Doctor Who Classics – The Modern Era

In 1989, Doctor Who screened its last adventure with Survival. The story continued in a series of novels taking up the mantle of Andrew Cartmell’s master plan. In 1996 a new Doctor was introduced in a TV movie with less than favorable results. Even though Paul McGann was a fantastic modernization of the character, the film was poorly put together and ultimately failed at achieving a new lease on life for the program. Again, a series of books continued the 8th Doctor’s journey and audio adventures followed as well. When Doctor Who returned to TV screens in 2005 it was with Russell T Davies at the helm. A writer recognized for his success with the drama Queer as Folk and contributer to the Doctor Who novel canon, it seemed a dream come true for Whovians the world over.

A very public figure, Davies was often his worst enemy in the press. At first he declared himself to be a fan of Doctor Who and applauding the efforts of the classic series creators, Virgin Publishing and Big Finish for keeping the torch burning. When he came under fire from fans (mainly on online message boards) during his first two years he changed his tune saying that the detractors by calling them ‘moaning old minnies’ and claiming that they were not in touch with their emotions at all. This created an unnecessary  divide between fans of the old and the new, often making the two groups bitter enemies. It’s important to note that while online forums are a new thing, the kickback from fandom is not. Back in the day viewers wrote in either supporting or denouncing the direction of Doctor Who in very florid epithets. My favorite is the TV program which interviewed members of a Doctor Who Appreciation Society after the airing of the new series opener.  Fans denouncing a new Doctor as terrible or a story as poorly conceived is nothing new.

To add to the confusion, Davies reneged on his stance of fans by including references that only fans would understand and bringing back no less than four monsters/enemies (Daleks, Cybermen, Sontarans, the Master, Davros) during his five years as producer/head writer. He also took liberties by writing his own spin-off into Doctor Who lore and attempted to pull the viewers’ collective leg one time too many with a regeneration that wasn’t a regeneration at all. By the time he left and Moffat took over,  the formerly supportive group of Davies fans was showing signs of frustration. It was time for a change.

The modern era of Doctor Who is full  of problems but it is also immensely successful and still in production, making it a living creation rather than a legacy of programs that can be reviewed and investigated in a TV-style archeological manner. I make no effort to hide the fact that I prefer the classic to the new Doctor Who which is part of the reason why I am reviewing the classics in separate clusters to give each period what I hope is a fair shake. Doctor Who is constantly changing and mutating into something else which may not be one’s cup of tea, but it is never boring. It is its own creature and it is charting a history for a new generation of viewers.

The Modern Era Part One: Christopher Eccleston

The new updated version of Doctor Who would be built around human interactions rather than monsters, an emphasis on quirky humor and romance between the Doctor and his new companion Rose Tyler played by former pop idol Billie Piper. The first series was actually two series filmed back to back at breakneck pace, causing friction with the lead actor Christopher Eccleston. Eccleston had no real love for Doctor Who, but openly spoke of great respect for Davies as a gifted creator. In early interviews he made it plain that he planned to play the role as a more street level character rather than an upper class personality as he had seen in the classic series. He viewed the program as essential to children and had bold ambitions at crafting quality programming. In the end, he and Davies had disagreements in how they approached the material and Eccleston decided to leave. Eccleston was perhaps too fine an actor for the part in retrospect and lacked an ability to convey the oddball humor that Davies had infused into the character. However, Eccleston excelled at drama and portrayed one of the more brooding and intense incarnations on the screen.

The first series of the BBC Wales Doctor Who has very few references to the classic program and in many ways functions better as its own thing. This would change in its second year but for the opening series the Doctor was a distraught traveler trying to come to grips with a great catastrophe called the Time War. Dressed entirely in dark colors, the latest incarnation was a neurotic personality who seemed to charge headlong into danger as a means to escape his past. He also encouraged others to chart their own path rather than take an active part in their worlds. It was a very different approach which only changed in the final adventure when he took an active role against a vast army of Daleks, an unforgettable moment that cemented his place in Doctor Who history as one of the finest incarnations.

Dalek
The first time viewers got to see a Dalek on screen since 1988 (unless you count the Curse of Fatal Death), Dalek is a bit too post-modern for its own good, but it is also amazing. Depicting the sole surviving Dalek from the Time War as a pitiful creature chained in a top security facility was a brilliant move. When it comes to life after absorbing Rose’s time-traveling DNA (whatever that is), it charges onto action just as we had always wanted them to in the classic program. The new ‘golden’ design is brilliant and Nicholas Briggs brings great manic energy to the monsters with his distinctive voice work. The only script to date from Robert Shearman, it does have some flaws such as the deliberate humanizing of the Dalek in the concluding scene where it opens up and feels sunlight on its face. Up until that moment, it seemed that the entire affair was a ruse to escape, but in fact we are meant to pity the Dalek and feel sympathy for it… which felt forced in the end. Or maybe I’m just a cranky fan. In any case, I am very appreciative of this episode as it is the best of the new Dalek stories.

The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances
Steven Moffat’s first script for Doctor Who is the perfect example of how the series can be done well. The characters are rich, their interactions move the plot and the action as well as the horror perfectly quantified. The script is also very witty and full of brilliant inspirations. There are some weird moments such as the modern Doctor Who’s obsession with the Doctor’s sex life, but it’s easily forgiven as this is a great action story tempered with the creepiest visuals and stunning special effects. To round it all off, it’s a periods piece which I have a soft spot for. This story introduced the character of Captain Jack Harkness who has appeared as drastically different characters throughout this series and Torchwood. Here he is a lovable rogue whereas later he appears as a tough heroic type and later still a campy caricature. In his first appearance I loved him, but when he returned in Torchwood it felt very forced.

Honorable mentions: The Unquiet Dead, Father’s Day

The opening 13 stories has a mix of victories and failures with a few middling tales as well. The insistence of an over-arching story was a poor ideas in the end as it made absolutely no sense. The Unquiet Dead has been called far too formulaic but I love it. A Victorian historical adventure with supernatural and alien themes intertwined is wonderful. Father’s Day is another example of the program hitting the right notes with its emphasis on characters and their interactions rather than monsters. However, the monsters are very silly and make very little sense. That said, it’s a well written and emotional tale that uses Rose’s family well… unfortunately this is the only time the concept was used well but we had many more brushes with the Tylers.

I’d like to include the series finale that produced an impressive visual of a Dalek battle fleet, but the two-parter is riddled with horrible ideas such as Daleks using reality TV to take over humanity and Bad Wolf. The regeneration sequence was very odd as the Doctor died on his feet blazing magical energy through his head and arms. The 9th Doctor, still very new to us, was gone but his tale had been told. I do miss this incarnation but feel that his story was complete. As Eccleston refuses to even talk about his time on Doctor Who, I doubt we’ll ever see him return.
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The Modern Era Part Two: David Tennant

The 10th Doctor proved to be the most popular since Tom Baker… or even moreso depending on who you talk to. Tennant had a love for humor and slapstick and a very strong appeal to fans as a sex symbol. Dressed in pinstripes and trainers, this Doctor was quick-footed and a fast talker as well. The Doctor/Companion romance angle again took center stage as Rose and the Doctor were presented as the most perfect couple ever and then separated in an overly emotional sequence. I remember thinking that after Rose had gone we would be rid of the Doctor-in-love idea but Davies was like a dog with a bone, refusing to let go (in fact he had planned to introduce the Doctor’s TRUE love in series 4 before the idea was vetoed and Catherine Tate returned as spinster Donna Noble). The Doctor pined after Rose and nearly every woman he met became smitten with him. It was absurd and dragged the program down.

