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6 July 2014

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

Day 552: Shada, Episode Six

Dear diary,

I couldn’t remember what happened in this final episode, so I wasn’t sure if I’d be happy with the ending or not. Certainly, it seemed as though the story could have been wrapped up during the final stages of yesterday’s episode, so I worried that today would feel like spreading the story a little bit too thin. Actually, there’s a great deal to enjoy: the Doctor having to make his way through the Vortex from one ship to the other is a great idea (and something I can’t believe they’ve never done with the Master’s TARDIS!), the closing scenes with lots of humour to close the season (and the Graham Williams era), and the fact that the Doctor has to do battle with all these creatures purely through using his mind. If anything, this part of the story feels like it could do with one further draft, just to up the tension, but it’s certainly not a bad ending to the story at all.

I’m surprised just how much footage exists for each of the episodes in the tale, including this one, although you do become somewhat accustomed to seeing certain sets over and over again! I’ve been very impressed with the animation that’s used to fill the gaps in between, though. By this final episode, I’d even stopped noticing the discrepancies between the real Tom Baker’s voice and the impersonator used for the new segments - I don’t know if the performance gets better or if I simply got used to it, though I suspect it’s a combination of the two. It’s been nice to see the story completed, at any rate. And now, I’m going to imagine that Professor Chronotis goes off on various adventures with Chris and Clare at his side. I think they’d end up having TV Comic style trips through time and space, in the professor’s TARDIS!

There’s always a big question mark around Shada, and it’s that consideration that maybe it wouldn’t be quite so well loved if it didn’t have that status as the mythical ‘lost’ story of the Tom Baker era. It’s something I’ve long wondered when people bang on about how great this story is, and I’ve always put that partly down to the fact that it’s got such a reputation from being unfinished. I think, though, having now watched it properly in context with everything that came before it, I’m willing to say that there’s a lot in here to really love. It sort of runs out of steam towards the end, but on the whole I’ve really liked it. I think, had the production made it through to the end, it would probably be held up with City of Death as a tent-pole ‘classic’ of Season Seventeen.

With the end of this story, we say goodbye to the Graham Williams era of Doctor Who history. Three years that don’t, perhaps, have the best reputation among fandom, but which certainly seems to have produced some pretty decent stories. Looking back to the end of The Talong of Weng-Chiang, with the Williams era about to begin, I commented:

”I’m really interested to see how my feelings develop as we move forward into the Williams era. From where I stand now, at the end of Season Fourteen, I’m simply expecting it to be ‘cheap’. That’s the only thing that I think I really know about the period to come, and after stories like The Talons of Weng-Chiang*, and* The Robots of Death*, that may come as something of a shock to the system…”*

I think, in places, the series has looked cheap over the last few years, but that’s certainly not as prevalent as I was expecting it to be. Stories like The Androids of Tara, The Ribos Operation, or The Creature from the Pit all feature great settings that are realised as well as anything in the previous few years of the show. As far as the era has gone as a whole… it’s been a bit bumpy. Since Graham Williams took over the producer’s chair 70-something episodes ago, none have received higher than an ‘8/10’ (although there have been 13 of those, more than half of which in this last season, and the rest during Season Fifteen), and the era has attracted three ‘3/10’ (all for The Pirate Planet) and a few ‘4/10’, too.

The overall average score for the Graham Williams era is 6.32/10, which makes it better than a straight average, but it’s far from being the highest-rated era of the programme to date. In fact, it’s a score which makes Seasons Fifteen - Seventeen the lowest rated era of the programme so far (coming in just marginally lower than the Verity Lambert years, which averaged 6.33). That’s not to say that I’ve not enjoyed it, though. There’s a lot I like in Season Fifteen, and a lot I like in Season Seventeen, I think it really is that Key to Time season in the middle that just didn’t quite gel with me.

And now, we move on toe Season Eighteen and the start of the John Nathan-Turner years of the programme. Everything to come is going to be increasingly ‘marmite’, and while I’ve enjoyed it in the past, I’m wondering how much that will hold true now that I’ve seen everything that happened before 

5 July 2014

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

Day 551: Shada, Episode Five

Dear diary,

I’ve been somewhat pathetically looking forward to this episode, simply because I wanted to see what the Time Lord prison planet looked like. For some reason, the design used for the Big Finish webcast version of the story (it’s a gigantic ‘disc’ with the Seal of Rassilon on the top, surrounded by jagged rocks almost as though it’s being held by them) has always stuck in my mind as one of the most striking visual shots from the history of Doctor Who. Put simply, I love it. It was with bated breath, therefore, that I waited to see what the prison would look like in this version of the story.

It’s presented (as I suspected it might me) with footage from the original model sessions for the story, back in the 1970s. It’s… different, certainly, and I’m not sure if I like it or not. On the one hand, it looks very functional as a prison - it’s very much a structure with a cold and stark purpose. On the other hand… it’s lacking the flair of the Big Finish version. Still, I suppose that if the prison is supposed to be a secret from the Time Lords of this era, then having it look like a giant copy of their most famous symbol doesn’t exactly hide it very well…

If anything, I think I’m just slightly disappointed that it’s such a simple model that they use for the prison. I was blown away by the explosion of the Think Tank, with bits of debris flying off in all direction (including directly towards the camera!), and the remains of the ship burning away as the explosion clears, so it feels a bit plain when we finally reach this supposedly mythical lost prison world.

