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24 September 2015

Despite the new series of Doctor Who only airing last week, there is already much online speculation about the new companion the Doctor will have with him in the 10th series after news that Jenna Coleman is due to depart mid series to star in a new ITV period drama about Queen Victoria. Let’s have a quick look at who could be accompanying the Doctor on his travels next series:

Having checked Betway’s special section, you can see that currently favourite to take up this role is Maisie Williams. Maisie has already found worldwide fame as Ayra Stark in HBO’s Game of Thrones Series, this article on BBC America shows Maisie on set and confirms her appearance in the show, but doesn’t give away any details about what role she may be playing?

Faye Marsey was a popular hit in the 2014 Christmas Special as Shona, Marsey was quoted in a recent interview as saying she would love to return to Doctor Who: "And Peter Capaldi I totally fancy. I would snog his face." However, we cannot find anything other than this interview to suggest that she is returning to the show 

Eleanor Tomlinson is another popular choice to return to the show. She took up the role of Eve in episodes 1 and 2 of the 2009 Dr Who series. Tomlinson is a popular favourite according to the odds given on this option but I can’t find any interviews or news articles to suggest that she is returning either. Since the popularity of the BBC series Poldark in which she stars, this has been commissioned for a second series which will probably see Tomlinson quite busy for the foreseeable future however, that doesn’t mean we can rule this possibility out entirely. This article by OK magazine looks at the current odds being offered by another website and looks at Tomlinson’s odds, against one of the current favourites Michelle Keegan. Keegan has been tipped by bookies as the favourite after the 1st episode of the new series failed to make quite the impression that other series have had. It is suggested that producers have signed Keegan up to the show to boost the sci-fi drama and give it a new lease of life following the disappointing start. It has even been suggested that producers are worried that Peter Capaldi will jump ship after Jenna Coleman’s announcement to leave however, Capaldi has spoken out in the press about his love of Doctor Who, as a child he was so enthusiastic about running the Doctorr Who fan club that the production staff wanted to “exterminate him” as he wanted was pushing them to become more involved with the fans and offer in-depth explanations to diehard fans regarding the shows content, while the production staff had pushed this back to the fan club so they could get on with making the show. Considering this I don’t think that one person’s decision to leave will affect Capaldi’s work within the show. 

You can keep checking the latest odds for the Doctor’s new Companion or keep checking back here for all the latest Doctor Who news.

[Source: Superserp]

2 May 2015

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

Day 852: Final Overview

Dear diary,

”There are two things in life that I'm very bad at (look at that, I'm just thirteen words in, and I've already lied. Truth be told, there's lots of things in life I'm very bad at. Like trying to make flapjacks, or successfully remove an intruding spider from my flat. There's two things I'm very bad at, though, which are vital to this entry); keeping a diary and completing a Doctor Who marathon.”

That’s how I opened my very first post of The 50 Year Diary on December 15th 2012 - just an introductory post to establish the fact that the Diary would be tasking up residence on the pages of this here website from the new year. Deciding to take on this project was a huge task right at the beginning, and especially since I know what my attention span is like. I’m interested in something for a few months at most and then my attention wanders off to something else and I never give the original topic a second thought. Frankly, the only reason that Doctor Who itself has managed to remain on my radar for this long is because there’s so much of the thing that there’s always something else I can go and look at if one part of it is starting to bore me.

But the decision to set up residence on the pages of Doctor Who Online and pen a daily diary, watching every episode in order right from the start… well, yeah, that was a big commitment. And I dived into it with barely a second thought. Had I stopped to think8 about it for longer, I’d probably never have gone through with it. There would simply be too many reasons *not to do it. Instead, when the option came up, so close to the start of a new year - Doctor Who’s 50th anniversary year - I simply grabbed it and ran.

And if I’m honest, I’m frankly stunned that I’ve made it this far. I genuinely used to wonder at what point I’d give it up. In my head, I used to try and work out what the best ‘exit’ points would be. Maybe I could do to the end of Seres One, then stop? Or just the First Doctor? Just the 1960s? I’d have to end it at a suitable point to avoid people simply pointing out that I’d failed in my mission. Obviously, I still would have failed, but had there been a nice clean break, I might have gotten away with it a little easier. In all honestly, it wasn’t until somewhere around the middle of Tom Baker’s run that I realised I’d gone too far - it was all or nothing, and there was no way I’d not go to the very end.