More classic monsters and companions returned and the connection between the new and classic Who was cemented a few times. The 10th Doctor had some superb adventures, but they were often booby trapped by Davies insistence that there be a human angle, usually involving supporting characters in love or a companion’s family that rarely had any impact on the main story. If these elements had been reduced or removed entirely, this era would have been truly great. In the end, over four years’ worth of programming I can only cite a few classics.

The Girl in the Fireplace
Another Steven Moffat story, Girl in the Fireplace utilized fantasy elements such as magic mirrors, imaginary friends from childhood and monsters hiding in a dark bedroom (there are seeds that would later bear fruit when Matt Smith took over with Moffat as head writer). Tennant plays the dashing hero, buffoon and tragic loner all at once in this one which is a bit much for only 45 minutes but Tennant pulls it off. I remember when I first saw this story I was over the moon at a more active and dynamic Doctor who actively took part in the adventures. Rose and ‘new’ companion Mickey are lots of fun here and roam around the spooky space craft arguing about the Doctor’s intentions. It’s a wonderful episode, features an impressive new monster (of sorts) in the Clockwork Men and even operates on an emotional level.

The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit
Russell T Davies was quoted as saying that he despised alien planets in TV science fiction and was determined to avoid them. Much of his era is set on contemporary London and involved alien invasions of one kind or another along with numerous TV reports conveying the events. His first foray into an alien planet was this two-parter which proved to be a real standout adventure. Arriving on a base perched precariously on the rim of a black hole, the Doctor and Rose appear to have a case of the giggles. After losing the TARDIS to the planetoid’s unstable nature, they become more somber, however, and become linked to the crew of the base who are determined to solve the mystery of the impossible planet. The slave race known as the Ood are seen for the first time here and they are beautifully crafted by the special effects team. When the Ood become taken over by the evil entity inside the planet (voiced by Pyramids of Mars’ Gabriel Woolf), they become the standard lumbering Doctor Who monster chasing kiddies under their beds.

It’s all great stuff that sadly comes apart in the second portion when it becomes clear the story has nowhere to go. Even Davies admitted that he had no idea what would be at the bottom of the pit and the monster that we do see only exists thanks to some CG animators who agreed to do the work out of love for Doctor Who. Even so, this is a memorable story that had amazingly impressive sequences, an astounding guest cast, some real scary material and a diversity of action that kept it fresh.

Human Nature/Family of Blood
Initially a vehicle for the 7th Doctor as part of the New Adventures line of novels, Human Nature had very different origins than what we ended up with. In the book, the Doctor has just lost the trust of his companion Ace who had grown sick of his head games. Disgusted with himself and questioning his himself, he decides to take human form to better understand the race. As a human, the Doctor teaches young boys at a school, confronts the horrors of war, falls in love and feels all of the things humans are heir to. Meanwhile his companion Bernice Summerfield is watching over him, but neither she nor the Doctor planned on the Family of Blood who arrive desperate for the Doctor’s blood in order to spawn a race of blood-thirsty warriors.

Paul Cornell does a fine job of adapting his novel to TV creating one of the more memorable and enjoyable of the Tennant era adventures (in fact it was voted #1 overall by fans recently) but taken out of context the impetus is lost entirely. In the TV version the Family is hot on the Doctor’s heels and he decides to masquerade as a human being as a way of the perfect hiding spot. Additionally, when he regains his Time Lord persona, he insists that he is the same man which misses the point of the story entirely. Nevertheless, the story is very creepy, has some wonderful characters and excellent action sequences. The second part is surprisingly slim on plot and mainly consists of people running around… but nothing’s perfect.

Honorable mentions: Army of Ghosts/Doomsday, 42, Blink, Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead, Midnight

There are many also-rans of the Tennant era that are undermined by the same problems again and again. Army of Ghosts/Doomsday should be one of the best Doctor Who stories ever as it features Cybermen versus Daleks, but that part of the story plays second fiddle to Torchwood, Rose’s parents and the Doctor/Rose romance. Much like Rise of the Cybermen/Age of Steel this is so close to being a classic but it falls flat in the end. That said, the Daleks are magnificent in this one and their arrival is one of the high points of the second series. 42 has some awesome ideas and offers up some juicy opportunities for Tennant acting wise as he struggles to maintain his sanity as the intelligent star matter tears away at him. It also has Martha Jones who is a great companion sadly forgotten and underused. It’s rather strange to me to note Blink as a Tennant classic as it featured so little of the Doctor. A cleverly written plot playing with not only narrative styles but also time travel concepts that Moffat would later explore in series 5. Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead is a stunner and has lots of cool ideas and a knock-out monster as well as super plot ideas but there are poor ideas a-plenty as well such as the cliffhanger resolution and Tennant seems out of control acting-wise. Midnight is a clever idea and very atmospheric, but full of ridiculously boring characters and a vague alien threat that just disappears at the end. I want to like this one, really, but it just has too many flaws for me.

David Tennant had brought Doctor Who to new heights of popularity. A CGi animated feature, TARDISODES that could be downloaded to cellular phones and more were introduced in his time. Many fans of the series grew devoted to him and were angered that anyone could take his place, but in the end Tennant left the program and young Matt Smith arrived.
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The Modern Era Part Three: Matt Smith

Matt Smith and Steven Moffat arrived in 2010 to take Doctor Who into its new era. With Tennant gone, many feared for the future of the program that had become a major ratings star and cash earner for the BBC. Doctor Who became a fairy tale under Moffat’s guidance and the Doctor a Peter Pan-like character of magical ability and impish charm. When I had heard of Moffat’s intentions, my heart sank. I had my hopes of Patterson Joseph being cast as a kind of Pertwee-like gentleman Doctor. Instead, the frenzied and dizzy-headed 11th Doctor won me over and I became assured that Doctor Who was in good hands.

The program has only had a single series and a holiday special to date and while I have enjoyed the material, there’s not much that stands out so far as a candidate classic. The new Daleks were introduced (and the golden Daleks destroyed), the Silurians were given another face-lift and a new race of aquatic vampires made their debut. The overarching story of a crack in time, the pandorica and the new companion Amy Pond was a major success and the several ideas converged into the best finale Doctor Who has had since it has returned in 2005.

