Sunday, 24 November 2013

Doctor Who Day 2013: The 50th Birthday

And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper'd pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side,
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

The Day of the Doctor

SPOILER WARNING: Do not read this review if you have not watched it yet. Rectify that and then come back.


Until now there has been an unbridged gap between the TV series Doctor Who that ran from 1963 until 1989 (briefly returning in 1993 and 1996) and the TV series called Doctor Who that began in 2005 and is still going. And for as long as that gap remained then claims that the show currently starring Matt Smith is 50 years old were, at best, on shaky foundations.

I don't just mean that when the 'old' series ended the Doctor was played by Paul McGann, but when the 'new' series started the Doctor was Christopher Eccleston. The Doctor being played by a different actor, without us explicitly seeing the changeover (oo-er), is not the problem so much as the Doctor having a different character, without us getting to see and understand why.

We were told why: the Time War. But that character arc was closed off, or so it seemed and so it should have been, in the episode The Parting of the Ways that ended Christopher Eccleston's time as the Doctor. The Doctor was a war survivor plagued by guilt over his actions, who redeemed himself when he could not commit the same actions again.

If the Doctor that followed his regeneration, David Tennant, had been played like the Doctors of old, then the gap would have been closed without us ever needing to see the Time War or the eighth regeneration. But we didn't get that. Tennant's Doctor was the Doctor of "no second chances" (from The Christmas Invasion, his first story) who "needs someone to stop him" (The Runaway Bride), and as for Matt Smith's Doctor...


The Day of the Doctor is about the redemption of the Doctor (again), but it also goes some way towards redeeming the mistakes of Doctor Who. Because although it is going over ground that should not have needed to be gone over again, it does it really well.

Was the Doctor's character fatally undermined by his killing of all the Time Lords in the Time War? Well, we never saw the Time War before, but we were eventually told that all the Time Lords turned into baddys, just as evil as the Daleks. All of the Time Lords? Even the Time Tots?


"Life's like that. Best thing is just to get on with it."

The retconning of the Time War has always been a possibility, perhaps even an inevitability if the series lasted long enough. The trick was to do it well. And The Day of the Doctor did it very well. It bridges the gap, it retcons the Doctor's guilt, it saves Gallifrey, but it doesn't wipe away the Time War or too obviously go against things we know must have happened. Oh, Steven Moffat has been very clever in writing this, the cleverest he has been since Blink, easily, and perhaps just his best script full stop.

Just as when I watched Time and the Rani, I went in expecting to have to be rescued by Scary Cat at any moment. After all, when we left Doctor Who at the end of season 33 we were faced with the prospect of River Sue popping in at any moment. The only past Doctor we knew was coming back for a reunion was David Tennant, for a competition with Matt Smith over which one has the most annoying catchphrases and mannerisms. With Billie Piper due to appear too then all the signs pointed to the return of the insufferable Doctor-Rose boo-hoo partnership that we thought we had (finally) seen the back of.

Three things countered that.

First, River Sue wasn't in it at all!


Second, having John Hurt there as an older Doctor, puncturing the tics and idiotic behaviour of Tennant and Smith whenever possible (calling out the stupidity of wielding the sonic screwdriver like a "water pistol" was my best bit there), and doing it in-character too (the different Doctors don't get on, lol) - fantastic. It made the interplay between Doctors funny and charming when it could have been annoying.

John Hurt owned every scene he was in, as you would expect.
Don't go in there.

And third: Billie Piper was in it, but Rose Tyler wasn't. What a twist! I approve. Purr.


I had a bit of a mew to myself when Queen Elizabeth I appeared, since previous references to her have been little better than bad jokes with no place in Doctor Who, but even this was handled well, making the bad references better retroactively.

I loved the way time was used in the story, from the little moments like the fez appearing out of order to the way the resolution was not the usual deus ex machina of the Doctor Who epic but flowed from plot points established earlier. Every plot strand came together brilliantly. The noms on top of the other noms was when all the Doctors (all the Doctors!) appeared to help. And the scene with Tom Baker at the end. Purr purr, I am a happy cat.

