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Matt watches the Christmas specials #8: The Snowmen (Spoiler-free)

28 Dec

Doctor Who - The Snowmen

Title: The Snowmen
Written by: Steven Moffat
Year: 2012

It’s 1892! It’s Oswin! No, wait… It’s Clara! …or is it Oswin? The Snowmen! Are you thinking about them? Well… stop! Winter is coming. Sherlock Holmes! It’s smaller on the outside! Doctor Who? Dangerous question…

There’s so much new stuff in The Snowmen that I’m just going to say it right now: there’s a cool new title sequence and theme, a fabulous new TARDIS and – of course – a new companion… Phew! Now I can get on to the actual story…

The Doctor, The SnowmenThe Doctor’s lost his mojo after the departure of the Ponds. But on the horizon is an impending invasion-by-ice, spearheaded by one Dr. Simeon (Richard E. Grant).

Simeon is working with the story’s big bad – a giant snowglobe containing telepathic snow, voiced excellently by Sir Ian McKellen – to bring about Humanity’s last Winter. On hand are the Veiled Detective (Madame Vastra, played by Neve McIntosh) and her plucky companion (Jenny, played by Catrin Stewart), but they may not be enough to stop him. Can they convince the Doctor, who has become a recluse, to help them?

timthumb (4)Right from the off it should be said that Grant; master of the stone-face and mouth-curling sneer, fits perfectly into the role of a Who villain, though (considering his acting talent) feels relatively underused throughout. It’s a pity to see the stellar Withnail & I actor go to waste, and reminds this reviewer of a certain Bill Bailey suffering a similar fate last year. The titular monsters of the story are actually far less central to the plot than you’d think, but still manage to make some menacing appearances.

Not to worry though, because this is balanced out by the bigger story that’s taking place; the introduction of new companion, Clara. Or is it Oswin? The new companion to be, Clara (Jenna Louise Coleman), is leading a double life: One as a barmaid and another as a governess, who shares many characteristics with Mary Poppins (Surely not a coincidence!). As the latter she also gets to tell some inspired and “true” bedtime stories. (I thought the one about fish was particularly good!)

Coleman gets to show her acting prowess throughout and is clearly set for great things aboard the TARDIS. She steps into Doctor Who with a confidence and talent that I’ve not seen since Billie Piper first graced our screens in Rose. There’s no pretence about whether or not she’s ever going to be the Doctor’s new friend – Clara simply seizes the initiative, quite triumphantly I might add, and makes the decision for us.

Clara and The Doctor

Matt Smith and Coleman have a wonderful chemistry onscreen and the scenes they share are a joy to watch. Both give energetic performances and seem to have a natural rhythm for each other that I look forward to seeing more of.

Smith is on top form, as usual, but one can’t help thinking that the Doctor’s moody phase of thinking “the universe doesn’t care” could have been used a bit more effectively. While Smith delivers the scenes in which he’s playing a more miserable Doctor excellently, the idea that the Time Lord has given up never really hits home.

Victorian London itself looks splendid in this story, and is reminiscent of Fourth Doctor story The Talons of Weng Chiang. Suitably, as in Talons, the Doctor also dons the deerstalker and inverness cape once more to impersonate the fictional Sherlock Holmes in a hilarious sequence of not-quite-deductions.

Vastra, Strax and Jenny

Making a return for the first time since A Good Man Goes To War are Vastra, Jenny and Strax. (Or, the Silurian, the Victorian and the Sontaran Nurse.) Vastra and Jenny are just as brilliant here as they were before, and the notion of their marriage is dealt with just as it should be; as a matter of fact. I think this is good as a.) it’s currently an issue in politics and b.) because it makes you wonder why it’s such an issue in politics.

In a brilliant tip of the hat by Moffat, it’s implied that the pair’s antics around London inspired Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, and I thought the scene where Clara has to answer all of Vastra’s questions with one word was very cleverly written too.

Strax, on the other hand, takes over comic relief duty for this episode and does it rather well too. I’d like to see more of these three – and judging by the “coming soon” trailer for the rest of the series it looks like that’s definitely on the cards!

Doctor and Clara on the cloud

Favourite Moment: The Doctor, after thinking he’s sent Clara back to where she followed him from, retreats up into his home above the clouds – disappearing up an invisibly hidden ladder. Clara follows him and climbs the ladder, to discover a winding staircase that goes all the way up. When she gets to the top, we see the TARDIS and after she knocks, the Doctor pokes his head out. Scared, Clara hides, then runs back down before he sees her… Who says this episode wasn’t very Christmassy? Christmas stories are all about magic and wonder, and that did it for me! 

Although, like last year’s special, it’s very light on story, The Snowmen is still a great piece of television. The whole thing is very character driven, which works because it’s a companion introduction episode, not just a Christmas one. There are plenty of references to past stories that will bring a smile to fans that catch them, and yet it’s also the bold beginning of a new era for Doctor Who as well.

The Snowmen is an enchanting visit to Victorian London, managing to feel like Christmas without even mentioning it very much. A brilliant introduction to new companion Clara and a triumph in storytelling. Roll on 2013 and the rest of Series Seven!

8/10

Thanks for reading! What did you think of this year’s Christmas special? Let me know your thoughts in the comments section, below. For more reviews, click here.

REVIEW: The Hour – Series 2 (Spoiler free)

15 Dec

The Hour, Series 2 - Freddie Lyon played by Ben Whishaw

Corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavour to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.

