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16 July 2014

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

Day 562: Full Circle, Episode Two

Dear diary,

I can’t begin to tell you how much I’m enjoying the story of the Doctor and the Marsh Child in this episode. Almost as if picking up the cue from The Leisure Hive, that the Doctor can be friends with the slightly strange looking aliens, we’ve got him off exploring on his own and encountering a specimen of this slightly unusual new race. His reaction to seeing one up close? Much like the Third Doctor when first meeting a Silurian, he simply greets it in a friendly manner, and continues on to persuade it that everything is ok.

We then go on to have something of a game of cat and mouse between the pair, as the Doctor continues his explorations further into his new surroundings and into the Star Liner, with the Marsh Child following not far behind, close enough to see and experience everything that’s going on, while remaining far enough behind to be cautious. It’s rare that an alien species in this programme is given ‘children’ among their ranks - it’s more often than not simply a fully gown race (of warriors, usually), so it’s creating a fascinating new way of seeing these creatures. I’m really hoping that the Doctor’s friendship with this particular Marsh Child will come in handy later on, when I’m sure the grown ups of the race won’t be quite as timid.

As far as the design of the Marsh Men goes, I think it’s probably one of the best we’ve had for a while in the programme. The thing that slightly lets it down - as is so often the case - has to be the way the costume works. As the creatures walk around and explore the environment (a small thing, but I love the way that they’re free to step in deep pools of water or mud - usually fears of damaging an expensive new costume would prevent such natural movement and interaction), their effectiveness is somewhat diminished by the way the latex costumes ‘bunch’ around the crotch. I’ve also not quite decided if the masks look too ‘plastic-y’, or just the right amount of ‘alien’.

These aren’t massive criticisms, though, because on the whole I’m very impressed by the design, and the way that they’re being used. Certainly, they’ve fared better than the other monster to appear in this episode - those spiders. I’m always a bit on edge when I know there’s spiders abound, and I’ve never made it this far into Full Circle probably for fear of reaching this point of the story. They’re even less effective than the ones from Planet of the Spiders, though! That old BBC rule about not making spiders look too realistic on screen has come to my rescue once again, because the actual sequence - in which these arachnids burst from the centre of fruit, including one right onto Romana’s face! - could be quite scary if the props didn’t look quite so… battery operated. The glowing eyes make them look cute, if anything!

I do feel a bit for Lalla Ward in this episode, it has to be said. While Tom’s off exploring a beautiful new world (has Ward even set foot on location yet in this story?), she’s stuck inside, dealing with a group of children. Obviously someone was paying attention to how well she worked when paired with the young sacrifices during The Horns of Nimon. The biggest issue that this causes comes when asked to portray the TARDIS being carried away by the Marsh Men. For a few minutes, the episode dips in to being exactly what everyone always thought Doctor Who was like - with the camera jerking to the side, and a delay before the group of actors hurl themselves unconvincingly across the set. We’ve had some great examples of this type of acting in the series before… but this isn’t one of them.

Still, she hasn’t got as raw a deal as poor K9. The campaign of hatred against the poor mutt continues today, with his entire head being knocked off by a particularly mean Marsh Man with a stick! Romana laments that they always seem to be repairing K9, and it’s no wonder when the current production team seem so intent on damaging him as much as possible (were they simply hoping to destroy the prop so much that they could simply claim not to be able to use it any more?). As if that wasn’t bad enough, even the incidental music in this story is mocking the poor creature, playing up the comedy when he’s unable to follow the Marsh Men across a small dip in the ground. At least he gets the best line in the entire episode today, though, when the Doctor points out that the creatures they’re watching have stopped moving, and K9 replies ‘the observation is correct’.

I’m going to miss the sarcastic thing when he goes…

16 July 2014

BBC Books have released the cover art and details for their forthcoming 12th Doctor novel, The Blood Cell.

The Blood Cell
By James Goss

"Release The Doctor - or the killing will start." 

An asteroid in the furthest reaches of space - the most secure prison for the most dangerous of criminals. The Governor is responsible for the worst fraudsters and the cruellest murderers. So he's certainly not impressed by the arrival of the man they're calling the most dangerous criminal in the quadrant. Or, as he prefers to be known, the Doctor. 

What does impress the Governor is the way the new prisoner immediately sets about trying to escape. And keeps trying. Finally, he sends for the Doctor and asks him why? But the answer surprises even the Governor. And then there's the threat - unless the Governor listens to the Doctor, a lot of people will die. 

Who is the Doctor and what's he really doing here? Why does he want to help the Governor? And who is the young woman who comes every day to visit him, only to be turned away by the guards? 

When the killing finally starts, the Governor begins to get his answers...

+  The Blood Cell is released on 11th September 2014, priced £6.99.
+  Preorder via Amazon.co.uk for just £5.24. 

[Source: BBC Books]

16 July 2014

BBC Books have released the cover art and details for their forthcoming 12th Doctor novel, The Crawling Terror.

The Crawling Terror
By Mike Tucker

"Well, I doubt you'll ever see a bigger insect."

