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20 February 2015

Anyone who was a fan of The 8th Doctor's TARDIS in the 1996 TV Movie, will simply love the mind-blowing Steampunk clocks by Bad Dog Designs.

We found out about Bad Dog Designs through some of DWO's visitors who asked us if we know where to buy them. After a bit of digging around, we got in touch with Paul Parry who designs the fantastic contraptions, to find out more.

Of particular interest was their 'Gemini' clock, and Paul told us a bit more about it:

"'Gemini In Tempore' Latin for 'Twins in Time' - this is a Steampunk Dual time Nixie clock with a running Steam engine and of course steam. The Nixie tube displays were the fore-runner of the LED and LCD displays we have now, popular in the 1960's and early 1970's. No longer commercially produced but have a mesmerising quality in operation as each digit is stacked on top of the other inside, so the numbers jump backwards and forwards as the digits change.

The clock also has 2 Dekatrons which were used to count and divide electrical signals in early computers, which are controlled by 2 brass knobs on the top of the clock. Situated in the centre of the clock is a gyroscope, taken from a WWII spitfire that is geared to rotate at 1 rpm. On top is a Steam beam engine, driven by a discreet electric motor, and to the LHS of the clock is a steam generator that is fed from a water reservoir inside the brass housing, and finally top RHS is a Nixie display for Temperature and Humidity.

The clock can be programmed to shut itself off at night and power down all the motors, and wake up again in the morning. 

On a technical note - the clock contains 4 microprocessors, 2 variable speed drives, 3 voltage converter / power supply units. The Steam is actually vaporised water using a piezo transducer so there is no heat or smoke involved. The clock started life as a 1942 Volt / Amp meter and the build took me approximately 3 months from initial request to finished piece."

Watch a promotional video for the Gemini clock, below:

+ Check Out the Bad Dog Designs website.
+ Follow Bad Dog Designs on Twitter.

[Source: Bad Dog Designs]


20 February 2015

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

Day 781: Silence in the Library

Dear diary,

It’s strange coming back to this two-parter now that we’ve seen the rest of the River Song story play out. The speculation that abounded at the time - was she his wife? His mum? Romana? The Rani? Susan? I think people settled pretty quickly on to the idea that she was most likely his wife, but I didn’t pay it all that much attention because I couldn’t bare River. Really, really disliked her. The colleague I mentioned yesterday, who didn’t consider The Unicorn and the Wasp to be a proper ‘favourite’ episode, on the other hand loved her, and couldn’t wait to find out more about her. Ironically, those roles reversed once we entered the Moffat era - I absolutely fell in love with River, while he began to declare that she was the worst thing to ever happen to the show, and point out that he’d ‘always’ hated the character. Ho hum.

I can’t claim that it was anything wrong with River that made me take a dislike to her - I think it was just the fact that she was in this story, and for some reason it fell completely flat for me. I know I watched it with my then-girlfriend’s parents, and sort of cringed my way through it, because they’d happened to be watching it the week it was rubbish. I also know that I felt like it was simply a ‘Greatest Hits of Steven Moffat’, with repeated catchphrases, an everyday object being turned into something sinister, and elements of plot that were ‘timey wimey’. The sour taste these two episodes left in my mouth meant that I’ve not wanted to watch them since. It didn’t help that only a week or so before broadcast, Moffat had been announced as the successor to Russell T Davies, and everyone was proclaiming him as the ‘saviour’ of Doctor Who.

Watching tonight, though, I’m not sure what my problem was! Yes, I suppose it can be seen as a bit of a ‘Greatest Hits’ collection, but everything is being used for a reason, and I’m actually getting quite into it. As I’ve said above, knowing the rest of River’s story lends an extra weight to her appearance here (and I know it’s a subject that’s been batted back and forth over the years but the way she’s scripted here leads me to think that she definitely had at least one other meeting with the Tenth Doctor). The moment when River pleads with the Doctor to say he knows who she is actually tugs at my heartstrings a bit after watching all the merry dances she had with the Eleventh Doctor, and it makes me all the more excited to watch her story unfold over the next month or so. I think perhaps it bothered me at the time that it felt like Moffat was setting things up for his own tenure several years before we’d get any kind of pay-off, whereas now that we’ve been through it all, I can view all of this in a different way.

River’s not the only thing that’s faring better this time; the whole idea of keeping out of the shadows isn’t just taking something everyday and twisting it into something scary, it’s playing on children’s playground games, and giving them a Doctor Who connection. The repeated phrases… are still a bit rubbish, actually. Sorry. You can’t win them all. I get that the ending is supposed to feel like a bit of an onslaught with no escape for anyone but it doesn’t half go on a bit. Donna Noble has left The Library. Hey, who turned out the lights? Donna Noble has been saved.

It’s still not perfect - and certainly feels like Moffat’s weakest script for the show yet - but it’s a lot better than I’ve ever given it credit for!

20 February 2015

A new, fan-made Doctor Who Soundtrack by cosplayer and long-time Whovian, Ronak Shah, is available.

Doctor Who: A Type 40 Production is available on iTunes and Loudr, and features creative re-interpretations of Murray Gold’s most iconic tracks from the Doctor Who Soundtrack.

