Monday 17 November 2008

We apologise for the delay to this service...

As you'll have realised, should you be reading this blog, we've had an extended break from the blog, following the end of Series 4. This was obviously to make sure we made absolutely no headway whatsoever on the back of the plug the Who Cast kindly gave us back in July...

So let's start this creaky machine back up again... And we have things to talk about.

There's a new Christmas special now only 5 weeks or so away (the Children In Need sampler of which got me whimpering with excitement like the man-child I am),

Obviously the news that now not just RTD is going, but David Tennant too, the prospect of a spectacular end for their tenures and the brave new world of the Vast Toffee MN - and the inteminable debate on who should take the role. Expect the Sun to fill pages with these rumours. Its nice to know that a national "News"paper is interested in the show... but maybe not if they're going to suggest Ross Kemp has accepted the role...

The year of the special next year, of course...

There's also the little matter of the Ood Cast writers coincidentally all turning up to the National Theatre on the South Bank here in London to see Russell talk to Benjamin Cook about their new book - hang on, no, not a coincidence, Andrew bought the tickets...

On the subject of that book (The Writer's Tale), Richard and Judy have picked it as part of their Christmas book campaign... and it'll be reviewed on their shiny new show on Watch by none other than Uncle Stephen Fry - I think on 26th Nov.

So, people, we are returning. Plans are afoot to do something new with the blog, but as the break has not been because we've each bought an island in the carribean and spent 5 months developing an EasyJet glow, there simply hasn't been time to return with a bang and a glitter.

Better to just return sometimes, I think! So here we are. The bang and the glitter will come limping in eventually. We wouldn't want you to be over-whelmed, would we?

See, dear reader... always thinking of you...

If there is anything you want to see on the site, anything you want us to look at or discuss, please use the comments on here to do it - always very happy to hear from people - and desperately glad for some ideas we didn't have to sweat over!

Tuesday 15 July 2008

blOODy hell, we're famous...

Well, nearly.

The wonderful eccentricities of my computer meant that for some reason I missed a couple of recent episodes of the DWO Who Cast... Which I downloaded last night and listened to this lunchtime.

I listened to Episode 76 and nearly choked on my sushi when they started the "Random Fandom" section by mentioning the name "The Ood Cast"...

Tony and Trevor are both very nice about us and I've probably mentioned this before, but I'll do it all over again - the Who Cast is well worth a listen, definitely one of the best DW-themed podcasts out there, and always an entertaining half an hour or so of listening.

Oh, and they mention my rant about people's, frankly wrong, opinions on The Unicorn and The Wasp. Oops...!

But the word is out... Look it up on iTunes if you don't believe me...

Or download it from here...

Tuesday 8 July 2008

Ood ear...

Now it's my turn to be the contrarian.




I really didn't like it.


I actually nearly switched off after the resolution to the multiple cliffhanger. Sorry, I said resolution, I was aiming at cop out and accidently said resolution. No one was in any danger at all. Come ON! I lost count of the number of characters in there, shoe horned in like Old Mother Wotsit and her shoe. Davros did practically nothing, what a waste! A new Doctor was grown so Rose could have him, blergh. It was all, oooooo we are in danger!!! Oh, no we are not so that's all right then.

Towing a planet through space? No, come ON! What would happen to the gravitational forces and therefore the atmosphere? Someone tell me if that's possible?

You had to have some knowledge of the Christmas Invasion (the hand and Harriet Jones) and Doomsday (Rose, Bad Wolf Bay, Jackie and Mickey). You had to know who Captain Jack and Martha were. If all those companions hadn't been involved then we might have had more plot.

What a build up to Davros' end of series entrance only for him to do almost nothing. The comparision of the Doctor and Davros as the two destroyers of worlds was interesting and I was surprised that it wasn't explored further.

One thing did work for me! (Hooray!). The Doctor Donna. Nice idea; the companion that becomes the Doctor but cannot 'take' being part Time Lord. (Loved the opportunity to show that Doctor could fix the chameleion circuit if he wants to). How sad that this wonderful hero will never know what she did with the Doctor. What a down beat ending too. I hope Donna does make something of her life now. But then, it's only a story.

Oh well.... I love Doctor Who. And I love what Russell T Davies has done with it. It's just this time I didn't.

Monday 7 July 2008

Red Letter Days

Saturday was supposed to be a momentous day for Doctor Who – it was RTD’s big finale, in effect. An episode where he pulled together as many loose strings from the last four years as he could fit into an hour and tried to tie them all together once and for all.

We finally saw the door slammed on the ridiculous Doctor-and-Rose-sitting-in-a-tree… "tension". Mickey finally moved on (to Torchwood?). Martha finally seems to have joined Torchwood permanently. Donna is back with her family – having got better and better as the series rolled on. And we got that answer to the regeneration question.

But did it all come off?

I think so, yes – but to be honest, I'm not all that sure.

It was fantastic to watch - a real visual feast. But it was a disappointing way to close off such a massive story... There was so much to go on, so much promise, and we got a bit of a cop-out and a lot of confusion...

Personally I didn’t mind the cheesy family-stuff with the Doctor and his "children of time" as Davros put it. Actually, the way he said it made it all pretty chilling. I loved the delightfully-mad Dalek Kaan, his false prophecies and ultimate betrayal – and that the Doctor even offered to save Davros’ life at the end.

But I didn't really understand why all the companions were needed - excepting maybe as a distraction for the doctor. A particular highlight for me was Davros. The scenes involving him were magnificent – and particularly when he thought he was in total control. Ahough they could have and should have done a lot more with him than they did.

The two-way meta-crisis: interesting idea, although its back to RTD’s "imaginative" science… I really enjoyed the consequences – the Doctor who talked like Donna, and finally an explanation to the Ood’s mysterious Doctordonna… But for me, it was more Star Trek than Doctor Who, and I have never been a huge fan of Star Trek...

I thought what they did with Donna’s "death" was excellent – and she was finally properly likeable – proper human emotions in trying to deal with a situation so far removed from being "just a temp. From Essex." The extra Doctor was borderline for me. I sort of saw it coming, but hoped that it would be something else. I think it was handled well until the Bad Wolf Bay bit, and then it got nauseating, but at least it got the romance element out of everything (every cloud and all that).

The ending in particular, with Wilf, was lovely. Very sad, and I am particularly sad to see Bernard Cribbins’ place in the series go with Donna. But it was a good ending to a very good year in Doctor Who.

Three things though – C, G and I.

The Daleks, for me, had their appeal in being an endless force – no matter how many were destroyed or disabled, more and more came after it. Part of the secret was that you couldn’t see or know just how many there were. Genesis, Revelation or Planet of the Daleks wouldn't have been as tense or dramatic or good if you could seen thousands of them flitting around on their way to battle stations, coffee breaks etc...

But when the Doctor walks out into a massive space, filled with flying Daleks, I lose interest. It looks like a hoard of fruit flies bustling around a discarded apple core. Its not threatening, or scary. It’s preposterous.

The other bit that bothered me was the whole "towing the earth back home" bit. As a concept and a plot point, its fine – it’s a very Doctor thing to do. But why oh why oh why did they have to show it? It looked cheap and silly. We didn’t need to see it.

I could see it working with say, Tom Baker - but it would certainly not be shown... It would have been one of those little asides... You know, like this:

Sarah: But Doctor, what about the Earth?
Doctor: What about it?
Sarah: For goodness sake, its still stranded miles from where it should be!
Doctor: Oh that. I towed it back into position using the TARDIS. (Teeth fill the screen) Come on, let's go and find a cup of tea...

And that scene where they're all flying the TARDIS... it was the first time in a long, long time that I've wanted to go and make a cup of tea in the middle of Doctor Who (for the record, the last time was while I was watching a video at uni... and my VCR was a fancy model with a pause button and everything...)

All in all, it was brilliant – if self-referential and a bit messy- a real climax to the first four seasons, and despite its flaws, I’m glad it was so big and bold. What a fantastic way of clearing the decks for the Vast Toffee* to step in.

And then there was the trailer (or should I say "spoiler") for the Christmas special. What was it again?

Oh yes:"Coming this Christmas… The return of the Cybermen."

Well. Thanks.

That’s the surprise taken out of that one then. Where are your spoilers now, River Song?!

Still, I suppose that stopped The Sun leaking it later on.

*Vast Toffee MN (Master of Nightmares) - Steven Moffat - brilliant anagram courtesy of Staggering Stories...

Sunday 6 July 2008

Exterminate! Speculate!

The week between The Stolen Earth and Journey’s End produced a huge amount of rumour and speculation. The names I heard being suggested for the next Doctor are as follows…:

Robert Carlyle, James McEvoy, James Nesbitt, Anthony Head, Alan Davies, Eddie Izzard, Stephen Fry, Johnny Depp, Ewen McGregor, Jason Statham, Richard Coyle, Alan Rickman, Paul Bettany, Richard E. Grant, John Simm, James Purefoy, Julian Rhind-Tutt, Robson Green (?!), David Morrisey, David Mitchell, Jimmy Carr, Hugh Laurie, James Marsters, Lenny Henry, Patterson Joseph, Ade Edmonson, Richard Armitage, Dylan Moran, Kris Marshall…

Oh this is pointless. It will go on forever. And DT is here for Christmas and the 3 specials next year at least. So why bother talking ourselves into a frenzy now?

I’d like to discount a few though. Some are obvious – like Jason Statham for a starter (this is Doctor Who, not a Guy Ritchie film - you actually need to be able to act). The people who suggest him on forums want him to make the Doctor a gun-wielding action hero. Well, then, he wouldn't be the Doctor... If you want that, watch Ultimate Force - Doctor Who isn't your kind of show...

Johnny Depp, James McEvoy, Ewen McGregor and Alan Rickman (as lovely as they would be, this is small fry).

Robson Green and Jimmy Carr (I won’t even bother with a reason).

Eddie Izzard, Stephen Fry, Ade Edmonson and David Mitchell (all would potentially be great – but I think they’d have difficulty being seen as anyone but themselves in a fancy time machine).

