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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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16 March 2015

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

Day 805: The Pandorica Opens

Dear diary,

Just before I get on to talking about the rest of the episode, I want to take a minute to point out how bloody cool the pre-tites sequence is for this one. I love the idea of all these people from across the last season interacting as they work to get the Doctor to the right place at the right time. It's also somewhat amazing that they feel like they're being drawn together from across a proper era rather than from just the one season of adventures. I think it's somewhat of a testament to how well the first of Steven Moffat's series really strikes out to be its own thing - still recognisably the same programme that we've been watching for five years previously, but also being its own unique branch of that universe.

Right. Now. Main thing: I'm confused. Largely, I'm confused about Rory. I think I know what's going on here, but I'd really like to sound out the way that I think things are happening in this episode and then either have you all comment to say 'you've completely understood it correctly, Will, you're such a clever and handsome diarist' or, failing that, 'nope, you fool, you've completely misunderstood it all. Go back and watch The Dominators on a loop for the rest of the marathon'…

So; Something (presumably the Nestenes, but either way the information worked its way back to the Nestenes) went to Amy's house in Leadworth and took a kind of psychic print of Amy's mind. Doing this meant that they had a link to her conscious mind (this bit isn't actually said, but it's the only way everything else makes sense, so…), so that they could create an accurate and up-to-date scenario at Stonehenge which would tempt the Doctor and her to the location. Because Rory was in her mind (as a suppressed memory, which is why she found herself crying for seemingly no reason in Vincent and the Doctor), he automatically becomes a part of this scenario, and is implanted with the memories taken from Amy's mind, and that brings us to what we see in this episode.

Is that right? Because I've spent most of today trying to wrap my head around it all. It seems fairly simple based on the information we're given on screen (it's presented as 'Something takes a 'snapshot' of Amy's memories from her bedroom, hence the romans and the box, and Rory is there as a Roman because of the picture tucked inside a book of him dressed as one'), but then that nice neat version hints snags when you have to account for the fact that Rory can remember 'dying' in the Silurian episode. That's why I assume they link to Amy's conscious mind, because they'd have the up-to-date information about… Oh to hell with it. It makes for a nice moment in the story where the Doctor notices that Rory is still a real living person (even if he's made of plastic), and I'm probably obsessing over it too much.

Something else about this episode that I've obsessed about in the past is the nature of The Alliance. It seems clear to me that they were formed in the skies above Trenzalore, when all these same races would gather to answer the mysterious signal emanating from Christmas (and in retrospect, I'm guessing that's where they got the idea for the stones here sending out a signal on a loop, too)… but such a thing felt like a line missed out from The Time of the Doctor! I only mention it here because I'm still trying to piece together the overarching plot of the Matt Smith era, and I know I'm going to need this note when I come to the regeneration… 

15 March 2015

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

Day 804: The Lodger

Dear diary,

For a long, long, time now, in response to this episode, I’ve always said that I preferred the original Doctor Who Magazine comic that it was based upon. Something about forcing Mickey to put up the Tenth Doctor for a few days really clicked with me, and it quickly became one of my favourites. I never really felt that it worked as well in substituting a well-known character for a complete stranger, and trying to add in a more definite threat upstairs. Oh, I never thought this one was bad, just that I’d have rather it be kept as a comic.

But actually, watching it back today, there’s loads in here that I’m really rather fond of. And of course it doesn’t harm the story to swap Mickey for Craig, because we know more-or-less everything we need to about Craig by the time he rushes to answer the door to the Doctor with a great big ‘I love you’ (the first of several times I laughed loudly during today’s viewing). If anything, that’s the real success of this story - it takes Craig and Sophie, and in the space of these 45 minutes it completely brings us into their world. I feel like they’re characters we’ve known for a while now. There’s hints of their back stories, and their wider social circle, and it really does feel like it’s the Doctor crashing into their established world, as opposed to them simply popping up for a single week in the Doctor’s universe.

It certainly helps that James Corden is so perfectly cast as Craig. He bounces off Matt Smith so well (and in a way that I don’t think he would have done with any of the other Doctors. Even though Tennant’s incarnation was very human, he simply doesn’t fell as suited to this as Smith does), and watching them together is just a delight.

As for adding in the threat of the upstairs… Actually, it’s nicely done. Looking back on it, it’s easy to simply think of it as being a ‘Silent TARDIS’, and forget the mystery that we’re presented with in the build-up to that reveal (and even then, we only get the information that it’s an attempt to build a TARDIS, no more information than that). The slow build up of the mystery, and then the fantastic reveal of the ship, with the camera pulling back from the seemingly normal doorway is all brilliant. 

It also marks the starting point of the thing I’m perhaps most looking forward to throughout the Eleventh Doctor’s era - the on-going arc. In 2013, The Time of the Doctor wrapped up threads that had been dangling as far back as this season, but I’ve not been through all of these episodes since then to watch as things slowly draw together. We’ve already had the mystery of the cracks and the Pandora - one of which will be over and down with in the next couple of days while the other will go quiet for a bit before rearing its head again at the end of this run - but this is our first step towards the Silence, and the recurring elements of Series Six.

Which brings me to my next point. There’s a moment in this episode, with Amy in the TARDIS, where she seems to see something, get very scared, and then forget about it. It could be her reacting to the bad news she’s just received from the Doctor, but she very much seems to be looking at something just off camera… was this intended to be a ‘Silent’-esque plot thread which wasn’t later picked up, or am I simply reading too much into things?

14 March 2015

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

Day 803: Vincent and the Doctor

Dear diary,

Watching this series on original broadcast, my interest had dropped off a little bit by this point. It was nice weather out, I had a lot going on… making sure I was home on a Saturday night ready for Doctor Who felt like more of a chore than it ever had before. It didn’t help that when I was catching up with stories like The Vampires of Venice and Amy’s Choice, they simply weren’t grabbing me in the way I hoped they would. Eventually, I’d stopped even trying to be home on time, and I’d simply catch up with the new episodes a day or two later on the iPlayer. The night this one aired, I happened to catch the first ten minutes while I was getting ready to go out, and couldn’t help thinking that of everything for a good month or so, this was an episode I’d rather like to stay home and see as it went out.

