Takeover Ad
Takeover Ad

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

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

E-Mail NewsE-Mail Reviews
15 April 2015

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

Day 835: Nightmare in Silver

Dear diary,

During the promotion for Nightmare in Silver, Neil Gaiman commented;

“I thought, 'Let me see what I can do when I take the 1960s Cybermen and [incorporate] everything that's happened since'. So that's what I'm trying to do. I don't know if it will work.”

Indeed, a lot of the promotion for this episode saw both Gaiman and Steven Moffat talking about the way that this episode starts with the idea of taking the Cybermen right back to their 1960s roots, and trying to recapture some of the terror they embodied during that period. I think that, much as with the ‘Ever Dalek Ever’ claims at the start of the series, it’s simply a good line to feed to the press and get people interested in story, because I don’t think there’s much of a harking back to the 1960s in these new models at all, and even if it was the starting point, the journey has led them quite a way from there.

Where they have succeeded, though, is in making the Cybermen scary again - I think this might be the scariest they’ve ever been in the modern programme. I’ve always said that my favourite Cybermen story is the Doctor Who Magazine comic strip The Flood from 2005. For me it was (and still is, to some extents) the only story that has really captured the sheer terror in what the Cybermen are, and the way they think. Oh, I love that story. This episode, though, comes closest to making me think that there’s a completely different way of looking at these monsters - from a more technological point of view.

I can’t really describe how much I love the idea of Cybermen that can use the ‘upgrade’ catchphrase to mean - literally - upgrading themselves. The Cybermen in this story are very much presented as part of a computer system (again, I love the idea that the weaknesses to gold and cleaning fluids etc were down to flaws in the software, and that there’s still elements of that buried deep within them. It might not make a lot of sense when you really think about it, but in the moment of the story it’s an absolutely brilliant idea), and that’s a way that they’ve never really been seen before. It’s almost a pity that when they come back for the Series Eight finale, they’re not really presented in the same way (in fact, they’re little more than robot drones, there…).

And then there’s the design of the new Cybermen. I can’t deny, they do look rather a lot like Iron Man, but my word aren’t they beautiful? When the 2006 model of Cybermen were revealed, I wrote a letter to DWM being all pretentious and saying ‘I don’t know if I like them or not’. There was none of that with this design - I’ve loved it from the moment I saw it. There’s something so sleek and sexy about this particular look, and it fits so nicely with the idea that these are the most advanced Cybermen we’ve ever seen.

And they’re really unstoppable! That ability to constantly upgrade themselves to adapt to differing forms of attack makes these Cybermen a really powerful threat. I’d like to see this lot go up against the Daleks! The only problem this causes is that I worry their future appearances will see them slowly pared back in the same way the Daleks have been. I’ve already mentioned that they didn’t get a lot to do in Death in Heaven, but when the only way to defeat them in this story is to blow up an entire planet, it does make it a little trickier to actively fight them on a smaller scale…

One last thing I just wanted to mention - the children. I’ve seen so much hate directed at the idea of them being in this story over the last couple of years, but I think it rather works! Matt’s Doctor has always played well against children, and I rather like the idea of Clara getting ‘caught’ and blackmailed into a TARDIS trip (though, equally, I can imagine that if they had told their dad about it, as they threaten, he’d have told them to stop making up nonsense). It also has to be said that this particular pair of kids are written very believably - Angie in particular - which makes it all the more interesting as a sideline to the main Cyberman action.

15 April 2015

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

Day 834: The Crimson Horror

Dear diary,

This is probably the closest to producing a ‘back door pilot’ episode for another series that Doctor Who has come since Mission to the Unknown right back in 1965. For the first third of this episode, the Doctor only appears as a still image reflected in the eye of a dead man, and then even when he does show up, he spends another few minutes being not quite his usual self before he’s back to normal and able to really join the story properly, catching us up with the story you might have expected to see via a series of brief flashbacks.

Up to then, this is very much The Paternoster Gang’s story, with Vastra, Jenny, and Strax undoubtably the main stars for a good while. Indeed, it’s almost a shame once the Doctor and Clara have been revived that they return to the centre stage, leaving the Paternosters somewhat sidelined. Oh, they still have a part to play, of course, but it feels like they were only ever here to keep us busy until the Doctor showed up.

Oh, but isn't that first third proof that they would work in their own programme? I perhaps can’t imagine full 13-episode seasons like Doctor Who gets, but maybe occasional specials at Christmas, or the odd mini series from time to time, in which people present ‘The Great Detective’ with cases, and they head out across the empire to investigate. You could even have the Doctor pop in from time to time, if you really wanted. I simply can’t help but love them here, and once again it’s Strax who takes the spotlight, and keeps me laughing throughout. Watching all these episodes in close succession, you really do notice how much this is a whole different character from the one we were introduced to in A Good Man Goes to War, but it’s hard to care because he’s just so brilliant. If there’s one let down, it’s that he doesn’t get to spend any real time with the Doctor - and their scenes together in The Snowmen showed just how well the pair gel.

On the whole, I think The Crimson Horror serves as a rather good example of what any potential Paternoster spin off might be like. I’m reminded of the old anecdote about exiling the Doctor to Earth leaving Doctor Who with only ‘alien invasion’ or ‘mad scientist’ as story options, and then how Doctor Who and the Silurians comes along to prove that there are other stories to be told. This one does a similar job, picking up on threads of the Silurian mythos once more to tell a very different kind of story (albeit with traces of mad scientist involved).

Indeed, I don’t think I appreciated first time around just how ‘mad’ bits of this story are in general. It’s not often that the reveal of a story’s monster comes in the form of someone opening their top to reveal that the creature is connected to them in such a way! Diana Rigg plays the part of Mrs Gillyflower with a real relish, and it’s one of those fine performances which teeters on the brink of going too over the top, but always manages to fall on just the right side of the line, which makes it all the more fun to watch. Similarly, her daughter (both in the real world and within the episode), Rachel Stirling, turns in a fantastic performance, which helps to nicely ground some of the more ‘out there’ moments in the narrative.

