Jan 13, 2008

Behind the Sofa Vol.2 is here!

Grab Behind the Sofa Volume 2 has been launched!

In the next few hours it will be available to access via: http://www.behindthesofa.org.uk

Be sure to check out our new guidelines about posting comments on the About Us page.

Once the domains have been realigned this archive of Volume 1 posts will be available at its original address: http://tachyontv.typepad.com/waiting_for_christopher/

We hope you enjoy the new-look Behind the Sofa and we look forward to seeing you there.

Neil, Damon and John

Jan 07, 2008

Behind the Sofa: End of Volume 1

Volume 1 of Behind the Sofa has come to an end.

Volume 2 is about to begin.

Don't worry,  we haven't done a JNT and been persuaded to stay, we're simply regenerating. We don't know where you all got the idea that we were leaving!

The reasons for Behind the Sofa Volume 2 are simple: we want to shake things up a bit and get more co-ordinated with our content. This doesn't mean we're going to have secret meetings and decide on our next line of attack about David Tennant's haircut, but it does mean that authors will be co-ordinated so that hopefully you'll see fresh content on the blog on an almost daily basis.  At least that's the plan. In order to make this work BTS Volume 2 will be launching with a handful of contributors and no more. 

Comments will still be available on the new blog but greater moderation will be enforced. The various bunfights that crop up on a weekly basis have become boring and distracting and have on occasion brought BTS staff to the brink of Morbius-like insanity.  But on the other hand things are unlikely to be dull around here and that's as it should be.

So we'd like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has posted here in Volume 1. It's been fun, frequently insane and you were all fantastic. And so were we.

However, Volume 1 will still be available for reference and very soon it'll be resting at its old address of: http://tachyontv.typepad.com/waiting_for_christopher/

Furthermore, Volume 2 will still link back to the archives.

The other news is that

a) Tachyon TV will be getting a similar face lift before the month is out, with closer ties to BTS itself

b) We'll be releasing a Voyage of the Damned podcast in the next few days

and most exciting of all (we hope)

c) we'll be launching a companion blog called On the Sofa which will be dedicated to everything but the Doctor Who franchise. More news on this will become apparent later this month.

See you there,
Neil, Damon and John

Jan 06, 2008

Carry on Cruising

Voyage of the Damned

News broadcasters. They're a strange sub-strata of humanity. Charged with injecting current affairs into our brains at regular periods after meals, like some super news drug that needs to be taken with food, often imparting the worst information in the world that any of us are likely to hear. Is it any wonder they all go a little queer, if all they do day-in-day-out is dole out misery and despair to an already confused and terminally frightened populace.

"Quantel effects box jacked up on stoat tranquilisers."

And if that's not enough, those unlucky enough to anchor a broadcast have to sit there in the middle of what looks like a Bond villain's nuclear bunker, ducking random CGI headings as they're blasted around the studio, whilst the most inane, dumbed down, mushed-up facts are spoon fed into us by a Powerpoint jockey presenting pointless packages from ridiculous locations. Whether it's Huw Pym using a Quantel effects box jacked up on stoat tranquilisers to describe to us what a house is, or a Robert Peston piece on how the credit crunch really happened - presented using nothing but glove puppets whilst wearing only a thong, they really do have it bad. Open wide, here comes the aeroplane with this evening's headlines on it...

So you can almost forgive them for diving ankle first into any sort of camp frothy nonsense without a second thought. Usually it's the latest dull but worthy charitython. Back in the day it was Morecambe and Wise, or The Goodies. Now it's Doctor Who.

"Grappled with protesting lesbians."

Witchell And the next cab off the rank is Nicholas Witchell. Of course, St Nick, is no longer to be found seated behind a desk - although he's been there and done that. And you've got to admire a man who famously grappled with protesting lesbians live on air as Sue Lawley continued telling us about the decimation of the south Yorkshire cheese industry. Probably. And he plays a lead role in my second favourite audio clip of recorded out-takes to have made it online. All damned good grounding for a staring role in a Christmas edition of Doctor Who.

"What on earth is Mrs Overall doing in this?"

Kylie Who next then? Moria Stewart's out of a job at the moment. Too old to front a news broadcast apparently. Yet even she doesn't look as old as Kylie did in the Christmas special. Seriously how much did they spend on the prosthetics to make her look that old? I know she's been through one hell of a year but she's standing there in a maid's outfit with stockings and knee high boots and all I can think of, when she's holding a drinks tray, is what on earth is Mrs Overall doing in this? It was the Titanic that the show crashed into, not Acorn Antiques.

"At the end, it felt like I'd just sat a BTEC Diploma in BBC Sitcoms."

Captain Although as the comedy stars (and someone from Tittybangbang - which isn't, despite Radio Times billing to the contrary, a comedy show - it's an expose of high altitude breast implant explosions) troop through the set and onto the rotating knives of death you might be forgiven for thinking otherwise. It's a case of, "oh! it's him from that thing who's married to that woman who can't cook", then it's "oh! it's him from that thing who's married to that woman who pretends she's posher than she is" etc... At the end, it felt like I'd just sat a BTEC Diploma in BBC Sitcoms.

"Profiteroles and honey glazed racks of Kerry Katona."

In early December I predicted Voyage of the Damned would be "all teeth, tits and tinsel - it'll be spectacle and little substance - it'll annoy the hell out of us and be loved by the masses". Of course, it got 12M plus viewers, but almost half that number had consumed such an excess of food that their body mass just fused with the sofa they'd slopped down in after eating their way through 4 Iceland stores worth of Profiteroles and honey glazed racks of Kerry Katona. They'd barely register as sentient life, let alone viewers. DFS could make a fortune from these new sofa people.

I'm off to Dawlish now with a pack of crayons, 40 stone of lard and a camera crew to put together another stultifying inane package for a flagship news programme on the global obesity epidemic.

Happy Bloody New Year.

