Welcome to the News & Reviews section here at Doctor Who Online! This is where you will find all the latest Doctor Who related news and reviews split up into easy to use sections - each section is colour coded for your convenience. The latest items can be found at the top, and older items follow down the page.

Archived news and reviews can be accessed by clicking on the relevant area on the News / Reviews Key panels to the right.

E-Mail NewsE-Mail Reviews
1 May 2015

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

Day 851: Last Christmas

Dear diary,

Every Christmas is ‘Last Christmas’, this episode tells us, and it’s certainly the ‘Last Christmas’ for The 50 Year Diary, because after 851 days, I’m finally at the end of my mission to watch Doctor Who one episode a day from the very beginning. I’ll be posting a final entry tomorrow looking back over the entire project and discussing it in a little more detail, but for now, it’s time for one final adventure with the Doctor…

As Christmas specials for the programme go, Last Christmas is one of the better ones, if not one of the best. I’ve noticed a trend when re-watching Series Eight for this marathon, in that on the whole, by opinion of the episodes has gone down. Sometimes it’s gone down by quite a hefty amount. On only a couple of occasions has it gone up. One of the biggest problems that I’ve found on this viewing of the series - which I’ve only really touched on very briefly so far - is that it’s suddenly pitched at a slightly older audience than it has for the last few years. The combination of a later timeslot and a shift in tone through the stories themselves seems far less geared towards the youngsters than I always thing the programme should be (and I’m sorry to say that I know of more kids than I can count on two hands who stopped watching last year because it simply didn’t appeal to them any more. To that end, when Santa Claus was announced as a guest star for the Christmas episode, I did wonder if they might be trying to readdress the balance and win back some of the younger fans, but as I wrote in my preview of the episode last December:

”People have speculated that a special starring Santa and his elves, with reindeer and the North Pole is a sign of the programme becoming more child-friendly than some episodes of the latest run have been, but that’s not necessarily the case. There’s still plenty of humour and fun to be found in the sometimes dark situations that play out in this North Pole base, but the arrival of Father Christmas doesn’t exactly herald songs and lightness.”

That’s something that I’ve been musing on throughout this episode today. I rather like the darker tone of the programme in itself - it’s certainly provided us with some stories like Mummy on the Orient Express which I’ve really enjoyed - but I’m finding my enjoyment of the episode, and the series as a whole, tainted by wondering if perhaps it’s shifted focus that bit too much. Series Nine is, depending who you listen to, either staying in the same vein as the last run was, or changing completely to lighten the mood. I think I’d like a bit of a combination - Doctor Who can do lots of great stories that are scary and - though I’m loathe to say it - ‘dark’, but there’s just something… missing at the moment which has been all too apparent on second viewing.

But, leaving aside my own thoughts on who the programme should be pitching itself to, what did I like about this story, even the second time around? Well, I’m rather keen on the way that everything ties together. The use of Santa is very clever, and I love the idea that you never quite know if he’s real or not, and the use of dreams is done rather brilliantly - on the first viewing, I certainly didn’t guess the various twists and reveals, and I enjoyed trying to work it all out as we went along. There’s several of those great revelations, where you work it out just seconds before the answer is revealed, and that’s always rather engaging viewing.

But the thing I like the most about this one simply has to be Peter Capaldi. Having been through this marathon, I’ve had the spotlight shone on each Doctor in turn for several months at a time over the last few years, and it’s really remarkable how they’ve managed to strike gold every single time. I’ll admit that I was worried when Peter was cast - not because I didn’t think he’d be brilliant or that he’d be wrong for the part, but simply because it was something that everybody seemed to agree upon. Wherever yo turned, people were nodding in agreement and looking forward to the future of Doctor Who. That rarely happens in a fandom, so it was a little unsettling, and I couldn’t help wondering if it was the sign of a mistake! But of course it wasn’t, because over this first series, Capaldi has shown us that he’s just the man Hartnell, or Pertwee, or McCoy, or any of them were - and the future really is bright in his hands.

The rather nice thing about finishing this marathon at this point is that Doctor Who’s future seems to be assured for the next few years at the very least. Even though I’ve now experienced every episode in some form or another, there’s always new Doctor Who on the horizon, and that’s possibly the most exciting thing of all.

I’ll see you back here tomorrow for a final summing up and, for the first time in ages, a day when I won’t have to watch an episode! That doesn’t mean I won’t watch one, mind. I’ll probably cave by around the middle of the afternoon… 

30 April 2015

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

Day 850: Death in Heaven

Dear diary,

Ooft. As finales go, this one really does try to shoot for the stars, doesn’t it? It’s been a while since I’ve said just how much the scale of this programme has developed in the decade since it returned to screens in Rose, and that’s especially noticeable in this story. Visually, the series looks a million miles away, but also… can you imagine the kind of UNIT set up we’ve got here when you look at them in Aliens of London? Heck, even compared to Series Four and the first big return of the Taskforce en masse, this is a whole extra leap forwards. Put simply, all the UNIT scenes of this episode are shot like a proper movie, and they’re all the better for it.

It’s also rather lovely to finally have our own little 21st century version of the UNIT ‘family’ back in action! The first time I discovered that Kate and Osgood would be making a return to the programme for Series Eight was on a trip in to town to do a bit of shopping, when I found the street blocked off because UNIT were confronting an invasion of Cybermen. It really is a hazard of living in Cardiff. Oh, but it’s so brilliant to have this little team that can make return appearances (and it’s even greater that we’re getting a Kate-led UNIT spin off on audio later this year). All of this makes it all the more poignant when they go and kill Osgood! Of all the people! Steven Moffat is right when he says that if you want to show just how evil Missy can be then you have to kill Osgood, because she’s the only target that will wrench at your heart that much. I watched this episode for the first time at the premiere in Cardiff, and the whole room at that moment erupted in a mixture of gasps and cries of ‘no!’. In the question and answer session afterwards, someone asked if Osgood was really dead and it was revealed that yes, she is. But then, there’s still a Zygon version running around possibly, so I live in hope! When only moments later Kate gets whipped out of the aeroplane in mid-flight, it really does do the trick of keeping you glued to the screen - it’s Doctor Who at its most exciting (though I can’t tell you how relieved I am that she’s alive).

