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Aug 26, 2006

This is longer than I thought it would be.

I was a bigger fan of The Doctor's second year than most.  Despite some of the flaws I simply couldn't fail to be excited by the sheer exuberance and abandon and the obvious love that the production team have for their programme and the need to make each episode the best they can with the time and budget they have.  At no point does there seems to be a 'that'll do' ethic and the fact that even though not all of us have agreed with the choices or that it's been the 'best of the best' we're all still writing about it, still fans, must count for something.  Terry Gilliam said something very clever on the radio the other day.  He said that the worst thing that any film can do is create the reaction in the audience afterwards that it was 'ok'.  At no point was that the reaction to any of the episodes this year. 

For my review, I'm going to rewatch the season seeing if I can tease out anything that would only be apparent second time around.  It'll no doubt be long, repetitious and sprawling.  I have a theory for example, that if you look at the series in the order that much of the rest of the world will, with New Earth hot on the heels of The Christmas Invasion it will feel like less of a disappointment - as a second episode. I'll be interested to know too whether the episodes that did disappoint me the first time around such as The Age of Steel also work better in context.  As they say on BBC Breakfast.  'That's all still to come later.  But first…'

Pudsey Cutaway

I actually wrote one of my longest reviews about this, the short 'episode'.  I'd actually managed to forget about the Peter Andre/Jordan framing device which seeks to undercut the drama with karoke.  In a parallel universe, Andrew Pixley is archiving the minutia of Children In Need.  In the 2006 special we'd be reminded that the couple sang 'A Whole New World' and in an unscripted moment it was revealed that they also sang it at their wedding. 

Luckily we're in this universe and we can forget such details and move on.  Surprisingly trailer that hammers out of the screen afterwards, we're not only offered the delights of Doctor Who but also Catherine Tate's appearance in Eastenders - who would have thought they'd be sharing a console room just under a year later.  How does this effect the canonicity of Dimensions in Time?

The genius of the Pudsey Cutaway is that it doesn't try do much more than introduce the new Doctor and somehow manages to capture all his manic brilliance even in this short space of time.  Russell T Davies realises that it would have been wrong to shoehorn in some alien threat from outside the Tardis ala A Fix With Sontarans and instead begins to the emotional journey of acceptance for Rose who is nothing less than sceptical throughout and rightly so.  Both performances are the key - Tennant is actually somewhat closer to Casanova here than he is for much of the rest of the series (which is odd considering this was filmed part way in) and Rose underplays in all the right places. 

So what if her hair doesn't match.  Also manages to add a hint of things to come as its revealed that The Doctor might have left Captain Jack behind on purpose to help rebuild the Earth - with this have implications later?  I do wonder though if this short 'teaser' actually dampened the Christmas surprise.  Unfortunately my recording cuts out before I can really discover how 'it' was for Jordan.  'It was ner…' apparently.  Paging alternate reality Mr Pixley…

The Christmas Invasion

There's something disconcerting about watching Christmas idents and trailers around recorded programmes in mid-August, especially since my dvd recorder has turned out a perfect facsimile of the broadcast.  For the record, anticipating a bumper audience there were trailers for As Time Goes By, Eastenders, The Two Ronnies Christmas Sketchbook and (oh look) Life on Mars (I'd forgotten how exciting that looked back them.  I might rewatching that too soon.  I mean really.  That's amazing!).

What I love about The Christmas Invasion is the epic quality of the thing - although the base under siege type plot that would be repeated throughout the rest of the series has its place, my favourite Doctor Who episodes have always been about big alien invasions, The Doctor dealing with mass phalanxes of aliens bent on destruction.  Also its an amazing episode to look at - those scenes of people standing on the edges of rooftops throughout the world are astounding.  But cleverly the Sycorax's plan doesn't overshadow what the episode should be doing  -- which is introducing the new Doctor.

To an extent the brilliance of those first forty minutes of the episode had been overshadowed in my memory by the last twenty when The Doctor finally wakes up properly and gets to have a good rant - and it really isn't hurt by the Pudsey Cutaway because it still seems part of the whole regenerative mish-mash.  But if there's an element of this Doctor it's that he can't be pinned down. I'm yet to hear someone assign him an adjective like the romantic Doctor and that would just seem wrong.  It's almost as though he's all of them and none of them, standing on the shoulders of giants and yet still himself.  It's a shame that they couldn't have kept Rose wary of him for a few more episodes, to bring something else to the dynamic.  One of the things I'd hope to see in Martha Jones is that they don't quite click from the off.  I'm not talking about a Tegan Jovanka style strop, more of a Romana I type of uncertainty. 