The absolutely last and final ever entry in The Bumper Book of Made Up Doctor Who Facts has this to say about Voyage of the Damned: in the first draft of the story the setting was to have been Dame Ellen MacArthur's yacht - until the BBC One controller stepped in as distraught women by themselves at Christmas was usually something that Eastenders handled and couldn't they come up with something that had at least 6 billion of something in it instead?

Frankly, I Don't Give a Damned

Voyage of the Damned

It's like old times.  I'm full of cold, dosed-up on Day Nurse and close to hallucinating.  And so here is my Voyage of the Damned review.

It takes a strong will and an angry mind to apply criticism to Voyage of the Damned.  The show itself was so lightweight, fluffy and sloppily written that the overwhelming instinct is to shrug and say “Why bother?”.  And since Neil vented his spleen so entertainingly and accurately a few days ago, there's even less of an impetus to waste electrons on a similarly-minded review.  Worst of all there are the majority of massed denizens of the Doctor Who Forum standing on the sidelines waiting to wag their collective finger while saying “Well eight billion people watched it, and it had an AI of 2 x 1010 so by all means have your crazy opinion but don't for a moment think it actually counts for anything”.

I felt more of an emotional attachment with Mario in 'Super Mario Galaxy' then I did with either Astrid or Alonso the Chimp Boy

So I'll keep it brief.  I liked the first 30 minutes or so, and I loved Clive Swift.  Judging by their on-screen chemistry I imagine that David Tennant was distraught to learn that Mr Copper won't be continuing as a new companion.  As a disaster movie fan, I loved all The Poseidon Adventure stuff, but I didn't really see it in terms of an Eric Saward “dark” massacre as disaster movies are just another Christmas staple.  Deaths in such films are just not the same as deaths in anything else, and as most of this story looked like a Playstation3 game then I doubt that the kids watching were particularly disturbed either.  Certainly I felt more of an emotional attachment with Mario in 'Super Mario Galaxy' then I did with either Astrid or Alonso the Chimp Boy.

Phil Collinson is clearly a man at the end of his tether as he was the only person on the planet who didn't realise that Max Capricorn was going to be the villain.

The last forty minutes have already been demolished by better men than I, but something so unsound only needs a tap with a hammer to bring it crashing down.  What is really odd is how much of this was also revealed by the BBC audio commentary on the programme. It may not seem like it sometimes, but I actually have a boundless admiration for Russell T Davies, Julie Gardner and Phil Collinson and their achievement in bringing back Doctor Who. But my word they sound tired.  Davies commented on how pained he felt when he read Blink and realised it featured angels, and who wouldn't sympathise with his eventual rationalization about the hosts “They've got nothing in common with weeping angels”.  Of course they haven't.  Apart from being angels.  Phil Collinson is clearly a man at the end of his tether as he was the only person on the planet who didn't realise that Max Capricorn was going to be the villain. Even Davies sounded stunned by that.     Later on both Gardner and Collinson murmured supportively as Davies explained his technique for rescuing his original ending “He's got to be a cyborg and she's got to attack him in a fork-lift truck”.  Somebody get them a holiday!

camp frothy nonsense

So it's all about context in the end. A creative decision has been made: “Christmas specials must be about spectacle” and in stretching to achieve that some of the holes show through.  The script looked rushed and didn't make sense a lot of the time, and some of the effects (especially Astrid and Max toppling into the engines) looked poor.  Apparently the BBC wanted an extra ten minutes, whereas the whole thing would have been better over fifty minutes at most.  But in many ways (despite Davies's weird messiah stuff – I'm not even going there as doubtless we'll be wading through it in series 4) Voyage of the Damned was still an achievement.  When it worked it was engaging, funny and spectacular which made its many lowpoints all that much lower.  I'd still rather have the nation watching Doctor Who on Christmas night than Holby “It's a Wonderful Life” City, but I suspect, a la Ricky Gervais, a lot of the nation is saying “Did you see Doctor Who on Christmas Day?  Just what we wanted – a bit of camp frothy nonsense.”  And as between Christmas 2008 and Christmas/New Year 2009/10 we'll only be getting specials, I do hope that they aren't all in the vein of Voyage of the Damned as that'll mean for a whole year Doctor Who really will be nothing but camp frothy nonsense.

Now where's that Day Nurse?  None left. OK – pass the Vosene, that'll do.

Jan 05, 2008

This Daft Old Face

A couple of final links for old time's sake.  Firstly:

Doctor Who: Revolutionary Or Tool Of The Man? [via]

Semi-satirical investigation into the Doctor's political leanings using statistical analysis, assuming that real world events are mirrored in the Whoniverse (the author clearly hasn't been within a dragon's breath of AHistory, either volume).  Lawrence Miles addresses this very point at some length during the Interference epic in which the character is called upon to explain exactly why he's quite happy to fly about time and space knocking off abusive governments but when it comes to other regimes, particularly on Earth he's rather more circumspect. 

I don't remember an answer really being forthcoming other than some deep dish anguish although my understanding has always been that if the Doctor is aware of a status quo before he gets there he can't change it without there being consequences (see Father's Day etc.) but if the situation's totally new to him he can rebel away.  Which would explain why he's never specifically gone to meet a young Hitler and tried to persuade him to persevere with his painting (ala John Cusack in the film Max) or whatever.  Plus it seems to have been established that Earth has a special place in the web of time, on one of the causal fault lines.

"for the New Year we transformed our coat closet into a time-traveling space ship" [via]

Which is very clever even if, as Steven Moffat would point out, the windows are the wrong size.  If this was dimensionally transcendental it would be a neat way to store your entire wardrobe without having to build an extension on your house.  After all, doesn't Tardis actually sound like the kind of product name IKEA would give their furniture lines?  In fact most of the current real furniture names -- Pax, Hemnes, Aspelund and Mongstad -- all sound like characters from the new series.

Natalie Portman, neuroscientist

Which at first glance would seem to have nothing to do with Doctor Who (other than to say she'd make a smashing companion), except the paper that she co-wrote, "Frontal Lobe Activation during Object Permanence: Data from Near-Infrared Spectroscopy" is about looking into child's brains to find out how they work.  Imagine the Fear Factor and the fear factor if in future the BBC simply recorded infant brain activity to discover how to scare the bejesus out of us...