Those UNIT parts of the episode are the ones that really work the most for me, though, because I’m simply not as invested in everything else. The emotion is all there, and I can certainly connect to the scenes in the graveyard between Clara and Danny (and they are good), but they simply don’t appeal to me in the same way that the rest of the story does. I might be but a simple mind, but I’d have been keen for some more all-out Cyberman battles. There’s my Camfield-esque attack force on the streets of London?! As the cap to Peter Capaldi’s first season as the Doctor, though? I like it. We started the season with old friends learning to accept who this new Doctor is, and we end the run with old friends who don’t even bat an eyelid at it. This man is the Doctor now, and long may he continue to be so.

29 April 2015

BBC Books have sent DWO the covers and details for the July 2015, 4th Doctor novel 'The Drosten's Curse'.

The Drosten's Curse
by A.L. Kennedy

Isn’t life terrible? Isn’t it all going to end in tears? Won’t it be good to just give up and let something else run my mind, my life?

Something distinctly odd is going on in Arbroath. It could be to do with golfers being dragged down into the bunkers at the Fetch Brothers’ Golf Spa Hotel, never to be seen again. It might be related to the strange twin grandchildren of the equally strange Mrs Fetch – owner of the hotel and fascinated with octopuses. It could be the fact that people in the surrounding area suddenly know what others are thinking, without anyone saying a word.

Whatever it is, the Doctor is most at home when faced with the distinctly odd. With the help of Fetch Brothers' Junior Receptionist Bryony, he’ll get to the bottom of things. Just so long as he does so in time to save Bryony from quite literally losing her mind, and the entire world from destruction. 

Because something huge, ancient and alien lies hidden beneath the ground – and it’s starting to wake up…

+  The Drosten's Curse is released on 16th July 2015, priced £16.99 [HB].
 PREORDER The Drosten's Curse from Amazon.co.uk for just £12.91  

[Source: BBC Books]

29 April 2015

BBC Books have sent DWO the covers and details for the June 2015 book 'The Scientific Secrets Of Doctor Who'.

The Scientific Secrets Of Doctor Who
by Simon Guerrier & Dr Marek Kukula

The first official guide to the science of Doctor Who by acclaimed Doctor Who novelist Simon Guerrier and Dr Marek Kukula, the Public Astronomer at the Royal Observatory Greenwich.

Doctor Who stories are many things: thrilling adventures, historical dramas, and science fiction tales. But how much of the science is real? And how much is fiction?

Weaving together authoritative scientific discussion with a series of new adventures by acclaimed Doctor Who writers including Jenny T Colgan, George Mann and Jacqueline Rayner, Simon Guerrier and Dr Marek Kukula explore the possibilities of time travel, life on other planets, artificial intelligence, parallel universes and more. From the dawn of astronomy and the discovery of gravity to the moon landings and string theory, the authors show how science has inspired Doctor Who, and how, on occasion, life has mirrored art, such as the 1989 discovery of ‘ice-canoes’ on Triton which were featured in the 1973 episode The Planet of the Daleks.

For example, did you know…

•  The creation of the Cybermen in The Tenth Planet in 1966 was prompted by two American neuroscientists who argued that astronauts’ bodies should be adapted to suit the conditions of space.
•  The failure of Beagle 2 to land on Mars on Christmas Day 2003 influenced the loss of Guinevere One at the start of The Christmas Invasion.
•  The many parallel universes that feature in Doctor Who, from Inferno to Rise of the Cybermen are inspired by a reaction to the Schrodinger’s Cat theory: that a new universe is created for each different outcome.
•  The startling resemblance between Amelia Pond and the Twelfth Doctor and two characters from The Fires of Pompeii isn’t simply due to the actors returning to the series: it might be grounded in science as well.
•  Time Lords aren’t the only beings able to regenerate – when the turritopsis dohrnii jellyfish gets ill, old, or faces danger, it can return to its childhood state as a polyp.

+  The Scientific Secrets Of Doctor Who is released on 4th June 2015, priced £16.99 [HB].
 PREORDER The Scientific Secrets Of Doctor Who from Amazon.co.uk for just £14.98  

[Source: BBC Books]

29 April 2015

BBC Books have sent DWO the covers and details for the September 2015, 12th Doctor 'The Glamour Chronicles' novels.

The Glamour Chronicles: Deep Time
by Trevor Baxendale

‘I do hope you’re all ready to be terrified!’

The Phaeron disappeared from the universe over a million years ago. They travelled among the stars using roads made from time and space, but left only relics behind. But what actually happened to the Phaeron? Some believe they were they eradicated by a superior force... Others claim they destroyed themselves.

Or were they in fact the victims of an even more hideous fate?

In the far future, humans discover the location of the last Phaeron road – and the Doctor and Clara join the mission to see where the road leads. Each member of the research team knows exactly what they’re looking for – but only the Doctor knows exactly what they’ll find. Because only the Doctor knows the true secret of the Phaeron: a monstrous secret so terrible and powerful that it must be buried in the deepest grave imaginable...

An original novel featuring the Twelfth Doctor and Clara as played by Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman.

 PREORDER Deep Time from Amazon.co.uk for £6.99 


The Glamour Chronicles: Big Bang Generation
by Gary Russell

“I'm an archaeologist, but probably not the one you were expecting.”

Christmas 2015, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia.

