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Mar 31, 2007

"We're on the bloody moon!"

Look, I had been searching for a clever way to start this, but I've just visited Outpost Gallifrey, which is always the worst thing to do after watching any new episode and actually read the phrase "Planet of Fire is better".  Considering what some of us have watched and written about in the past week, really you look at comment like that and begin to wonder if Russell T Davies is right when he says we onliner are 'moaning minis'.  Sure, everyone's entitled to their opinion, but frankly I'd rather watch Smith & Jones a hundred more times than have to sit through something whose only draw was a bikini shot and conversation that boiled down to who'll end up paying a gas bill.

After spending a Saturday last year counting down the hours then being presented with the mess that was New Earth, I approached this with a hell of a lot of trepidation.  Sure, the clips looked fabulous and the preview reviews had been warm (with Charlie Brooker's comments in particular going off the chart) but after sitting through Torchwood and one half of The Runaway Bride, I'd seriously wondered if the creative yen had gone out of the team, if they'd been over stretched and their sensibilities had escaped them - that The Sarah Jane Adventures had as Sickboy says in Trainspotting been 'a mere blip on an otherwise downward spiral'.  Would I once again be sitting here spewing out paragraphs about what went wrong?

In a word.


At one point I was giggling and clapping like a two year old.

At another I simply said:  "She's so good!"


Smith & Jones was a fabulous start to the series, a wonderfully paced, funny, exciting ride that managed to rekindle my faith in the tv end of the franchise. 

Well, yes, alright it was another base under siege and well, ok, the story, alien police looking for a suspect, wasn't the most original but Russell has the sensibility to understand that in situations like this you don't need and shouldn't have anything too complex in order to hang the important stuff like the introduction of the new companion and the re-introduction of the Doctor.  What you need is a concept that has enough room for some humour and tragedy and some heroism in the end and that's exactly what you got here.  Besides, for a change the base was brought to the alien, not the other way around and the suspect was the least likely and for once the Doctor wasn't pinned with whatever the bizarre crime might be.

"What you need is a concept that has enough room for some humour and tragedy and some heroism in the end and that's exactly what you got here. " 

Within that, the Judoon did their job admirably.  Another example of the marching army so beloved of the new series, and if their single-mindedness was somewhat like the version of the Vogons from the appalling Hitchhiker's film, at least their central purpose wasn't the destruction of humanity.  It's amazing to see what Neill Gorton's crew are achieving on a tv budget although they never looked like anything more than rubber mask - but Doctor Who wouldn't be the same without those, would it.  I'll leave the 'aren't they just Sontarans in the shape of a Rhino' conversation for another time. 

But this did look like a feature film and had a scale not seen in the average episode; once again there is an issue about how The Mill's work translates on DV but the moon vistas and the crater next to the Thames were spectacular; I just hope the costs have been spread a bit more carefully through the series this time and we won't have to endure another Fear Her.  I suppose my only question would be what a hospital like that was doing being built so close to the House of Commons.

Of course the big question was always going to be what the new companion would be like - how would she measure up to the last companion introduced to the Doctor's story?  Well, Martha is less cause than Lucie and although she's perhaps as questioning it's in a far more curious way - Lucie was all about trying to inform her own predicament in order to get home whereas Martha's simply trying to increase her knowledge of the universe.  Martha has that innate sense of wonder which you'd find in the likes of Charley Pollard - see the moment when she's standing on the moon and absolutely understands the magnitude of that and how amazingly privileged she is despite her potential impending mortality.  Unlike Rose she seems more likely to try and think a situation through rather than just go straight in and hope that it'll work itself out in the end.

"Martha has that innate sense of wonder which you'd find in the likes of Charley Pollard - see the moment when she's standing on the moon and absolutely understands the magnitude of that and how amazingly privileged she is despite her potential impending mortality."

None of which would work if Freema wasn't such a promising actress.  Many voiced reservations after her appearance in Army of Ghosts, but I always said that supporting roles such as that are not meant to be scene stealers - she was there to do a job and it could never be a showcase for what she can really do.  I'm so pleased to I can say I was proved right.  It's too early to say 'Billie who?' but there's an infectious charisma about the actress which plays off against Tennant well; and the camera loves her - she's got the kind of face that can do the big close ups and you can see the subtleties of what she's doing, layers of thought, beneath the mask.  Joss Whedon says that its very rare to find actors who can change their attitude and performance 'on a dime' to envelope a range of different emotions in a scene and she has that.  It's going to be too much fun watching her grow into the part over the coming weeks.