As I sit writing this review, I am shaking.

Such is the effect the second series finale of The Hour has had on me, that I’m compelled to sit and write this at this very moment – in case I forget just how intensely encapsulated I am by this final triumph that I have Abbi Morgan (the show’s writer/creator) to thank for being able to see it.

The Hour has always been a fantastic television programme. As I said in my review of the first series, it portrays a practice of journalism at its best at a time when the profession really does need a champion to trumpet the good it is capable of doing. (A noble pursuit of the truth, and all that.) I won’t bother going over all the nuances of production skill again – the beautiful sets, the astronomically good cast, the eye-wateringly good cinematography – because I want to focus instead on the new – of which there is plenty. I will say this though: The Hour hasn’t lost its touch… and it just continues to get better.

“Impossible is just what hasn’t been done. It’s not impossible when it’s possible.

As the team reassembles under the new leadership of Randal Brown – Clarence’s replacement (played by the superb Peter Capaldi, known for his role of Malcolm Tucker in political satire The Thick of It) – all the familiar faces make a return coupled with plenty of new ones too. Things are going well for the show, despite the fallout from Lord Elms’s interview at the end of the first series and Hector has become a star as a result. The series focuses around a vice-ring in Soho that had led to police corruption,  government corruption, corporate corruption… basically every kind of corruption. It was a brilliant story and, I think, an improvement on that of the first series. Not to mention, this time we get a proper villain (Raphael Cilenti, played by Vincent Riotta) who is behind it all… and he is truly chilling.

For me, the over-arching political conspiracy of the first was interesting but a bit too promising of – as Clarence pointed out – a story it “didn’t deliver”. While it was brilliant, it ended with a whimper – rather than a bang.

However, lead writer Abbie Morgan has clearly listened to criticisms of the first run of The Hour… because the ending of the second is just about as explosive as one could imagine.

This year, the show went from strength to strength every week.

The Hour, Season 2 - Anna Chancellor and Peter Capaldi

There were more subplots – the past between Lix and Randal being one that particularly stood out – and more character development. This is a show that has really felt like it’s moving forward and in the finale it did not fail to deliver. There were times during the sixth (and final) episode that had me watching through my fingers and crying out loud at the screen in front of me.

Freddie Lyon (played by Ben Whishaw) is back, of course, but even he has changed for the better (if you even thought that was possible). In this series, Freddie has returned from his world travels a different man. As he puts it:

I went somewhere… America. And you know what? Being a nobody in a country where everybody thinks they can be a somebody; that’s infectious, exciting. I want that. For me.

Though he still has his journalistic zeal, this is a Freddie who’s become more familiar with the spotlight and is hungry for success. It’s an interesting change because it brings out a side of him we haven’t seen before – the new, more ambitious Freddie is a far more compelling person to watch. He is doing what he always should have done… grabbing the wolf by the ears.

There are life’s natural heroes and then there’s you. Your words. You always believe somewhere deep in you that there is a coward. […] Why should I have expected anything less than fearlessness from you?”

Bel also benefits from development and the show almost feels as though the narrative is structured around her now more than anyone else. That is a good thing, by the way, because Romola Garai is a brilliant actor and also because throughout this series, which is so full of earth-shaking moments, she is the rock that the viewer can cling on to.

The Hour - Romala Garai as Bel RowleyShe no longer suffers from an attachment to “unavailable men” and sails the newsroom ship like she deserves it. She does, however, have a new semi-romantic interest but, in my opinion at least, it’s never really capitalised enough and always feels like a sideline alongside the feeling she and Freddie have for each other.

I mentioned Lix and Randal earlier and, while I will keep to my promise of no spoilers, I will say that yes: he is the man whom Lix referred to letting slip through her fingers in the first series.

Their scenes together are a masterclass in understated yet compelling script writing. Capaldi and Anna Chancellor are, of course, on top form throughout and make a formidable combination. Randal slots in perfectly amongst the other characters and is someone I would like to see more of. When watching him and Lix together, you can’t help but be reminded of Freddie and Bel.

Worth mentioning also, is Hector (Dominic West) and his wife Marnie’s (Oona Castilla Chaplin) ongoing relationship. In a brilliant twist, Marnie gets her own programme on ITV and becomes quite successful. This makes for a brilliant dynamic between herself and Hector – and readjusts the character from being a housewife to a strong, independent woman. She’s done taking Hector’s misdemeanors and is making a name for herself. As she puts it later in the series: “The best revenge is to be successful.” Chaplin, in particular, puts on a stunning performance in every scene she’s in.

There is only one way I can describe the second series of The Hour, and even that doesn’t do it justice.

It is quite simply a stellar, stellar, phenomenally excellent drama that tackles a number of questions that are still relevant today – like the protection of sources, how far should journalists go to tell the story and what if a story becomes dangerous to pursue? Once again, Abi Morgan has shown that this is The Hour that you can’t miss.

A third series is currently unconfirmed, but after the eye-wateringly good finale of the second it would be a travesty for the BBC not to commission one.

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Images displayed are owned by the BBC. 

7 Doctor Who stories to watch at Halloween (Nu-Who)

31 Oct

Yowza! It’s Halloween! That came quickly didn’t it?

Now, Americans think they’ve got the jump on Brits when it comes to scary-season. But you know what? We’ve got a secret weapon. The world’s longest running Sci-Fi programme just happens to be founded on that very institution. Doctor Who: Keeping kids behind sofas for fifty years (come 2013).

