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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.

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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… 

18 April 2015

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

Day 838: The Time of the Doctor

Dear diary,

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

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

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

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

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

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

17 April 2015

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

Day 837: The Day of the Doctor

Dear diary,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

16 April 2015

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

Day 836: The Name of the Doctor

Dear diary,

In the run up to The Name of the Doctor, Doctor Who Online was sent a list of stories from which clips would be taken for use in this episode. The likes of Dragonfire, Arc of Infinity, and The Invasion of Time… well, the list was obviously a fake, because despite the relative merits of those stories, if this was to be some kind of ‘classic’ Doctor Who love in, then those wouldn’t be the episodes they chose to represent each of those Doctors! But, as you’ll obviously know, they are the episodes from which clips are taken! Among others, of course, but they’re some of the most prominent ones. Oh, it somehow makes it even more brilliant that these lesser-loved bits of Doctor Who’s past have resurfaced for the 50th anniversary. Can you imagine watching that Dragonfire cliffhanger in 1987 - head in your hands - and thinking that during the celebration’s for the programme’s golden anniversary, almost eight million people would be watching it on prime time BBC One?! Hah!

Oh, but how exciting is this? In many ways, this is the Steven Moffat equivalent of Journey’s End; the current Doctor’s last season finale, with the return of several key characters from across the previous three years, all teaming up against an acclaimed enemy returning from the ‘classic’ run. River, and the Paternoster Gang… I’m really surprised they didn’t find a way to work the Ponds in somewhere. Probably for the best, though, because this episode is filled to bursting with things around the main event of Clara scattering herself down the Doctor’s time stream. Of course, just when you think it’s all over, another mysterious figure turns around, and it’s a whole incarnation of the Doctor we never even knew about! As cliff-hangers go, that’s got to be right up there…

There’s lots of other things that I could pick up on to discuss today, but I sort of set out my stall for this entry two years ago, with The Abominable Snowmen

For ages, I’d always found the idea of the Great Intelligence somewhat confusing. The version of the creature seen in The Abominable Snowmen and The Web of Fear didn’t really synch up in my head with the version that appeared in Downtime, and then when he made a return to Doctor Who in The Snowmen, The Bells of Saint John, and The Name of the Doctor, it didn’t seem to quite match up between those three stories, let alone any of the earlier ones! To that end, I put together an imagined ‘timeline’ for the being that tried to make sense of everything. That was two years ago during the Patrick Troughton stages of this marathon. Now I’ve been through these recent adventures once more, I’ve boiled everything down, simplified it, and think I’ve worked it all out…

1) A shapeless, formless being, the Great Intelligence lives in the Astral Plane. It’s immensely clever, but longs for a true physical form. Over the centuries alone on the Plane, the Intelligence devises many plans for creating a physical body for itself. Eventually, Padmasambhava manages to make contact with the creature, and it possesses the man’s mind. The human brain is too small to hold all the knowledge of the Intelligence, so Padmasambhava is set to work creating a vessel to hold the being.

2) But, as we’ve seen, the Intelligence is clever. It doesn’t want to put all its eggs in the one monk-y basket, so it places some of itself in snow, which is then directed towards London - the heart of the British Empire. There, it meets a lonely little boy, and whispers in his ear over the next half century, slowly formulating a plan to populate the Earth with Ice People. Now, you’ll have to excuse a leap of assumption here as I say that the Intelligence’s ultimate plan is to distribute itself across a world of living ice people because… for some reason that works. Possibly. The Doctor gets a lot wrong in this episode, largely because he never quite realises who the Intelligence is, but based on what we’re told and what we know of the creature from other appearances, it would seem to make sense. Anyway, point is, the Doctor stops the Intelligence’s plan here and all the snow melts, which forces the Intelligence held inside it back out onto the Astral Plane.

3) Which is fine, because he’s still in contact with good old Padmasambhava in Tibet, and so decides to just carry on with that plan for the time being. The work continues for the next thirty-or-so years, including the construction of Robot Yeti to keep inquisitive minds at bay. Just as they approach the end-game, though, after two centuries of whispering in the Monk’s ear, another ‘Doctor’ arrives on the scene and manages to thwart the plan again.

4) This time, as the Intelligence is pushed back onto the Astral Plane, he doesn’t have any backup. His only remaining contact to the physical world is via the robot Yeti, and they’ve all been deactivated. From where he is now, though, he’s able to monitor the Doctors’ travels, and grows jealous of the Time Lord. By sheer chance, Professor Travers - one of the people who helped the Doctor in Tibet - reactivates a Yeti control sphere in London, 1967, which reminds the Intelligence of something the Doctor said during their first meeting; ‘A map of the London Underground, 1967. Key strategic weakness in metropolitan living, if you ask me, but then I have never liked a tunnel.’

5) A plan is formulated to trap the Doctor, and by this point, the Intelligence’s plans are starting to change. He’s no longer interested in simply gaining physical form - he want’s to drain the Doctor’s mind of all its experience. Using the Yeti as foot soldiers - simply because they’re there - he sets the plan in motion, but once again the Doctor manages to out smart the Intelligence. This time, he almost manages to destroy the Intelligence for good. By this point, as I’m sure you can imagine, the creature is starting to get a bit annoyed with the bloke.

6) From now on, for the Intelligence, it’s as much about - perhaps more about - gaining more knowledge as it is getting some kind of physical form. It can’t bear the thought that there’s a man in the universe more intelligent than it is. It’s in this guise that we find it in Downtime - utilising the early days of the internet to gather knowledge from the students, with the ultimate aim of manifesting itself on Earth in the long term. The Doctor’s friends are able to stop the creature this time, but it’s only a set back, because…

7) By the time we reach The Bells of Saint John, we’re still seeing this same plan, but in a far more advanced stage. The Intelligence is no longer possessing people via the internet, but having their minds uploaded directly to him. Much more elegant. Once more, though, the Doctor shows up and manages to put an end to it. In fact, this time, the Doctor never even needs to set foot in the building, he reprograms a foot soldier to do it for him. From here, the Intelligence’s motives change once again. It’s now all about revenge against the Doctor. It might take centuries - millenia - but eventually, the Intelligence acquires knowledge of the Doctor’s grave and the battle of Trenzalore, and he formulates a new plan to utterly defeat the Doctor.

7a) As an aside - in The Web of Fear, the Intelligence claims he doesn’t want revenge against the Doctor, as it’s a ‘very human emotion’, but by The Name of the Doctor, that’s clearly what he’s after. Either he’s simply changed him mind after so many successive defeats by the Doctor and his allies, or the emotion has somehow been uploaded to him as a side effect of absorbing so many human minds via the wi-fi. I rather like the idea of this latter explanation.

8) The Doctor is lured to Trenzalore and the Great Intelligence finds its way into his tomb. Once there, he throws himself into the Doctor’s time stream. It kills him, but in doing so he’s able to completely destroy the Doctor, too, shattering his every victory throughout the ages. What it doesn’t bank on is the fact that Clara will be so willing to jump in after him and put everything right again. A rather sad end for a bitter, twisted being consumed by lust for life, knowledge, and revenge. It’s actually quite a neat little story in the end… 

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…


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