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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.

 

22 April 2015

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

Day 842: Listen

Dear diary,

When previewing this episode for Doctor Who Online last year, I commented;

”Since 2005, Steven Moffat has been the king of ‘scary’…In many ways, Listen feels like a return to Moffat trying to scare us, and it’s safe to say that he succeeds.”

I was watching it in broad daylight in the middle of the afternoon first time around, and found it suitably creepy. This time around, I’ve been watching it after dark, and there was a moment, when pausing it to go and grab a drink, where the empty house really did start to make the hairs on the back of my neck creep up. The atmosphere and tension in Listen is extremely well crafted, and there’s something brilliant about Moffat being able to go back to writing this type of story, after a few seasons where he’s been confined to the great, big, story arc moments.

A lot of the atmosphere is generated simply from Peter Capaldi being, as Clara says, a big grey stick insect. Yesterday I was full of praise for the way that he was able to make me smile and laugh, being the Doctor with a twinkle in his eye and a great line in humour. Today I could rave about the way he can equally do ‘darker’ performances like the ones we get here. I’ve spoken in recent months about both David Tennant and Matt Smith’s ability to do darker sides to their Doctor, and how well they can do that, but there’s something different about Peter Capaldi’s darker side - there’s something genuinely scary about the Doctor himself, and it’s not just the eyebrows. That opening TARDIS scene, in which the Doctor sets out the premise of the adventure really puts you in the right frame of mind to keep on edge for the next 45 minutes.

The episode itself, while creepy, goes to great lengths to make sure that there’s always an alternate explanation for everything we’re seeing. It could be that the Doctor himself wrote ‘listen’ on the board in a moment of absent-mindedness (if this were a William Hartnell story, we’d be able to assume that was exactly the case and the adventure would be over in five minutes). The coffee mug disappears and the telly turns off… because the Doctor stole the mug and the telly has been faulty for ages. No one could have entered the room without Clara and Rupert noticing… but then the Doctor managed it, and maybe it’s just another child hiding under the blanket trying to scare his friend? For me, this is where Listen is most successful - in leaving you to make up your own mind about the events. As far as I’m concerned, I think I’d always go with these alternate explanations. but then… well, you never know.

And yet… I don’t know, I’m just not feeling it today, The only word I can find to describe my experience of watching this one again is ‘slog’. It’s hitting all the right beats, and managing to be creepy and thought provoking, and features some great character moments… but I’m simply not enjoying it as much as I did the first time around, and not as much as I was expecting to this time around. I don’t know if it’s a problem with me, or if the story just doesn’t hold up so well once that initial thrill has been experienced, but I’m afraid today’s score is going to end up being a little lower than it probably deserves to be…

21 April 2015

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

Day 841: Robot of Sherwood

Dear diary,

It’s strange, watching this one today, because I’ve never seen this episode in its broadcast form. The preview copy that Doctor Who Online received to review last year arrived before the decision to edit events from the end of the episode in which the Sheriff gets beheaded. There was a lot of complaints around when the announcement of the cut was made, but it’s perhaps notable that watching today, I couldn’t even tell you exactly where the minute or so was removed from. I mean, I know generally where it was, but I couldn’t pinpoint the exact moment, and the loss of it didn’t impact my enjoyment of the story at all. The only slight issue it causes is that there’s later mention of the Sheriff having an engine for a body, which feels somewhat odd now we’ve lost the reveal that he himself is a robot, but even that isn’t the end of the world!

Oh, but I rather love this episode. As much as I’ve enjoyed the Twelfth Doctor being so rude and dismissive (what people on the internet insist on calling ‘dark’) over the last couple of episodes, this is the first story of his era to really capture the right balance of this incarnation’s personality. He is still incredibly rude at times, and arrogant, and short tempered, and stubborn, and all of those things… but he does it with a real twinkle in the eye that can’t help but evoke the Doctor Billy Hartnell was playing before the end of his time. The man Peter Capaldi plays in this episode is far closer to the Doctor that I’ve known and loved from all his previous selves than he’s been allowed to explore so far.