Jan 04, 2008

Vote Result: Voyage of the Damned

Voyage of the DamnedThe results are in for the Christmas special blog poll for Voyage of the Damned:

  • 55%: Superb – The Poseidon Adventure
  • 45%: Not Good – The Love Boat

Kylie in a Forklift

The Voyage of the Damned, or The Christmas Inferno, or Kylie in a Forklift

Here are some of my thoughts on the 2007 Christmas special Voyage of Damned.

  • It’s The Poseiden Adventure meets Enlightenment meets Robots of Death meets Douglas Adams’ Starship Titanic.
  • It was completely, totally and utterly bonkers, but in a good way. It is unlikely that you will see anything quite like it ever again. You may never want to see anything quite like it ever again but I quite liked it. I mean where else will you see Kylie Minogue dressed in a waitress outfit driving a forklift truck? Only in something as bonkers as this, or perhaps in an alternative history where Kylie’s career is on the skids, and she is forced to appear in adverts for B&Q or Homebase.
  • The new theme. I am not sure what to think of the new version of theme. It’s the same theme, but it just sounds like Murray Gold has let Buckethead into his studio and let him jam along with the theme. I didn’t mind it after I had watched it again and, boy, it sounds good loud! It’s the heavy metal version of the theme! Still it could have been worse Murray Gold could have written some lyrics to the theme and had Kylie sing them. Imagine the furore if that had happened!
  • The end credits were a bit quick, but with these new fangled videos and dvd’s they have today with a pause function they can easily be read after the event. It could have been worse they could have squeezed them into a little box in the corner of the screen thus not even giving you the chance to pause them to read them. I wouldn’t imagine that they would be any quicker when they are released on DVD either.
  • There was some brilliant work from the Mill on display here most notably the external shot of the Titanic drifting through space and the vastness of the Titanic’s engines. That really did give a sense of the scale of ship.
  • I thought that Kylie did a good job in her rather limited role of Astrid. She was sweet and looks damn good for a woman nearing 40. She was almost perfect companion material for the old series: humanoid but not human, no friends or family, actually wanted to travel with the Doctor, even though she just wanted to jump his bones, which is not traditional companion behaviour but is par for the course in this new version of the show and it was quite sad that her character died. Well she sort of died anyway. She might as well have died but perhaps they felt that it would be slightly too grim to actually kill her off properly. I am not sure.
  • I always thought that no matter who Kylie played she was never going to be any more than a single story companion (although I thought the same of Donna and look who is returning in series four so what do I know!)I have no doubt though that there will be an Astrid 5” figure very soon. It will be the only one to be a scale model of the actress herself!
  • Banakaffalata was another interesting character and another great part for the mighty Jimmy Vee. Just like the Moxx of Balhoon he might have been a baddie but turned out to be nothing of the sort and he also died. I have no doubt that there will be a figure of him out very soon as well.
  • The last ten minutes did seem a little bit tacked on and the sudden change from the grimness of the previous 45 minutes or so to the high camp comedy of the last ten minutes did seem to jar a little bit it was almost as if they didn’t fancy ending it on such a grim note at Christmas (as with Astrid), but look at the average Christmas episodes of Eastenders. For me they could have cut from the bit before the Doctor flew with the angels to the last scenes on board of the Titanic before the Doctor and Mr Copper went back to Earth and it would have made it a little bit tighter as I am sure the silliness of the last ten minutes was not necessary.
  • The final scene between the Doctor and Mr Copper was a nice little scene. I liked the joke about the snow not being real snow. As we all know it never snows on Christmas day and hasn’t for some years now. At least Mr Copper will be able to find a room for the night, as even though its Christmas the whole population of England has buggered off except for the Queen and Bernard Cribbins
  • On the subject of Bernard Cribbins wasn’t he good in his little role of Wilfrid Mott, the newspaper seller. I never noticed till it was pointed out to me that he had a U.N.I.T. insignia badge on his bobble hat perhaps he is the Brigadier fallen on hard times and under some sort of witness protection programme? We know that he is coming back in the new series, and the fact that U.N.I.T. are set to return so perhaps that is not as insignificant as it might appear to be at first.
  • Geoffrey Palmer was another one who had a nice cameo in the special although his character wasn’t particularly sympathetic was he? Even though he wasn’t able to bring himself to kill young Midshipman Frame, he wasn’t exactly bothered about either the rest of the ships crew, passengers and the population of the Earth.
  • The direction by James Strong was very good and it certainly looked very cinematic, which all of the episodes he had directed, so far, have done.
  • The Heavenly Hosts were a quite good invention for this episode far better than the robot santas that we have had in the previous two Christmas specials. I am, though, a little disappointed that they were not in face Axons. They were however a lot like the Voc Robots in Robots of Death (even down to one of them having their hand trapped in a door) but without the personality that they managed to muster.
  • Clive Swift was also very good in his role as Mr Copper and I just loved his little speeches about the Christmas customs on the planet Earth. Great stuff.
  • Wasn’t Rickston Slade the single most unpleasant character ever to be seen in the new series? Killing him off wouldn’t have been at all dramatic as most people would have been happy if he were one of the first ones to die!
  • I think that the main problem with the story is the fact that you don’t really care if any of the characters in the story live or die. Apart from Rickston who is the only character you actually want to die the others don’t really register as anything other than ciphers who we don’t really know enough about to care.
  • If Astrid had been played by anyone other than Kylie I don’t think that her demise would have been that noteworthy either because her character is rather one-note but perfect for an original series companion as I noted earlier.
  • The characters of Morvin and Foon who are reasonable comic relief characters in the story who, only have the fact that Rickston is being mean to them because they are both big people, as a reason that you want them to survive rather than him.

