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1 March 2015

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

Day 790: The Waters of Mars

Dear diary

Oh, this felt more like it. After my disappointment in Planet of the Dead, I’d sort of drifted out of Doctor Who during the middle months of 2009. Oh, I never packed it in completely, but I rather avoided keeping all that up-to-date with the latest news and trailers. A lot of that had to do with avoiding spoilers for the upcoming Eleventh Doctor era, which began filming in the middle of the year (I failed spectacularly at this, as I’m sure I’ll discuss in a few days). It meant that I didn’t see a trailer for this one until a few days before the broadcast, and if I’m honest, I wasn’t really all that bothered by the prospect of incoming Who. By this point, I sort of just wanted the new Doctor to start already - knowing that Tennant would be leaving and Smith replacing him so far in advance, and without having many episodes to bridge the gap just made it feel like an incredibly long and drawn-out process!

When I did get to see a trailer for The Waters of Mars, though… oh, it looked interesting. It completely piqued my interest and got me excited for broadcast - everything a trailer was supposed to do. And then the episode aired, and I thought it was good. It was very good. I even recall being a bit annoyed with the friend I’d watched it with, because they fell asleep about three minutes int (it had been a long day), but all was forgiven when he caught up with the episode a few days later and text to say how much he’d enjoyed it.

The thing that really gets me - above and beyond the design, or the casting, writing, direction, which I’ll come to in a moment - is the idea at the heart of this one. We’re so used to there being moments in history that the Doctor can’t touch because they’re part of established events - we had one last season in The Fires of Pompeii, for example - but I don’t think we’ve ever had a story quite like this one, where we’re visiting the future, and the Doctor’s unable to do anything because it’s just as fixed as any of those things from our history that we know so well. Something about that idea really chimed with me, and I loved the way that they chose to demonstrate the situation, with the flashing up of news reports. It’s simple, but it’s very effective.

And on top of that, the Doctor goes and flaunts the rules anyway, by making changes to the events! Oh, that’s when The Waters of Mars kicks into gear. Oh sure, there’s lots to really enjoy before then, but once time itself stars fighting back against the Doctor and he simply rages his way through it… that really struck me, and it’s what made the episode for me. I mused a few weeks ago during Utopia that there’s something great about David Tennant’s darker side as the Doctor, and we get to see it properly unleashed here. After which, we get the perfect example of that ‘hubris before the fall’ that I was so keen on finding during Tom Baker’s tenure as the Doctor. The Doctor goes too far. He breaks all the rules. That’s not what does it, though. What makes it all the worse is that he then gloats about it. Look at me! Look how clever I am! And right then, when he’s king of the universe, and teetering dangerously on the brink of tipping over into total darkness… Ood in the snow. What an image. Came as a total surprise to me, and I love it. Such a great way to end it. 

I risk here simply pouring all the praise on those last ten-to-fifteen minutes of the episode because they’re the bits that really make it for me, but I can’t let today’s entry go by without at least touching on the rest of the story. I rather like the Flood - they’re the scariest monsters that the Russell T Davies era creates (take that, Weeping Angels), and probably about as far as you’d dare push it for the programme at that point. These days, with a slightly later time slot and seemingly a different intention at where the show is pitched, perhaps they’d go further, but I look at some of the scenes with these ‘Water Zombies’ (for want of a better phrase), and I’m genuinely surprised they made it through into the show as it was in 2009. And these are the toned down version!

What makes them all the more scarier has to be the direction of the episode. Those first two transformations we see, where the focus is on a character in the front while we don’t quite get to see what’s happening to the other person in the background is ten times more effective than simply showing it happening. We get a great impact when that does happen with the Doctor discovering a ‘conversion’ in progress, but that’s been shot in its own way, and the horror is simply ramped up by the confirmation of what we thought we saw on the two occasions before.