I still really love the idea of Shada itself, though. It makes perfect sense to me that the Time Lords would have a secret prison, which can only be accessed by following a specific set of instructions involving one of their ancient relics. For a race that purports to be non-interventionist, the Time Lords have always taken a particularly strong role when it comes to their place in the universe. Put simply, they decide what’s wrong and what’s right, and thus I love the idea that they’ve got a place to lock up individuals that they deem to be too dangerous in the grand scheme of things. I like to imagine that if they could still remember the existence of the place, then Genesis of the Daleks would have simply been boiled down to Davros being plucked from his Time Stream and locked away here.

But that’s partly my problem with the scenes set in Shada here. Although it’s great fun to see a Dalek, Cyberman, Zygon, and Wirrn (and… a Roman Auton from The Pandorica Opens?), they don’t really feel right to be locked away in this place. In the scene these monsters first appear, Skagra describes the prison as being thep lace Time Lords put the criminals ‘they want to forget’. It strikes me that locking up a few odd members of these various species is just a bit… odd? Unless these happen to be extremists even within their own cultures, it just feels a bit like an anti-climax for this mythical ancient prison.

Still, I love the reveal that this ancient and famous Time Lord villain Salyavin is really Professor Chronotis in an earlier life! I’ve been somewhat saddened over the past few days that I was aware of this particular plot twist, because I’s love to see if I was shocked when the reveal finally comes. All the clues are certainly in place here (and even laid on a little too thick, in some cases!), but it’s great fin to see the characters starting to piece it all together as they go. I’ve also always found it a shame that Salyavin - the lynch pin to this whole evil plan, and a character who just happens to be one of the Doctor’s close friends in disguise - only gets mentioned for the very first time here, and not even in relation to the story itself.

Romana mentions the man in an earlier episode, seemingly from nowhere, and then he just happens to be vital to everything that’s going on. Were this the modern era, it’s a great example of where planting seeds in earlier stories would come in handy, so that the name is already there in the back of your mind, and it feels like a greater surprise when he suddenly pops up a year or two later (instead of just an episode or two!) 

4 July 2014

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

Day 550: Shada, Episode Four

Dear diary,

As has often been the case during six-part serials up to now, the fourth episode ends up being little more than filler material to keep the story going. Much of today involves people just padding out the running time, while the only real advancement to the plot is Skagra discovering how to use the book as a key. That’s not to say that I haven’t been enjoying this episode, though, because even when it’s simply trying to bulk up 25 minutes of story, Shada is keeping me entertained.

I think the thing I enjoy most about this episode is the introduction of the Krargs, which is a design that I’ve always quite liked. One appears (briefly) on a screen at the end of Episode One, but today we get them en masse and even creating new versions of themselves in some of the most impressive bits of animation in this story so far - a lovely mix of the 3-dimensional effect and great work on the character animation of the creature itself. I couldn’t remember if you actually got to see one of the Kraags in the live-action footage, so it was a nice surprise at the end of the episode when one of them shows up. It’s a bit of a shame that the ones in the animated footage are simply… grey, though. The thing I’ve always liked the most about the design is the fact that they use CSO rather well to give it a kind of ‘molten’ effect across the scales, and it’s a shame not to see that continued over in to the animated segments, too.

There’s also a lot of lovely bits of Gallifreyan mythology cropping up in this one, too. The idea of the Professor’s rooms being a TARDIS in disguise is fantastic, and I wonder if his description of the way Clare has ‘tangled with [his] Time Fields’ could be reconciled with the kind of ‘remains’ we see of the Doctor during The Name of the Doctor? Could Chronotis’ rooms at Cambridge have ended up housing his time line, with undergraduates popping in to take a trip back through history by touching it?

Aside from that, there’s the workings of this mysterious book. This is the thing that always used to fascinate me about Shada - the idea of the book being imbued with a great deal of power, and the realisation that turning the pages of it inside a TARDIS would automatically unlock the secret and take the occupants to a hidden location. The description of the ‘Ancient Time Prison of the Time Lords’ used to fascinate me, too, and I can’t wait to see how it’s realised in the animation.

I have to also admit that I’m warming to the voice of the Doctor in the animation here. I still don’t think it’s quite close enough to the genuine article to really work for me, but I’m certainly not noticing it sticking out as much now. I think this may well be down to the fact that there’s a great deal more ‘animated Doctor’ in this episode than there is of the actual man himself! The animation is also becoming so much the major format for this tale that there were a few shots (mostly the inside of Skagra’s ship, or the initial shots on his Command Vessel) where I even had to stop for a moment to work out if we were looking at the animation or the real footage - it has to be said that the set design on this project is simply brilliant.

4 July 2014

A third teaser trailer for Series 8 of Doctor Who has aired.

The trailer kicks off inside the TARDIS with explosions around the console, whilst a voice, very similar to Davros is heard stating:

"I see into your soul, Doctor. I see beauty, divinity, hatred..."

As the line is spoken it changes from the Davros sounding voice into that of a Dalek.