    I enjoyed Voyage of the Damned. It wasn’t perfect, but then what is?; it wouldn’t win any awards for originality, but then neither did the entire Hinchliffe era. It won’t stand up to close scrutiny, granted, but I found it enjoyable which, at the end of the day, is the one thing that is really important.

    In fact I would say that it was the most enjoyable of the three Christmas specials to date.

  • Jan 03, 2008

    Diddly dum, diddly dum, diddly dum...Oooooo-eeeee-oooo

    The new series of Who has gone from strength-to-strength and 2007 will take some beating. The final two episodes were somewhat questionable but the rest was truly strong drama. Blink (personally) was amongst the best bit of television drama seen in recent years. Charlie Brooke (for those familiar with the wonderful Screenwipe) agreed with this. It was when I was watching Smith & Jones that the bile and disgust I had for all things New-Who fell away and I finally got what it was all about and I could now, for the first time, enjoy both the old and the new. Boy was that a wonderful feeling! I got what it was about and now and I could enjoy MY show once more. Despite all that I wasn't too keen on The Sound of Drums and The Last of the Time lords nevertheless I was sad to see yet another series go by and now the anticipation of next year quickly hit home. Thank goodness for the Christmas Special: it takes some of the pain away.

    Well...it was decent. The Runaway Bride was a great deal better but this was OK. Nothing really to complain about other than the really stupid stuff including Elizabeth II. I feel that the plot could have been better: just because it is Christmas does not mean we cannot deal with heavier plot lines. 1984 saw Yes, Minister have its own Christmas special and apparently Eastenders (the soap that followed the broadcast of Voyage of the Damned) gained large viewing figures (and that was dealing with some bleak having an affair with my step-daughter plot). However, it was bleak in the amount of characters that got killed on and off screen. Something that I rather enjoyed, it was nice for a family-viewing programme to cover how crap Christmas can be which is something most families will know (hell, I've been through my fair share of really shit Christmas days).

    Being serious for a moment, I wonder if there is anything else that should be considered really bleak about this episode and wasn't mentioned on screen but was supposed to be subtle level for those who know that Voyage of the Damned is a movie from 1976 which deals with the true events of Jewish people escaping Nazi Germany in 1939 for a life in Cuba. The government of Cuba and later, America reject them and they are forced to return to Europe. The passengers decide to jump into the sea rather than return to Germany. If this is indeed the case then this gives the passengers and the plot greater depth. Of course you can look into these things too much and the tile is probably just a lack of imagination.

    Anyway, the characters were dealt with in a wonderful manner both in terms of how they were written and performed. It was nice to see the miser get to live simply for the wonderful moment: if we could decide who would live and who would die, that would make us monster (excuse the paraphrasing). There were also nice kisses to the past, mainly in regard to The Robots of Death. I also found the mixed up meaning of Christmas and Mankind's history rather funny and I enjoyed that. So, there were things to enjoy with this episode and as such it can be regarded as a good episode.

    However, some moments were rather bad. I was a big niggled that this didn't really continue from Time-Crash. Anyway, it is getting on my nerves the amount of times that R.T.D. feels duty bound to keep involving Earth being in mortal danger. I know this may seem hypocritical because I do think that Pertwee's time as the Doctor was bloody brilliant but for some reason, there is something about it this time round that makes it feel superfluous. Surely it would have been more than enough just to involve all in the space-liner being in mortal danger. The characters were fleshed out in a wonderful way (both in writing and acting) that we can easily identify with them in some way and as such feel for them...as well as it being Christmas! We don't want anyone to be murdered let alone in this season of thanksgiving and stuff.

    Also, as I've mentioned before, that stuff with the Queen was just stupid and despite its intentions, wasn't funny. Another thing that grated is/was the religious significance that R.T.D is giving the Doctor. He did it in The Last of the Timelords and he has done it here again. Why? Why should we think that the Doctor is Jesus? Is it not enough that we think of him as a hero without having him endowed with more power. It was OK in Battlefield for the Doctor to be Merlin, mainly because Merlin is a fictitious character and it is also clever (well, I think it is). Yet, this is not. If you think this is because I think that the Doctor and religion should be kept apart then you are right. If you are one of those who will be disagreeing with me, then get a grip! Are you seriously trying to tell me that that Doctor should be hinted at as being the Son of God (the Bible says Son of Man, but that is a debate for somewhere else) as well as God--or that he is a prophet? Ridiculous! R.T.D. maybe an Atheist but...well, let me put it like this: if it were not for Jesus you wouldn't have the chance for a Christmas special!

    Also, I felt that turning Kylie into that Blue-dust stuff ruined her sacrifice. It was a good moment when the Doctor realised he could not bring her back but having her as Tinker-bell and then the dust stuff was ruining a good part of the episode. It reminds me of The Trial of a Timelord when Peri is killed (which is shocking) and then it is explained that it never happened (which rid the series of a dramatic moment).It was sad that Astrid died mainly as she was a lovely character (wonderfully acted by Kylie) but that is what made her sacrifice all the more powerful and then R.T.D. pissed all over his OWN good work just making the episode feel somewhat redundant and pointless.

    So, there were good moments and there were bad: and they did not overpower the other. It wasn't good and it wasn't awful. Therefore, the episode just made me feel somewhat cold. It was exciting to see the preview of Series 4 and I do hope it is a great series that somehow beats the third. I have a strong feeling that it will and yet somehow I have a feeling that Voyage of the Damned will mark some sort of end in Doctor Who. It certainly has with Behind the Sofa which is a huge shame as it has brought much joy over the years.

    Happy 2008! To the future.

    Have Your Say in a Tachyon TV Podcast!

    Tachyon TV will be releasing a brand new podcast very soon and we have a different and exciting feature that we want to introduce called 'Have Your Say'. This is aimed at anyone who has the ability to record themselves in an audio format so we can use it in the next release. Your comments can be positive, negative, or just plain silly.

    This month we'll be looking at Voyage of the Damned. So, if you've got something interesting, witty or urgent to say about the Christmas special let us know!

    To take part you'll need to be quick - the deadline is next Friday, January 11th.