Now, really, though, when will the Paternosters be getting their own show?

13 April 2015

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

Day 833: Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS

Dear diary,

I try to keep generally pretty positive in these Diary entries, and I like to think that’t by-and-large I’ve managed to do so. As a part of that, I try to be as fair and polite about everything - even when I’m not enjoying a story, I try to find the things that do stand out as being rather good, or at the very least I try to explain why I’ve not enjoyed it in the best way possible. It’s all very much that ‘if you’ve nothing nice to say, then don’t say anything at all’ mentality. To that end, I’m not going to hark on about it here, and I won’t name names, but this episode for me is home to the worst performance in the entire history of Doctor Who. Yes, even worse than the ‘ha ha ha’ kid from An Unearthly Child. It’s a performance so bad that I actively can’t take the episode seriously while said performer is on the screen, and it genuinely baffles me how the casting was made for such a prominent role in the BBC’s flagship programme.

Right then! Now that’s out of the way, there’s quite a lot to really enjoy about Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS, isn’t there? Indeed, were it not for such a poor performance in one quarter, I dare say that it would rate significantly higher with me, because it really does do exactly what it says on the tin. At the time this went out, I can remember Steven Moffat describing a viewing of The Invasion of Time as a child, and deciding that one day he’d like to ‘do that properly’, and that’s very much what he’s commissioned in here.

We get a break-neck-speed tour of some of the TARDIS rooms we’ve only heard mentioned before now (and is that the telescope from Tooth and Claw in the Doctor’s observatory? Did he sneak back to Torchwood House and do it up as a functioning piece of equipment while Queen Vicky was looking the other way?), and they really do look quite exotic. I love the idea of seeing all these little glimpses simply through the open doorways, and it somehow adds to the magic and the scale of the place to be given just little teases as opposed to full explorations.

It’s also a great way for the Doctor and Clara to really reveal themselves to each other - several episodes in this half of the season have felt with the fact that the pair don’t really trust each other (the Doctor’s been sneaking around in Clara’s past, and she’s appeared to die twice in quick succession during his recent adventures), and it’s really rather powerful to watch them snapping at each other as all the pieces fall in to place. ‘I’m more scared of you right now than anything on that TARDIS’ she tells the Doctor, and it’s fitting, because we’re seeing that dangerous version of the Doctor that Smith does so well when required. 

The only thing that doesn’t quite work for me, I’m afraid, is Clara discovering the Doctor’s name. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I have no issue with her actually finding it out, but I do have a problem with just how easy it was for her to do. Over the last few years especially, lots has been made about the fact that the Doctor’s name is some great big secret, and it’ll go on to hold such mythic status again before Smith’s era is done, and yet all Clara has to do is turn to a random page in a book that’s already laying out for her, and there it is!

I think I’d perhaps have gathered it not be his name that she discovers here (especially since her knowing it doesn’t actually play any part in their relationship hereafter), but the fact that it was the Doctor who ended the Time War. I’d have liked to see her finding out in an episode before this that the Doctor is the last of his kind, and that ‘someone’ ended the war that wiped out his race - and then she looks in this book and discovers that it’s him who pressed the button. It would help to play quite nicely into her fear of him later on in this episode, and then when she starts to remember these events during The Name of the Doctor, it could come back to haunt her, because all the Great Intelligence’s taunting about the Doctor’s blood soaked history would ring especially true for her…


12 April 2015

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

Day 832: Hide

Dear diary,

In my preview for Hide, back in 2013, I said ‘For the first half of its running time, Hide is part Ghost Stories for Christmas and part Most Haunted [and] it’s in this part of the story that the episode really sings, building up a nice amount of traditional ghost story terror, and providing plenty of opportunities to make you jump.’ I think, two years on, that I’d have to agree with this assessment of the tale; because my interest really drops once we start to get some proper answers about what’s really causing the ghost of this tale. Right up until about the point that the Doctor heads off for his whistle-stop tour through the history of this particular location, everything seems to change - the shot of Alec and Emma in the window of the house, with the ‘ghost’ stood behind them is one of the final big scares in the episode (in fact, it’s probably the most effective one), and I wish the rest of the story could have continued in that vein.
I’m not sure what it is that doesn’t work for me about the latter half, though. I mean, I like that *Doctor Who
always has some kind of ‘scientific’ explanation for things like ghosts, and actually I really like the idea that it’s a time traveller stuck in a different time line - I doubt anyone would have guessed it on first try, but it fits the facts as we’re given them. It’s just that once that has been discovered, the entire atmosphere of the story changes, and instead of moments that actually make you jump, we’re told that things are scary, and that simply doesn’t have the same effect. I vaguely recall people raving about the scenes of the Doctor alone in the woods and in a terrified state, but they simply ring false to me.

The direction seems to change as the story progresses, too. The early half of the story is directed as you’d expect - as a ghost story. Once the scientific explanations creep in it’s like it’s trying to continue the creepy visuals, but just not quite managing to pull it off.

There’s also a lot of back-and-forth between dimensions and monsters that only pop up when the plot requires them for a moment, and everything just sort of falls apart for me at that stage. On first watch, I remember making a note that the sudden realisation at the end that the Doctor’s got it all wrong and then having to run back into the other dimension felt weird, and that’s still true today - it comes across as almost ‘tacked on’ because the episode was running short. In some ways, it feels as though this one could do with an extra polish - maybe another draft or two, just to really focus in on the elements they want to play with, and make them work. The longer the episode goes on, the more it feels like attention is being split, and sight is being lost of the central ideas that work so well.