And it means that I’m really enjoying the company of the Doctor in this one, and frequently finding myself laughing at more-or-less everything he says. There was a huge guffaw (and that really is the only word) when he counters Clara’s suggestion that they visit Robin Hood in exactly the way she’d predicted, much smiling as the Doctor and Robin then proceed to bicker and argue their way through the next half an hour, and I couldn’t even help but laugh at how angry the Doctor’s face gets when the button is cut from his coat. Those eyebrows really could cut you in half from twenty paces.

The episode is further strengthened by the simply gorgeous direction. Paul Murphy makes his Doctor Who debut here (though he’ll be back again shortly for The Caretaker), and he chooses to do some really lovely work with the programme, giving us a palette that I don’t think we’ve ever really seen before. The Doctor comments that everything is ‘too green’ and ‘too sunny’ ,and that comes across beautifully on screen - this really is Doctor Who shot as though it were part of the Robin Hood legend, and there’s not a lot else you’d want. I’m also particularly keen on the way that Murphy shoots the TARDIS scenes - finding a new way of approaching a set in danger of becoming familiar. More from this director in the next series, please!

In many ways, this episode reminds me of The Shakespeare Code - probably the historical that has appealed most to me from the 21st century run of Who. It’s got that same vivid sense of colour that presents history as bold and exciting, and a central historical guest star who’s a little bit cocksure, but completely endearing at the same time. I have a feeling that Robot of Sherwood is likely to become the episode I watch when I really want to experience this era at its best… 

21 April 2015

BBC Worldwide have unveiled a new promo picture [pictured-right] featuring our first glimpse at a new monster for Series 9 of Doctor Who.

Very little is known so far as to the monster's identity, but it will feature as part of the third block of filming. Accompanying the image was the following text:

"What’s that in the shadows? New monster about to meet Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman in Doctor Who Series 9"

+  Series 9 of Doctor Who airs Late August / Early September 2015

[Source: BBC Worldwide]

21 April 2015

Our friends over at Whovian Companions have launched a brand new dating site for Doctor Who fans in the UK.

Whovian Companions is a FREE dating site with no monthly subscription. You can display your favourite Doctor or Companion on your profile, allowing you to break the ice when meeting a new Whovian on the site.

The company is even backed by the Virgin StartUP campaign and with over 400,000+ single Doctor Who fans in the UK, they believe they can find your perfect match!

+  Check out Whovian Companions at: www.whoviancompanions.co.uk.

[Source: Whovian Companions]

20 April 2015

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

Day 840: Into the Dalek

Dear diary,

I’ve always had a bit of a problem with new incarnations of the Doctor facing off against the Daleks too soon. It somehow seems fine to me when they do it with Patrick Troughton (perhaps because it’s simply the first time they do any of that ‘new Doctor’ stuff, or perhaps because at that point in the programme’s history, you really need the Daleks to ensure that the audience can go along with it), but when Matt Smith encountered the pepper pots in his third episode, it just seemed too soon for my liking. I preferred it with David Tennant - for example - where we had almost a whole series before they show up. Or even most of the other Doctors, where there’s a fair chunk of time before the ultimate foes show up. Imagine my displeasure, then, when it was announced that Peter Capaldi would be facing off with the Daleks in his second episode.

It’s entirely a personal issue, so it’s not really fair for me to let this hang-up affect my enjoyment of the stories at all, but even watching Into the Dalek again today, I simply feel odd, almost, watching the Twelfth Doctor, who’s only been in his iconic outfit for about five minutes, coming face-to-face with his mortal enemy. I can’t even explain it - I’m certainly making a bad job of trying to, here - but it just doesn’t sit right with me for some reason.

And it’s not helped that I simply can’t get a handle on this episode in itself. In many ways, the idea of shrinking down the Doctor and his companion and sending them inside a Dalek is so obvious that I’m astounded it took them 51 years to actually do it. We even had the Doctor cloned and put inside his own head after only 14 years! But once they’re actually inside the Dalek… it just doesn’t feel like a lot happens. They encounter a couple of perils, but it doesn’t seem to take them long to get to the problem that’s turning this Dalek ‘good’, and fix it. Or, rather, not fix it, but make the Dalek back into, well, a Dalek again, at least temporarily. We then get lots of action and battles to fill up the remainder of the episode, which leaves all the ‘inside the Dalek’ stuff feeling a bit pointless beyond creating an evocative title.