So, without further ado – I present to you GravityShmavity’s seven picks for Doctor Who on Halloween! (Note: This isn’t a “scariest episodes” list. I’ve tried to compile a mix of fun and scary stories. Enjoy! – M)

7. The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone (S5, Ep4/5)

Oh that’s bad… that’s extremely-very-not-good.”

Past readers will know this story is one of my favorites. “But why would you pick this Angels story over Blink?” you may ask. Simple – Blink is terrifying in it’s own way, but it’s also sad and wonderful and brooding and urban. Don’t get me wrong – I love Blink – but this episode tops it, in terms of action and pure Halloweeneyness. I mean come on! A forest, in a bottle, in a spaceship, in a maze – full of Weeping Angels and River Song! How cool is that?

6. Tooth and Claw (S2, Ep2)

A Werewolf…?

Besides the fact this is a brilliant episode in its own right, Tooth and Claw does also feature a Werewolf – which basically guarantees it a place on this list! The Tenth Doctor and Rose are off to see Ian Dury & The Blockheads and all of a sudden they’re trying to save Queen Victoria from a group of monks trying to infect her with the nip of the wolf! What could possibly go wrong? It also features a crack at the Royal Family at the end too, which is always good fun. A cracking story for a spooky night!

5. The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit (S2, Ep8/9)

This is the darkness… this is my domain.”

If you know your stuff, then you’ve probably realized that it is from this story that my online name originates. (“Gravity-shmavity, my people practically invented black holes…”) Ten and Rose land on a planet that’s in orbit of a black hole, and end up facing the devil itself – PLUS the Ood make their debut. Is any Halloween list really complete without it? Great set design and a stellar cast combined with epic storytelling that questions our beliefs in the supernatural. What more could you want?

4. The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances (S1, Ep9/10)

“Are you my mummy?

So you want more eh? Well I’ve got it right here. Steven Moffat delivers a trope-tastic, spookerific story that oozes style and excellence. The Ninth Doctor and Rose uncover a mystery surrounding a gas-mask-child who’s looking for his mummy that all comes back to a mauve-alert object that crashed in 1940’s London, in what can only be described as the story that convinced people Doctor Who was properly scary again. Rated J, for its use of Jack Harkness and the word “dancing”.

3. The Waters of Mars (S4.5, Ep3)

Water always wins.”

While this story will be eternally remembered as the one where the Tenth Doctor declares himself the “Time Lord victorious”, it’s also the episode where we meet one of the most terrifying and uncompromising enemies Doctor Who has ever seen. The Waters of Mars is quite simply superb. The Doctor battles against what he knows he shouldn’t do with his own guilt, as the flood consumes all aboard Bowie Base One – and not even the famous Captain Adelaide Brooke can escape… A fast-paced thriller, that’s perfect for Halloween viewing.

2. Dinosaurs On a Spaceship (S7, Ep2)

“Dinosaurs… on a spaceship!”

OK, so it’s far flung in tone from the last few but that’s not a problem! Dinosaurs… is a fun, hilarious and ridiculous romp for all the family that’s great for light viewing. Peppered with laughs and featuring a wonderfully vibrant cast, it is hard to recall more stories that are so effortlessly fun to watch.

1. Midnight (S4, Ep8)

I can’t imagine you without a voice. 

Claustrophobic, terrifying and ingeniously fresh, Russell T Davies’ bottle episode takes the cake in this list. Tennant’s Doctor, usually all smiles and struts, is reduced to the status of victim by a sinister copycat and a group of scared humans. A truly intense story that bristles with psychological insight and leaves the monster a mystery in the end – the ultimate Halloween episode.

Thanks for reading. Agree with this list? What do you think the best Doctor Who stories are for Halloween? Let me know what you think in the comments section below.
All pictures taken from the BBC Doctor Who website.

The Brilliant Blogs 2012: Asylum of the Daleks

3 Sep
So… I’m back blogging again, and this is my feature on Asylum of the DaleksI’ve decided to call my new series of posts I’m doing on Series 7 “The Brilliant Blogs”, because a) I really, really liked the “Brilliant Books” the BBC published and the style they were done in and b) because these posts are going to be more than just reviews. In fact, the reviews are just one part. I want this series to be fluid in its structure – they wont always be the same – but also to be like a current-era version of the blueshift posts I was doing before I went travelling in March. Enjoy! (and I hope you find this interesting – I certainly had fun putting it together.) – Matt

Asylum of the Daleks

Fast Facts

Writer: Steven Moffat
Director: Nick Hurran
Main cast: Matt Smith (The Eleventh Doctor), Karen Gillan (Amy Pond), Arthur Darvil (Rory Williams), Jenna-Louise Coleman (Oswin Oswald), Nicholas Briggs (Voice of the Daleks), Anamaria Marinca (Darla; the human Dalek-puppet who contacts the Doctor), David Gyasi (Harvey; crew member of Starship Alaska and the first person Amy meets on the surface of the Asylum) and Barnaby Edwards and Nicholas Pegg (both as Dalek operators).

Initial Broadcast date: 01/09/2012 (UK)

Other: The famous song from opera Carmen, featured in this episode, was Habanera.

Review

Oswin OswaldAsylum of the Daleks is a story that wastes no time in drawing out its premise, beginning in true Moffat style: Straight away, the Doctor, Amy and Rory are plucked out of time and – as the Doctor so excellently puts it – “[fired] at a planet”.