Vincent and the Doctor is a very different kind of Doctor Who story, isn’t it? When the series manages to pull in a writer like Richard Curtis, you very much think you know what kind of story you’re going to be getting, but then this script goes out of its way to present you with something that completely goes against all your expectations, and really leaves you with a lot to think about, even when it’s finished. It’s a bold move, and one that I think is pulled off very well - managing to create something that’s both deep and thought-provoking, while also having enough action and drama to keep you riveted throughout.

In many ways, this story takes lots of things that I’d enjoyed with the Unicorn and the Wasp, and filters them differently. Whereas the likes of Charles Dickens, Queen Victoria, and Shakespeare were very sure of themselves during encounters with the Doctor (even if they tend to get that knocked during the course of the adventure, both Christie and Vincent are presented as being flawed. As being human, in fact. I also like that this tale doesn’t shy away from showing what that can mean. There’s no pussyfooting around the fact that Vincent’s troubles and depression led to his suicide, and the story makes sure to portray that in a sensitive, yet hard-hitting way. Any’s reaction upon reaching the gallery to find that Vincent still took his own life at a tragically young age is absolutely heart-breaking, and the Doctor’s response is one of my favourite lines from Doctor Who. I could quote it verbatim at the drop of a hat, because it’s so beautiful, and poignant, and very true; 


The way I see it, every life is a pile of good things and bad things. Hey. The good things don't always soften the bad things, but vice versa, the bad things don't necessarily spoil the good things or make them unimportant.

I don’t want to dwell on the sombre tones of the story too much, though, because there’s an awful lot of humour and levity sprinkled throughout the script which is far more what I was expecting to find from Curtis, and really helps to make the whole thing. For starters, I love the adaptation of the Unicorn and the Wasp gag, in which the titles of Christie’s books being inserted into the script is substituted for visual gags based upon Vincent’s work. The interactions between Vincent and Amy are wonderful, too.

I’ve very little else to say about this story, really, and there’s so much to like that I don’t really want to dwell on the few let downs (once again, the CGI seems to falter a bit in this one), so I’m going to leave it there for now. Not the kind of story that Doctor Who could tell very often, but one which works perfectly as a nice one-off.

13 March 2015

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

Day 802: Cold Blood

Dear diary,

I’ve never quite known what to make of the ‘new series’ Silurian design. On the one hand, there’s that image of a concept sculpt for this story in which the creatures look like an updated version of the ones we had back in Doctor Who and the Silurians, and I half think that I’d love to have seen that design on screen, but on the other hand, I do like the way these ones look - especially when the soldiers have their masks on, which is a lovely bit of design. I suppose my issue is that these are such a departure from what went before - a more drastic change stylistically than we’ve had for any other monster making the transition from the ‘classic’ era to the new stuff. I think I know what the answer will be, but what does everyone else think? Do you like the modern Silurians, or would you prefer something more ‘traditional’?

If nothing else, I can’t imagine Madame Vastra with the face of a ‘classic’ Silurian…

If there’s one thing I really like about this story, it’s that you’re left not really liking lots of different characters. Right the way through, and especially in today’s episode, I’ve found myself really irritated by the way that Ambrose has behaved. And yet, I think part of the brilliance in that is that she’s behaved the way that most of us would do - out of fear, and selfishness, and sheer ignorance. There’s something really nice about the idea of her failing to be ‘the best Humanity can be’, because I think many of us would fall into similar traps. And yet, on the other side of the fence, we’ve got Silurians that aren’t the best that they can be, either. That said, I have to take issue with the Doctor pointing out that when he met Silurians before, the humans attacked and killed them… while conveniently neglecting to mention that said Silurians had just tried to wipe out Humanity with a big old plague…

Something else that I just wanted to touch on - how much I’d like some kind of follow-on to this one. The Doctor rigs the Silurian alarms to wake them again in a millennium, and we’ve even got a couple of guest characters readily built in for the revival. I’d be keen to see the two sides trying again in a futuristic setting, and perhaps seeing what kinds of struggles might crop up that time. In this story the talk is largely about making room on an already crowded planet, but in a thousand year’s time, with humanity moving out among the stars… well, I reckon there’s a story in there somewhere, and I’d be keen so see it.

12 March 2015

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

Day 801: The Hungry Earth

Dear diary,

Ooh, I love the title of this episode. It’s that great line from Frontios, isn’t it, about the Earth being hungry? I bet anything that somewhere along the line either Steven Moffatt or Chris Chibnall had that in mind when it came to putting this one together. Like Day of the Moon, its one of those titles that really just chimes with me as being perfect. Speaking of which, this is the episode when I first decided that Matt Smith was a perfect casting choice for the Doctor. It wasn’t actually the episode which convinced me, but rather the production of it. I’ve mentioned before that I tried very hard to avoid spoilers for this particular series, but the one bit that I did end up seeing was a short clip (no more than a minute or two) of Matt Smith pacing up and down outside the church used in this episode, obviously trying to learn his lines. It was being shared all over Facebook, and I ended up watching it. Instantly, there’s something just so right about the way he moves. Little movements he makes with his hand, the look he gives when he’s trying to concentrate… oh, all of it. From that moment on, we were in safe hands.

And I love the way that the Doctor is written in this episode. This is perhaps the first time all series that he’s really been presented as being a madman, and that’s largely because he’s been thrown into a situation where his regular companion is taken away from him very early into the narrative, and he’s left to try and prove himself to her boyfriend and a group of strangers who quite rightly think he’s mad. The only thing which does feel like a missed opportunity is making not of just how young he is in this incarnation - it would have been interesting to see that as yet another obstacle that he has to overcome.