Originally released to commemorate 51 Years of Doctor Who, the album features tracks that memorialise Series 8’s most stand-out feats, be it the Show’s new homecoming direction or Clara developing a personality.


- This Is Gallifrey: Our Childhood, Our Home (Pizzicato Arrangement) – An iconic piece that marks the Doctor’s friendship with the Master and their lives as children on Gallifrey, and that has since been immortalised as the Doctor’s homecoming theme, reimagined using piano and strings only, and featuring the pizzicato technique.

- The Majestic Tale Of A Madman In A Box / This Is Gallifrey: Our Childhood, Our Home (Medley) – Another piano-and-strings-only remake. A medley of sorts which begins with the quintessential melody of This Is Gallifrey: Our Childhood, Our Home and concludes with the final section of The Majestic Tale (Of A Madman In A Box).

- Clara’s Theme (Autumn Arrangement) – A simple yet beautiful and soothing piano piece that serves as the theme of the incumbent – and dare I say, my favourite – Companion Clara Oswald.

+ Download Doctor Who: A Type 40 Production on iTunes.
+ Download Doctor Who: A Type 40 Production on Loudr.
+ Follow Ronak Shah on Twitter.

[Source: Ronak Shah]


19 February 2015

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

Day 780: The Unicorn and the Wasp

Dear diary,

For years and years, I always used to say that this was my absolute favourite episode of revived Doctor Who. It even became a long-running argument with a former colleague, who insisted that this ‘couldn’t’ be my favourite episode, because it’s not a ‘proper’ favourite episode. I’m still not entirely sure what they meant by that, but I think the point was that this one doesn’t have any Daleks, or Cybermen, any of The Big Four, and isn’t some big, epic, game changer of an episode. It also wasn’t Blink, which was their favourite, and thus did count as a ‘proper’ favourite episode. For some reason.

Oh, but The Unicorn and the Wasp is everything I love about Doctor Who, and everything I love about Series Four in particular. It’s light and fun, but it can still be light and fun when it’s filled with death, and darkness, and a giant alien wasp. It perfectly encapsulates the Doctor and Donna’s relationship perhaps better than any other episode they share - you’d have no idea that this was the first story Tennant and Tate shot together for this series. Once again, the pair are having exactly the type of adventures that I’d want to have with a TARDIS - inviting yourself to a 1920s party, meeting people like Agatha Christie… effectively everything up until they discover The Body in the Library. Donna of the Chiswick Nobles, and The Man in the Brown Suit, flitting through time and space, Destination Unknown, just having a laugh.

And ‘having a laugh’ really is the right turn of phrase for this one, because there’s so much in this episode that makes me laugh out loud - even now when I’ve watched it perhaps more than any other modern episode. My notes today are filled again with lots of lines of dialogue which really sets me off - but my favourite has to be Donna’s discussion with Agatha about men, when she muses that her husband-to-be went off not with another woman, but with a giant spider instead. Oh, I’d forgotten that bit and it made me hoot.

I’m also always impressed by the way that everything hangs together as an Agatha Christie episode. In ‘The Writer’s Tale’, Russell T Davies points out how tricky it is to find an alien for pairing with Christie, because it’s not as obvious as putting Charles Dickens with ghosts, or Shakespeare with Witches. Somehow, though, the whole Giant Wasp situation really holds up, and I think it’s because it manages to take a murder mystery - the one thing that is a must in the Agatha Christie tale - and mesh it nicely with the format of Doctor Who. I can’t say that I actually worked out who the murderer was first time around, but it’s always nice going back and watching it with that knowledge, because there’s a number of little hints seeded in for us to find - though I’m not sure anyone could have pieced them together properly! Did any of you lot work it out first time? Or was it guesswork, like with me?

I’m possibly biassed because I’ve spent so long thinking of this one as being among my very favourite episodes, but I really can’t fault it, and it’s a massive turn around from yesterday! The latter half of Series Four is generally considered, I think, to be some of the strongest Doctor Who ever produced, and if it can keep appealing to me as this one has, then I’m in for a real treat over the next few days.

19 February 2015

Michelle Gomez arrives in Cardiff this week to re-join the Doctor Who cast and reclaim the role of ‘Missy’ for series 9. She joins Peter Capaldi (The Doctor) and Jenna Coleman (Clara Oswald) for the opening episode of the series.  

Speaking in Cardiff, Michelle Gomez said:


“Things have been a little beige since I left Missy behind, so I'm delighted to be putting my Lippie back on. I'm positively dying to see the Doctor again!”


The second two-part adventure to be filmed, ‘The Magician’s Apprentice’ and ‘The Witch’s Familiar’, is written by the show’s lead writer Steven Moffat, produced by Peter Bennett and directed by Hettie Macdonald (Blink, the Hugo Award-winning Doctor Who episode).


Steven Moffat, lead writer and Executive Producer, said:


“Everybody hide - Michelle Gomez as Missy was an instant hit last year, so she’s straight back to plague the Doctor and Clara in the series opener. But what brings her back into their lives is the last thing they’d expect.”