In the end, I have to appreciate this episode that little bit more simply for the storm it created when Matt Smith chose to pronounce ‘Metebilis’ differently to Jon Pertwee. For what it’s worth, I reckon Pert got it wrong…


11 April 2015

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

Day 831: Cold War

Dear diary,

I’m never quite sure about Cold War. There’s so many things that feel like they should be fantastic, but which don’t always sit that well with me. For starters, there;s the return of the Ice Warriors (well, an Ice Warrior) - lovely, and all that, but I don’t know if we were really crying out for them to come back, were we? People insist on describing them as being one of the most well-known of all the Doctor Who villains (after the Daleks and the Cybermen), but I’m not sure that to the general public at large they really mean anything. It’s just a big green lumbering creature.

Or, rather, it isn’t, in this case, because that’s the other thing I’m really not sure about; the Ice Warrior spends a lot of time out of the armour. Now, don’t get me wrong, I rather like the idea of finally getting some idea of just what’s hidden inside that big green shell, but what we get here feels… odd. I mean, I guess you could argue that the armour needs to be so big to contain a load of refrigeration equipment, but I just can’t imagine a creature as agile and powerful as the one we’re given here being content to slow itself down in such a bulky, slow suit.

I simply can’t help but feel that I’d have lapped this episode up were it just some creature they’d found out in the ice, which had managed to get aboard the submarine and was now causing this terror. Knowing that it’s an Ice Warrior just leaves me questioning things far more that I should be if I really want to engage with the story - it feels like it’s an Ice Warrior simply for the sake of having an Ice Warrior, and not because the story needs the appearance of such a creature.

That said, I can’t fault the redesign of the outer Ice Warrior shell. It’s another example of the programme taking a classic design and updating it just enough to be workable for the modern version of the programme, while still retaining everything that stands out as being so iconic about the design. I’m also somewhat impressed this time by the design of the creature’s head - whereas on first watch I wasn’t entirely sure by it.

For all that I’m complaining here, there’s still a certain amount to like about Cold War, and as I’ve said, were it not for the fact that I’m supposed to be watching an Ice Warrior, I think I’d really lap up a lot of the tension and terror we’ve got here. ‘Powerful creature gets loose in confined space’ is a staple of horror and action, and it’s well presented here. you really do feel the claustrophobia of the situation, and in the same way that something like A Town Called Mercy expanded the scope and style of the series out wider than ever before, this does a similar trick - we’ve never had a setting down quite like this before now.

The other thing that I’m rather keen on today is the way that Clara is being written - as someone who’s really not sure about all of this. She wants to impress the Doctor (as Rory points out in Series Five, that’s the most dangerous thing about the man), but isn’t sure she’s up to the job. Clara’s first meeting with the Doctor was quite unlike any of the other new series companions - he specifically sought her out when she’d done nothing to prove herself to him, and that’s weighing especially heavy on her mind today. It’s an interesting new dynamic for the Doctor/Companion relationship, and one that I think gets picked up on again over the next few episodes, and which still resonates through to the programme into the next season.


10 April 2015

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

Day 830: The Rings of Akhaten

Dear diary,

In the last few weeks, The Rings of Akhaten has been included in a bundle of episodes designed to represent the ten years that Doctor Who has been back on screens, and everywhere I’ve seen people discussing said bundle, I’ve seem them completely confused as to why this - of all episodes - was deemed suitable to include. Which I don’t quite get, because I’ve always rather liked this one! This was the first episode for which I wrote a brief spoiler-free preview for Doctor Who Online, and I was pretty positive about it there, too.

Looking back at that preview now, I’m pleased to see that I was already commenting on something which I’ve been noticing again in the programme over the last week-or-so of the Diary;

There’s something of a vibe of the Russell T. Davies era present here, with our brand new companion out on her first adventure. The story serves the same purpose as The End of the World or The Fires of Pompeii, and there are elements of both those stories echoed here, opening Clara’s eyes to the wonder of the TARDIS.

This latter half of Series Seven really does feel like it’s reverting to the RTD staple for introducing a new companion. They get the modern-day story which opens their eyes to the wider world that’s all around them. We then take a trip forward in time to explore lots of the weird and wonderful aliens that are out there, and in tomorrow’s episode we’ll venture back into history, and see how that works, too. There’s certainly a reason for doing this - it works (and they did the same thing with Amy’s introduction, too, but it’s been so long that it feels like an absolute lifetime since we last had this set-up).

This really is perhaps most like The End of the World, because we’ve got a real parade of weird and wonderful aliens, which the Doctor is fairly clued in about, while the companion is less sure. There’s some great designs in here, too, and I’m somewhat surprised that none of them have since cropped up for return appearances. It does feel like a bit of a shame that we don’t have any of the old favourites, though. Would be nice to have an Ood wandering the streets, or maybe a Slitheen. I still hold out hope they’ll turn up again one day.

Where this differs from The End of the World is that Clara doesn’t really find herself overwhelmed by the prospect of all this. Instead, the Doctor actively vanishes from the story for a little while, and we get to watch through Clara’s eyes, as she introduces herself to all of this. She makes the decision to get involved - not because the Doctor guides her to, but because it’s naturally her.

But the real highlight of this story has to be those final speeches when the Doctor and Clara put an end to the ‘God’ at the heart of the Akhaten system. Matt Smith has continued to grow and develop in this role (in my preview for this episode, I commented ‘Matt Smith continues to - impossibly - keep getting better at simply being the Doctor’), and his monologue here must surely rank as one of his finest moments. As if that wasn’t enough, Jenna Coleman then shows up and continues that skill into her own performance. She really shows you why she won the role during these moments.