Imagine everyone's surprise when a time portal opens up in Sydney Cove. Imagine their shock as a massive pyramid now sits beside the Harbour Bridge, inconveniently blocking Port Jackson and glowing with energy. Imagine their fear as Cyrrus "the mobster" Globb, Professor Horace Jaanson and an alien assassin called Kik arrive to claim the glowing pyramid. Finally imagine everyone's dismay when they are followed by a bunch of con artists out to spring their greatest grift yet.

This gang consists of Legs (the sexy comedian), Dog Boy (providing protection and firepower), Shortie (handling logistics), Da Trowel (in charge of excavation and history) and their leader, Doc (busy making sure the universe isn't destroyed in an explosion that makes the Big Bang look like a damp squib).

And when someone accidentally reawakens The Ancients of Time - which, Doc reckons, wasn't the wisest or best-judged of actions – things get a whole lot more complicated...

An original novel featuring the Twelfth Doctor as played by Peter Capaldi.

 PREORDER Big Bang Generation from Amazon.co.uk for £6.99 


The Glamour Chronicles: Royal Blood
by Una McCormack

“The Grail is a story, a myth! It didn’t exist on your world! It can’t exist here!”

The city-state of Varuz is failing. Duke Aurelian is the last of his line, his capital is crumbling, and the armies of his enemy, Duke Conrad, are poised beyond the mountains to invade. Aurelian is preparing to gamble everything on one last battle. So when a holy man, the Doctor, comes to Varuz from beyond the mountains, Aurelian asks for his blessing in the war.

But all is not what it seems in Varuz. The city-guard have lasers for swords, and the halls are lit by electric candlelight. Aurelian’s beloved wife, Guena, and his most trusted knight, Bernhardt, seem to be plotting to overthrow their Duke, and Clara finds herself drawn into their intrigue...

Will the Doctor stop Aurelian from going to war? Will Clara’s involvement in the plot against the Duke be discovered? Why is Conrad’s ambassador so nervous? And who are the ancient and weary knights who arrive in Varuz claiming to be on a quest for the Holy Grail...?

An original novel featuring the Twelfth Doctor and Clara as played by Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman.

 PREORDER Royal Blood from Amazon.co.uk for £6.99 

+  The Glamour Chronicles novels are released on 10th September 2015, priced £6.99 each.

[Source: BBC Books]

29 April 2015

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

Day 849: Dark Water

Dear diary,

As finales go, this one doesn’t pull any punches, does it? When a semi-regular character, who’s played quite a prominent role over the last three months, is killed off before the opening credits have even rolled, you know that they’re not messing around. Things are about to get very serious, very quickly. When you then move from that to the companion taking the Doctor and threatening to separate him from the TARDIs forever unless he does as she commands… well, it’s the kind of thing that a hundred fan theories talk about every year, but I never thought they’d be bold enough to actually do it on screen. Oh, it’s exciting.

That said, once we’re past all that initial excitement, things do rather slow down a notch. I still can’t help but feel that Dark Water is really a great big 45 minute prequel for the main event in the next episode. This one really is just about moving all the pieces into position, and getting everyone up-to-speed with what’s going on, so that the hour that follows it can simply get on with doing everything that it wants to.

That’s not to say that there’s not things to love about this episode, because there really are plenty. Those aforementioned opening scenes are wonderful (and bringing back Clara’s gran for the beef scene in her kitchen is the thing that suddenly makes Danny’s death hit home - it makes Clara’s world feel that little bit more real), and the payoff to them, with the Doctor and Clara alone in the TARDIS following her betrayal is simply breathtaking. It’s Capaldi and Coleman at their finest, and the same can be said of the Twelfth Doctor and Clara, too. I simply have to quote the scene, because it’s so well done;

DOCTOR

You betrayed me. Betrayed my trust, you betrayed our friendship, you betrayed everything that I've ever stood for. You let me down! 

CLARA

Then why are you helping me?

DOCTOR

Why? Do you think I care for you so little that betraying me would make a difference? 

Everything they’ve been though this season has been leading up tho this moment, and it’s wonderful. A real highlight.

And then, throughout the rest of the episode, you’ve got Missy! Oh, wasn’t it a great reveal? I was fairly certain that she was going to be revealed as the master, but had to watch on transmission, because the preview copies we were sent at Doctor Who Online were censored! Great big black screens and silence in both the museum scene and the one out on the steps of St Paul’s - both of which then cut back to Peter Capaldi giving a look that’s a mixture of bafflement and horror. Everything around it seemed to so obviously point at Missy being the Master, but then there’s always the possibility that she might not be, and the the wool had been pulled over everyone’s eyes…

But actually discovering that we were right, and that it is the Master? Oh, that doesn’t make it any less brilliant. It helps that Michelle Gomez must be the best Master since the original. She’s so wonderful, and I’m ecstatic that we’re getting her back for another adventure next year. 

28 April 2015

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

Day 848: In the Forest of the Night

Dear diary,

Much like Kill the Moon a few weeks earlier, In the Forest of the Night came under a lot of fire for the science on display. And, once again, I simply wasn’t all that bothered about it! A forest grows overnight to protect us from extinction? Yeah, go on then, why not? However, I did have a few issues with this one, which are only more obvious on a second viewing.

I’ve two main problems - firstly, I simply don’t buy that this forest is in the middle of the city. There’s some lovely shots of phone boxes and busses stranded in the middle of the undergrowth, but there’s simply too much space for me to believe that we’re walking down streets. Lots of London streets are relatively narrow - certainly enough so that you’d be able to see the buildings through trees as dense as we’ve got here. For all the lovely direction of this one (which I’ll come to), it simply fails to convey the central idea of the script for me.