Which brings us to where we are today! 852 bloody entries, all of them talking about Doctor Who! Actually, slightly more than 852, because I did the two Dalek films and bits of spin-off programming for the collected volumes of the Diary. I really don’t know how I’ve managed to find this much to talk about. there are several days - lots of them! - where I read back my entry and wonder how it’s possibly of interest to anyone but me, but there’s you lot! I don’t know how many of you have been reading along since the very beginning and how many have joined along the way, but thank you very much for doing so. It’s always lovely to get comments and encouragement, and knowing that people are actually reading these posts has been reason enough to carry on! Not that all the messages have been so pleasant - I particularly liked the email we received when I dared to suggest that I didn’t really care for The Evil of the Daleks, and it was rather strongly suggested that I should be replaced by someone ‘who actually knows something about Doctor Who’. Ho hum. I’ve got that email printed out and near the computer - I look at it and smile every time my opinion on an episode doesn’t match up with the norm!

So, for this final entry, I’m just going to go back over each Doctor and give you a few facts and figures. How did their era rate on average? What was their highest-rated tale? How do I feel about them in retrospect? That sort of thing…

Starting, as is traditional, with The First Doctor… I only have one regret with the ratings I’ve given episodes throughout the course of this marathon, ad it;s the score I gave the very first episode - An Unearthly Child. I was being cautious, you see. As this project has gone on, I’ve reached a point where I don’t really have to even think8 about the scores I’m giving - I reach the end of an episode and simply *know that it’s an ‘[x]/10’, based on the scores I’ve given all the other episodes. But I didn’t want to peak too early. I’ve always hated the way that lots of ratings seem to win between ’10/10, that was brilliant’ to ‘1/10, that was awful’, with very little grey area in between. Starting with a ’10/10’ simply felt wrong, so I played it safe. 

Oh, but of course that first episode is a 10/10! I think I even knew that at the time, deep down (well, probably not even that deep…). I’d like to go back and give that one an honorary ’10’, simply because you really couldn’t ask for a better first episode to this programme - still as effective almost 52 years on as it was first time around.

Across his run of episodes - including the one-part Mission to the Unknown, in which the Doctor doesn’t appear but is credited, but excluding the audio of Farewell, Great Macedon, as it was something of an early side-step for the project - the First Doctor averaged a score of 6.57/10. The story I rated the highest from this period was The War Machines, which scored a solid 8/10 for each episode.

Looking back on these first three-or-so years of Doctor Who now… Oh, I love them. There’s an inventiveness to the William Hartnell era that I don’t think the programme has ever quite recaptured since. The facilities and budget simply aren’t there for them to achieve everything they might want to, but they still dare to at least try stories like The Web Planet, or to stage an entire Dalek Invasion of Earth from a pokey London studio. These episodes may not rate the highest overall - though this period achieved very few low scores; only two 3/10’s and a handful of 4/10’s for the entire era - but it still sits quite fondly in my memory as one of the best.

Which brings us on to The Second Doctor! Before starting out on this project, I’d always confidently claimed that Patrick Troughton was my favourite Doctor, and that The Tomb of the Cybermen was my favourite story, and I’l admit that I was a little worried that taking on this marathon might challenge that view. If anything, it’s actively strengthened the point, because I simply fell in love with this little cosmic hobo all over again.

Something that did surprise me was just how much I loved the run of stories in Troughton’s first series. Because such a chunk of that period is lost, it’s one I was far less familiar with than some of the later stories. But there’s some real gems in there, including The Macra Terror, which was the first story to receive a glowing 10/10 score (for Episode Two).

The Tomb of the Cybermen still comes in top, with an average of 8.75/10 across the four episodes. It makes it not only my highest-rated story from the Troughton period, but also the top story of the entire ’classic’ era (I’m looking at the 21st century stuff a little differently, as I’ll explain when I get there). Now, I’ll be fair an admit that the score was probably just helped by the good vibrations I get from watching this story - I’ve thought of it so long as my favourite that I simply can’t help but to enjoy it… but that’s surely the whole point of a favourite story!