Oh, and someone (you know who you are, pillock) on the Telegraph website suggested Roger Delgado (for a “wicked twist”). I don’t know which element of that is more wicked – the original Master becoming the doctor, or the excavation and reanimation of Roger Delgado’s body…

Thursday 3 July 2008

A Few Thoughts

I made a special effort on Saturday. So as well as doing the bits and pieces I needed to, I actually saw The Stolen Earth on the same night it was broadcast.

Boy I wish I hadn't. I'd caught up with Turn Left just a night or two before, and it felt brilliant to sit down and catch the next part so soon. But then I was left with a whole week to wait before I find out what's going to happen next! ARGH!

Turn Left, I thought, was rather good. Our Wide-Eyed colleague has unpacked the events better than a German tourist in a Spanish resort, so I won't go down that route - I may have more to add at some point, but I'll have to check a few things - and I definitely don't disagree!

I am always nervous at RTD scripts. It always seems like the bits I dislike about the series (as few as they are) have come from RTD episodes... But I'm so pleased that Turn Left has joined Midnight to prove my fears unfounded.

I'd be happy to leave my opinion of Turn Left as this: "It's like a Moffat episode. But without the explanations."

The Stolen Earth, I notice from reading the reviews this week, has been received with a few mixed opinions. Some hated it and it's end-of-term-familiar-sight of endless monsters. Most, I think, loved the plethora of familiar faces, the shock of the ending and the only thing everyone agrees on is the return of Davros. Even if the rest had been awful, that was magnificent. Very suspenseful, despite everyone more-or-less knowing what was coming, it was damn creepy - and personally, I had a little shiver. Brilliant.

I've heard so many rumours and ideas about a solution, including one which sounds rubbish, but feasible and something I can see RTD doing. I won't say it here. But I should just mention that regeneration is probably not what we're going to see - DT has already filmed the Christmas Special and signed for next year's specials. Personally, I'm keeping all things crossed to see the Doctor healed and Peter Davison pulled back to help DT defeat Davros... Possibly too far off the possible scales. But it makes the time go faster!

I will go into it more after this Saturday - and hey, maybe we'll get that podcast thing done and talk all this through in vocally-expressed soundwaves.... But please! Bring on Saturday!

Monday 23 June 2008

Too much time on my hands ...

My good friend Andrew wrote me an email this afternoon concerning ‘Turn Left’, it went something (or almost exactly) like this:

“But if the Doctor died at the end of the Runaway Bride then he wouldn’t have been able to stop the Carrionites. Or the Daleks. Or The Family of Blood. Or the Weeping Angels. Or the Pyrovilles. So Earth History would have been completely knackered from at least the eruption of Vesuvius, no? Or do RTD scripted invasions carry greater potential danger than all of the above?

It’s time for your timey-wimey-wibbly-wobbly Oodcast post to sort all this out!”

It’s a conundrum and an arresting one at that. For a series based around the central conceit of time travel, Dr Who (particularly this new iteration) plays its cards surprising close to its chest where matters of temporal chronology are concerned. RTD OBE would rather tell a good story than get bogged down in the geeky nuts and bolts of it and more power to him if that’s how he feels. However, I’m a Dr Who fan, dammit, and for a lot of us the geeky nuts and bolts are not beside the point, rather they are the point. No, perhaps that’s overstating it slightly but they are an integral part of the tissue of rarified pleasures that make up the dna of the show. So, with that in mind, and with every intention of arriving at an answer to Andrew’s query at some point down the line, it is my great pleasure to present:

The Troubadour’s Laws of Time Travel* **

First Law: Time Lords are creatures of time

Wow. Incisive stuff, I’m sure you’ll agree. Let me unpack this a bit for you so you can see why it’s relevant. What I mean is this: time is a Time Lord’s natural habitat, they move through it as easily as a Silurian through water or a human through nitrous rich air. It’s natural for them, it’s the way they’re built. Witness the Doctor’s extra sensory perceptions, he can literally see time in flux, respond to its ebbs and flows, he is as aware of changes in time as keenly as we perceive changes in temperature or light. Also, long time fans of the show will recognise that the TARDIS is less a vehicle and more an extension of the Doctor’s physiognomy. He’s not just a bloke with a time machine, to all extents and purposes he is part time machine, the TARDIS in this case analogous to a set of gills or an exo-skeleton - a physical, outward manifestation of an evolutionary advantage.

Now this is all well and good but how does it help us explain time travel? Aha, read on my confounded friend and I will elucidate. You see, if we accept that it is a natural state of affairs for the Doctor to be traveling in time then we can also accept that his personal timeline was never meant to be linear. Whereas we Earth bound organism were only ever meant to travel A to B, time wise, the Doctor’s personal history is more like a cosmic plate of spaghetti, all over the place basically. Where as a human companion is being pulled out of their timeline when traveling in the TARDIS, the Doctor is merely fulfilling a function of his existence. The crucial point here though is that the Doctor can no more travel backwards through his personal timeline than we can decide to visit last Tuesday. He may treat human history like a personal toy box to rummage through at will but he’s as powerless as anyone else to go back and change his own past. That’s why he can’t go back and save Adric or tell his 4th incarnation to touch those two wires together in ‘Genesis’ and win the Time War without a shot being fired. The only time he can cross his own personal history is if he has played no active role in events*** (like Father’s Day) and even then the results can be devastating. From a distance it looks like he can go anywhere and see anything but in actual fact his travels cause time to coalesce around him, possibilities solidifying into certainties as he experiences them. Setting history in stone by his very presence.

Second Law: Gallifrean Mean Time

So why can the Doctor change Earth’s history and not his own? The most popular theory involves a concept called Gallifrean Mean Time (or GMT). This states that the universe has an event horizon, a present day in effect that advances forwards and before which one can no longer time travel. All Time Lords, wherever they are in time and space, share this awareness of what is the present, even though they are all over the place, all over time in different incarnations, shot through the universe like a stick of rock, only one of those incarnations is ever the ‘present’ Time Lord. The rest are fixed past selves or possible futures. The twist in the tale is that this ‘present day’ is actually still billions of years in the past and Earth is actually just a probable future planet (made more probable, it must be assumed, by the amount of it’s future history that has been fixed in place by the Doctor and other time travelers experiencing it). GMT also explains why there is only ever one president of Gallifrey at any given moment, why the Doctor knows what time period to visit if he gets a distress signal from his own world and why he only ever meets the Master one time after another in a linear order despite jumping between times and places. It also explains why there was only five Doctors to choose from at the time of ‘The Five Doctors’ and not thirteen. Most of all it explains why he can never see his own people again, despite them all being time travelers, the event horizon of the present has passed by the destruction of Gallifrey, committing it to the past, and he can never go back there, nor can anyone from there ever be in the same place as him at the same time. The Doctor has to obey the second law of time travel just as surely as we have to obey the law of gravity, he can bend it but he can’t break it. There are things that are lost to him forever.

Right, on to Andrew’s question. Armed with these theories the answer becomes pretty straight forward (I hope). When the creature forces Donna to turn right rather than left it creates a parallel universe where the Doctor has died and everything has gone to hell in a hand basket. But this is certainly not a fully fledged parallel universe of the kind we visited in The Age of Steel. It is a rickety, cowboy-builder-esque construction created by a creature of dubious power. We are told time and again in the episode that reality has been bent around Donna herself, the changes have been made with her as the conduit so we can reasonably assume the new universe shares her linear limitations when it comes to time. Consequently, the only changes that are made are one’s where the Doctor’s wibbly-wobbly timeline intersect with Donna’s timeline from the right-turn moment onwards. There’s no way that the creature could extrapolate every change that the Doctor’s death would have across all time and space, it’s host is an ordinary, A to B, time-bound human and so it can only affect change in one direction - forwards. In fact, it is entirely possible that this new universe doesn't even have a history before the point of Donna's decision - that it merely branches off from the main continuum and exists in a little paradoxical bubble by itself.

(If we also take the second law into account, we can really see the creature has bitten off more than it can chew. Because the Doctor manifestly didn’t die during The Christmas Invasion and that has now been set in stone. Time can not just shift slightly around such a colossal error. That is why the whole bodged-up, rubbish, fragile parallel universe came into existence in the first place.)

So there we have it - it was one crappy time beetle against the last gate-keeper of an intrinsic function of the universe’s temporal physics (or the champion of time to give him another name). And the stupid beetle lost. Hope that helps.

* Specifically in the Whoniverse, this doesn’t hold true for Back to the Future, Quantum Leap, the Terminator milieu or JCVD action classic ‘Time Cop’.

** I would be wrong to pass this off as all my own work. Rather it is a bastardisation of hundreds of things I’ve read over the years all cobbled together into a Frakenstein-esque whole. I’d gladly name my sources if I could but unfortunately I’ve forgotten most of them, I seem to remember several copies of DWM, an editor’s note in a Virgin New Adventures book and one of those interminable Dr Who encyclopedia of the mid-80s all played a part. So well done to you guys!

*** Or through massive Time Lord intervention, probably holding it all together with some sort of paradox machine on a planetary scale (see any episode where the Doctor meets himself)

Friday 20 June 2008

When the night is long…

I find straight-up horror films pretty boring these days. I almost think its fair to say that if a film states that it is a horror film, and is not made in Japan – its probably not very scary unless you’re a horror virgin or too young to see one. They generally end up in three categories, in my experience – the unheard-of, non-english-language original version, the plastic-bimbo-populated Hollywood remake, and the half-baked predictable teen-horror.

What’s impressive with Doctor Who at the moment, is how far they seem willing to push the boundaries for the timeslot they’ve been shoved in (I say shoved in: series 1-3 were all shown in a slot an hour later – and all pulled in roughly a million more viewers per week).

But this hasn’t quietened down the ambition of the production team. This series has had a feel of the inevitable about it – a kind of running dread that has wound its way around the storylines. But – no stories that have tried to freak viewers out with “scary” CGI monsters… Not that spring to mind, anyway.

And RTD’s episode, Midnight, seems to be the pinnacle – so far, anyway.

I’ve said before that I have my doubts about some of RTD’s episodes. In fact, I wasn’t overly impressed with Partners In Crime – although I enjoyed it…

I have found some of his other episodes a bit suspect – especially with Rose and the 10th Doctor. My personal view being that series 1 served Rose better as a character than series 2 with all the will-they-won’t-they rubbish that came along with it... A main culprit of that must have been RTD, being in charge of the overall “story arc”, and it seemed to be his episodes where that whole romance thing was dwelt on. I was disappointed with the start to series 2 – in particular New Earth, and I really wasn’t sure about the Peter Kay monster and pavement-love in Love and Monsters.