I also feel the need to make a rare point of praising the soundtrack here - an area which I sadly tend to overlook when writing this Diary. The music to this episode, and again especially during those final scenes, is so beautiful and well done - it’s no wonder that they reused several cues from this one to underscore the Doctor’s regeneration several months later; there’s a really hauntingly beautiful quality to it all, and it really does pull at your emotions in just the right way…


9 April 2015

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

Day 829: The Bells of Saint John

Dear diary,

I mused the other day that the arrival of Kate Stewart in the programme was sort of the first ring of the Cloister Bell as far as The 50 Year Diary was concerned - a character being introduced to the programme who is still an active part of it now. Today’s episode brings that realisation even closer to home, because not only do we have the first appearance of the ‘prime’ Clara - who’s still the main companion in the programme at the time of writing - but The Bells of Saint John was the first ‘new’ episode of Doctor Who to air once I’d embarked on this project.

Specifically, it was broadcast on March 30th 2013, making that the first day that I watched more than one episode of the programme on the same day during the course of this marathon - watching The Bells of Saint John simply because it was brand new Doctor Who on the telly, having already watched Trap of Steel, the second episode of Galaxy 4. I gave it a 5/10. Trap of Steel, that is, not this one. (Actually, I watched three episodes that day, because I followed the broadcast of Bells with the preview tape for The Rings of Akhaten, making something of a ‘new Doctor Who double bill’ that evening). It meant it was also the first time that I realised this marathon could and would be affected by what was happening in the continuing world of the programme, and it meant a few weeks later that I spent much of my write up for The War Machines comparing that story to this one.

Why do I bring it up again here? Well, because, while I was watching this one I made a note that the story bore several similarities to The War Machines, and it was only when I mentioned that to a friend that he pointed out to me that I’d already made that connection, two years ago. To be fair, that was around Day 130, so I’ve been through a fair bit of Doctor Who since then…

Specifically, I noted that The War Machines felt like a real breath of fresh air to a programme that had started feeling increasingly stale, despite one or two recent gems, and that the fresh air is provided by new companions (Ben and Polly / Clara) being introduced in a story that’s set firmly in ‘present day’ London, utilising ‘modern’ technology that’s being controlled from the city’s newest landmark (The Post Office Tower / The Shard).

After all this time, I’m somewhat pleased to see that The Bells of Saint John can still feel like such a fresh start for the programme. As I seem to have said a lot over the last few weeks, I’ve been enjoying this era far more than I did first time around, but several of the faults that irked me in the past are still present - and this story really does feel like it’s casting off the shadow of the last few years and striding towards the anniversary with a renewed spring in its step.

I don’t know if I really appreciated before just how much the Doctor’s new purple costume helps to define the change - it’s such a different look to the tweed that matt Smith has sported up until now, and really does carve his era into two distinct phases - the ‘Pond’ Era, and the ‘Clara’ era. Everything feels new and exciting again, and that’s always the best thing that Doctor Who can be.

(I should note, I’ve not touched in the last couple of days on the return of the Great Intelligence and how it impacts the timeline for the character that I’ve been drawing up in the Diary since The Abominable Snowmen - I’m saving that for The Name of the Doctor next week…)


8 April 2015

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

Day 828: The Snowmen

Dear diary,

What a difference a year makes! Sitting down to watch this one, Christmas day 2012, was akin to some kind of religious experience. The Ponds were gone, the Doctor was about to get a whole new costume (it wouldn’t debut until the next episode, but the tweed was gone, and with it the weight of the entire era up to this point), there was a new companion about to debut, along with a new TARDIS, the return of Vastra, Jenny, and Strax, who’d been rather fun during their brief appearance eighteen months earlier… 

And as if all that excitement wasn’t enough, the episode was bloody brilliant! Haha! Oh, I mean, come on, watching this less than a week after the last Christmas special really does serve to highlight how much better this one is. Watching it today has been one of my absolute favourite parts of this entire marathon, and it easily slides into the ’10/10’ bracket.

I’ve got simply loads of notes for today’s episode, but I’m going to try and refrain from turning this entry into some kind of gushing list of everything I like about this one. Instead, I’m going to try and focus in on a few things that stand out as particularly brilliant.

First of all - the pacing of the episode. It’s another one of those stories that plays out with no real desire to rush. The Doctor, The Widow, and the Wardrobe crashes onto Christmas Day screens with an exploding spaceship and the Doctor plummeting to Earth, whereas this is an altogether more measured affair. It’s very talky, as episodes go, and despite the odd menacing snowman popping up from time-to-time to give us a bit of action, not a lot really happens in that regard until the Ice Nanny arrives on the scene. It’s never boring though. There’s no danger of my attention wandering off this Christmas, because every scene is so perfectly crafted, and it all sweeps you along with the story.

That’s likely my second point, actually - how well crafted the whole piece is. Take a scene like Clara’s first meeting with Vastra, for example, and just watch how it’s constructed. The one word test is so clever, and the exchange of information handled so well between the pair. We could have done with something like this when Dodo was introduced. That careful back-and-forth of information between characters allows the story to play out in its own way, allowing the audience to work it out as we go, as opposed to trying to shove it down our throats and explain everything as it drudges along.

All of that makes it sound a little bit dry - especially for post-Christmas Dinner - but that’s not the case at all, because Strax has been turned up to eleven, and works as simply brilliant comic relief throughout the story. Oh, I hooted along as I quoted all his lines back at the screen today. Frankly, it was all a bit pants in here at some points, but I don’t care because it was brilliant.

And then there’s the reveal of the big bad villain behind it all - and it’s only the Great bloody Intelligence! Haha! Oh, that shocked me first time around. I worked it out fairly early on while watching first time around, but then decided that I was probably wrong, and it was only there to wrong-foot us fanboys who’d be giddy at the thought of the Intelligence making a return. But then it is him! Oh, I should have guessed with a title like this, frankly, but it’s such a brilliant reveal. And voiced by Sir Ian McKellen of all people! I can bang on about the scope of the programme increasing in terms of its visuals, but when you can lure stars like this for what’s seemingly quite a small part, that’s when you know how big Doctor Who has gotten…

In case you can’t tell, I’m just rambling now. This always happens when an episode comes along that I don’t just enjoy but actively love, and The Snowmen is certainly in that top tier. I’ll stop now otherwise today’s entry will just become unbearable, but I think this has to be by far my favourite of the Christmas specials, and the perfect way to begin a big new chapter in the programme’s life.