So, on the whole, I think The Waters of Mars is largely made by that last quarter, but there’s plenty of merit to be found in the rest of the story, too. One of the highlights of the Tenth Doctor era for sure - and the perfect way to gear up for the big finale ahead…

28 February 2015

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

Day 789: The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith

Dear diary,

I’m sure I must have mentioned it at some point before now, but I really enjoyed The Sarah Jane Adventures. For a long time, I would say that the average quality across the show had a better ‘hit-rate’ than Doctor Who did - there’s no episodes of this show that I think would rate below about a 5. For a long time, I seriously considered the idea of watching all of The Sarah Jane Adventures in tandem with modern Doctor Who, slipping it into the gaps between seasons as it was originally broadcast, and watching how everything ties up (for example, there’s a story just a few episodes before the one I’ve done today which serves as a follow up to Dreamland, which I’ll be watching in a few day’s time), but then I’d feel like I’d have to include Torchwood in the marathon, too, and it all just gets a bit messy. As such, I decided to limit myself to just doing the two stories in which the Doctor himself makes an appearance in Sarah Jane’s world.

What’s impressive is that despite the sheer presence of David Tennant, he never manages to overpower or steal the show. This is very much an episode of The Sarah Jane Adventures which the Doctor happens to appear in, rather than a Doctor Who episode that’s been misplaced over to its spin off show. And yet, there’s still something that feels so right about having the Doctor pop up in this corner of his fictional universe - especially in the year where Doctor Who was so massively absent from TV screens. When the programme tried it again a year later, bringing the Eleventh Doctor into Sarah Jane’s world (and with Jo Grant, to boot), it just didn’t have the same impact that we have here, and that’s a pity. I’m sure I’ll look into that more in a few weeks, as I’ll be including Death of the Doctor after Series Five of the ‘parent’ show.

One of the things that this story does especially well is in pairing the Doctor largely with the young cast of the programme - Luke, Clyde, and Rani. It’s always a thrill to see the Doctor and Sarah Jane reunited, but there’s something extra special about seeing these new characters become a part of his world. Oh, sure, he got to speak to Luke on a screen during the last season finale, but there’s something jus that little bit extra special about seeing him trapped with the three of them in a single second of time. It also means that something different is being done with the idea of the Doctor and Sarah meeting up again, and it avoids simply becoming a rehash of their other recent reunions.

That doesn’t mean that Sarah Jane is left out of the story, though, and watching this episode back now I’m really floored by Elisabeth Sladen. When she pops up in Doctor Who during this period, she absolutely shines, but she’s really just one of many. Especially by the time we reach The Stolen Earth, she’s fighting for presence against so many other characters. This programme, though, is absolutely justified by the performance she gives here. Oh, there’s something beautiful about watching her and Peter fall in love. I remember complaining at the time that we should have seen those dates (or at least the secrecy aspect to them) played out more in the four episodes preceding these two, but watching it again now I’m happy to say that I was wrong on that. It’s written - and performed - so neatly that I completely buy the pair falling for each other. A large amount of the credit for that has to go to Sladen, because she sells it all so well, even when watching Sarah Jane fall in love isn’s perhaps something we’re used to seeing.

It doesn’t hurt, of course, that they only go and get Nigel Havers in to play her hubby-to-be! Doctor Who has never been afraid of going for big names in the casting - especially at this point in its history - but I love the fact that the entire Who franchise had such stature by 2009 that you could get actors of this calibre to appear in a couple of episodes for CBBC! I’ve not really said an awful lot about these two episodes in particular - rather spent my time simply praising The Sarah Jane Adventures as a show - but I’m not sorry about that, because I’m just glad to have an opportunity to rave about it. If you’ve not indulged in this part of the Who universe before, please give it a go - some of the strongest material ever is tucked away across these five seasons…

27 February 2015

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

Day 788: Planet of the Dead

Dear diary,

The ‘gap year’ of Doctor Who in 2009 felt like the worst thing in the world at the time, didn’t it? We’d become so accustomed to having a full thirteen-week run from around Easter that the thought of only having a few episodes scattered across the year (and, really, months apart, with only this episode at Easter and then nothing more until November!) was devastating. It did mean, however, that when the weekend of this episode approached it felt all that more special. It wasn’t just the start of a new run of Who, it was the only island of Who, and it needed to be savoured. It made it, as the name suggested, a special episode.

Which then made it all the more disappointing when the end credits rolled and I sort of went away thinking ‘eh’. I don’t think I’d thought it was bad, just that it hadn’t been great either, and when there’s not another episode along seven days later which might be more to your tastes, that makes it stick out even more as being a bit of a let down. I’d planned to give it another watch, once all the anticipation had died down and we were back into the longest drought of Who for several years, but I just never really found the enthusiasm for it. Over the years, this has sat in my head as just a bit of a ‘nothing’ episode - not great, but not awful either.