As for the episode itself, well this morning I couldn’t have told you a thing about it. Nothing. Nada. I knew it was ‘that Silurian two-parter’ from Series Five, but I couldn't have told you anything of the story. As the episode went on, though, I found more and more of it coming back to me, and I found myself rather liking it, on the whole. Oh, it’s not close to being a stone-cold ‘classic’ (and I’m not sure it has the atmosphere yet that prevailed the original Silurian origin story), but there’s enough in here to enjoy. The introduction of the threat is nicely dealt with, and there really is a feeling of tension as they rush to set everything up in the short amount of time they’ve got (although we’ve got the same problem here - though not on the same scale - as with Victory of the Daleks: we’re told there’s only x number of minutes remaining, 12 in this case, and they get a lot done in that time. I get that making it such a short time frame is what helps to ‘up’ the tension, but I can’t help think that it would have felt a little more believable had they had a half an hour or so…?)

11 March 2015

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

Day 800: Amy’s Choice

Dear diary,

Some days, writing this blog is easy. Within a few minutes of the episode starting, I know exactly what I want to say, and as the episode goes on I simply find more and more that chimes with what I want to say. I enjoy days like that, because it makes going from the episode to the writing all the more fun for me.

I thought today was going to be one of those days, because almost immediately, I knew what I wanted to say: this isn’t an episode that works in Series Five - it’s one that would sit better in Series Seven. Lovely, simple. I could write about that without problem… but then as the episode played out, it became more and more apparent that I was wrong, and that point was almost totally shattered. So, instead, I’m going to tell you firstly why I thought this story would work better later on, and then tell you why it also wouldn’t. If that makes any sense at all.

Largely, I didn’t feel that this story sat right here because the whole premise of trying to decide which world was real simply rings hollow for me. Obviously, as a viewer, I know that Amy and Rory are going to be travelling with the Doctor for a while yet, so it was always going to seem obvious that the TARDIS-world was the real one, but… I think that’s the problem. Had this been set during that first part of Series Seven, where there’s a running theme of the Doctor coming back to visit the Ponds while leaving longer and longer gaps between his visits… oh, this would have worked wonderfully as a concept there! Has it really been five years since his last visit, and he’s now checking in on a couple of Ponds who’ve settled down and are about to have a child, or has it only been a few months since their last adventure, and they’ve been caught in the TARDIS. Do you see what I’m trying to say? That feels so much better for me than what we’re given here, because the last scene of the previous episode was about ‘let’s go and have some adventures’, which makes suddenly coming to a situation where the Ponds have settled down feel wrong to me.

I was fairly set on this view for much of the first half of this episode (and, actually, I’ve not abandoned it completely. Despite what I’m about to go on and say, it would work better as a concept in that first half of Series Seven, where it really could be either of the two dreams, as opposed to so clearly being the one). As the episode went on, though, I finally picked up on that emotional core. The choice between the Doctor or Rory. Of course it’s an episode that needs to sit here in series five, because it’s the key moment for Amy’s character, and she even makes a point of saying that she’d never been entirely sure that she was doing the right thing until this very moment. It’s massively important that we get this character beat here so that she can go on to marry Rory at the end of the season. You can see the spanner in the works - on the one hand I really want to argue that this story is in the wrong place… but on the other hand it’s in exactly the right place!

That’s not enough to really save it for me, though. Despite the fact that there’s a nice emotional heart in here, and it serves as such an important beat in Amy’s story, I simply could not connect with things, and it does all come back to the fact that I never really believe in the threat. I’m sorry to say that I just don’t get the love for this one…

10 March 2015

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

Day 799: The Vampires of Venice

Dear diary,

I don’t know if it’s still a lingering hang-over from just how good The Shakespeare Code looked back in Series Three, but the location work for this story never really felt… right to me. Oh, don’t get me wrong, there’s some lovely footage in here, and some great locations used to represent Venice, but something feels… I don’t know. Off about it all. Maybe it’s because everywhere is quite washed out whereas The Shakespeare Code and The Fires of Pompeii really used colour to make a point in their locations? The Vampires of Venice always seemed to be a little beige by comparison. It also flags up a problem I had with Series Five at the time that I have to admit I’ve been somewhat struggling to find this time around - the feeling of things looking a bit cheap or empty on screen. I think I was probably recalling the Dalek spaceship in some ways, but the scene when the Doctor confronts Rosanna looks really bare. They’ve simply placed a throne prop into an otherwise empty room, and it just doesn’t have the impact that the designs for those other historical I’ve mentioned did.

It’s also a little bit of a shame that having gone all the way to Croatia to get some nice locations for bits of this story, it gets let down by some of the weakest CGI the programme has seen for quite some time. There are a few shots where water has been added in to represent the canals which really doesn’t work (I still don’t know if - five years on - we’re at a point where realistic CGI water can be done on a TV budget), and the clouds during that final sequence are so laughably bad that I’m almost astounded they were actually signed off for broadcast. It’s a good job that Doctor Who has a bit of a history of dodgy effects, because this episode certainly places on the scale somewhere quite high! That said, there’s some nice moments where the human characters are morphed into their CGI counterparts rather convincingly, so perhaps it’s just a case of the money being spent in different places?

All of this somewhat marry the story for me, because I’m too busy looking at elements of bad effects, or musing on how empty some of the shots look, to really get caught up in the events of the narrative. Oh, there’s some very nice moments in here, and it feels as though the writing team have finally landed on the way to write the Eleventh Doctor (this is perhaps the first time that there have been sequences that feel tailor-made for Smith), but I’m just not able to get sucked into the tale the way I have the past week or so. It’s not bad, but it’s not good either - it’s, again, just a bit beige.

If I had to pick a highlight from this story, then it would have to be Rory. First time around, I never really got the love for Rory as a character. H was alright, I supposed, but he wasn’t anything especially special. This time, though, I can see that that’s exactly his charm - he’s the character that we’d all be if we were suddenly thrust into the Doctor’s lifestyle. The Eleventh Hour, The Best Below, and Victory of the Daleks all went out of their way to make Amy look like perfect companion material, but this story does completely the opposite for Rory - making him a bit weak, and a bit silly, and a bit bumbling. His trying to fight off a ‘vampire’ with a broom, and making a mess of trying to get Amy into the school are exactly what makes him work - and I’m looking forward to seeing if I connect better with him on this watch through.