The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone
Smith’s first two-parter adventure is remarkable for using the multi-part format well for the first time in ages. Whereas the previous two-parters were often uneven in material or filled with superfluous scenes, but in this case the story perfectly fits the format. The return of the Weeping Angels from Blink and River Song from Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead makes this one a bit continuity heavy but Moffat uses the concepts to build both up and enhance the plot thread of the Pandorica/Crack in Time. The dynamic between the Doctor and Amy is deepened and additional layers are added as they work together to solve the mystery of the Weeping Angels. The special effects budget was cut down significantly in 2010, causing the crew to come up with new imaginative ways to convey ideas and monsters which is is interesting. I have to admit that I am cheating a bit by including this one as it is not entirely a classic, but it is the closes that I think Smith’s era has come to date.

Honorable mentions: The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood, Amy’s Choice, The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang

The new series has a tradition of bringing back a classic monster or villain each year. In 2010, the returning monster was the Silurians who look very impressive but character-wise are a far cry from their former selves. In an effort to give the monsters more complexity, the Silurians come off as more of a Star Trek villain. The special effects and scenery are both breathtaking and the plot unusual, but the execution is lacking. Amy’s Choice is a fun tale that has the characters placed into a fantasy reality, something that is entirely absurd considering the ‘reality’ that the Doctor and his companions exist in. The series finale is quite divisive as it is very silly and contains a vast amount pf plot coincidences and contrivances. Faced with an impossible situation, the Doctor finds an incredibly unlikely solution that borders on the ridiculous. The saving grace of the adventure is that Moffat cuts down the power and near-indestructibility that the Doctor’s ability to flit back and forth in time quite well. Too often the year-long story lines are tired ideas that barely hold together but in the 5th series, it really worked well and came together in the final two-parter.

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Thanks to readers to sticking with me on this long exploration of Doctor Who. It has been enlightening to me as the writer and I hope that it has been fun and interesting to read. Please remember to chime in below on your own opinions!

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Doctor Who and the End of Time (part two)

Part one of David Tennant’s final adventure was mainly made up of the Master eating, laughing and leading the Doctor in the mother of all run arounds interspersed with cut aways to the Timelords providing narration and promises of something truly impressive.

For the most part, the second installment was more of the same.

While the Master took a back seat to the main plot and the Doctor seemed to take up more screen time it was Timothy Dalton’s truly insane performance in a bathrobe that threatened to overtake the entire program. Almost every review I’ve read has talked about the uneven feeling of the episode, the cobbled together plot and the need for Tennant’s death scene to be about 20 minutes shorter than it was.

As for my own observations, I’ll try to make this review brief.

When Doctor Who returned, there was a lot of exposition regarding something called a Time War which presumably cleaned the slate of all the classic Doctor Who monsters as they battled the Doctor’s people, the Time Lords. It left a war-torn intergalactic ghetto in which the Doctor roamed about trying his best to assist those left in the wake of the war find their way toward bettering themselves. As the only Time Lord in existence, the Doctor had a bit of an identity crisis. After the War Games introduced the Time Lords in 1968, the Doctor has been defined by his interactions with the godlike beings. Be it as their agent, rebel or President, the Doctor found meaning in relation to these powerful beings who could control time yet chose to remain passive. With no more Time Lords, what was the Doctor? He had no one to rebel against, stand up to in court or defend in their hour of need. It was a brilliant maneuver of the new series and gave it a unique identity. It also paved the way for new monsters.

In the subsequent seasons we have seen that the Daleks found a way out of the Time War and a new race of Cybermen created from a parallel reality. The Master somehow found a way out before the Time War broke out by hiding inside of a cover persona Dr. Yana. He has since taken every effort to make life Hell for what he views as the Doctor’s pet race of humanity. First he led tricked the last vestiges of the human race into thinking they were headed for Utopia when in fact they were vivisected into little balls of hate that were used to assault contemporary Earth. So evil was the Master that he tricked death itself and ‘refused’ to regenerate after the Doctor had forgiven him.

The resurgence of classic monsters has made the Time War useless in many respects. When it was first brought up it was envisioned as an epic war that destroyed all the baddies of old with only the Doctor managing to escape. Since then, almost all of the classic monsters have returned. It seems that everyone survived, so what’s the tragedy?

Meanwhile the Doctor has become more human than ever in his latest incarnation and has professed something close to love for his one time companion Rose. Unable to live with her, he has watched from afar and become lovesick and emotionally distraught, often leading him to extreme acts of compassion at one moment violence and destruction at another. Tethered to human behavior by a series of companions, he has tried to temper this attitude but in the past year he has traveled alone.

In his most recent adventure, it occurred to him that as the only Time Lord in the universe, there were no longer any rules that prevented him from perverting history to his liking. Shocked and disturbed by this revelation, he was visited by an Ood who alerted him that his song was coming to an end. Given a vision of the Master’s return and a warning that the End of Time was approaching, the Doctor launched himself into the fray once again, but this time overwrought with knowledge of his own demise.

Using alien technology, the Master has transformed the entire human population into iterations of himself. While a race of megalomaniacal geniuses may sound menacing, the program shows them as rather polite and obedient soldiers (and completely unlike the Master except in appearance). The sole purpose of a planet of Masters is apparently to track down the source of the drumming that the Master has heard in his head since a child when he stared into the vortex and ‘went mad.’ Why he would want to do this and how is rather ropey.

The Doctor manages to escape the Master’s clutches in perhaps the biggest plot contrivance I’ve ever  seen in any of RTD’s scripts. In a previous adventure former companion Donna had somehow obtained the knowledge of the Doctor and was about to go critical mass before the Doctor fixed her so that she never remembered any of it. The catch was that if she ever started to remember her head would explode and  therefore die. As we see Donna in an alley confronted by an army of apparently cannibalistic Master clones she starts to remember what she was meant to forget. Rather than explode, though, she fires off some kind of energy wave that momentarily disrupts the Master’s control allowing the Doctor and Wilf to escape.

… handy, eh?

Facing an entire planet of Masters takes a back seat as the Lord President of Timelords consults his council of extras and the crazy doodler with henna tattoos for a route out of extinction.

Apparently the Time Lords have been stuck in something called a Time Lock during the Time War. This is odd since we were told several times (even in this story) that they were dead. The Master and Doctor are somehow viewed as terribly important to Time Lord history and this episode is perhaps why. By use of a diamond and a drum machine crossed with a time machine, the Lord President creates a tether from the Time Locked Gallifrey to contemporary Earth. While Donna’s grandada Wilf thinks this is great news, the Doctor explains that the Time Lords have been driven mad by war and are the worst evil ever. Dutifully, the Master plays along even though he has always hated his people and opens a gateway for the Lord President and his posse to cross. Why they just stand in the magical door frame after passing through the gate I don’t understand.

As all of this comes to a head, the Doctor continues to have a crisis of what to do as he has been told all paths lead to his death. Despite the fact that every other version of the Doctor up until this point has proven so brave that he would gladly lay down his life for another, this Doctor is desperately looking for a loophole that will allow him to survive all of this. Meanwhile Wilf has been visited by a mysterious woman who has urged him to arm the Doctor for his final moments with an old service revolver that Wilf retained from his time in the military. Who is she? No idea.