Today, though, I have to admit that it hasn’t captured me at all. There was a period (from about the time Christina jumped into the… um… I don’t know, ‘hole in the spaceship’ to the bus flying back through the wormhole where I completely tuned out. I was looking at the episode, and although I picked up on a few bits, it wasn’t really going in. I was going to skip back and re-watch those minutes over again, but just as with last time, I couldn’t really summon up the enthusiasm.

I’m not even entirely sure why that’s a problem here, because there’s plenty to keep you both engaged and entertained. There’s UNIT, for a start. Gorgeous locations in the desert (more on which in a moment). Plenty of threat. Some rather nice aliens in the form of the stingrays, and a nice idea behind what those creatures are and how they operate… and yet. something falls completely flat for me, and while all the right pieces are on the table, they’re just not moving in the right direction for me.

I’ll get onto the things I liked about this one in a moment, because contrary to the way I sound above I didn’t hate the episode, and there are some rather good bits, but first I’ll have to single out something which really let the episode down for me - and it’s Michelle Ryan. Something about her performance just comes across as wrong to my mind, almost like she’s focussing so hard on maintaining the right voice for the character that she’s forgetting to do more than blandly deliver some of the lines. I try to not criticise people’s acting skills if I can avoid it (and she’s a million miles away from the worst performance in Doctor Who which is still to come in a few week’s time), but she felt so out of place with the rest of the cast here that I simply couldn’t avoid it.

In contrast, you’ve got Lee Evans’ turn as UNIT’s Scientific Advisor Malcolm. I have to admit that I’ve never really been a fan of Evans’ comedy shows (I think it’s that old thing of so many people telling me how funny he is means that I simply can’t see it), so I wasn’t particularly thrilled when he was announced as one of the guest characters for the episode, but I can’t help but absolutely love him. The performance, the character… oh, everything. I’d love to see him pop up again at some point - I think he’d play nicely off Peter Capaldi’s Doctor, who would probably serve as a great counterbalance to Malcolm’s enthusiasm.

And then there’s the Dubai filming in the desert! It does look good, doesn’t it? There was a moment, when the camera pulled back from the doors of the bus to show the landscape of this world when I half pondered how beautiful it looked, and half wondered if it could have simply been done in the UK with some lovely matte painting (I've already praised the way the production team do those recently, and I think I’m right in saying that this shot has been beefed up with one?), but then later on when you get to watch the Doctor and Christina exploring the sand dunes, you really get a sense of why the programme went so far for these vistas, because they are gorgeous. 

27 February 2015

We Are Colony has released Emily, the provocative short film debut of renowned producer Caroline Harvey, starring Oscar-nominee Felicity Jones (The Theory Of Everything) and Emmy-winner, BAFTA-nominee Christopher Eccleston (Thor: The Dark WorldDoctor Who).

Harvey was formerly Head of Development at Mirage Entertainment, the company run by the late Anthony Minghella and Sydney Pollack, where she produced the acclaimed short film Love Me More, directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson. The two remained close after Love You More, with Taylor-Johnson donating some of her Palme D'Or prize money to fund Harvey's directorial debut, Emily

 

Director, Caroline Harvey says:

"Emily comes from a place of frustration: about the form of short film, the fashion for them to be silent, to be genre driven, to be bleak, to have an obvious twist in the tail. It also comes from an irritation with the way in which women are portrayed on screen. Female characters are usually rigorously pinned to a narrative by a mass of explanation and consequence: ‘she’s that way because of this and now she’ll suffer…’ - a falsehood"
.

 

"The film is about gender roles, desire, control, frustration, the lust inherent in sorrow, the lies we tell ourselves and each other, the peculiarities of being English", she continues. "I wanted to write about a sexual encounter in which no-one is attacked, hurt, contracts a disease, gets pregnant, arrested or dies. Rather, the opposite: certain encounters allow us to learn about ourselves, our limitations, what we want and need. That these experiences are as capable of healing as they are of damaging us."