 “You’re going to fire me at a planet? That’s your plan? I get fired at a planet and expected to fix it?”

 Tasked by the Prime Minister of his mortal enemies, The Daleks, with bringing down the impenetrable force field of the Dalek Asylum – a planet that has had its insides gutted and filled with a structure housing all the most insane of everyone’s favourite killer-pepperpots – from within (so they can blow the whole thing up), The Doctor must navigate the hellish “dumping ground” whilst trying to save his friends’ marriage and figure out a soufflé-related mystery that involves the most ingenious use of “ex-ster-minate” you’ll ever hear.

But what has got the Daleks so riled?

“What is the noise? Explain! Explain!”

 Carmen, apparently. Or rather; somebody is playing Carmen, from the heart of the Asylum, which can only mean one thing… Somebody got inside, meaning it’s also possible to escape!

Enter Jenna-Louise Coleman, in what has got to be one of the best-kept secrets in modern television.

 “Long story. Is there a word for total screaming genius that sounds modest and a tiny bit sexy?”

 Playing Oswin Oswald, a survivor of the ship that crashed into the Asylum (and apparently breached its defenses, though this is never explicitly stated), Coleman immediately shines on-screen, her performance easily standing up next to Smith, Gillan and Darvil’s, despite the fact they are all seasoned juggernauts these days. Her performance gels effortlessly with the rest of the episode thanks to some ace writing by the Moff – despite the fact they must have had to shoot them separately some time after the original shooting bloc (with the rest of the cast) – and should wave away any lingering doubts that Coleman wasn’t the right choice for the role of next companion.

 “It’s not one of those things you can fix like you fix your bow tie. Don’t give me those big wet eyes, Raggedy Man. It’s life. Just life, that thing that goes on when you’re not there.”

 AmyAsylum of the Daleks is an impressive spectacle, dramatically and visually. Particularly, the relationship between Amy and Rory has been taken to another more fascinating and mature level and we are shown that Amy can make heroic sacrifices for Rory as well, nicely shifting things from the usual focus on his all-enduring faithfulness. For a romance subplot involving the Ponds, the episode’s darker take on things is actually a refreshing (and in some moments shocking) change, and it’s welcome too.

New and old viewers alike will love this one: The story contains a good mix of tragedy and reconciliation, the whole cast is on top form, there are plenty of continuity throwbacks and, to top it off, the Daleks are (in this reviewer’s opinion) scary again.

After calling them “the most reliably defeatable enemies in the universe”, it looks like Steven Moffat just saved the Daleks after all.

8/10

Questions hidden in plain sight…

 If it’s so easy for the Daleks to “acquire” the Doctor, why haven’t they just killed him before?

 Why doesn’t Rory pay for his bus ticket?

 Why do the Daleks have a parliament and a Prime Minister? (Did the “new paradigm” of Daleks from Victory of the Daleks decide to remove the Emperor Dalek and push forward democratic reform?)

 Why are Daleks, in the intensive care section of the asylum, chained when they can (apparently) break free from the bonds so easily?

 How is Oswin linked to future companion Clara? (Besides being portrayed by the same person.)

Continuity agogo! 

The Dalek Asylum

Spot all of these continuity references?

  • In the opening narrative, it is implied that the events of The Wedding of River Song did indeed make most of the universe believe The Doctor had been killed, but the Daleks appear to know better.
  • Skaro, the home planet of the Daleks, makes its first television appearance since Seventh Doctor story Remembrance of the Daleks – in which it was destroyed when the star it was orbiting went supernova, due to The Doctor’s trap involving the Hand of Omega (a Timelord device). It had, however, recently appeared in the Adventure Game story City of the Daleks before Asylum of the Daleks was broadcast.
  • Nanogenes, a creation of Moffat’s from two-part story The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances, are used once again as a tool for rewriting biology – in this case, to turn humans (dead or alive) into Dalek puppets.
  • Daleks from multiple Who eras can be seen throughout the episode. In order of appearance: RTD-era Bronze Daleks (featured heavily throughout, first seen in Dalek), New Paradigm Daleks (White/Supreme, Red/Drone and Blue/Strategist, first seen in Victory of the Daleks), Special Weapons Dalek (first seen in Remembrance of the Daleks), Hartnell/Troughton-era Silver Daleks (first seen in The Daleks), Renegade Daleks (first seen in Resurrection of the Daleks), Grey Daleks (first seen in Day of the Daleks), Black RTD-era Dalek (first seen in Daleks in Manhattan). While I’ve done my best to make this as accurate as possible, if you think there is a mistake here, please let me know!
  • Rory recalls guarding the Pandorica (with Amy inside) for 2000 years, in 2010 episode The Big Bang.
  • Amy states that she is now infertile and believes it is because of what her captors (Madame Kavorian and The Silence) did to her while she was imprisoned in Demon’s Run, before the events of A Good Man Goes to War.
  • Oswin informs the Doctor that the Daleks in intensive care are survivors of the wars on the planets Spiridon (from Third Doctor story Planet of the Daleks), Kembel (from Second Doctor story The Daleks’ Master Plan), Aridius (from First Doctor story The Chase), Vulcan (from Second Doctor story The Power of the Daleks) and Exxilon (from Third Doctor story Death to the Daleks). The Doctor comments that they are “the Daleks that survived [him]”, when she asks if any of the names ring a bell.
  • The Doctor once again demonstrates his skill with teleporters, mentioned in Ninth Doctor stories The End of the World and Boom Town, at the end of the episode when he manages to teleport himself, Amy and Rory into the TARDIS onboard the Dalek ship with “pin-point” accuracy.