Something that is introduced but not really extrapolated upon is that the Sycorax only visit the planet because they pick up the energy from The Doctor's burping - this is something writer Davies would return to in the podcast to Doomsday - that the reason The Doctor always seems to be around when an alien invasion presents itself is because he essentially causes them to visit because of his presence.  That's certainly something that could be returned to - to what extent does he cause those deaths just by being there?  So it's not really Mr. Llewelyn's fault.  Poor him. And Major Blake.  Also note that The Royal Family go up to the roof which is consistent with Tooth & Claw since it suggests they all have the same blood group (although it could also be a swipe about inbreeding - naughty Russell).  There's also a consistency in relation to this version of London - Big Ben is still being reconstructed after the Slitheen invasion.  Oh and I'd forgotten about Mandy.  It is shame we didn't see her again.  So much more to write, but look at the time …

New Earth

I was wrong.  There's a wrongness to the whole thing.  If it isn't just that there's two half good ideas trying to cling together to make a whole one, there's the inconsistent tone and pacing.  The performances are perfectly fine, great in fact in places which means that there are still elements filled with resonance, but it just feels so bloody random, like a group of scenes that work well in isolation but contradict one another when thrown together.  I mean I like Chip.  I like the cat nurses.  And The Face of Boe, is well The Face of Boe, but for reasons that I can't put my finger on it simply doesn't work. It might be that Cassandra is either a love her or hate character and I'm one of the latter.  To make a One Show-like lurch in tone, it is another case of the Doctor's presence breaking the status quo and leading to many deaths.  If he hadn't landed the Tardis here, Cassandra would not have been released to become Rose and so penetrate the intensive care section and release the patient zombies.  Will the cat matron reap her revenge?  What has Boe Face got to say for himself (my money's on 'You are not alone' or some such).  But really I'm so disappointed I don't want to write any more about this.  I'm sorry.  I'm so, so sorry.

Tooth & Claw

… begins really well, like an Ingmar Bergman film in fact, making no allowances the television frame with the evocative music and monks.  For extra mood I think I'm going to watch this in black and white using the setting on my tv that emphasises the light and darkness (which makes even Deal or No Deal look like film noir).  Done.  Here we go then …

… gosh that's amazing.  If you can get the chance, do watch this episode in mono with the contrast pushed right up and the brightness right down.  The sections of the hooded man in a cage look like The Seventh Seal and elsewhere it's a mixture of the old Universal gothic horror films and a sixties historical - it's almost though it was filmed that way on purpose.  The closing scene for example when Queen Victoria is flashing up the Torchwood product placement half of her face is in shade.  And the wolf looks even more impressive since the grizzlier cg lines are lost in shadow.

It really doesn't make sense that the same writer can turn out Tooth & Claw and New Earth.  It could be because the latter had so many things it apparently 'needed' to do as an opening story whereas this just needed to be a ripping old yarn.  This was knocked out to fill the hole left in the season when The Runaway Bride was shifted to Christmas, so all this may the result of writing something  when you don't really have to think about it.  Some of the characterisation is just perfect and the extra-textual interplay between The Doctor and Rose works extremely well.  It's well paced too with people running around corridors but still chatting too.  I think I said it at the time, but how exciting would it have been to have this as the season opener?

Something I hadn't noticed is how much that wolf resembles the old Late Show ident (for the young - that was basically The Culture Show, but on every weekday after Newsnight during the eighties and nineties and introduced by people like Salman Rushdie - there would be picture of the moon at opening with a wolf howling before it).  Also for the first time The Doctor isn't the cause of the mischief and actually saves the day, his presence apparently being necessary to keep the time stream on the straight and narrow.

I am hoping that in the Torchwood series they do something about the history of the organisation, particularly its inception.  Perhaps an engagement with the 20th century version of the monks, who apparently disappear from outside the house before the episode closes.  Also, just to briefly return to the opening, it would be good to see the show present a story in the more recent past.  For example: 'It's the early nineties. The Doctor and Martha investigate strange goings on at the Glastonbury Festival. Guest starring Ross Kemp as Michael Eavis and Jarvis Cocker as himself.'

The Hand of Fear

Well I had to watch this before you know what, well that final scene at least.  It's almost a proto-Pudsey cutaway - a stand alone scene that says goodbye to a companion rather than introduces a Doctor.  It also demonstrates what was missing from the relationship between Tenth and Rose later on this year - sometimes there was that lack of sparky, screwball comedy - the not quite seeing eye to eye, her humanity butting against his Doctorness.  The moment when Sarah is talking about how bad she's feeling while he's trying to fix the Tardis is an amazing bit of writing and perfectly captures both characters.  The latest couple just got along too well at times, I feel.  You can absolutely understand why she's still considered one of if not the best of companions - she's witty, enthusiastic, but also there's that vital spark of Tom chemistry.  I couldn't imagine anyone better for a return appearance.  Nice bit of continuity too mentioning Harry and the Brig.  There's a chap who really should be returning next year.  I like Nick Courtney's idea that he should be Lord Lethbridge-Stewart, with the Tenth so 'young' by comparison.  But I'm going off topic.  Time for a …

School Reunion

Next episode of Doctor Woo according to the announcer. You'd think she would have learnt her lesson after last year … anyway, you know what?  I cried this time.  I think with watching Hand again and remembering what that all meant to me when I was growing up I welled up.  Also, I noticed that Murray Gold was playing in an orchestral version of the song from The Christmas Invasion, so there's almost a double nostalgia at play.  It's odd how he have both the really epic orchestral choir and brimstone of the kids being trained and that lovely bit of piano at the end as well as the clashing and annoyingly dated cue right at the beginning of the episode over finch eating the child at the opening.