Gabby Nichols is putting her son to bed when she hears her daughter cry out. 'Mummy there's a daddy longlegs in my room!' Then the screaming starts... Alan Travers is heading home from the pub when something rushes his face - a spider's web. Then something huge and deadly lumbers from the shadows... Kevin Alperton is on his way to school when he is attacked by a mosquito. A big one. Then things get dangerous.

But it isn't the dead man cocooned inside a huge mass of web that worries the Doctor. It isn't the swarming, mutated insects that make him nervous. It isn't an old man's garbled memories of past dangers that intrigue him. 

With the village cut off from the outside world, and the insects becoming more and more dangerous, the Doctor knows that no one is safe. Not unless he can decode the strange symbols engraved on an ancient stone circle, and unravel a mystery dating back to the Second World War.

+  The Crawling Terror is released on 11th September 2014, priced £6.99.
+  Preorder via Amazon.co.uk for just £5.24

[Source: BBC Books]

16 July 2014

BBC Books have released the cover art and details for their forthcoming 12th Doctor novel, Silhouette.

Silhouette
By Justin Richards

"Vastra and Strax and Jenny? Oh no, we don't need to bother them. Trust me." 

Marlowe Hapworth is found dead in his locked study, killed by an unknown assailant. This is a case for the Great Detective, Madame Vastra. 

Rick Bellamy, bare-knuckle boxer, has the life drawn out of him by a figure dressed as an undertaker. This angers Strax the Sontaran. 

The Carnival of Curiosities, a collection of bizarre and fascinating sideshows and performers. This is where Jenny Flint looks for answers. 

How are these things connected? And what does Orestes Milton, rich industrialist, have to do with it all? This is where the Doctor and Clara come in. The Doctor and his friends find themselves thrust into a world where nothing and no one are what they seem. Can they unravel the truth before the most dangerous weapon ever developed is unleashed on London?

+  Silhouette is released on 11th September 2014, priced £6.99.
+  Preorder via Amazon.co.uk for just £5.24. 

[Source: BBC Books]

16 July 2014

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: LM Myles, Mark Ravenhill, Una McCormack & Nev Fountain

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: July 2014

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 16th July 2014

Breaking Bubbles by LM Myles
The Doctor and Peri find themselves in the palatial gardens of the deposed Empress Safira Valtris where nothing is ever quite what it seems.

Of Chaos Time The by Mark Ravenhill
Cast adrift in his own chronology, the Doctor must avert the consequences of a catastrophic experiment in using time as a weapon of war.

An Eye For Murder by Una McCormack
The year is 1939, and a case of poison pen letters at St Ursula’s College threatens to change the course of the Second World War. Fortunately thriller writer Miss Sarah Perry is on hand to investigate...

The Curious Incident Of The Doctor In The Night-Time by Nev Fountain
Michael is a young boy who likes to solve mysteries, such as the mystery of the extra gnome, the mystery of the absent father, and the mystery of the strange man in yellow trousers at the bottom of the garden.

* * *
It’s that time of the year again, when Big Finish pauses for a bit in the run of trilogies and gives us one of its ‘4x1’ releases. Ever since the highs of Circular Time, these releases have become something to look forward to (in my eyes, at least). 1001 Nights and Recorded Time were both hits in my eyes, so I was looking forward to listening to this release.

The key to getting these sort of releases ‘right’, is in creating stories slight enough to fill up half an hour but with enough detail to not feel slight; to have a plot which doesn’t feel wasted by using it up in only one episode but is arresting enough to feel just right. Short episodes, like short stories, are an art form to get right, and thankfully, this release as a whole gets it right. Naturally, there are some stories I definitely preferred to others, some plots which arrested me more than others, but in terms of all being decently-crafted episodes, this CD ticks the boxes.

Given that it covers four separate stories, I’ll look at each of them in turn for this review.

First up, we get Breaking Bubbles itself, by LM Myles. I rather liked the way this tale manages to distill much of what is typical about Doctor Who into one episode, whilst also playing it. So, we get The Doctor and his companion separated, but they end up in part working against one another. We get a prisoner and escort tale, but neither of them are as black and white as is so often the case. Indeed, this theme of playing with perception proves to be the foundation of this play: who people appear to be and who they really are; actions they say they will take but may not.

The ending is perhaps a bit rushed, but no more than you would get if there were two episodes to play with. Myles has written a strong start to the overall release and an interesting tale in its own right.

Next up is the appropriately confusingly titled Of Chaos Time The by Mark Ravenhill. If Breaking Bubbles felt like it got things started quickly, Of Chaos Time The makes it look positively pedestrian in comparison. We literally hit the ground running, caught up midway through an adventure... as does The Doctor. Again, it’s a neat take on an old trope: starting the story when it’s already well underway, except this time the protagonist is every bit as confused as the listener. Long-time listeners of Big Finish release will see similarities to Creatures of Beauty here with its disjointed structure, but whilst that was a novelty, here it is integral to the tale itself: time is all cockahoop, and it’s up to The Doctor to make sense of it all.