If there’s something you think I missed, something you thought I could have done better, or would even just like to say you enjoyed it, please let me know in the comments section below!

Love and Monsters: The 10 most romantic Doctor Who episodes (NS)

14 Feb

It’s Valentine’s day! So what better thing to do then post an article that finds a way to relate the subject of love to Doctor Who?

Don’t fancy celebrating in the conventional way? Or perhaps looking for something to watch with someone special? You need look no further, dear reader,  than these episodes of everybody’s favourite time-travelling show. Below are my choices, for the 10 best love stories the revived show has given us so far:

10. The Doctor’s Wife

The Doctor's Wife

Ok, so this one might seem like an odd choice at first, but think about it: the Doctor and Sexy (the TARDIS, obviously), the only consistent companions throughout the show’s entire history. If that isn’t a love story, than I don’t know what is. Neil Gaiman’s episode is quite frankly just too good not to include on this list. Scenes in particular where the Doctor and his time machine argue like a married couple, or are zooming off together to save Amy and Rory, just perfectly illustrate the relationship they share. A love letter to the show’s other main character, the TARDIS,  and a delight from start to finish.

9. Love & Monsters

Love and Monsters

Love & Monsters! Remember that hidden gem in Series 2? It featured the lovely Elton and Ursula and the rest of Linda! Point in case, this story is all about how ordinary life (without the Doctor) can be a thing worth having as well, and featured a heart-warming romance sub-plot too. While Peter Kay (as the Abzorbaloff) can be a bit testing at times, this really is a rather good episode that is often overlooked. Try out Love & Monsters for a different kind of Who experience on Valentine’s day.

8. Amy’s Choice

Amy's Choice

You will of course remember this episode as the story in which the Dreamlord, played chillingly by Toby Jones, was to make his first (and hopefully not last) appearance. It was, though, also the episode where Amy finally realises that she couldn’t live without Rory. This episode is filled with brilliant moments, and the whole thing is particularly well written (kudos – and a plea to Steven Moffat to give another episode commission – to Simon Nye). We get to see another angle of our nine-hundred year old hero and some revealing observations about his travelling habits, not to mention a sterling performance from all of the cast (watch out for Audrey Ardington, who plays Mrs Poggit, the actor who played the Abbess in The Sarah Jane Adventures). Most importantly though; Amy makes a choice and she chooses Rory; a triumph for true love. Good show, Pond!

7. The Lodger

The Lodger

Probably two of the most endearing characters to ever grace Who, Craig (James Corden) and Sophie (Daisy Haggard) are hopelessly in love with one another but can’t seem to find the right moment to say it. Suddenly though, one day, the Doctor turns up and everything begins to change. This episode is masterfully written by Gareth Roberts (who wrote the follow up story in Season 6, Closing Time, and also the new novelization of Shada) and Smith and Corden have a chemistry that is just delightful to watch on screen. Being such a brilliant episode, it also became the subject of Chameleon Circuit song “Kiss the Girl” mentioned in a previous review of mine. The Lodger was the “budget” episode of Series 5 (like an excellent Series 4 episode I remember: *cough* Midnight *cough*), replacing the overly expensive The Doctor’s Wife, (yes) that one I just wrote about above here, yet still manages to meet all the expectations of a normal episode – and beat them. This is a classic love story with a lovely ending and a great cast – a must watch for any Valentine’s viewer.

6. The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang

The boy who waited

Perhaps one of the most epic love stories DW has ever offered us, came under the banner of a much bigger story. The Doctor had to reboot the universe and wipe himself from existence to ensure it would work; you pretty much can’t get bigger than that. So yeah, you could say that there was other stuff going on. However, alongside all that, Rory Williams – who has now earned himself the awesome title of “the Lone Centurion” – waited for 2000 years, guarding Amy while she slept in the Pandorica. 2000 years. How romantic is that? For the ultimate moment of love-related dialogue in this episode, and one of Mr. Williams’ finest moments, click here. This is a master class in grand storytelling from Steven Moffat and a worthy no.6 on your list of Valentine’s stop-offs.

5. Human Nature/The Family of Blood

Human Nature

It’s 1913, in pre-WW1 England, and school teacher John Smith is having wonderful dreams: As his alter-ego, “The Doctor”, he travels through time and space in a blue box and witnesses impossible things. However, this being Doctor Who, his dreams turn out to be real. Taking on the ultimate form of camouflage, re-writing his own DNA to become human with a device called the “Chameleon Arch”,  the nation’s favourite Timelord goes into hiding from his pursuers, the Family of Blood, at Farringham School for boys. Leaving companion Martha Jones a list of things to watch out for while the “real” him is gone, he forgets one thing; love. John Smith is forced to cope with the realization he has to give up everything, so that the mysterious Doctor can take his place again… at the cost of his own love life with Joan Redfern (who is played, pitch-perfect, by Jessica Hynes). Paul Cornell (who, by the way, should also get another episode, or two), delivers a truly touching piece of drama that notably adds to the “lonely god” image that was a running theme throughout David Tennant’s time as the Doctor, but contrasts this beautifully with the completely unimportant, ordinary and humble character of John Smith.  This is a stirring love story, albeit with a sad conclusion, unparalleled in Doctor Who and definitely worth a watch.