The second big issue I have is perhaps my main one, and the reason that this episode rates so low for me. I simply don’t buy that the forest is so empty. On the whole, we’ve got the Coal Hill field trip, the Doctor, the teams trying to destroy the trees, and Maebh’s mum and neighbour. That’s yer lot! I get that a great big forest growing in the centre of the city overnight is going to cause some traffic headaches when it comes to your morning commute, but it simply rings completely false to me. Tied in with the fact that there’s so few vehicles dotted around between the trees, and the whole plot seems to work on the assumption that the whole of London empties at night-time, and that hardly anyone was able to get back in the next morning. It just feels so off-base. I’d expect at least a few bemused citizens wandering around the foliage (and, actually, I’d imagine there’s quite a lot of fun to be had with that, too).

I think the reason it bothers me so much is simply because it would be so easy to overcome. All you need to do is insert a couple of brief sentences and I’d completely buy it. The trees are here to save us, right? Okay, so the same power that’s able to make them all grow overnight is also able to transport all the people away somewhere at the same time. Humans removed for safety, trees grow to protect the planet, then the humans are all brought back once the danger has passed. See? It seems so simple that I’m actually almost offended that it’s not done! Hm? What’s that? Why are all the people we do see still here, then? Oh, that’s simple! The Coal Hill group are there because they’re with Maebh at the sleepover when the event occurs. The Doctor is there because he’s an alien, so doesn’t get scooped out when the rest of the planet does (or he simply arrived after the fact. Time machine, and all that), and Maebh’s mum is still around because having lost one child, her fear at losing the other one is strong enough to overpower the removal. As for the teams trying to burn the forest… oh, well, I’m not giving you all the answers. Someone else can work out how they remain behind. Magic, possibly.

It’s really those two issues which simply stop me from being able to engage with this story in the way I’d like, and it’s a real pity because there’s some gorgeous work on display visually, and it’s a shame that it’s marred by the fact that it doesn’t really fit what the script is trying to give us. This is Sheree Folkson’s first stab at directing Doctor Who, and I really hope she gets another chance to bring us one of the Doctor’s adventures, because there’s some real promise on display here, but it feels like the various disparate departments simply haven’t all pulled together in the way they normally do so well.

28 April 2015

BBV have just released their latest DVD introducing Hazel Burrows as Liz Shaw.

P.R.O.B.E was originally written by Mark Gatiss and Bill Baggs and featured Caroline John, Louise Jameson, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy, Jon Pertwee, Peter Davison and Reece Shearsmith.

On the latest release, Bill Baggs said:

"I have been longing to bring back PROBE as it has proved very popular. But since the death of Caroline John in 2012 I have been debating how best to proceed. In the end I hope that WHEN TO DIE will be seen as a tribute Caroline."

BBV's first production was back in 1991 and re-united Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant as the Stranger and Miss Brown. Over twenty years later  and a slate of almost twenty productions BBV is back in business.

WHEN TO DIE is available on DVD via billbaggs@hotmail.com, Galaxy Four and in the next month via internet streaming.

Product Synopsis:

When Liz Shaw returns from a working holiday in Spain a new and deeply disturbing case awaits.

Corporal 7891Alpha has outlived his usefulness or rather the government can no longer afford to fund the medication. And that can mean only one thing... termination!

At first glance a 'government authorised execution' is a simple enough task for the Preternatural Research Bureau (PROBE) team.

But as events unfold, and the truth about Corporal 7891Alpha is revealed, the case becomes far more complex.

Only Liz's wealth of experience, courage and determination can save the day - but not before her her moral compass is knocked off course. 

[Source: BBV]

<mce:script

27 April 2015

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

Day 847: Flatline

Dear diary,

I’ve said it before, but with less that a week to go until I reach the end of this marathon, I’ll probably not get a chance to say it again; One of my favourite things about Doctor Who is that we’ve all got such wonderfully diverse takes on it. I love, sometimes, being able to say to a friend ‘I really liked [x] story’, only for them to reveal that they can’t bear it, but they’re rather fond of story [z] (that’s just an example, by the way, not necessarily *The Gunfighters*, which I actually *do* rather like), when I may not be. That diversity is what helps to keep discussions about the programme interesting, even after all this time. And it’s also the thing which makes writing the previews of these episodes a little difficult, sometimes. I try to be as objective as I can when putting down the thoughts (while also trying to remain as spoiler-free as possible), but my own likes and dislikes in relation to the series are always going to inform how I rate something. Those opinions are also always going to be informed by outside elements, too, for better or for worse.

Which brings us to Flatline. I can’t remember the specifics, but the day I sat down to watch this one had been pretty hectic. I’d been running from place to place trying to get things done, and was looking forward to getting home to a brand new episode of Doctor Who to brighten the evening. The only downside was that Flatline had been the least-appealing episode to me when I read the brief previews that Steven Moffat had written for the Radio Times right back at the start of the series. I’d already decided - several weeks earlier, that this would be the episode I liked the least from the Series Eight run. Couple that mad day with that lack of enthusiasm, and I was never going to be that enamoured with this one. Still, if doing The 50 Year Diary had taught me anything, it’s that sometimes stories you’re not expecting to find much merit in can be the greatest gems of all.

But not this one. I watched the episode play out and just felt… flat. That’s not me trying to be funny, it’s just genuinely how it left me. I’d liked the concept well enough, I suppose, and there was a lot of nice exploration of the way the Doctor operates, but overall I wasn’t keen. In the end, I summed this one up by saying;

”A vital episode for the narrative of Series 8, a chance for the regulars to shine (as always), a simple concept twisted into interesting new directions… but perhaps an episode which is less than the sum of its parts.”