But, with Martha, his writing seemed to hit the mark more. And even more so with Donna. Or in the case of Midnight, without Donna…

This showed how far Doctor Who has come, I think. It wasn’t a monster-fest. It wasn’t a space war. It wasn’t an invasion. We didn’t even see the monster or get to hear what it was. And that was its strongest hand. Something that particularly Steven Moffatt has played on regularly is what people genuinely fear, and RTD has just pushed on into the psychological territory with this episode. People have an amazing talent by blowing fears up to huge proportions just by talking themselves into believing it… Just like this group of tourists.

Opinion seems divided with the newspapers, anyway. The Times were broadly critical, the Guardian were extremely enthusiastic. Out of the two, the Guardian had the better-written review, even if that’s because the reviewer seems to have approached the episode in a better frame of mind. The Times had a point, possibly, about the episode being a bit wordy, but it the reviewer was needlessly cynical, and doesn’t seem to have bothered either doing any research on this year’s series or taking a sense of humour to the sofa with him.

I agreed with this:

Midnight felt too much of a writing exercise to be really scary”

Well, to an extent. I think its proved with the moment when Sky looks up at the Doctor for the first time after she is possessed. Her head movements and the way she looks through him really was frightening.

I don’t agree that Tennant’s Doctor is becoming irritating, though – in context of the whole series, he’s not been short on confidence (after all, why should he be?), and I personally found the arrogant comments funny.

But on the whole, Midnight was great. RTD may well have been watching the Horror of Fang Rock when writing – the claustrophobic atmosphere is every bit as good, and its well-realised without going OTT with the effects.

There is just one thing though. I don’t see why the “hostess” would do what she did. She seemed far more concerned with rules and regulations than the good of her passengers...

Strong performances from another really good cast made this even better. And at least this monster wasn’t unrealistic!

Thursday 19 June 2008

I’d like to be ten again. I think it was when I watched Dalek in the first series that I first thought that. Watching that final scene where the mutant inside the machine realises the bigness of life and that it would have to stop being a Dalek to cope with it. But it realised that this conflicted with its prime motive in life: to be a soldier to advance the Dalek race. Big stuff done big.

In my first post on this blog I looked back at what Doctor Who had meant for me as a kid. So what’s it mean to me now? What makes it stand out as must see telly?

Its uniqueness is always going to be its biggest selling point. A quirky, unpredictable traveller in a time-space machine that looks like a phone box who never carries weapons and has an unshakable moral backbone faces a limitless diversity of situations and sets out to right wrongs. You can’t beat that for an idea. It’s incongruous, enchanting. It makes you think and it’s entertaining. Gotta love it.

I like my telly to be challenging. You can be challenged by all sorts of telly but Doctor Who does it in a way that embraces and salutes life. It doesn’t dwell on negatives. It takes the challenges of life and reflects them in ways that bring them to the fore in fresh and sparkling ways. The Lazarus Experiment’s discussion of immortality, The Last of the Time Lords on political power and the untapped power of the masses, Girl in the Fireplace, Human Nature and The Family of Blood on unrequited love and self sacrifice. Gridlock as brilliant satire and an exploration of community and, oh all sorts of things (I could watch it over and over), Utopia on the potential of the very wicked (Derek Jacobi’s take on the dim awareness that Yana was more than he thought was amazing), Fathers Day on self sacrifice and parenthood. Ha! Take that Eastenders! Ya boo!

It’s thanks to Russell T Davies, the head honcho of the series, that it’s been so good, been written and made in such a full blown gutsy, hard hitting, clever, provoking and rigorous way. And the production team. What a team. RTD’s bold and un-dentable enthusiasm and self assurance in what he wants to achieve is a huge inspiration. He just knows what he wants to achieve and does it. Each episode of the series shines with this commitment and assurance and it’s a rare thing. Fourteen episodes a year of rigorously written creative television that is really, really different each week is not a mean feat. It’s always fascinating and challenging, whether it’s the Doctor’s insistence on giving any villain a chance to change their ways or the uncomfortable way that he has sometimes dealt with them - it has created splendid debate in my office and, I hope, in the playground too. The depth of life experience too. The horror of and the choices in war, the reality of relying on people, the Doctor and Rose’s friendship - the most platonic relationship ever portrayed. The madness of the Master. Donna’s desire for betterment. The acceptance of the diversity of life. What a smorgasbord.

My personal favourites are each of the stories written by soon-to-be head writer Steven Moffatt. He hits a deeper resonance than RTD, who I think underwrites. (I thought RTD’s Midnight didn’t quite make it as a truly extraordinary exploration of human fear but was close). With the Moff you get the full whack every time, his plots are so intricate and his themes so solid. And his dialogue must make actors melt with delight. Who can forget the exploration of the Doctor’s relationship with Rose in the exchange, Rose: ‘Don’t tell me the Universe implodes or something if the Doctor dances. Go on then, show us show us your moves.’ The Doctor: (flustered) ‘Rose…. I’m trying to resonate concrete.’ And in Blink, the extraordinary reflection on Sally and Billy’s relationship that never was summed up when Old Billy shows up in the present: Billy: ‘It was raining when we met’ Sally: ‘It’s the same rain’. And Miss Evangelista’s final words: ‘I… I …. Ice Cream’. Or was it ‘I scream’? Goodness. Brrr. I wonder how the Moff gets away with such unveiled full-on drama in a family show. Whether referring to sex as dancing or the Doctor’s yearning for a normal, mortal life in the Girl in the Fireplace he breaks all sorts of assumed Who rules and no one complains. The mark of a great writer. Obviously the deeper and more adult stuff goes right over the kids heads and that's fine. I hope he has the same overall creative vision as RTD cos if so we are in for a few more years yet of this remarkable show reaching the heights that I have almost started to take for granted.

I’d like to be ten again so I could be inspired by all this great telly at the right age. Doctor Who was doing all this in the 1980s but today it’s just better. Telly is produced better these days. There are less restrictions. Doctor Who is so richly written and made with such assurance and shining team work. It speaks of the reality of life in a way that is always realistic, inclusive and optimistic and mostly outstandingly moral. What’s not to like? Darn, the series will be over soon!

Thursday 12 June 2008

And the nation's libraries were empty...

Oh so often in television, cliffhangers are abused. Cruelly used to drag viewers back against their better instincts to watch the next installment of whatever it is they're watching. And often, this is a complete let-down. Imagine sitting back to watch the new episode of Eastenders because the end of last night's has intrigued you - only to find out that its still a soap opera of negligable merit about depressing people and their petty little existences. Nothing is ever discussed - always dismissed as either "it's family" or in fisticuffs. Or a bottling. It is London, after all.

Where are the Krays when you need them, eh?

Well, I'm always worried that a cliffhanger in Doctor Who was just such a hook to drag you into a mediocre fishing net, filled with slippery little bores that rumble on endlessly about continuity, mythology and characters. Incidentally, I'd like to set up a forum for people to discuss and enjoy the good doctor's universe - but it would have a strict policy - the rules of Just A Minute would apply. Say continuity twice and you're out of here!

But why was I worried at the end of the Silence In The Library? Why did I even entertain the idea that the next part would be anything other than magnificent? I'm not sure. But I'm glad I was worried, if only that it meant I enjoyed The Forest of the Dead even more.

I think I'm pretty clear that this was "nu-who" all the way. It was involved, and emotional to levels that really didn't even register as an option in the 80s. I particularly liked the dream-time sequences - and Catherine Tate is starting to become impressive, even... Who'd have thought after Partners In Crime that we'd see this sort of performance from her. Stunning. And considering my views at the start of the series, I don't use the word lightly.

There were moments that brought a lump to my throat (but no, I didn't cry, in case you're wondering). And I sat grinning like the sad little fool that I am for the last ten minutes. You know the feeling when you see David Tennant sprint with such purpose, vault over things to get to what he needs to do, and slowly spread his Tom-Baker-esque grin out for all to admire, that something brilliant is happening. And in this case, I don't see how people couldn't have enjoyed this - it was a very Doctor Who ending - he couldn't let everyone die. No matter what happened, everyone still had to be saved.

I LOVED the double bluff in the mystery of what CAL was. Everyone I talked to and listened to in the intervening week assumed that the girl being CAL would be too obvious - after all, this was Steven Moffatt - it had to be more complicated, and more chilling than that. But it wasn't. And that was brilliant, somehow. It does prove that the writing doesn't have to be complex to work.

The completely bloodless confrontation with the Vashta Nerada is fabulous - a real harkening back to the old-school... Threatening an alien predator with an entry in a book could only be done by the Doctor, couldn't it?!

But I do have questions about the end... For one thing - they said that the planet was cracking apart - and yet he "saved" them in the Library's core. They're not safe for very long then...?

Also, he brought the others back from the hard-drive, so why not them?

But oh, this was great. Anyone else? We seem to have gone oddly quiet...

Thursday 5 June 2008

When The Going Gets Tough, The Moff Gets Going

Well. How to describe The Silence In The Library... I sat still afterwards for a few minutes, looking at the now empty screen I'd been watching it all on, and became very aware that I had a dark room behind me...

I've loved this series so far - so many things to like about the writing, the elusive "story-arc" (yawn). But the one thing I think we've been missing is suspense. Last year was not short of suspense - I think most, if not all the stories had elements of suspense - with 42 being extremely tense all the way through, and then the ultimate trio of episodes from Paul Cornell and Steven Moffat topping it all off. But this year, I think we've seen things coming.

The Sontaran story, as enjoyable as it was (and I mean that sincerely - it was incredibly watchable, even if I did have reservations about the plot), was not tense at any point, to me. The Doctor's Daughter gave away the suspense within a minute of the start and from then on was light on plot and pretty predictable (but great all the same). The Fires of Pompeii had some suspense in, and was a cracking early episode, but that's about it.