I'm so glad we're getting at least one more adventure with Sarah Jane, even if it doesn't look like it'll be with K9 - I just know that when I'm earning I'll be catching up on the Big Finish adventures.  This isn't the same Sarah Jane of course - she's older, more akin to the woman we met in Reeltime Pictures Downtime, and that's just how it should be - but it's also respectful of that continuity too.  It's amazing that this was written by someone who's basically a childhood fan who doesn't have the years of following the franchise that some of us have - everything is just pitched so well.

It's actually a really confident teaser considering that this is only Tennant's third full episode - as he steps out as the teacher with the assumption that the audience will be surprised to see him.  It's funny to note that the actor was already established to the extent that Russell T et al felt that this would work, and even funnier that it does.  I can't think of another actor who managed to establish himself in the role so quickly and expertly.  I know some became quite irritated with his performance as time went on - and I'll talk about that later no doubt, but here he's a joy

Some bits of language I noticed this time around - when The Doctor and Sarah Jane re-meet he lets out a Tom Bakerish 'Weeelll….'  Also it's amazing that they manage to get through this whole episode without using the word Gallifrey.  My fantasy is that somewhere along the line next season there's going to be a cliffhanger and it's going to involve the use of the name and that's why they're keeping it back.  Given the free flow of other icons, they're obviously omitting this own for more than the 'We don't want to alienate new viewers …' reasons. 

Also note that the Doctor describes the end of Hand with 'I was called back home and in those days human's weren't allowed'.  Those days?  True they won't be allowing any human's on the planet now anyway because it's time dust (unless it isn't - see above musing on cliffhangers) but that means there was a time when they were allowed - is this to tie-in with the Big Finish stories when humans were invited to the planet and actually have places at the academy?

I know that the Krillatins were in the school before the Doctor arrives, but his presence speeds up the timetable, and he isn't able to save the teachers and indeed there isn't a scene in which anyone wonders were they got to.  Does Finch really die at the end?  We don't know how they got to Earth in the first place - transdimensional portal?  I think they work perfectly well in context as the bad guys - it would not have been right if there'd been a returning villain for example - like Sarah Jane's exit at the end of The Hand of Fear which is totally unrelated to that adventure, it's the randomness of everything that makes this thing work - that not all of the adventure fits together. 

The Girl In The Fireplace

This was the one episode I failed to review coherently this year and the reason is still very clear to me.  It's probably my favourite episode of the season and may well be one of my favourite episodes of all time.  Which is a bold statement, especially considering forty-odd years of stories but, I don't think there's a story so perfectly pitched, paced and written which takes into account the implications of this man in time and the possibilities.  Apparently it was originally written for Eccleston.  Seriously I don't know how that would work.  Strange chemistry.

But it's also great that it's about the Doctor.  It's about the only story this year that is just about the Doctor and not just his reaction to the circumstances that he finds himself embroiled in.  Even Doomsday is really about the defence of the Earth and his entourage.  This is about the Doctor really dealing with his own circumstances and to an extent his own needs.  The further the series drifts away from that, the less interesting it is. Look at Dalek. Same thing. 

And you know - I think you can see David and Sophie falling for each other too. And it's set in France.  It's City of Death for the new age.  Did they dance?  Of course they did.  It makes the Doctor a much deeper character because they did.  I've never thought of him as a monk and it certainly makes sense.  He's forever cracking on about meeting the historically famous and its always on their level - so why not meet Reinette, a courtesan on her level?

And like City of Death I can watch it over and over.  There are bits of dialogue that are purely theatrical - watch the number of clock related references when the Doctor stops the men, and when he does the mind meld (which oh look - also happens in The Hand of Fear) all of the foreshadowing about what we don't know about his childhood.  Plus he gets to save the day again, which is the theme of this series - I don't think there is an episode in which he's completely held off from the whole world saving process.

If Rose and Mickey are overlooked (the latter in first story as a companion) its because they will be.  And yet they're still given some excellent scenes such as the discovery of the eye and heart.  It's more Red Dwarf than Alien for me but that's a good thing.  So what if Rose seems quite happy to have Mickey on board now.  They've obviously had a chat.  Best moment?  Rose looking to the stars while Mickey rants about where the Doctor's gone too.  But she says nothing, and we're left to wonder what she's thinking as she lets out a tear.  My thought - she knows he'll return, she's just wondering when and how…

The Clockwork Men are as the Doctor says 'beautiful' - if they're looking for an adult merchandising opportunity, it's a bust of one of these things that actually works and even told the time - perhaps reading it in some kind of robot voice.  And finally dear Sophie Myles just golden as Reinette - she basically steals the audiences heart in forty minutes and you're genuinely sad that she doesn't fly off round the universe with the Doctor, his loss becomes your loss.  There's more brilliance in these forty five minutes than the whole of the next hour and a half …

Rise of the Cybermen / The Age of Steel

New opinion.  That's weird.