Of all the stories on this release, this is perhaps the one that feels most like a radio drama, with lots of scenes where The Doctor narrates his thinking aloud and describes what he sees, something inevitable with audio drama but perhaps a bit limiting at times. It’s certainly the episode which I felt stretched its premise out the thinnest, but not to the stage where it outstays its welcome. Even so, it proved to be the weakest of the four stories for me, whilst the next was the best.

An Eye For Murder by Una McCormack is a wonderfully atmospheric tale of mystery, tension, mistaken identity and politic. Set in the outbreak of the Second World War at St Ursula’s College, Peri is mistaken for a writer of mysteries and before too long, she is embroiled in finding out who is responsible for a particularly nasty series of letters at a time when racial and political tensions are reaching a peak: if only her pesky assistant, The Doctor, can stay out of trouble and do his typing in peace...

Taking a more sedate pace than the previous two tales, McCormack is able to cover a lot in the thirty minutes afforded to her, from ideological disparity at a time of racial tension, to the role of women at a time when emancipation and Feminism were dirty terms, whilst also having a lot of fun with the idea of The Doctor and Peri being detectives. They fit into that mould with incredible ease, and to be perfectly honest, I would easily have just listened to them solve a mystery in a purely-historical context rather than having an alien influence (though that said, the fantastical twist is rather a nice one and slots into the background well). Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant are on top form throughout this, Bryant in particular relishing the material she is given, and the guest cast are as strong as the script. If you listen to just one story on this release, this is the one to go for.

We end with The Curious Incident Of The Doctor In The Night-Time by Nev Fountain, a story which wears its influence on its sleeve and manages to simultaneously evoke Mark Haddon’s fantastic novel whilst being its own thing. As with An Eye For Murder, in many ways I’d have easily enjoyed this without its Doctor Who trappings.  I mean, I know you couldn’t do the episode without The Doctor and Peri being in it, but when they do arrive, they perhaps slow the pace down somewhat, which is a shame. Whilst The Doctor is flitting around in the background without any lines or interaction with the main protagonist, I was arguably more engaged with the tale. As soon as they appear, things become a bit more sci-fi/fantasy: which, in all fairness, is as it should be, really.  The Doctor and Peri, travellers through space and time and oddity aplenty, crashing into the ordinary day of a family and making it extraordinary. It’s just arguably not as arresting once this happens. I was more invested when we were just learning about Michael, his family, and his coming to terms with important events in his life.

And then, just when I resigned to this as my overall feelings towards this episode, Nev Fountain gives us the final scene and completely slaughtered me emotionally.  Baker is absolutely mesmerizing and incredible in those final few moments, and the heart is truly... touched. It’s as beautiful an ending to a tale as you’re likely to find and ends up making this second half stronger than the first.

So, there we have it. Four stories of varying strengths and varying settings. The final two were, for my money, the real winners, but the opener is strong and even the weakest of the four has much to celebrate. More like this, please. A real treat.

16 July 2014

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: LM Myles, Mark Ravenhill, Una McCormack & Nev Fountain

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: July 2014

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 16th July 2014

Breaking Bubbles by LM Myles
The Doctor and Peri find themselves in the palatial gardens of the deposed Empress Safira Valtris where nothing is ever quite what it seems.

Of Chaos Time The by Mark Ravenhill
Cast adrift in his own chronology, the Doctor must avert the consequences of a catastrophic experiment in using time as a weapon of war.

An Eye For Murder by Una McCormack
The year is 1939, and a case of poison pen letters at St Ursula’s College threatens to change the course of the Second World War. Fortunately thriller writer Miss Sarah Perry is on hand to investigate...

The Curious Incident Of The Doctor In The Night-Time by Nev Fountain
Michael is a young boy who likes to solve mysteries, such as the mystery of the extra gnome, the mystery of the absent father, and the mystery of the strange man in yellow trousers at the bottom of the garden.

* * *
It’s that time of the year again, when Big Finish pauses for a bit in the run of trilogies and gives us one of its ‘4x1’ releases. Ever since the highs of Circular Time, these releases have become something to look forward to (in my eyes, at least). 1001 Nights and Recorded Time were both hits in my eyes, so I was looking forward to listening to this release.

The key to getting these sort of releases ‘right’, is in creating stories slight enough to fill up half an hour but with enough detail to not feel slight; to have a plot which doesn’t feel wasted by using it up in only one episode but is arresting enough to feel just right. Short episodes, like short stories, are an art form to get right, and thankfully, this release as a whole gets it right. Naturally, there are some stories I definitely preferred to others, some plots which arrested me more than others, but in terms of all being decently-crafted episodes, this CD ticks the boxes.

Given that it covers four separate stories, I’ll look at each of them in turn for this review.

First up, we get Breaking Bubbles itself, by LM Myles. I rather liked the way this tale manages to distill much of what is typical about Doctor Who into one episode, whilst also playing it. So, we get The Doctor and his companion separated, but they end up in part working against one another. We get a prisoner and escort tale, but neither of them are as black and white as is so often the case. Indeed, this theme of playing with perception proves to be the foundation of this play: who people appear to be and who they really are; actions they say they will take but may not.

The ending is perhaps a bit rushed, but no more than you would get if there were two episodes to play with. Myles has written a strong start to the overall release and an interesting tale in its own right.

