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9 September 2014

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

Day 617: Mawdryn Undead, Episode Two

Dear diary,

This episode really is an unashamed continuity fest. And you know what? As much as we might look back at 1980s Doctor Who and complain that it gets far too entrenched in continuity, on this first occasion it’s absolutely glorious. This really feels like it’s supposed to be a celebration of the programme’s first twenty years, and the montage of old clips used to represent the Brigadier’s memories coming back is absolutely perfect. The few brief shots we got of the earlier Doctors confronting Cybermen in Earthshock was exciting, but this is something completely different.

I can’t quite relate to children of the time watching that scene, because for them they’d likely never seen any of these moments, only read about them or heard about them from older fans, but I can get at least a sense of how it must have felt, because I’m excited by it! All these moments of Doctor Who gone by - there’s clips in there on The Invasion, which I saw just over a year ago… but it feels like a lifetime! The programme has been through so much since then. I’m even feeling nostalgic about the Pertwee years - and that’s not something I could have predicted way back when! If anything makes the montage extra special; above and beyond the way the Brigadier’s face fades into a shot of his earlier self, or the way we get to see glimpses of Zygons, and Yeti, and the original Omega, it’s the way that the montage comes full circle, and ends with a shot of the Brig meeting this latest incarnation of our hero, just a few scenes earlier. Somehow, it makes him feel even more like the Doctor.

That montage isn’t the only ‘kiss to the past’ in this episode, either. The Doctor himself mentions the Yeti, and all of his Pertwee era companions. We get an update on where Benton is these days (somehow, selling used cars seems both so right, and also so wrong for him - it couldn’t be better), and Nyssa goes to pains to remind us that they used the Zero Room during the Doctor’s last regeneration. As I say, it’s an unashamed continuity fest, and I don’t even care, because it’s wonderful to see. I’d imagine that such things will feel less special when - say - we reach stories like Attack of the Cybermen which are entirely built upon the idea of continuity, but for now, I couldn’t be happier.

I think it also helps that this is a rather good episode in itself. There’s something wonderful (and very in-keeping with the rules of the programme during the Steven Moffat years), about the Doctor trying to find out where his companions have ended up, with the Brigadier starting to remember Tegan… who we see meeting a younger Brig, intercut with these moments. It feels like an exciting way of playing with time in the programme, and it’s not something we’ve seen done very much at this stage. I also love that the two Brigadiers are identifiable by the state of his moustache!

Another great idea in this episode is Nyssa and Tegan believing that the Doctor has regenerated… but it doesn’t quite work as well as it should. It’s great when they enter the teleport capsule expecting to find the Doctor, and mistake the only occupant as being him… but even though he’s badly burnt, he’s clearly not the Doctor, even before they think he’s regenerated. They could have at least cast someone with similar hair to Peter Davison, so that they’d have more of an excuse for getting it wrong!


9 September 2014

DWO’s spoiler-free preview of episode 8.4: Listen:

Since Doctor Who’s return to screens in 2005, current show-runner Steven Moffat has been the king of ‘scary’. He provided us with the chilling ‘are you my mummy?’ in Series One, ‘who turned out the lights?’ in Series Four, the ominous tick-tock of the Clockwork Droids in Series Two, and - of course - the Weeping Angels, some of the scariest monsters that the programme has ever produced. In many ways, Listen feels like a return to Moffat trying to scare us, and it’s safe to say that he succeeds.

This story revolves around a simple premise - what if when we’re all alone… we’re actually not. What if every second of our lives, there’s someone, or something there with us. What if when we talk aloud to ourselves, there’s someone listening, and when the hairs on the back of our necks stand on end, it’s the breath of another creature right behind you. It’s this thought which has preoccupied the Doctor when we find him at the start of the story, and the tale becomes his quest to find the answer.

The idea at the heart of this tale pulls on threads that Moffat has used before in a story for the 2007 Doctor Who story book, where he answered the question with the suggestion that people sometimes attract ‘Floofs’, small creatures which attach themselves to people and toy with them by hiding keys, or making mischief. Listen takes many of the concepts from that story and transfers them masterfully to the screen, managing to make them even more unnerving in the process. It’s safe to say that people will be checking in the shadows (and under the bed) on Saturday night. And probably Sunday night, too. And Monday, if we’re honest. [DWO have been checking for the last hour and a half, just in case.]

All the scares have been realised here by director Douglas Mackinnon, who storms back into the series with some truly gorgeous visuals. It’s some of his best directing work, and the use of colour in the episode is particularly nice. The direction of this story really serves to heighten the fear in places, and make a simple blanket the most terrifying thing in the universe. It’s also good to see that - as with Robot of Sherwood last week - directors are finding new and interesting ways to use the TARDIS set. It feels huge here, and somehow manages to make even Peter Capaldi seem small here, when left alone with his thoughts.