Watch the trailer 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]

3 July 2014

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

Day 549: Shada, Episode Three

Dear diary,

We’ve hit the tipping point with this episode, and suddenly a lot more of the story is being represented through animation rather than live action. I’ve been worrying about this a little bit, if I’m honest. Not because I’ve a problem with the animation, but because my over-riding memory of watching Shada for the first time on the BBC VHS was just how quickly it all zipped along. It wasn’t until starting out on the story this time around that I suddenly realised - it ‘zipped along’ because so much was being boiled down to some linking lines from Tom Baker! I’ve been worrying a bit that I’d not find it quite as fast-moving or exciting when having to watch it at the regular speed.

The bonus to having a higher proportion of the story in animated form is that I can really start to enjoy watching it this way. My biggest concern about the way the tale is presented for this version is that it intercuts between the live action footage and the animated sequences. When I was first told that, I really thought that it would be an odd experience, and perhaps not an entirely pleasant one, having to adjust every few scenes to something new. In actual fact, you don’t really notice it at all!

In this episode, for example, the TARDIS appears in an alleyway, and the Doctor hurries inside, slamming the door so fast behind him that his scarf gets caught in it. The next scene - in the TARDIS console room - is all animation, but it doesn’t feel out of place to be so. The only time I did sit up and take a moment to process events was when we cut to Romana and Chris trapped in a cell aboard Skagra’s ship. It only felt so out of place, though, because up to that point, every scene aboard the ship had been rendered as animation, and I assumed they’d never managed to build any of those sets!

I think it also helps that I’m just too busy enjoying the story to worry too much about the chopping and changing of formats. Today’s episode contains the only scene that I can remember fully from a previous watch (although I actually remember the version from the Big Finish audio), in which the Doctor manages to confuse a computer into thinking that he’s dead, and can therefore operate it despite an order to the contrary. It leads in to the cliffhanger for this episode, with the computer deciding that if the Doctor is dead, then he won’t need any oxygen, and so it’s been switched off to preserve power. I wonder, though, why that hadn’t happened before this point, since the computer was expecting the Doctor to be dead anyway…

The scariest bit of this episode, though, isn’t to do with the Doctor suffocating: it’s actually Skagra heading to the TARDIS with Romana. Not to worry, our favourite Time Lady has promised that she’ll never give Skagra the key, so he can’t get in to the ship anyway. That doesn’t matter, though, because he’s already taken the Doctor’s copy from his ‘lifeless’ body. Still, Romana and the Doctor are the only people around here who can even fly the TARDIS, so we’ve still got the upper hand. Ah, but Skagra has a copy of the Doctor’s mind - so if the Doctor could fly the TARDIS, then so can he… The ship is usually a place of safety, so when something like this happens (and through such a sinister character, too), it feels genuinely unsettling.

While I’m here, I need to take a moment just to sing the praises of K9. John Leeson is providing the voice for this animation, and it’s so nice to have him back. I’ve really missed K9 having this particular ‘personality’. There’s a sketch from a BBC Christmas Tape, made at the end of Season Sixteen, in which K9 cannot provide the Doctor with the information that he requires, and the Doctor responds… less than positively to the metal mutt. This episode seems to be hinged around the same joke - with K9 shooting at walls when Romana exclaims ‘blast it!’ in exasperation, and repeatedly telling Chris Parsons that he has ‘insufficient data’ to answer the man’s rhetorical questions! I’ve missed K9 being such an annoying little thing, and it’s good to have him back like this again!

 


2 July 2014

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

Day 548: Shada, Episode Two

Dear diary,

We get to see a fair bit more of the animation in this episode (though it’s still less than the filmed footage at this stage), and I have to admit that I’m quite enjoying it! It mixes somewhat 3-dimensional backgrounds with 2-dimensional characters, and that looks rather good, giving the shots a depth that could otherwise be lost. The characters themselves are spot on, too, with great likenesses captured for everyone so far. The only one who doesn’t quite work for me is Claire, but I think that may simply be because I’ve yet to see her real-life counterpart, so I have nothing to compare her to! As it stands, she just feels a little less… finished than the others do.

There’s only one thing that’s letting the animated segments down for me, and that’s the Tom Baker impersonation that’s used for them. I think Tom is the only surviving cast member who didn’t take part in the recording for this animated version, so it probably makes him stand out even more because everyone around him feels so authentic. It feels more like someone trying and not quite managing to capture Tom’s voice - almost trying too hard. Still, I may get used to it yet, because there’ll be plenty of opportunity to hear it over the next few days!

Animation aside, there’s an awful lot that I’m enjoying in this episode. People always talk of Shada as being a lost ‘classic’, and I usually dismiss it as a product of being lost that gives it such a reputation (in the same way that both The Tomb of the Cybermen and The Web of Fear took a bit of a knock from their ‘untouchable’ status once they were back in the archive and available for all to see). Despite enjoying the story the last time I saw it, I’m pleasantly surprised by just how much there is to love in this one, and I’m smiling along with much of the story as it progresses.

Of particular note today is the Doctor’s chase through the streets of Cambridge (not so gratuitous as the running through Paris scenes from a few stories back, but possibly because there’s less looking at local landmarks here), and I found myself watching the entire sequence simply wondering… why wasn’t this used for the Time Scoop scene in The Five Doctors? Oh, don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy the ‘vanishing from the punt’ scene that we actually ended up with, but this feels like it would be a great opportunity! For a start, the Doctor is actually being chased by something that could very easily be replaced with a black shape!