Next up is the appropriately confusingly titled Of Chaos Time The by Mark Ravenhill. If Breaking Bubbles felt like it got things started quickly, Of Chaos Time The makes it look positively pedestrian in comparison. We literally hit the ground running, caught up midway through an adventure... as does The Doctor. Again, it’s a neat take on an old trope: starting the story when it’s already well underway, except this time the protagonist is every bit as confused as the listener. Long-time listeners of Big Finish release will see similarities to Creatures of Beauty here with its disjointed structure, but whilst that was a novelty, here it is integral to the tale itself: time is all cockahoop, and it’s up to The Doctor to make sense of it all.

Of all the stories on this release, this is perhaps the one that feels most like a radio drama, with lots of scenes where The Doctor narrates his thinking aloud and describes what he sees, something inevitable with audio drama but perhaps a bit limiting at times. It’s certainly the episode which I felt stretched its premise out the thinnest, but not to the stage where it outstays its welcome. Even so, it proved to be the weakest of the four stories for me, whilst the next was the best.

An Eye For Murder by Una McCormack is a wonderfully atmospheric tale of mystery, tension, mistaken identity and politic. Set in the outbreak of the Second World War at St Ursula’s College, Peri is mistaken for a writer of mysteries and before too long, she is embroiled in finding out who is responsible for a particularly nasty series of letters at a time when racial and political tensions are reaching a peak: if only her pesky assistant, The Doctor, can stay out of trouble and do his typing in peace...

Taking a more sedate pace than the previous two tales, McCormack is able to cover a lot in the thirty minutes afforded to her, from ideological disparity at a time of racial tension, to the role of women at a time when emancipation and Feminism were dirty terms, whilst also having a lot of fun with the idea of The Doctor and Peri being detectives. They fit into that mould with incredible ease, and to be perfectly honest, I would easily have just listened to them solve a mystery in a purely-historical context rather than having an alien influence (though that said, the fantastical twist is rather a nice one and slots into the background well). Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant are on top form throughout this, Bryant in particular relishing the material she is given, and the guest cast are as strong as the script. If you listen to just one story on this release, this is the one to go for.

We end with The Curious Incident Of The Doctor In The Night-Time by Nev Fountain, a story which wears its influence on its sleeve and manages to simultaneously evoke Mark Haddon’s fantastic novel whilst being its own thing. As with An Eye For Murder, in many ways I’d have easily enjoyed this without its Doctor Who trappings.  I mean, I know you couldn’t do the episode without The Doctor and Peri being in it, but when they do arrive, they perhaps slow the pace down somewhat, which is a shame. Whilst The Doctor is flitting around in the background without any lines or interaction with the main protagonist, I was arguably more engaged with the tale. As soon as they appear, things become a bit more sci-fi/fantasy: which, in all fairness, is as it should be, really.  The Doctor and Peri, travellers through space and time and oddity aplenty, crashing into the ordinary day of a family and making it extraordinary. It’s just arguably not as arresting once this happens. I was more invested when we were just learning about Michael, his family, and his coming to terms with important events in his life.

And then, just when I resigned to this as my overall feelings towards this episode, Nev Fountain gives us the final scene and completely slaughtered me emotionally.  Baker is absolutely mesmerizing and incredible in those final few moments, and the heart is truly... touched. It’s as beautiful an ending to a tale as you’re likely to find and ends up making this second half stronger than the first.

So, there we have it. Four stories of varying strengths and varying settings. The final two were, for my money, the real winners, but the opener is strong and even the weakest of the four has much to celebrate. More like this, please. A real treat.

16 July 2014

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Stephen Cole

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: June 2014

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 16th July 2014

France, the year 1770: by special invitation, the famous 'Doctor', friend of Voltaire, arrives at the lonely estate of the lovely Marquise de Rimdelle – once a hostess to the highest of high society, now isolated by the strange, pernicious mist that lingers round the countryside.

But there's more in that fog than mere vapour, confesses the Marquise's strange niece to the Doctor's ward, Nyssa. She senses some uncanny machine circling the fringes of the estate, in the space between the shadows. Watching. Always watching. She's given it a name: 'The Steamroller Man'.

Meanwhile, the man in the cellar talks to the Doctor; a dead man, trapped behind the cellar walls. The Steamroller Man is coming, he says; coming to smash the place down. It seems the Doctor has been drawn into a very dangerous liaison…

* * *
Before I even start this review, I want to note that it is going to contain spoilers, not just for this play but the other two in this recent Fifth Doctor/Nyssa trilogy also.  You have been warned!

The third in this most recent run of adventures for the Doctor and Nyssa sees them joined once again by Hannah Bartholomew, the latest TARDIS stray who we met at the start of this trilogy and surprised us all in the midway point (or did so to this listener at any rate).  Masquerade starts off with us all on the back foot. You rather feel like you’ve skipped past the first three-or-so tracks when you begin the tale: plenty of things are afoot, and it’s up to us to play catch up. It is quite a neat and refreshing move and gets the story off to a good start. One thing I really admired the play for was not doing the usual thing of keeping a twist to one side until the cliffhanger to the opening episode. Within a few minutes, you are aware that things are not all they appear to be: The Doctor is not acting like The Doctor, Nyssa is not acting like Nyssa, and no-one else seems quite right either. Stephen Cole doesn’t shy away from being bold and blatant in his set-up so early on, and, again, this is something to be applauded. It bucks the trend and gives us something pleasingly original instead of the same old story trotted out yet again. It’s the sort of thing Big Finish can do so well at times, so it was nice to have it here.