What was nice about doing this marathon at this point in time is that there’s been more Troughton episodes available to watch than ever before - and by quite a margin, too! The Underwater Menace Episode Two was provided to me early on to enjoy in context, and while The Enemy of the World and The Web of Fear weren’t viable to watch at the right point in time, as we’d hoped, I dipped back to them a few months later, because the alternative would have been waiting until now to see them, and frankly that just wasn’t an option. Being able to see the episodes was great (and both of them improved their average score by a small degree - it’s their second average I’m using today to calculate overall averages), but I wonder if some of that excitement simply came from the fact that I was watching two long-thought-lost stories. It’ll be interesting to see how they hold up the next time I see them - will they still be as good as I think here, or will the novelty have worn off a little, leaving them as just ‘some other Doctor Who stories’… 

Their success this time around, though, coupled with the high score of The Tomb of the Cybermen propelled Season Five into the top spot for the 1960s, averaging a score of 7.23/10 - the only black-and-white season to break a 7/10 average. I’d been worried about this particular run of stories because it was lots of six-parters in a row, and so many of the episodes were missing, I really thought it could be the point where I’d crash and burn, so it’s heartening to see that I enjoyed it all the more in the end.

Overall, the Second Doctor averages 6.90/10 across all this episodes, a healthy figure, especially when considering that two of Troughton’s stories - The Highlanders and The Dominators - sit way down towards the bottom of the list, both with an average of 4/10.

If Troughton had always been my favourite Doctor, then his successor, Jon Pertwee as The Third Doctor had always been my least favourite. It’s not that I completely silkier him, but I’d just never connected with his era in the same way I had with all the others - despite him being the first ‘classic’ Doctor I ever saw, when picking up a copy of Invasion of the Dinosaurs from the library.

What I actually found is that this run of stories is consistently strong, and it helped to contribute to an average score of 6.63/10 over the five seasons. I think that the Third Doctor was helped by such a strong first series, which helped to put my doubts about this period to rest before moving on to view the rest of it - Spearhead From Space being available to watch restored to high definition on blu ray was the perfect way to kick-start the era and catch my attention, and it came out as the top-rated story for this Doctor, with an 8/10 average.

The era then continues to be of a fairly consistent quality from then on - it never quite breaks into a 10/10 in the way that several Troughton episodes had done (though it scored several 9’s across the run), but equally, it doesn’t get as many lower scores, either, with only The Curse of Peladon rating below a 5/10 average.

Pertwee’s era is particularly notable for it’s run of high-quality opening episodes - fourteen (out of a possible twenty four) of them score an 8/10, and there’s a run from The Three Doctors to Death to the Daleks which consistently scores an 8/10 for the first episode - the longest run of this type across the entire marathon. That winning streak is only broken by The Monster of Peladon scoring a 7/10 for Part One, before we’re greeted by another three with such strong starts, which moves us past the regeneration and into the era of…

The Fourth Doctor! Oh, everyone talks about Tom Baker as the ‘definitive’ Doctor (or, at least, they did until David Tennant came along to steal the crown). As soon as I took my first steps into fandom, I was told that the Fourth Doctor was by far the best. That was just an established fact, and you weren’t to argue the point. Within that ‘fact’, the Hinchcliffe era of Seasons Twelve, Thirteen, and Fourteen, were by far the peak of not just this Doctor, but of Doctor Who as a whole. I love to be a bit country and simply say what I think, even if it doesn’t subscribe to the accepted opinion of an era, so I was all ready to point out that the Hinchcliffe run is merely alright

But then it was actually pretty darn good! On average, the episodes produced by Philip Hinchcliffe rate 7.06/10, which for the ‘classic’ series places him behind only Derek Sherwin (who’s helped by only producing two stories, one of which features three 10/10 episodes), and in the gran scheme of things places him third, just 0.01 point behind the Russell T Davies run. Sadly, this means that Tom Baker is on a generally downward trajectory from the off, with the Graham Williams run of Seasons Fifteen, Sixteen, and Seventeen (including Shada), averaging a significantly lower 6.33/10, and Season Eighteen, under the eye of John Nathan-Turner only coming in with 6.14/10.