We’re also seeing the welcome return of Samuel Anderson in this episode, after a break from the programme last week. Danny Pink continues to be a source of humour here, but it’s nice to see Anderson given the chance to tackle some more dramatic stuff, too. He’s given lots to do here, and it’s hard not to simply love him. We can’t wait to see where his story goes from here - and this episode certainly give us some tantalising hints.

Five things to look out for: 

1) "Scared is a super power."
2) "Robinson Crusoe at the end of the universe…"
3) "A soldier so brave, he doesn’t need a gun."
4) Are you afraid of the dark?
5) "The human race. You’re never happy, are you?"

[Sources: DWOWill Brooks]


9 September 2014

Fans of Doctor Who have much to be excited about at present, with the successful return of the television series and a new Doctor to get to know. In addition, Character Options is delighted to unveil the much anticipated action figure for the newly regenerated Twelfth Doctor, as portrayed by Peter Capaldi.

A great gift for fans and collectors alike, this poseable range of 3.75 inch action figures include some iconic characters from the hit TV show. The new assortment includes favourite characters from the past and present series, including the Tenth, Eleventh and Twelfth incarnation of the famous Time Lord, his fiery former companion Amy Pond and two versions of the Daleks; classic design and Asylum design (as seen in Asylum of the Daleks).

For collectors wishing to complete their line-up of Time Lords the Twelfth Doctor can be found in two guises; in his regenerated form as seen in the The Time of the Doctor and in his stylish new outfit which will become more familiar as Series 8 progresses; resplendent in black long-line jacket, waistcoat, trousers and boots.

This latest figure will be first of the Twelfth Doctor in his own unique style and is eagerly awaited by fans. In fact, the range is so highly anticipated that Character Options had to air freight more figures in order to meet demand. The figure promises to be one of the most successful to date...!

Each figure is presented on its own red Doctor Who Display case (excluding Dalek figures).

+  The new wave of figures are Out Now, priced £6.99 each.
+  Order Now from Forbidden Planet!

[Source: Character Options]


8 September 2014

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

Day 616: Mawdryn Undead, Episode One

Dear diary,

It’s always felt really odd that the Brigadier comes back in the middle of the Fifth Doctor’s tenure, having been absent from the programme since Terror of the Zygons a full seven-and-a-ha;f years earlier. Doctor Who is a very different beast now to the one the Brig left, and he’s a very different man. For a start… he’s a teacher! Oh, I know, the story was originally planned to be bringing back William Russell as Ian - a call back to the original TARDIS team in the programme’s twentieth anniversary year - but it’s never quite sat right with me that the Brigadier simply turns up here with no fanfare, and in such a different setting.

This is usually the point where I’d ask if people even really knew who he was at the time, and if this had an impact when the episode first appeared, but I’m largely getting the impression from comments on this era over the last month or so that yes, of course it would have had an impact! A slightly different question for a you all today, then: had the Brigadier become, by this point, the legendary character we think of him as now? Or was that partly fuelled by the fact that he pops up a few times in the 1980s?

I’ve also only thought today that the Brigadier’s love of vintage cars could well be inspired by the time he spent with the Third Doctor - I certainly don’t remember him having all that much of an interest in them back then, so I’m adding that to my own personal ‘head cannon’ from now on!

We’ve also got the introduction of Turlough to the TARDIS crew… in what must be one of the strangest introductions ever. He’s brought in as a schoolboy, and set up as a troublemaker right from the very start. But then there’s all these references to him not liking Earth, and wanting to go ‘home’ - but it’s not been explicitly stated yet that he’s an alien, and I think I’m right in saying that we don’t find out the truth about his background until his final story - towards the end of the next season! It’s very unusual way to bring a new character in to the programme. I do love that he’s been taken under the employ of the Black Guardian and forced to kill the Doctor, though. I’ve always felt that this little ‘arc’ plays out over too many episodes, and I vaguely recall things getting a bit silly by the end, but at this stage, with the boy holding a rock over the Doctor’s head, it’s something new and exciting.

There’s not really a great deal else that I want to say for this first episode - it’s quite an unusual start to a new story, with everything moving a bit slower than I’d expect. Having just come from a story in which Tegan had become possessed and started terrorising people by the time the first cliffhanger rolled around, this is positively leisurely. That said, I would like to call out Davison for praise again, because I really love the Doctor that he’s settled in to playing. The moment when he runs in to the TARDIS - straight past Turlough, who’s fiddling with the controls - and then takes a moment before looking up to really take in the boy has to be one of my favourite scenes ever. I hooted at that one for ages. It’s also very reminiscent of the way he encounters the Tenth Doctor in Time Crash (I know, I know, I bang on about that seven-minute scene over and over, but I’ve spent so long thinking that the Fifth Doctor was a bit out of character in it that I love seeing all the little moments which clearly influence it!).