9 March 2015

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

Day 798: Flesh and Stone

Dear diary,

Yesterday, I mentioned that the Weeping Angels were progressed quite nicely in this story from what we were given in Blink, and watching it again now makes that even more obvious. Have to admit that when this first episode went out I wasn’t overall keen about the various additions made to the ‘lore’ of the creatures, but the more I’ve thought about it over the years (and especially in re-watching this story in the last couple of days), the more I can’t help but notice how clever it all is especially when the Doctor realises what’s happening to Amy;


A living mental image in a living human mind. But we stare at them to stop them getting closer. We don't even blink, and that is exactly what they want. Because as long as our eyes are open, they can climb inside. There's an Angel in her mind. 

I don’t think I’ve ever appreciated before just how much scarier that makes the Angels. We’ve spent three years by this point thinking of them as being so easily defeated by simply being watched, and then this story comes along and makes even that part of their danger! Brilliant! It’s no wonder they’ve caught on as being the monsters of 21st century Doctor Who with gimmicks like these.

Something else which didn’t particularly work for me first time around which I’ve loved today is the sequence in the forest where we start to see the Angels move. I’m not entirely sure why, but when this was first broadcast, something about that moment felt really off to me. I sort of felt that seeing the statues move somehow lessened the fact that they can move so rapidly when we’re not looking. Actually, though, it’s really creepy, as they all start to realise that Amy can’t really see them. The fact that they start to move so slowly really helps to enhance the terror of the moment for me. It also sort of brings back to something I read recently which I’m starting to think may have been a real missed opportunity - in the original script for The Time of the Doctor, when we get that great shot of all the spaceships gathering over Trenzalore, there was supposed to be a brief shot with the shadows of the Weeping Angels flying past one of the ships. That, for some reason, has always struck me as very scary, and this sequence certainly plays into that same area.

There’s something in this story that surprised me first time around, and it’s done it all over again here - the Doctor starting to work out the mystery of the crack so early on into the season. When I got to see the scripts in the build-up to broadcast, I was only able to read as far as this one (and just outlines of everything to follow), and it struck me as being strange then. Throughout the Russell T Davies years, I’d become so used to the underlying mystery being teased across the series and picked up again when the finale rolls around. Now, suddenly, we’ve had a few weeks of the crack being very heavily used in the final shots of stories, and suddenly the characters are given the chance to use it! The crack - the running theme for the series - is integral to the whole plot of the episode! The Doctor even gets to work out what it is and start describing it.

There’s also that wonderful moment of the Doctor coming back to speak to Amy (who can’t open her eyes) and having his jacket on. The script specified that this was the Doctor from the finale (and the other scripts all featured bonus scenes with various characters who’d be integral for the opening sequence to The Pandora Opens), but I have to say I did enjoy the sheer fury that this moment caused on the forums at the time! People were so convinced that it was a massive production error, and a sign that the new team weren’t paying enough attention… oh, the fun when all was revealed a few weeks later and the humble cake had to be passed around at quite some speed…

8 March 2015

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

Day 797: The Time of Angels

Dear diary,

When it was first announced (In Doctor Who Magazine, possibly?) that the Weeping Angels were to be making a return for Series Five, I can distinctly recall in-depth discussions with a friend about the ways they could be reintroduced. In the end, we decided that the story ‘had’ to revolve around Wester Drumlins - from Blink - being renovated. The new owners, or possibly the workmen on site, would move one of the four statues in the basement out of position and the Angels would be free to roam once more. If I’m honest, I think this discussion mainly stemmed from the fact that we genuinely wondered what the Doctor’s back-up-plan would be if such an event happened. I don’t think either of us expected what we actually got from this story - an adventure which takes what we know about the Angels from their first outing, and goes on to develop that, and add new facets to them. I’m sure I’ll come back to this more in-depth with tomorrow’s episode.

I can also distinctly recall being a bit non-plussed that River Song would be making a comeback. As I said a few weeks ago, I’d simply not taken to her during Silence in the Library, and the prospect of having her come back to the programme didn’t particularly excite me. Somehow, though, I completely bought into her from the second she appears in the story - which is right at the start, before the opening titles have even kicked in. Watching it again today, I can’t help but think that it’s because she’s just so much fun in that scene. Flirty, dangerous, packing weapons, and using that very Steven Moffat trope of playing with the format of a Time Travel programme to summon the Doctor. The way she catches his attention here is so much better than simply sending a message over the psychic paper, and I love watching both halves of this little narrative play out in tandem. Hello, sweetie!

It also doesn’t hurt that Alex Kingston and Matt Smith have such a great chemistry together from the off. Oh, sure, David Tennant played opposite Kingston very well, and when I watched their two episodes recently I was completely won over in a way that I simply wasn’t in 2008, but there’s something about the way that matt behaves when they share the screen together. I’m wondering if it’s simply because I know that it’s these two who’ll go on to play out the rest of the Doctor/River relationship, or because something just works between them, but it’s already a great dynamic that I can’t wait to watch evolve over the next month.

On the subject of which… we’re four episodes in, now, and i’ve not really mentioned Matt Smith’s performance as the Doctor. I’d love to say that I’ve been waiting for today as this episode contains the first scenes he filmed and thus made a fitting point to bring it up, but if I’m honest it’s simply because he’s so recent in my mind as the Doctor that I sort of forget that I’ve not mentioned it! Frankly, he hits the ground running, doesn’t he? He’s fabulous in this episode, and by the time he gets around to stories like Victory of the Daleks he’d really nailed down the way he wanted to play the part. There’s something about his energy that really resonates with me, and simply makes him feel like ‘the Doctor’. As his era originally played out, I couldn’t help thinking that his performance lost something from Series Six onwards, when writers stop writing simply ‘the Doctor’ - which Matt then filters in his own unique way - and start writing ‘the Doctor as played by Matt Smith’.