If there was any flaw in this masterpiece, it was that the mixing of comedy with the drama was not perfectly balanced, switching from silly bits to serious bits and back again too quickly, hindering the development of dramatic momentum and tension. Perhaps you don't need so much dramatic tension in a birthday celebration? I don't know, I'm only a cat.
An opinionated cat.
And a handsome cat.
And a big and gay and long cat.
Still, there have been much worse examples of this in Doctor Who, where the 'comedy' has killed the drama or the serious, cry-now moments have killed the comedy so much that they go

On the subject of comedy...

The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot

This was great and so very, very lolsome. Full of silliness and Doctor Who in-jokes and fun, and in its own way as wonderful a birthday celebration as Dave the Doctor. It is hard to choose a best bit, but possibly Steven Moffat's dream sequence with Mathew Waterhouse (Adric) just beats the scene with John Barrowman and his dark secret.

Doctor Who Night 2013: The 50th Birthday

All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms.
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress' eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon's mouth.


The theme for this year's Doctor Who Night was chosen to be the middle of Doctor Who's 50 years; seasons 24, 25 and 26; the Sylvester McCoy era.


Time and the Rani

Infamously voted the third-worst Doctor Who story of all time by the readers of Doctor Who Magazine in 2009 (although that was before certain other stories were made), the bubble reputation of Sylvester McCoy's first story precedes it.

This was the first time Duncan had watched Time and the Rani since it was first shown on TV in 1987 (the heart of the 1980s), so he was coming to it almost as fresh as I was. I thought I might need Scary Cat standing by to scare it away if it got too much for me, but it was actually not nearly so bad as it was supposed to be.

That doesn't mean that it was good: the Doctor's seventh character was not settled down and his saying the wrong sayings, which was meant to be funny, wasn't.

But it had redeeming features - I liked the fabulous colours of the setting, and the Tetraps were properly scary monsters (though not too scary; being little more than overgrown flying mouses they would be no match for cats), and the big brain reminded me of Ultraworld.

Remembrance of the Daleks

Now that is more like it. From the pre-titles sequence through to the epic climactic confrontation between the Doctor and Davros, this is a worthy successor to the great Terry Nation Dalek serials of the past. It also makes for a great 25th anniversary story, being set in the same year as the series began. And it's a fantastic story in its own right!


It has Michael Sheard and George Sewell in it as guest-stars, playing the henchmannys of the rival Dalek factions. Poor Michael Sheard dies again, and the Doctor doesn't even think about investigating why he has met him so many times. As for George Sewell, he dies as well, so I guess he will never get his revenge on Paul Foster for stealing all his lines in UFO.

The Curse of Fenric

Cthulhu likes this one (not as much as Love & Monsters), and I have to agree with him. It was very scary towards the end, with vampires and monsters and "love" being the code word to kill mannys and Dinsdale Landen giving an amazing performance as the Fenric-possessed Dr Judson. The cliffhanger to part three is one of my best scary cliffhangers in Doctor Who, and that comes from the way he says one line.


"We play the contest again, Time Lord."

Of course there was also some Doctor Who on the TV yesterday, which there isn't in most years, but by the time we had finished watching these three stories it was time for sleeps. With the power of the internets I watched them the next day...

Saturday, 23 November 2013

A Series of Adventures in Time and Space

Duncan comments on An Adventure In Space And Time.


I don't want to nitpick, because while I know that The Reign of Terror was over long before the first Dr Who annual came out, and that the time rotor was not in motion during the Doctor's great speech at the end of Bell of Doom (because otherwise the TARDIS would have left Steven behind), these things are not, when it comes down to it, important.

What I consider to be the one crucial flaw of An Adventure In Space And Time is that it told two stories instead of one, and as a result seemed to do full justice to neither.

The first story is that of the creation of Doctor Who in the BBC establishment of the early '60s. It is the story of the people behind the cameras that got it made despite all the obstacles, in particular the producer Verity Lambert and director Waris Hussein, both of whom faced prejudice for more than just being young (I am aware that is a massive understatement but that's not what I want to go into here). In this story the actors, even William Hartnell, are only a part.


The second story is that of the survival of Doctor Who beyond the expectations of any involved in its creation, which was only achieved by the successful replacement of crew and cast, one by one, culminating in the replacement of Hartnell as the lead at the time of the first regeneration. In this story Hartnell is the key character, as we see that the survival of the series is only possible because nobody, not even the Doctor, is irreplaceable.

Somewhere around the middle of the 90-minute run time, the focus shifts from story one to story two, a two-part story edited together like the '80s VHS releases.

