! From my point of view, I rather welcomed the fact that we had such a long break from the programme - If Series Six hadn’t exactly set my world alight, The Doctor, The Widow, and the Wardrobe put the nail in the coffin for my interest in ‘current’ Doctor Who. A nine-month gap was long enough for me to forget my apathy and find my love for the programme again, something which was largely helped by…

The second storm that this episode kicks up. It’s something that I suppose I can understand a little easier. It all started when Steven Moffat commented that “every version of the Daleks” would be appearing in Series Seven, and then Doctor Who Magazine did that wonderful wrap-around cover featuring all the different Dalek models. Now, as it happens, the episode does contain a fair few older versions of the Daleks, but they’re buried away in the back of shot somewhere. For a lot of the time it’s a bit of a fun ‘spot the Dalek’ game. The only time it actively bothers me is when the Doctor encounters the Daleks who’ve faced him in a series of name-checks to old Dalek serials… and all the Daleks in that area are the new ones. Surely if there’s any moment to bring in the older props, it would have been there? Even if they were consigned to the background, it was the one glaring omission that took me out of the drama.

That didn’t really matter, though, because it had done the trick. As soon as you drop the hint that there’s going to be some of the older Daleks popping up alongside the new ones, my interest is piqued. It instantly sounds interesting. And then they went and released a photo of Matt Smith and Karen Gillan with an Evil of the Daleks Emperor Guard Dalek (on April Fools Day, of all times!) and my interest in the programme is instantly rekindled. There’s just something so appealing about the idea!

Right from the off, this episode feels so much better than Series Six did to me first time round. It’s fresh, and new. It’s as visually different to Series Six as that one was to Series Five. There’s a shot of adrenalin. The Daleks are opening a series for the first time in almost a quarter of a century. There’s lots of them, and there’s plenty of other stuff to like, too, because…

People who were viewers in the old days, when the ‘classic’ series was first broadcast, often bang on about how great the surprise at the end of Earthshock Part One was, when we find out that the controllers of the androids are none other than the Cybermen. It’s largely impossible to get that kind of shock and awe these days because things get leaked out in advance (intentionally or otherwise), and the whole medium of television operates differently. I’ve spoken before about how great it was to see the return of the Master in Series Three because although there’d been hints and rumours, I wasn’t ever certain that it was going to happen until just before it did. Well, Asylum of the Daleks is my Earthshock Part One. Jenna Coleman had been announced as the new companion months ago. I think by this point there’d even been plenty of pictures flying around of her filming her episodes. And yet here she is! Months before I was expecting her, and without the tiniest hint (that reached me, anyway) that she might be appearing. Oh it was exciting. This episode gains a whole point extra simply because that’s still one of the best moments I’ve ever had watching Doctor Who. The sheer surprise, and bafflement. Oh, Moffat, you’re a clever one.

For all my raving here, I can’t say that Asylum of the Daleks is perfect, and there’s one thing at the heart of it which really lets the episode down - the relationship between the Ponds. They’re getting a divorce, we’re told. It transpires that it’s because Amy is no longer able to have a child, and while neither of them wants to split up, they both think that the other would. In all honesty, it’s a great bit of drama, and it’s packed with a lot of the stuff I wanted to see in the latter half of Series Six - the aftermath of the events at Demon’s Run, and the way that it affects these two normal people in their day-to-day lives. But the whole thing rings extremely hollow - it seems to come from nowhere (The 5-mini-episode Pond Life in theory sets it up, but even there it comes from absolutely nowhere in the final minute or so without the tiniest hint of build up), and it’s resolved pretty easily as soon as its served its purpose in the plot. It feels like an incredible waste of what should be some great drama for the characters, and it’s a pity - by far the weakest part of the story.


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