All those battles and fights that we get, especially towards the end, are for me the very best bits of the episode, and I can’t help but thinking I’d have liked 45 minutes later in the season which would simply have the Doctor and Clara getting caught up in this big asteroid-belt battle with the Daleks, and having to rub up alongside soldiers to fight the mutual threat. It perhaps wouldn’t be as big and brassy as this episode tries to be, but judging by the simply fantastic shots of Daleks exploding left, right, and centre as the episode draws to a close, I think I’d have enjoyed watching more of that than what we’ve actually got here… 

19 April 2015

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

Day 839: Deep Breath

Dear diary,

Oh, the excitement was high for this one. New Doctors are always something to look forward to, but somehow it felt different this time. I think because there was less time before the announcement that Matt Smith would be leaving and him actually vacating the TARDIS (with David Tennant, we had getting on for eighteen months, whereas with Smith we only had around six or so), it was all caught up in a kind of whirlwind of change. And what a busy six months they’d been! We’d seen the Eighth Doctor’s regeneration! And been introduced to a whole incarnation we’d never even known about! We dived into the Time War and came out fighting, with Gallifrey safe and sound, and the Doctor pocketing a whole new run of regenerations. Oh, it was exciting. And then… well, nothing, sort of. Christmas passed us by, the Eleventh Doctor became the Twelfth, and then we were back into one of those long waits for any more adventures.

I was lucky enough to attend the world premiere of Deep Breath in Cardiff in early August of last year, and by the time that day rolled around, I don’t think I could have been more excited for the return of the show. Frankly, they could have shown an hour of Peter Capaldi licking the screen and I would have thought it was the best thing ever. The whole atmosphere of the event was electric - I had friends visiting the city for the premiere, so got to catch up with them and show them round, and then soak up all the joy from the red carpet, and the real buzz of the day. There’s also something just so fun about watching an episode in a large hall like that - everyone laughing at the same time and really getting caught up in the narrative. By the time the episode finished, I thought it was probably one of the best we’d had in a long time, and that Capaldi was rather good (if different, we’ll come back to that in a moment), and the Q&A that followed the screening left me certain that the future of Doctor Who was in very safe hands.

When the episode aired on telly a few weeks later, I watched it again. Of course I did, I’d enjoyed it that much! It didn’t quite have the same pull for me second time around, but then it wouldn’t, would it? I wasn't watching it in a big excitable group, and I already knew all of the twists and turns to come. Still lots to enjoy, and I still came away terribly excited for the rest of the run. Watching it back today, a rare third viewing for a Doctor Who story… Well…

It’s not that I don’t like this one. Of course I like it. It’s generally a very good story, which does a good job of introducing the new Doctor alongside familiar elements (but still finding a way to keep those elements fresh), and looks visually stunning. It’s just a bit of a drag, isn’t it? The Day of the Doctor runs to about the same length as this one, give or take a couple of minutes, but whereas that one ran that long because that’s how long the story felt like it needed, Deep Breath feels like the plot of perhaps an hour expanded out to fill the longer time slot. In some cases, having the extended running time gives the story room to breathe, and we get to have lots of nice, still, quiet moments that you wouldn’t otherwise get, but I found myself four or five times looking at the clock and wondering how there was still that much time left to go. I can’t help feeling that the extended running time would have been better spent on The Time of the Doctor, while this would have worked better as a nice, hour-long opener for the new Doctor.

Oh, but that new Doctor is the real joy of this episode. I came away from the premiere screening thinking that Peter Capaldi was absolutely brilliant casting for the Doctor. My friend Nick, who came along with me offered a slightly more cautious view, but one that I can’t help think is absolutely what they’ve aimed for (and gotten) with this incarnation; “I love Peter Capaldi’s Doctor… but I don’t know if I like Peter Capaldi’s Doctor…”. In some ways, the Twelfth Doctor feels entirely familiar - the somewhat brash personality he displays here is reminiscent of several previous incarnations, notably the First, Fourth, and Sixth Doctors. In others, he’s new and unpredictable, and after two incarnations that - as Vastra says - were playing at being the companion’s boyfriend, wearing the faces of young men to fit in, there’s something really exciting about the programme taking this new direction, and it’s not one I thought they’d embrace so whole-heartedly as they have.