4. The Girl Who Waited

The Girl Who Waited

After watching Karen Gillan in this episode, it is awe-inspiring to see how far her portrayal of Amy Pond has come. Gillan has never been better as young and old versions of Amy meet, and Rory shows his ultimate love for both to be timeless, in this brilliant Series 6 episode. Torn apart in different time-streams where Amy ages faster than her travelling companions, Amy is forced to wait for more than three decades alone while Rory and the Doctor try to save her. What unfolds is a brilliant re-telling of the feelings that hold the couple together, and affirmation that Rory Williams, played perfectly (as always) by Arthur Darvill, is one of the best new characters to come from the Matt Smith years.

3. The Girl in the Fireplace

The Girl in the Fireplace

In what regular readers will know is one of my favourite episodes, comes the most tragic of love stories in Doctor Who to date. The Doctor finds his soul-mate, in the form of the famous 18th century French mistress Madame De Pompadour. They see each other for who they really are, and in the end are tragically torn apart. Sophia Myles is stunningly good as the French King Louis XV’s mistress and her scenes with Tennant are simply enthralling. After watching this episode you wish, more than anything, that the laws of time would break so that Myles could join the permanent cast forever. No seriously, forever. But then it wouldn’t be as poignant, would it? Another cracker by current head-honcho of Who, Steven Moffat. If you’re interested in finding out more about this story, see my earlier Blueshift post here. Anybody spending Valentines watching Who, watch this.

2. Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead

Silence in The Library

It was close, but in second comes the episode which began the greatest story never told.  River Song, the show’s biggest enigma besides the leading character himself, makes her outstanding first appearance (played by the marvellous Alex Kingston) in this two-parter and begins a legendary tale that will span 3 series and beyond. Though their story begins tragically, we can be assured that we’ve still got plenty of wonderful things to see the Doctor and River do in the future, and that makes her sacrifice (and realisation that he must have known she’d die there the entire time he’d known her) that much more inspiring: River gives up her life, so that the Doctor can experience the one he’s yet to have with her, and tells him she wouldn’t want to change a single thing. Stunning, romantic and captivating; you won’t see many better episodes of Doctor Who that hit this standard of story telling. Bravo Moffo (and please, please, please let us see the Singing Towers of Darillium one day).

1. Army of Ghosts/Doomsday

Army of Ghosts

At number one, you guessed it, is a true heavyweight of all the episodes in the RTD era. It was a dark day for all fans of the new series when the episodes we’d been dreading for an entire season came to fruition.  Not dreading because they were bad, but because it signalled the departure of Rose Tyler and, by extension, an end to one of the best love stories ever told on television. Russell T Davies takes the viewer through a roller-coaster of emotions and finally delivers Rose’s last bow with grace and emotion. Without a chance for proper goodbyes, Rose is wrenched, quite literally, from the Doctor’s reach and trapped behind the most unbreakable (except that one time) barrier imaginable just, heartbreakingly, before he gets the chance to say those three words. Be warned, if you’re prone to getting into the moment when it comes to film and television, the ending to this episode will have you in tears. RTD takes the crown for best romantic writer in Doctor Who in my books – and episodes like this are precisely why.

So there you have it! I hope you’ve found this post interesting. I’d love to hear some opinions about whether you think I got the list right (or not), so please like this post or comment below.

Thanks for reading, and happy Valentine’s day!

Blueshift #158: The End of the World

4 Feb

The End of the WorldThe Facts

Written by: Russell T Davies
Starring: Christopher Eccleston (The Doctor), Billie Piper (Rose Tyler)
Originally broadcast: 2nd April 2005

The Story

“That’s not supposed to happen…”

Cassandra

Cassandra, "the last human", and her boys.

The Doctor takes Rose on her very first trip in the TARDIS, to the year 5.5/Apple/26 (or the year 5 billion to mere mortals such as you and I) to see a rare gathering of aliens who are there to watch the Earth burn up. Naturally however, trouble rears its head in the form of robot spiders that are scurrying about the ship causing havoc, that all points to a bigger plan afoot. Ladies and gentlemen… “Welcome to The End of the World.”

Despite the fact that, when you think about it, not a lot actually happens in this story, I still consider it a great success. Essentially, it doesn’t need as much to happen as most episodes do because it’s not the aim of the game. The Doctor takes Rose to Platform One for, if you like, a taster session. Aliens and epic scenes of planets cracking: an average day for our favourite Timelord. This works well and we are treated to some fantastic moments with newly introduced aliens, such as the amusing Moxx of Balhoon and the flirty but ultimately empathetic Forest of Cheem representative, Jabe (Yasmin Bannerman). Visually, the episode holds its own with costumes and set design – never for a second are we left doubting the authenticity of the setting (unlike, for instance, a certain previously featured story). The strength of this episode comes from its dialogue, and the characters who are portrayed so well by the actors. A villain she may be, but Cassandra (Zoë Wanamaker) is a pleasure to watch as she wise-cracks and devilishly smiles while attempting to murder and deceive the entire cast.

Stand-out scene

“There was a war, and we lost.”

(Note: The clip above is only of the last part of this sequence.)