7 April 2015

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

Day 827: The Angels Take Manhattan

Dear Diary,

I mentioned a few days ago that one of the most exciting aspects of moving to Cardiff was getting the chance to see bits of Doctor Who 'live' as filming went on. This episode was the first time I encountered the 'dark' side of all that. I'd been invited along to a local pub to meet with other fans who enjoyed seeing the filming in action. Upon arrival, I was handed a bundle of papers - about half the script for this episode. Upon wondering where they'd managed to get a hold of such a thing (several months before it was due to air), I was told that a member of the crew had left it on the seat of a car and 'not locked the door'. Suffice to say I didn't bother going back to that particular grouping again and the idea of watching filming suddenly lost its appeal pretty sharpish. I've seen a fair bit since then, but usually only when I happen to be walking past as it's happening.

Even standing there with part of the script in my hand, I can't say I was particularly enthused about this episode. I'd worried that the Weeping Angels making a return in Series Five would only serve to lessen their previous impact and had been thrilled to see how well they were handled upon their return. A third outing was simply another chance for them to lose their appeal. I wasn't even that bothered by finding out how Amy and Rory were going to be departing the TARDIS - as far as I was concerned, they were somewhere well past their optimum 'use by' date, and I was more excited to see how the new companion was going to arrive in the Doctor's life. This episode was simply the final hurdle in moving on to the new era. Watching through the Eleventh Doctor's life again for this marathon, I have to admit that I've actually enjoyed the presence of Amy and Rory far more than I have done in the past, but I still can't help but feel that the time really is right for them to go - having been teetering so closely on a great goodbye towards the end of Series Six, it doesn't matter how much I've enjoyed these final few adventures with them - they feel a bit out of place.

So how does this episode stack up? Well, on the whole I think I like it. Far from reducing the stature of the Angels, it manages to take their original concept from Blink and expand greatly upon it, really using the ideas to their full extent and making something truly creepy with it. The idea of the Angels 'setting up shop' and creating some kind of battery farm for time energy is wonderful, and it's nicely explored here (even if poor Rory has to die a few more times before he's allowed to say goodbye to the programme…)

But I really can only say that I think I like it, because I'm really not sure. For all that it's a creepy and effective use of the modern programme's most famous villains, it also doesn't feel like an awful lot actually happens. They chase after Rory for a bit, and then the Ponds are gone. Game over. That's probably me being a bit disingenuous (I'm sure you could wittle most Doctor Who stories down to make them sound that simple - 'The Doctor opens the Cybermen's tomb, and they attack…', 'The Doctor gets sent back to the creation of the Daleks. He doesn't stop them…', etc), but it really does seem to stand out with this episode for me. Perhaps because it's such a big event in this Doctor's life, and it means he can never go back and see the Ponds again, it feels as though it should somehow be more?

One last thing I wanted to touch on, because it always seems to come up in discussions of this story - the Weeping Statue of Liberty. When it first happened, I thought it was an awful idea. Largely because it was the first joke everyone made when they announced a New York-set story that featured the Angels and that seemed too obvious to actually make it into the episode. Oh, I had so many issues with it, though. The statue isn't made of stone, for a start, and there's no way that it could actually make it across the city without being seen by someone. If the Angels freeze the second living eyes fall on them, then this one wouldn't make it two feet from its plinth! Watching it back today, though, none of that actually bothers me. It's a great visual image, and I think if you're a kid then it's just the image you want to see from this story. The most famous statue in the world is actually a Weeping Angel! There's plenty of ways to justify all my concerns from before, but I'm glad to see that I don't even need them - it just goes along with the story being told.


6 April 2015

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

Day 826: The Power of Three

Dear diary,

For all that I’d been enjoying this new series, I have to admit that I didn’t really pay much attention to this episode. I was visiting family back home when it aired, and know I watched it with my grandmother, who isn’t a big fan of Doctor Who, and spent must of the episode asking me what I could possibly find to enjoy about it (after this, the next episode she watched was Deep Breath, after which she proceeded to tell me that she wasn’t overly keen on the ‘fat one’ - Strax, as best I can tell - or the ‘green one’ - Vastra, I presume - because ‘they’re a funny looking lot’). What I did see of the episode, though, I didn’t really enjoy, so once I was back home to Cardiff I didn’t have any pressing desire to catch up and see what I’d missed.

It’s meant that ever since, there’s been quite a few question marks about this one in my mind. I knew that it was about a load of little black boxes which suddenly appear one day and take a year to activate, with disastrous consequences… and that’s about it. Couldn’t tell you what the little girl in the hospital was all about, or who the cracked-face-man at the end was. Having now actually watched the episode properly… nope, still couldn’t tell you what the little girl was about (or, for that matter, why the spaceship opened up into the hospital?), but I do quite like the idea of a race from another dimension seeing humans as some great virus that spreads out across the universe. I can’t help but think that there’s more to that idea which means it’s a bit wasted on this episode.

The highlights of The Power of Three are, I think, in the guest cast. Obviously, we’ve got the return of Brian again (and once more I can’t help but wish we’d had a bit more of him. I’ll never forgive the BBC for not making ‘Brian’s Log’ a daily web series on YouTube. I’m calculating how to hire Mark Williams myself as I type), but we’ve also got the first appearance in actual, real, official Doctor Who of Kate Stewart! I’ve been trying to think all day, but I’m fairly sure it’s safe to say that this is the only example of a character first appearing in a fan-made spin off production making the leap to actual Doctor Who on the telly?