So, away from the crows, and the atmosphere, and the red carpet, Deep Breath is perhaps a bit bloated and in need of some trimming down. It feels like a bit of a bulky way to start the bold new era. But equally, it still has all the makings of a grand new step, and once again, I’m excited to dive into the rest of Series Eight… 

19 April 2015

Speaking on yesterday's edition of the Loose Ends show on BBC Radio 4, Christopher Eccleston (The 9th Doctor) discussed his reasons for joining and leaving Doctor Who.

DWO have transcribed the Doctor Who segment of the interview, below:

When you accepted the role of Doctor Who were you talked into that decision?

CE: "No I wasn’t talked into that decision, that was my decision, I approached Russell T. Davies, I emailed him and said I know you’re gonna do this, I think you should think about me. Because, I’d acted a lot for adults, and I wanted to do something for children. I wanted to try and learn a lighter way of being."

Did you achieve it?

CE: "I think I over-pitched the comedy. If I had my time again I would do the comedy very differently but I think obviously where I did possibly succeed was in the tortured stuff - surprise, surprise!"

So why did you go - you were so good!

CE: "Thank you very much! What’s interesting in this country is whenever a story like this emerges, they concentrate on the negative. I don’t think it’s important that I left, I think it’s important that I did it in the first place."

OK, it may not be important, but to fans it was a bit of a shock because you could have stayed for 4, 5 or 6… you could still be there now! So that was a big decision not to do any more after the first series.

CE: "Im still there! I was in David Tennant, I was in Matt Smith (are we gonna edit this?) I was in Peter Capaldi. Nobody knows this about the Time Lords. I’m always there in spirit."

OK, but talk me through the decision to leave. Was it because you didn’t work within that structure of a rigorous show running show?

CE: "Myself and three individuals at the very top of the pyramid clashed - so off I went. But they’re not here to say their side of it so I’m not going to go into detail."

[Source: BBC Radio 4]

18 April 2015

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

Day 838: The Time of the Doctor

Dear diary,

To me, The Time of the Doctor is just a little bit… frustrating. It has the burden of not only writing out the Eleventh Doctor, but also tying up strands of story which have been angling since as far back as The Eleventh Hour. On top of all that, there’s no ‘extended-length two-parter’ treatment here like the Tenth Doctor had for his swan song - this one has to do it all in an hour. That’s a tall order.

It’s also one which, sadly, I don’t think it quite manages to pull off. The Time of the Doctor is peppered with lots of nice little moments which shine light on earlier events, but I can’t help but come away from thins thinking that it wasn't supposed to end this way. It’s as though, after all that lovely long build up, we’ve suddenly had the last quarter of the story crammed into a single hour when it should have played out across at least a few episodes. Maybe a series of specials like the ones David Tennant went out on? One which is just the Doctor and Clara travelling together - he’s got a renewed energy following the events of the 50th Anniversary. Then he finds himself drawn to Trenzalore, where the siege plays out, and he slowly finds himself trapped and drawing to the end of his long life. Somehow, if simply doesn’t ring true with me that all of this should pass us by in such a short space of time - the Doctor’s age almost doubles in the course of this episode! I really think that this episode is a rushed alternative to the original plan, and that’s a shame.

Still, in a nice mirroring of the Doctor’s comments to Amy during Vincent and the Doctor, the bad bits of this story don’t necessarily spoil all of the good bits! For starters, there’s Handles. Frankly, you shouldn’t get emotional at the death of a Cyberman head who’s only been in the programme for about twenty minutes, but somehow, it’s genuinely moving when he misses his final sunset. Then there’s finally getting to see all the things that do come into play as a final summing up of the era. The battle of Trenzalore. The Papal Mainframe. More information about Madame Kovarian, and her plans throughout Series Six. It’s not bad… but it’s not quite what I’d be hoping for after so long. It felt like a bit of a let down on first viewing, but I can feel the blow that little bit more now because I’ve watched the entire arc in such quick succession.