 

Felicity Jones plays a young woman who meets a man in a coffee bar (Christopher Eccleston). The two are soon chatting about snogging, smoked salmon blinis and sexual stirrings involving fingers in ears. "I wanted to do something unexpected," Jones has said.  She also produced the film, alongside Jack Sidey and Nicholas Hatton. The film premiered at the Palm Springs International Film Festival and was nominated for Best British Short Film at Raindance Film Festival.

 

We Are Colony is a new global video-on-demand platform connecting passionate fans with great films, and their favorite filmmakers and talent.  We Are Colony releases exclusive special edition bundles of deleted scenes, cast interviews, making-of documentaries, production stills, scripts, storyboards, teasers and so much more. Get behind-the-scenes now at www.wearecolony.com

+ Check out the special features for 'Emily' on the We Are Colony website.

[Source: We Are Colony]

26 February 2015

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

Day 787: The Next Doctor

Dear diary,

The speculation this caused at the time! David Tennant announced as departing the programme, followed by a story entitled The Next Doctor, and with David Morrissey - a potential Doctor candidate - cast in the part! I’m not sure if I ever thought that he could be Tennant’s replacement or not… I don’t think so, though.

The mystery of who this mysterious other Doctor is has to be the very heart of this episode for me. That first half of the story, in which the Doctor slowly pieces things together while we’re given glimpses into the strange versions of familiar objects that this Doctor uses (the hot-air balloon TARDIS is great, but I really love the joke about his screwdriver being sonic), culminating in a beautiful moment when we discover the truth about him, and why he’s been acting as a Time Lord from Gallifrey. If I’m honest, I quite liked all of that. Couldn’t put my finger on why I remembered this episode being so poor, because there were several really rather nice moments to enjoy.

But then, once the ‘reveal’ is out of the way it all got really boring. I love the Cybermen, they’ve always been my favourite Doctor Who monsters, and yet I just couldn’t find the effort to care about them here. They stomp around and talk about the construction of the Cyber-King… and even when that arrives on screen - a great big Cyberman-type robot powered by coal and steam and stomping its way across London… I was still bored. By the time we get the reveal that Jackson Lake lost not only his wife the night the Cybermen attacked, but his son too, I simply didn’t care one jolt. It didn’t help that his son is left standing like an idiot while all the other children are hurried from the building. It simply felt like an excuse to have the Doctor do a big stunt at that point of the episode, to keep the action going a bit.

Somewhere along the way, this story feels like it was split in two, with the emotional, human story of Jackson Lake, and the mystery of ‘The Doctor’ being consigned to the first half (along with the one bit of Cybermen action that I can claim to have enjoyed in this one; the attack on the graveyard), while the second half was made up of a rather rubbish Cyberman story. I’d say this is the absolute definition of ‘average’ Doctor Who.

A description I fear is going to be applied to a few stories coming up this week. From this point on, there’s only two stories (The Eleventh Hour and The Day of the Doctor) which I’ve seen more than once, and on both occasions that re-watch came within a few days of the original broadcast. I can remember thinking that Planet of the Dead was rather weak, The Waters of Mars was rather brilliant, and The End of Time was rather lacking as the end to such a fine Doctor. As for my thoughts on things after that… well, we’ll get there soon enough.

So, a brief note on how I’m going to be tackling the ‘Specials’ over the next week or so. I’ll be moving - as is traditional - onto Planet of the Dead tomorrow, dipping out the day afterwards to visit Ealing for The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith (I’ll be cheating a little and doing both episodes on the same day, since the Doctor only really shows up in the second half), then The Waters of Mars, a quick trip to the US for Dreamland (which I’m particularly looking forward to, as it’s the last bit of Tennant-Who I’ve never seen), and then finishing off with two days of The End of Time. It’s almost the end, but the moment is being prepared for!

25 February 2015

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

Day 786: Journey’s End

Dear diary,

At the start of this year, during my discussions about the Daleks for Dalek, and the Bad Wolf two-parter, I made several references to the fact that the Daleks in ‘new’ Who were never again as ruthless as they are in those stories. Frankly, I was wrong! I was a bit surprised when they turned up again for Doomsday and got to do their fair share of being rather scary and powerful, but here they’re well away! Certainly, they’ve lost a few of the ‘special features’ they had in Series One (the likes of a revolving mid-section, and the whole ‘being able to stop bullets’ thing - which I almost thought they’d brought back today before it turned out to be the result of a time-lock built around the Hub.