When I first saw and reviewed this story although I raved about the first episode, I was disappointed by the second.  Now that I've had a chance to watch the story as whole, you know what?  I really had a good time.  It looks like a film and in places is quite exciting.  The Age of Steel does work better in context.

Which isn't to say some of my original criticism doesn't stand - it is a shame that once again the story ends on the big emotional crescendo, but some of the other ticks, like the Doctor's speech whilst the enemy stands around and the re-appearance of the Tyler family are actually softened when taken as part of the whole season.  I even enjoyed Roger Lloyd Pack's performance.  Nu-Who hasn't had enough megalomaniacs and at least this one was tied into the whole unemotional Cyberman schtick.  If it's not my favourite story of the season, it's probably because some of it is a tad too over familiar. 

And the Cybermen are strangely colourless.  I was never a fan and although they certainly have a presence as they stomp around, they've had the one thing I always enjoyed, the camp, sucked out of them.  I want them to be making a fist and saying 'excellent' and being emotional whilst all the time walking around and say that they're not.  It's good that some old continuity was mentioned and even that Van Statten was name checked (good memory Rose!).  And bits of it had that kind of old 60s charm - Mr Crane in particular being the kind of sub-Z Cars henchman that would have been the stock in trade in those days.

Anyone else notice the moment when Mrs Moore asks the Doctor about family and he says 'Who needs family I've got the world on my shoulders?'  I'm guess that's another addition to the building up to season three-you mark my words its going to be all about the Time lords.  There are persistent references to the Doctor's loneliness, being the last of the time lords etc.  I don't think it would keep being mentioned if it was actually true …

The Idiot's Lantern

The problem with The Age of Steel is that it feels like the end of a season - so the Doctor and Rose's trip back to the 50s was bound to look pale in comparison.  Which is a shame because as I said at the time, I really liked it.  The other comparison was with Mark Gatiss previous story, The Unquiet Dead and whilst this wasn't able to weave in the same arc implications - time wars and whatnot - it does feature all of those things that classic Who did best - history, tragicomedy, body horror and a big alien threat.

In retrospect it's a companion piece to Fear Her, demonstrating how one side of the time travelling twosome deals with their other number being trapped in an inanimate object - tv here, drawing there - my guess being so that one of the actors could take a few days off from filming - the nu-Who equivalent of some shots filmed at Elstree being slotting in during the Hartnell era.  Here is works very well, giving the Doctor even more of a reason to help out against this particular demon. 

As usual a secondary character is slotted into place in the companion role, with Tommy filling the role perfectly.  As a side note, the reason Rose appears to circumvent the classic style of companion is that rather than asking questions she gives the information herself and hardly ever questions the Doctor - who instead simply proffers the exposition without being asked and tends to ask her questions instead.

I think this might be one of Murray Gold's best scores - it hits just the right balance between excitement and local colour, the final theme running from the reunion to the street party being a particular highlight.  To a degree, because some of Gold's scores have tended to clash about in the sound mix and sometimes the cues are ill chosen he's gained himself a bit of a reputation.  The interview in Doctor Who magazine this month shows that this isn't always his fault - he keeps suggesting silences to the directors and they always come and ask him for more.

It's just a shame that the episode was set in London again after the alternative London that appeared last episode and the capital's reappearance in the final four episodes of the season, which makes ten for the season.  I understand the Alexander Palace connection, but there are transmitters throughout the country - and this episode would have worked just as well in the north of England and added some variety - dropping Scotland and France next to each other at the opening of the season didn't help too much with this either.  Given that the production team indicate that Cardiff and double for anywhere in the world, any chance that the TARDIS might land   somewhere in England that's outside the estuary zone?

The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit

When I recorded this from the telly, my digibox sprang fault which meant the picture juddered annoyingly every few minutes.  Luckily on this episode it seems to fit as the setting spends most of the time shuddering anyway.  I do wish they were making this stuff on 35mm film.  Yes it's expensive and has an even more extensive post-production period, but it looks fabulous…

This is the kind of story that will never get the recognition it deserves because of all the stuff which was happening around it.  Largely forgotten in the Love & Monsters debarkle, this double bill synthesises a decade of the kind of storytelling Ood, you'd find in the spin-off novels or Big Finish audios, a Nick Briggs of a cast, all contract workers and officers fighting some unknowable force in some remote part of the galaxy.  Watching again now, it's fantastic stuff, by turns exciting but also philosophical in a way that only Doctor Who can quite manage without looking po-faced.  Even on what is supposed to be a proportionately smaller budget it makes some US sci-fi shows look very tired indeed - they say that they're trying to create a mini-movie each week - BBC Wales really mean it.