Having filmed ‘The Day of the Doctor’ in the series’ 50th anniversary special and ‘Dark Water’ and ‘Death in Heaven’ in series 8, Jemma Redgrave returns to the guest cast for series 9, alongside the Laurence Olivier Award nominee and film, television, radio and stage actress Kelly Hunter.   


A familiar theatre and television actress and one of the UK’s most proficient performers, Clare Higgins also joins the guest cast for the opening of the series. Jaye Griffiths has been gracing our screens in some of the nation’s favourite TV programmes such as Silent Witness and Casualty and also takes up a guest role in the opening episode.


Other guest stars confirmed for the new series include Daniel Hoffmann-Gill, Jami Reid-Quarrell, Aaron Neil, India Ria Amarteifio, Joey Price, Dasharn Anderson, Harki Bhambra Demi Papaminas.

+  Series 9 of Doctor Who airs Autumn 2015 on BBC One

[Source: BBC]

18 February 2015

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

Day 779: The Doctor’s Daughter

Dear diary,

I can’t help but feel, watching this episode, that Martha’s involvement is little more than the programme trying to both have its cake and eat it. They need someone to pair off with the Hath, so that we can see them from a point of view other than that given by the humans. Equally, they want Donna to stay with the Doctor to help him come to terms with the sudden arrival of a new daughter. Solution? Have Martha kidnapped in the TARDIS at the end of the two-parter, and shove her off with the Hath so that we’ve got someone to cut to.

In theory, this shouldn’t be a problem, but it just comes across as so obvious, because Martha has nothing to do for the episode. Her entire storyline, really, is ‘get back to the Doctor in time to leave’. There’s a nice character moment when she uses her skills as a Doctor (and makes a point of saying that it doesn’t matter who her patient is, he needs treating), but after that it’s simply a case of getting to the right place before the episode ends. Even her trek across the surface of the planet feels devoid of any real jeopardy, because she feels so superfluous to the plot. I’m not entirely sure how I’d fix that issue, but maybe make the reason that the TARDIS shuttles off to this time and place related to Martha in some way? Just something to make it feel like there’s a reason for her presence.

The situation isn’t helped by the fact that Martha’s side of the narrative is all a bit… sloppy. I made a note early on that the Hath not speaking a recognisable language was a really nice touch because it gave them something unique, and made a point of checking if I was right in thinking that they originally did have a translation that we could understand… but then the episode answered that for me, because there’s several moments where Martha calls back to something her Hath friend has said, and by the time he reaches his sticky end, she knows his name. It just feels like less attention has been paid than usual, and it’s a pity.

Especially so because the other half of the episode, with the Doctor, Donna, and Jenny is rather nice in its own way. The idea of having the Doctor confront the idea that there’s another Time Lord (of sorts) around, having lost them all once, and then so recently lost the Master again, is great, but it never quite feels like it really gets there. We have moments - the Doctor describing a Time Lord as being more than just where you come from, as though he’s desperately trying to find a way to not face what’s happening is lovely, as is his confession to Donna that the part of him that can look after and nurture a child of his own died with Gallifrey - but they flicker into life and then burn out in the blink of an eye. As with the Sontaran episodes we’ve just been through, it feels like we’re another draft away from really cracking the interesting points of the story.

Actually, maybe that’s what needs to be done? Sorry, I’m working this all out in my head as I go. Maybe I you could solve my two big issues with this episode simply by swapping the roles of Donna and Martha? Donna gels wonderfully with the Doctor in this one (but then you can pretty much take that as read), but Martha was actually there when the Doctor cradled the dying Master. She has a connection to him as ‘the Last of the Time Lords’ that Donna simply doesn’t? It would make it feel - narratively - as though there was a better point to having Martha involved with this story, and I can’t help thinking that I’d have loved to watch an episode of Donna struggling to get back to the Doctor while getting increasingly irritated by the fact that she can’t understand the Hath.

Before long I’m going to just start sounding bitter about this one, but I have to bring it up before I sign off for today - Jenny’s survival at the end. It just, again, feels like the episode having its cake and eating it. They want a big emotional moment where the Doctor has grown to like this person and then had to watch her die, but it also wants to pay off the suggestion that she might be capable of some form of regeneration. Also, it’s been said for years that Steven Moffat suggested Jenny be kept alive at the end, so we’ve had to endure countless questions of when she’s coming back!

Sadly, for me, The Doctor’s Daughter has been the low point of Series Four, and if I’m honest, the low point of the 21st century run so far…

17 February 2015

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

Day 778: The Poison Sky

Dear diary,

Throughout Series Three I felt like a bit of a yo-yo when it came to the subject of Martha’s family. I remembered them as being a bit poorly conceived when compared to the likes of the Tylers or the Nobles. But then, there were hidden dimensions to them that I’d forgotten about since broadcast, and nice moments which - while not quite elevating them to the same level as those other families - certainly put them on a more even playing field. Then, come the finale, I felt that they didn’t quite work again, and the threat wasn’t sold to me via them in the way I might have expected. Ultimately, I just didn’t care about them. Thankfully, in the end, Martha did, and it’s been used to great effect in this story. I love that she makes a point of telling Donna that travelling with the Doctor caused her family so much pain, and actively urges her to speak to her own family (it also leads to that great exchange between the Doctor and Donna about going home! Hah!). It’s also a nice touch that one of the things to tip the Doctor off that Martha’s been replaced is the fact that she hasn’t thought to phone her family yet - when he knows that’s the first thing she’d do after the events of the last series.