After an embarrassingly poor looking battle against all of the nuclear arsenals of the world on board a goofy mining craft designed for scavenging space debris, the Doctor simply jumps from a spaceship in mid-flight into the lab where the Master is bringing the Time Lords to Earth through a magical gate. No kidding. As the program entered the realm of Looney Tunes logic, it also madly tugged at the heart strings of the audience as a bloody and beaten Doctor whirled from the Master to the Lord President with the hand gun ready to kill someone but unsure who.

It’s also interesting to note that the Lord President was revealed to be Rassilon, the father of the Time Lord race… but I’ll just let that lie. So powerful is Rassilon that he simply returns the human race to normalcy with his magical gauntlet, wrapping up that plot thread neatly.

Timothy Dalton armed with the Power Glove of Rassilon

But the Master has super lightning!

But the Doctor can reflect the Master's magic lightning!

In a clever moment, the Doctor fires his gun not at either man but at the magical diamond machine keeping the gateway open, damning the Time Lords to the Time Locked Gallifrey forever or whenever another writer decides to revive them again. In the last moments, the Master lets loose with some of his dark force lightning and does battle with Lord President Timothy Dalton’s goofy power glove and become wrapped up in a ball of blinding light. After an exhausting series of awful scenes, the Doctor is hysterical with emotion thinking that he has somehow evaded his death only to hear four knocks that have been hinted at for several episodes as marking his final moments.

I have to admit that there was a massive plot point that I never caught involving a two man glass cabinet hooked up to a nuclear reactor that involved the buddy system. No idea. Unfortunately this plot thread proved to be the most important one. Wilf had locked himself in one side, requiring the Doctor to enter the other part and press a button so that Wilf could be free. Unfortunately, the radiation had spiked and would flood the chamber as soon as the Doctor did this.

After all my negative comments of the episode, the next moment was by far the worst in my opinion and in keeping with my judgement that this IS NOT THE DOCTOR.

Rather than boldly and silently sacrifice himself for Wilf and regenerate, instead the Doctor has a hissy fit that he doesn’t wanna die and is far too important to die. After making Wilf feel sufficiently awkward, the Doctor presses the switch and is bombarded with radiation. Rather than simply dying there and then, the Doctor goes on to perform a series of acts in which he visits a former friend, does something nice then pouts from a distance. I had never seen a ‘pouting montage’ before. Thanks, RTD. It had to be the most prolonged and obnoxious sequence that Russell T Davies had ever written and cheapened a moment that should have been poignant and meaningful for fans of this era.

After once again establishing like a petulant child that he didn’t wanna die, the Doctor erupts in silly regeneration flames that have somehow become linked to the moment in the new show and we are given the first glimpse of Doctor No. 11.

As I was writing this, I found myself summarizing a number of ideas that this era of Doctor Who had put forth that are in themselves not bad. Having a Doctor who has become more human and manic is interesting in itself, but in the end this Doctor was just so very selfish and obnoxious in his attitude that only by forcing the other characters to champion him as their savior or plotting the stories to make him into a hero would work. I know that Doctor No. 10 is very popular and that David Tennant has the biggest following since Doctor No. 4 Tom Baker but again in my opinion he was given terrible material to work with and a head writer who failed to understand what he had created.

The tenth Doctor saw himself as a godlike being also capable of damming entire races to extinction and having a pint of bitter at the local pub with the punters. If the program had explored that idea and showed how flawed and dangerous that approach was (as hinted at in Fear Her, Waters of Mars and the Doctor’s speech to Wilf in this very episode), it could have have been a sophisticated and complex tale. Instead, we are expected to accept that the Doctor is a Christ-like wizard with puppy dog eyes and a magic wand who refuses to pay the piper for his actions.

I keep saying this, but the tenth Doctor is a missed opportunity in terms of the character and actor. In re-reading my articles on his second series, I recognized Tennant’s strengths and the importance of a good companion for him to work off of (in my opinion this was Freema Ageyman). The longer that Tennant and Davies collaborated on Doctor Who the more melodramatic, childish and obnoxious it became.  Tennant ranted and raved more and his eyes and teeth threatened to pop out of his skull with each moment of over-acting. There was always potential for a good and in some cases amazing story that got side-lined by RTD’s insistence on using his bad ideas and worse ‘human interest’ angles.

In any case, the book has closed on this chapter and another is on its way in the Spring.

Doctor No. 10 gives way to No. 11

Doctor Who and the End of Time (part one)

Doctor Who and the End of Time (part one)

David Tennant as Doctor Who

I’m still fighting a nasty cold but I wanted to write this while the viewing was still fresh in my mind. I apologize if my stream of consciousness gets muddy.

I had intended to review two regeneration stories from the Classic Doctor Who to show how difficult they are to construct. As examples I had chosen Planet of the Spiders (Doctor No. 3, Jon Pertwee) and Logopolis (Doctor No. 4, Tom Baker) as they not only served as the final adventure for that Doctor but also closed the book on a specific period of the program.

Doctor Who - Jon Pertwee

In Pertwee’s case, the old regime led by producer Barry Letts was on the way out and incoming series producer Phillip Hinchcliffe was on his way in. The story reflected a lot of the ideas regarding Eastern philosophy that Letts held dear and a humbling of one of the most powerful and massive egos the Doctor has exuded in Doctor No. 3. It has it’s problems (goofy special effects, goofier spiders) but it encapsulates so much of what the team was shooting for in those final episodes.

Doctor Who - Tom Baker

Logopolis is another story entirely and I must confess I have never fully understood what the point of the story is. I grasp the plot, but as a final adventure of the most beloved version of the Doctor played by Tom Baker it makes so very little sense. A runaround of complex mathematical ideas and the Master’s chicanery, it’s not exactly one of the better stories of the Classic Doctor Who series aside from that final moment where we see not only the Doctor but in my opinion the actor Tom Baker himself realize that the ride he has been on for the past 7 years has come to a stop. It’s a classic moment interrupted by obnoxious flashbacks to previous villains, but it still makes the grade for me.

I had decided to leave out Caves of Androzani as it hits all the right marks and has enough love going for it.

Doctor Who - Christopher Eccleston

I will give another feather for RTD’s cap that aside from writing a good introduction to the series for new viewers (no mean feat!), he also included the Daleks in a regeneration story for Doctor No. 9. Of course they had nothing to do with that Doctor’s regeneration, but never mind. Despite its numerous problems, Bad Wolf/Parting of the Ways is actually a very good regeneration story. RTD’s script tied up several ideas, had the Doctor who had previously found himself frozen with inaction finally possessed of the kind of self-confidence the viewers had been waiting for and deliver the kind of threat to the largest army of Daleks ever visualized on screen.

Sure, it had all these out of place references to reality programs that RTD thought was funny, and the regeneration itself was a mess… and don’t get me started on the reveal behind what Bad Wolf means… but never mind. I rarely give the guy any acclaim.