    Please email your contribution as an mp3 or a wav file (no more than 5-10mb, please!) or put it on your own webspace or other online storage space and email me the details.

    The address: neil.perryman@gmail.com

    We only ask that you begin your contributions with the words "Hello, I'm ____" so when we edit the soundbites together the listeners will be able to identify you. However, be aware that we may have to edit comments for length.

    If you have any questions feel free to ask!

    We look forward to hearing what you have to say...

    Earth vs. The Spider

    Well, blast!  I've been away too long, and, now that I've suddenly found the time to contribute, they've decided to put the poor blog out of its misery, giving me but a scant few days in which to post some reviews.  I know many of you have been eagerly awaiting my imminent missives on "Inferno" and "The Revenge of the Slitheen".  Unfortunately, I'm afeared that I can't get to those quite yet, as I'm eager to write this timely review of the 2007 Doctor Who Chri'tmas Special.  I'd better get going, before it's too late and no longer "of the moment"...so, without further ado, here's my second ever review.

    I must admit that I had a certain amount of trepidation going into the Christmas Special for a number of reasons: a new stunt-casted guest companion; yet another a script from the inconsistent hand of Russell T. Davies; a comic-cliffhanger to resolve from the end of the season finale, the inevitable dash of religion...danger at every turn.

    Despite my understandable misgivings, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that, aside from a few major missteps, Davies has penned a tightly-scripted, enjoyable romp with room for character development, some clever humour, and relatively few gaping holes in the plot.  Sure, there were some familiar stock plot items (pursuit by killer robots controlled by a broadly-drawn malevolent antagonist, a threat to the entire population of the Earth, David Tennant gurning and shouting, use of a sonic scwoodwivah), but I wasn't that bothered by this lack of originality...who knows, they may well end using these elements for two or three Christmas specials in a row?

    This year's yuletide festival of Doctor Whoness begins with Catherine Tate (as Donna Noble) getting sucked into the TARDIS just as she's about to get married to a smarmy git named Lance.  The flabbergasted Doctor returns her to Earth, where she is promptly pursued and captured by the previous year's robotic scavengers, still in period costume as department-store Santas.  The Doctor heroically saves her a couple of times before figuring out that the robots were under someone else's control the entire time.  The villain is revealed to be a creature from the "dark times", the Queen of the Racnoss, some sort of cross between Gozer the Gozerian and a 1975 Volkswagon Beetle.

    901 Following the Battle of Canary Wharf the Queen of the Racnoss has apparently squatted an abandoned Torchwood facility and, with the help of Lance (who has thumbs), is sifting ancient "huon" particles out of the filthy water of the Thames (you'd be amazed what you can find in there), and using it spike Donna's coffee.  (If you think Torchwood's only huge shaft belongs to John Barrowman, think again--this place has one that penetrates all the way to the center of the Earth.)  Donna, now the Keymaster, is intended to help bring about the end times, and if it weren't for you meddling kids The Doctor, she'd have gotten away with it, too.

    Overall I was pleased that Davies managed to reign in his more extravagant tendencies with the plot, and actually managed to turn out a story that was largely internally consistent, much like good science fiction.   Rather than resolve the plot with deus ex machina supernatural powers, the Doctor relied on mechanisms that were plausible within the already-established setting of the story.  In order to have the TARDIS materialize around them, he used the same property of huon particles defined earlier in the programme.  ("If you think about it, the particles activated in Donna and drew here inside my spaceship.  So, reverse it...the spaceship comes to her.")  Even using the sound system at the reception to amplify a sonic screwdriver isn't as arbitrary as it might seem.

    (Okay...here's a niggling plot-hole sort of thing...if they didn't need Donna to be "the key" anymore, then why did they bother to use the huons to bring her and the TARDIS back from billions of years earlier?  If they could bring Donna back, why did they bother to do the whole foie gras thing with Lance to make him into the new key?)

    While there seems to have been substantial controversy surrounding the TARDIS "chase scene", I found it to be quite exhilarating.  It's always nice to watch the Doctor (any Doctor) operate the TARDIS: pulling levers, twisting knobs, wheels, gears, sparks, hammers, etc.  (I'm glad the doctor hasn't replaced his console with a new "laptop" version, where we can only watch him crouch over a tiny mouse-pad thing  and click at things on the screen.  This is why the laptop has killed electronic music....)  Then we got to see the police box bounce and careen its way down the M4 for a dramatic rescue.  When the kids in the back of the car punched the air at the successful rescue, so did we at-home viewers.  Even the accompanying music was thrilling.  We also got the excellent exchange: "I'm in my wedding dress!" "Yes!  You look lovely!  COME ON!"

    If there was one particularly glaring weak point in the 2007 Doctor Who Christmas special, it was the over-the-top scenery-chewing of the antagonist, as portrayed by Sarah Parish, pictured here:

    Ham

    While Parish's performance may have had less subtlety than electrodes on the genitalia, she was also clearly limited by the script, which forced her to utter cartoonishly ridiculous lines such as, "By the Great Parrot of Hades, you shall pay for this with the last drop of your blood!  Every corpuscle, do you hear? Mister Fibuli!" and "By the curl-ed fangs of the Sky Demon, how I have looked forward to this moment!"  Every "Moons of Madness!" or "And your little dog, too!" or "By the bursting suns of Banzar, Mr. Fibuli, where are my crystals?" had me cringing.