And thankfully, I didn’t seem to be alone. I messaged another reviewer to say how little I’d cared for Flatline, and they replied to agree that it was by far the weakest of the season for them. Still, having been enjoying the run more than I could remember enjoying a season in ages, it was always going to have one episode that let me down. But then Saturday night rolled around, and I suddenly realised that Twitter was ablaze with posts about how that night’s Doctor Who had been the best episode of the programme in years. I briefly wondered if I’d been sent the wrong tape and had gotten the order of the episodes wrong in my head, but a quick check confirmed that, nope, it was Flatline on telly that night, and that everyone else in the world loved it. Even my friend, who’d written a luke-warm preview on their own site was singing its praises! I was baffled. For a brief half-hour, I even contemplated watching it again just to see if I’d been in a worse mood that day than I’d realised, but simply didn’t want to see it again until I had to for this marathon.

So here we are today. Three friends have text today to say ‘You’ve got Flatline tonight! Great episode!’ (or words to those effects), and i have to admit that I’ve been a little caught up in the hype. I’ve spent the afternoon genuinely looking forward to watching this episode, and reevaluating my earlier thoughts on it. But then I actually say and watched it, and I’m sorry, but it’s rubbish. 

Well, no. Actually, that’s not at all fair. It’s not rubbish, by any stretch of the imagination. I’d happily choose this episode over several of the other stories I’ve encountered over the course of this project, but I simply cannot understand the love for it. It’s merely alright Doctor Who to my mind - not spectacular, but perfectly serviceable.

For me, the highlight is still in the examination of the way the Doctor operates. It’s a thread that’s been tugged at over the last few stories, but Flatline is where it’s moved centre stage - and expertly so, by moving the Doctor off to the sidelines. As ‘Doctor-lite’ stories go, this one is well handled (you certainly never feel like Capaldi is missing from the action, even if his hair does seem to go off on little breaks of its own from time to time), and it really makes the most of not having the Doctor there by placing his actions in the spotlight through Clara. She really does make an excellent Doctor, and I love the suggestion that you don’t have to be a good person to be a good Doctor - it’s very much in keeping with this incarnation’s attitude, and yet there’s something equally interesting about looking back at some of the earlier incarnations and thinking about the way they act, but with a false smile on the top of it all.

The other area that this episode is very strong at is the visuals. I can’t even begin to imagine how you go about planning to make an episode like this one, and it has to be said that the team do a great job of it. The Boneless themselves are especially well realised, and completely unlike any other Doctor Who monster we’ve ever had. 

And yet, for all that, it simply doesn’t work for me, I’m afraid. I’ll admit that I’ve perhaps gotten a little more in to it today that I did on that previous viewing, but not by a massive amount, and I’m afraid that it’s going to be ending up with a score lower than a lot of people would bestow upon it…

26 April 2015

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

Day 846: Mummy on the Orient Express

Dear diary,

My relationship with Doctor Who has changed over the years. When I first stumbled into it around 2003, it was simply some old television show with a premise that hooked my interest. When it returned to TV screens in a blaze of glory two years later, I made the transition into a fully-fledged, card-carrying fan of the programme. In 2006, I wandered into online fandom and got to know other fans. By 2010 I had the opportunity to read scripts to the episodes before they made their way to TV, and within a few years of that I was actively living in Cardiff, with Doctor Who filming happening all around me. 2014, though, was when things finally tipped over to a whole new level, because someone I’d worked with on a few occasions was actually in Doctor Who. Better than that, they were in Doctor Who as a monster, and one of the scariest creations we’d had in the series for quite some time! It still amuses me when I run into Jamie that I’m actually talking to a fully-fledged Doctor Who monster.

I’m also pleased that knowing who was under all those bandages didn’t hamper my enjoyment of the episode one bit. I’d worried that I’d spend the whole thing watching slightly differently, more distracted by production quibbles than actually getting caught up in the adventure itself, so it’s good that this is one which really caught the imagination. It just combines several elements that I’m a fan of, and does enough with them to keep me interested, without allowing any one of them to get too far. It’s a murder mystery, but not in the traditional sense. It’s filled with 1920s trappings - which the BBC are always going to do well - but even they get stripped away when the time is right, and the whole feel of the episode shifts to something new. You’ve even got a completely different dynamic between the Doctor and the Companion than we’ve had in a long time - these two simply don’t know what to make of each other here, and are busy trying to pussyfoot around each other as well as diving in to the adventure like they usually would.

And it doesn’t hurt that - as I’ve said - the monster at the heart of this story is one of the scariest creations we’ve had in the programme for a long time. I’m struggling to think of any other creature in the 21st century version that has been as effectively terrifying as this… is there one? I’ve seen people single out the likes of the Beast from Series Two, but I don’t think that ever really worked for me in the same way as this one - maybe because it didn’t get to interact in the way the Foretold does? I have one or two issues with the tone the programme took in 2014 (I can’t help feeling that it rather lost sight of the younger end of the audience), but this has to be the crowning glory of the programme heading towards a slightly more grown-up place, because I love that we can have a creation like this one.

Yet somehow, the mummy doesn’t even get to be the star of the episode - because that accolade surely has to go to Frank Skinner, who simply shines his way through the story. Maybe it’s helped by the fact that I’m well aware of how much he loves the show (he tells a great anecdote on an episode of the Graham Norton show, in which he asks his agent if he can play a rock in some episode somewhere), but he really comes across as such a great character… I rather hope that he becomes the Craig for the Twelfth Doctor - a character who can pop up from time to time and share an adventure with our hero. His dry wit works so well with Peter Capaldi here, and I have to admit that I was a little gutted when he didn’t take up the offer of remming in the TARDIS at the end (I’m betting Skinner was, too)!