So given the fact that I have established that final stories in which not only the Doctor but the production staff are leaving are difficult yet RTD has managed to compose at least one regeneration story that I liked… I sat down to watch End of Time part one on BBC America. Before I begin with the official review, let me just say how lucky modern fans are that they are getting the opportunity to see new Doctor Who one day after the UK audience. That is so very cool. Imagine being a fan in the olden days and having to wait at least a year to see the new series and when it arrived there you were watching Colin Baker wondering what had happened. It’s also wonderful that modern fans get the chance to experience the one-week wait for the next part.

However, the new episode is such a sordid mess that it almost feels cruel that after waiting so long for the stars to align so that fans of this cult series can see a new episode so soon that they are given a half-baked mixture of ideas that fail to combine into a single story.

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Doctor Who and the Waters of Mars

Doctor Who
2009 Special 2, ‘The Waters of Mars’
By Phil Ford and Russell T Davies

With The Waters of Mars raking in 9.1 million viewers, 88% of the total viewing figures on a Sunday night it would seem that this episode was a roaring success. For those living in the US, the special will premiere on BBC America (hopefully unedited) on 18 December. As such, if you are American and wish to remain in the dark on this one (and have avoided any spoilers up until now), read no further.

SPOILERS AHOY…

waters of mars
This could be the first time that a Doctor Who script bears recognition of head series writer Russell T Davies (RTD) as a contributer to a script. As head writer RTD has treated authors of the new series badly, in my opinion, demanding that they meet his demands as you would treat a flatmate filling a shopping list such as ‘Queen Victoria, Werewolf, and kung-fu monks.’ If the script left out any of his odd ideas it was either scrapped or rewritten. I believe this may be why Stephen Fry (rumored to contribute a script from series 1) has been noticeably absent and despite news that star David Tennant refused to work with her, the real reason why Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling has not submitted a script for consideration. If I were either Rowling or Fry and there was the possibility that my script would be rewritten by RTD… I’d rather not participate.

Former Coronation Street and Bad Girls scribe Phil Ford also acted as head writer for the Sarah Jane Smith Adventures during its second season, so he and RTD have a bit of a history. The reason that I bring any of this up is that it’s unclear to me what parts of the script were submitted by Ford and what was written or rewritten by RTD… not that it really matters in the end.

What Ford brought to the screen I’m not sure as so many of RTD’s old ideas rear their ugly heads from the Doctor as a miraculous figure, a supporting cast of models and monsters without a backstory.

The story is in many ways an homage to the classic series as it involves a base under siege (something that the classic program presented ad nauseum) and an adventure set on another planet. It is very unclear to me what RTD’s relationship is to the classic series as he has openly attacked fans in interviews as being thick and unable to appreciate his stories yet he has also forced several classic monsters (such as the obscure Macra) and ideas (including U.N.I.T.) into the new program that it would seem he is struggling to attract an audience that he has already shunned. In any case, the special effects are passable but noticeably cheap.

The opening shot of the Mars base (named Bowie Base One) looked like a process shot right out of the 1960’s… and not in a good way. The monsters were a noble attempt in some ways to present what I have often applauded the new series for, introducing new ideas, but they are very goofy and make very little sense. Many classic monsters are also goofy and nonsensical, but their shortcomings are usually not stressed by the script that they first appear in. Much like emotional Cybermen in Earthshock, we are presented with ‘patient’ monsters who are presented as eager runners in one scene and casual strollers in another. Their main threat also seems to be their ability to spray water everywhere and overcome the atmospheric integrity of the base. Was this a thinly veiled message to the space program that ‘air tight does not equal water tight’? And does it? I’m still not sure.

A monster that multiplies its threat via infection is already a very dated concept and will most likely be viewed in the future as we view the ‘red menace’ plot ideas from the 1950’s are today. Additionally, the script is full of flowery prose that attempts to make something as pedestrian as water terrifying, with Tennant delivering the icey line ‘water can wait’ as if I should shudder the next time I visit the tap. The monsters themselves seem to be able to sprint quite well when we first see them yet the script reminds us moodily that ‘water is patient.’ Presumably water is also inconsistent and far from patient, it just cooperates with the demands of the script.

The name-drop of the Ice Warriors was intended, I am sure, to sate viewers of the classic series who had heard rumblings of the Martians returning for over two years now, but it was a hollow reference. The fact that the classic villains had unearthed something that they didn’t understand is only worth presenting if the writer understands what it was. The monster ends up being yet another mysterious threat that the Doctor dispatches (see Impossible Planet/Satan Pit, The Idiot’s Lantern, Midnight and more) and that is a sign of very bad writing. It transforms imaginative and intelligent science fiction into sub-standard children’s fantasy.

doctorwho_watersofmars

The super soaker... of death!

RTD and Ford present the viewer with a moral dilemma in that the Doctor has arrived at what he defines as a ‘fixed point’ in time, meaning that whatever happens has cemented in place as a necessary event. It also seems to imply lots of death. The fact that the previous ‘fixed point’ was the destruction of Pompeii (name-dropped in this story) and that the Doctor openly interfered with that event is very puzzling. I’m guessing that the rules are clear to the Doctor but not to the writers. Again, this is a very interesting idea and cements into a place a kind of ‘prime directive’ that the Doctor must abide by… in addition to a very compelling turn of events… but I’ll get to that in a moment.

The cast is made up of the usual bizarre mix of skilled TV actors and plank-like pretty faces. Honestly, what is the deal with the robot controller guy and renowned model-who-thinks-she-can-act Gemma Chan? However we do have Peter O’Brien and Lindsay Duncan who attempt (along with Tennant’s help) to do the ‘heavy lifting’ of the episode. They are so good that it almost works. However, the familiar gremlins of poor writing and an atrocious score team up with the aforementioned lousy supporting cast to undo what could be a stand -out episode.

DoctorWho_TheWatersofMars

Guys, it's just a light rain.

One of the other major culprits to this episode’s success is the insistence on presenting online news feeds to convey events. Not only does this show zero belief in Tennant’s acting ability and the audience’s intelligence but it also breaks up any kind of suspense that the story is attempting to present. After the Doctor’s face whitens as he realizes when and where he is I can figure out that something bads is going to happen. The inclusion of the first ‘news flash’ moment is unwanted… several additional such moments are positively obnoxious and belabor the point. Director Grahame Harper has given Whovians several stand-out episodes both in the new and classic series but faced with an inferior script and an apparent lack of budget (we saw lots of black empty hallways and the same gasworks from Voyage of the Damned), the end result is very uneven. The inclusion of ‘funny robot’ Gadget was not only stupid but entirely unnecessary as it added nothing to the plot. I have nothing against quirky characters but they need to be given space to develop. Gadget was a one-off joke, and a poor one at that.