But the Daleks here are cold. They shoot Jack without a second thought (and while we know that he’ll be springing back up again in a few minutes, we get to experience the shock of the moment through Rose, who doesn’t know that she’s made that man immortal), and then you’ve got the way that the Supreme Dalek taunts the Doctor while Donna is left to burn in the heart of their Crucible. If I’m honest, the Daleks don’t really do a whole lot else in this one - they mull around and look menacing while really acting as pets to Davros - but those few moments really make them worthwhile, and I’m pleased to see how wrong I was about them losing their touch after that first year.

Not that I’m complaining about Davros, though! Oh, certainly, he means that the Daleks don’t really get an awful lot to do here because he’s the focal point for much of the episodes’ villainy, but let’s be honest, Julian Bleech is simply perfect in the part, isn’t he? My God he’s good. There’s something so wonderful about the way he slips from being the calm, collected, in control version of the character to the crazed, half-mad, ready-to-end-the-universe version. I think, on reflection, Bleech is my favourite of all the Davros incarnations (Davroses? Davrii?). And if the Daleks’ presence is justified by the few moments in which they’re ruthless and hurtful, then Davros’ presence is brought into the light by the moment he sees Sarah Jane after so long. ‘You were there on Skaro,’ he muses, and suddenly it’s never felt more right that Sarah should have stumbled back into the Doctor’s life. Oh, there’s something just magical about the fact that after all these years, Sarah Jane (and Elisabeth Sladen) is back in the Doctor’s life again, fighting the good fight alongside her best friend.

I can’t discuss Journey’s End without bringing up the… um… well, the ‘journey’s end’. In The Writer’s Tale, Russell T Davies wonders about the departure he’s given Donna here, and wether children will be able to connect with it in the same way they can the other companion departures. Rose gets sealed off in another universe and can’t get back. Fine. Martha chooses to stay behind and care for her family. Also fine. Donna has her world taken away from her, and simply forgets. It’s perhaps not quite as relatable as the other two departures, but it is wonderful.

And I think that it’s the right ending for Donna - it was this or death for her, I think, because not a lot else would have stopped this woman from standing at the Doctor’s side. The sense of loss through the whole situation is easy to feel, if not from Donna, then from the characters all around her. The Doctor is heartbroken, and Wilf, who I’ve said has made me want to cry every time he pops up on screen, is absolutely broken. It’s terrible, and beautiful, and such a moving way for Donna to go.

There’s one thing that’s always bothered me about it, though, and watching through the series again this last couple of weeks has really flared it up as a bugbear in my mind. Once Donna has ‘activated’, the Doctor comments;

THE DOCTOR

The Doctor Donna. Just like the Ood said, remember? They saw it coming. The Doctor Donna. 

But surely, in Planet of the Ood, the Ood call the pair ‘DoctorDonna’ because that’s how the Doctor introduced themselves? Frantically, then they thought they were going to be attacked, repeated over and over again;

THE DOCTOR

Doctor, Donna, friends. 

I always took it to be that the Ood went on to call them ‘Doctor Donna’ because that’s the name they’d been given. Yeah, yeah, I know that you could argue that the Ood were seeing more than that, and that they were seeing the Metacrisis, but it’s always sat ill with me…

We also need to make another stop today on my journey of ‘foreshadowing the regeneration’, because a lot of the dialogue here would go on to have greater significance once The End of Time came along. The Doctor muses that the timelines were all drawing together - getting Donna, then her granddad, then meeting Donna again… - because they were closing in on the moment that Donna and the Doctor became one. But actually, you can take Caan’s comment that ‘one will still die’ to mean not Donna in the sense of losing her memories, but to mean The Doctor, because we know now that the Doctor meeting Donna wasn’t simply fate - he claims that Wilf was ‘always’ going to be the way he dies. I’m really enjoying uncovering these extra little things buried in scripts where they were almost certainly never meant to be signposts of what was to come, but work beautifully as such in retrospect…