Aside from that, there’s lots to enjoy back in the professor’s study. The more I look at it, the more I find myself realising just what a beautiful set it is - yet another example of the BBC being better at doing the down-to-earth settings over any of the far-flung space age stuff. Maybe it’s a good job that the scenes inside Skagra’s ship are reduced to being on animation - because that set looks rather good there, too, freed from a BBC budget!

I’m surprised to see the Professor shuffling off this mortal coil quite so easily here, and I’m sure there must be a way around it, because I’m vaguely recalling other plot twists still to come. Denis Carey continues to be an absolute delight, making the Professor another character from this season that I’d love to see bumbling around time and space with the Doctor and Romana. It’s a part (and a performance) that I can easily imagine Patrick Troughton in, had he not been cast as the Doctor.

1 July 2014

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

Day 547: Shada, Episode One

Dear diary,

SHHHAAAADDDDAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!

Sorry, it’s a force of habit, that. A bit like shouting back when someone fondly recalls Crackerjack. Oh, but everyone knows about Shada. The jewel in the crown of ‘lost’ Doctor Who stories. The tale that got a fair way into production - filming, even! - before being hit by strike action and never managing to be completed (despite numerous attempts by John Nathan-Turner once he’d taken over the producer’s chair for the following season). All along, I’ve planned to simply skip this story. It never made it to broadcast, so why should I include it as a part of the 50 Year Diary? But then I went and did Farewell, Great Macedon, which didn’t make it even this far through the production process, and the closer I’ve gotten to reaching this point of the programme’s history, the more I’ve been thinking that I probably should cover it in some way.

The question: how? Ironically, for the only story in Doctor Who history which made it part way through filming and never got completed, there are more completed versions of this tale out there than many other stories! The first, as for many ‘definitive’ version of the story comes from the BBC Video tape, realised in the early 1990s. About seven or eight years ago, copies of this tape used to go for silly money on eBay, but I was lucky enough to get one for a fairly reasonable price. I recall watching it and enjoying it on the whole, even if I can’t remember a great deal about it. Then it was remade by Big Finish, but this time starring the Eighth Doctor alongside Romana and K9! This version made it out as an animated webcast, and also as an extended CD version, which I listened to with Nick Mellish when we wrote a book about all of the Eighth Doctor’s adventures on audio. Again, I seem to recall enjoying it.

Back in the day, Shada was one of the very few Doctor Who stories which didn’t get novelised for Target books. Again, somewhat ironically, there are now multiple versions of the novelisation in existence! There’s one produced by the Doctor Who Appreciation Society by Jonathan V Way, another by the New Zealand Fan Club written by Paul Scoones, and more recently a version officially published by BBC Books written by Gareth Roberts, which was then released as an audiobook read by Lalla Ward.

Ward must be sick to death of Shada by now, because she’s recorded it four times over! In addition to the original recording, the Big Finish version and the BBC audiobook, she also returned to voice Romana in a fan-made animated version of the story made a few years ago. It’s this version that I’ll be watching for the next six days, since someone kindly sent me a copy when enquiring if I’d actually be doing Shada in some form for the marathon. I did briefly consider doing a different format for the story each day, but that seemed to be a little bit too much!

The first few episodes of the story (this one in particular) don’t suffer massively from the loss of recording, and so there’s only a few brief clips of animation at this stage. I’ll hold back discussing any of that for a day or two, until I’ve had a better chance to see what it’s like when there’s a lot more of it. As for the story itself… well, it’s just as much fun as I remember it being. It’s very much in the same humorous style that’s pervaded a few of the stories this season, and it’s great seeing the Doctor and Romana interacting with Professor Chronotis. With the way I’ve been enjoying our regulars’ relationship this season, this simply feels like they’ve brought in a doddery uncle to meet the newlyweds!

The thing that struck me the most about this episode is how oddly it’s structured. We don’t have any dialogue for the first two-and-a-half minutes, and even then it’s simply a recorded computer message being played out over loudspeaker. The first actual, proper, line of the story is ‘excuse me’, coming four-and-a-half minutes in. The episode doesn’t suffer because if it - if anything it works all the better as a result, because it makes that early scene with Skagra and the Sphere all the more unusual and un-nerving.

After that, the Doctor and Romana don’t actually appear until almost nine minutes in, but their involvement isn’t missed all that much, because frankly I’m loving the Professor enough to simply watch his antics! When the pair do appear, the feel of their lolling about Cambridge on the punt is reminiscent of the early parts of City of Death, with them simply enjoying each other’s company together in beautiful surroundings. Even once they get caught up in the story proper, visiting Chronotis and searching for the book there’s plenty of humour to be found between them, and it’s just fun to watch them together! 

30 June 2014

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

Day 546: The Horns of Nimon, Episode Four

Dear diary,

This episode marks a number of important moments for the history of Doctor Who. I’m artificially extending out Season Seventeen over the next six days with the inclusion of Shada, but since that story never made it to broadcast, this episode is officially the final appearance of several key things. It’s the last appearance of this particular title sequence, which has been in place since Tom Baker’s first season, and is an adaptation of the one used in Pertwee’s final one.