    Months before this Chri'tmas special found its way onto our televisions, irate fans were pulling their hair out about Catherine Tate's casting and predicting utter disaster.  While the character of Donna ends up being a somewhat mixed result, I don't think most of the problems lie in Tate's portrayal so much as they stem from writing that can't decide whether she's a genuine character or low comic relief.  For the first 10 or 15 minutes of the programme Tate's character just brays at the top of her lungs like she's having difficulty being heard over a shouty David Tennant.  When the character finally starts to deepen, as she and the Doctor are chatting on top of some roof after she's missed her own wedding, it's sabotaged by a flashback that's at least as misguided an idea as "Alien vs. Predator", where she's annoyingly hounding Lance to marry her.  The script continuously throws obstacles in the path of character development, alternately giving the character some emotional depth and then going to ridiculous lengths to portray Donna as both shallow and thick (I can remember when those were opposites....)  Her obliviousness to the Christmas and Cyberman invasions and "I thought July" were clever bits of fun, but "can't find  Germany on a map"?   "A woman who thinks the height of excitement is new flavour of Pringle?"   It's like RTD wants us to find her annoying.  Nevertheless, in less than an hour she's actually been able to develop from a bellowing, arm-flailing caricature into a character with some degree of depth and pathos that I could actually care about, and a damn sight faster than Mickey Smith, who took more than a season to overcome his annoyance status.  At least some of this is the result of Catherine Tate doing some genuine acting when the script gave her something to work with. 

    And at least they didn't do anything ridiculous like have the Doctor immediately fall in love with her before she sacrifices herself and an innocent forklift plunging the Racnoss Queen into the bottomless pit; that wouldn't work at all.

    There were a number of other fine things to enjoy about the 2007 Doctor Who Christmas special.  As one would expect, Euros Lyn's direction and pacing were excellent.  The Mill turned in some excellent special effects, particularly in the sequences depicting the formation of the earth and the Thames flooding the shaft.  I even rather liked the spidery parts of the Racnoss.

    Incidentally (no pun intended) I rather enjoyed much of Murray Gold's rollicking contribution to "The Runaway Bride".  High points include the upbeat bit while The Doctor is waiting impatiently for his turn at the cashpoint and the outright lifting from Gershwin while he's looking out over the Thames flood barrier.  Come to think of it, I think Gershwin haunted much of the proceedings.

    Other random items that deserve a mention:

    • The best David Tennant character moment in the entire programme was the Doctor's exasperated "I'm...I'm not...I'm not, I'm not from Mars...."
    • Another fine line: "Only a madman talks to thin air...and trust me, you don't want to make me mad.  Where are you?"
    • This exchange was a lovely in-joke: "What...there's, like, a secret base hidden underneath a major London Landmark?" "I know!  Unheard of."
    • I rather enjoyed seeing a religious symbol like the "Star of Christmas" turned into an instrument of destruction.  Maybe next year they can depict the baby Jeebus as the bloodthirsty spawn of an alien abduction, or even, dare I imagine, the cross as some sort of torture device.
    • The pockets!  Bigger on the inside than the outside!  It's like two references to earlier in the episode in one!
    • While I quickly tired of Lance once he became an abusive asshole, he does get the  clever "Director of Human Resources"/"This time, it's personnel!" quip.
    • Why does everything seem to happen to the Earth?  This time not only is there some event happening on the Earth with galaxy-spanning ramifications, but the entire planet only exists as a hiding place for baby Racnosses.

    So, in conclusion, while there was certainly room for improvement in "The Runaway Bride", my overall impression is positive.  It was an entertaining slice of well-plotted fun.

    Well, at least they didn't pad the bloody thing by another ten minutes, and turn it into a bloated, hamfisted, cliche-ridden disaster-movie panto with piss-poor science, massive plot-holes, the Queen of England, and an annoying tiny red metaphor named after a coffee drink.  That would be bad.

    The biggest disappointment I'm coming away with after this programme is that, after the development the character has had in just these short 60 minutes, Donna has declined to become a companion of the Doctor, and now we'll never see what might have resulted from that possibility.

    I guess now we'll never know.

    Dec 30, 2007

    An Important Announcement

    After lots of soul searching it is my sad duty to inform you all that Behind the Sofa - in its current incarnation - is coming to an end. It's been one hell of a ride, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has contributed over the last 2 and a half years. It's been emotional.

    You have until January 7th, 2008 to post your last reviews and then this blog will be frozen for posterity. Don't worry, it's not going anywhere but new posts will not be accepted after this time.

    But don't despair - on January 7th we'll also be announcing some news about the next phase of BTS and Tachyon TV. I can guarantee that it's going to be a very busy year!

    Many thanks,

    Damon, Neil (and John)

    Dec 29, 2007

    In Webspace, no one can hear you squee

    In case you hadn’t noticed amidst all the drunken revelry and annoying customers in shops who stand in your way, another year has come to an end. And so, in what has become a seasonal (well, the last two years anyway) tradition, here’s how I saw 2007 through Who-tinted spectacles. You may agree. You may disagree. Or you may just continue banging on about the inconsistencies of the Doctor’s age instead. Whichever, I couldn’t care less. This is my indulgence and I’ll cry if I want to, cry if I want to, cry if I want to… (where’s the gin, Neil?)

    January

    Normally a month free of Who-related guff, but no sooner are we wiping the carrot-drenched dribbles from our lips than the Sarah Jane Adventures is piloting its way onto out post-intoxicated psyches. And it’s not bad. Not great, but it’s still a country mile better than anything Chris Chibnall has managed to bang out of his word-processor with those simian hands of his so far. And Liz is predictably wonderful.

    As if that isn’t enough, Torchwood reaches its double-barrelled climax later the same night in what is either a thrilling or a snivelling concoction of life, death and Armageddon at the hands of the Chewits monster’s slightly uglier brother. Jack gets to f**k himself in 1941, Owen gets to f**k himself in 2007 now that the posh aviator’s left him and the rest of us just feel f**ked after thirteen weeks of this (‘Out of Time’ aside) tedious and juvenile shit. But I bet you still felt a thrill as the TARDIS engines whisked Jack off to the year One Trillion, didn’t you?

    Oh, and some McGann audios appeared on BBC7. Apparently.

    February

    Primeval keeps us warm on Saturday evenings as we await Season 3. Whilst it starts pretty ropily, things do quickly improve as plots, characters (yes, Torchwood, characters!) and special effects begin to overtake the sheer implausibility of it all. And the fact that you’re guaranteed a weekly dose of Hannah Spearitt in her knick-knacks by episode three certainly doesn’t do any harm.