7 September 2014

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

Day 615: Snakedance, Episode Four

Dear diary,

I don’t know if it’s just because I’ve seen the ending of Kinda a few times over the years, but when I think of the Mara, it’s always in the form of the pink snake from the end of that story. Doesn’t matter if it’s the original effect or the alternate CGI version, that’s just how I picture this creature. It seems odd, then, that when it finally materialises in this story, it’s in the form of a black and yellow snake, and a completely different design entirely to the one we’ve seen before.

Now, I’ll be fair, the snake here is better than the one from Kinda. Is it a completely convincing effect? No, it’s not. But it does look better than the earlier version, and the shot of Tegan’s head staring out from the snake’s mouth is actually quite scary - I can imagine it causing one or two nightmares after the first transmission. I simply can’t enjoy this version of the snake as much as the earlier one, though, because it seems wrong that it’s not pink! What does everyone else prefer? Mara Mark One, or Mara Mark Two?

Something about this final episode - other than the colour of the snake - simply hasn’t gelled with me. I think it might just be a general come-down from the fact that I’ve not found Snakedance as enjoyable as Kinda, but I’ve been a little bit disconnected from this episode. It was summed up most for me when everyone has broken free from the Mara’s power… and they all mill around in silence, looking at each other as though they’d just witnessed something mildly interesting but not worth commenting on. It shook me out of believing completely in this world, and that’s a shame, because I’ve found Manusa and its society more and more compelling the longer that I’ve spent here.

I know that the Fifth Doctor, Nyssa, and Tegan (along with Turlough) revisit the world for a third Mara story in the Big Finish audios, so I think I’m adding that one to my list of things to hear once The 50 Year Diary is over, because I’m interested to see how the whole Mara concept fares under a different writer. I’m pleased to say that having now watched both stories, I can understand it all a lot better than I did through vaguely knowing the plots (and I mean ‘vaguely’). I’m also adding The Children of Seth to my list - one of the ‘Lost Stories’ that Big Finish have produced, and based on the only other script that Christopher Bailey planned for the series - I’d be interested to see what a non-Mara story penned by him would be like.

On the whole, while I’ve enjoyed Snakedance, it’s not been the gem that I was hoping it would be. For a while, I’ve suspected that Season Twenty may be the one I enjoy least out of the Fifth Doctor’s tenure (I’m not entirely sure why I’ve got that feeling, but it’s been nagging at me since Castrovalva), and I’d somewhat convinced myself that Snakedance would be the highlight. I’m hoping that I’ll be surprised by some of the stories to come, and if nothing else, the next one brings back a real Doctor Who icon… 

6 September 2014

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

Day 614: Snakedance, Episode Three

Dear diary,

There’s a point in The Writer’s Tale where Russell T Davies talks about the way that you need to keep ‘turning’ characters to make them feel real. You’ll have to forgive me for quoting two passages from the book in today’s entry, but they’re vital to the point I’m making:

”I suppose I do know already what [a character] would do in given circumstances… with the proviso that anyone can do anything in any circumstance. You should never mark out a character so formally that their reactions are fully defined, because none of us is like that; we’re slightly different every day, with different people, with each different mood. You have to keep turning characters in the light.”

A little while later, during rewrites on The Fires of Pompeii, Davies discusses the way in which he takes an original introduction to the character Quintus as being ‘sullen’, and uses that as a springboard for ‘turning’ the character:

”A lot of my rewrite consisted of turning him, like a barbecue, making sure that he’s cooked all the way through. In my rewrite, he’s sullen and hung over when he first appears, but then he deepens as he defends his sister before his parents, then greedy when the Doctor offers him money to take him to where Lucius lives, then as scared as a little kid when they break in to Lucius’ quarters, then brave when he throws the burning torch at the soldiers to escape Lucius, then magnificent back at the Caecilius’ villa, when he kills the Pyrovile with a bucket of water. And then he’s transformed at the end: the sullen youth has become a Doctor himself, the image of his hero. That’s what I mean by turning. No one is fixed. They’re all capable of change - not just once in some plot-reveal, but all the time. They become more distinct by allowing them a fuller life.”

I think this is the best example of what makes Christopher Bailey’s work on the series all the more wonderful - he manages to ‘turn’ characters more than many writers in the classic era manage to do. Take Lon in this story, for example. He get’s to be more rounded than some companions have been over several stories. When he first appears in this tale, he’s the epitome of the spoiled, arrogant youth. He’s waiting for his father to die so that he can be the one with all the power. He has no interest in the history of the world he will one day rule, as has little time for there people, unless he can effectively make them dance for him to keep himself amused.