It also shows up just how much better Donna’s family are done, though - I’ve just clicked with them instantly. There’s a moment in yesterday’s episode where Donna walks down her street - taking in the fact that she’s just gone back to normal life once more - and then she sees Wilf standing in the driveway. He waves! he dances a little! He tears up… and so did I! Watching the 21st century series thing time around is making me well up a lot more than it ever did the first time, but there’s just something about the sight of Wilf there, so pleased to see his granddaughter back safe and sound that really struck a chord with me.

And then they go inside, and discuss the life that Donna’s been leading these last few weeks, and everything about the scene absolutely rings true. The way that Wilf tells her not to tell Sylvia, and the way Sylvia reacts when she thinks something is being kept from her. If anything, this is the most real family that the Russell T Davies era gives us, and it’s really the backbone of these episodes for me. You can keep your Sontarans, your intergalactic wars, and your poison skies, I’ll settle for just these family scenes, thanks.

But the beauty of the programme at this point is that we can have all these beautiful family moments, and have all those other things, too! So; the Sontarans. I spent a fair bit of time musing yesterday about the fact that I’d not really consider them to be particularly big or important monsters in Doctor Who, but I think - after the family stuff - they’re the thing I’ve enjoyed the most about this two-parter. Not necessarily their plan, or the story involving them, but just the way that they’re portrayed as a little bit comical, but also totally warlike.

Take the battle sequence, for example, in which they go to war against UNIT; there’s something in the sheer delight they take at the situation that makes them stand out from the other Doctor Who monsters. We’ve seen Daleks taking out people en masse, but when they do it, it’s simply functional. In The Parting of the Ways, for example, I praised the fact that we got to see them going down to Level Zero to kill all the humans stranded there. It was great, but it was calculated, and there wasn’t any emotion behind it from the point-of-view of the baddies. Watching as Dan Starkey stomps into battle, though, and likens it to sport makes me almost root for the Sontarans! Bless them, they’re only playing!

As for the story… well, as I say, I can take or leave that. I’m a little saddened that we’ve yet to see Sontarans in a proper all-out war, so spending two episodes with the Doctor musing that this is so unlike the Sontaran’s usual tactics means that I’m left longing for the story I want to see. It’s also just a bit ‘been there, done that’ in places, with moments like Luke’s students deserting him and his later being betrayed by the Sontarans falling flat because they’re more than a little clichéd, and because the students have only really been seen in the background so far - which means I don’t really feel anything for them when confronted with a gun.

On the whole, I think there’s a lot of great ideas in these tow episodes - and when it latches onto something real like the depictions of Donna’s homecoming, it really sings - but it’s a draft or two away from being as tight as it could be.

16 February 2015

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

Day 777: The Sontaran Stratagem

Dear diary,

I’ve spoken before about the very clever way the 21st century version of Doctor Who slowly drip-feeds in bits from the ‘classic’ era, allowing it to organically become a part of the new mythology, rather than hitting you with it all at once (I didn’t mention it the other day, but can you imagine that speech from Voyage of the Damned cropping up in Series One? Half the audience would switch off! ‘Nice to meet you, Rose. I'm the Doctor. I'm a Time Lord. I'm from the planet Gallifrey in the constellation of Kasterborous. I'm nine hundred and three years old. Run!’). There’s been a fairly natural order for things to be introduced so far - the Doctor and the TARDIS are obviously top of the list, followed by the Time Lords (who are introduced through their absence, setting up a whole new backstory), and in terms of the villains it was always going to go Daleks/Cybermen/Master. Question is, though… where do you go from there?

At the time, it seemed perfectly natural and only right that we were seeing the Sontarans back next. I can remember the promotional picture they released of David Tennant, Catherine Tate, Freema Ageyman, and Dan Starkey’s first Sontaran, and thinking ‘of course it had to be them!’ but… um… did it? I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love a Sontaran as much as the next person, but they’re hardly ‘top-teir’ are they? Two two-parters (hush, pedant at the back, The Invasion of Time is a two-parter for them), a three parter (hush, pedant), and a four parter spread out over a decade or so. But then, I’m not entirely sure that Doctor Who has really got a baddie after those big three who’s immediately recognisable, has it? I often see people calling for the Ice Warriors’ as the fourth place, but that’s not true! They, too, had four adventures in the show but last appeared in the classic series in 1974! I’d not say they’re especially remembered by the nation-at-large. That said, if I’m using that criteria to judge, then the next biggest baddie is probably the Giant Maggots by technicality. Well, we are in Wales… Does anyone have a particular theory on what the ‘next big baddie’ is after the Daleks/Cybermen/Master? Is it the Sontarans, and I’m just being awkward?

I’m not complaining, mind, because I rather like the Sontarans, and I’m especially fond of these modern ones. They really suit being properly short (after their growth spurt for The Two Doctors), and the masks look the best they have since the very first Sontaran from way back when. Also, turns out that blue is very much their colour!