    John Simm is the Master! Or is it Michael Sheen? Or perhaps Derek Jacobi? Either way, The Sun is where you read it first. Someone - it could have been me, but modesty prevents me from saying so - works out that Simm’s Life on Mars character is an anagram of ‘Masterly’. And predicts this will have something to do with the reason he’s in a coma. Ahem.

    Elsewhere, Stripped Down Five launches with ‘The Web Planet’, resulting in multiple blogging casualties.

    March

    Season 3’s debut is put back a week as a result of Steve McClaren’s England having an important Euro 2008 qualifier. That was well worth the effort, wasn’t it?

    Radio Times makes the unprecedented move of having not one, but two Who covers for the series’ debut (I mean, you’d think they’d have learnt by now that fans aren’t easily persuaded to pay twice for one thing, wouldn’t you?). The finale of Season 3 is revealed to be ‘Last of the Time Lords’, causing chronic levels of bladder explosion amongst OG’s more easily impressed members.

    Trailer-tastic, red-button, orgasm-inducing delights on BBCi in the week leading up to ‘Smith and Jones’ debut. Scarecrows. Tennant screaming his head off. The Doctor getting married? And a voiceover that burns at the centre of time and sees the turn of the universe. That does it - it’s incontinency pads for me every time I switch on the telly from now ‘til the end of June.

    ‘Smith and Jones’ sees the show finally return to Saturday nights. It’s all-right; a bit like ‘Rose’ but without the annoying boyfriend.

    it’s incontinency pads for me from now ‘til the end of June

    April

    Hey, nonny-nonny - Season 3 hits early stride with ‘The Shakespeare Code’ and Steven Moffat starts to fear that his unassailable position as wittiest Who scripter is finally under threat.

    A week later sees us return one more time to the year Five Billion (dot Betamax) for a final (?) meet-up with cat nuns, futuristic bobbins and ol’ Boe face. And his last, enigmatic words? Just. Read. The Sun.

    ‘Daleks in Manhattan’ sees the show finally go abroad again since the days of JN-T and package holidays to the costa brava. Except they don’t; for while script-writer Helen Raynor and the Confidential crew get to see the Big Apple, all Tennant and Agyeman get is a wall outside some primary school in Penarth. And I thought the days of shoestring budgets were behind us…

    Part two sees Tennant reach apocalyptic levels of smug over-enunciating that has even the most forgiving fan reaching for the baseball bat. And what in the name of Sorvad was all that nonsense about DNA and lightning conductors? Answers on a postcard to BBC Wales, Llandaff, Cardiff.

    May

    Fortunately, ‘The Lazarus Experiment’ sees things pick up considerably: old school chills with a great cameo by Mark ‘living the dream’ Gatiss. And to cushion the blow of Eurovision pre-empting the following week’s ‘42’ we’re treated to another pant-wettingly exciting trailer. Jacobi and Barrowman. Tennant screaming his head off, again. John Smith. And Simm tapping out the theme tune whilst looking for all the world like the best Master ever. We’re gonna need a bigger superlative…

    United lose the cup final and Chibnall loses the plot. ‘42’ has its moments - mainly down to Graeme Harper’s inevitably superlative direction - but trying to cross 24 with Who Wants to be a Millionaire was never gonna work, was it?

    Thankfully, the following week’s ‘Human Nature’ redefines the term fan-love, in a lyrical tale of love, loss and pandering to the hardcore. Fans wear out their VHS recordings replaying the ‘Journal of Impossible Things’ shot that means that McGann still counts even after all these years.

    As a result of this episode the word ‘squee’ is officially recognised by the Oxford English dictionary: Squee (adj.) to express biblical levels of devotion to a television programme, often resulting in grown men wandering around with goofy smiles on their faces and suspicious stains on their trousers for days afterwards.

    June

    ‘The Family of Blood’ gives us the biggest lump-in-throat, something-in-my-eye moment since Rose walked on the beach, prompting many to speculate if it can ever get as good as this again. Then we check the schedules and remember that Steven Moffat is writing next week’s…

    Don’t blink. Don’t even blink. Blink and you’re dead. Yes, John-Paul’s annual cameo goes by unnoticed. Again.

    Radio Times in the lead up to ‘Utopia’ suggests that, while the episode’s a bit of a misfire, the cliff-hanger is an absolute humdinger. For those of us who have still managed to avoid the internet spoilers, Saturday’s gonna be a big surprise…

    The last fifteen minutes of ‘Utopia’ sees the National Grid overloaded with request to turn down the power as the effect of a few million buzzing Who fans is causing sunstroke in many parts of the country. Murray Gold is nominated for a Lifetime Achievement Award for bombastic over-indulgence. And two girls film themselves having multiple orgasms on You Tube as Jacobi opens his watch. ‘Squee’ doesn’t even begin to cover it.

    A shock general election is called as Tony Blair steps down and Gordon Brown finds his automatic promotion challenged by a young upstart called Harold Saxon. Despite his mind-controlling, high-taxing policies, the general public finally sees sense. And vote in their droves for Harry baby.

    Can you hear the drums, Borusa? As occurrences of RSI amongst fans reach all time records, Simm makes his full debut as Mr Jack Napes esq. in an episode that divides fans more than whether Trevor Martin counts or not. The flashback to Gallifrey completes ‘The Year of the Squee’ in truly sticky style, while RTD’s inability to resist a bit of last minute self-indulgence sees the Scissor Sisters being added to the roll-call of naff pop acts in Who since 2005.

    A week later and it’s all over for another year. The Master is dead, the world is safe, and bloodshed is once more the tone word over on Behind the Sofa. If only we could all roll back the clock as easily as that.

    the word ‘squee’ is officially recognised by the Oxford English dictionary

    July

    As the casualties of LotTL’s fallout pick themselves up, dust themselves down and get over the fact that at the end of the day it’s just a television programme, more shocking news rocks fandom to the core as Catherine Tate is revealed to be the new(ish) assistant for Season 4. Blog posts with the title ‘Am I bovvered?’ number in the tens of thousands.