It’s a good introduction for a character - it’s a role that we know well enough from all kinds of fiction, and I dare say most of us know of real-life people who share a similar attitude to Lon here. The character then begins his process of turning in the second episode, when the owner of the hall of mirrors comes to fetch him. Lon’s reaction to being ‘summoned’ is initially to find it somewhat amusing, before becoming curious as to exactly what’s going on. By the time he enters the hall of mirrors, to find Tegan staring deep into once, he’s actually become scared. There’s something very telling about the way he cautiously enters the darkened tent, and tries to make contact with her, completely devoid of the pomposity and self-belief which has defined him until now.

Once he’s been taken under the possession of the Mara, he’s back to largely being the boy he was to begin with, using his status to make other people run around and fetch what he needs, but it’s his sudden interest in history which has started to make people question him. I think it’s this kind of character work which makes both this story and Kinda feel a little bit more special than several of the other ones around them. Bailey really understands how to make his characters and his world’s believable, and you can’t help but enjoy that.

Such a well-written character gives Martin Clunes something to really get his teeth into, as well. I think I’m right in saying that Snakedance was one of his earliest TV appearances, and as such it’s often popped up as something with which to embarrass the man during interviews in more recent years. The bold style that he’s given to wear here probably doesn’t help matters! But it’s actually a very good performance, and it gives a good idea of why the man has become so ubiquitous on British TV over the years. I can’t say that I particularly follow his career (I’m not sure if I could name anything I’ve watched recently with him in…), but he’s popped up in no end of stuff, and if he always turns in a good performance, then it’s easy enough to see why…

5 September 2014

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

Day 613: Snakedance, Episode Two

Dear diary,

The thing I’m enjoying the most about Snakedance so far is the way that the Doctor is treated as though he were simply a nutter. I’ve never really questioned before the way that he shows up and takes charge (sometimes there’s wrongful accusations an imprisonment involved before he can take control of the situation), but this story is really painting an image of how the man must look to the people he meets in these adventures. He’s turned up here, proclaiming the end of the world, with lots of shouting and gesturing. I doubt that I’d take him all that seriously, to be honest. I think my favourite exchange has to be this one;

The Doctor arrives in the Director’s office, to warn him of the imminent danger this world is in

Er, hello…

I know exactly what you want.

Do you?

Yes, you've come to pester me with some extravagant theory you've dreamed up concerning the Mara, and should I, the Director, fail to take sufficient notice of your colourful improbabilities, it will be the end of civilisation as we know it at least. How am I doing so far, hmm?

I think it’s the look that Davison gives in reaction to that which really sells it all for me. To be fair, though, it’s not a bad interpretation of what happens in lots of stories. The fun is that we know the Doctor is right, and yet you can’t help but feel for the Director throughout the whole story. I also love the way that the Doctor tries to explain the ‘Six Faces of Delusions’ mask to the man later on, managing to subvert the Director’s earlier tone with his own sarcastic line:

That was probably the idea, don't you think?

This is the kind of attitude that I enjoy from the Fifth Doctor, and it’s the one that I hope to see more and more of as the rest of his tenure plays out - the man who knows he’s cleverer than everyone else in the room, but is too polite to say so, and simply gets exasperated waiting for everyone else to catch up. Tom Baker’s Doctor would have huffed and puffed and made a big scene of that moment, but this incarnation is smaller, quieter. I like that.

While I’m discussing people’s performances, I have to draw attention again to Janet Fielding. She really does deliver her best performances when doing a Christopher Bailey script (probably because they give her the most to do, and a greater range of character than she’s had for the last few stories), and today may be a new high for her. The early scene in which she sneaks up to surprise Nyssa in the crowded market place, before laughing her head off about the way the fortune teller screamed and screamed is genuinely scary… as is the follow up a few moments later, in which the real Tegan manages to break back through and beg her friend for help. Wonderful stuff.

It continues to be quite unsettling throughout the rest of the episode too, when she’s fully under Mara control. Staring into the mirrors and seeing the skull of a snake talking back to her is wonderful - and better than I’d expected. I thought I’d seen Snakedance before, but all of this seems completely new to me. I knew of the snake skull from the Episode One cliffhanger, staring out of the crystal ball, but had no idea that it actually moved and spoke later on. It’s provided quite a moment of surprise for me, and I’ve loved that. I also need to give some praise for the fact that they explain the mirror situation from Kinda: as soon as Tegan started to wander around in the hall of mirrors, I made a note that it seemed to contradict the ending of the earlier story, so having it explained (and explained well!) in the same scene was a great thing.

Though I do find myself slightly confused by something else do do with the circle of mirrors from Kinda. Possessed Tegan here proclaims that she needs the great crystal in order to let the Mara manifest in physical form, and get out of her head… but isn’t that more-or-less what happened when Aris was trapped by the mirrors? The snake certainly appeared in that situation…? I think there’s probably something that I’m missing (or, rather, it’s not been explained yet), but I’m guessing it’s a simple case of the great crystal serving to stabilise the creature, perhaps? Or strengthen its power? I’ll be keeping an ear out in the second half of the story in the hope that this gets cleared up... 