There’s something a little bit wonderful about that, and I can’t help but love Jemma Redgrave in the role. I’m so pleased that she’s gone on to become a recurring part of the programme, because I’ve really missed having some kind of consistent UNIT presence, and the character is just right for heading up this new ‘science leads’ version of the organisation. The only thing that troubles me slightly is that this is entirely not the character we had in Downtime. In fairness, I’ve not watched the follow up video (Dæmos Rising?) in which she makes her second appearance, but something does feel a bit off about suddenly picking up with her here not only a part of UNIT, but actually in charge of the UK version! Oh, I can’t complain, because I do love her, but her arrival on the scene marks the first piece being put in place for the end of this marathon for me! All the threads are drawing together now, and I’m closing in on the finishing line. Now that’s been a ‘slow invasion’ (I’m sorry. No, really, I am sorry).


5 April 2015

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

Day 825: A Town Called Mercy

Dear diary,

I seem to be saying it over and over again (which, really, translates to ‘I seem to be rediscovering over and over again’) just how much the 21st century series expands in size as the years go on. It’s been particularly noticeable of late, what with all the attention being turned over to Rose in the wake of the 10th anniversary week, but when you look at an episode like this one next to an episode like that, it’s amazing to think that such little time passed between them. The 2005 series looked massive in scale compared to the stuff that had come before it (the ‘classic’ series evolved massively over time, but it largely shared a very similar overall look, give or take the few seismic shifts you experience when moving from 1969/70 or 1979/80), but this episode, for example, is in a whole new league. Quite simply by this point in time the series really is producing a Hollywood film every week and on a budget which was - I think - actually down from 2005!

The split in Series Seven hugely benefits these opening five episodes, which feature the snowcapped mountains of the Dalek Asylum, the Wild West as depicted here, and scenes filmed in New York for the Pond’s farewell adventure. Quite simply, the programme has never had a visual style as broad as this, and I don’t think it’s really managed to achieve it again since, even though it’s continued to alter and expand its scope in different areas. It means that these Series Seven-A episodes really highlight that wonderful ability of Doctor Who to be different every week. The tone of the programme shifts hugely across this batch of episodes, and it’s almost as though the programme is returning from that big nine-month break in transmission by reminding you just how wild, and brilliant, and - frankly - sexy it can be.

For me, the location filming (actually, the overall design of this entire serial, if I’m honest - it’s telling that I often can’t tell here where location ends and studio begins) has to be the real highlight of this one. The story itself is alright, I suppose, but I can’t really claim that it’s grabbed my attention in the same way that the headline Dinosaurs on a Spaceship did. Once again, this is an excursus in creating a bit of a blockbuster, and it’s got everything I’d expect to have in a Western. I’m not by any stretch of the imagination an expert in the genre, but I’m versed enough in simple popular culture to know some of the key features (and of course the Doctor was going to end up Sheriff). Frankly, the only thing missing is a homage to The Ballard of the Last Chance Saloon

A few days before reaching this block of stories, I was pointed towards a theory online that the episodes from The Doctor, The Widow, and the Wardrobe to The Angels Take Manhattan are happening in reverse order for the Doctor, compared to the Ponds. The idea - in a nutshell - is that Amy’s letter in the Angels story, telling him to go back to her as a little girl, gives him the idea to work his way back through their time stream, and enjoy as many adventures with them as he can, knowing that he’ll not be able to see them again once they’ve reached New York. I’ve been watching with this in mind up until now, but I think I’m actually just finding it more distracting than anything. The idea sounded quite good on paper, but I’m finding lots f little things which seem to contradict it while I’m going through. Today’s episode is the only time that something seemingly more concrete crops up - there’s reference to an adventure with Henry the Eighth which won’t take place until the next episode, but I think that’s easily chalked up to them visiting that time period twice…


4 April 2015

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

Day 824: Dinosaurs on a Spaceship

Dear diary,

When this episode first aired, I recall simply thinking how much it reminded me of the Doctor Who we used to have in the Russell T Davies era. Watching again today, I’m struck by that same thought. And yet, even having just seen that era again in the last few months, I couldn’t actually put my finger on why it reminds me so much of that phase of the programme’s history. Actually, the more I think about it, the more I think that lots of episodes from across Series Seven remind me of those first few seasons, and I’m wondering if I’m alone in that? Is it the colour palette? I’d say it’s the sense of fun in the adventure, but the same could be said of episodes like The Curse of the Black Spot, and that one didn’t feel like a Davies story…

I should clarify that I think this is a good thing! As much as I’ve grown to really appreciate Steven Moffat’s take on the Doctor’s adventures throughout the course of this marathon, I can’t help but innately love the RTD-era. I think it’s because I’d only dabbled with the programme before then, those Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant episodes are what turned me into a full-on, card-carrying fan. When this one went out, fresh on the back of Asylum of the Daleks being rather good, it really felt like Doctor Who had slipped back into my groove again, and this was the series for me once more.

So what’s to like? Well, it would be easier to list the things that I’m not keen on, but let’s stick with the far more positive view of events; first and foremost it has to be the Michell and Webb robots. Oh, I love them for so many reasons. Partly because they’re great-big-live-action-men-in-costumes. When they first turned up in a shot of the trailer, I assumed that they’d have to be some kind of CGI creation simply because of the scale and the practicalities of them… but they’re not! There’s something extra special about that (and the same goes for the front half of the Triceratops being a live-action creation, too). Secondly there’s the personalities of them. Yeah, they might be great big towering-way-over-your-head robots, but they spend much of the episode throwing tantrums, and there’s something inherently funny about that. Thirdly is the fact that those personalities wind up those fans who insist on taking Doctor Who far too seriously! Oh, reading the internet posts complaining about this pair made them all the funnier.

Then you’ve got Brian. Brian may be one of my favourite things to come out of the entire tenure of the Ponds in the programme. He’s a fantastic character, and he’s so perfectly cast, too. I did wonder initially if I’d be able to get Mr Weasly out of my head while watching (as Mark Williams has become so embedded in that role in my mind), but he completely inhabits Brian in these two appearances, and I really wish we could have seen a bit more of him - it’s such a shame that he only crops up during the Pond’s final days in the series.