What’s strange about this story is that it’s not the reintroduction of UNIT - they played parts in Aliens of London, The Christmas Invasion, and the Series Three finale - but it feels like it is. This is the first time we’ve really done a proper story set within UNIT. The Christmas Invasion is the nearest contender, but we only really see UNIT there because they have a means of tracking the spaceship, thus moving the plot on. There’s something I rather like about modern UNIT, too. As the Doctor says, it was all a bit more homespun in the old days, but I like the flashy, modern edge to the new chaps, and I’m glad they’ve made more of a prominent return in recent years, with recurring characters among their ranks.

And on the subject of returning characters… hello Martha Jones! I’ve said plenty of times across this marathon that I really like the Doctor having friends scattered across time and space that he can drop in on from time to time, and I love the idea of Martha calling him back down to Earth to help with a problem (it’s the same way I like Mickey going it in School Reunion)… but I’m not sure I like her being a part of UNIT. It just never sat right with me, in the same way that her becoming that lone warrior in Last of the Time Lords didn’t quite gel. If I’m honest, I think Martha’s entire post-Series Three story is a massive mess - she joins UNIT, gets engaged to a man she met briefly in a parallel time line, then dumps him for Mickey and becomes a gun-toting freelancer… it just doesn’t chime with the Martha we knew for most of Series Three, and that’s a shame. I'm finding it hard to take to the Doctor's distaste for her position here - especially since she points out that he's the one that got her the job in the first place!

16 February 2015

Funko - the company who hold the license to make vinyl and pop culture licensed toys, have just unveiled their new Doctor Who range.

After years of requests from fans, the company finally unveiled their new ranges at last week's New York Toy Fair, and among them were 9 figures from the Doctor Who universe.

The TARDIS, The 12th Doctor, The 11th Doctor, The 10th Doctor, The 4th Doctor, A Dalek, A Cyberman, A Weeping Angel and an Adipose all feature in the first wave of Doctor Who vinyl figures.

View a gallery of the upcoming figures, below: 

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Also unveiled were some keyring versions of the above figures, which you can view below:

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+  The Doctor Who Pop Vinyl figures will be released later in 2015, priced £9.99 each.
+  PREORDER these figures from Forbidden Planet for just £8.99!


15 February 2015

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

Day 776: Planet of the Ood

Dear diary,

Oh, I’m going to sound like a right old misery here. Having complained yesterday that I wasn’t all that impressed by the exteriors for The Fires of Pompeii, for which they traveled all the way to Italy to film, I’m going to say a similar thing again today. Though this time around, I know why some of the location shooting doesn’t work for me - and it’s because it’s very much shown up by other areas.

I’ve no problem with the actual complex of Ood Operations. No, that looks good enough, and I was pleasantly surprised by it in places - early on, when characters are first moving about the industrial landscape, there’s no snow falling. I figured that it was because they simply couldn’t get the snow machines into such tight areas to use them… but then later on they do! It’s a little touch, but it makes it somehow all the better. My issue comes with the wide open spaces, specifically where the TARDIS lands right at the start. We pull back to a frankly beautiful matte painting of the Ood Sphere, with the Doctor, Donna, and the TARDIS parked up in one of the nicest alien landscapes the programme has ever shown us - with vast spires of ice, and caverns, ravines, plains in the distance… gorgeous.

…And then we cut in for tighter shots of the actors and we’re in a bit of a quarry with some fake snow peppered around (and not entirely convincingly, at that). There’s no hint of that vast landscape painted in behind the Doctor or Donna when we see them closer up, even though you’d expect to have a hint of it in there somewhere. I know that the programme doesn’t have an unlimited budget with which to constantly be painting in backgrounds to every single shot, but it just took such great work in the matte painting and let it go to waste. A real pity.

It’s hardly the end of the world, though, and there’s plenty else to enjoy about this episode. We’ve got another one here which I’ve not seen since broadcast (I’d not really noticed before just how many of these episode I’ve only watched the once), and there’s lots of nice depths to the story that I’d completely forgotten since my last viewing. Chief among them has to be the way that the Doctor and Donna act together - they’ve already slipped into being best friends, and it’s great to watch. In some ways, it’s not all that far removed from the way the Doctor and Rose were back in Series Two, but whereas that relationship could grate from time-to-time, this just feels natural, and fun, and I’m loving it. The way they rattle around in the console room at the beginning, or laugh as they cross the icy wastes of the planet, it’s all so lovely - it’s what I’d want time travel to be like.

There’s something so honest and human about Donna. The way she punctuates all of the Doctor’s pomposity simply be being real. I love that she misses the Doctor’s speech because she’s ventured inside to fetch a coat (on the subject of which, I love that she thought to even bring a coat, among other belongings!), and then the way that she reacts as the true plight of the Ood becomes more and more obvious. And then there’s that beautiful moment when she’s heard the Ood song, and it moves her to tears;


I spent all that time looking for you, Doctor, because I thought it was so wonderful out here… …I want to go home.