24 February 2015

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

Day 785: The Stolen Earth

Dear diary,

John Barrowman once described The Stolen Earth and Journey's End as being 'The Five Doctors for 21st century Doctor Who', and it's hard to find a more perfect description for these two episodes. At the time, myself and the friends I discussed Doctor Who with were well aware that Rose was coming back for the finale (she'd been teased enough throughout the series even if the publicity and the previous episode hadn't been clue enough), and we were fairly certain that Martha would be putting in an appearance, and possibly Jack… oh, but then there was that 'next time' trailer from the end of Turn Left. Rose! Martha! Jack! Sarah Jane! Gwen! Luke! Ianto! Harriet bleeding Jones, former Prime Minister! Judoon! Daleks! Davros! Oh, it was the most exciting 'next time' trailer the programme had ever done (and, actually, very few have come close to the level of excitement this one generated), and all of us were immediately swapping the same excitable texts the second the credits kicked in.

Oh, and there really is something wonderfully Five Doctors-esque about the setting up in this episode. Today is really about manoeuvring all the characters to the right places ready for the ‘real’ story in the next episode, but that’s all part of the fun! Cutting from the Hub, to Sarah Jane’s attic, to New York (Martha must avoid that place like the plague these days - we’ve seen her visit the city twice, and she’s encountered Daleks on both occasions!)… it’s all very exciting when you’ve been making your way through the series in order (either on broadcast or in the form of a marathon), and getting to watch all these characters from different parts of the Doctor’s life come together is really rather special. That great big video-call is also home to the single best line in Doctor Who history;

WILF

(on the subject of a webcam) She wouldn't let me. She said they're naughty. 

I do have to wonder, though, how does this episode look to people coming to Doctor Who in the years since 2008? At the time, characters like Gwen, Ianto, and Luke made perfect sense to me, because I’d been following along with the spin-off programmes, but these days there’s plenty of people who’ve discovered the show since all those spin-offs ceased, and they don’t necessarily pick them up to watch too. Are any of my readers in that situation? Does it all make sense, simply as ‘well they must be Jack’s Torchwood team, and he must be Sarah Jane’s son?

There’s something rather brilliant, though, simply in the fact that Doctor Who at this point can do a story like this one. They can bring back assorted old companions - including Sarah Jane from the 1970s - and the audience will go along with it! The story is littered with little Easter Eggs for long-term viewers to spot (I didn’t notice the shot of Daleks attacking the Valiant for ages), and you really get the idea that several of them would actually be picked up on by the ‘casual’ viewer. There’s something a little bit special about that.

But then, of course, the big thing to make note of in this one is the regeneration. Or, specifically, the week that followed the regeneration. As soon as it became obvious what was happening, I declared that it was all slight of hand, and that there was no way David Tennant was going to regenerate and it not be announced before hand. But then… oh, it was a funny old week. All the papers were talking about it. People kept coming in the (largely Doctor Who-related) shop where I worked asking about it… and more and more it looked as though the BBC had managed to pull off a massive publicity stunt by having the Doctor regenerate half-way through the story. The more I thought about it, the more it all made sense. Of course, it was quickly brushed off when the next episode came around, but it’s worth it just for the sheer excitement of that week!

24 February 2015

The BBC DVD Enquiry Line have confirmed to DWO that The Underwater Menace DVD (originally due for release in 2014, and rescheduled for 2015) has been removed from the 2015 schedules for the time being.

The last Classic Series Doctor Who DVD release was the previously missing adventure, The Web Of Fear, which was released on 24th February 2014 - exactly a year ago today!

It is not known what the future holds for the range, but the team are currently "exploring options" and are hoping to fire up the range again later in the year.

Anyone wishing to express their support for The Underwater Menace release can do so by sending an email using the BBC's online contact form, or by sending a polite letter to:

BBC Worldwide Ltd
33 Foley Street
London
W1W 7TL
UK

Fans have also started an online petition, which you can sign, here.

DWO are expecting an official statement from BBC Consumer Products shortly and we will post more information as we get it. 

+  Discuss all the Doctor Who DVD releases in the DWO Forums.