And then there’s the story itself. I know they were aiming for big blockbuster episodes with ‘slutty’ titles for this half of the series, but Dinosaurs on a Spaceship has to be my favourite of them - it does exactly what it says on the tin and I just know that were I eight years old and watching this, I’d be even more enthralled.

One thing I really can’t forgive, though… that awful postcard from Brian at the end. I love the idea that he sets of travelling, and I like that he seems to have adapted shop-bought postcards for use by simply taping holiday snaps of himself to them, but that one sticks out like a real sore thumb - not just because it’s not particularly well put together, but because the TARDIS is the old David Tennant model, and I simply can’t stop looking at it!


3 April 2015

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

Day 823: Asylum of the Daleks

Dear diary,

This episode seems to be at the eye of two storms that continue to rage within fandom. Firstly was the fact that Series Seven didn’t actually start until September, which means that all the talk about ‘never being more than three months away from new Doctor Who went right out the window, and we were actually treated to the longest gap between new episodes since the programme returned in 2005! Oh, the rage that caused at the time. Three years on, and I still see people complaining on the internet (just imagine) that we’re now effectively a series behind, and all because Asylum of the Daleks had the audacity to start late! From my point of view, I rather welcomed the fact that we had such a long break from the programme - If Series Six hadn’t exactly set my world alight, The Doctor, The Widow, and the Wardrobe put the nail in the coffin for my interest in ‘current’ Doctor Who. A nine-month gap was long enough for me to forget my apathy and find my love for the programme again, something which was largely helped by…

The second storm that this episode kicks up. It’s something that I suppose I can understand a little easier. It all started when Steven Moffat commented that “every version of the Daleks” would be appearing in Series Seven, and then Doctor Who Magazine did that wonderful wrap-around cover featuring all the different Dalek models. Now, as it happens, the episode does contain a fair few older versions of the Daleks, but they’re buried away in the back of shot somewhere. For a lot of the time it’s a bit of a fun ‘spot the Dalek’ game. The only time it actively bothers me is when the Doctor encounters the Daleks who’ve faced him in a series of name-checks to old Dalek serials… and all the Daleks in that area are the new ones. Surely if there’s any moment to bring in the older props, it would have been there? Even if they were consigned to the background, it was the one glaring omission that took me out of the drama.

That didn’t really matter, though, because it had done the trick. As soon as you drop the hint that there’s going to be some of the older Daleks popping up alongside the new ones, my interest is piqued. It instantly sounds interesting. And then they went and released a photo of Matt Smith and Karen Gillan with an Evil of the Daleks Emperor Guard Dalek (on April Fools Day, of all times!) and my interest in the programme is instantly rekindled. There’s just something so appealing about the idea!

Right from the off, this episode feels so much better than Series Six did to me first time round. It’s fresh, and new. It’s as visually different to Series Six as that one was to Series Five. There’s a shot of adrenalin. The Daleks are opening a series for the first time in almost a quarter of a century. There’s lots of them, and there’s plenty of other stuff to like, too, because…

People who were viewers in the old days, when the ‘classic’ series was first broadcast, often bang on about how great the surprise at the end of Earthshock Part One was, when we find out that the controllers of the androids are none other than the Cybermen. It’s largely impossible to get that kind of shock and awe these days because things get leaked out in advance (intentionally or otherwise), and the whole medium of television operates differently. I’ve spoken before about how great it was to see the return of the Master in Series Three because although there’d been hints and rumours, I wasn’t ever certain that it was going to happen until just before it did. Well, Asylum of the Daleks is my Earthshock Part One. Jenna Coleman had been announced as the new companion months ago. I think by this point there’d even been plenty of pictures flying around of her filming her episodes. And yet here she is! Months before I was expecting her, and without the tiniest hint (that reached me, anyway) that she might be appearing. Oh it was exciting. This episode gains a whole point extra simply because that’s still one of the best moments I’ve ever had watching Doctor Who. The sheer surprise, and bafflement. Oh, Moffat, you’re a clever one.

For all my raving here, I can’t say that Asylum of the Daleks is perfect, and there’s one thing at the heart of it which really lets the episode down - the relationship between the Ponds. They’re getting a divorce, we’re told. It transpires that it’s because Amy is no longer able to have a child, and while neither of them wants to split up, they both think that the other would. In all honesty, it’s a great bit of drama, and it’s packed with a lot of the stuff I wanted to see in the latter half of Series Six - the aftermath of the events at Demon’s Run, and the way that it affects these two normal people in their day-to-day lives. But the whole thing rings extremely hollow - it seems to come from nowhere (The 5-mini-episode Pond Life in theory sets it up, but even there it comes from absolutely nowhere in the final minute or so without the tiniest hint of build up), and it’s resolved pretty easily as soon as its served its purpose in the plot. It feels like an incredible waste of what should be some great drama for the characters, and it’s a pity - by far the weakest part of the story.


2 April 2015

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

Day 822: The Doctor, The Widow, and the Wardrobe

Dear Diary,

Although I’ve never been one for actively seeking out spoilers, there always used to be a little pang of excitement when a photo from filming crossed my path. Oh, it opened up a whole world of possibilities! What was that? And who was she? And why did they have that prop, or that bit of costume? I used to enjoy musing on all the different explanations, and then discovering that I was completely wrong by the time the episode actually made it to the screen. I think the fun in that has been entirely sucked out of the filming, these days, by a number of people who seem to think it’s their mission to gather as much information as possible, and share it far and wide for some kind of status, but that’s a gripe for another time and another place.