The highest rated story of the Fourth Doctor’s mammoth run is The Face of Evil, which comes away with an average score of 8.25/10, while over all, the Fourth Doctor rates 6.60/10, dipping him just slightly behind the Third Doctor. It’s undeniable that Tom Baker is brilliant in the role, and he’s often a joy to watch (for many different reasons - his closing around in the likes of City of Death is just as engaging as his anger and fury in Planet of Evil), but the latter half of his run really does suffer with some below-par episodes, and the lack of money being given to the programme at that point becomes cripplingly obvious in places. Wheres the Hartnell era managed to take its meagre budget and make the most of it, by putting the cash on screen, some parts of this era… um… doesn’t. In the end, I think it’s fair to say that Baker simply remained in the part for too long, and it’s telling that there’s a real breath of fresh air when the new chap comes in.

The first season to feature The Fifth Doctor, Season Nineteen, really is a shot in the arm, jumping up to an average of 6.69/10, and featuring the Fifth Doctor’s highest rated story - Kinda, with an average of 8.50/10. On top of this, the season also features the 8/10 Earthshock, which would have been a high enough score to win outright in other eras.

And Earthshock isn’t the last Fifth Doctor tale to score so highly - The Five Doctors and Frontios both also tip the scales at 8/10 on average, with The Caves of Androzani not falling too far behind, with a 7.75/10 average. On the whole, there was a lot about the Fifth Doctor’s era that simply chimed with me, and the presence of so many great stories really did help.

In the end, though, Peter Davison’s Doctor comes away with an average of 6.65/10 - only just scraping above Tom Baker and Peter Davison’s score by the tiniest of margins. He’s hampered by a weak second season, in which only two stories manage to hold a higher average than 6.25/10, and despite Season Twenty-One having a slew of better tales, it’s simply too late to make any real difference. Peter Davison has often said of his time on the show that if the stories of his third year had been the stories of his second, then he’d have stayed longer, and it’s really not hard to see what he means.

Ah, The Sixth Doctor. Doctor Who’s problem child. If it was made clear to me early on that everyone loved Tom Baker and considered him to be the best Doctor, then it was made equally clear that Colin Baker held the exact opposite position in fandom’s heart. And yet, I’d always enjoyed the Sixth Doctor - I’d seen all of his stories at least once before taking part in this project, and I’d always enjoyed them well enough.

This time around, however… well, no, I’ll be fair. the majority of the Sixth Doctor’s run is rather good. Not outstanding (no episode scores higher than an 8/10), but fairly solid, and at least on par with large chunks of his predecessors. The problem for me came in the form of both Attack of the Cybermen and Timelash, two stories which are consigned to languish right down in the bottom five of the list. They each averaged just 2.5/10, and were the first time I really appreciated just how bad Doctor Who can be when all the elements fall into just the wrong place. 

Colin Baker himself though is electrifying from the word go, and every bit the Doctor as any of the others. It’s a crushing shame that we didn’t get to see more of him, because in the right production atmosphere, I think he’d easily be considered equal to Tom in the popularity stakes. With a bit more creative force working behind the scenes, this period could have really shone. As it is, Colin’s Doctor rates only a 5.77/10 average, making him the lowest rated in this marathon, sadly, and the only incarnation to sink below a 6/10 average. His highest rated story - The Mark of the Rani - is a crowning jewel in his lacklustre first season, and while things do pull back together again for The Trial of a Time Lord season, it’s not enough to save him from the bottom of the pile. A real shame, and very undeserved for a man who not only turned in a flawless performance during his time on the programme, but has continued to be one of the greatest ambassadors for the show in the thirty years since. 

It’s perhaps for the best, though, that they didn’t give Colin Baker just one more season to prove himself in, though, because The Seventh Doctor’s debut run in Season Twenty-Four rates as the weakest season on average across the entire project, coming in with a measly score of just 4.93/10. I was so sure that I’d be a champion for these our stories. They were so often blasted as being terrible, and I was in a position to be a real spokesperson for the quality in each of them… but oh dear.

It’s not that they’re terrible - there’s lots of great ideas and concepts in there - but something seems to have just gone wrong with this season. It’s as though every department has been handed a directive from above that Doctor Who is a children’s programme, and that it needs to be treated as such. It’s very strange, and a real shift in direction for the show - probably the biggest change since the switch between Seasons Seventeen and Eighteen. After all the behind-the-scenes troubles of the Sixth Doctor era, it’s almost as though the team behind the programme simply don’t know what to do with it any more, and you can’t really feel John Nathan-Turner’s hand in this as well as you can elsewhere.