But as usual, The Moff defies us all. From start to finish, this episode pulsed like one of the classic Dalek tales or the relentless tension in the Web of Fear. There were some fantastic touches in structure - they're sealed in a library, but there's a little girl on earth (? Is it earth?) who can see all and communicate with them - even if she doesn't understand. Shadows that eat you alive - "not every shadow, but any shadow" is how the Doctor described it. Weapons useless against such an enemy is something that also screams classic Who to me - and makes all this even better.

Then there's Professor River Song. Odd name. Hope that means something good or important, because otherwise it'll annoy me as a useless comedy name that reminds me of an Ocean Colour Scene song.

We discussed River Song briefly when we "did lunch" last week - only briefly, as none of us wanted to spoil anything and I'd only mentioned that I'd heard a couple of "facts about her". Namely that she is meant to be the Doctor's lover, but she's from a future he hasn't got to yet. So far, that's half right.

Lovely touches, too, with the references to Donna - the way River started saying something about how the Doctor talked about her and then stopped herself. I wish they'd stop with all that now. We pretty much know that something horrible is going to happen at the end of the series - I just wish they'd let us wait for that in peace!

Fabulous cliffhanger too. That is something I miss from Classic Who - the weekly cliffhanger. Even the one in The Sontaran Stratagem wasn't all that nervy (like Wilfred is going to die that early...). But this was great - with a horrible but brilliant touch of the real faces on the robots.

Those are creepy too, and I liked Donna's earlier reaction to them "It chose me the face of a dead person that it thought I'd like?!"

By the time it had finished, I'd felt like I'd only just sat down to start it. It really didn't register that I'd just seen 45 minutes of brilliant TV until I'd seen the clock. I'm not sure I'd breathed for the last half an hour of that, either. This is what it's all about.

Bring on Saturday!

Saturday 31 May 2008

The Moff

I’m still shaking. No really, I am. It’s about 45 mins since Silence in the Library finished and I can’t decide if I need a cup of tea or a whisky. Actually I might plump for both. I’m leaving the lights on that’s for sure. And did anyone else get a slight fear of ice cream?

Steven Moffat. What a genius. Ever since ‘Are you my mummy?’ became a national phrase meaning, ‘You are about to get brown trousers’ this genius, this extraordinary talent has been giving us an annual dose of the most clever telly ever seen. Plot lines that are tightly woven, with characters perfectly drawn and all crafted with an understanding of exactly what the most basic scares are for people aged three to 103 and beyond. This is telly that scares the whole family in equal measure. It’s amazing and terrifying and hugely enjoyable.

I remember the wide-eyed fear and not a little bit of boyish anticipation which accompanied the possibility that any character, might at any time, turn into a zombie with a gas mask fused to what was left of their head. Then there’s the chilling riposte to Madame de Pompadour, ‘We do not require your feet’. I have a friend who still freaks out if you put your hands in front of your face and tell her not to blink.

The Moff’s understanding of what scares us witless is not all though. He really gets character and dialogue. And his plots: he makes ‘What on earth is going on? How is that possible?’ into a finely crafted art form. Gotta love the way the final reel explains everything, turning the impossible into a beautiful logical gem. And all the while giving the regulars a lease of life and an extra dimension that just sings.

I wish I had discovered his series Press Gang. My wide-eyed colleauge tells me that one episode was set inside a freezer chest. That’s genius. I loved his series Coupling; better than Friends, and somehow more real. He gets people and character and his plots are perfect, see. Ooooo, and he's written the script for the upcoming Tintin film.

This is going to be a long week. But I’m going to have some fun thinking about what was going on in Silence in the Library. The concluding episode is called Forest of the Dead. It used to be called Rivers Run. What does that tell us? I don’t know. I’m gonna try and work it out, but you know what; I’m not going to be able to. Forest of the Dead will no doubt be wonderfully scary and thrilling, full of character, wit, extraordinary revelations about the Doctor and River Song and a denouement eliciting a national, ‘Oh! That’s brilliant. Just brilliant’.

He’s going to be head writer of Doctor Who after next year. That’s brilliant news. I say an enormously grateful thank you to Russell T Davies. He has created something awesome in the last few years and done what we all knew could and very blimming should be done by turning Who into the wonderful thing it is after a stupidly long time off our screens. But I’m also very excited about whatever Steven Moffat is going to do with this most special of telly formats.

PS I loved The Unicorn and the Wasp.

Friday 30 May 2008

Trailer nonsense

I am writing at the end of the week where the good Dok-tor was replaced by a bunch of over-made-up European tunebreakers. Eurovision took preference, and Who fans have had to make do with a teaser trailer again.

I also write this just after the first ever get-together of the Ood Cast writers - fine gentlemen, all - and the night before the Moff unleashes what looks to be an even more frightening story than last year's Blink. Only this time, we have to get through two episodes behind our white knuckles!

I actually quite like the break to accomodate Eurovision. And that's not just because I like the Eurovision (although, embarrassingly, perhaps, I do - even if it is mainly for Sir Terry) but it affords us a bit of a breather before we set off on the usually terrifying road to the season finale. And it gives us a chance to ruminate on what's been and get pant-wettingly excited about what's coming up.

But some take this more seriously than others. Some can't stand the week's break (really - think about how long we had to wait for the series to come back, guys - what's a week?), and others take what they're given and over analyse to a ridiculous extent.

My colleague Andrew told us about a fan website he occasionally looks at (I won't bother plugging it, and you'll see why*), and that the last time he went there, there was a huge spoiler - the title of the still secret Episode 12 - on the front page for all to see, whether they want to or not. I hate this - I really don't want to know what's going to happen until it's on a TV screen in front of me, thank you very much. And that's why I'm not overly excited by the mid-season trailer. It was much of a muchness to me - nothing very new here - we knew the Daleks would probably be involved thanks for the pre-season trailers that appeared on the BBC Youtube channel, and the trailers and other interviews with past guests seem to have revealed that we're also going to see Harriet Jones back, as well as Captain Jack and Sarah Jane Smith), although Rose holding a gun is a bit of a jarring image (not sure a certain timelord is going to approve of that...).

Oh, except of course for the glimpse of what could be Davros.

It would be fabulous if it was. But the thing that rankles is this: some fans have taken the images of the dalek-thing that could be Davros, and are analysing it. So they can try and find out if it really is Davros.

I DON'T WANT TO KNOW! I REALLY, REALLY, REALLY DON'T WANT TO KNOW! And I am not entirely sure if people who do things like that are really proper fans of the show - probably obsessives rather than fans. But why inflict this on others? If you want to spoil it for yourselves, go ahead. Otherwise, go out and meet some people in the flesh instead of online.

I just don't see the point. The beauty of the last series was enhanced for me by the fact that I steered clear of the fan debates and the speculation online. All the episodes were fresh and new to me - and I loved every second of every one of them - maybe with the exception of the bad CGI Mark-Gatiss-monster in The Lazarus Experiment... and anyone who knows how much I like the Master as a character can only imagine the kind of joy I went through in discovering the final three parts of series 3 (or 29 if you're picky). I'm more immersed in the whole "whoniverse" this time, and I like it, although some of the more critical judgements of fans make me want to stop paying attention. I'm looking forward to whatever is about to come.

*Of course, were there to be a commentary track for these blog posts, I may accidentally reveal that I didn't plug it because I forgot the name of the site... Of course, I wouldn't do such a thing on here...

Thursday 22 May 2008

I Think It Was The Giant Wasp In The Library With The...Erm, Giant Wasp Sting?

I can't stand wasps. I have never liked Agatha Christie. I was therefore probably not going to immediately warm to this episode. Gareth Roberts was either going to be onto a total winner or complete failure....

My problems with Agatha Christie are long and deep-rooted. I was kind of brought up with her work (my mum had read every single one, and there were hundreds of them in the house). I studied her work as part of a course at university - compared and contrasted every aspect of her novels with others of both the time, earlier and later. And I was bored rigid of her. Formulaic, predictable and annoyingly elitest, her mysteries were not exactly my favourite time-killer.

But there is a sort of history with Doctor Who and crime fiction. They seem to be natural companions. You see, Doctor Who is not all about saving universes from horrible beings, sometimes what is worth saving is somewhat smaller than a planet. And the Doctor has been pretty good at being the detective - stories such as the Talons of Weng Chiang and The Horror of Fang Rock unfold like Sherlock Holmes tales, while fabulous murder mysteries in their own right, like The Robots of Death (which still stands up as a magnificent piece of drama, in my opinion) carve out this alternative and rich vein in the Doctor's psyche. And here he was again.

I loved every second. It was like Gosford Park with... humour... and aliens. Its a very different episode to anything else in this series - something akin to a twisted version of Cluedo...

Gareth Roberts seems to get all the fabulous subjects, last season it was Shakespeare and this time it was Christie - and both times there was something integral to the work of the writer that he picked out and made central to a supernatural mystery. Last time was more straightforward - some witches use the Globe Theatre to try and unleash evil forces. This time, the trademark structure (sorry - the only structure) of an Agatha Christie mystery serves as a template for a wasp trying to exact revenge on his mother.

Oh and there were some fantastic lines and moments - the attempted poisoning of the Doctor and his "de-tox" - completed with Donna's idea of a shock (I don't think I'd recover from that though...well done, Doctor...!). My personal favourite was the Doctor's "You always fool me. Well, several times, Well, once or twice. Well, once. But it was a good once..." Says a lot about the way I read her novels...

postscript: 29 May 2008

I just caught up with the Who Cast's review of The Unicorn and the Wasp, and I need to add to what I wrote.

I tried not to analyse the episode too much, as it was meant to be straight up enjoyable telly rather than anything serious... but I don't think I can sit back and do that now.

I think I may be able to appreciate the episode more than others because I am already a fan of the crime fiction genre. I mentioned that there were crossovers where the Doctor assumes the mantle of detective - happens more often that not, in my opinion, but not that often in such an obvious and traditional way.

That said, the criticism I've heard, including Trevor's on the Who Cast, seems to completely miss the point. That's not necessarily a criticism - if its not your bag, its not your bag and there's certainly nothing wrong with that. But Gareth Roberts' script is much more subtle and manipulative of his source material than I think its been credited. There are the in jokes - for example, Donna's blatant attempts to get her name in print (although that pretty much echoed the in-jokes from The Shakespeare Code - except in that episode it was the Doctor influencing the future written works...). But that is the tip of the iceberg.