25 April 2015

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

Day 845: Kill the Moon

Dear diary,

When Kill the Moon went out, there was a lot (and I mean a lot) of discussion online about how bad the science was. People happy enough to accept a programme about a 2,000 year old face changing alien who travels through time and space in a phone box bigger on the inside were absolutely up in arms about the idea that the Moon could be an egg. Now, don’t get me wrong, I think that the Moon being an egg is an absolutely ridiculous and silly notion… but heck, it makes for a good hook in a Doctor Who episode, doesn’t it? I’m genuinely interested, so please do comment below, what is it about this particular bit of science that pushes it over the mark more than any other absolute nonsense we’ve had from this programme over the years? If nothing else, I’m fairly certain that the science in this one is more accurate than half of what David Whitaker learnt at school. Now, that’s not to say that I don’t have my own problems with this episode, which I’ll come to shortly, but I simply can’t wrap my head around why this particular concept was the one that crossed the line for so many people.

Still, all the ‘Moon is an egg’ stuff is merely window dressing, because this story is really hooked on the idea of what happens when the Doctor isn’t there to save to day. So often, he’s able to just wave the Sonic Screwdriver and send the enemy scrambling, so what happens when there’s a different kind of dilemma - one which isn’t so black and white as ‘Daleks = Evil’ - and the Doctor just swans off in the TARDIS and leaves us humans to get on with it? It’s such a great hook, and one which really works with this new incarnation of the Doctor. I can imagine any of the recent Doctor’s playing the role of the Doctor in this particular story - but I don’t know if I’d believe it from the others the way I do with Capaldi. The thing that sells it to me the most is his complete bafflement at the end as to why Clara is cross with him for the way he’s behaved here - it’s really that ‘alien’ side of the character coming back to the fore, and Capaldi sells it all so well.

Now, I’ve already said that I do have issues with this episode, and it’s largely to do with the way that Clara comes to make the decisions she does. I’m fairly sure that we’re told it’s lucky they can even get a signal from ‘mission control’ because of one lone satellite being in orbit… so how is it that everyone appears to have been tuning in to the broadcast that Clara makes only a fe minutes later? And even then, it’s a decision that can only be made by the bit of the planet that a) Clara can see and b) is shrouded in enough darkness for their votes to register. Call me crazy, but I can’t see them adopting a similar strategy for next week’s election…

I also can’t help but think that perhaps this is where Clara should have parted ways with the Doctor, at least for the time being. I won’t even get started on all the ridiculous complaints of there being ‘too much’ Clara throughout Series Eight, but I can at least understand why people grew tired of her leaving scenes. We get one here, then again in a few stories time, then again at Christmas… it just means that there’s going to need to be a really good reason for her to go when the time finally does come. For what it’s worth, I’m hoping she falls in love with a Gallifreyan guard she’s spent hardly any screen time with. It’s just that this would have been such a powerful way for a companion to leave, and a real moment in the evolution of the Twelfth Doctor’s character. You could have her show up again at the end of the series or some time next year and remark on how much he’s changed since this story… it just feels like it might have been a bit of a wasted opportunity.

24 April 2015

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

Day 844: The Caretaker

Dear diary,

I’ve not found a chance yet to say how much I love the idea that after a half a century, the Doctor has come full circle to find himself travelling with teachers from Coal Hill school again. I have some issues with the fact that Clara suddenly has a job there in the 50th anniversary having shown no particular desire to teach before that point (there’s some lines about her ‘new job’, but it would have been nice if she’d been studying for her qualifications throughout Series Seven), but that’s not enough to dampen the idea that we’ve found ourselves back here once more. Add to that the Doctor’s comment in this episode that the school has seen enough artron energy over the years… yeah, love it. Here’s hoping that we’ll be headed back again come the 75th anniversary - it’s certainly something that comes along every 25 years, it seems…

There’s also something rather wonderful about throwing the Doctor into this world and watching him try to fit in around the story of Clara and Danny. Their relationship is one of the things I’m enjoying the most about Series Eight: there’s something appealing about watching something so very… normal unfold while Clara tries to balance her two lives. The Caretaker highlights this perhaps more than any other story, and the little vignettes at the start are rather lovely, giving us more glimpses into the adventures the Doctor and Clara share (including a brief cameo appearance for the Doctor Who Experience, and what seems to be a private screening of The Underwater Menace. Nuffink in ze vorld can schtop me nao, etc.

They also get to share quite a fun adventure around the corridors of a school - always a great location for a Doctor Who episode - with a frankly rather brilliant little robot creature. I’ve taken pictures of the Scovox Blitzer for products here in Cardiff, and I have to say that it’s a great design up close - really detailed, and it’s hard to remember that the Moxx of Balloon is tucked away inside there! I’m not quite sure I buy it as being one of the deadliest creatures to have ever existed, but it acts as a nice distraction throughout the story.

For all the running around chasing a speedy little killing machine, there’s something terribly real at the heart of this episode, and that’s where it’s most successful. Watching Clara as she tries to juggle everything and spin her web of lies faster than ever is really rather gripping, and just when you think she might have managed to iron things out with Danny - at least temporarily, while she plans out what to say next - the Doctor steps in to voice his disappointment in her.

That’s the other thing that this episode does particularly well - capturing the new Doctor’s character. I think this episode and Robots of Sherwood are, for me, the two stories that capture this incarnation the way I picture him to be. Vastra said in Deep Breath that this latest regeneration had ‘lifted the veil’ of the Doctor, and brought his true self closer to the fore, and that’s so beautifully demonstrated here when he demands that Clara explain her choice of Danny. The Tenth and Eleventh Doctors would have mocked him, I’m sure, but then they would have sulked off and kept a lot of these emotions bottled away 0 whereas the Twelfth is simply blunter about the situation - He’s not impressed, and he wants you to know that.

 

23 April 2015

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Writer: Nicholas Briggs

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: February 2014

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online

 

“Jo Grant is shocked to find most of her colleagues are missing. Then she discovers that the Doctor has inexplicably changed.

