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 – 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

Doctor Who and the Rumors in the Library

It’s been a big week for Doctor Who. With the announcement that Steven Moffat will be taking the reigns of producer after Russell T Davies departs and the arrival of part one of what has been called the new series’ finest story… the rumors below could trump all of these events.

(Hint: two of the rumors are false, the rest are true)

River Song sometimes shows The Doctor a little respect and asks him about erasure.

The Shadows have a proper vocalist that’s not Cliff Richard.

Doctor Moon challenges someone to a game of chess on which millions of lives depend.

The Shadows take hold of River Song’s diary and coerce The Doctor into using a gun because of what they discover.

A Gareth Gates-style affliction prevents Cupid from firing his arrow.
(Gates suffers from a stutter much the same way that Tennant’s Doctor finds difficulty in expressing his true feelings)

River Song tells The Doctor that he is not The Doctor.

The little girl destroys every idiot’s lantern to prevent the shadows seeping into present day Earth.

A familiar female face from the past returns to give Donna some advice.

Donna ties a very important knot.

The Doctor is stunned by something River Song whispers in his ear.

Given that this version of The Doctor has behaved in more of a ‘non -Doctor’ way than any past incarnation except maybe Doctor #6, I am crossing my fingers that the big revelation of the program as a whole will be that this is not really The Doctor at all, leaving Moffat a blank slate to start from. Sure, it may sting as a plot device and be very crass to the fans… but hasn’t the series as a whole been doing week to week?

Only time will tell, I suppose.

Doctor Who Series 4 finale trailer

Each year, Doctor Who takes a moment to renew interest in its viewers with a surprise trailer featuring glimpses of what is to come. Last year we got the return of The Master… this year looks like a veritable Holiday gift for fans consisting of the Daleks, Rose… and Davros??

Last seen in the Classic Doctor Who series story ‘Remembrance of the Daleks,’ Davros was created by writer Terry Nation as a more interesting mouth piece for the shrieking menaces. A maniacal genius bent on dominating all inferior lifeforms, Davros is a dark statement of technological advancement and xenophobia all mixed up in one mean package. One of the most powerful villains of the Classic Doctor Who series, the return of Davros marks the latest in producer Russell T Davies’ homages to the program he fell in love with as a kid.

But seeing what has become of the program this year, will it be enough to save the most uninspired season to date for the longest running science fiction television series?

Doctor Who and The Poison Sky

Doctor Who- Series Four- Episode Five

The Poison Sky

The new series has a very poor record of decent two parters, doesn’t it? In fact, out of the 2-parters so far only The Doctor Dances/Empty Child and maybe The Rise of The Cybermen/Age of Steel are any good if I’m being generous. In the past the problem has been a superb set up with a lot of running around and shouting on the conclusion (as seen in The Family of Blood), but in this case the first episode was so poor that the story had nowhere to go but to the very shallow end of the pool.

There seems to be some major misunderstanding with the Sontarans as being clones. They are, in fact, all clones bred from the same genetic stock. Yet this story displays the Sontarans as masters of cloning technology full stop. In the back of my head a hope glimmered that this may be a nod to the shape-shifting enemy of the Sontarans, the Rutans… but I quelled my hopes since this series has shown again and again that it is just not that clever. No, the Sontarans simply clone people yet leave the host body alive for some reason and also clone all the personality aspects that could get in the way of their plans (like compassion or the inability to kill in cold blood) and none of the useful bits (like any personality traits that would convince anyone who really knew the original that the clone was genuine and not a knock-off).

Brilliant military tacticians, eh?

It’s because of this that their Martha clone can do nothing but hit a ‘No’ button on her palm pilot while UNIT struggles to launch a worldwide nuclear attack on the Sontaran base ship hovering in place. It’s so silly and demeaning an act that my eyes nearly rolled out of my skull. The fact that The Doctor later revealed that he allowed this masquerade to take place because he was desperate for a way to halt the nuclear attack hardly helps.

The ‘comedic’ moment referencing ‘The Empty Child’ where The Doctor dons a gas mask and asks the Brigadier ‘Are you my mummy?’ was so jaw-droppingly horrid that my wife turned to me asking if it really happened. This kind of sending up of the program is killing any hope of the series having even a sliver of dignity left.

The subplot involving the child geniuses rears its ugly head and was so poorly developed in the first part that I was left wondering who these terrible young actors were and what they were doing in the show. As if to show them all how it’s really done, Ryan Sampson as Luke Rattigan overacts the lot of them and spends the rest of the story in a kind of over-acting haze. It’s truly the most magnificent display of terrible acting I’ve ever seen. Well done.

We are treated to extreme close-ups of newscasters reporting doom for humanity for the fourth time in as many years and it is extremely obnoxious and not at all engaging as a narrative device. Someone needs to tell RTD that this looked dated the first time he did it in 2005, it looks down right embarrassing now.

The Sontarans are undone by a last-minute plot contrivance weapon that is thrown together so quickly that it becomes rapidly apparent that the program just does not care of you can follow it anymore. A weapon that ‘ignites the atmosphere’ strikes me as a dubious way to save the planet (wouldn’t it start a planet-wide fire that is never extinguished?) yet seems to work out just fine… somehow.