I loved the way the script used the one structure Christie ever really used and twisted it to make it fit with Doctor Who - the flashbacks, which Christie uses, particularly in the finale to explain the previously hidden narrative - were brilliant, with even the Doctor joining in. Trevor's point of being able to work out who the murderer is alongside the detective, I disagree with. I think Christie's detectives actually kept their cards close to their chest, and clues (as with a lot of crime fiction) don't often seem to lead anywhere specific.

What I think maybe confused people and put them off the scent of any murderer was the side plot of the "Unicorn" being present (and subsequently caught) - which is the one slight issue I had with the plot... I thought the Unicorn bit was unnecessary and got in the way a little. But that in itself is a device Christie used - everyone in the mystery with something to hide will always give some sub-plots which will distract from the main story and throw the reader/viewer off the scent. Possibly.

But, there are a few very accurate parodies in the script - the catching of the murderer in particular. The way the Doctor names suspects, puts forward a theory or a possible motive and then discounts them (with Donna's brilliant comedic reactions) is straight out of every Poirot story. One of the quietest characters in the story turns out to be the murderer - again a recurring theme in Christie's works. That's why its at once so hard and - with experience of the novels - so easy to work out who the murderer is - there's not much to go on in terms of evidence, and the Doctor doesn't reveal anything particularly in naming the killer insect, so if you don't know Christie, you won't know.

But after a while, you get a feel for which characters are possible suspects. And generally, the less obtrusive the character, the more probable that they've done something heinous. That's why I think Trevor's comment, about anyone who says they worked out who the killer was is either a good guesser or a complete liar, is not fair - you just had to watch a few Poirot stories and put two and two together to work that out if you wanted to.

I loved this episode - for all the marvelling I've done at the other episodes, this may well be my favourite so far - because it taps into my personal tastes, sure - just like the Shakespeare one did - but also because it was just fun and could have gone so horribly wrong.

Agatha Christie may well be a good old British Institution these days, but so are soldiers wearing red unfiorms during desert combat, the Royal Family, complaining about the weather, golf and horse racing. Not all institutions deserve all the reverence they receive.

Friday 16 May 2008

Guns + War + Genetic Experiments = Family?

There was a time - the late 80s spring to mind - that Doctor Who wasn't really viewed as, you know, "proper acting". The Doctor was arriving in places filled with Comedy double-acts trying to stretch their careers for a bit longer, the cast of Cats and actors that people had assumed were already dead...

If there was any doubt to the quality of this show by now, I point you in the direction of The Doctor's Daughter. This is, seriously, the best thing I have seen in a long time. Ok, so being daddy to a small boy, TV isn't exactly something I get to experience all that much anymore. But the point still stands. This was brilliant.

That Tennant bloke is a master of his craft. In theory, I think its perfectly possible to play the Doctor by hiding behind the huge character and equally massive back-story and still do a fairly good job of it. But he packs so much into these performances - I'm sure that this isn't the biggest acting challenge he will ever take on - but from the way he rollocks through these episodes, it looks like the most enjoyable.

Georgia Moffatt was superb - equally as subtle and deft with looks and facial expressions that echoed the Doctor. The beginning is a prickly one, and I felt a little nervous about where this would be going... But it becomes very obvious very quickly that the connection between them is real and from that moment on it was impossible not to warm to her.

In terms of characters, Donna showed a bit of intelligence here - and managed to think about puzzles in a completely dispassionate way, bypassing the confusion that the Doctor was going through. Martha was her usual bold self with firm morals. And the Doctor...? That scene where Jenny dies is the single most affecting thing I've seen this series. The pain and the emotion were real, and my goodness we felt that hole reopen inside him. A huge wow-factor.

It was hardly completely unpredictable. But I didn't - and still don't - care in the slightest. Like I said before, way back in my post about Partners In Crime I think, being a Doctor Who fan, its more about escapism than gritty reality. I don't (usually) care whether the plot is water-tight and the visual effects are accurate, spot on or even good. It doesn't matter if the cast contains more wood than a 16th century Galleon being studied by a group of hormonal 15 year olds. This isn't Eastenders - this is meant to be entertaining.

And this was magnificent. I loved the similarities with classic stories - particularly Genesis of the Daleks sprung to mind a few times - the multi-generation race war just about to come to a horrible, destructive head and the surface scenes in particular helped that image.

And you know, even though I knew the end was coming, I loved it. Even though I was sitting there, waiting for it, I still bounced off walls with joy. The Doctor isn't the only Time Lord any more. And he's not the only one of him around. I really hope Andrew's right and she returns some day...

I'm really really looking forward to next week. Not least because the writer of one of the best Series 3 episodes (The Shakespeare Code) is back with a new story, but also because its allegedly written as a more straight-up comedy episode, and that its about Agatha Christie - an author that I have disliked and been bored rigid by since I was little. I now sit here impatiently fidgeting waiting for Saturday...

Thursday 15 May 2008

42 years on

I wasn't wrong this time! Love it. There was a moment where the Doctor made wordplay with 'source' and I wondered what sort would go with my preview if I had to eat my words. As it was this was really really what I’d hoped it would be and totally unexpected too.

Doctor Who is like a packet of Revels - love them too. The variety. Some are crunchy (like The Sontaran Stratagem and The Poison Sky) some are chewy (Planet of the Ood), and some a bit surprising and not what you thought you might get (The Doctor's Daughter).

Just so many lovely, rich ideas. Humans versus fish, fighting for so many generations that they have forgotten precisely why, but each generation lasts only a few hours so the war has taken a matter of days. Brilliantly implausible! And so much more besides: a deceptively layered story with plenty for the regulars to get their teeth into, even asides on the Child Support Agency and a turkey baster. There’s no other series that could cover such a broad rang…, ha, I’ve said it enough times before haven’t I? This blog is getting hard to write. This year is so consistently superb that I am getting stuck for superlatives. I wonder if the time has come for a new word to describe such consistent excellence. The English language has already embraced Dalek as a noun, so why not Doctor Who itself?

Doctor Who
1. BBC Television series. From 1963 to present.
2. Adj, (pronounced: dok-ter hoo). Consistently brilliant; defying expectations.

Here is another reason why I like Doctor Who. Those moments and ideas that plant the seeds of 'what if' in your mind. Those extraordinary moments that leap out and grab our imagination and often scared us stupid as kids. Walking stones, Kinda's dream sequences, The Kandyman, the Marshmen. The other week a friend came up to me out of the blue and went, 'I found these in the attic and I know you like Doctor Who' and gave me copies of The Tenth Planet and The Silurians. I've never seen either so this is very exciting. So I cracked open Tenth Planet last night. I was struck by the entrance of the Cybermen and then how they just command the screen. My goodness they are creepy. Terrifying actually. The way they speak with that voice (by the geniuses who did the voices for Captain Pugwash and Zippy and George in Rainbow!) that is emotionless but still recognisably human with their mouths breathlessly opening and closing. These days the idea behind them still seems fresh no matter how much it has been used in fiction, and the shock of their first appearance is so discernable 42 years on that I am very impressed. Not just the moments of awe and creepyness though. The ideas. Compare the breadth and depth of the ideas in your average Who story with almost anything else on telly and you’ll wonder why you watch anything else ever. Two more episodes to go and then it's the first regeneration. I need another night in and fast!

What? Oh, yes; The Doctor's Daughter.

It's unfair to single anyone out, but this was David Tennant's master-class in the full gamut of acting skill. There were many moments this week in which he effortlessly showed us what the Doctor was going through but one that really stood out for me: that smile that crosses his face when Jenny asks him what the Time War was like - goodness knows how he made that look so much like a father's reaction to an innocent question from a child and be so full of anguish at the same time. He claims on the commentary that before the scene he’d accidentally bashed his leg on a table that that had helped 'the moment'. But that's just being modest if you ask me. The man is a genius. Oh, and another one: the 'I never would' scene was like the manifesto of the series and was incredibly powerful. There are all sorts of parallels to life there and it was a proper stare straight at the telly blinking regularly without looking at anyone else in the room moment.

Georgia Moffett was effortlessly brilliant. There's loads of subtlety in her performance: moments where you glimpse bits of the Doctor in her; in the smile, the quickness of her actions.

Now then, I have a certain track record with my predictions on this blog don't I (ahem). I predict that Jenny will be back - with an outrageous amount of running. Can't wait.

Monday 12 May 2008

You know, you'll only spoil it for the rest of us...

This is about Fandom. The wonders of it, and the horrible way it can really obstruct other people's enjoyment of things.

Doctor Who fans, in general (I think) are a wonderful bunch of people. They vary hugely in every way, and cover several generations. Even the younger fans seem to be able to intelligently hold their own in debates over whether the Slitheen should make a wiffy return, or if the Daleks really are the meanest baddies in the "Whoniverse".

(Incidentally, my pedantic side picked up on something that was said by a 12-year-old fan in a podcast I heard recently. He said that he'd seen "just about all the classic series, which is an achievement for a child of just twelve years of age." I agree. Especially since many episodes haven't existed on video since the late 60s/early 70s...)

But there are some who are so set in their ways, so convinced that what went before is better than it can ever be again, that with every new idea, every new theory of the doctor's past or the development of any plot line that has been used before, that they become willfully destructive and just blow up at the slightest provocation.

So we come to The Doctor's Daughter. This isn't a review, as I haven't seen it yet, but a reflection of the controversy in fandom about this.

This is what is happening, as far as I can tell:
Firstly, people are up in arms that the title is so deliberately provocotive and controversial.
Secondly, the mere idea that the Doctor can have a daughter is appalling to some.

There is something that would counter both of these, to some extent. To find it, let's quickly hop back to 23 November 1963...

The first Doctor travels with three people, to start with, at least. Two are teachers from a school. The other is his "Grandaughter". Grandaughter. There you go. That might go some way to explain why the doctor having a daugher isn't as controversial as it seems. If the Doctor had a Grandaughter, its a fairly safe assumption that there would have been a generation in between. Perhaps, say, a daughter. And as for the title being deliberately provocotive and controversial... it got you talking about it, didn't it... What else is it supposed to do?!