I will say that having the Doctor suddenly realize that he need not obey the laws of time as he is the only surviving Timelord was a very provocative idea. I had often explained to friends that the ‘laws of time’ are more like laws of traffic than observed laws of science… but apparently I was wrong. Despite the Doctor’s burst of egotism and downright hubris he cannot change what has occurred in the timeline. Unfortunately, the Doctor’s ‘realization’ is accompanied by an embarrassing performance from Tennant and over the top music, even by Murray Gold’s usual obnoxious standard. It was a valiant attempt at introducing something new to the program as well as furthering Doctor No. 10’s journey but in the end it got lost in translation due to the low expectations that the program has on the audience’s ability to comprehend basic ideas.

The plot-thread of preserving Adelaide Brooke’s influence over space travel could have been an interesting one if the script did not hammer it home every chance that it got. In itself it’s a great idea but the execution treats the viewer as if s/he has some kind of short-term memory disorder. To prove my point, the program re-enacts a flash-back rather than relying on the acting ability of Tennant and Duncan. The short sequence of the child actress seeing a Dalek is completely unnecessary unless it used the murderous pepper pots in some way. Having the Doctor not only cite her as significant to the whole if creation including a chance encounter with a Dalek, but profess love to Adelaide Brooke was entirely over-the-top. The only real pay-off to this plot is that Adelaide kills herself in the end to ‘preserve the timeline’ however that makes no sense as she was regaled as a hero for making a noble sacrifice in space. Putting a ray gun to her head in her home on Earth is not exactly going to inspire anyone to do much of anything useful… and exactly how did the populace react to three people spontaneously travelling from Mars to Earth?

Instead of Adelaide, why not instead have space exploration start due to Ed Gold’s noble sacrifice made while exploding the escape craft while he was still on board? That would also fit in with Adelaide’s argument that the Doctor doesn’t get to decide who ‘the little people’ are. It would also justify Gold’s begrudging statements of envy during the episode, giving a reason behind his statement that his boss never let him live up to his full potential.

So in the end, this was an improvement on the previous special ‘Planet of the Dead’ but that doesn’t make it a stunner. There are several great ideas in this one but they fail to live up to their potential, making this yet another adventure that misses the mark..

Merry Christmas, Doctor

David Morrisey as 'The Other Doctor'

David Morrisey as 'The Other Doctor'

I was working on a review of the 2009 Easter Special and I realized that I never got around to reviewing the 2008 Christmas Special. So I ask that you excuse the lateness of this review.

On the off chance that you have not seen the episode yet, read no further because plot details will be revealed.

Yes, this is a SPOILER WARNING.

The build-up to this special was especially intense as the title ‘The Next Doctor,’ hinted at some big changes ahead for the show. With a relatively major star cast as the ‘Other Doctor,’ and Tennant’s recent announcement of departure, it was on everyone’s mind that this may indeed be a regeneration story. As it turns out, that was not the case, making the title completely nonsensical if you think about it. I mean, Morrisey’s character wasn’t a Doctor at all, so why the title?

In any case, the predictably routine opening sees the Doctor basking in the magic of a BBC period set, just gushing over the whimsical splendor of things that we humans take for granted. This bliss is cut short as he hears a cry for help. He dashes off (complete with overly dramatic fanfare courtesy of Murray Gold’s orchestra) to meet the fright-wig wearing Rosaita who strangely has the exact same accent as Rose and Martha and Donna. So even though the story takes place in a different time, the females have the same accent. Just an odd observation. The episode then introduces the one positive thing it has to offer, the guest star David Morrisey.

As readers may have noticed and been kind to agree to disagree with me in places, I have a very specific idea of what makes a ‘proper’ Doctor. In this respect, Morrisey hits all the right buttons for me. Noble, classy, intelligent, brave and mature this character is also dressed in a period costume, a nod to both William Hartnell’s era and the more recent Paul McGann. I understand that all of this pretense was no doubt directed at fans like myself. Fair enough. Even Tennant seems taken with him and immediately figures that this guy is some future version of himself and tries his best to politely find out how he ‘died’ leading to an 11th incarnation, but this just confuses Morrisey’s character.

Nevertheless, the pair of adventurers decide to team up to defeat the menace posed by the Cybermen. I should note that this particular attack of the Cybermen has to be its single goofiest attempt at conquest. Monsters that look like muppets with Cybermen heads attached are meant to be menacing and even roar (just like Cybermen roar) yet I couldn’t help but bust a gut every time they showed up.

Davids Morrisey and Tennant share the spotlight

Davids Morrisey and Tennant share the spotlight

This character who so brazenly enters the world of Doctor is later revealed to be Jackson Lake, a normal human who was exposed to a data storage device. The device was loaded with all of the information on the Doctor and it ‘went off’ in Morrisey’s face, causing him to ‘download’ all of the information and somehow think that he was the Doctor. The flashback to this moment featuring vintage footage of each Doctor from the old program is both heartwarming and annoying. It’s nice to see the old faces but I have to repeat myself by saying that this version of Doctor Who has so little in common with the classic series that trying to link the two never feels right to me.

Nevertheless, the devious villainess Miss Hartegan played with gusto by Dervla Kirwan (of Randal and Hopkirk, Deceased), adds a certain element of classic Who to the program. Hartegan is working with the Cybermen in a rather classic misunderstanding that has been played out in most every Cybermen story. Hartegan thinks that she can use the Cybermen to further her own goals while the Cybermen are in fact using her for theirs. Unfortunately RTD establishes this “I’m terribly evil” character type and stops right there, leaving Kirwan little to do other than strut theatrically about in her red frock and spout hastily-written feminist dogma around. The fact that she is placed in the center of ‘the Cyber King’ is both silly and nonsensical. The episode has spent the entire episode establishing how strong-willed Miss Hartegan is, so why do the Cybermen think they can control her? Is this some kind of misogynystic statement of the series? Probably not.

There is a last minute inclusion of child labor that is unintentionally hilarious as the cast of as grade school production of Oliver! is paraded through town to a factory where the Cybermen are doing something… terribly unexplained. The children are ‘enslaved’ for all of 5 minutes tops before Jackson Lake and the Doctor liberate them, yet the audience is somehow expected to well up with emotion about this. It’s the one major failing of the Special and for me… that’s pretty good.

A light-hearted special with some dodgy special effects and a series of excessively long dramatic moments centered on the Doctor’s hair and a young ashen-faced child actor’s long eyelashes, this could be the best holiday special the new series has to offer.

Don’t worry, I’m about to finish ‘Planet of the Dead’ and get back to my normal cranky self.

Doctor Who- Planet of the Dead trailer

The official trailer for the Easter 2009 Doctor Who special has finally been released… start salivating…

who-easterFilmed in Dubai, the latest special introduces new companion Lady Christina de Souza (played by the Bionic Woman’s Michele Ryan) and two new alien races.

The new special will air on BBC2 in the U.K. on the 11th of April. No news on as stateside screening so get hunting for those torrents!

This will be the first of 4 specials as the 10th Doctor’s era comes to a close.

Star David Tennant stated that he has spoken to his replacement, the youngest actor cast to play the central role, Matt Smith, and that he had no words of advice for his successor.