Everything started to feel a little bit more forced as his tenure went on, whereas here he’s fresh, playing it the way he thinks is best, and perhaps mores than any Doctor since Tom Baker, you get the impression that he’s simply opening his mouth and surprising even himself with the way he’s choosing to do certain scenes. I can’t say that I was against casting someone so young as the Doctor (but, equally, I can’t say I was overjoyed by the choice - I just sort of felt nothing), but when you watch him even in his earliest episodes, you completely understand how he changed Steven Moffat’s stance on wanting to cast an older Doctor - Smith is just so right for this part. I’m actively anticipating the chance to watch him develop the character now, and see if I was wrong first time around about it feeling more forced as time went by. I really hope I was wrong, because he’s won me round all over again, now…

7 March 2015

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

Day 796: Victory of the Daleks

Dear diary,

I think it’s generally accepted, now, that the Paradigm Daleks were a mistake, isn’t it? I’m speaking specifically the design of them, not necessarily the idea of introducing a new type of Dalek. When I went off to see the scripts for this series early in 2010, someone showed me a photo on their phone of one of these new Daleks, and I honestly thought they were joking. Surely not? By the time they made it onto screen a few months later… nope. Just didn’t quite sit right with me. The 2005 design of Dalek manages to take the initial shape of the original, and update it convincingly to look like a little tank. It somehow manages to look exactly the way you always thought the Daleks looked, while also presenting a perfect step forward in the design. The Paradigm models feel like someone has set out to keep something that’s vaguely shaped like a Dalek, but at the same time is altered just that bit too far. Over the years, I’ve seen people claim that this or that is what makes them simply fail to work, and I’ve seen plenty of slight tweaks to this design which do, somehow, make a world of difference. Perhaps the most telling thing of all, though, is that this model goes on to make a cameo briefly in the next season, and play a small part in Asylum of the Daleks (alongside many of their predecessors), and then that’s it - over and done with. In years to come, I suspect this will be looked back on in commentaries with the same kind of bile as Colin Baker’s costume is these days…

But are they the sole reason that this episode generally doesn’t fare too well with fans? It placed at number 193 out of 241 stories last year when Doctor Who Magazine did their poll of people’s favourites (though, in fairness, five other Matt Smith-era stories rated below it). Well, I’ll be honest. I was expecting to write this entry very much from the stance of 'the new Dalek design is a big factor, but the episode is just generally rubbish, too'. Actually, though, it's a bit more complex than that.

The first fifteen minutes or so of this episode are brilliant. They’re dripping with just the right kind of suspense - we know that Bracewell’s Ironsides are Daleks, and therefore that they’re evil and probably up to no good, and the Doctor knows that, too… but everyone else simply can’t see it. The stakes are raised by the fact that we also know that Churchill is right; if these Ironsides are willing to serve the Allied forced, then the war could be over in a heartbeat. When we get as far as the Doctor asking for Amy to tell the Prime Minister about the events of The Stolen Earth and she doesn’t have a clue what he’s on about, the mystery is only heightened. The stakes feel high because it’s the world vs the Doctor, and the Daleks are there for good measure. That sense of unease and intrigue runs right through the first third of the tale, up to about the point that Bracewell is revealed to be a robot (Oh, and actually, isn’t that a brilliant moment? No, we created you! Wonderful!). All of this is heightened with some really brilliant direction by Andrew Gunn which means we often got shots of the Daleks gliding past in the background, and there’s simply no other word for it - they’re skulking. Little glimpses of the eyestalks twitching, and tiny movements that make it absolutely clear that they’re watching the Doctor, and biding their time.

After that, though, my interest more-or-less completely dropped off, and that seems to coincide with the arrival of the new Daleks. Now, it’s not entirely down to the appearance of the new guys (I’ll get onto them in a moment). After that Daleks have teleported up to their ship, all the tension and dread simply evaporates. Suddenly, where everything felt like the stakes were high and there was a lot going on, I find my ability to believe in the story wavering. The absolute pit of the problem has to be the moment we’re told there’s only ten minutes until German bombers reach London. Fine. We’re then remind (a few minutes into this) that Bracewell had plans for ‘Gravity Bubbles’, which would put a plane in space, though he reminds us that it’s only a theory. Fine. It’s all science-fiction nonsense, obviously, but I’ll buy it. But then, as the planes reach the East End of London (presumably around about that previously mentioned ten-minute-mark), Bracewell arrives to announce that they’ve put the Gravity Bubbles into action, and the planes are ready to launch.

I’m sorry, what? I get that Bracewell is Dalek technology, and therefore the Gravity Bubbles are probably Dalek in design, too, and thus he’s able to cobble it together quicker than usual, but the implication is that he’s managed to take it from a theory of something that could work and put it into practice across three planes in under ten minutes. I probably sound ridiculous complaining about something so trivial, but it lets down the entire episode massively for me, because it feels completely false.

The same is true, then, of the later revelation that Bracewell is a bomb. It feels as though the script was finished before someone pointed out that they were running five minutes short, and thus needed to stretch it out a little bit longer. Nothing feels real (or, at least, as ‘real’ as can be expected in a story about robots from oder-space hiding in the Cabinet War Rooms can), in the way that those first fifteen minutes did, and that’s a real pity.

As for the new Daleks themselves… well, I don’t think it helps that they arrive on screen at the same point the episode starts taking a nosedive. They suffer simply by association, because it feels like they show up and a promising episode goes to the dogs. But, equally, the design really is rubbish. I’ve already praised the direction in this episode, and I think it’s fair to say that it does a wonderful job of making the old Daleks here look like metal. The single bronze one on the ship looks lovely, and the two Ironside models are great. They’ve possibly never looked more like metalling beings. But then the New Paradigm turns up, and the daleks have certainly never looked more like they were made of plastic! It just helps to show up the flaws.

Oh, I could go on all day with a back-and-forth on ‘things Victory of the Daleks gets so right’ vs ‘things Victory of the Daleks gets so wrong’. Seriously, I think I’ve made more notes about this episode than any other in ages. I’ve not even begun to mention how great it is when the New Daleks destroy their predecessors because they’re inferior (and the fact that it’s a great little nod to the Daleks destroying Davros back in the day - the new breed will always destroy their creator, because they’ve been designed to think they’re superior), or how rubbish bits of the Dalek ship look - even if I completely get why it would be so empty. In the end, I think Victory of the Daleks needs another couple of drafts. Also, an extra fifteen minutes or so. Give it room to breathe a little, so that we don’t have to have ridiculously complex inventions made reality in a handful of minutes (seriously, even an earlier line in which Bracewell said ‘we’ve got these in development right now’ would have made it better! It would have made the drama more real, too, in the sense of ‘In theory these work, but we’re still only half way through!’), and then try something a little more traditional with the Dalek revamp… This really could have been a classic. Possibly the biggest missed opportunity that the 21st century Doctor Who has ever had.