But what of the Doctor?  Much has been written about how Tennant has pulled back his performance and he sort of has but I think it's just that there's a different chemistry in the room and he's working within that.  To an extent you can see that he's being quite generous and giving Freema some space to impress - David's the kind of actor who can easily steal any scene he's in and directors usually take advantage of that but if you look at something like the aforementioned moon balcony scene it's Martha who spends most of her time in close up with the Doctor pacing interjecting from the background.  But he still goofs off - when he's pushing radiation through his shoe, noticing the shop or - and I'm so glad this is back - name checking historical figures.  Anyone else think that the Sonic Screwdriver had bought it finally?  Oh no - he's got another one lying around.

I don't think we've seen enough of Martha's family to warm to them yet which is as it should be, they're not the focus.  It's certainly a shock to see so many relatives running around but they were introduced brilliantly with the cross cutting phone calls; perhaps it is a shame that there's another unstable relationship at play in this universe, and that final scene with all the foot stamping was a bit broad, but in context this band had to be just mad enough for us to understand why Martha might want to run away with the Doctor despite all of her responsibilities.  Perhaps the really interesting decision is that they're aspiring middle class, contrasting with Rose's working class background and is there a hint that the Doctor won't do domestic this time after becoming so attached to his previous companion's family?

"What's probably specialty porn in some parts of the galaxy appears in a family show on Earth."

What's probably specialty porn in some parts of the galaxy appears in a family show on Earth.  You have to love that Anne Reid was playing the big bad and that she spent some of the episode sucking Roy Marsden's blood out with a straw.  Not that we got to see her sucking him off, which was odd because we were allowed to see her sucking off the Doctor at the climax. 

For a moment I thought we'd be returning to the style of the first series, with the timelord letting someone else save the day, but a nice bit of tag-team heroism was employed allowing the new traveling companions to save each other's lives and everyone else's.  Some might question whether this was yet another deus ex machina of an ending, but it was all done with a certain wink in its eye -- the monologuing villain, the Doctor automatically going for his screwdriver and it not being there, the final solution being in the hands of the grumpy alien.  I'm sure things will become much more complex later in the series. 

The inevitable Martha enters the Tardis scene was just what it needed to be and you can see that Russell's realised that it's the perfect opportunity to define a character.  You can see what I mean about all the questions - Rose made statements about what she saw.  But I think the big difference was probably that it was largely played from the Doctor's point of view - there have been umpteen versions of this scene in NuWho already and when the timelord mouths the words he and we have heard a hundred times before it acknowledges that repetition.  But she is asking question we haven't heard before - about were the crew is and how he's going to fly the thing.  Quite what Blinovich would make of the way he proves that he is a time traveler I'm not sure, but drawing the opening and conclusion together in that way was a beautifully executed idea.

So at the end of all these paragraphs about what went right all I can say is that I'm pretty excited about what's to come.  Will anything be made of that little throwaway line about the Doctor's brother (and will it actually turn out to be Irving Braxiatel or the Master as hinted at in the expanded Whoniverse?).  Will the Mr Saxon thread be better thought out than Bad Wolf and Torchwood?  How are they going to fit the curates egg that is the underlying story behind Human Nature into the typical run of the series.  Is there something the Doctor hasn't mentioned about the time between The Runaway Bride and Smith & Jones and is Martha everything she appears to be?  So many questions.

Next Week:  The Doctor meets Shakespeare.  Again.  But on television.  How exciting is that?


You are right, the "like so" beginning and ending, with the Doctor's tie, was very well done.

It even worked halfway through the episode as it lead you to believe that was the Doctor saying, in effect, at that point "Taking my tie off...now...next time you see me I will be fully changed (into my p-js)".

There was a similar ambiguity surrounding THAT kiss. I wondered if the Doctor perhaps thought he (or at least Tenth) would not survive his blood-swap plan for the plasmavore: a kiss before dying.

Having viewed that excellent episode and the red button trailer I have sky-high hopes for this season...

I would just like to mention that the hospital in Smith and Jones is a real hospital opposite the Houses of Parliment and it is called St. Thomas'.

It was founded by Florence Nightingale, upon her return from the Crimean War.

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