But there’s no time to worry about it, as she and her misplaced Time Lord friend are whisked to the mysterious Delphin Isle on a matter of national security. There, they encounter a disturbingly odd form of local hospitality and learn of a highly classified incident that took place during the Cold War.

Why exactly have they been brought here? And what is the truth concerning the bodies in the harbour and the vast project being undertaken beneath a cloak of secrecy?”

***

Big Finish love stories! So they keep telling us with every advert going, but they also love a good old novelty hook to drum up a bit of publicity.  The Defectors kickstarts a trilogy already unofficially known as the “Locum Doctors Trilogy”, the sort of fan-pleasing label that will only ever crop up in reference books and threads on forums where people scoff at those who know them merely as ‘those three stories with the wrong Doctors’.

Bah! Pity those fools! I bet they’ve never had a sleepless night over the incorrect theme tune on the CD release of The Invasion of E-Space either.

The idea behind this run-up of stories leading into Big Finish’s 200th release is simple: we get companions from the Doctor’s past mixed with Doctors later on chronologically-speaking— so, the Seventh Doctor is here paired with Jo Grant whilst the Sixth Doctor will next month be paired with Jamie and Zoe. (Again. What? No, the novelty hasn’t worn off, sssh you.)  The trilogy will round off with the Fifth Doctor and Vicki and Steven, the latter of whom is the only pairing that really made me go “Ah! Yes, that could be fun!”

Whether that is the case remains to be seen, but with The Defectors, I was left slightly… confused.  A stutter start theme tune and UNIT does not automatically mean that a story is going to have a Third Doctor flavour, and that is certainly the case here.  Jo Grant may be present, and Mike Yates may be on hand complete with Greyhound insignia via a crackly radio line, but the story, in which the Doctor and Jo are taken to a mysterious village where people don’t quite act right, and the military are clearly hiding something alien, feels far more like a Fourth Doctor adventure than anything Pertwee ever came across.

It made me question what the point really was of the novelty of having the Seventh Doctor interacting with Jo, beyond it being just that: a novelty.  Certainly the script doesn’t feel very Pertwee-esque, despite the cast, and beyond one moment where the Doctor being the ‘wrong’ Doctor nudges the plot along slightly, there doesn’t seem much call for it plot-wise, either.  Not even the ending justifies it, where you think for one moment that the Seventh Doctor’s difference in approach to his predecessor may wind up being key to the conclusion, but then Jo steps forward and acts in a way that doesn’t feel particularly true to Jo at all.

I never once bought the comparisons being made between the Third and Seventh personas of our favourite Time Lord either. (Well, I say favourite. You may have a hankering for Coordinator Vansell, I couldn’t say.) There is a lot of talk about how certain and sure the Third Doctor was and how he’d have a plan and know all the answers… but that’s not really true.  In fact, that’s almost exactly how the Seventh Doctor is: the great schemer and planner who watches as carefully managed schemes unfold.  It makes me wonder if that will be a key part of the revelations further down the line, so for now I’ll simply leave a question mark over proceedings.

The play itself is fine with a touch of healthy paranoia here and some nice action from Jo there (before the aforementioned ending), who reminds us always that she was a cut above the generic screaming assistant.  In some ways, it feels a lot like a dry-run for Nicholas Briggs’s own take on The Prisoner (coming soon from Big Finish productions, fact fans) which, again, doesn’t feel very Third Doctor-y.  Briggs sets up a lot of intrigue in the opening couple of episodes though, the first one being especially strong in that regard, but without the Seventh Doctor being there, I doubt that The Defectors would really warrant much attention.

It also feels a bit sloppy at times, too.  If you want to be picky, then the theme tune is wrong as it has the stutter start dropped for Season 10 onwards, and it rather trips up over itself near the end, when the baddies-with-a-hint-of-Cyberman-about-them start talking with the exact same vocoder effect as the Cybermen themselves, leading me to wonder whether next month’s foes had already been taken before Briggs could write his script.

If you wish to be political about this, then there is also a bit of heteronormative eyebrow-raising to be had when men wearing make-up is noted as a strange and comment-worthy (shaming, almost) thing, which didn’t feel especially in keeping with the Doctor’s live and let live ethos.  I suspect he’ll start mocking ladies for not shaving their legs next.

As the start to a new trilogy, The Defectors didn’t so much whet the appetite as leave me hungry, but hopefully hindsight will be kind to it.  Hopefully, I’ll reach that milestone 200th release and go “Ah! Looking back now, that all made a lot more sense!”  We shall see.  In its own right though, there’s nothing much to see here.

 

23 April 2015

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

Day 843: Time Heist

Dear diary,

Because I tend to watch ‘new’ Doctor Who episodes on preview tape for Doctor Who Online, I don’t usually bother to watch again when the programme airs on a Saturday night. During 2014 especially, it lead to several occasions of texting people only to be greeted with a request to go away because they were trying to watch the show - I dimply forgot when it was on. The week Time Heist aired, though, I was back home visiting friends, and assumed that I’d be sitting through this one again - something I really didn’t mind. I was therefore surprised to find that they weren't’ planning to watch it because they’d really not been enjoying the series so far. Now, in fairness, on this re-watch, Series Eight isn’t scoring anywhere near as highly with me as it did first time around, but I’d been really enjoying it at that point, and insisted that we sit and watch this one as it went out. We did. I still really liked it. They still really didn’t. 

Watching it again today… I’m happy to say that I still rather like it! Time Heist is never going to be considered a classic in the same way that stories like Genesis of the Daleks or The Tomb of the Cybermen are, but it’s a solid episode of Doctor Who that I think I’d be quite happy to watch again as a good example of the programme. It’s the kind of episode that you don’t have to work at watching - you can quite happily stick it on, point your attention towards it, and soak up. There’s enough ‘timey wimey’ to the plot to be interesting, and plenty of humour to be found, along with some really rather good special effects (including a lovely shot of the team approaching the bank of Karabraxos which has been filmed in Cardiff Bay and then digitally altered so much you really wonder if it would’t have been easier (and cheaper) simply to film it against a green screen in the studio.