(Oh, it was heading for at least an ‘8’ with that first third! I’ll stop banging on about it now, though…)

6 March 2015

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

Day 795: The Beast Below

Dear diary,

Every so often in this marathon I find myself approaching a story that I just know I’m not going to like. Usually it’s because I’ve seen it before and it’s left a less than favourable taste in my mouth. When these episodes come along (thankfully, it’s a rare occurrence), I find that one of two things happens. Either the episode ends up being even worse than I remembered (as was the case last week with Planet of the Dead, which went from being one I didn’t remember fondly to being one that I really didn’t enjoy), or it swings the other way and ends up being rated probably a little above what it deserves because I’m so taken aback by the fact that I’ve enjoyed it. I’m pleased to say that today’s episode has fallen into the latter of those two categories.

I wasn’t at all expecting to like this one. First time around it felt like crashing back down to Earth after the highs of the previous week’s massively confident start to the new regime. Since then it’s simply occupied a place in my mind filed away with other stories that I never really intended to watch again in a hurry. But actually, there’s quite a decent little story tucked away in here! Oh, sure, it’s not ever going to win prizes as being the greatest episode of Doctor Who ever made, but it’s a perfectly serviceable one to pass 45 minutes, and if we take Series Five as being intended as a new start for an audience unfamiliar with Doctor Who (which is certainly what the production team seem to have been thinking in places), then it provides a crucial tent-pole in that regard.

We’re introduced to the idea that the Doctor is a Time Lord and the last of his kind. There’s none of the mystery built up around it that we had in The End of the World, because it’s not needed - from the point of view of an established audience, we already know what happened (roughly). From a new perspective the description of the Time War as ‘a bad day’ simply fills in enough to keep the conversation moving. The story gets a little less subtle towards the end when trying to about the point about the Doctor and the Star Whale being very similar (they make the point twice in the Tower of London, and then just in case you don’t get it, Amy comes to find the Doctor again and spell it out as plainly as she can), but on the whole it works.

There’s also some rather nice design work in this episode to help set it apart from the tone of Doctor Who from the last few years. One of the things that felt a shame first time around was that this story didn’t feel like it was following the same fresh new look established with The Eleventh Hour, and while it’s certainly true that this is perhaps less honed in places, it certainly does have its own unique style, and it’s really rather lovely. I’d never noticed, for example, the way that the elevators are designed to resemble the London Underground - right down to the tiling on the walls outside them. That’s a nice touch.

And while I’m on the subject of design, I’m going to mention it, because I know I’ll never get around it it otherwise: the new TARDIS. I remember not being all that fussed on the white window frames and shade of blue on the exterior when it was first revealed. I didn’t dis*like it, I just didn’t particularly love it, either. Now, though, I have to confess that I really *do like it. The interior… maybe it’ll grow on me this time around, but I was never that fond of this console room. Something about it just felt that bit too much like a set, in the way that the previous version of the room didn’t. It just doesn’t quite gel with me in the way that the coral did immediately. Not to worry, though, because the greedy Eleventh Doctor gets two console rooms, and his next one is much more up my street…

5 March 2015

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

Day 794: The Eleventh Hour

Dear diary,

In the weeks leading up to the broadcast of The Eleventh Hour, I couldn’t have told you the last time I’d been more excited for the start of a series. I’d largely managed to avoid ‘spoilers’ throughout the 2009 filming, so the trailer released after David Tennant’s departure really did a good job of whetting my appetite ready for the new run. But then, in early 2010, I was working on a project which meant I had to be completely up-to-date with Doctor Who, so that the material would still be relevant by the time it hit the shelves. This meant having to do the most exciting thing in the world - go and be locked in a room at the BBC and read some of the scripts, as well as a general outline, for Series Five. All that work avoiding spoilers was for nothing, because this was the ultimate spoiler. I found, in the long run, that it hampered my enjoyment of several episodes on broadcast, because I’d spent months imagining them one way in my head only to be disappointed when they were presented differently on screen.

Largely it’s because I couldn’t have predicted the unique way that matt Smith would play the part, and I don’t think any of us could have predicted the huge shift in tone that the series undergoes from this episode on. Just look at that long shot which looks around Amelia’s garden before leading us to the scared little girl in the house. It’s like a film! And it doesn’t stop there - Adam Smith is one of my favourite Doctor Who directors, and I wish he’d come back to do more than the handful of episodes he was responsible for in this series. The rest of the episode looks completely unlike anything we had in the Russell T Davies era - it properly starts out confident and strong, proclaiming itself to be the start of something new.

Even to this day I can’t decide wether that’s the best thing or not. Everything has changed at this point. New Doctor. New Companion. New Man-In-Charge. New TARDIS interior. New TARDIS exterior. New Sonic Screwdriver… before the series is out we’ll be able to add New Daleks to the list. This is getting on for as bigger a shift in direction as the one between Seasons Seventeen and Eighteen in the ‘classic’ run, and I don’t think we’re a million miles away from the big change of Seasons Six to Seven. In some ways, I like that it’s such a confident casting off of what went before - a programme in a new form which is proud to stand up and be its own thing. On the other, as the original broadcasts played out, I couldn’t help but think it came across as a bit of a middle finger to the five years immediately preceding it, almost as a ‘you did it wrong’. With hindsight, I think it works, and it’s certainly not any kind of disrespect to the things which came before. It’s simply Doctor Who reinventing itself almost totally, which is just what it’s good at.