Along with the titles goes the ‘diamond’ logo for the programme, which has come to be such an emblem of the ‘classic’ series. It’s also the last time in the original BBC run that a story isn’t produced by John Nathan-Turner, who’ll be taking over from the next (broadcast) story, and then sticking around until shortly after the programme finishes in 1989. That said, the next story I’ll be watching didn’t make it out of the BBC until the early 1990s, with an edit produced by JN-T, so this really is the end of an era before he takes on the job.

Alongside those things, we also see the Doctor’s multi-coloured scarf for the final time. I’ve always thought of him as having several different scarves throughout his era - which he does - but when you watch through an episode a day like this, you start to lose track of them. The scarf he dons in this story may as well be the same one he emerges from the TARDIS wearing in Robot, for all the notice I’d have taken! This is also the final appearance of David Brierley as K9, with John Leeson taking back over again for the final days of the metal mutt in Season Eighteen (Leeson also voices K9 in the version of Shada I’ll be watching, so this really is the end for Brierley).

Despite this episode being such an important ‘tipping point’ for the programme, there’s no sense of that at all. Because The Horns of Nimon was never intended to close Season Seventeen, it has none of the scale, or grandeur that - say - The Invasion of Time or The Armageddon Factor had. In many ways, this is just a run-of-the-mill episode of Doctor Who, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing, and it’s by far my favourite episode of this serial.

As a story, The Horns of Nimon has felt a bit fractured. We start on the spaceship, move (briefly) through the planet before the Doctor, Romana, and all the supporting cast are trapped in the labyrinth. It’s never really felt like it’s managed to get going, but I think there’s a bit of energy injected with this part. Having the ability to show us more than one Nimon (it seems like a great expense to have them really only for this last episode), adds a little more threat to the story. Having one solitary creature stalking around the place wasn’t making much of an impact - now they’re en masse, they feel like more of a problem. Kenny McBain’s direction does a decent job of making it feel like there’s more of them, too, though I’m sorry to say that I’ve noticed in this episode that they walk as though they desperately need the loo… and once you’ve seen that, you can’t forget about it!

I’ve also found that the idea of them hopping from world to world, destroying them as they go, is an idea that really chimes with me. I’m fascinated by the idea that Romana can effectively meet Soldeed’s counterpart on another world that’s further along the ‘Journey of Life’ than Skonnos is. I almost wish that they’d made more of this fact through the story - moving back and forth between the worlds to really hammer home the threat that’s facing these people. I also wonder if I’d have liked Soldeed to come fact-to-face with his ‘other’, and really see the error of his ways.

While I’m on the subject of Soldeed… During each episode of this story, I’ve made note to mention him. When I’ve sat down to actually write the entries, though, I’ve never really been able to find the right words. It has to be said that Graham Crowden is really going for it (whatever it may be) with his performance in this story, and it feels almost like the last of the Williams-era eccentricities, sending this phase of the programme out on a high. Even though it’s such an over-the-top performance, I think it actually works! I’ve certain enjoyed watching him, and it’s not harmed the story for me. Crowden was on the short list of people to play the part of the Fourth Doctor back in 1974, and I think this episode may give us an indication of where he may have taken the series if he’d been cast!

30 June 2014

Michelle Gomez (Bad Education, Green Wing) will join the cast of Doctor Who, playing The Gatekeeper of the Nethersphere when the series returns on 23rd August.

Speaking about the role, Michelle Gomez said:

"Well of course Peter Capaldi is our next Doctor, which makes complete sense. I'm thrilled to join him. Well, you would be wouldn't you?"

Lead writer and executive producer, Steven Moffat, added:

“I've known Michelle for years, and I'm thrilled to welcome her to Doctor Who. She's everything we need - brilliant, Scottish, and a tiny bit satanic.”

Filming is well underway for Series 8 of Doctor Who. Guest stars confirmed to join Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman in the new series, which will air on BBC One this Autumn include Frank Skinner, Ben Miller, Tom Riley, Keeley Hawes and Hermione Norris.

+  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]

29 June 2014

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

Day 545: The Horns of Nimon, Episode Three

Dear diary,

I still can’t really tell how I feel about the design of the Nimon creatures, even though we’ve now got three of them to admire. In some ways, it’s quite a striking look, resembling enough the minotaur from legend, while also giving it enough of a contemporary update. On the other hand, though, it real is a man-in-a-monster-suit, isn’t it? When stood upright, the mask sits quite nicely, running relatively far down the actor’s back, but there’s several shots today where the creature is given cause to move its head… and you watch as the mask comes away from the rest of the costume, which really amounts to a body-stocking. Then there’s the way they walk around with their hands out awkwardly… Actually, I think that typing about it has made up my mind - I don’t really care for the creatures, sadly. At least they have rather interesting effects applied to their voices, which is a nice touch.

There’s a number of things about this story which are reminding me of the Big Finish audio Seasons of Fear, with the Eighth Doctor. The Nimon arrive as the villains of the piece in that story, and there’s lots of symbols arriving here which I can’t claim to have fully appreciated when listening to that CD a few years ago. To be honest, I’d completely forgotten much of it, but I’m suddenly getting flashbacks as this episode progresses. The main one was the egg-shaped spaceship, which I suddenly remembered the existence of just before it began to materialise - and I always get a nice smug feeling when I piece things together like that! I didn’t much enjoy Seasons of Fear at the time… I wonder if I might enjoy it more now that I’ve properly watched this serial?