Sadly though, Masquerade never lives up to that opening burst of ingenuity and flair. The story that follows is fine (things remain not what they ought to be, people keep being not who they appear to be, the regulars carry on getting to have some good “There’s something wrong with my mind!” moments) but, ultimately, nowhere near as strong or interesting as the opening would have you believe, which is a pity. Even the main antagonist lacks the required stench of fear or bite to really make all the elements gel.

Crucially, for a tale which so neatly bucks the trend to begin with, things later on feel increasingly... familiar. Cole’s writing is fine enough, but there is too much that feels like we’ve seen it all before.  I had that a little bit with Tomb Ship last month, being able to directly compare like-for-like that story to another Fifth Doctor one, and whilst that isn’t the case here, you can still see the numbers beneath the drying paint, sadly.

Even the very ending can be seen coming, and what happens next (as in, in future releases)... well, sadly I can imagine. I can imagine that there is a clear ending here but that, as with Hex and Flip and Charley and, arguably, even Nyssa, Big Finish won’t stop. Because the ending here clearly signals the end of Hannah. But will it be? I doubt it somehow.

The very ending feels rather rushed, as if it’s missing a TARDIS scene to tie things up, which perhaps gives the impression more of a pause before Hannah returns in some guise than a full stop, which it should be for the story to make any sense at all. It feels like Hannah was never intended to reappear beyond Moonflesh and now Big Finish are uncertain what to do with her: do they kill her off? (Yes, sort of.) Do they keep the doors open? (Maybe: explains the way the tale just... ends without any sense of closure.) Or does it reflect Hannah being a very late addition, so they can dispose of her character without any grand gesture, as if she were just an additional cast member in this story only? (Possibly.)

I don’t know what happens next.  Maybe Hannah will return. Oddly, I think they need to tie up the ending here in some way, but I would rather see her staying put. An acknowledgement of her fate perhaps hanging over The Doctor and Nyssa in their next adventure before carrying on afresh? I think this would work better than the alternative, which is having her come back and making a nonsense of this story’s plot. I guess we will see.

What I do know is that this speculation is perhaps more enjoyable to engage in than listening to Masquerade was. Heck, the fact the original CD pressing and download were missing about five seconds’ worth of dialogue created more drama than you get for the most part in this play.

A series of diminishing returns, I hope the next Fifth Doctor and Nyssa trilogy glows brighter.

15 July 2014

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

Day 561: Full Circle, Episode One

Dear diary,

Robot isn’t really representative of Philip Hinchcliffe’s era of Doctor Who. Horror of Fang Rock doesn’t really sum up the Graham Williams period, and Spearhead From Space (indeed, Season Seven as a whole, in many respects) isn’t the kind of programme that we’d see for the next four years under Barry Letts. The same is true, in some regards, with Season Eighteen, and the stories we’ve had so far. Oh, sure, The Leisure Hive feels at times as though the 1980s is slapping you in the face, but it’s not until this story that you suddenly get to see what Doctor Who is going to be for the next few years.

Most obviously, it’s the introduction of Adric, who’ll be travelling with the Doctor for much of the next two seasons. Adric has become something of a by-word to mean ‘a bad character’ in Doctor Who, but it has to be said that he’s off to a fairly good start here. Granted, Matthew Waterhouse isn’t giving the best performance that we’ve ever seen, but he’s certainly not giving the worst, either! I think it helps that so much of this episode is given over to him, too. The Doctor and Romana are absent for long stretches of the story, while we follow the exploits of Adric and his ‘tribe’ (for want of a better word).

Perhaps less obviously, this episode is stuffed full of continuity references. The Doctor and Romana have been called back to Gallifrey: but it means that there’s a chance to name check Leela and Andred (who were last seen - and mentioned - at the end of Season Fifteen, years ago!), plus the Key to Time, Romana pointing out that the Doctor once tried to fight the Time Lords, and his sad admission that he lost… I rather like some of these references, and watching the series at the pace of an episode a day means that these events weren’t all that long ago for me, but it does feel a little bit like the start of the series playing to the fan base perhaps a little more than the general audience. Odd bits of continuity being dropped in are fine - to the average viewer, there’s no difference between them and the Doctor referencing an adventure with Leonardo, but when they come as thick and fast as they do here, you start to feel as though you might be missing out on something, perhaps…

Still, that’s only a minor point in what has been a fairly enjoyable episode. It feels like ages since we last had an alien world represented by a real location (there’s a quarry in Destiny of the Daleks, but before that you have to reach back to The Power of Kroll. The series really was very studio-bound during Season Seventeen, unless it was gallivanting around modern-day Europe), and it’s a lovely one, to boot. It genuinely feels expansive when characters are running around and swimming, and right off the bat there’s a sense that these characters, even the supporting artistes, are part of a very believable world.