“We did chat on the phone. And we may well again, I suppose. But there’s nothing to say. He’ll do it his own way.

“He’s too good and too interesting an actor to want to know from anyone else how to do it.

“He’s quite a natty dresser, is Matt. They may have to tone him down, actually. He’s quite wacky. In a very stylish way, of course. He makes me feel old.”

Tennant said that he doesn’t expect any fancy gifts, but wouldn’t mind a souvenir from the show.  “A sonic screwdriver would be nice. But there’s only two. And they’re worth a fortune.”

Honestly, Tennant has gotten so intimate with the prop… who else would want it?

doctor_who___david_tennant_by_jennicat5

Ergh…

Doctor Who – a moment of silence- Series 4 finale

I ask now for a moment of silence for the series finale of Doctor Who season 4… the worst abomination to hit the screens in the last two weeks.

The one before that was also Doctor Who.

After I compose myself I’ll have more to say.

Update 4/15/10

Billie Piper shows off her new teeth in 'The Stolen Earth'

The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End

A story with the return of Davros (played amazingly by Julian Bleach), an army of Daleks, a weapon designed to destroy reality and some of the most impressive visuals ever seen on Doctor Who… what’s not to like? In short, everything that doesn’t fit into the above description.

Since it has been some time since these episodes were shown, I won’t waste time relaying the plot. After two years of pining and moping, Rose Tyler has finally returned. For some bizarre reason, RTD has made Rose into a character just as important as the Doctor.

This has confused me since the onset until I read the definition of the term ‘Mary Sue.’ It’s a device that a writer (mainly in fan fiction) uses when s/he cannot get into a main character and instead introduces a new character through which s/he can tell their story. Whereas the traditional hero would normally save the day, the writer’s new creation Mary Sue somehow steals the show and becomes the most important character in the story. The earmarks of this were in place from the first episode of the new Doctor Who, predictable entitled ‘Rose’ in which Rose Tyler, a seemingly normal shop girl becomes the only human worthy of traveling with the Doctor, the defender of all time and space.

For the record, I don’t object to the initial idea as the pay off is satisfying. Rose Tyler merges with the time/space vortex and erases the Daleks, thus doing what the Doctor could not. It’s an odd decision but it works in the firmly cemented constraints placed by Davies.

The problem arises when Tyler survives the ordeal and stays with the newly regenerated Doctor. At first she finds the new Doctor to be strange and untrustworthy but very quickly becomes fond of him, so fond in fact that she falls in deep never-ending pop-song-induced love with him.

The chemistry of Piper and Eccleston was very clear, but she and Tennant are always awkward, making any intense romance between the two forced, laughable and unnecessary. However, Davies painted himself into a corner with the love story and decided rather than wrapping it up to just string viewers along for two more years, presenting moments of love-lorn sadness from the Doctor in series 3 and desperate attempts dropped into stories in series 4 as Rose tries to grab the Doctor’s attention. Both were obscenely obnoxious and ruined any chance of drama in the individual episodes. It’s also terribly out of character for the Doctor to pine after anybody, especially Rose. Affection is one thing, but what we are presented with is a near epic love more powerful than any other in tones more suitable for tween drama or anime.

In The Stolen Earth, we finally see the Shadow Proclamation, an intergalactic police force first mention in ‘Rose.’ This is a stalling tactic just as much as the TV commentators and video conferencing used in the second part and just extends an already bloated story into two very long parts. Throughout the fourth series, hints have been given that things are not as they should be, including some nonsense about bees disappearing (who notices bees disappearing??). All of these vague hints are somehow tied into Davros’ master plan to destroy all of reality while the Doctor watches.

The story of The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End wraps up several plot ideas that RTD had begun in 2005’s series 1. It also bridges into the two spin-offs that Davies helmed ‘The Sarah Jane Smith Adventures’ and ‘Torchwood.’ When I say that it bridges all three programs, I mean that the characters appear in video conferences. This has to be the laziest and most indulgent thing I have ever seen Davies do. The drama is forced and interrupted with sequences where TV announcers try and tell the viewer what is going on in a dramatic way.

Desperate to reach his companions, the Doctor travels to a pocket universe where the Earth has been moved and meets with Rose Tyler. It’s apparent almost immediately that Piper has had facial work done and her hair dyed canary yellow. The result is that she looks like a drag queen in a bright blue bomber jacket with a goofy ray gun. Davies’ need to present Rose as a kid of British Sigourney Weaver from Aliens mystifies and depresses me. If he could be bothered to build the idea that would be one thing but instead he just pushes it on the viewers and demands that we accept it despite the fact that it makes no sense. She’s a selfish superficial ‘ordinary’ girl with no real drive to save anyone she is not related to or in love with. That’s not a judgement, it’s a statement informed by the events presented in the program. Before Rose and the Doctor can embrace, he is shot by a Dalek. Dragged into the TARDIS, he starts to regenerate… then doesn’t.

Yeah… he just… doesn’t. Instead, he transfers the energy into a severed hand and creates a human clone. Of course.

The second part uses one of RTD’s favorite narrative shortcuts, the news anchor telling the viewer what is happening. The first time, it worked as the story ‘Aliens of London’ was all about the reaction of a publicized alien invasion rather than a secret one. Since that time it has been so lazy that I have heard Tranformers director Michael Bay thought it was a bit much. The TV device is so tired that it conveys nothing but the writer’s inability to both communicate ideas, tell a story and invoke any dramatic tension. It’s a mess of bombastic talking heads that looks amateurish.

The Doctor is captured by Davros (who looks absolutely gob-smacking, doesn’t he?) and spends the rest of the adventure being yelled at by the Dalek’s creator. It’s such bad television that it is absolutely absurd. Think of the end scene of Return of the Jedi only with no Darth Vader/Luke Skywalker fight. Instead you just get the Emperor yelling at Luke as he watches a screen of CGi space battles.

The clone created from the cut-off hand that has appeared in several stories since The Christmas Invasion is so uninspired and nonsensical that I still cannot believe it. It’s almost as lame as the Doctor deciding to not regenerate. All those other regenerations were presumably decisions that he made based on boredom?

The second part is so drawn out that I’m still stunned by it. Davros and the ‘crazy Dalek’ yell lines at each other while people communicate over video conference. Donna somehow gets the Doctor’s mind and activates a device conveniently right outside of the TARDIS that saves the day. Davros yells some more and all the Daleks are destroyed… again. There are some moments in the script that I am sure Davies felt proud of such as Davros’ declaration that he will reduce reality to dust and the that the Doctor takes regular people and turns them into soldiers but neither are used very well. For one thing, just how does destroying everything help anyone? For another, in what way are all of the Doctor’s companions transformed into soldiers? I understand that as a pacifist I am hampered at understanding the concept, but surely being a soldier involves more than just charging at a monster with a ray gun when your friend is in danger.