You can see this by the change in focus from Verity Lambert, who fades from the centre of the stage once The Daleks gives her a hit and the vindication her character has been looking for, to William Hartnell, who takes the spotlight as the Doctor takes the central role in the series (it was an ensemble of four to begin with), and just in time for his declining health to make his departure from that role inevitable.

The result is that An Adventure In Space And Time feels to me like a compromise between these two stories, each easily strong enough to make a compelling drama of its own. We could have had a series of Adventures in Time and Space.

It is the crucial flaw, but is it a fatal flaw? No, definitely not. Even though, as a Doctor Who fan for 30 years (since I was so young I cannot remember a time when I did not know of multiple Doctors), I knew much of the background - enough to spot those nits I am refraining from picking (sorry for that imagery) - I was hooked by the characters and the superb portrayals by David Bradley, Jessica Raine, Sacha Dhawan, et al. This was, after all, a story; a drama, not a documentary. Like William Hartnell himself, it didn't have to be word-perfect.


It wasn't perfect, but it was very good. Right, with that said I'm off to watch Time and the Rani. Keep warm.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Break Down

Breakdown isn't the best episode of Blakes 7, but here are Avon's best bits from it.


Avon and Blake work together to fly the Liberator through an orange whirly thing in space. Oh wait, since this is a Terry Nation episode that should be a space orange whirly thing.


Avon is busy trying to fix the computer when Gan comes in and fights him, causing Avon to make a number of amusing faces.




After this, Avon decides to leave the Liberator for a new life of not getting into fights with Gan.


"Staying with you requires a degree of stupidity of which I no longer feel capable."


Avon soon has a new friend, but he doesn't get on with Farren as well as he did with Blake. You can see that in their body language here. It's just not the same.


By the end of the episode Avon is back where he belongs, by Blake's side.


The baddy in this episode is Professor Kayn, played by Julian Glover. He likes having hands (with thumbs on them) and his sidekick is Leslie Phillips.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Storm Bringer

"Ah, no - I - had - not - expected this!"

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Project Avon


Avon doesn't have much to do in Project Avalon. He spends the entire episode on the Liberator, and most of it operating the teleport for the other characters. He does have a couple of good scenes with Vila when Vila doesn't want to teleport to the planet.


"Oh, no, wait a minute, it's cold out there and I'm very susceptible to low temperatures. I've got a weak chest!"
"The rest of you's not very impressive."


Avon gets fed up of Vila's antics and makes this super-grumpy face.


But he smiles when Vila is finally teleported away.


When Federation Interceptors chase the Liberator, and with Blake, Jenna and Vila still on the planet, Avon takes charge. This means we get close-ups of Avon being dramatic.


This could be seen as foreshadowing the events of later seasons of Blakes 7, but it probably isn't really.


Avon makes his biggest contribution to the plot near the end of the episode, when he reprograms the Avalon robot to work for him and Blake instead of for Travis. She is now the Av(al)on robot.


Poor Travis is defeated once again, and he is left ranting to the small pink glowy thing which, in his nuttiness, he has mistaken for Blake.

"If it takes all my life, I will destroy you, Blake."

"I'm not Blake," we don't see the small pink glowy thing say.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Truel

Duel is an episode of Blakes 7 where Blake spends most of his time fighting Travis while Avon is back on the Liberator. I think it would have been better if Avon had been down on the planet with Blake instead of Jenna, though maybe then Travis wouldn't have been in any more episodes after this one!


This bit comes from near the start of the episode when it looks as though Travis might manage to destroy the Liberator. Avon and Blake are very close here - they're either arguing about Blake's plan or about to kiss.
Or both.

I think it's both.


Avon spends a lot of the episode watching the Blake/Travis duel. He is clearly worried about Blake when it looks as though he might lose. This is a bit like Mr Spock watching Captain Kirk fighting the Gorn captain in Arena.


"I have never understood why it should be necessary to become irrational in order to prove that you care. Or, indeed, why it should be necessary to prove it at all."


The duel finishes with Blake and Travis fighting with sticks, one-on-one, manny-a-manny.


Avon is happier when it looks like Blake will win.


Blake does win, of course, and - like Captain Kirk does with the Gorn - he spares Travis instead of killing him.


Travis goes back to his ship to try again next episode.