4 September 2014

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

Day 612: Snakedance, Episode One

Dear diary,

I’ve been looking forward to this one. Having found Kinda to be such an unexpected highlight of the last season, the chance to watch another story from the same writer that explores similar concepts was always going to seem appealing. That said, I’m not entirely sure what I make of it, yet.

When I started Kinda, I said that the Mara had always somewhat confused me. I understood the basic premise, and a lot of the idea behind it, but it was the specifics of the creature that confused me. Watching this story, I can already see more things that had formed part of the jumbled up picture of the Mara in my head (specifically, a cave in which the creature lived, a society which was once in its thrall, and a blue M̶e̶t̶a̶b̶i̶l̶i̶s̶ crystal, which has some relation to the snake itself). I’m not entirely sure that I know where all these things are heading as the story progresses, but I knew they had some relation to the Mara legend.

I didn’t know that Tegan was so central to the plot again. What I mean to say is that of course she was going to play a major role in events here - having been possessed by the creature in the previous story (even though she then spends much of the rest of the tale out cold) - but I didn’t realise that the TARDIS would end up on Manusa because the Mara is controlling Tegan subconsciously. I love the idea that she’s the one who gives the coordinates to bring them to this world, and it gives us another chance to see Davison’s slightly angrier Doctor this season, with him suspicious of his companion almost from the very start of the story. It also allows Janet Fielding to take centre stage again, and she’s raising her game here as much as she did during her last dabble with the Mara - the laughter in the closing moments really sells the terror for me. In the interview on the Time-Flight DVD, Fielding claims that fans always ask her to do the Mara laugh at conventions, and it’s no wonder, when it’s such a great performance. I love the sequence of her trying to recall her dream, too. It’s times like this, when the companions are really given a chance to shine, that we get to see just how good all the actors really are.

I can’t help but think that there’s another missed opportunity here, though (I’m sorry, I really am. I’ll stop seeing them in my shadow all the time soon, I hope). I complained in the last story that Tegan suddenly turning up in Amsterdam and getting caught up in Omega’s plans was just too much of a coincidence. I think I’d like to take the idea from this episode - that the Mara is controlling her - and stretch it back into the last tale. It almost feels as though the return of the Mara has been played too soon - it would be great to have Tegan brought back into the Doctor’s life, and then by the end of the season have it revealed that it was all down to the Mara, manipulating events to ensure it would be brought back to its home world.

Besides, if you’re a creature who revels in the darker thoughts of the mind, then a holiday in Amsterdam could be quite appealing…

4 September 2014

Our friends over at MDIFILM just sent over a cool, independently made Doctor Who Fan Film called T.R.A.C.E. – A Doctor Who Fan Film Webisode.

The project is relatively ambitious, great marital arts stunts, visual effects, and with a total running time for an hour but will be broken down into 5-8 minutes each and shown directly online on YouTube, Vimeo and social media sites.

The Pilot (Episode 1) was premiered on 7th May, 2014 with a full house at Atlas Cinemas Lakeshore for free and it has garnered interest from not only the Doctor Who fans but all martial arts enthusiasts.

Even the local Doctor Who Society of Cleveland supported this fan film, founder Carol Olsen and her husband Eric Olsen has graciously offered their life-sized Tardis for the film set. 

Whovians around the world will have a treat, unlike the other Doctor Who fan films, TRACE will include their own made Tardis’ Control Unit that is currently being built by artist Gadi Zamir of Cleveland while set design and props are currently being built by William Cruz Morales and Peter Wong

T.R.A.C.E. A Doctor Who Fan Film talks about the alternate universe where an empire of military assassins from another dimension is trying to take over this Earth. And, the Doctor (played by Donn Nottrage) is there to save the day. Many other familiar characters will make appearances to delight the Whovians.

Right now, the production team needs your help. 

They are looking for your support in producing Episode 2-7 for this series. Only with the cost of a dinner night out from you, can help make this a reality. If you can’t donate financially, then you can continue sharing it to your friends, the more it is shared, the faster it gets to the top of IndieGogo page and being featured, making this a Doctor Who fan dream come alive. After all, they are not asking much, only US $5,000 for the entire season. And most of, they are not paying any talents or crew or locations nor are they using the money to build their arsenal of equipment (as they are already been donated for their use). All they need is fund to help continue build the props, sets, and wardrobe.

+  Check out videos and photos from T.R.A.C.E at: http://igg.me/at/tracethedoctor now!