So, as for The Eleventh Hour as an episode… oh, it’s good, isn’t it? I’d spent so long dying to see what it looked like on screen and then in the run up to the broadcast, I found myself booking a date for the same evening. Even as it was being arranged, there was a little voice in the back of my mind that said ‘You can’t see her that night! That’s the start of the new Doctor Who season!’. Oh we’ve all been there. And what do you do? How do you choose? I went for the simple option - have your cake and eat it. Let’s get pizza at mine and watch the new series of Doctor Who. Yes, that’s romantic. I’m not entirely sure if she was at all keen on Doctor Who by the time the episode had finished (she certainly hadn’t been before hand), and was probably a little put-off by the fact that the date ended early so I could sit and watch the episode again later that night (I know, I know, priorities), but she did return for episodes sporadically throughout the rest of Series Five, so it wasn’t a complete bust!

Oh, but it was good. Immediately after broadcast, the figures of the Eleventh Doctor (in a two-pack with a ‘raggedy’ version) and his new Sonic Screwdriver were released. I’d managed to pick up my figure earlier in the day and took great delight in adding him to the shelf alongside all the other Doctors. Matt Smith had won me over completely, and we were standing at the dawn of an exciting new era. That’s the best feeling in the world…

4 March 2015

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

Day 793: The End of Time - Part Two

Dear diary,

I can’t make my mind up as to wether the Tenth Doctor era has gone by quickly or not. I’ve spent more episodes with David Tennant’s Doctor than I have with any other since Peter Davison, but in some ways it feels like this Doctor has only just arrived on the scene. In others, it feels like he’s been around for ages. When I think back to specific episodes - anything from Series Two, for example - it feels like a lifetime ago, and the fact that Tennant physically aged quite a bit in the part makes that feeling all the more pronounced. On the other hand, it doesn’t feel all that long ago since he was promising trips to Barcelona, or bringing down Harriet Jones’ government.

But there’s no denying what an impact the Tenth Doctor made - had the profile of the programme ever been higher? Even now, with the show simulcast around the world to the biggest possible audience, it doesn’t feel like it’s at quite those dizzying heights of around 2007/2008, when you could barely move for Doctor Who. It was on the cover of the Radio Times every other week. The shops were stuffed with products of every kind. There were two sister shows running throughout the time of the year when the main show wasn’t… and everyone, even people who didn’t watch Doctor Who seemed to agree that David Tennant was one of - if not the - best Doctors ever.

And after all that… oh, I still can’t help but think that this finale is just a bit nothing for him. As with yesterday, I’ve found a lot more to enjoy in today’s episode than I was perhaps expecting to, but something about it just doesn’t gel with me. I wasn’t all that connected to the episode while watching, and nothing really spurred any particular excitement in me. I think it’s still the hangover of that feeling in 2009 of being a spectre at the feast, just wanting this Doctor to hurry up and clear off so we could get to the new chap. It certainly didn’t help that immediately after the broadcast of this episode a trailer for the upcoming Series Five appeared on the BBC website, and it was fifty times more exciting than anything which happened in this story.
Something I am pleased about, though, is that I’ve changed my mind about the sequence of the regeneration itself. For years now - ever since broadcast, really - I’ve thought that the Doctor should rage at Wilf, the final words of the Time Lord Victorious. He should scream, and shout, rage against the dying of the light, and then when Wilf tells him to simply go… he should. Okay then. You’re right. My life is more important than yours. See ya! I always thought that he should go and get his reward at that point. Venture off and see all his friends one last time. Martha, Mickey*, Jack, Sarah Jane, Rose… all those shining people who kept the Lonely Angel going. Kept him fighting. And then he should return for Wilf, who’s sad and alone in the booth, tell him that it’s his honour to give his life for such a man, and then we should pick up with the sequence as seen. Largely, I think I’d always thought of that as a better narrative because it means we can have the Doctor regenerate in the box - the Doctor uncurls from that foetal position and it’s Matt Smith! - but watching it today, I’m happy to admit that I was wrong; it works just fine the way it is, and the emotional beats hit at just the right points.

I’ve brought it up a few times in the last couple of weeks, but I can’t let today’s episode pass without giving one final mention… Bernard Cribbins really is wonderful, isn’t he? Can you imagine that there could have been a version of Doctor Who where he only made that on brief cameo appearance in Voyage of the Damned and then that was it? Horrible thought. A real pity that he had to step back into the programme in circumstances where another actor had passed away, but what a tribute to give - one of the best performances the show ever has. I’m so glad that he was given such a prominent role to play in these final episodes of the era, getting to really showcase his range and make you laugh out loud (‘God bless the cactuses!’) and tear up (‘I don’t want you to die!’) in equal measure. He really steals the show from Tennant in his final episodes, and I don’t think anyone could mind.

And now, we’re off into a bold new era! At the time, I found the Matt Smith years (well, the first couple, at least) far less to my liking than the previous few years of Doctor Who had been, and I’ve never really gone back to give them a second chance. With the exception of tomorrow’s Eleventh Hour and the 50th Anniversary special in a few weeks, I’ve never rewetted any of this era, so it’s like seeing it fresh and new, which is a very exciting thought.

It also means that I’m drawing to the very end of this mammoth project, and so I need your help! I need to decide how I’m going to be ending things. The original plan, way back in January 2013 when The 50 Year Diary kicked off was to stop with the 50th Anniversary. Nice and neat - hence the name - to cover every story from the programme’s first half-century. But then Matt Smith went and left just one episode later, so I thought I’d include that one, too, just to round off the era nicely. But now I’m wondering - with Series Nine only a few months away, and having enjoyed Series Eight so much when it was broadcast last year, do I carry on for an extra fortnight and do those episodes, too? That way, I’ll have covered all the episodes of Doctor Who. Let me know which approach you’d rather in the comments; do I finish with Time of the Doctor, or Last Christmas?