The location looks especially nice once the Mist Fall has started, too, with the trees and the rivers all shrouded in the fog. I’m hoping that we don’t move exclusively inside now that the star liner has been introduced - there’s opportunities for some very nice directing in locations like this. It’s perhaps a shame, then, that so much time is spent inside the TARDIS again here. I love the ship, don’t get me wrong, but after a whole episode and a bit with the Doctor and Romana trapped in there during the last story, I’d much rather they got outside and started to explore! 

14 July 2014

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

Day 560: Meglos, Episode Four

Dear diary,

This must be one of the quickest adventures that the Doctor has ever been caught up in. Once he’s left the TARDIS, he wanders through the jungle for a bit, gets arrested upon entering the city, is sentenced to death, and it’s only after this - in this final episode - that he actually gets stuck in and does something… and even then it’s simply ‘alter the settings on the alien cactus’ computer! Had he not been mistaken for Meglos and locked away in a cell for a bit at the end of the story, he’d have been away even quicker! At one stage during pre-production, The Lodger was planned to have Meglos turn up as a villain, and the Doctor wouldn’t remember him. It’s not hard to see why when watching this story - he was only a part of the Doctor’s life for a single afternoon!

It’s not only the Doctor’s adventure that’s running a bit short this time around, though, but the story itself. This episode features a cliffhanger reprise of almost three minutes in length - and it’s not the longest episode in the world, anyway! There’s less than 20 minutes of ‘new’ adventure in this episode, and I think that’s all helping to give the impression of things feeling a little… light.

My biggest concern, though… does the Doctor actually solve the problem? I mean… he stops Meglos from blowing up Tigella, sure, but what about all the people living there? Once the Conscience of Marinus - sorry, I mean the Dodecahedron - had been stolen, things in their city were beginning to fail, and the whole place was going to collapse in a meter of hours! As far as I can see, the Doctor doesn’t actually take it back to them at the end of the story, it’s left to be destroyed along with Meglos’ world.

There’s a suggestion in the final scene that they’ll be moving up to the surface again, and thus they won’t need the power of the Dodecahedron any more, but… well, the surface is dangerous! It’s full of carnivorous plants, and as far as I could see, all the Tigellan’s weapons were power-based. What happens when the batteries run flat? They’re going to have a bloody difficult job trying to start a new life when everything they’ve ever known has suddenly been wiped out! Not to mention the vast numbers of religious folk who’ve had their god stolen away, and are likely to now be left without a sense of purpose…

If I’m honest, this is really just me trying to force a bad outcome on to events - all part of my desire for the Doctor’s lack of care to catch up with him by the time he regenerates at the end of the season. Chances are, they can get along just fine, but… well… it’s something to think about, certainly. It’s been ages since I’ve been able to piece together an obscure and probably non-existent running theme like this through the series, so I’m rather keen to see it continue. What’s that the Eighth Doctor says about human seeing patterns that aren’t there…? 

13 July 2014

The BBC have tonight released a full launch trailer for Series 8 of Doctor Who.

The trailer gives us a taste of the first few episodes from the eighth season of Doctor Who, and you can view it in the player, below:


Below is DWO's guide to the confirmed and rumoured titles for Series 8:

8.1: Deep Breath - written by Steven Moffat
8.2: Into The Dalek* - written by Phil Ford
8.3: Robots Of Sherwood*
 - written by Mark Gatiss
8.4: Listen*
 - written by Steven Moffat
8.5: Time Heist*
 - written by Stephen Thompson
8.6: [Untitled] - written by Gareth Roberts
8.7: Kill The Moon*
8.8: Mummy On The Orient Express*
8.9: Flatline*
8.10: [Untitled]
8.11: [Untitled]
8.12: [Untitled]

* Unconfirmed

+  Series 8 of Doctor Who will air in the UK on 23rd August 2014, on BBC One.
+  Series 8 of Doctor Who will air in the USA on 23rd August 2014, on BBC America.
+  Series 8 of Doctor Who will air in Canada on 23rd August 2014, on SPACE.
+  Series 8 of Doctor Who will air in Australia on 24th August 2014, on ABC1

[Source: BBC]

13 July 2014

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

Day 559: Meglos, Episode Three

Dear diary,

This is the second time, after Creature from the Pit, that Romana has been left to distract a group of bandits while the Doctor gets on with the real story. As in the previous example, it’s absolutely brilliant, and possibly the best example of Lalla Ward in character - it’s just so fun to watch! I laughed for ages at her description of leading them in circles being down to the planet having an ‘anti-clockwise rotation’ (and the fact that they bought it), and then laughed even harder when she latter comments that such a rotation makes it very hard to navigate. Despite my reservations when we first moved over to this incarnation of Romana, I’ve grown to really enjoy both the character, and Ward’s performance.