That moment alone should be enough to silence anyone who dared to think that Catherine Tate wouldn’t be up to fulfilling the companion role long-term, because it’s such a wonderful performance. Truly heartbreaking.

And since I’ve started tracking the elements falling into place for the Tenth Doctor’s impending demise, today we’ve got that set up of the Ood’s song, which will sing the Doctor to sleep before too long, and the first of many hints that his song is closer to the end than the beginning…

14 February 2015

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

Day 775: The Fires of Pompeii

Dear diary,

Way back at the very start of this marathon, I used to track a loose story arc involving the Doctor’s realisation that time isn’t as rigid as he’d always thought it was. I’m fairly certain that it wasn’t an arc consciously inserted into the programme by the production team, but rather something which evolved organically over time, ranging from The Aztecs, in which the Doctor is fairly certain that time can’t be altered (he’s very blunt about it with Barbara, but there’s a certain something in the performance that makes me suspect that it’s more techies of you can’t rewrite a single line because that’s what he’s always been told, not what he’s experienced) through to The Romans, in which he realises that the Great Fire of Rome was his fault. We’re almost seeing history repeating itself at the moment, and I’m rather liking that it happens in very similar setting - and in an episode where the Doctor actually namecheck the fire he caused!

Yes, I’m seeing patterns in things that aren’t there again. Following on from Voyage of the Damned, which had a few threads starting to appear that will become very prominent right at the end of this Doctor’s life, today we’ve got him once again realising that he’s a vital part of time - and more crucially, realising that he can bend time to his own will. Here, it’s just saving the one family from the eruption of Vesuvius, but by the time The Waters of Mars rolls around, this type of power will have gone to his head. Just like the arc in the 1960s, I’m fairly sure that this wasn’t placed here intentionally, but it’s lovely to see it starting to form in retrospect, when you look back at these stories with knowledge of where the tale goes further down the road.

It’s also fitting in some ways that The Fires of Pompeii should slot so neatly into the Doctor realising how flexible even ‘fixed’ points in time can be, because this episode is something of an important one for the programme’s timeline - with both Karen Gillan and Peter Capaldi making their Doctor Who debut here several years before they’d return to play a more prominent role in the series. I’m surprised we as a fandom don’t spend more time parsing the cast list for this one to see who else might crop up as someone major in the future (Oh, actually, Tracy Childs is in this one, too, and she’s an audio companion, so I’m not being entirely facetious).

Overall, I can’t help but quite like this one - there’a a nice enough story behind it all, and there’s several scenes that are especially well done - chief among them being the introduction of Lucius Petrus Dextrus, and the ‘seer off’ that follows - with both Lucius and Evelina revealing facts about where the Doctor and Donna are really from, become delving deeper into their personal futures to hint at someone returning, and something on Donna’s back. The whole scene is brilliantly written, perfectly performed, and directed with such a great style that it really helps to build up the tension. At the time, I remember there being a lot of discussion about exactly who might be returning - the general feeling seemed to be that ‘Rose’ was too obvious after the sight of her in the previous episode, and most people’s money seemed to be on the Rani (isn’t it always?). At the time, I thought that was ridiculous, but the way the line is delivered here, you can easily see why people might expect something more sinister than the return of a former companion.

If there’s one thing about The Fires of Pompeii which does fall a little bit flat for me, then I have to say it’s the actual setting. Save for the few plate shots taken in New York for Series Three with a skeleton crew and no lead actors, this is the first time that 21st century Doctor Who has properly travelled abroad to shoot scenes, and while they do look very nice… they simply don’t ‘wow’ me. I think, truth be told, I was spoilt last season with all the Elizabethan England scenes for The Shakespeare Code. Every single one of those floored me the other week when watching, whereas the Pompeii scenes here simply don’t have the same effect, and I’m not entirely sure what that is. 

13 February 2015

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

Day 774: Partners in Crime

Dear diary,

Oh, the fury when it was announced that Catherine Tate would be returning to the show for a full season as the regular companion. Outpost Gallifrey was so cross that a comedy actress - God forbid - would be travelling in the TARDIS for so long. And then this episode aired, and people were split! An episode with a large dollop of comedy thrown in for good measure! Some people fell over themselves to do a volte-face and proclaiming that Donna would be a great boost to the series, while others simply pointed to the moments of levity in this one as signs that she’d be taking the programme down with her.

As for me, well, I was thrilled when they announced Donna’s return - I’d enjoyed her well enough in The Runaway Bride, and it sounded like she was going to be a lot of fun. When Partners in Crime aired, I was beside myself - it’s a great way to set up the new series.

For starters, it’s nice to open in such a different way to previous years. Rose and Smith and Jones are both about someone getting caught up in the Doctor’s adventures and enjoying the thrill (though both are very different stories, even if you can group them in this lose category), while New Earth was about continuing the adventure, with pre-established characters. Partners in Crime gets to be an unusual new spin on the format, with a character who’s already been established and allowed to peak into the Doctor’s world (I really love the way the Doctor tries to impress Donna in the TARDIS at the end, only for her to stop him with a simple ‘I know all that’), while at the same time allowing the ‘getting caught up in the adventure’ strand to play out. 