For me, the most poignant moment in The End of the World is its ending. As Rose laments having missed the passing of Earth (and how nobody saw it in the end, in the midst of all the chaos on-board) in one of the most epic shots to ever grace the new series,  the Doctor takes her home and shares a secret – he’s the last of the Timelords and Gallifrey is gone. This was a huge moment for Doctor Who. It brought on a completely new era for the main character that would, at least, define the Ninth Doctor’s arc, much of the Ten’s and still echo into the Eleventh’s too. It is also, I think, the first moment that the Doctor and Rose connect on equal terms. Then, perfectly, they smell chips. *Sighs*, Russell T Davies is the original genius.

Verdict

"I'm sorry" - The Doctor and JabeThe End of the World is a well-realised episode that lives up to its own themes and still manages to be fun at the same time. It’s pretty hard to address the gloomy prospect of the Earth being empty one day and being left to burn up, but it is going to happen. The message is (essentially) enjoy it while it lasts. It’s not often we step back to appreciate everything around us, or our finite amount of time on the planet – so it’s nice to watch this story and be gently reminded to seize the day. We also get to see some shades of grey from the Doctor, as he coldly watches Cassandra die as he simply states “everything has its time, and everything turns to dust”: the first hint at the new war-torn-survivor side to the Timelord that would slowly be revealed and hit its climax in Dalek. The central theme of the episode is trying to address just who the Doctor is and what his life entails. He finally has a chance to share his grief with Jabe, causing them to form a bond, but she is tragically taken from him as she bravely tries to help save Platform One with him. It is only at the end of the episode that he finally faces up to his loss and talks about it with Rose.

Platform OneEffects wise, although this episode included the heaviest use of CGI on the show (to the date of broadcast) the quality still stands up and somewhat more impressive is how good the prosthetics for the character Jabe look – even 7 years on. The End of the World is filled with memorable scenes and, unusually for Doctor Who, multiple uses of well-known music (Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love” and Britney Spears’ “Toxic”) which – instead of feeling gimmicky – all add to the general feel of quality. The story benefits greatly from the well scripted dialogue and inspired characters, but also from the attention to detail. Small laughs can also be found in abundance, with “religion” being banned aboard the space platform alongside things such as “weapons” and “teleportation” and Cassandra recalling historically inaccurate facts (like mistaking a jukebox for an iPod). “Toxic” and “Tainted Love” being called “classical music” is also just weird and brilliant.

This was a strong follow up to Rose from RTD; this was the story that attempted to explain the character of the Doctor to a new generation of viewers and was, in my opinion, the proper beginning of the Doctor and Rose’s love story. Top-notch Who. 

8/10

Did you know?

The Temple of Peace, Cardiff

  • This marked the first usage of the Temple of Peace (Cardiff) in a Doctor Who episode (it was the viewing gallery), it would also be used in future episodes Gridlock, The Fires of Pompeii and Let’s Kill Hitler.
  • In this episode the phrase “Bad Wolf” is mentioned for the first time. The Moxx of Balhoon states: “Indubitably, this is the Bad Wolf scenario.”
  • Russell T Davies has cited skinny Hollywood actresses at the Academy Awards as his inspiration for Cassandra.
  • When the Doctor and Rose are talking about the sun expanding, Rose mentions Newsround Extra. A newsround reporter was on set watching as this scene was filmed.
  • This is the first time a minor curse word is used by The Doctor in the show’s history; he uses the phrase “What the hell is that?” after sighting one of the spiders with Jabe.
  • Because animating Cassandra became too time-consuming/costly, scenes featuring her, including a conversation about humanity’s fate, were shortened. This caused the episode to fall short of its 45 minute slot, so scenes were added to increase the episode’s running time. The scene where Rose meets the alien “plumber” Ruffalo is an example of a scene that was specifically written because of this.
  • This is the first time the Doctor is ever shown to shed a tear on-screen.
  •  In this episode, Rose becomes one of the only companions in the show’s history to ask why all the aliens speak English. In another first for the show, the Doctor finally gives an explanation: the TARDIS’ telepathic circuits translate all alien languages for its passengers.
  • The psychic paper makes its first appearance in this episode, as does the “superphone”. (Though notably, the Doctor changes method of conversion in later series. In this episode, he changes a piece of hardware, whereas later on he is able to simply use his sonic screwdriver.
  • It was the success in strong viewing figures for this episode, following Rose, that finalised the decision to renew the show for a Christmas special and a second season.

Next time in Blueshift

That’s all for now folks. Next time I’ll be looking at one of  Tom Baker’s most well-known adventures; the Sherlock Holmes inspired story, The Talons of Weng-Chiang.

The Talons of Weng Chiang

Blueshift #154: The Curse of Fenric

29 Jan

The Curse of Fenric

The Facts

Written by: Ian Briggs
Starring: Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor), Sophie Aldred (Ace)
Originally broadcast:  25th October – 15th November 1989

Story

Soldiers row to shore through a grey mist and discover a dead comrade on their landing and superstitions of a local curse begin to do the rounds. It is 1943.   The TARDIS materialises inside a top-secret military base and The Doctor and Ace decide to have a look. They soon encounter the wheelchair-bound Dr. Judson, who has created ULTIMA – a machine that can decode any cypher, including German transmissions.  Meanwhile, the soldiers are revealed to be Russian, and their objective: to steal the ULTIMA core.

Master Manipulator

The Doctor convinces The Ancient One that Fenric has betrayed him.