[Source: BBC Consumer Products]

23 February 2015

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

Day 784: Turn Left

Dear diary,

These latter episodes of Series Four are real barnstormers, aren't they? I can almost forgive the slight dip in quality (for me, anyway) in the middle of the series, because you can see perhaps where the entire production team were saving themselves ready to really go for broke with this finale. I mused a few weeks ago, at the end of Series Three, that Turn Left didn't feel like the start of a three-parter in the same way that Utopia did, and made a note to revisit that thought when I reached this point. Watching today, I think I'd stand by that comment… and it's largely because the central story of Turn Left draws to a close before we then get a cliffhanger at the end. That cliffhanger is integral to the story we've just watched (so it's not really 'tacked on' in the same way that the Victory of the Daleks lead-in is at the end of The Beast Below, or the cliffhanger to The Poison Sky is for The Doctor's Daughter, for example), but it comes after the resolution of the immediate plot - whereas the Utopia one is bang in the middle of it! So yes, I'll be standing by that thinking!

But enough about the relationship between this episode and the two that follow it - there's more than enough to keep you going here! People always seem to hail Blink as the best of the 'Doctor-lite' stories from the Russell T Davies era, but surely this one has to take that crown? In some ways, Turn Left plays out a bit like a clip show, going back over events from the last couple of series, and presenting them to us in such a nightmarish way. I'd love to see a whole series set in the world we get in this story - not even necessarily a Doctor Who series, just a programme that follows what would happen in such a situation, where the world is headed to hell in a hand basket. If I'm honest, I still hold out hope that Davies might write such a series one day - I think he'd do such a good job with it. With only a few brief lines and scenes, we get a real feel for the way that this world works, and some of it is simply beautiful in a kind of nightmarish way. A real highlight has to be Rocco being carted off to a 'labour camp', while Wilf tries to hold it together - Bernard Cribbins really sells that moment, and once again, I can't help but feel emotional when the man is on screen.

Cribbins isn't the only one turning in a tour de force of a performance here - Catherine Tate has never been more on top of her game. Tate proved to people how great she could be in Doctor Who right back in her earliest episodes, but Turn Left is the moment where she really silences the naysayers. When she's finally shown the creature on her back, or realises that she's going to die… it's simply stunning. Coming after forty minutes of watching Donna struggle against the tide of hell befalling the world, it's even more emotional. I’ve praised Cribbins and Tate over and over in the last few weeks, so I’d also like to make a point of mentioning Jaqueline King here. She’s been great throughout the series whenever she’s turned up, but this episode really gives her a chance to go for it, and combining these three as the Noble Family… well, it’s no wonder they’re such a great part of the series.

I could ramble on forever about how great the performances and settings of this episode are, but instead I just want to touch on something tiny and insignificant. The matte painting used for the world of Shen Shen at the episode’s beginning is gorgeous! I’ve been meaning to bring this up for ages - having pointed out how nice the Ood Sphere was in long shot (if not in close up), and then making a note to mention it again during The Doctor’s Daughter, for the surface of the planet there. I seem to say it a lot, but you can really see the confidence of the team at this point - creating alien environments so beautifully, even when they’re only used briefly to set up the story, before we’re brought back down to reality.

22 February 2015

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

Day 783: Midnight

Dear diary,

It's a sign of just how far Doctor Who had come by this point in the revival that they feel confident in producing something as… experimental as Midnight, to air on BBC One prime time on a Saturday evening. It's about as far away from Daleks and Cybermen, or anything else you might expect from the programme at this point, as it's possible to get.

And you know what? It's great. It feels really nice to dip out of the usual pattern and do something a bit different with the Doctor, and it lets us see this particular incarnation in a new situation - the Doctor who's perhaps most reliant on his words as his only weapon (as recently exemplified by stories like The Doctor's Daughter) having his words removed, and being left defenceless.

It also serves as a nice counter-weight to Voyage of the Damned back at the start of this season. There, a group of 'humans' thrown together by circumstance pull together for the good of all, standing tall in the face of danger (even if they might not always agree), and making sure that as many people as possible can come through. Midnight on the other hand shows a different side to 'human' nature - with the group turning in on itself, and coming desperately close to committing murder. There's some beautifully observed moments in here along the lines of examining human nature, perhaps none more than Val's comment right at the end;

VAL

I said it was her.

