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Apr 06, 2007

What's the Bleeding Time?

Smith and Jones

Marsden_bts This episode was excellent in so many ways that I thought I might as well start with Roy Marsden.

Here we have a stalwart actor who hasn't been in a sci-fi series since a brief role in the ill-fated LWT show The Adventures of Don Quick (I'm discounting his appearance in Space 1999 because you have to draw the line somewhere) and he's given about five minutes in Doctor Who to show what he can do.  And as Mr Stoker, a sort of milder-mannered Sir Lancelot Spratt, he was great - a slightly pompous consultant who goes from being more concerned than he's letting on about the static electricity to wistfully contemplating his lost retirement and seeing his daughter again before succumbing to a grisly fate at the hands of Ken Barlow's ex-wife. 

Now in old Doctor Who, Marsden would have had a couple of episodes worth of nuances while the plot went nowhere or in circles for a bit before he met a similarly unpleasant end.  No such luxury in current Who, and on balance I think this is a change for the better, except it's hard to find writers who are skilled as RTD at building characters quickly while also banging in the crash bang wallop of the action sequences.  Most of the writers last year had their scripts rewritten for (probably) this very reason, and let's face it RTD himself has slipped up massively on a number of scripts with episodes ending up looking rushed or padded, or sometimes both.  Everyone in production is constantly thinking "What's the bleeding time?".

Like most people, I was knocked out by Freema Agyeman, and not just because for the first time since Peri copped off with the Emperor Augustus I can at last fancy a companion again

But unlike last year's opener, Smith and Jones was a simple story told well while also doing the difficult job of introducing a new companion.  Like most people, I was knocked out by Freema Agyeman, and not just because for the first time since Peri copped off with the Emperor Augustus I can at last fancy a companion again.  She gave a lovely performance that was complemented by David Tennant reining himself in and giving us a more sustained portrayal of a broodingly psychotic Doctor that we only saw in flashes last season.  The scene where Martha listened to the Doctor's hearts had more chemistry between the two leads in three minutes than we've seen in the series since Nicola Bryant tried to resuscitate Peter Davison with her magical breast power.  Even Murray had stopped listening to Bod and discovered the volume control.

you had such delights as Anne Reid's plasmavore being electrocuted in what I hope was a homage to Val Barlow's death by hairdryer in Coronation Street

Pretty_boy_then_good_game Not everything was perfect.  When the people in the hospital realised that they were on the moon they lapsed into the kind of mass hysteria that might have been fun to do but looked more like an audition for Runaround.  But it's churlish to pick at the odd false note when you had such delights as Anne Reid's plasmavore being electrocuted in what I hope was a homage to Val Barlow's death by hairdryer in Coronation Street, and David Tennant's uncannily accurate impersonation of Bruce Forsyth's pet parakeet.  And the Judoon were a great monster because

  • they looked superb with really mobile mouths that were as drooly as mine just after I've woken up from a nap,
  • they weren't just nasty baddies and were even happy to pay compensation for their roughhouse tactics
  • they used magic markers.  I'm a sucker for that high-technology/low technology gag everytime

Part of the enjoyment of this episode was also a quiet sense of relief at being free of Rose's extended family and her "journey".  I liked quite a bit of that journey over the last two years, and I understand why RTD needed to use Rose as some kind of touchstone for a new audience.  Jrj2_select_2 But the show has its audience now, and it felt genuinely liberating to have a new companion (not saddled with a boyfriend?) with a family that already show signs of being less dominating than the last lot.  The other liberating thing was being in space - it took me a while to realise it but I had a big smile on my face for a lot of the episode because big spaceships were landing on something other than the Earth and aliens were marching across a lunar landscape.  Perhaps I'm not that sophisticated a viewer after all.

So this opening episode has even put a smile on the face of the mighty Lancelot Spratt aka James Robertson Justice.  What a Doctor he would have made! But he's still saying "What's the bleeding time?'

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