I’d forgotten just how long they play the whole ‘Doctor and Donna Missing Each Other’ thing at the start, but it’s all the better for it - when they finally spot each other across the office about 20 minutes in, the moment is lifted simply because they’ve been coming so close. And if there was ever need to prove that a comedic actress in Doctor Who can be a fantastic thing, just look at this scene! I’ve not watched the episode in full for years, but I must have seen this bit ten times over - it never gets old for me.

As for the story itself… Eh. I mean it’s not bad, by any stretch, but it’s just sort of ‘average’ Doctor Who. I can sort of take or leave the actual story of this episode, because it’s so much about the Doctor and Donna meeting again, and looking at the way their lives have changed since they last saw each other. I love Russell T Davies’ description in ‘The Writer’s Tale’ about the way you meet someone special and desire that your whole life is going to change, but then you get up the next day, and there’s bills, and work, and all that nonsense. It feels so very real8 that Donna should have failed to ‘walk in the dust’ after the events of *the Runaway Bride, and the sad way she admits it to the Doctor here is beautiful. As for the Doctor, it’s really nice for him to finally acknowledge just how much Martha meant to him, and to try and face the way that he treated her during their adventures. Something I’d never appreciated before is the way in which the Doctor says the Adipose here are just children and can’t help where they came from - Donna’s right, it is a real change, because he murdered the Racnoss children last time they met. I don’t think I’d ever noticed quite how nicely that parallels before, but it’s one of the highlights for me. 

12 February 2015

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

Day 773: Voyage of the Damned

Dear diary,

I’ll confess I’ve not been looking forward to reaching this one. Not that I have any bad memories of it (indeed, I’ve quite happy memories of it - at Christmas, we used to rotate every year between which family member was hosting the evening meal, so I got to watch The Christmas Invasion at home, and the same for The Runaway Bride, because while Christmas that year was at the grandparent’s, they only lived thirty seconds the other side of the farm, so I could nip home in time to see the Doctor and the Bride. Christmas 2007 was spent at the aunt’s house, but myself and another family member were outvoted on who got the TV remote, so we ended up watching Voyage of the Damned on the tiny little telly in the kitchen instead - the irony of watching what it arguably the first real ‘blockbuster’ of Doctor Who on the smallest screen ever still isn’t lost on me, but it was fun to sit and watch and laugh our way through it, while picking at the leftover turkey).

No, the thing that’s been putting me off is the sheer size of this episode. It’s over 70 minutes! I’m easily able to set aside 45 minutes a day to sit and watch the latest Doctor Who for the Diary, but having to find a slot significantly longer than that was making me dread this a little bit, and then I started to think of the episode as being a bit bloated, over-long, and rubbish. It didn’t help that over Christmas, I routinely saw this episode listed second to only The Doctor, The Widow, and the Wardrobe as the worst of the Xmas specials. In short, I was worried that I’d be setting aside a large chunk of time to watch an episode that wasn’t very good. 

But in that wonderful way that’s happened time and time again throughout this process, I sat down, hit ‘play’, and absolutely fell in love with the episode I was watching! Why on Earth are people rating this so low among the Xmas specials? There’s so much to love here! Remember last Christmas (Oh, fine, ‘remember two weeks ago’), when I said that you could suddenly see the production team stretching their wings and really showing us what they could do? That feels like nothing compared to the scale of what we’ve got in this episode. That old irony of watching this one on such a tiny TV screen suddenly hit home even harder today, because I don’t think I’ve ever realised just how grand this one is.

And as for being bloated and over-long? Not a bit of it! I didn’t once find myself checking the tine (as I’d feared I might do). The story moves at exactly the pace it needs and wants to, and then ends when it’s done. The episode is 70-odd minutes because that’s how long it takes to tell it. It also means that we get to take a step back and really enjoy the story. I said a few days ago that Human Nature was quite a slow episode, devoting real time to setting everything up so that we really felt embedded in that world by the time things kicked off in the second half of the tale. We get to see that same system at work here again - with loads of time given over to just the Doctor wandering around the crowded room, meeting various people who we’ll be spending the adventure with, and setting everything in to place. Oh, it’s glorious. Even once we’ve done that initial set up, pulled back to reveal the Titanic is a spaceship hovering over the Earth (Which, by the way, is a great image to hook in your casual audience, perhaps more so than anything since the Daleks came back), we come out of the titles and resume at that same pace. The extended running time allows us to really enjoy the story, and not have to rush through it at breakneck speed. As if to underline that point, we don’t get our first sight of Kylie Minogue until five minutes in… and even then it’s only in passing, as we cut between images of different people in the room. A major guest star like Kylie on board, and they can afford to be leisurely about it!

Oh, but then the meteorites crash, and the action kicks into gear. We don’t lose that measured pace once everything kicks off - far from it, there’s plenty of time to stop, take stock, and share real character moments - but we get action sequences like the entire scene of the cast crossing the open engines, which really show off what this programme can do. A friend the other day described Series Four as being the most confident that Doctor Who has ever been, and that starts right here in this episode. This is Who made by a team who are absolutely certain of themselves, and all the better for it.