Story-wise, The Curse of Fenric is well conceived. It mostly revovles around the Doctor and Ace investigating stories of a local Viking curse and the Doctor generally keeping everyone in the dark about his suspicions. In that respect, it’s a very dark story for classic Who. Sylvester McCoy’s version of the Timelord is well known for developing a darker streak in his later years and this story is the ultimate manifestation of that. The way in which he desperately explains to Ace why he has to keep her in the dark about things, and the scene in which he coldly manipulates the Ancient One into betraying Fenric are chilling displays of character.

A Game of Chess

The Doctor and Fenric set the final pieces in motion.

What else is interesting about this episode though is that, given its production in the very late stages of the cold war (even though the episode is set in the 1940’s), the Russians actually come off very well. The story ends with the British and Russian soldiers putting aside their differences and deciding they won’t be “pawns” in the larger game of chess by the politicians any more. This proclamation is strangely prophetic as, after seeing the ending in which everybody (even Ace) are revealed to be pawns, the viewer is left with mixed feelings about how far the Doctor must go to beat Fenric. The Russians go from allies-come-traitors to heroes by the end of the story.

Ace with her Grandmother and (baby) mother

Ace with her Grandmother and (baby) mother.

Also worthy of note is that The Curse of Fenric was one of a rare breed of stories in classic Who to draw together strands from previous series into a single story-arc. This has been seen recently with the Silence arc stretching over nu-Who Series 5, 6 and (it would seem) 7, but wasn’t common for the old show. The Key to Time arc or the E-Space stories are similar examples but were much more obvious than the clever revelations explained in Fenric. Subtle, almost Moffat-like references have been scattered throughout the Doctor’s journey with Ace that all point to Fenric, and even Ace, (and subsequently her relationship with her mother) is revealed to be the product of Fenric’s schemes. To put it lightly, there was a big pay-off for anyone who had been watching since Dragonfire. 

Stand-out scene

The scene in which Fenric is defeated is by far the best in this story. As all the strands of the episodes, and indeed the previous two series, draw together we are given a glimpse of a far darker side to the Doctor than we have ever seen before.

Master manipulator, cold and unfeeling, he makes even Ace believe that he only brought her with him because he knew she was “tainted” by Fenric. Though really, he is allowing Ace’s psychic barrier (of belief in him) to break down so that the Ancient One can destroy Fenric – something the Doctor has ensured will happen, through one of his earlier moves. As Fenric and the Ancient One go down together, there is no time for explanations as the Doctor pulls Ace off the floor and they escape.

Verdict

The Curse of Fenric, for 80’s Who, is actually pretty good. Obviously, production quality is an issue in certain scenes and the acting of some cast members is questionable at times, but fortunately the whole story being shot on location seems to have done the episodes a big favour. The story is complex and a bit hard to follow at times, with so much going on, but the final conclusion is a very satisfying one. Most fascinating though, is the story’s approach to the Timelord’s persona. As the Doctor puts it, the forces of good and evil are always at war – but somehow evil always survives. Because of this we are taken into the morally grey zone, filled with long games and hidden agendas, and we are shown that good and evil are not always clear cut. To defeat Fenric, the Doctor has to lie, manipulate and emotionally break the person closest to him. These are big ideas for what was a Monday night tea-time, family show at the time. Bravo Ian Briggs for doing them justice.

7/10

Did you know?

Past and Present

  • Previous titles for this story were The Wolves of Fenric and Wolf-Time.
  • Anne Reid, who plays Nurse Crane, would also later appear in the revived series 2007 story Smith and Jones as the Plasmavore. This story also featured the introduction of companion Martha Jones and the alien Judoon.
  • Interestingly, in the novelisation, Reid’s character was revealed to be a Russian spy who had aided the red soldiers in their infiltration, but this was taken out of the script as the story was already too long.
  • The references to past episodes that reveal Fenric’s scheme to the Doctor early on are (in chronological order); Ace appearing in Iceworld through a time storm (Dragonfire), the chessboard in Lady Peinforte’s house and her relocation to the (past) modern day by time storm (Silver Nemesis).
  • This episode was one of a few classic stories to be shot almost entirely on location. The locations most used are Crowborough Training Camp (which was the secret army base) in East Sussex and Lulworth Cove (which was the beach area where Fenric’s “wolves” attacked from and where the soldiers landed) in Dorset.
  • There are many story aspects, such as the Doctor wearing a coat for the first half of the story (which was meant to partly hide the new brown jacket that symbolized a character change) and Ace referencing the story Ghostlight as if it were in her future, that were originally supposed to have happened before they did in this story. This is because scheduling delays forced the production team to shuffle the episode orders of this series round.
  • Two of the “Haemovore” monsters in this story were played by Sylvester McCoy’s sons; Sam and Joe Kent-Smith.
  • A reference to Ace having lost her virginity to Sabalom Glitz in an earlier story (Dragonfire) was removed from the script.
  • Though this story involves many references to Norse mythology, all references of Ragnarok (the end of the world) were removed by request of the production team, so as to avoid confusion with the Gods of Ragnarok from the previous story The Greatest Show in the Galaxy.
  • The way that the Doctor needs Ace to lose faith in him to defeat Fenric is similar to the way he later needs Amy Pond to lose faith in him in The God Complex to defeat the Minotaur.

Next time in Blueshift

Thanks for reading another Blueshift! Next time I’ll be revisiting the Ninth Doctor story The End of the World.

The End of the World

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