Let's not lose sight of the fact that Doctor Who is cool right now. And its been a long time coming - ever since the mid-80s when Michael Grade got his dirty hands in the pie and started to mess with it, Doctor Who hasn't been cool. But now, we have a wealth of excellent stuff coming our way - really well-written, produced and performed audio adventures, a TV reincarnation that is better than any of us scarcely believed could have happened, books and new releases of Classic Who coming out of our ears. We have more and more fans - many of them young - joining us, and discovering what helped us through our formative years.

I don't see the harm in playing with some of the old elements - there are new viewers to entertain these days, and its something that fans should be used to by now. This is our Doctor still, very identifiably our Doctor. But the old days are now a reference in something new and fresh and exciting. I was thrilled just to hear the name of Sir Alastair Lethbridge-Stewart being mentioned in The Poison Sky - he is a legend and I love watching old episodes with him and his UNIT colleagues. But to bring him back now would have been wrong. Even more than it was in Battlefield.

There's no doubting it, the Doctor has changed. He's had to. With TV and drama in particular the way it is now, there's no way he could have returned meandering around for 20 minutes each week, no matter how well written the stories. I know some die-hard fans don't like the 45 minute format. I'm not entirely sure I am totally with this either - but its the way things are done now. Doctor Who could not compete with US drama or what's being produced on a regular basis by the BBC, without being dynamic and bold. Being the wonderful and ageing BBC Statesman, strolling round the corridors of Television Centre, is no longer an option.

This Doctor is young and exciting. He makes kids want to be like him. Just like Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Jon Pertwee, Colin Baker, Sylv McCoy and the rest did for us. A whole new generation of kids are pretending to battle Cybermen and Daleks in school playgrounds at break time. Isn't that more important than if the Doctor's hair is exactly the same two weeks in a row, or if they do something that contradicts a line in The War Machines?

And so what if this Doctor wears a suit with trainers? The one before wore a leather jacket. I think its a slight improvement on a question-mark-emblazoned tank-top or a coat that looks like he just mugged a passing gypsy. Don't you?

Friday 9 May 2008

Something's coming

Soooooooo: tomorrow.

This one deserves a preview to get down my preconceptions, or even misconceptions, so I can look back on them in a week or two and see how they differed from what I thought of the episode. Cos it has the potential to either be something special or something that changes the series in a very big way; or both. The Doctor’s Daughter. I’m excited about this one.

Way back in the Sixties when the series was devised they tried to come up with a title. Something not like anything else. Something that spoke of adventure and time travel. Of a central character who was a bit of a wild card, rather different, possibly an alien. They got a little stuck because they never got round to defining who or indeed what the central character was. Someone wrote down ‘Doctor …. who?’, tucked their note book in their pocket and went for lunch. Time marched on and they just couldn’t come up with anything more specific. He was a Doctor - that much they decided on. He might be alien, he might be in trouble with his own people. He might be running from something. That was about it. And so it has remained with a few modifications ever since. The question became a statement, as if we are not meant to know his secret. ‘Who’ is as much a cover as ‘The Doctor’, which we find out is not his real name. We don’t know anything about him other than he is from a privileged and powerful race who call themselves the Time Lords. He is the only one left and it would appear he was recently responsible for their demise during a great Time War. Their power is left largely undefined. We don’t know how their society was ordered, how they reproduced or if they got married. He has mentioned that he had family; even that he was a father once. In the earliest series he travelled with a young woman who called him Grandfather and that relationship was never disputed.

I’m really looking forward to next week. Not because I want answers to all of the above. Oh no. Not at all. To blow away the mystery of the Doctor would be a big mistake. He is like the Lone Ranger: he rides into town, sorts it out, and rides off again. You don’t really know any more than that. Does he sleep? Does he need to eat? Did he fancy Rose or quite simply love her in a pure and straight down the line very bestest friend kind of way? And we don’t know why he left his home planet in the first place. He has said at various times that he was an exile, he was bored with Time Lord society, and that he ran away. If you leave all those questions unanswered you leave something very unique and powerful at the heart of the series and I’d be sorry to see it go. He’s also a sort of mentor; someone who dazzles and perplexes you with his ways that are so different from our own but from whom we can learn so much. And apart from his frankly adolescent moping during The Runaway Bride that is how it’s always been.

The reason I am excited about tomorrow is that the team that makes Doctor Who has come up with some really extraordinary stories in the last few years that have been critically acclaimed for their adventure, their emotional impact and the issues that the viewer is left processing afterwards. I hope it’s another one of those. Hopefully it will tell us something new about the Doctor, but only a little bit so we won’t get all our Doctor questions answered and we can each have our personal assumptions about him and the Time Lords left intact. And as the years pass there are further challenging stories that eek out hints and glimpses of who this mysterious man really is; but hints and glimpses only. He’s a sort of myth and I want him always to be able ride off into the sunset with all that mystery intact.

Lookin forward to it and wondering whether or not I will be eating my words. Again.

Another good one

Ahhh! I was wrong. In my last post I said that one of us would be using the word ‘comeuppance’ to describe a scene featuring Rattigan in The Poison Sky. Doctor Who is not that simple. It’s a multi-facetted, thought provoking, cleverly constructed series that avoids the easy and predictable and opts to go the extra mile to answer the tricky question, ‘How can we solve this deadly threat without using force against a war-obsessed race who don’t fear death?’. Love that. 24 take note. Actually don’t. It wouldn’t be 24 then, which would be a shame, as I love that too but for entirely different reasons. Sometimes you need telly that is the viewing equivalent of way too much caffeine and a format that needs a plot to fit 24 hours exactly no matter how many times a character needs to be kidnapped to make it work. Yeh, Doctor Who can be implausible too; they’re both great because they both have their own logic but Doctor Who is better. …. there is no easy answer to the question above, and that’s good.

I can’t help thinking about morality this week. Forgive me if I get all deep and meaningful but this series is doing a lot of that. The Doctor is adamant about doing things in a moral and non-violent way, having that little twinkle in his eye when he faces evil, even giving a race of fearless warmongering aliens who are poised to destroy the Earth a choice to leave or die instead of just blowing them up. And he doesn’t just do it in a ‘be nice to each other, kids’ way but in a full on you might get hurt doing good but do it anyway way. (I remember being utterly stumped and really shocked at how the Doctor treated the Family of Blood last year. Those punishments were sick, and seemed wholly out character. But he had no choice, either they were free to pursue him in a never ending game of hide and seek at the expense of thousands of lives or he dealt with them once and for all. Why did he place them in their individual eternal prisons? Should he have killed them? The morality of Who is sometimes very challenging.)

Who’s insistence on having characters so central to its format and the Doctor encouraging them to respond to the extraordinary challenges around them and to grow in only positive ways is utterly laudable. I crave the chance to be in it myself. To have scripts so good and to rub shoulders with that team. To work on something that is made with such blooming skill and love that shines from the screen and seems to make your living room a better place.

So, The Poison Sky. Good solid stuff. Superb monsters, plenty of action, plenty of character. A big shout out for Donna tentatively saving the world on her mobile and for Martha’s scene with the clone. And there’s enough Bernard Cribbens to make everyone very happy. Just one thing though. If someone can confirm that the gas could be burned off like that then I will get on a campaign bus with a mega-phone to tell everyone how GOOD this story is. Well, you know what I mean. Oh, and isn’t it intriguing that the Sontarans use the same interstellar alarm providers as the Sanctuary Bases.

Thursday 8 May 2008

Sontar-Ha! Sontar-Huh?

Do you remember that feeling when you were little, when Christmas came round, and you got exactly what you wanted in every way... and then discovered it wasn't quite as brilliant as you thought it would be?

I don't know whether I should be disappointed. Don't get me wrong, I loved the story - and I think the Sontarans are a wonderful baddie. I am, and always have been, a UNIT fan. DT was brilliant as usual, Donna bearable, and Martha was excellent. But I feel cheated. I went on a nostalgic trip after I saw The Poison Sky, and it only made things worse, and because I particularly like the Sontarans and I want to share my pain, I'm going to go a bit geeky on this episode's ass.

After I saw this episode, I watched the first ever Sontaran story. A real cracker starring Jon Pertwee - The Time Warrior. Then I sat, and I thought back to classic adventures, including the first two or three Sontaran stories, and I feel like they've missed something big with the new one. A classic story - particularly of the 4-6 part Pertwee stories would consist of the first part being the Doctor and Liz/Jo/Sarah investigating something - just like the ATMOS device - and then calling UNIT in as they think there's something suspicious.

We didn't get that. The Doctor and Donna turned up halfway through the UNIT investigation.

We'd then be treated to a final part full of suspense-filled, thrilling denoument, topped off with a moment or two of humourous banter or slower reflection.

Out of two 45 minute episodes, we got about ten whole minutes of conclusion. One short, sharp UNIT assault, using amour-piercing bullets. One hastily-assembled atmosphere changer to fix the earth. One teleporter, and one more explosion. That's it.

Ok, factor in the surprising change of heart from Luke Rattigan, who finally made something of his genius and sacrificed himself to save the Doctor and protect the earth. And because I don't want Andrew to be wrong - maybe that was the comuppance he deserved for throwing his lot in with some squat Mr Potato Head alien types.

Despite that, I really enjoyed it. It was pacy, suspense-filled and good fun. But I do think it was badly-structured. Its the first time I've had the inclination to criticise the new series, and I feel awkward. But it was too-weighted on setting-up the end and had a storyline that didn't entirely add up.

Let me explain: The Sontarans are cloned war machines, basically. They are totally focussed on war. They do anything and everything they can to fight - and ultimately to die. The term "one-track-mind" was invented for them, I'm sure. So would they really have decided to take some time out of their war to come to a planet like earth, team up with a teenage genius to gas the world's population so they could use it as a clone-production world? Surely that's far too crafty for Sontarans?

This is the trouble with bringing back older monsters. Its like the myth about Daleks not being able to climb stairs (they can - watch Rememberance of the Daleks if you don't believe me - the cliffhanger to episode 1 is the Doctor being chased up a flight of stairs in the school basement by a dalek.), the Sontarans already have attributes and characters to fall back on. Their behaviour in the story was fine - and the two commanders were brilliantly written - and performed... Yet another blast from my comedy-watching past in Christopher Ryan making the small leap from Mike in the Young Ones to a Sontaran Commander... But it all worked well, and I absolutely loved it. Except for the mind-bogglingly layered "Stratagem"...