[Source: MDI Film]

3 September 2014

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

Day 611: Arc of Infinity, Episode Four

Dear diary,

Peter Davison’s performance has altered a little between Seasons Nineteen and Twenty, to the point where we’re seeing a bit more depth to him here than we have before. It’s most noticeable in this episode, when he shouts at Nyssa to wait in the TARDIS, and it’ not the first time we’ve seen him get angry in this story - he has a pop at the High Council in an earlier episode. I can’t recall seeing him set angry like this in any of the stories from his first season, so it’s nice to see it happening here, and he carries it off nicely. I walkways think of the Fifth Doctor as being the mild-mannered once, and I love it when doing this marathon shakes up my preconceptions a bit…

Sadly, though, I’ve still just not been taken by this story. It’s not even necessarily a bad story, it’s just one which feels a bit… nothing for me. This last episode does at least give us a chase around Amsterdam (though at points, we’re stuck just listening to the sound of different footsteps against to cobbles in shot-after-shot), and we get the whole business with Omega emerging to look like Peter Davison. In the end, though, it’s just not been enough to salvage things for me.

I’m also slightly at a loss as to what Omega is actually doing here. Is he simply trying to come back to ‘our’ universe, so that he’s not stuck alone with his creations any more? In The Three Doctors, he’d been somewhat content in building himself a domain to rule over, but it was pretty much wiped out at the end of the story - is he just bored and ready to come home? Or is he trying to take over Gallifrey and assume his perceived rightful place as their leader? I’m fairly sure he’s in Amsterdam because what’s where the link between the universes is weakest (or something to that effect, anyway), but I’m not entirely sure that I get what he’s up to.

And then we’ve got Tegan back on the team. I’ve spent a fair amour of time over the last few days praising the way that she’s been kept away from her former travelling companions for much of the story, but when they’re brought together again finally in this episode… well, it just doesn’t feel right. Straight away, the Doctor is barking at her to follow him, leaving her cousin behind to recuperate in a clapped out ship which has just blown up, and then she just runs around after him for the rest of the story. Perhaps even more annoyingly, she twice sees something of importance and simply stands still, arms at her side, and shouts ‘Doctor’ without heading off to actually look at what she’s caught sight of.

The final scene is perhaps the worst of the bunch. She’s just spent several days in a foreign country trying to first find, and then care for, her cousin, who has been kidnapped by an evil alien. He’s then caught in the aforementioned blown-up ship, having already not been in the best of states following his ordeal. And yet what does Tegan do? She makes a phone call just to check he’s ok, and then tells the Doctor that she’s coming back to the TARDIS. I wouldn’t mind so much - she doesn’t want to risk letting the Doctor out of her sight, because the last time she did that he left without her, but they never say that. It just comes across as the plot device which his her cousin has served its purpose now, so off we go, new adventures. It’s another of those times, like we saw lots in Time-Flight, where there needs to be just a little more thought given to the characters to make it a better story (and certainly a better ending).

3 September 2014

DWO’s spoiler-free review of Episode 8.3: Robot of Sherwood:

In the build-up to Season Eight, Robot of Sherwood has often been touted as the ‘comedy’ episode of the year. The premise in itself - the Doctor meets Robin Hood! - is somewhat amusing, and automatically suggests that this is going to be something a bit special. Well, the fact is that, yes, Robot of Sherwood is a funny episode, and it works wonderfully because of that.

Back in The Rings of Akhaten, the Doctor offered Clara the opportunity to go anywhere and see anything… and her mind went blank. The sheer enormity of choice offered by the TARDIS was far too great to choose one single moment in all of time and space. Eighteen months on, though, she’s gotten the hang of this time-travel lark, and she knows exactly who she wants to meet.

The ‘celebrity historical’ episodes have been a staple of Doctor Who since its 2005 return, taking us to meet the likes of Charles Dickens, Queen Victoria, Winston Churchill and Agatha Christie. In Season Seven we saw the format shaken up with an historical figure - Queen Nefertiti - being brought into the future. Robot of Sherwood shakes the format up once again, taking the TARDIS and dropping it directly into the legend of Robin Hood.

All the elements that you could want are here - the band of Merry Men, the Evil Sheriff, and the oppressed villagers. And then, of course, there’s the man himself, complete with a little green hat. If the story can be really compared to an earlier ‘celebrity historical’, then it’s closest in style to 2007’s The Shakespeare Code, with our resident celebrity being a little bit too full of himself - he is the Robin Hood, after all. Tom Riley shines in the part, and watching him spar with the Twelfth Doctor is fantastic.

Where the episode really sings, though, is in the direction. Paul Murphy makes his Doctor Who debut here, and he certainly arrives in style, keeping you hooked throughout. Right from the start, and the way he chooses to shoot the TARDIS set, you know you’re in for something rather special, and that doesn’t stop as the story goes on.