Thankfully, the design work on the sets is faring much better with me. There’s lots of areas that I really like, including the labyrinth itself, but I’m enjoying again the cluttered feel of the ‘control room’ set at the heart of the Nimon’s empire here. In much the same way as the space ship bridge from the first two episodes of this story, it has a kind of ‘real’ feel to everything, with lots of cables, and slightly dodgy-looking equipment. I’m ale enjoying the neat parallel between the Doctor tinkering with the TARDIS back at the start of the story, and what the Nimon is up to here.

Something that’s been troubling me over the last few episodes… the characters of Teka and Seth don’t have a whole lot to do so far, do they? They serve their purpose in Episode One, giving the Doctor and Romana another reason to get involved with the spaceship, but in tho episode, they’re continually reduced to simply standing guard in the corridor until something happens, sending them running for the Doctor. I’m rather hoping that they’ll be given some great scene in the final episode (in which either Set defeats the Nimon single-handed - or, rather, the Doctor and Romana make it look as though he has - or dying while trying to take on the Nimon), because I’m slightly disappointed in them right now. For all I’ve been saying how much I enjoy the Doctor/Romana pairing, they’ve worked best this season when paired up with a great supporting cast, and this pair are no Duggan or Organon!

28 June 2014

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

Day 544: The Horns of Nimon, Episode Two

Dear diary,

It’s becoming quite a theme in this series to have the Doctor and Romana separated for long periods of time. In this episode, they don’t even get to stand in the same room together, or speak to each other. They’re close enough in the closing moments that I assume they’ll be colliding mere minutes into the next episode, but they spend much of the story quite far from each other. It strikes me that were this the 1960s, it’s the kind of trick they’d use to give the Doctor a week off - following Romana and the tributes all the way to Skonnos, and not touching on the Doctor and K9, drifting off somewhere in the TARDIS.

I can’t say that I’d have minded that situation too much. While there’s a lot to enjoy between the Doctor and K9 in this one (and I’m loving the beating that the console prop is taking - if I didn’t know better, I’d assume that they were planning to build a new one next season, so sending this one out in style first!), it’s really Romana that I’m finding the most interesting to watch. I said yesterday that I’d grown to love the pair of them being at a similar intelligence level, and it means that the Doctor’s absence isn’t felt all that strongly here when he’s not around. There’s even the problem of a Sonic Screwdriver being left behind, and he’s not even needed for that!

All of Romana’s sequences benefit from being slightly more interesting than the Doctor’s. Especially while on the spaceship, it’s nice to see her given a villain to face in the form of Malcolm Terris’ Co-Pilot. He’s one of those great breeds of Doctor Who villains - someone who’s nasty just for the sake of it. Yes, he’s keen to get back to Skonnos with the tributes so that they can begin a new war with the universe and take control again, but it really wouldn’t kill him to wait a few moments for the Doctor to return to the ship. Later, once they’re facing Soldeed, it’s great to see him lying so openly about the way in which the ship was repaired… and then getting caught out, and sent to his death. Right to the end, he’s willing to be a murderer just to gain the upper hand, and he’s even great when lying to the Nimon about his reasons for being in his labyrinth.

Ah, yes, the labyrinth. That’s the only thing about The Horns of Nimon that I knew before starting out on the story: it’s based loosely on the legend of the minotaur and the labyrinth (which made the reference to such an adventure during The Creature from the Pit all the more bizarre!) I didn’t know that it was a king of high-tech futuristic labyrinth, though, in which the walls move suddenly behind our characters, and new routes open up when they’re just not looking. It’s actually very well realised on screen, with lots lingering shots in which a character walks past a blank wall, then doubles back to find it gone. It’s always nice to be impressed by things like this.

When it comes to the NImon itself… well, it’s always been considered one of the weaker Doctor Who monsters, and it’s very clearly a man with an over-sized mask placed over his head. I’m not entirely sure if the design works for me (though I do like the way it’s echoed in the model work of the buildings - a nice touch), but I’ll reserve judgement for now until we’ve seen a bit more of the creature in action. If nothing else, I love that the horns light up when he’s attacking, and I realised that they would about three seconds before it happened - though I’ll admit that I was expecting (and hoping for, honestly) the ‘moving’ lights like those in the Gel Guard’s claws from The Three Doctors! 

28 June 2014

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Gordon Rennie and Emma Beeby

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: May 2013

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: June 2014

“The TARDIS brings the Doctor and Nyssa to a vast pyramid, floating in space. A tomb ship – the last resting place of the God-King of the Arrit, an incredibly advanced and incredibly ancient civilisation, long since extinct.

They’re not alone, however. Another old dynasty walks its twisted, trap-ridden passages – a family of tomb raiders led by a fanatical matriarch, whose many sons and daughters have been tutored in tales of the God-King’s lost treasure.

But those who seek the God-King will find death in their shadow. Death from below. Death from above. Death moving them back and forward, turning their own hearts against them.

Because only the dead will survive.”