But I tell you what, if you either a) don't have a clue about previous Sontaran stories, and/or b) are able to watch it all and keep your geeky tendancies quiet - like I had to - then this is brilliant. My reflection on it might be a bit lukewarm after I've had time to think about it a bit, but my reaction when I saw it was complete joy - and I'll be happy to see this again (and again)!

Oh, and the icing on the cake... Martha's in the next one too! Hurrah!

Tuesday 6 May 2008

Thank you for the music

I was wandering around the Internet the other day and found that you can actually get the original music score for the Doctor Who theme. ‘From the B.B.C. Television Series “Dr. Who” by Ron Grainer' it said. Goodness. Got to have that! I’m not a great musician but I scraped a few piano and flute grades before I got too cool and my flatmate has a keyboard. So.

This music was a big hit for me. It tinged Saturday teatimes with other-worldly wonder-terror. If you could hear all the mystery of the Doctor, all the fear and excitement of his amazing adventures and the sound of the space-time vortex then this was, absolutely, what it all sounded like. These days it's more instrumental with an electric guitar, trombones, violins and percussion. If you don’t know the original then you really have to hear it, so here it is:
Then there's the equally superb updated version that I remember:

There. See? Those remarkable sound pictures, if you will, were created by an unsung hero called Delia Derbyshire. She was a pioneer - nay: genius - of electronic music and sound. This was in 1963 before there were even synthesisers let alone sound sampling software. She worked on it for weeks and weeks, creating each note as a separate entity using test tone generators (whatever that might mean), a 'wobbulator' (ditto) and by fiddling around with all sorts of things from old lampshades to piano strings. She stuck it all together using scissors and Sellotape and ended up with about eight separate lines of magnetic tape each containing a different layer. Then she lined them all up and pressed play – and must have been so proud. And, you know what, it still sounds like the future. Still produces visions of goodness knows what.

So with an air of childlike wonder I sat down at my flatmate’s keyboard and had a go. It’s not that difficult actually. After all it’s, 'Dum de dum, dum de dum, diddly dum; ooooooo eeeeeee oooooo'. First surprise is that it sounds different. You sort of expect to be able to produce something like Delia Derbyshire did but it’s a cross between Belgian Jazz (Bill Bailey’s observation and he’s right! Check out his Dr Qui) and the theme to The Archers (dum de dum de dum de dum). There are some nice chord structures here and there which sound very pleasant on the piano and would be most convivial if heard in the background of a bar in Bruges whilst drinking cherry beer. It ends not with that weird whooshing sound that has chilled kids and adults alike for decades but with a cheery glissando through four octaves, almost as if the pianist might follow with, ‘Thank you. Thank you very much - you’ve been great. Good night!’. Whether this is unique to this arrangement for piano I don’t know, but it puts a new slant on it!

Ron Grainer composed something highly original. Of that there is no doubt. There really isn’t anything else like it. Like today’s arrangement by Murray Gold the score is upbeat, a little quirky, full of promise, and hard to categorise. Perfect for Doctor Who. He knew that it would be given the electronic touch and annotated his score with ideas for this – sadly these are not included in the published version so knowing exactly what he had mind and how much Delia Derbyshire created from scratch we don't know. However when she played it to him he said, 'Did I compose that?'. It's something remarkable and it still works today: the unearth-ily rhythmic and indefinable treatment of ‘dum de dum, dum de dum, diddly dum' as if something very strange is on the way all the while building through some utterly mind boggling sounds to the unforgettable (and thank you Murray Gold for keeping it in today’s version) ‘oooooo EEEEEEE OOOO, OOOOO-oooooooo'. Brrrrrrrr. Blooming brilliant.

For more info check out these excellent websites:

Wednesday 30 April 2008

Stratagems and Self-discovery

I learnt something very insightful and rather frightening about my future at the weekend. Let me briefly explain. My parents have been watching the series of Doctor Who. On Sunday, when Luke and I went to visit them, my dad said that he didn't understand that week's episode. "It didn't make sense," he said. "Why? What was wrong with it?" He looked up and replied "It had no end - it was confusing..." Everyone turned to look at him. "Dad, you did know that it was the first part of a two-part story, didn't you?"
"Ah. Now that would explain a lot, wouldn't it..."

Let's get on. The Sontaran Stratagem. Like Andrew, I think this will be more tangent than plot let's start where we mean to go on.

When I was a teenager, I went out and bought a VHS copy of The Two Doctors. Apart from Patrick Troughton and Shockeye, oh, and Peri (with her barely-existing top), the revelation for me was the Sontarans. Humourless, ruthless, honourable, war-loving race. What an enemy! I always loved the story of why they were so short and stocky (their home planet had much higher levels of gravity). How brilliant it was to hear that they were coming back!

Now I've heard some rumours about the Sontaran plot. Mostly fan-generated rumours... But interesting ones. Rumours that suggest that the hat that Donna's grandfather was wearing in episode 1 had what looked like a UNIT badge on it... and that he was "on lookout" in London at Christmas (I guess that means when the Titanic stuff took place...)

But then I've also heard that the whole "the Doctor's song will end" stuff from the Planet of the Ood was being taken as meaning that he would be regenerating at the end of the series. Which doesn't entirely tally with the fact that David Tennant was photographed filming the Christmas Special this week... Ah well. Worthless listening to rumours I suppose!

This was wholly more satisfying than I had imagined. But what did niggle slightly before I saw it was the fact that its another two-parter written by Helen Raynor, and almost exactly like the one she wrote for the last series, in that it involved an old enemy of the doctor trying to take over the world. And Daleks In Manhattan was pretty good but not brilliant. But oh, this was different.

A camp childhood genius helping a ruthless warrior race with the only weakness being a small plug socket on the back of their neck. And just as good - Martha was back! (I'm an unashamed Martha fan - and for me, swapping Martha for Donna was really not a fair exchange.) As well as all that, Catherine Tate was pretty good in this, and the scenes with her family were funny and touching. Of course, it helps to have Bernard Cribbins there. But these scenes of the home life were excellent. And one of my childhood favourites, UNIT, was back on the kind of scale that I remembered... And plausably at last - not like in Battlefield.

On another tangent - I was always cruelly disappointed with Battlefield. I'd seen stories from the Pertwee/Baker era. I knew who Lethbridge-Stewart, Captain Yates and Sergeant Benton were. And when Lethbridge-Stewart returned for Battlefield, I couldn't wait. I was at the age that meant I was required to be bathed and ready for bed before Doctor Who came on - it was a school night, after all - and I curled up in an armchair in pajamas and dressing gown to see the return of UNIT. And it was barely recognisable. They seemed completely amateur and rather inept. The Doctor said in the Sontaran Strategem that UNIT always used to be a "little more homespun..." which is true, but there was always the feeling that they were ready for anything - just completely unprepared for the things that were thrown at them because they were only armed with puny earth weapons... Nevertheless, UNIT were great, and what I was seeing - with all the glorious late 1980s technicolour - was rubbish. And it had the female Lister from Red Dwarf in it (not that I knew it then - I just hated the character at the time). There wasn't much to love about them - except the Brigadier.

It was almost exactly like the contrast between seeing Tomb of the Cybermen for the first time, and then watching Silver Nemesis. And there were some great stories in the McCoy time, but what people tend to remember is the bits like these - not The Happiness Patrol (which made a Bertie Bassett lookalike a plausible and fairly chilling villain - which was no mean feat!), not Paradise Towers, The Curse of Fenric, Ghostlight or Rememberance of the Daleks. Which is such a shame.

Again, we're back to traditional Who stories. Which is not in any way a criticism. How could it be? Traditional Who is TV drama at its best - perfect escapism and often with a wider message that is demonstrated clearly in the way the Doctor deals with his enemy. This, depending on the conclusion next week, is traditional in the best way possible.

I just hope my dad understands that the reason it didn't make sense at the beginning is that its part 2 of a two part story. Otherwise, I don't stand much chance for a stable future!

Monday 28 April 2008

Monsters & Love and The A Team

With effects being what they are these days the results are as if the Who team have spent the last four years in negotiation with Sontar to get their finest, least camera-shy inhabitants to star in this story. I imagine their dedication, as they wangle the budget on that. This being the famous Doctor Who budget they probably did it via a low cost option, probably Skype, and paid expenses Earthside but not the interstellar travel on account of them each getting a copy of the DVD box set and personalised action figures of themselves and of anyone that they didn’t like and wanted to shoot.

I’m trying to think of things to say about the plot, but this being part one of two there wasn't a great deal revealed. It was all quite traditional, which was nice. A companion gets tied up and cloned. There’s things going on in the basement. There’s aliens taking over humans. There’s mystery and there’s UNIT!! Hoorah! All very recognisable and classic Who – what’s not to like?

Loved the Doctor’s anti gun thing, which takes me right back to the playground when me and my mates were taunted by kids who watched the A Team rather than Who. Our superiority was always palpable. (Quite frankly any series where the heroes face a hail, nay, a maelstrom of bullets each week and never ever get hit - not even a bit scratched by shrapnel - is just lame. Mary Whitehouse should have sued its ass because it portrayed a shockingly unrealistic effect of gun use.) All we had to say was ‘Adric’s death’ and they fell silent. They probably didn’t know what we meant, and our superior attitude just confirmed our geekiness. But we knew we were right and we still are. You Whovians of yesteryear; where are you now? I’m sure I’d know where to find you at 6.20 every Saturday if I knew your addresses. Actually we are still in touch, but I’m rubbish at keeping an address book.

Annnnnyway. What to say about the Sontaran Stratagem... Like the idea of the carbon neutral devices; how very now. How very UNIT story too, the planet friendly thing was big during the Pertwee Doctor’s time so that fits. And yes SatNav is evil no matter what you say. I love outwitting their smug, demanding prompts and getting to a turning before they can announce it. They get all tutt-y and say with a very calculated sniff, ‘Recalculating’. This is a device that once got me to a field of cows in Cornwall instead of the Eden Project. Didn’t get the cliff hanger though. What was happening actually? Were all the cars gassing the world? (nice idea) Or what? Dunno. And I giggled (sorry but I did) at the Sontaran dance thing. I suppose funnier things happen before sporting fixtures but I couldn’t help it.