If there’s one bit about tying up the arc which really does work for me (although I do sort of wish that they’d made more of it), it’s the fact that Clara saves her Doctor one last time. We learnt only a few episodes ago that jumping into the Doctor’s time stream meant that Clara would be there to save him in every moment of his life - including the adventures that were still to come. Of course, those adventures were supposed to end with this story - he was on his final incarnation, and he was supposed to die here on Trenzalore - we saw the grave. But then Clara steps in for his ‘final’ two adventures and puts things right - first by helping him to realise he can save Gallifrey, and because of that, then convincing the Time Lords to grant him a whole new regeneration cycle. Oh, Impossible Girl, you did it again.

If nothing else, then the final scene, with Matt Smith taking his final bow in the TARDIS, with a final goodbye to his Amy Pond, is lovely. It’s a really nice way for him to depart the series, managing to pack all the emotion of the Tenth Doctor’s farewell, but do it in a way that feels both familiar and completely new. That’s very Doctor Who. And then, of course, the Twelfth Doctor bursts into life in the blink of an eye! I seem to recall people hating that online, but I thought it was brilliant! No warning, just bang!

And with a crashing TARDIS and a confused Doctor, I’m off onto my final run of adventures before my own story comes to an end… 

17 April 2015

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

Day 837: The Day of the Doctor

Dear diary,

Oh, d’you know, as the TARDIS was hauled across London and David Tennant’s name flashed up on the screen, I felt really excited for this one. I’ve been excited by several episodes through the course of this marathon - one’s I’d never seen before, ones that have been recently recovered, ones that I’d recalled liking a lot on first run through… but this was somehow different. There’s something in the air about this 50th anniversary episode that even eighteen months on still makes it something really special. A chance for the programme to stop and congratulate itself for being something so brilliant for so long. Steven Moffat is right when he says you couldn’t do a story like this every week, because the series would drown in self congratulation, but let’s be honest, when you reach the golden anniversary, it’s only fitting that the show should get something so good.

I think there’s also an extra thrill because this episode is very special in terms of The 50 Year Diary - because it was supposed to be the final entry! The 50 Year Diary. The clue is in the name, really. The plan devised way back in the dying days of 2012 was to start the marathon with An Unearthly Child on January 1st, and then watch every episode in order, one a day, until I hit the 50th anniversary story. The first 50 years of the programme neatly summed up. Only then Matt Smith went and threw a spanner in the works by announcing that he’d be leaving in the episode immediately after the 50th. Right, okay. Not an issue, I’d go the the 50th and then finish the marathon off with his final story. Done. Easy. Oh, but those decisions were made way back when, and now I’m here… well, as someone pointed out when I raised the question with you lot, it would be a shame to end here, only a handful of episodes short of doing them all in this format, so you’re stuck with me for another two weeks yet.

So. The Day of the Doctor had a pretty unenviable task, didn’t it? Work as a standalone episode celebrating the first 50 years of the programme for an audience that would no doubt be significantly higher than usual, while at the same time provide the kind of fitting multi-Doctor extravaganza that we fans are always so keen on, just like they did for the 20th, 30th, and 40th anniversaries. I can remember watching the Tennant era and thinking ahead to the 50th anniversary which felt like just a million miles away. As things always tend it, it came round rather fast and I think it did the best possible job of being everything it needed to - I still see people complain that it’s an ‘8th anniversary special’ as opposed to a ‘50th anniversary’, but frankly they always come off as stubborn for the sake of it. Did they miss the frankly brilliant ending in which all the Doctors turn up to save Gallifrey?