But it’s not the be-all and end-all, because this new creative team really pull themselves together for Season Twenty-Five, which shifts up a massive amount to an average across the run of 6.93/10! It’s here that you can feel Andrew Cartmel starting to take hold of the programme, and reinvigorating the entire thing. It’s Doctor Who starting to find its voice again, and that transformation only continues on into Season Twenty Six, which sits a million miles away from the low points at the start of this era - becoming my highest rated season of the entire marathon with an average score of 7.57/10! There’s something really rather marvellous about the fact that a single era can manage to straddle both ends of the scale like this, and it makes it even more of a crushing blow when the programme comes to an end at this point, with the final story - Survival - taking to top-rated spot for this era, with an average of 8/33/10. 

As the programme’s longest-serving producer, John Nathan-Turner comes in for a lot of flack. It’s fair to say that he didn’t always manage to make the best decisions for the show, but he held it together through a decade which would have, I suspect, always seen the end of the run. Overall, his time in charge of the show averages 6.36/10, which places him in around the same ballpark as many of the other producers across the programme’s lifetime - and he certainly did a lot more good for the show than he did bad.

It’s all change as we reach The Eighth Doctor, and it becomes a little trickier to compare story-to-story across eras. You’ll have noticed that there’s no great big list of how things stack up against each other with this post - and that’s because there’s no really fair way of doing it. I chose to give each episode an individual score out of ten, so that the ‘average’ score is a truer representation of the way I felt while watching. That way, the fantastic first episode of The Space Museum, for example, isn’t tarnished by the awful three episodes that follow it, but rather balanced fairly against them. That’s fine for the ‘classic’ series where all but two stories contain multiple episodes to balance, but when you reach the TV Movie and forward into the 21st century run, there’s so many ‘one-off’ stories that it becomes trickier to offset them against their predecessors.

Paul McGann’s Doctor is the perfect example of this - his Doctor average is 9/10, which places him way out ahead of all the other incarnations, but only because that’s being based on this one single episode! It skews the data a little bit, but we can at least still see how the Doctors stack up roughly from here-on out (and, in fairness, it’s really comparing the episodes that causes trouble - trying to compare the Doctors is only hampered by the one-off nature of McGann, and arguably John Hurt…

The Ninth Doctor heralds the start of the modern era of 8Doctor Who* - the first set of episodes that I’d watched on original transmission and had followed right the way through to the present day. I was looking just as forward to this version of the programme as I had been any part of the ‘classic’ run, because though I’d seen all these episodes before, many I’d not watched since their original transmission, so it was still like coming to them new in many ways.

Whereas Colin Baker’s short run had shown how so few episodes could lead to a lower score because there simply wasn’t long enough for the right episodes to come along, Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor shows that the opposite can also be true. His thirteen episodes average 7.31/10, and he’s the only Doctor to have two stories occupying the spot of ‘highest-rated’, with both Dalek and Boom Town sitting happily in a ‘9/10’ slot. The rest of his run holds fairly decent scores, with only The Long Game really letting the side down with a 5/10.

But in the blink of an eye, our fantastic northern Doctor was gone and replaced with The Tenth Doctor, who manages to become an icon for the programme to a whole new generation. David Tennant’s run isn’t a million miles away in trajectory from Sylvester McCoy’s - although he doesn’t start from such a low position, the seasons do tend to get better as they go along - with Series Two averaging 6.79/10, Series Three climbing up to 7.07/10, and Series Four soaring to 7.43/10 - far and away the highest scoring series of the 21st century. The Tenth Doctor’s final fun of specials drops way down to a 6.20/10 average (if added onto Series Four, as they were listed as such in production terms, the average for that season drops back to 7.11/10, putting the run second to Eccleston’s series), leaving the Tenth Doctor to bow out in a somewhat muted way.

The highest rated story of the David Tennant years is The Unicorn and the Wasp, coming in with one of only two 10/10 scores this side of Kinda. The Tenth Doctor on the whole rates a solid 7/10, and Russell T Davies as the architect of the modern era comes in with a respectable average of 7.07/10.