Have you ever read The Ultimate Treasure? You’ll love it.  It was the first Past Doctor Adventure novel from BBC Books to feature the Fifth Doctor.  It had him alone with a female companion (Peri), was peppered with references to other stories (Kamelion here, hinting at a forthcoming explanation about celery-wearing there) and involved a group of less-than-morally-pure people trying to seek out an incredible reward, that perhaps isn’t quite the treasure they originally supposed it to be, by going through a series of quests that not everyone will survive.

On a completely different note, have you ever listened to Tomb Ship? You’ll love it.  It was the second main range release in a 2014 trilogy of stories to feature the Fifth Doctor.  It had him alone with a female companion (Nyssa), was peppered with references to other stories (Wirrn here, the HADS there) and involved a group of less-than-morally-pure people trying to seek out an incredible reward, that perhaps isn’t quite the treasure they originally supposed it to be, by going through a series of quests that not everyone will survive.

Pity the Fifth Doctor: he obviously stumbles upon these sort of set-ups.  He is fortunate though in that they are both good stories with just about enough differences to elevate it above the repetitive and continual comparisons.  I was expecting something enjoyable as I’ve liked all of Gordon Rennie and Emma Beeby’s releases before, and in that respect, I was not disappointed.  Nor was I upset by developments that took place from last month’s release, Moonflesh, which perhaps flies in the face of my claim that having standalone adventure was refreshing! The developments here, however, do not feel crowbarred in or forced, and I’m looking forward to seeing what sort of resolution we get next month in Masquerade.

Where I felt this release was perhaps not as good as The Ultimate Treasure (he said, comparing again) is that the characters weren’t as stand-out, nor were the perils as well-drawn or interesting.  I don’t feel you ever get invested in any of the characters there, or feel any real threat or tension for them, which makes the central premise diluted somewhat and lacking the edge it should have.

Where this release scores major points is in good, solid writing for the three regulars (he said, not wanting to give too much away) and a very fun ending.  And, sure, we may have been in this territory before, but Tomb Ship is enjoyable enough to keep you listening and engaged across its four episodes.  I hesitate to describe it as another ‘good, solid episode of Doctor Who’, as repeating that mantra over and over raises questions of it own: namely, what makes a good, solid episode of this most eclectic of shows, and I’ll readily confess that I didn’t enjoy it as much as others, nor as much as what Rennie and Beeby have written before, but it was fun enough all the same.  Even if we have enjoyed it before elsewhere.

28 June 2014

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Mark Morris

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: April 2013

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: June 2014

“One wouldn't normally expect to find elephants, gorillas and rhinoceroses roaming free in Suffolk in the year 1911. One wouldn't normally expect to find an extra-dimensional police box at the same time/space location either. Two aliens, named the Doctor and Nyssa, exit said box, only to find themselves pursued by a hungry lioness – for they've landed in the private hunting grounds of the famous explorer Nathaniel Whitlock, who's brought together a motley group of friends and acquaintances for a weekend's shooting.

But one of Whitlock's guests isn't all they seem. One of them wants the secrets of the Moonflesh, the mystic mineral looked after by Whitlock's retainer, a Native American known as Silver Crow. Because the Moonflesh is reputed to have the power to call down spirits from another realm…

…and soon, the hunters will become the hunted.”

For whatever reason, I was put off listening to this play for quite a while.  Have I been busy? Yes, but not enough to justify the delay.  Do I like the Doctor/Companion combination? Very much so: Davison is one of the best doctors we’ve ever had.  So, what was it? I couldn’t say.  The slightly drab cover art? The premise, which did little for me? The fact it followed the events of last month’s Flip finale, which so… irked me? Maybe a bit of everything.

I do know, though, that I enjoyed Moonflesh a lot, perhaps because it stood in such contrast to some of Big Finish’s recent trilogies.  It feels completely standalone and devoid of the shackles and gimmickry of recent times, which is oddly refreshing.  It feels strange to say that, as historically Doctor Who does standalone more often than not, but with Big Finish increasingly linking releases and the wide and sweeping arcs we see on screen more often than not nowadays, having a standalone adventure is something that really pleased me.

The story concerns a big-game hunt, as mysterious stone, and a whole host of characters plucked from days of yore, extras in Black Orchid and adventure novels.  Things move along at a cracking pace, and true to form, everything that seems to be being set-up in the opening instalment of this tale is turned on its head by the cliffhanger and leads us into new territory.  Whether you prefer what comes next is a matter of personal preference, but for my money, it was a pretty solid adventure.  There is a lot going on here, from the rise of Feminism to the morality of hunting, from spiritualism to alien goings on, but Mark Morris balances it all rather well, with none of the elements becoming overbearing.

I was especially impressed with his supporting characters in the main.  The play stumbles slightly when dealing with Silver Crow, a character that comes perilously close to being a bit too stock-friendly-and-wise-native for my liking, but punches high with everyone else, especially Hannah Bartholomew, who feels like an older and wiser Charley Pollard in some ways but with a darker sense of morality, and the Whitlocks, who are very well drawn.

Morris has good form with regards to writing for Big Finish, with House of Blue Fire standing out especially strong, and also tackled Nyssa and the Fifth Doctor before in Stockbridge with Plague of the Daleks, and this is a stronger affair than the latter, whilst being not quite as good as the former.  What it is though is a very strong start to the trilogy and hopefully the sign of some more standalone and largely arc-free releases.  I do like the arcs when done well, but as I said in my review of Scavenger, they can at times lend themselves to having their cake and eating it.  There is none of that on display here, and the play is all the better for it.  Is it the greatest story ever told? No, but it’s a solid slice of adventure and, accordingly, I can’t imagine I’ll be holding off listening to Tomb Ship when it arrives for as long as I held off listening to this.