Of course one of the highlights is the music, another departure from the norm.  It didn't take a Pixleygram for a sci-fi audience to recognise some of the Serenity-style chords and reading the recently published list of items from the temp track it is fairly easy to note where each track fitted in.  On the dvd of the film, The Usual Suspects, composer and editor John Ottman talks about how he'll be watching a film and know when his music was on the temp track because the themes are almost but not quite the same and the fact that this kind of recognition is possible on Doctor Who shouldn't be criticised.  It just means that their striving for a soundscape that's actually cinematic.

One of the big hindsight questions is how much of the script is Matt Jones's work - unlike well, every other writer, he's been conspicuous by his absence from DWM interviews and Doctor Who Confidential - was he unhappy that his work was changed, or just shy?  Again, the Pixley files are understandably bit vague on the process, with talk of Jones reworking the script and then Davies adding his own ideas.  For his part, in the latest DWM, Davies admits that he does rewrite a lot of material, even mentioning the process of working through a writer's old drafts and supplementing that material into new scripts.  He says that he wouldn't do it to a Steven Moffat because they have a track record and have been brought in because of that, but he doesn't have any problems going over other writer's work, that he's not precious and they get to keep their name on it. 

I say, that if it means that the show is the best it can be and has a unified vision, that's all ok.  Douglas Adams used to do much the same when he was script editor and Russell is right when he says that it's the kind of thing show runners do in the US - listen to Buffy commentaries and notice how many times a writer will be attributing the best scenes to Joss Whedon.  We won't be seeing original drafts any time soon, so we won't ever really know what happens during the revision process, but if anything that's done is for the benefit of the programme, well good. 

Either way there is some textbook exposition writing in here, from the introduction of the characters at the opening of the story after the emergency and the walk through the base to orientate the viewer.  If there's something that isn't handled quite so well, it's why this group of people would suddenly trust these travellers with so much information right at the beginning.  Something which has surfaced again  throughout the new series, is the propensity of characters to trust the Doctor and suddenly drop information in his lap without too much persuasion.  He's always had the ability and my rationalisation is that he has an aura or glamour which means that good people will always connect to him and open up and tell him what he wants to know, almost as though he subconscious is chatting up their subconscious in the background like some psychological IP protocol.  Either that or his body language.

First time I saw this episode I wondered what was happening with Billie Piper's performance, suggesting some intoxication.  On reflection it actually looks like part of the Rose confidence arc.  Rose has always tried to emulate the Doctor in given circumstances (see all the talk of shadow proclamations in the face of the Sycorax) and in this episode her behaviour is entirely Doctorish - in the absence of the timelord she's taking his place, including the joking about which is also Tenth's defence mechanism.  When he's in the corridor she always recedes to type, but this confident side shows itself again in Doomsday when facing over the Dalek.

Love & Monsters

I was actually a bit reticent about watching this again - because I'd had such a high opinion of it first time around for many of the reasons others hated it and I didn't want my original relections to crumble like a house of cards.  I've always thought it a shame that this kind of experimentation didn't happen in the classic series, but of course there were episodes which didn't feature the Doctor at all (when Hartnell was on holiday) and even in the Dalek Cutaway/Mission To The Unknown/Whatever they didn't appear at all, the action resting on the shoulders of some characters the viewer had never seen before.  I think it just appears audacious because of the process - the breaking of the forth wall, the humour, the editing, the fact that it doesn't look like anything else in the new series.  As the producer and director kept reminding us in Doctor Who Confidential and DWM, they were a separate team, off making their own show.  And in the event if feels like an independent movie, made with a passion that I haven't seen in UK drama for years.  On the recent Screen Wipe USA, Charlie Brooker wondered why British tv isn't just trying new things like Manimal, Automan and I think The Magician.  They are and here it is.

From the possible Quantum Leap reference at the close of the teaser ('Oh Boy') through the zetigeisty mention of blogs to the clear parody of the structure that's crept into tv scifi of showing the really exciting moment in the story up front and then shuffling back a day or week or so to explain how the hero found themselves in that predicament (hello Alias and Enterprise), the apparent philosophy in Love & Monsters appears to be to stretch what's possible in the UK tv environment, what we gentle viewers will accept on a Saturday night.  Read one of the many text books on narrative that I've had to plough through for my dissertation and you realise that Russell T is actually following something called 'art house narration' (thanks David Bordwell) which knocks temporal order in a cock hat, allows the protagonist to address the camera, offers the promise of surrealism and throws in an inconclusive ending.  The last item is stock in trade of episodic drama but all the rest are in evidence and here and just not usual in British tv, let alone Doctor Who.  We should just rejoice that 'our guys' are wanting to try something new no matter you opinion on whether its successful or not.  Does it derail the season?  No.  Well not unless your on the love side of the equation.  Which I clearly am.