Martha and Donna didn’t fight. Well thank goodness. About time too. I find the ‘I’m in love with the Doctor’ thing distracting from the genius of the prog and I’m glad it’s over now. Don’t you dare do that nonsense with Rose’s return!! Actually I liked it that the only one who was put out was the Doctor, who thought that meeting the ‘ex’ (even though she so wasn’t) was going to be really difficult. Never been sure about this whole Doctor in love thing. Going back a couple of years, I think what made the Madame de Pompadour thing work so well was the Doctor’s yearning. He knows it would never have worked out, and that’s as tragic as not being able to see her again before she died. Here was someone he could relate to, someone he could spark off. She was someone who had walked among his memories and therefore, in a way, knew him intimately. I think he asks her to come with him as a spur of the moment thing and when time catches up with them it’s the realisation that he will never be able to meet anyone to share his whole life with that makes the scene at the end so powerful.

Hmmmm, I feel like digressing further....

Rose… hmmm, I don’t know. I mean, why would he love her any more than Romana, Sarah, Jo, Zoe (all of the above would be on my list of most dateable). Rose was, well, rather stroppy, rather pouty (and that’s no disrespect to Billie Piper who played her perfectly). I wonder if the reason behind him being ‘in love’ with her was that she was the one who saved him from himself after the Time War. I have always been puzzled by the end of Doomsday, and wonder if anyone else was. The Doctor sends Rose and her family over to the alternative Earth. He does it to save them and, although he seems a bit sad to do so, he does it phlegmatically and that’s that. No tears, anxieties, regrets, et al and there you go, she’s gone. She comes back, and he’s pleased but he's not dancing around like a teenager who thought he’d never see his one and only ever ever again. Then she goes again and it’s like two kids who have to say goodbye to each other at the end of summer camp. No wonder they had to film it on location, cos if they’d done it in the studio they’d have had to wear rubber shoes for fear of electrocution. Never made sense to me. Anyone else?

Oh, and that brat Rattigan. I predict the word ‘comeuppance’ will be employed in this blog by at least one of us next week.

Thursday 24 April 2008

No ordinary days

Ooo(d), welcome back Chris :) And you are right. This sure, strong, fearless, thriving, pacey, action packed, thought provoking, clever, emotional, challenging, lovely, brilliant but indescribable prog deserves more than a weekly review! Let's cast aside any barely remaining attempts at being ordinary chaps and jabber away. I love Top Gear, and have even watched football. It's just that Doctor Who is a whole lot better than any of that.

Well, Planet of the Ood proves it.

It was something special. A groundbreaker. It built on the emotional and moral edifice of The Fires of Pompeii and presented us with something huge. Undoubtedly this episode will live on in the minds of today's kids for decades like the Krynoid did for me. And it's strength was not just the superb realisation and acting of the Ood but their story. Existentialism. Concentration camps. Genetic experimentation and mutilation. Evolution. Corporate greed. The Simpsons. At 6.20pm on a Saturday! Bring it on! This ROCKS!

Towards the end I wasn't sure what I was watching. Body horror or Brothers Grimm. Either way it was fascinating and strange. I tried very hard to work out what was going on with Halpin's transformation and the secondary brains thing. I loved the idea of both, but found it immensely difficult to make them work in my head. A couple of lines of explanation here and there would have satisfied me a great deal. But it would be wrong to try and take this story as just a normal tv narrative. It's not meant to be and I should get over that. If nothing else the transformation was a perfect reflection of Abraham Lincoln's quote about a strong desire to see those who argue for slavery have it tried on them personally. I happen to know that my wide-eyed colleague has thoughts on all this that make perfect rational sense, so over to you!!

Next week: Monsters invade the Earth! Woohoo!! Can't wait!

Wednesday 23 April 2008

Oods and Ends...

So, our namesakes arrive... and this was a bit of a masterclass in sci-fi staple elements. An ice planet, a future inter-galactic human empire, a slave race in revolt, misuse of science for personal gain and a scientist with slightly mental hair. And that's not to mention the warehouse chases and planetary landscape scenes filmed in a quarry...

But that's not to do it down any. This was well done. Well written and slick, this is an interesting story that was really nicely put together.

Donna's moral side really does something good here - and really does counter the Doctor well. But, like Chris, I really am not sure about Catherine Tate. She's OK, and she's fine with me if her character remains interesting next to DT (who wouldn't?). But every time she speaks, I just hear characters from her sketch show. At the end of every episode she's been in so far, I have been expecting her to storm off to the TARDIS shouting "F***ing liberty!"... I'm waiting for the Dalek episode where she'll just look at it as if its a male model on a cold day, cock her head to one side and shout "I ain't bovvered!".

I liked this story though - it reminded me very much of a Tom Baker epic. I was wishing for all the world that the Doctor would come out with one of those lines... You know, like, "You humans... Totally clueless, but you can't help but love that..." There was an almost palpable atmosphere when the Ood were bearing down on them while they were handcuffed that somehow, the Doctor would slip the cuffs, and offer them a jelly baby (which would then, obviously, turn out to be the Ood's downfall).

As far as the story was concerned, it was a towering 70s rock supergroup of issues... Can you get much bigger than tying together battery farming and slavery? You can if you add Captain Darling from Blackadder...

But I rather liked the guilt trips that the Doctor went on - being reminded of the first time the Ood appeared, and he couldn't save them because he'd been too busy looking after everyone else. After last week's moral bitch-slapping from Donna, this was an interestingly Morrissey-kind-of-perspective. It was nice that the Ood were given a history - a place to come from and a place to go, and not just used as a plot device or as some evil git's tool of destruction. It was nice that they were a victim, is what I mean. It means that while they were just the forgotten and thrown away bunch of lads the last time round, this time, they ended the story as likeable and friendly creatures.

Oh, and even though I liked this one a lot, the preview of next week made my day... The Sontarans AND UNIT are back in the same week! Oh what unconfined and childish joy! Roll on the weekend!

Of Ood and Men ...

It will be pretty obvious to everyone by now that I’m the weak link in the chain. The faulty circuit, the twisted wire in a RTD-scripted deus ex machina finale where it turns out there’s a setting on the sonic screwdriver that can fix everything. My v. professional and v. insightful friends are two episodes ahead of me, seem to recall detail with startling clarity and have the intellectual kapow to back up those recollections with solid critique. All this while rooting the new series squarely in the context of the show’s mythology and (quite possibly) making stacks of fluffy pancakes with maple syrup and crispy bacon just the way I like them.

I’m not going to attempt the trick of catching up, of trying to shoehorn in an alternative perspective for each episode when they’ve been thoroughly interrogated already. That’s a lot of words and my fingers are like thick frankfurters tripping greasily across the keys, I don’t have the wpms in me. It’s a fool’s errand exacerbated by the following points:

a) I love Dr Who. Love it. Consequently any attempt on my part to go all Siskel and Egbert on its ass is doomed to failure. My utter unfeasible love for the programme renders me a dribbling moron with the analytical prowess of toast. I try to be insightful and unbiased but I’m not and it’s stupid to pretend otherwise.

b) As soon as I try to write a review, I think to myself “I’m writing a review now” and suddenly I revert to school mode and it stops being fun. I find myself clicking the word count every sentence and mewling to myself in irritation. Have you ever heard a grown man mewl? It sounds exactly like a cat. It’s uncanny, I don’t know how I do it. Make it stop. Make it stop.

c) I can’t remember the first two anymore, the third one’s getting fuzzy now too. They’ve all kind of blended together into a Rutan-alike amorphous blob entitled something like Dr Who and the Planet of Fiery Crime or Ood in Pompeii.

Anyway, here’s my review of Ood in Pompeii

Isn’t the Doctor good? He just sets the screen on fire, doesn’t he? I mean even when everything on screen is literally on fire he still lights up the place like a magnesium flare. Any plot hole, any slight wobble with the dialogue can be relied upon to be ironed out by the sheer titanic steamrollering presence of the Tenth doctor. God, it’s brilliant to have him on the show- all crackerjack energy, wisdom, wit and rage. DT, in my humble opinion, is the broadcast equivalent of MSG in Chinese food - only good for you.

And this series has raised its game to keep pace with its star. The scope, the ideas, the FX execution is really quite brilliant. From those cute little teddy bear blobs of fat through choking volcanic ash to an ICE PLANET we’ve been spoiled in a way comparable to having the ambassador unload a dump truck’s worth of Ferrero Rocher on our front porch. I love the confident referencing of the show’s history, I admire the temerity of the writers to tackle complex and morally dubious issues, I applaud the skill and joie de vivre of a crew working at the very top of its game. This is a TV show don’t forget, and a British one at that, it has a tight schedule and a budget that Hollywood would laugh at and called ‘titch’ or ‘small fry’ while making derisive snorting noises through their cocaine-decimated blow holes. Well screw you Tinsel Tossers because this little Welsh televisual engine that can has delivered ancient cities, lava-veined granite homunculi, skin-rending, tentacle -spewing species switching and an orange rocket ship with go faster stripes. All within a budget that wouldn’t even cover Teri Hatcher’s mid-morning smoothie. Hooray for you BBC.

Oh dear, now that I’ve started there’s so much I want to talk about. The theory of Whoniverse time travel that I’ve cobbled together from years of trying to make it all make sense. The difference between a show like Lost that has been worked out 4 series in advance and a show like DW that has a spaceship that looks like a Police Box because they had a spare one lying around when they started filming. A show where layer upon layer of lore has been added by different artists with no rhyme or reason other than expediency and practicality at any given moment in its history and that now stands proudly unbent beneath the accumulated mass of more than six decades of creativity.

But perhaps I’ll be contented with unburdening myself of these furious narrative flights of fancy in short bursts throughout the week. What say you chaps? Are you up for some full on geek-flavoured navel gazing to break the humdrum passage of quotidian reality? Shall we free ourselves from this rigorous prison of academic discursion and plot our own course through the vortex?

Or shall we fall back on well-worn terrain because I tell you what … I’m still not sure about Catherine Tate.