While we’re on the subject of performances, it’s been a while since I’ve praised Tom Baker. He’s given so much to do in this story - flicking back and forth between being the evil cactus and the not-evil Doctor, and he’s managing to excel in both cases. There’s occasions throughout the entire seven-year run of Tom Baker’s Doctor where you can just see him being galvanised by a new script, and I think that Meglos may be one such occasion. The chance to play a slightly different role to his usual one seems to have given him a boost of energy, and he’s actually managing to make the plant seem quite menacing. I’m also loving the whole ‘fighting with the Earthling’ scenes, where some rather smart effects give the impression of the pair splitting apart. I may yet get to discover why he needed an Earthling brought to him after all…!

I suppose that since I’ve discussed two of the regulars, I’d better make a mention of the third. Poor K9, he’s really going through the mill this season, isn’t he? Throughout the last couple of years, he’s usually simply been left in the TARDIS when they want him out of the way for a story, but now it’s as if the production team are actively taking out their frustrations on the poor dog! In The Leisure Hive, he gets trundled into the sea and blown up as early as possible, so that he’s out of the way by the time we reach Argolis (even though it’s the kind of location he could easily manoeuvre in!), and today he’s had his batteries run down, before one of our bandits drops him on the floor and gives him a good kick! No wonder he’s leaving before long - it’s become a broken home!

Though she’s not a regular any more, I’m going to mention Jacqueline Hill while I’m at it - because I’m surprised how much she’s not all that important to the story. Oh, don’t get me wrong, she’s one of the leading guest stars, and she’s just condemned the Doctor to his death, but I always assumed that she would be the guest character for Meglos, simply because within the world of Doctor Who, she has such a reputation. I wonder if she turned up to rehearsals on the first day and reminded everyone that she was one of the original companions? I hope so. Still, there’s a certain irony, considering that Barbara’s stand-out story was The Aztecs - in which she sets herself up as a god in an attempt to put a stop to religious sacrifice - that in this story, one of the cliffhangers sees her condemning the Doctor to sacrifice in order to appease her god! I like to imagine that Jacqueline had a good chuckle about that when she first read the script…

12 July 2014

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

Day 558: Meglos, Episode Two

Dear diary,

Ere, listen! I’ve had this great idea for a new setting for a Doctor Who story! It’s set, right, in a jungle, yeah? Only this jungle isn’t your standard ‘Amazon Rainforest’ nonsense, because the plants in this jungle, right, are - wait for it - more like animal life than plant life. So, right, like, Doctor Who and his assistant have to make their way through all these carnivorous plants and things before they can make it to safety!

I joke, of course, but the programme really does give us an awful lot of jungles, doesn’t it? I’m not entirely sure why, but can only conclude that it’s down to them knowing they can produce something half decent in the studio, and the fact that a jungle represents an ‘exotic’ location. And, in all fairness, they’ve at least done something interesting with the concept this time around - or more interesting than usual. Whereas before we’ve simply had somewhat mindless killer plants attacking our heroes through general instinct (that’s the case with most Terry Nation stories), or because they’re being controlled by someone (as with the Wolf Weeds in last season’s Creature from the Pit), here, the main villain is actually a very intelligent plant. People mock Meglos, but I quite like that idea.

I’ve also quite liked him taking on the form of the Doctor throughout this episode. The fact that his awkwardness and abrupt nature can pass so well - even to me - as the Doctor is great, and I found myself listening to several lines of dialogue, wondering why they’re never included among the Doctor’s most famous ones, before remembering that it’s not really the Doctor speaking at all, but rather our fine cactus friend. The only thing I’m wondering, though… why did Meglos need a human being to transform in to? He didn’t seem to have any trouble in replicating the Doctor’s appearance based only of data from a screen (he’s even managed to get the coat right, and he only saw the collar of that briefly in a still image). Did he need to take the form of something less… spiky… before he could properly change himself? If so, then why did it have to be an Earthling? In the first Episode, that’s described as being really far away… it just seems like an awful lot of trouble…

Meglos must also rank as being one of the stories that takes the Doctor and Romana the longest period of time to reach the action. Sure, the time loop they’ve been caught in is a direct result of everything happening down on the planet, and they’ve sent a message down to them, too, but really, the Doctor’s only just met everyone as this episode closes, and Romana has been captured in the final moments, too! Still, I’m less interested in when they’re getting caught up in the action now and more about when the Doctor first came here. He tells a guard that it was ’50 years’ in their time, but how about for him?

Zastor describes the Doctor as being ‘a little older, little wiser’ when they first meet (or, at least, when he first meets the Meglos-Doctor, which amounts to the same thing, really), but that doesn’t really give us an awful lot to go on. I’d like to assume that it’s in the same gap from Robot, where the Doctor nipped off and caused all that trouble on Leela’s home world. There’s no mention of any travelling companion having been with him on the previous occasion (and Zastor’s unfamiliarity with Romana rules it out as being during the Doctor’s travels with her), but I suppose it could have happened between The Hand of Fear and The Face of Evil, or later between The Invasion of Time and The Ribos Operation. It doesn’t actually matter, of course, but as a fan, it’s one of those insignificant little things I like to wonder about idly between episodes! 