*I’m trying not to complain about the things I’m not so keen on in today’s episode, because it’s nice to keep things a bit nicer for a Doctor’s departure, but I have to grumble about the Mickey and Martha pairing. Not because I’ve specifically anything against the two of them getting together, but because it’s just another notch in that belt of Martha’s character being a bit rubbish after Series Three. She first gets engaged to a bloke she met in an alternate timeline for about 24 hours, despite showing very little chemistry with him in the first place, and then suddenly ditches him to marry a bloke she aired only a couple of scenes with in another episode (did Micky and Martha actually speak to each other in the Series Four finale?). It just felt so odd at the time, and it still doesn’t sit right five years on…

3 March 2015

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

Day 792: The End of Time - Part One

Dear diary,

At the time, I recall being really disappointed with David Tennant’s exit from Doctor Who. I mused the other day that knowing almost a year in advance who his replacement was going to be and only having a few scattered episodes here and there (of varying quality) meant that by the time this two-part story rolled around I was just ready for the new Doctor. The regeneration was just another thing in the way of getting on with something different, and frankly more exciting. Then this story aired, and I wasn’t keen, and the same was true for almost my entire circle of friends. The general opinion among us was that the brilliant Russell T Davies era had gone out really feebly, and it was a pity after five years which had brought us some really brilliant television.

So I was pleased to find that today, there’s lots that I’ve found to enjoy about this one. The Doctor arriving on the planet of the Ood at the start (still not quite as impressive as the matte shots, but certainly a more interesting area than the basin of ‘snow’ the TARDIS put down in during Series Four), and the fact that he’s spent such a long time running away from his summons (I really wish they’d gone with the suggestion Davies makes in The Writer’s Tale, though, that the Doctor should emerge from the TARDIS with a few flecks of grey in his hair, as though he’d done anything and everything to put off this moment). In fact, everything on the Ood planet is rather nice, and I love the design of the ‘Elder Ood’. it serves as a nice way of bringing the audience up-to-speed with the events of the Master’s last story, too, while making it feel part of the narrative.

For some reason, last time around, I took issue with the Master’s resurrection, but I can’t for the life of me remember why, and I can’t say I’ve got any problem with it here - again it’s something I’ve rather enjoyed. And then there’s everything between the Doctor and Wilf, and that beautiful moment where the Doctor ruminates on the fact that people have had to wait centuries to meet him again, and then Wilf manages it in a single afternoon, as though he’s drawing all the threads together in his own mind…

But not everything is working for me, and I’m perhaps not surprised to find that the same things are bugging me this time around that did last time. The biggest one has to be the Master’s ‘superpowers’, for want of a better word. I just find that they’re taking me out of the narrative every time they crop up. It’s not the skeletal part which bothers me (last time, I know I wasn’t keen on that, but this time around that aspect kind of works for me), it’s the mega jumps which are causing me an issue. It’s most distracting just after an incredibly powerful scene between the Doctor and the Master, in which our hero realises that the drums in his foe’s head are real… and then the Master uses his energy to propel himself into the air like Iron Man. The entire beauty of that scene was completely shattered for me by that final moment. I’ve not even got an issue with the Master going berserk at that point - it’s very in character for this incarnation - but the ‘flight’ just doesn’t work for me at all I’m afraid.

The other thing that I’ve always found so off-putting that I can’t help but look out for it and notice it even worse now if the Vinvocci make-up. For some reason, the green of the faces was added digitally on this occasion instead of as regular make-up, and it doesn’t match with the bits of prosthetic at all. It really stands out like a sore thumb, and it’s a real shame that such a botched experiment occurs in - of all episodes - David Tennant’s final story.

Oh but enough with the whining, because you know what? That moment at the end, with the big speech about the return of the Time Lords, where we pull back from planet Earth and pan round to see the Narrator, catching sight of a Gallifreyan collar only a fraction of a second before he announces who they are… it’s so beautifully executed, and is probably the best cliffhanger of the entire Russell T Davies era. Now that’s one to go out on…

2 March 2015

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

Day 791: Dreamland

Dear diary,

Much like The Infinite Quest alongside Series Three, I never really paid all that much attention to Dreamland. Because I’d taken a bit of a step back from Doctor Who in 2009, I’d missed a lot of the build up around it, and I have to confess that the broadcast completely passed me by. I picked up the DVD not long after, intending to give it a watch, but it’s simply sat still in wrapper on the shelf for the last five years. There was something quite exciting about unwrapping it for the marathon today - it’s like finding a missing episode and getting to experience it for the first time.

I’d been warned earlier this week not to expect too much, and especially that the animation in this one was ‘atrocious’, but actually I have to say I’m rather fond of it. Certainly, I prefer it to the style used for The Infinite Quest, and there’s something about the likeness of the Doctor in this one which really works for me. I don’t know if I can claim that it actually looks like David Tennant, but it certainly looks like the character of the Tenth Doctor, and that’s good enough for me. Oh, sure, there’s a few ropey moments scattered throughout - the way that doors open, or any time we get a look at character’s feet while they’re walking, for example - but on the whole I was hooked in enough to not really bother about that.

Which is the real point with this one - the story captured me enough to make me overlook the fact that I was watching an animated Doctor Who episode, and instead just allowed me to enjoy a fairly decent Doctor Who story. I won’t say it caught me right away - the first ten minutes or so proved a struggle, and I did almost think I was just going to give up half way and write about the fact that I was bored. Once things were properly underway, though, I suddenly found myself really captured - and enjoying it!

Oh, sure, the story is a bit simplistic in places (and more than a little bit clichéd), but that kind of works with the style of the whole piece - it’s a little bit of light entertainment before we head off for the Tenth Doctor’s final stand. A good way for him to have a nice simple adventure before the end. Plus it’s ignited an interest in all that ‘UFO’ nonsense again, and I’ve spent the last couple of hours enjoying increasingly outlandish ‘alien’ sightings on the internet, so that’s helped to pass an afternoon when there’s probably real work I could be getting on with.

What’s been most interesting, though, is thinking about the fact that this episode could very easily be made live action these days. In 2009, this likely would have felt a bit large scale to pull off in 45 minutes live-action, but almost all the elements have since turned up in the programme proper. The ‘American outback’ setting (complete with diner), the standard alien based on ‘Greys’… even the giant insect creatures could be pulled off now in more-or-less the same way the robots were created for Dinosaurs on a Spaceship - it’s interesting to look back and see how far we’ve come in such a sort time.

But I can’t put it off any more. Finally, from tomorrow, we’ll be headed for The End of Time itself… 

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