I almost wonder if the script is partly so strong because it gives Russell T Davies the change to write about something real again, having spent the last few years having to write about Judoon on the Moon, and the last of the Daleks, and the Cybermen pushing across from a parallel universe. Taking any kind of recognisable creature out of the equation for this episode means that we have to really focus on the very true interaction between the characters, and although that's something that Davies often writes into scripts, here it feels like it's being given a whole host of extra weight.

You can't discuss Midnight without passing some comment about the sheer skill that has gone into producing it. For a story almost all filmed on a single set with a small core cast, I'd not be surprised if this was the most technically challenging episode that the production team had tackled up to this point. About halfway through, I decided to plug in a set of headphones so I could really appreciate the skill that's gone into making this one work, and I don't think I've ever really appreciated before just how good it is. Even when Sky and the creature aren't the absolute centre of attention, you can still hear the repetition going on in the background, and it's somehow eerie and beautiful at the same time… but it must have been a nightmare to get right!

For the first time in absolutely ages, I’ve watched today’s episode twice - not because I wanted to follow the story again as such, but because I wanted to hear the commentary. Almost every episode of the Russell T Davies era has two commentaries for each episode - the one on the DVDs, and the ones still available on the BBC website as ‘clips’ for each episode. The online commentary for Midnight features Julian Howarth (Sound Recordist), Paul McFadden (Supervising Sound Editor) and Bryn Thomas (Boom Operator), and it feels only right that the sound team get to take the spotlight on this episode, and you really get a sense for how much effort everyone put in to make this episode the best it could possibly be. If anything, it makes me respect the episode even more!

21 February 2015

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

Day 782: Forest of the Dead

Dear diary,

Yesterday felt like a proper turn around for this story. Whereas I’d always thought of it as being terrible, and one of my least favourites, there were lots of elements to the proceedings that I was actually quite enjoying. It was never going to suddenly find itself sitting at the ‘top table’ among other favourite episodes, but equally it had managed to break free of the shadows (pun intended) it had been cast into for years.

But then today… Oh, I’m just a bit bored with things, if I’m honest. I think I’d normally say something about the fact that I’ve spent so many years not being fond of this story meaning that I’m simply failing to engage with it this time around, too, but that’s not really it - because I’d broken that pitfall with the first episode. I think it’s more a case that the things I found to enjoy yesterday had started to wear a bit thin by the time we reached this one.

That doesn’t mean that there’s nothing in here for me to enjoy, and it has to be said that in a complete turnaround from my reaction when this episode was first broadcast, my favourite thing about it is the presence of River Song, and watching her story with the Doctor both begin and end simultaneously. I mused yesterday that having now seen the rest of their time together makes the scenes they share here all the more poignant, and that’s certainly true in todays episode, as we hurtle ever closer to her death, and the realisation that the Doctor must have always known that this is how their life together would end. Tennant and Alex Kingston play those moments perfectly, and there’s something about the reproachful look that hangs over Tennant’s face one River is gone which really connects with me. I’m looking increasingly forward to watching their relationship play out now.

For me, the real highlight of this episode has to be the way that it ends - and no, that’s not me trying to be funny. There’s a beautiful kind of melancholy that really envelops everything from the moment we see the Doctor wake up to find himself handcuffed at a safe distance, right through to Lee teleporting away, and not quite being able to call out for Donna before he’s gone. I moaned a bit the other day about Jenny’s sudden ‘back to life’ at the end of The Doctor’s Daughter, when the Doctor and co all thought her gone for good, but this is almost that exact same idea, but done right.

That melancholy is only lifted by the Doctor suddenly realising that there’s a way he can save River. Oh, that’s a gorgeous moment. The episode is clearly over and done with. The Doctor and Donna have summed up, and started making their way off into the sunset… and then he comes charging back onto screen and we get a whole new ending that really sings, and is the perfect way of really establishing that River means the world to the Doctor at some point. Forget all that gibbons about his name (have we actually found out yet when she learns it?), this is the good bit! 

20 February 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Watch a promotional video for the Gemini clock, below:

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

[Source: Bad Dog Designs]

<mce:script

20 February 2015

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

Day 781: Silence in the Library

Dear diary,

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

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

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

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

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

20 February 2015

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

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

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

Tracks:

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

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

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

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

[Source: Ronak Shah]

<mce:script

19 February 2015

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

Day 780: The Unicorn and the Wasp

Dear diary,

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

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

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

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

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

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