But you know what hurts it a bit?  I miss the Doctor.  And Rose.  It's almost a relief when they appear at the end, even if narratively speaking they grab the story right out from under Elton nose, taking over their few minutes on screen when it should be from his point of view.  And there's always the question of what The Doctor and Rose are up to during the course of this story.  Jackie calls Rose and she's far away but we don't know were.  I said in my review of Army of Ghosts that one of the weaknesses of the new series is that there'll be mention of far off places whilst the actually stories we see are determinedly in the mundane sci-fi sphere.  I've actually come to the conclusion that the unfolding text in Doctor Who Adventures happen in this gap, the time travellers dashing through time having one short adventure after another, the threat of the Hoix and the Absorbaloff just two of a range of small fry. 

Again I'll say, if you haven't been reading DWA's comic strip you're missing a treat that's worth the fortnightly two pound alone.  The latest bonkers issue features Bram Stoker, the real Dracula, his actual vampire wife and Oscar Wilde (who is also by implication a bloodsucker).  But it's also funny and smart and currently being written by Alan Barnes who with Scott Grey wrote all of those great 8th  Doctor stories that are lately being released as graphic novels.  I really hope that these stories find themselves between soft covers too so that they can be seen by an audience that's frightened off by the dayglow front covers and free pencil cases and stickers.  But seem to have stopped talking about the episode, mostly because I can't really improve on what I said first time around so instead I'll just mention that I initially thought he was named Elton after Elton Welsby the local sports news commentator and that technically it's all the Doctor's fault again just by existing and putting himself about so much - which leads us to …

Fear Her

Oh actually that doesn't work.  Anyway, I think this episode was hurt by the London centric fatigue.  Other than the Olympics Mcguffin this could again been set anywhere in the world or indeed the universe, shanty town on the planet Mars in the year 3535, anywhere.  But instead we're in Brookside Close (copyright, Matthew Graham, DWC).  I really remember responding to this first time around, but I think that was because was on the defensive from reading all the negative writing about Love & Monsters.  But perhaps it was also just nice to see the Doctor and Rose bantering again, bantering and sleuthing and doing all the things we love them for - and actually it's somewhat like the dialogue you'd find in the aforementioned DWA which probably indicated how well they're pitching their stories.

"I suppose it's much more than a torch now.  It's a beacon.  It's a beacon of hope and fortitude and courage.  And it's a beacon of love."

Well I suppose the shame is that it doesn't feel important, its one of those stories (and I'd include The Idiot's Lantern)  that you'll view if your working your way through the season like I am but isn't something you'd want to watch adhoc as you would with the episodes earlier in the season.  There's nothing exactly wrong with it, good writing, good performances, grin inducing ending.  It's just feels a bit inessential.  A different setting might have helped but the assumption is that they couldn't have afforded that. 

It's time to propose some heresy.  If we are to have a Christmas episode each year, can we drop an episode during the year - same budget but twelve episodes instead - so that everything is an event, so that there isn't anything inessential.  If the trade off is less episodes but more alien worlds or far flung historicals, so be it.  It sounds churlish, but after ten years of original novels in which the Doctor has been shifting backwards and forwards in time, gone to all kinds of strange and wonderful places, it's a shock to have him back on television and mostly trolling about in the last two centuries.  I know that in general they've been his stopping off point of choice but for the long term viewer/reader/listener it feels a bit disappointing.

There's a great bit in the Confidential that followed Fear Her in which RTD talks about how exciting it must have been to be throwing out all of these alien creatures and worlds on a small budget, with all the ambitions.  It's a shame that the expectations of the new audience are so high that the new crew aren't allowed to throw caution to the wind in much the same way, the suspension of disbelief is so low that everything has to be totally convincing and leading to so many domestic episodes just to get thirteen episodes out …

Army of Ghosts / Doomsday

It's actually fairly impossible to watch Army of Ghosts at the moment because you spend some of the time trying to see Freema's postential.  Will she be as good as Billie?  Better?  Again that latest RTD interview in DWM suggests that she's a very versatile actress but judging by those precious few minutes here it's difficult to see what the production team evidently saw on the sound stage.  I think it's actually quite likely the difference between working as a supporting player and a lead - if you're the former you can't overshadow the latter, so in those terms Freema's perfectly fine.  New companions, like new Doctors are always exciting prospects because you'll always be wondering what they'll be like - the new Sarah Jane, the new Tegan, the new Adric, the new Katarina.  We know that she'll doubtless be from 20th century London but I'm still hoping for an earlier decade, the progressive end of the 60s perhaps.  Although I'm sure that part of the story in the earlier part of the year will be that the Doctor is looking for Rose Mark II and she'll be trying to convince him she's her own person.  Expect a scene in the expected new New Earth episode with them walking around New New York with the Doctor saying wistfully 'I always meant to bring Rose here…'