But that excitement meant that when I moved to Wales, one of the first things I was desperate to do was to go and see Doctor Who being made. How brilliant must that be? Only problem was that they weren’t filming at that point, because it was between seasons, and the schedule being shifted around meant that they wouldn’t be out and about for a while yet. I carried on, took a job designing people’s kitchens, and put Doctor Who on the back burner. And then the call came. one day, just as I was leaving off work, I had a message to say that Who was setting up for filming just round the corner, and that Matt Smith was due to be there. Oh, I ran to the location, and watched for a few hours as a seemingly drunk Doctor was helped back towards a police box which wasn’t his TARDIS. I’ve seen a few more bits of filming since then (though, it has to be said that the novelty has largely worn off now I’ve been here a few years. I wandered past filming for Deep Breath twice on my walk to Tesco last spring and didn’t pause for more than a cursory glance on either occasion), but this particular night was special, because I’d never been so close to the people making actual brand new episodes of Doctor Who.

Oh, it was a long few months to Christmas, but we settled down to watch this episode (my first Christmas away from home and my own family, spending it instead with my then-partner’s parents), filled with a huge sense of excitement… and was instead presented with this episode. Dear lord, it was just a horrible, horrible hour. I’ve barely cast this one a second thought since transmission (indeed, when I saw a clip of it recently as part of a montage, I couldn’t place what on Earth it was from until it was pointed out to me), and so I’ve not exactly been relishing the thought of watching it for this marathon. As I seem to have said a lot during Series Six, though, I’ve been re-evaluating my previous opinions on lots of stories, and this one perhaps isn’t immune to a bit of a change…

…On the other hand, perhaps it is. Oh, I tried, readers! I promise you I did. I went for my usual trick, there, of writing the opening to this entry while the blu-ray loaded up, and had it safe in my head that I’d be able to come back to this one and say how I’d been filled with festive spirit by how marvellous the episode was, and how I’d been a fool all those years ago to not enjoy such a masterpiece of Doctor Who. But no, sorry. For a pretty large chunk, I completely zoned out and wasn’t even paying attention. I could see the episode playing out on the screen, and I could even sort of hear it, but my mind was somewhere else entirely. When I came round, the mum was flying the Crystal Maze through the Time Vortex. Or something.

For the first time in almost two-and-a-half years of writing The 50 Year Diary, I turned off after the episode, and thought clearly ‘that’s a 1/10’. I’ve had emails complaining about the fact that I’ve never given a 1/10! I sat down, prepared for it and… well, I simply couldn’t do it! Yes, I’ve disliked this one. No, I doubt I’ll be attempting to watch it again at any point in the next decade. And yet… it’s still Doctor Who, and is Doctor Who ever a 1/10 programme? Really?

For all that I’ve not enjoyed the story on the whole, and actively stopped bothering to watch for a while, there’s still things in my nots that I have enjoyed! Some great lines for the Doctor about the door developing faults, and the Doctor not being who they were expecting. Some amusing asides from the crew harvesting the trees. The frankly gorgeous shot of the TARDIS stood in the attic, which might be one of the nicest frames of Doctor Who ever…

So there we have it. I’d quite happily continue to say that The Doctor, The Widow, and the Wardrobe is my least favourite episode of Doctor Who. I don’t plan to give it a whirl again if I can avoid it. And yet, still, Doctor Who always has something to redeem it. With that in mind…


1 April 2015

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

Day 821: The Wedding of River Song

Dear diary,

The Wedding of River Song is quite a bit like Let’s Kill Hitler, in that you sort of get to the end and wonder what you’ve just been watching. As episodes go, this one has something of a difficult job, really, trying to tie up strands of story that have been running for the whole season (and one or two that have been dangling a little longer than that), and to do so in 45 minutes, as opposed to the usual 90-minutes that finales have had since 2005. Does it manage it? Um…

Well, let’s start with the positives. Even if I did come away from this one with a bit of a sense of not knowing what was really happening, I can’t say that I’ve not actually enjoyed it. There’s an awful lot of great imagery in this one, from the way that the ‘all of time happening at once’ scenes are presented (I’d forgotten about the return of Simon Callow as Charles Dickens - there’s something especially magical about that!), to the Silence breaking down the doors of a pyramid and launching an attack. There’s a lot of great lines in here, too, and more than many episodes of late, I found myself quoting along as I watched, which is usually a good sign.

As for wrapping everything up, though… I’m on record a few times over the last fortnight as not really caring for the Series Six arcs. They simply don’t work for me as well as I’d like them to, and while I can bleat on about the split in the series causing problems, or the way that characters react from story to story, or the format of a one-part closing episode, the simple fact is that everything has fallen apart a bit this year. The show looks beautiful - perhaps more so than at any point before now - but the substance is lacking something. At the time I recall wondering if Steven Moffat was struggling with the workload and musing that it could be part of the reason for splitting the run, and watching it again now it’s hard to wonder all that again; there’s certainly something not working.

On the upside, though, I’ve enjoyed this run of episodes far more than I was expecting to, and a whole lot more than I did at the time. Again, I’ve said a lot of late about how much I didn’t enjoy the programme in 2011, but there’s been a lot of merit in this series, and I’m glad to have taken the time to re-evaluate it. Perfect? No, but it’s a hell of a lot better than expected. If we don’t count A Christmas Carol (as it was made separately and isn’t really a part of this run, then Series Six has averaged 6.38/10 across the run - and that’s way more than I’d have guessed a month back! It does make this my lowest-rated season of the ‘revived’ Doctor Who yet, but only by a whisker - Series Two skirts ahead with 6.76/10 - but it’s not a million miles behind the front-runner which is (much to my own surprise, if I’m honest) Series Three with 7.53/10!

Next question, though… will this general feeling of goodwill be enough to save me from an episode that I’d risk calling my least favourite ever, and which I’ll be reaching tomorrow?


E-Mail NewsE-Mail Reviews
RSS Feed
News Key
News Home
The New Series
The Classic Series
Blog Entries
Reviews Key
Reviews Home
Books / Magazines
DVD / Blu-ray
Toys / Other
TV Episodes
Retro Tees