Things take a bit of a dip again for me as we reach The Eleventh Doctor era. On first transmission, I found that I simply didn’t enjoy this period of the programme. I’d tune in each week and find occasional gems, but overall I simply wasn’t fond. This time around, I think things have fared a little better - and getting to watch the era back-to-back over a couple of months like this has really made some of the links between stories stand out all the stronger. None of the Eleventh Doctor seasons manage to break past 7/10 on average (the highest is Series Seven with a score of 6.87/10), and the Eleventh Doctor rates slightly lower than his immediate predecessors, with an average of 6.80/10.

The Snowmen comes in as Matt Smith’s strongest story, with a perfect 10/10 score, while at the other end of the spectrum, both the previous Christmas special, The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe, and Series Six’s Night Terrors sit at the very bottom of my list, with a score of just 2/10 each.

And finally onto The Twelfth Doctor’s run. When this set of episodes first went out last year, I loved them. Was completely blown away by them. It felt like a real shot in the arm after a few years of not enjoying the programme as much as I’d like. On this second run through, I’ve found my opinions cooling a lot towards them, to the point that the entire 2014 run (up to and including Last Christmas) has only averaged 6.77/10, which places it in more-or-less the same ball park as any of the Eleventh Doctor’s seasons, although lower than both Series Five and Seven. I’ve explained some of my reasoning behind that in yesterday’s entry, but I’m hoping that as the era is still young, I can find a little more to love as I go along. 

Equally, it may simply be that these episodes have suffered by being the last ones. After two-and-a-half years of doing an episode every day, being this close to the end of the line has probably contributed towards the feeling of Series Eight being a bit of a slow to watch again - hopefully that feeling will abate when I see any of these stories again in due corse. Besides, it’s not all bad news, with the era’s highest-rater, Robots of Sherwood, scoring a healthy 9/10.


And so… that’s that, I suppose! Over the last two-and-a-bit years, I’ve often wondered how I’d feel about Doctor Who once I was done. Having sat through it all, would I find myself horrified by the thought of ever watching another one? Tipping my entire DVD collection into a big skip? Sick at the sign of a Dalek?

Well, I’m pleased to say that, no, none of those things have occurred. If anything, watching the programme in this way has given me a renewed respect for Doctor Who, and I can appreciate even more just how brilliant this programme is, for having watched it unfold in order. If anything, I have to admit, I’m keen to do it all over again, right from the very beginning. I’m probably going to give it a little while before doing so (I’m actually on holiday back home at the moment, and it’s going to be nice to enjoy the next week away without having to tune in to the TARDIS for a change!), but I reckon before this year is out, I’ll be back on the pilgrimage!

So finally, I just want to issue a few thanks. Thank you, of course, to Sebastian J. Brook, editor of Doctor Who Online, for handing over his website to me for two years to fill with all my ramblings and nonsense. Thank you to Nick Mellish for listening to me whine on about all these episodes as they come and go, and acting as a sounding board when I can’t figure out what on Earth to write about. And thank you to you lot, for following along with me on this journey, and keeping my interest there in the project. It really does make a difference when you know people are taking part!


If by any miracle you’re still interested in me wittering on, you can find me over on Twitter, where I tend to post just as much nonsense as I have in this Diary, as well as snippets of artwork and projects that I’m working on. And if you’re eager for more of the Diary, you can find it all collected together in book form - both in physical format and on Kindle (UK/US). There’s occasional extra entries in the books, and on several posts I’ve gone back and re-written the bits that simply don’t make sense.

1 May 2015

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

Day 851: Last Christmas

Dear diary,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

30 April 2015

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

Day 850: Death in Heaven

Dear diary,

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

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

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

29 April 2015

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

Day 849: Dark Water

Dear diary,

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

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

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


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


Then why are you helping me?


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

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

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

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

28 April 2015

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

Day 848: In the Forest of the Night

Dear diary,

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

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

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

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

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

27 April 2015

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

Day 847: Flatline

Dear diary,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

26 April 2015

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

Day 846: Mummy on the Orient Express

Dear diary,

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

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

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

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

25 April 2015

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

Day 845: Kill the Moon

Dear diary,

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

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

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

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

24 April 2015

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

Day 844: The Caretaker

Dear diary,

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

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

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

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

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


23 April 2015

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.

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… 

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… 

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