11 July 2014

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

Day 557: Meglos, Episode One

Dear diary,

As with Season Seventeen, lots of this year’s stories were recorded out of order. As a result, Meglos didn’t enter production until some months after The Leisure Hive, and once Tom Baker had been through a bout of ill health, and the difference between him from yesterday’s episode to today’s is palpable. People talk of the fact that the Doctor looks a lot more frail this series than he has at any other point during this incarnation, and I was expecting to see that in action during the first story of the season, but there it was only really caused by swamping the man in such a large costume, with big coats, scarves, and hats. Today’s episode sees him without any jackets or coats on, and he simply looks gaunt. It’s quite striking, and knowing that this Doctor is headed for his death, it’s also a little bit saddening.

And as if to add to his woes - the Doctor and Romana don’t even get to leave the TARDIS in this episode! They spend the first half trying to fix K9, and the second half getting caught up in a time loop, played over and over again! It does mean, though, that we get a slightly different arrival for them into the narrative properly (or, at least, we will have), in that the Doctor has ‘called ahead’ to someone on this story’s planet of choice, and actively asked if they can pop in to say hello. In many ways, it’s the perfect thing to do having destroyed the Randomiser in the last episode, but they seem to have arrived in this part of space… at random. Oh well, it’s a nice idea all the same.

There are only two things that I know about Meglos: The villain is a cactus, and it features the return of Jacqueline Hill to the programme for the first time since Ian and Barbara headed back to 1965 in a Dalek time machine during the chase. From my point of view in The 50 Year Diary, that took place on March 24th last year - so it’s been a while since I’ve seen her! I’m not sure, though, that I’d have recognised her here were it not for knowing who she is. Fifteen years older, and with a rather elaborate headpiece on, she’d not quite the person I knew back in the early days of the programme.

And yet, when I first got in to Doctor Who, I used to be fascinated by the idea of this story! Somehow, in my mind, I’d simply discovered that Jacqueline Hill made her return in this tale, and figured it meant a return for Barbara after all this time. How she’d ended up on a distant world didn’t really matter to me, it was just an exciting thought that companions did that at all in the classic series. Obviously, she’s not actually playing Barbara, but this story makes her part of a very exclusive group of actors who’ve had the chance to play other characters after their stint as a companion.

The only other examples that I can think of are Jean Marsh (returning to play Morgaine in Battlefield some 23 years after being killed off in The Daleks’ Master Plan), John Leeson (although he doesn’t really count, because he played a character in The Power of Kroll at the same time as being K9), and Billie Piper (playing The Moment in The Day of the Doctor, although this is also debatable, because the device has specifically taken on her form). Extend out to the audios, and there’s lots of examples, including Anneke Wills in the role of Charlotte Pollard’s mother, and Daphne Ashbrook joining UNIT. As far as TV appearances as new characters go, it’s very rare.

It’s really nice to see her, though. I’ve said before while working through that even though I was somewhat sick of Ian and Barbara by the time they finally departed from the Doctor’s travels, I’m now at a point where I’m very keen to go back and see a few of the old serials again. I’d love to watch The Keys of Marinus or The Dalek Invasion of Earth - so hopefully having Jacqueline around for a few days will help to give me my ‘1960s fix’…! 

10 July 2014

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

Day 556: The Leisure Hive, Episode Four

Dear diary,

Oh dear. This one has all sort of fallen apart for me at the very end here. I like that Pangol has reached a point where he’s completely lost it and is ready to seize control of the planet - he’s so much of a stroppy toddler throwing a tantrum here - even though I’ve really disliked him throughout, it feels like this is what everything has been building towards. But after three episodes that move at a fairly leisurely pace, all of a sudden, everything happens at once, and the resolution seems to boil down to the Doctor happening to plug the Randomiser into the alien machine, which means that it cloned him instead of Pangol (?) and then reduced Pangol to a baby (jQuery152043949232366867363_1405198236843) who is then pawned off to others while Mena heads off to have some peace talks with the Fomasi.

My biggest problem with this sequence, though, is that while Pangol continues to get madder and madder, the Argolins simply stand around and don’t do anything! Even when Romana bursts in and points out that he’s gone crazy, they just… mill about. They don’t seem to be working for Pangol, because they make no attempt to stop Romana, they’re simply in her way by not doing anything. I found it just a bit frustrating.

I’m also wondering about the surviving Fomasi. We saw earlier that they can only communicate in language other than their native clicks and whistles when they’ve got a translating device on them, which speaks in the flat tone of Brock… so how do we know that this Fomasi is really the ambassador? Isn’t it just as likely that they shoved him onto the exploding space ship, took off their ‘West Lake’ badges, swiped back the translator, and then proceeded to kill all the surviving Argolins mere minutes after the Doctor and Romana have left? They’ve destroyed their main obstacle in the form of the warmongering Pangol, and the Fomasi could now claim that the Argolins started this second war, because Romana points out on a number of occasions that Pangols actions are declarations of conflict…

It’s a rather bleak way of looking at it, but I think I quite like it. It’s that idea again of the Doctor getting a bit too complacent (an idea I was keen on during The Invasion of Time), and being a bit careless as a result. I’m going to keep an eye on that throughout the season and see if I can find a theme of it - I might get my wish of him taking a fall under these circumstances after all! 

10 July 2014

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[Source: Fourleaf Clothing]

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