Some interpreted (and still interpret) my actual review of Doomsday as being another addition to the stream of negativity - the title 'This isn't the show it once was' probably didn't help.  But really I did love this from start to finish.  Well alright after the build up the Genesis Device was a disappointment after all the build up (It's another timelord!  It's another Tardis!  Oh it's a few million Daleks…) but offers promise for the future - if this survived, what's to say there isn't anything else out there - if the Daleks were hiding out in the void, why not something else, like a copy of the timelord matrix or Gallifrey itself (see above).  The Cybermen somehow managed to be less charismatic than the Daleks who did seem to have got some balls from somewhere.  But really this was widescreen entertainment and it was fab being able to see it on a big screen rather than the portable I viewed it on first time around.

Like all of the event episodes this year it looks like a film (except when it looks like a computer game) and would have benefited from being shot on that medium.  It's a testament to Billie Piper and the character that she's inhabited over these past two years that the final scene works so well and the production team felt that they could spend so much time over it.  I've seen characters leave some shows and it's almost as though they'd never been there because the actor had brought such bad chemistry, the performance hadn't worked or the character was on a hiding to nothing to begin with and the audience simply didn't care if they came or went.  Billie was a hit and she'll be missed.  Anyone who can carry that confrontation with a Dalek and the blubbing at the end will never be out for work.  And only in Doctor Who would the final scene be set on a beach in Norway.  Next to a fjord, I'm sure.  With lovely crinkly edges.  And that's all I have to say about that.

Conclusion

t's funny though how I've ended up straying into writing about the politics of writing and producing a television series towards the end, possibly because the real delights are at the beginning.  But what have we learnt from this trawl through the past season?  That for all its flaws we did have a good time.  That predictably the series soared when it was being experimental but bored when it went accessible.  That there is a fine line between brightness and darkness and that too much of one or the other and the drama becomes top heavy.  That even when the mix isn't completely right, it's still one of the most entertaining shows on television and a thousands times better than we had any right to expect it be at the turn of the century.  That the Tenth Doctor embraces all of the best bits of the previous nine and injects an even greater propensity for unpredictability and excitability, like Hamlet you're never quite sure if he's feigning madness or just plain mad.  And that like all the great companions, Rose will be missed.

Next time …

Fan boy wish list.  Less London, more alien worlds, a greater trawl through history.  A multi-Doctor story featuring Paul McGann.  More details of what happened during the time war, especially the fall of Arcadia.  Lord Lethbridge-Stewart and/or UNIT in a story that sorts out UNIT dating once and for all.  A Trials and Tribblations style revisit to a favourite old adventure.  The reintroduction of one story a year filmed abroad, City of Death style.  Oh and I do hope that when the Doctor meets Shakespeare it's acknowledged that he's met him a fair few times before - that they're old friends …

Comments

Lovely overview. On the subject of wishes, could we have Sarah Jane Smith back at least once a year so the Doctor could have an old friend to talk to? He really needs someone who's known him long enough to look him in the eye and say, "Cut the crap, Doctor."

Nice one.

It's a shame that they couldn't have kept Rose wary of him for a few more episodes, to bring something else to the dynamic. One of the things I'd hope to see in Martha Jones is that they don't quite click from the off.

Good point. Also having them not lovers makes for more drama no?

I'll have to try T&C in B&W some day..

I like Nick Courtney's idea that he should be Lord Lethbridge-Stewart, with the Tenth so 'young' by comparison.

So do I, you know... Although perhaps not necessarily as an aristocrat. Nicholas Courtney is the show's longest running guest star.

And as Lioness says the 11th Doctor does need someone to tell him to tone it down which the Brig always did so well.

Re School Reuninon: it's the randomness of everything that makes this thing work

true..

Re Cyberman double: Now that I've had a chance to watch the story as whole, you know what? I really had a good time.

It's a great Who caper story with extra grisly body horror thrown in.

it is a shame that once again the story ends on the big emotional crescendo

This is a fault with many of the new Whos. We've just had a great 40 odd minutes of science fiction TV entertainment - thrills spills and drama: why try to top it? I always like the leave them wanting more approach, of which the cliff-hanger is an obvious example.

I want them to be making a fist and saying 'excellent' and being emotional whilst all the time walking around and say that they're not.

Perhaps their emotional inhibitor is as reliable as the Doctor's Tardis' navigational controls. Or maybe they had to let in some emotions to get around the Doctor and co's jamming of it etc.


and sometimes the cues are ill chosen he's gained himself a bit of a reputation. The interview in Doctor Who magazine this month shows that this isn't always his fault - he keeps suggesting silences to the directors and they always come and ask him for more.