I’m not going to list everything that I’ve enjoyed in this one, because I’d be here all night (I’ve mentioned Kylie in passing, but not said how good she is, nor praised the performance of Geoffrey Palmer, who dies fairly early on but gives perhaps the best performance in the entire episode), but I do want to draw attention to something else - there’s subtle foreshadowing of the Tenth Doctor’s demise creeping in here, and it’s not something I would have noticed before, because when this aired, we still had another few years of Tennant to go (and I’m fairly sure, from repeated readings of ‘The Writer’s Tale’ that the Tenth Doctor’s downfall hadn’t even been dreamt up by this point).

No, I’m not talking about the first appearance of Wilf, though it’s fitting that he shows up here when these threads start to draw together. It’s the end of the episode, where the Doctor suddenly realises that Astrid was wearing a teleport bracelet, and tries desperately to bring her back to life. When it’s suggested to him that this simply can’t be done, the Doctor screams, and shouts, and kicks the stand of bracelets, while proclaiming that he can do anything. It’s the kind of arrogance that we see later on from the Time Lord Victorious, and I love that it’s then thrown into focus by Mr Copper just a moment later;


If you could choose, Doctor, if you decide who lives and who dies, that would make you a monster. 

It was only afterwards, discussing this with a friend, that it was pointed out this theme really runs from now right up to the regeneration, and it’s certainly something that I’m going to be keeping an eye out for in the next few weeks… 

12 February 2015

Filming has begun for Block 2 of Series 9 of Doctor Who, the BBC confirmed today.

An image [pictured-right] featuring a clapperboard for the next block, with Hettie MacDonald (Blink) directing, was posted to the BBC Picture Publicity website.

More news as we get it...

+  Series 9 of Doctor Who airs Autumn 2015 on BBC One

[Source: BBC]

11 February 2015

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

Day 772: Last of the Time Lords

Dear diary,

When you're in fandom for long enough, you start to get used to the same old complains about stories cropping up time and time again. This story is one of the ones that tends to rear its head on a fairly regular basis, and it's largely down to the ending. People complain that the 'reset button' way this story is closed - with the world being reset so that the events of the last year never happened weaken the story, but I'm not sure that's quite the problem. Certainly, something didn't sit quite right with me in today's episode - but it wasn't the fact that things got re-set at the end.

It took a discussion with my friend Nick to really hammer out what the big issue with this story was - it's all a bit too easy. I spent a fair bit of time yesterday praising the way that the stakes had been raised possibly higher than ever before - certainly things hadn't felt more desperate for the Doctor and his companions yet in the revived series. Cut off from any sort of support, and with the world in thrall to the Master… it really felt like there was no way out. By the time the episode ended, the Toclafane had begun the destruction of the Earth's population, the Doctor had been aged radically, and Martha had teleported away from the Valiant, stuck on her own, with only a quick whisper from the Doctor to tell her what needed to be done.

All of that, in theory, sets us up beautifully for today's episode, and certainly when we open in the world of 'One Year Later', it does feel desperate still. The Master is in control. Humanity is enslaved. He's built an army of warships ready to wage war across the stars. So far, so good (well, you know what I mean). But then, Martha arrives on a little boat and tells us about the struggles she's had to face in the last twelve months and it all just feels… I don't know. False? 

I think the fact that we don't get to see any of the hell the planet has faced in any great detail (the episode does its best to fill us in here) means that rejoining the story just in time for the downfall was always going to feel a bit off. Watching it through at this pace of an episode each day makes it feel like Martha laves the Valiant, then returns again and brings an end to it all. The threat is just dissipated too quickly. It doesn't help that the Doctor, Jack, and Martha's family are all still stuck aboard the Valiant in more-or-less the same state as when we last saw them. It doesn't feel like the 'Year of Hell' has actually occurred.

This is where we come back to that issue of the re-set ending. It shouldn't be a problem. So, the Year of Hell never actually happened for the people of the Earth, it all got undone. Well… so flippin' what? Because the preceding half hour has failed to really engage me with this so-called 'Hell', it doesn't feel like undoing it all makes that much of an impact. That's not the issue.

Realistically, resetting the time line and leaving those aboard the Valiant as the only people who can remember all those events should be a great opportunity for dramatic potential - almost all of Martha's family have been through it, and it forms the basis of her departure at the very end of he episode. But, as I've said, it doesn't feel like they've had much of a struggle. Yeah, the Joneses have been forced to act as the Master's 'staff' for twelve months, and I'm sure he's made them watch some of the horrors supposedly happening down on the surface, but… we don't see any of that. It's not even hinted at. Add into that the fact that we then don't get to see much of the fallout from the situation (we watch the family through the window when Martha heads out to say goodbye to the Doctor, but that's it), and that I've never connected to them in the same way I did with Jackie and Mickey… and we're just left with a bit of a damp squib.

Yesterday, I debated wether this finale was a three-part story (including Utopia), or a two-parter. I can't help but thinking that three parts might have been better pent by giving over 45 minutes to the 'Year That Never Was', actively showing us Martha as she walks the Earth, and the struggles that those aboard the Valliant were forced to endure, because as it is, this finale is certainly a three-parter, but the final third is far weaker than the two that precede it.

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