The absolute start of the show, though, has to be the Teller. We’ve had some great creatures in Doctor Who over the years, but the Teller has to be one of the best examples of every department involved really pulling together to create something really rather special. The design itself, with the eyes out on stalks like that, isn’t especially unique (indeed, I’d say it’s familiar enough to simply suggest ‘alien’ in a science fiction film context), but there’s a reason that it works - because it’s effective. And then there’s the actual construction of the costume… oh, it’s a little bit stunning, isn’t it? I’ve had the privilege of seeing it ‘up close’ and in action with an actor inside, and it really is convincing. Remember that age-old story that Jon pertwee used to tell about chatting to an actor in full Draconian make up and forgetting he wasn’t a real alien? Well, I could totally believe that with this creature. It really is one of the best we’ve ever had, and I feel fairly safe in declaring it one of the greatest creature constructions that the 21st century version of programme has ever given us.

23 April 2015

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Writer: Matt Fitton

RRP: £10.99 (CD) / £8.99 (Download)

Release Date: April 2015

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online

 

“The Death-Match is under new management. The Hunt Master's Champion has been installed. All regular players are welcomed back to the Pursuit Lounge to observe the contest in luxurious surroundings. Privacy is assured. For this reason we ask our elite guests to abide by the strict security protocols. Please note, the house has no limits.

In the Gallery, your combatants can be observed on the orbiting Quarry Station. A purpose-built environment filled with deadly traps and hidden dangers. Prizes are offered for every kill, with bonuses for rogue elements. Only an elite hunter can survive the End-Game. Do you have a worthy champion? Kill or be killed: the only rule of the Death-Match..."

***

Ah, the Master.  You don’t see him for an age, then he turns up all over the shop: in Dark Eyes 4 first, and then in last month’s Fourth Doctor Adventure, Requiem for the Rocket Men, before turning up again to face the Fourth Doctor and Leela once more. (This is no great surprising given the cliffhanger ending to Requiem, nor the fact that pre-publicity told us that this was to be the case, but still.)

Written by Big Finish stalwart Matt Fitton, Death Match starts off in the middle of a great fight and then switches to a rather grumpy Fourth Doctor, kicking things in the TARDIS and generally causing K-9 grief, when Marshall, Leela’s trainee-to-be and potential love interest, contacts them: Leela is missing, and the Master is responsible.

Given that last month’s release had the Master actually kill the Doctor and feel rather muted by it all (granted, that wasn’t really the Doctor, but the Master was not aware of this at the time), it was always going to be tricky to follow up the threat levels, and Fitton wisely decides instead to zone in on Leela and Marshall: their reunion, their relationship, their future.  The fact that Leela was kidnapped is quickly skipped over (really, it serves as little more than a decent cliffhanger for Requiem and a good way to include her in the action here without doing an Arc of Infinity-style false-ending with co-incidental reunion later on) and we soon shift our focus to the main attraction: the titular death match.

For reasons unknown and sinister, the Master has decided to mussel his way into control of these death matches, where people are made to fight one another in arenas to the death for glory, gambling purposes, and above all survival.  It takes a leaf from cult classic Battle Royale and also The Hunger Games (which in turn very much took its inspiration from cult classic Battle Royale… that film/novel has a lot of weight behind it) and focuses not so much on the fighting but the human element behind it, which proves to be a good move, allowing Louise Jameson to continue the sterling work she put in throughout Requiem and build on that here, culminating in one of the most satisfying Leela tales that Big Finish have given us so far, and one of Jameson’s finest hours.

Returning as Marshall and the Master respectively, Damian Lynch and Geoffrey Beevers both give it there all, too, though Marshall is a bit too nudge-nudge-wink-wink towards Leela throughout the play to ever really warm our hearts or convince us that this is a love for all time, growing a bit tiresome with his innuendo-laden patter instead.

There are some especially fiery scenes between Beevers and Tom Baker though, with the latter spitting out his lines with as much gusto as he gives nowadays. (He’s more muted than he ever was on TV and even at his most furious sounds more ticked off that apoplectic, but still.) The Master also gets to indulge in some enjoyable flirting with Susan Brown’s Kastrella, and some aurally nasty killing, which makes the Tissue Compression Eliminator genuinely horrifying beyond concept for once: there’s no doll Logopolitans or CSO scientists in lunchboxes here.

The story arguably never quite lives up to its foundations but the final scene lets Jameson, and Leela alike, shine and that’s no bad thing.

What is a bad thing is that the scripts overrun massively, with the first episode clocking in at a whopping 38 minutes’ length and the second only shaving two minutes off of that.  I’ve praised the other stories in this series for really working in the two-episode-long format for the first time since the Fourth Doctor joined the Big Finish fold really, so it was a shame to see that good work undone here, especially when despite the additional length, it still feels strangely… lacking.  Maybe it needed the confidence to be a full four-part adventure, or maybe a good editing down, but as it stands, an extended length and an underwhelming set of death matches (especially notable seeing as that’s what the play is titled) leads to a release that never quite gets to where it arguably ought to be, given its cast, characters, good points and scenarios.

A disappointment then, but far from the worst that Big Finish, and The Fourth Doctor Adventures as a range, have ever given us.

 

E-Mail NewsE-Mail Reviews
RSS Feed
News Key
News Home
General
The New Series
The Classic Series
Spinoffs
Merchandise
Site
Blog Entries
Reviews Key
Reviews Home
Books / Magazines
DVD / Blu-ray
Audio
Toys / Other
TV Episodes
Search
Advertisements
iWho - The Doctor Who App!

Become a DWO Site Time Lord / Cardinal