28 June 2014

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: William Gallagher

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: March 2013

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: June 2014

“Thursday 28 May 2071: the day the Anglo-Indian Salvage 2 rocket launches. Its mission: to clean up space; to remove from Earth’s orbit over a century’s worth of man-made junk…

From the viewing window of a nearby space station, the Doctor and Flip have a unique view of Salvage 2 as it sets about its essential task – and of the disaster that unfolds when Salvage 2 encounters something it’s not been programmed to deal with. Something not of human manufacture…

Back on Earth, the Doctor fights to save Flip from becoming part of a 500-year tragedy being played out in orbit, hundreds of miles above. And millions will die if he fails.”

****

So, here we are: the end of this current run of adventures for the Sixth Doctor and Flip, and what better way to end things by blasting off into space?

Inevitably, a lot of the previews of this play have muttered about the similarities to Gravity, which has had the downright cheek to do rather well in the Oscars around the same time this play has been released.  Both stories are set in space and involve missions going awry, but the similarities end there and the two stand very much alone after this. (Oh, and for the record, Gravity is the better of the two. Sorry, Scavenger.)

There are some things definitely worth highlighting about this play.  To begin with, it is by a long shot William Gallagher’s best script for Big Finish yet.  I was extremely impressed by the way he manages to take two characters at the start (Salim and Jessica Allaway) and transform them steadily over the course of four episodes from being very, very irritating and speaking almost entirely in soundbites with no hint of natural dialogue, to two very intriguing characters with a lot of heart behind them and added dimension.  In many ways, they represent the very best this tale has to offer: two characters starting out bland and developing well as the story carries on.  In the grand scheme of things, it’s a rare Doctor Who story indeed that pulls that off successfully.

On a similar note, the story has a truly brilliant Part Two, improving a lot on the opening instalment and really giving us a lot of energy, tension and plot.  It’s the best half an hour this story has, but that’s no bad thing given how strong it is.

It sadly falls down a little after this, relying on a few slightly old and familiar tropes and steadily wasting the character of Jyoti Cutler, a character so integral to the opening, played with a slightly variable accent by Anjli Monhindra (the rather wonderful Rani from the rather wonderful Sarah Jane Adventures).  However, its main problems lie not with the story itself but in the wider arc and plans that Big Finish apparently have afoot.  I should stress here that major spoilers are coming up, not just for this story but others from Big Finish’s main range of plays, so read on at your peril and don’t complain that you were not warned.

So.

Anyone keeping abreast of the ongoing Hex saga will be aware that Big Finish are increasingly reluctant to finish a character’s story, which is sadly to the detriment of the character themselves.  In short, it’s hard to invest in the build-up to a character’s farewell when the rug is continually pulled from under one’s feet.  Big Finish just about– just about– got away with it with Charley Pollard, but with Hex and now, in a way, Flip, it’s starting to get silly.  Because a lot of this trilogy has been building up to her departure, really, and setting up the start of a new trilogy of adventures with the Sixth Doctor and Peri, but at the last minute... we get none of this.  Instead, we are left with a cliffhanger ending, which is fun in some ways, but frustratingly in others.  Is Flip dead? No.  I mean, it’s not stated, but let’s face it, she won’t be, because that’s an ending and Big Finish aren’t so keen on those at present.  What it means is that we are going to have to twiddle our thumbs somewhat and wait for at least a year before anything is resolved, and in the meantime, the Sixth Doctor and Peri trilogy that has been built up will come and go (probably with a lack of definite resolution there, too) and then have another trilogy of adventures with Sixie and Flip and have to hope for a conclusion there, and if not that, then no hint that such a conclusion will be forthcoming.  Have it like Mary Shelley, where we know things come to an end, but there is no sign of that any time soon and an open ending looking to the future instead.  Do not build up to a departure and then not do it at the very last minute.  It’s just frustrating.

As for the play itself? It suffers from increasingly relying on cliché, but has enough sparkle about it and some good and, contrary to the plot, increasingly well-written supporting characters to recommend it.  Mainly though, it suffers from being part of this wider problem with lack of resolution, and in the end, that has dragged my rating of it down somewhat, which is unfortunate.

There’s teasing, there’s misdirection, there’s twists, and then there is having your cake and eating it, and I’m sorry Big Finish, I really am, but I for one am stuffed.

27 June 2014

At last! After what seems like an age, we are thrilled to unveil some more New Series News in the form of a cracking new promo image for the first episode of Series 8; 'Deep Breath'.

The image (which can be viewed in full, in the right-hand features column) features The Doctor and Clara in what seems to be a tweaked TARDIS interior.

To tie-in with today's promo image, the BBC have also released a teaser trailer (which you can view below), that includes some rather interesting dialogue: 

The Doctor: "Clara, be my pal, tell me, am I a good man?"
Clara: "I don't think I know who The Doctor is anymore..."


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

8.1: Deep Breath - written by Steven Moffat
8.2: [Untitled] - 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]

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