One of my mates is a graphic designer and what I've learnt from him is that you really need to be focused re what you want to do and you really have to put your foot down over editorial interference: because its his name that's going to be credited and if he wants to continue getting jobs that he actually wants he has to be careful as to what he puts his name next to. Unfortunately my mate isn't a great diplomat but his finished work is more often than not excellent.

I guess those cheesy harp trills and brass fan-fares should be credited to the respective director or producer.

It's time to propose some heresy. If we are to have a Christmas episode each year, can we drop an episode during the year - same budget but twelve episodes instead - so that everything is an event, so that there isn't anything inessential.

Yeah that could be a good idea...

Well alright after the build up the Genesis Device was a disappointment after all the build up (It's another timelord! It's another Tardis! Oh it's a few million Daleks…)

yeah and a few million sad CGI Daleks...

One thing I've noticed is the Spearhead from Space intro being used how many times in this and the previous series? You know the one I'm talking about with the shot of space, the camera pans to planet earth and we zoom in...

Wouldn't it be a nice surprise if the camera might pan to another planet for once!

I also want when the Doctor meets Shakespeare for him to say of "Two Noble Kinsmen", "Yes, but is it canon?"; I think it's a good gag, but I seem to be in a minority of one.

One theme that comes over very strongly when you rewatch the season is how often the concept of "empire" and "national self-image" surfaces. I daresay it crops up even more frequently than the word "Torchwood".

Good point, Mark. I hope they make it clear in later episodes that having "empire" as your "national self-image" is even less desirable than having Harriet Jones as bringing in Britian's "golden age"....

Perhaps they could do a story (or set of stories) where there is a human empire as nasty as a Dalek one, perhaps thanks to Torchwood. Maybe something like the Blakes 7 Federation..?

Great piece, Stuart.

Am I alone in NOT actually wanting to find out what happens during the Time War, or do anything with McGann et al in some kind of multi-Doctor story? I'm quite happy letting other minor-league production companies plug the gaps in Who in their own tired way without seeing the major leagues feel the urge to start filling in their own continuity gaps.

Chris - I think that was the intention with Impossible Planet, what with the references to slavery, and going to the Impossible Planet to get a power source that might "power an empire", "or start a war". Don't think that message survived the rewrite (maybe the second writer feeling it was too bleak).

I'd love to see a story in which human colonists are the bad guys and an aboriginal alien species are the oppressed victims needing the Doctor's help.

on't think that message survived the rewrite (maybe the second writer feeling it was too bleak).

Yeah but I think mnaybe it was because it would have been too distracting from the main focus of the story.

Mind you having written that I'm not sure if I believe it: the pack so much else into each episode...


I'd love to see a story in which human colonists are the bad guys and an aboriginal alien species are the oppressed victims needing the Doctor's help.

Isn't that The Mutants, one of my favourite stories btw?

But yeah there's so much more that can be done in that area: humans can be so nasty to each other without aliens... The monster of the week has become quite predictable, which is why IP/SP was a nice change and the Ood are the most interesting new alien on Who redux so far..

Hey, excellent run-through of the whole series. I really agreed with a lot of your praise and criticism as well.

Only point I'd quibble about is from the Impossible Planet review, where you mentioned that people seem willing to give this stranger lots of information...I don't think it's a new Doctor thing, looking back over 'Original Who' it happens a lot too. Part of it is the Doctor himself, part of it is just due to needing to move the story along.

Still, good stuff. Impossible/Pit remained my favourite, I'm such a sucker for base-under-siege, but I did enjoy Season 2 a lot and I'm looking forward to the next one...hopefully, finding out even fewer spoilers this time than before would be nice too.

DamonD -- actually that was meant to say 'surfaced again' -- the problem with churning out this mound of text is that the proofreading went out the window in places ... I've changed it ... sorry ...

Have you heard the McGann audio 'Embrace The Darkness'? Listen to it at midnight with the lights out and it'll scare you witless...

Scherzo does that to me, too. Especially when the "monster" starts learning how to communicate more.

Hey, might give those a try...Creepy Who is always a favourite too. Just picked up the Loose Cannon recon of 'Fury from the Deep' recently and watched it late at night. Good stuff, love the heartbeats!

Reminded me a lot of an aquatic version of Inferno (minus the alternate earth stuff)...which is no bad thing, because I love Inferno too.

I'm pretty sure they have used the G-word before: doesn't he answer "Gallifrey" when asked where he's from in The End of the World?

Still, always a pleasure to read your reviews Stu.

" We don't know how they got to Earth in the first place - transdimensional portal? "

UFOs, I think - that's why Mickey sent Rose and the Doctor there, and that's why SJS is there, too :)

I'm pretty sure they have used the G-word before: doesn't he answer "Gallifrey" when asked where he's from in The End of the World?

No, "Gallifrey" isn't said in the entire first season.

They've been very specific in not using the G word as they have with all of the icons of the classic series -- watch for the moment in 'Dalek' when Davros is mentioned but not named -- oh and Cybermen the same episode.

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