The plot thread of the Rose/Doctor story is wrapped up as Rose and the clone Doctor are left in their parallel reality that is so closed off forever that we have seen it a few times now. Rose is clearly upset that she cannot have the ‘real’ Doctor and sobs so much that everyone seems to feel awkward about it.

This romance thing is so weird and so amateurishly written.

Just imagine the third Doctor’s last story including a last minute inclusion of Katy Manning as Jo Grant and as he dies, the Doctor declares his undying love for her her. Actually, that I’d almost buy as the Doctor/Jo thing has been recognized by many as the closest the classic series Doctor came to love.

Enh… at least we’ll never hear about it again, right? Well… no. In Tennant’s final episode we see Rose AGAIN. Davies clearly has trouble with closure.

I’ve spouted a lot of venom at the RTD/Tennant era and it can all be sewn up pretty neatly in this two-parter. Davies sets up the opportunity for a major love letter to fans through the use of obscure characters such as Davros and then side-steps it to tell his unrequited love story. Unable to establish a threat, his plots lack dramatic tension and are therefore bombastic explosions of dialog and talking heads/crowd scenes. Unable to solve any of his plots, he instead includes ham-fisted solutions that fall into our hero’s lap, presented as whimsical fantasy.

The pluses are that Doctor Who has never been so successful at a time when it can reach so many people ready for such a weird form of science fiction. This means that the DVDs of the classic program that I enjoy so much are assured to continue, and I can buy an action figure of a Zygon. The Daleks look absolutely amazing. I cannot praise the design of  the new Doctor Who enough. The outer space sequences look great and the action is well crafted. It’s just a shame that the script cannot use these things to its advantage.

In short, I’m glad Davies is gone. He brought a lot of attention to Doctor Who, but also turned it into something it never was, a tween sensation. So far new producer Steven Moffatt has started the long haul back to any sense of credibility for Doctor Who and the indications are good that the program can recover, satisfying fans of the new and curmudgeony fans of the old program such as myself.

That I’d like to see.

Doctor Who- Midnight

Doctor Who – Series Four- Episode Ten- ‘Midnight’

The tenth episode of the 45th Anniversary Season of Doctor Who is one of the best stories so far… and still greatly disappointing. The addition of the outstanding Leslie Sharp (Naked, Clocking Off) and son of the second actor to play the Doctor, David Troughton (also seen in Curse of Peladon and The War Games) adds a lot to what should be an intense ‘nail-biter’ that ultimately falls flat due to the very nature of the program.

On a pleasure cruise through the mysterious terrain of the planet Midnight, the Doctor ends up stuck on a ‘bus/train’ with a load of characters who have a hard time trusting each other made that much more difficult when an alien presence attempts to cause trouble. The writing is fairly tight and the acting by Troughton, Sharp and even Tennant is quite good… but it’s just so very unbearable. It’s difficult, in short, to create an air of suspense when the program is constantly providing exposition for what is plainly happening on the screen. This is made even more annoying when Sharp‘s character echoes the dialog spoken by the other characters. It should be riveting, but due to the direction and embarrassingly poor acting from the other actors in the story it ends up being televised torture.

It’s a shame because this could have been a very inventive and interesting story, but instead it ends up being a waste of talent (in regards to Troughton and Sharp) and a waste in time (for the audience). This is yet another episode featuring stories that go nowhere (where have all the bees gone? where did the Doctor’s daughter go? and now what attacked the bus/train?) and I fear will never fully reach any kind of explanation. In a more sophisticated program, this could be seen as being obtuse, but in the case of Doctor Who, it’s another nail in the coffin of dignity for what used to be the most famous science fiction show in decades.

Doctor Who- ‘Journey’s End’ Trailer

Due to a BBC mix-up the trailer didn’t make it to the airwaves as planned, but here is the most anxiety-inducing ‘next time’ teaser that the new series has had so far.

Is The Doctor going to regenerate? What’s the deal with the hand in the jar? Which companion will die?

As I’ve theorized in the past there may already be a Doctor #11 played by David Morrissey, leading to an extra-special Two Doctor Christmas Special next year featuring David Tennant. This is all just speculation but with the current rumors that Tennant may not be in all of the specials next year and the visual of a regeneration scene in the trailer… it’s very possible isn’t it?

All will be answered next week!

Doctor Who- ‘Silence in the Library’ and ‘Forest of the Dead’

Doctor Who Series Four- Episodes Eight and Nine

After a so-so episode ‘The Doctor’s Daughter’ and possibly the worst hour on television ‘The Unicorn and the Wasp,’ I was losing hope for Doctor Who. While ‘The Doctor’s Daughter’ easily featured some of the best ideas in the series so far, they weren’t very well developed and I felt that the ending was more of a tease to yet another spin-off rather than a story that will be resolved by the end of the season (I’m still creeped out that Tennant is dating Georgia Moffet). ‘The Unicorn and the Wasp’ should be burned in a time machine so that it never happened to begin with but I will never forget the pain that I endured.

That said… thankfully we have this stunning Steven Moffat 2-parter to rest on. A planet-sized library, a tormented little girl who has a library in her head and an expedition investigating the disappearance of the Library’s population 100 years ago are all thrown at the viewer with such skill that I feel assured that the program will once again rise to the occasion when Moffat takes over… in two long years.

That said, there are some problems.

While he delivered a restrained performance last year, David Tennant seems to be absolutely manic this season. This might be down to the ‘wild and wacky’ slant that the series has taken, but it removes any dignity from the program as Tennant destroys his lines through gritted teeth that would have Sean Connery saying ‘Could you repeat that? It sounded like gibberish to me.’

The concept of someone from the future meeting the Doctor before he’s met them is just brilliant. It’s such an incredible idea that I’m shocked it’s never been done before. River Song is a startlingly refreshing character who is so great that it reminds me how rubbish and useless Donna is as a companion. The program seems to be aware of this and thinks its hilarious… which is another problem entirely.

The Vashta Nerada are a capable new Who monster much more interesting to look at than anything else and the first monster in a while that ambles along in the most un-threatening way that is so reminiscent of the Classic Doctor Who series. While the idea of monsters hiding in shadows is interesting, insinuating that they hide in all shadows is just plain silly. It’s this insistence to be so grand and vast that RTD clings to that makes me roll my eyes week after week. It’s not just the future, it’s the year three billion billion. It’s not just that shadow that hides a monster, it’s ALL shadows. The program has become so childlike in its expressiveness that it reads like a program specially made for the hard of understanding with Murray Gold stabbing away with music cues just in case you missed Tennant‘s buggy-eyed delivery of how amazing/scary something is.

I don’t want to layer it on too thick, but this 2 parter is so annoyingly close to being a classic that it’s flaws drives me nuts. For instance, it’s interesting that the little girl is really the heart of the library, but just plain stupid that it really has a little girl installed in it. Is there really a psychiatrist in the moon, too? What, they don’t have feelings?

In any case, over halfway through an awful season there is finally a decent episode. I should be grateful.

‘Silence in the Library’ premieres in the US tonight on the Sci-Fi Channel