All the talk of comedy in the script can threaten to under-sell the drama in the story, and there’s plenty of that here. Three episodes in, Clara and the new Doctor are getting more used to each other now, and this episode is perhaps the first time that the pair have really felt comfortable travelling together. This is still an incarnation who can be a bit more aloof and alien than some of his more recent predecessors, but here he feels closer to the Doctor that we’ve come to know and love, and pitting the legend of the Doctor against the legend of Robin Hood is a great way to examine his quest to find himself… 

Five things to look out for:

1) "It’s not a competition to see who can die slower."

2) There’s references to First and Third Doctor stories, and a more oblique reference to the Second Doctor…

3) "Old fashioned heroes only exist in old fashioned story books."

4) "Always carry a spoon!"

5) "Usefulness expired."

[Sources: DWOWill Brooks]

3 September 2014

Last night saw the winner's announced at the 2014 GQ Man Of The Year Awards, and Peter Capaldi came out with the TV Personality Of The Year award.

On winning the award, Capaldi said:

"I've been very lucky because in the past I've received awards for my acting. This is the first I've received for my personality, which I assume means they've never met me. The reason I've got this award is because I got the chance to play the roll of a lifetime twice. Malcolm Tucker in The Thick Of It. And I also got to play Doctor Who. The real people who know the personality of the year are my family - my mother and my sister and my wife who have put with my personality and endured it to the point that I can get this ".

Catch up on all the winners from the GQ Men Of The Year Awards 2014. 

[Source: GQ]

2 September 2014

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

Day 610: Arc of Infinity, Episode Three

Dear diary,

When I said yesterday that I’d forgotten that the Doctor was kept out of Amsterdam for a while in this story, I don’t think I really appreciated just how long he’d be away! We’re three-quarters of the way through the story, and he’s still trapped on Gallifrey! He knows now that Tegan is involved in events, but hasn’t actually met up with her yet in the physical world, and I’m really enjoying that aspect of the tale - I was banging on about needing a story away before Tegan rejoins the TARDIS crew and in some ways we’ve got it, because dragging out the time they spend apart is really helping it to feel as though their worlds are being slowly brought back together again. I think if I’ve one complaint, it’s that Tegan just happens to stumble in to these events by chance, and then Omega is surprised (but delighted) to realise that there’s a link with the Doctor. I think I’d rather have Omega actively seek Tegan out as a bargaining chip, because there’s an awful lot of coincidence going on here!

Outside of the Doctor and Tegan being kept largely separate, I’m struggling to find very much that I’m enjoying about Arc of Infinity, I’m sad to say. Everything just seems to be plodding along, and there’s just nothing that’s pulling me in to the story. Even though the scenes on Gallifrey have now come to a head and the High Council have learned that - yes - there’s a traitor among them and they even have proof that it could well be the Lord President himself… everyone seems about as interested as if they’d put a new pot-plant in the council chamber. And not even a nice, extravagant pot plant with silver leaves that was hand-reared on the south side of a Gallifreyan mountain range: just a regular one that the Castellan picked up from the garden centre. Reduced.

I think it’s because I’d like there to be almost more of an Agatha Christie feel to these events. You’ve got a small number of suspects, various evidence, and deaths that have been brought in to cover up said evidence… you could really make something from that, and it seems a shame that there isn’t a great deal done with it. Even when Nyssa is pleading for time to try and clear the Doctor’s name, there’s no real sense of energy about it, everyone is just milling about and trying to keep themselves busy until this cliffhanger arrives.

Despite all of this - I have to admit that I quite like a lot of the effects in relation to Omega himself. I love that he often appears in negative, when everything else on the screen in positive (a great way to represent him as ‘antimatter’ in a ‘matter’ universe - though imagine if The Three Doctors had done the reverse! yikes!), and the kind of ‘vortex’ effect that gets applied to him when he’s materialising is also a great effect. I used to have a copy of one of the old ‘In Vision’ magazines for this story, and the back cover was a full-page image of Omega inside the green-tinted TARDIS, and I think that image wormed its way into my mind, because I can’t see that here without thinking of the magazine!

I’m also quite keen on the costume they use here, too. I’ll admit that on the whole I do prefer the look of the one he wears for The Three Doctors, but there’s something rather beautiful about the design of this one, too. The same can’t really be said for his pet Ergon, though. I think the Gel Guards were a somewhat more successful creation! That said, I’ll at least give them points for trying. It may look like a giant, feather-less chicken, but it at least looks a million miles away from being ‘human’…!

1 September 2014

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

Day 609: Arc of Infinity, Episode Two

Dear diary,

For the longest time, I’ve always thought you need just a slightly longer gap before bring Tegan back to the programme after the sudden departure in Time-Flight. Not a massive amount of time - just this story away, for instance - but something more than simply bringing her back again in the very next story (albeit with a season break in the middle). Actually watching it again now, though, it’s handled better than I thought it was. I’d forgotten, for instance, that we don’t see her until this second episode, and I’m even surprised to find that she’s not encountered the Doctor again, yet. The fact that he’s still a long way away from Amsterdam helps, too, because you almost get the impression that you’re watching two entirely different stories, following the lives of our three regulars even though they’ve diverged.