You might have noticed that I’ve not really got a particular focus today, because it’s tricky to do that with an episode quite as expansive as this one, so I think I’m going to have to resort to simply going through things in brief as I think of them. Bear with me…

First of all, that multi-Doctor thing. I think we all assumed that it would be happening because that really is the template. I think we also had a fairly good inkling that Christopher Eccleston wouldn’t fancy popping back to Cardiff for a bit. What we didn’t expect, I feel pretty confident in saying, was a whole new incarnation of the Doctor that we’d never even known about before. Oh, but it’s clever done, isn’t it? John Hurt (also, while I’m on the point: John bleedin’ Hurt!) doesn’t just get dropped into the programme and left for us to accept as a whole new Doctor - they went to the trouble of getting Paul McGann to come in for a regeneration scene! Oh, all those years where his regeneration only took place across a million YouTube videos! Hints and suggestions that we’d be getting such a scene were fairly thick in the air, but it didn’t stop it from being any less amazing when a friend text me at work to say that the scene had arrived on the website, and I found an excuse to leave my customer for ten minutes while I went and watched the birth of the War Doctor. And he’s good, isn’t he? I mean, obviously, when you canst John Hurt as the Doctor, you’re bound to get something a little bit special, but I mean he’s really very good. A world weary soldier who still can’t quite shake off that twinkle that the Doctor always had in his eyes. He plays so well opposite Tennant and Smith, and really is a fantastic edition to the world of Doctor Who.

As for the story itself, I rather like that, too. I remember coming out from the cinema screening of this (which I’d told myself I wouldn’t go to until about eleven pm on November 22nd, when I realised that of course I would), and wondering what happened with the whole Zygons plot. Not even a cursory line to the effect of things being resolved. And yet, watching it again today, I realise that you don’t need that line. That’s part of the point - the Zygons adventure is something the Doctor would usually be all over (and indeed is with queen Elizabeth), but not today, because before the adventure can even get started, he’s been whisked off to meet his former selves and start devising a plan to end the Time War without killing them all. As stories go, it’s a pretty perfect idea for the 50th - it’s an excuse to pick up on all these elements of the programme’s mythology, and to bring back lots of Doctors, while also taking something the show has been for the past few years and shaking it up again, setting up the next stage of its long history. Well played, Steven Moffat.

And then there’s that moment at the end - ‘you know, I really think you might…’. Oh, the chills that caused. A whole ripple of emotion across the entire cinema screening (and, if it doesn’t sound too hokey, right across the world), because of course Tom had to be in there somewhere himself. Even after all these years, he still very much is Doctor Who. I remember people being incredibly impressed because he’d never come back to the programme before (which is wrong, he came back for Dimensions in Time, too, which is surely a career highlight), but I was just impressed that they’d managed to slip such a wonderful moment in right at the very end - the final treat in this great big box of chocolates. Had this ended up being my final entry in the Diary, I think I’d have been pretty pleased with it. 

17 April 2015

Doctor Who has become part of the leaked Sony email saga, as revelations of a planned movie are leaked.

The emails, which were published by Wikileaks, show internal discussions at Sony, as well as emails from Sony to the BBC Director of Television, Danny Cohen.

Cohen claimed that the popular TV series will become a film under an eight-year plan to keep the franchise alive. But the show’s team are "very hot under the collar" because they feel "their position on it is not being listened to or accepted." They want to wait until the time is right and have made their feelings "very clear" on the matter, one Sony email reveals.

Mr Cohen claims there is "tremendous interest" in a Doctor Who film and says there has been "pressure" to make it from BBC Worldwide.

The plans for Doctor Who were put in an email sent in January last year from Andrea Wong, president of International Production for Sony, to the company’s chief executive Michael Lynton.

A Hollywood version of Doctor Who could be extremely profitable for the BBC - but risks ruining the brand if it is done badly.

The email says:

"He (Cohen) said that while there has been tremendous interest (and pressure from BBCWW) (BBC Worldwide) to do a Dr Who film, the show runners feel very clear that they don’t want to do one at this moment. 
That said, over the course of the coming months, the show running team is coming up with an 8 year timeline for the brand – laying out all that will happen with it. He says that a film will certainly be a part of that timeline. So the answer is that a film won’t happen in the next year to 18 months, but it is expected that it will happen after that within the 8 year horizon."

Lynton’s response was:

"Sounds like we need to meet with the show runners."

A follow up email from Wong reads:

"Spoke to Danny and he doesn’t think it makes sense right now and actually might hurt our cause. He said that the creative team on the show have been having the movie conversation with BBC Worldwide in recent weeks and are very hot under the collar that their position on it is not being listened to or accepted."

The tranche of emails were stolen last year by group calling itself Guardians of Peace

[Source: The Telegraph]

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