    Elsewhere, David Tennant’s mum sadly passes away after a long illness, prompting hundreds of fans to donate to her chosen charity in her memory. Which still brings a lump to the throat of this old cynic.

    August

    Sees the silly season back in full swing: Joan Collins is the Rani! David Bowie to play an alien who kidnaps Agatha Christie! Ben Kingsley to lose both legs and an arm, resulting in galactic levels of megalomania. Actually, this last one still hasn’t been denied by the BBC.

    Tennant takes time out from filming Season 4 to turn on Blackpool’s illuminations. God, it’s getting like 1976 all over again…

    September

    Stripped Down 6 runs alongside the debut of the Sarah-Jane Adventures’ first season, giving more snobbish fans an excuse to avoid blogging about a ‘children’s’ programme. The theme this time appears to be Damon’s preoccupation with leggy and/or half-dressed assistants. Which is fair enough.

    Blog posts with the title ‘Am I bovvered?’ number in the tens of thousands

    October

    Doctor Who is cancelled. Again. Well, not really. But from the reaction of the ming-mongs you’d certainly think so. 2009 will see just three specials in lieu of a new season, to give RTD and Tennant time off from the year-round schedule (either that, or the Beeb’s skint). But while a full series for 2010 is also confirmed, the hardcore still go into a frenzy like it’s 1985 all over again. Reports of Ian Levine smashing his brand-new plasma telly with a hammer go unconfirmed.

    The Sarah-Jane Adventures go from strength to strength, with ‘Whatever Happened to Sarah-Jane?’ as worthy of praise as any of the parent show’s bona-fide classics. How did the same team go so wrong with Torchwood?!?

    November

    The annual Tachyon TV meet-up for Dimensions sees the partners reconvene to Washington rather than Stockton as a result of the bloodshed amongst Brothers devotees they caused last year. Late casualties on the guest list include Lynda Bellingham (family bereavement), Michael Jayston (playing a corpse in Emmerdale), John Leeson (laryngitis, presumably) and Graeme ‘Lightsabre Man’ (removal from comfort zone and lack of social worker flexibility). But in their place come that bloke from The Bill (you know, the one that’s always been in it), Honor Blackman (who makes the grave error of thinking ‘Trial of a Time Lord’ was a ‘great success’) and some bloke from Big Finish who shows his holiday snaps from Castrovalva.

    Thank God then for John ‘You Gotta Be Careful’ Levene (half Del Monte commercial, half television evangelist), Katy ‘Ring-a-ding-ding’ Manning (whose mouth now encompasses small galaxies) and Colin Baker (who ranted on about the death of TV in the face of reality programming. For a change.) In fact, following the previous year’s ‘Colonic Controversy’, Tachyon TV actually managed to obtain a brief chat with the man himself. Though whether he actually remembered us is another matter.

    But despite the somewhat lacklustre guest list, there were still highlights to be found. Wee Jimmy Vee taking on the Mr Sin doll, and winning. John Levene using funeral speeches as an excuse to wax on about how bloody marvellous he is. And the prospect of a Saturday night where the outdoor marquis was blown straight down the A19, resulting in collective celebrity/fan bloodshed.

    Oh, and Dave Sanders got his Doctor Who and Hanna Barbera conventions mixed up. And came as Captain Caveman.

    Back home and the Season 3 boxset kept the winter chills away until ‘Voyage of the Damned. Though why it was 50 quid this year is anybody’s guess.

    The annual Children in Need guilt-athon is a little extra special this year. If you managed to wade through the Spice Girls’ execrable new single (not to mention their patronising attempts to persuade you to part with your dosh) then at about 8.16pm a million fan-hearts swelled as Peter Davison made a quite beautiful return to the role of the Fifth Doctor opposite David Tennant in a specially shot seven minutes which dovetailed rather neatly into the climax of ‘Last of the Time Lords’. And so effortlessly does he reassume the role that fandom starts a campaign for him to have a longer go in one of the 2009 specials while Tennant is playing Hamlet.

    In sadder news, Verity Lambert - first producer, architect of the show and all-round TV pioneer - dies at the far too young age of 71, the day before the show that she helped create celebrates its 44th anniversary.

    December

    Trailers start for Christmas and ‘Voyage of the Damned’ features prominently. I try my best not to get too excited.

    Catherine Tate spills the fact that Tennant may make Season 4 his last. Amidst much fan chin-rubbing, a middle-aged university lecturer in Sunderland dances a little jig.

    DWM gets a makeover which sees Kylie Minogue bring back memories of Katy Manning by draping herself over a Dalek wearing not a lot of clothes (actually, she’s covered head-to-toe in comparison to the former Jo Grant; but seeing as us Who fans don’t normally get to see much of this sort of thing it still gets the pulses going).

    Christmas arrives and so does ‘Voyage of the Damned’, which for half of its extended running time manages to make a decent fist of aping all those classic crimbo disaster fests that littered the yuletide schedules of long ago. But then everything goes to hell in a handcart in grand RTD tradition and by the time the Queen wishes the Doctor a Merry Christmas I’m tempted to join the turkey in the oven and take a deep breath.

    And so we end as we began, another year over and Doctor Who once again dominating the media outlets. ‘Voyage of the Damned’ clocks up over 12 million viewers and the Sun is already speculating on how three of the Doctor’s companions are gonna cope without him in Season 4’s double-banker. The countdown to Tate-Gate has begun…

    Happy New Year, everyone.

    Categories
    Doctor Who: Series One
    Doctor Who: Series Two
    Doctor Who: Series Three
    Torchwood: Series One
    Torchwood: Series Two
    The Sarah Jane Adventures: Series One
    The Eighth Doctor BBC7 Audios
    The Eighth Doctor Novels
    The Tenth Doctor Novels
    Stripped Down Series 1
    Stripped Down Series 2
    Stripped Down Series 3
    Stripped Down Series 4
    Stripped Down Series 5
    Stripped Down Series 6