I also love Tegan’s new look - the hair really suits her. There’s a short interview with Janet Fielding on the Time-Flight DVD, in which she ascribes the haircut to the fact that the BBC wouldn’t pay her a retainer fee between seasons, so there was a short period in which they had absolutely no say over what she did with her look! It’s certainly for the better, and the way that Nyssa’s hair style has started to evolve more, too, all helps to give this new season a fresh look - it’s like another breath of fresh air being pumped into the programme.

I also can’t go any longer without discussing perhaps the most striking part of this story - it’s Colin Baker’s first foray into the world of Doctor Who. He really does dominate the screen here (I’m sure I’ve heard Colin tell anecdotes to the effect that this is a performance toned down from the way that he played it in rehearsals), and it’s hard not to like him. There’s a kind of grandiose element to the performance that simply makes him watchable. It’s fairly well known that it was his performance at a wedding after the production of this story that won him the role of the Doctor, but watching him here, you can almost start to see why you’d keep him in mind for the title role.

As for the story itself… it’s really not grabbing me very much. Lots of the Gallifrey scenes are leaving me entirely cold - there’s too much back and forth to the TARDIS for my liking - and I just can’t get myself interested in the threats being posed. One of the council is a traitor! So? We’ve seen the mysterious person kill a man to protect their secret, but there’s not a great deal of suspense being built up, with lots of suspects running around and keeping us guessing. It feels as though the story isn’t really trying to make this plot line involving, so I can’t be bothered to try very hard to connect with it.

I’m crossing my fingers that things will get back on track once everyone has arrived in Amsterdam. In fairness, it has to be said that keeping the Doctor away from the city for this first half of the story does help to make things all the more interesting. Perhaps it’s just the memories of City of Death in which Tom and Lalla were forced into as many shots as possible almost top prove that they really are there (and we’ll get plenty of that before this story is out), but having other characters in Amsterdam and not the Doctor makes it feel less like they’ve all gone over there to film an episode, and more like the adventure just happens to be taking place there. 

31 August 2014

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

Day 608: Arc of Infinity, Episode One

Dear diary,

Those of you who’ve been following The 50 Year Diary may remember our first proper trip to Gallifrey in The Deadly Assassin (Hush, I know, but The War Games keeps us pretty confined), in which I said I rather liked the design of the Citadel, but that it wasn’t the way that I imagined Gallifrey to be. It wasn’t grand enough, not majestic enough, and it was really very green. That said, though, I’d take the Tom Baker era version of the planet any day, because I really hate Peter Davison era Gallifrey. It puts in two appearances - in both this story and The Five Doctors, and in both it feels completely wrong to me. Here, for example, there are sofas dotted around in the corridors, and random examples of modern art taking up space for no apparent reason (the same could be said of lots of art, but still). If I didn’t think the Gallifrey of The Deadly Assassin was impressive enough, you can imagine how I feel about this version.

Anyway, enough about that. I told myself to get the complaint out of the way right away so that I can just settle in and enjoy the rest of the story. Arc of Infinity is another one of those tales that doesn’t fare all that well with reputation. That said, it’s certainly a bold way to open a new season. For a start, we’re in Amsterdam! People tend to mock John Nathan-Turner’s insistence on going abroad to film the programme (the man was, after all, the driving force behind all of the classic run’s overseas excursions, even City of Death), but it gives us a really different atmosphere once the location shots appear. It helps to make the show feel like it’s playing on a bigger canvas than mocking up an alien world in TV Centre can, and picking a popular tourist destination just helps to bring it all home for British viewers.

It’s a shame, then, that we spend our time in Amsterdam today with some truly atrocious actors. I’d more or less managed to block this pair from my mind, but the second we get their first line - ‘oh, no. A policeman’ - it all came thundering back. I try not to be too critical of people in Doctor Who is I can help it, but I’m sorry to say that this is one of the worst performances that we’ve ever had in the series. I’m hoping it gets better as it goes along (I’m not sure I’ve ever made it to the end of the story to check before!).

It’s also one of those stories in which the Doctor and his companion spend a large amount of time stuck inside the TARDIS - almost as though we’re back in Season Eighteen again. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing (though it may be nice to get the pair involved in the action a little swifter at the start of the new year), and I’m surprised just how well Peter Davison and Sarah Sutton are working together here. Truth be told, I often felt that she was the weakest of the three companions during the last season, so I’m glad that I’ve taken to her a little more here. Maybe having room to breathe away from the others allows a bit more of the character to come out, and a chance for Sutton to really flex her acting skills?

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