The entire exhaustive experience plays out with Martha cramming her way back into the TARDIS with some reference to being engaged to be married… but what the hell? Off to adventures!

A poorly constructed, over-acting beast of a story, this ranks up there with last years Dalek 2-parter amongst the worst that the program has to offer. If this is the direction that Russell T Davies wants to take the program, I’m very happy that his days are numbered.

With viewing figures taking a very noticeable dive this week at 5.9 million viewers, giving it a 32.5% share of the total television audience… I’m not the only one.

Doctor Who is taking a break (mid-story???) this week on Sci-Fi in the United States but will return next week May 30th.

Doctor Who and The Sontaran Stratagem

Doctor Who- Series Four- Episode Four

The Sontaran Stratagem

Regarded as one of the more memorable of the Classic Series Doctor Who monsters, the Sontarans appeared in four stories battling four different incarnations of the Doctor. A race bred for battle, it was always more than a little disappointing when it was revealed that due to programming constraints and logistic issues with any given script, they were inevitably unable to kill much of anyone or even make it over a beach chair in some occasions.

In any case, the Sontarans were created by Robert Holmes (writer of classics such as Brain of Morbius, Talons of Weng Chiang, Deadly Assassin and Caves of Androzani to name just a few) and Bob was a genius of Who.

Rumored to return as early as Chris Eccleston‘s first series where he referenced the monsters in an interview, fans have been anxious for the inclusion of these monsters into the New Doctor Who mythos, high budget and all. Well… they look great. It’s a shame they appear in such a lousy story full of lost opportunities and bad plot ideas.

Essentially, this is another ‘Rise of the Cybermen’ situation, a story that featured the creation of the Cybermen, an alternate reality and the near death of the TARDIS all pushed aside so that we could concentrate on Rose‘s mum’s 40th birthday and a duplicate Mickey. This time around we are introduced to UNIT for the first time in decades and they make very little impact on anyone, the Doctor included. He is of course far more interested in reuniting with Martha Jones who now works for UNIT as a specialist.

The episode mainly shows us Sontarans floating in their spaceship talking to each other, UNIT doing nothing that Donna Noble cannot figure out for herself (thanks to the fact that she temped and therefore has unique knowledge of filing) and a painfully long segue involving Donna feinting a return to her family that was so drawn out (and in slow motion) that I thought I was hallucinating.

Despite the fact that The Young One’s Chris Ryan does a great job of delivering the character of Sontaran leader Staal, the episode has very little to do with him or the Sontarans at all. It’s all about Donna. It is this insistence of Davies‘ that the companions play such a large role in the program coupled with his inability to do anything of interest with them that is slowly killing the momentum of this program.

Well… that’s one of the problems, in any case.

The major plot involves a GPS system that removes all harmful emissions from all cars. What does GPS have to do with emissions control? Nothing, but never mind. The evil GPS system is systematically killing people by giving them bad directions… much like director Douglas Mackinnon killed my interest in this episode. The GPS MacGuffin leads the plot to a boy genius MacGuffin where the Doctor discovers that a fey and nubile brilliant boy has betrayed the human race to the Sontarans for no clear reason.

The kicker involves a finale where Donna‘s granddad is stuck in his car as it somehow emits toxic gas inside the locked vehicle while the Doctor does nothing at all useful. It’s actually a brilliant visual, the Doctor standing in the street dumbstruck as fumes whisp around him… but it’s also one of the stupidest ideas I’ve ever seen in Doctor Who.

Almost as dumb as the Daleks using game shows to destroy the human race, the threat of killer cars is much more at home in Monty Python than Doctor Who. This kind of twist was described by Davies as “irresistible” and “so very Doctor Who“. This idea of the commonplace being a threat as being quintessential to Doctor Who was probably caused by another Bob Holmes story, ‘Terror of the Autons’ featuring killer dolls, telephone cords and plastic chairs. However… that story is actually very good and unique in its depiction of seemingly harmless things turning out to be deadly and… it’s quite campy even by Doctor Who‘s standards.

A dreadful waste of a decent enough monster and very well done visual effects, this episode is another dud in a season of duds. I wonder what it could be building towards?

Doctor Who and the Sontaran Stratagem premieres in the US on the Sci-Fi Channel tonight

Doctor Who and The Planet of the Ood

Doctor Who- Series Four- Episode Three

Planet of the Ood

For those of you playing at home, the Ood first appeared in the excellent Season Two story, ‘Impossible Planet.’ A sympathetic psychic slave race, the Ood were used by a strange disembodied evil force living at the edge of a black hole hell bent on… it was never quite clear what its goal was… but luckily the Doctor and Rose stopped it!

Unable to save the Ood (I’m still screaming at the screen that the Doctor has a time machine), the Doctor clearly had a debt to pay the visually stunning alien race.

The production team must have felt the pangs of guilt as well because there is no clear reason why this story was made other than to bring the Ood back. To be honest, that’s fine with me. One of the more impressive aliens of the new series, the Ood look and sound very creepy and ‘classic’ Doctor Who… yet the story itself fails to deliver.

The problems start with the beginning where we see the Doctor and Donna sharing their exclamation pointed expositionary dialog (we’re on an alien planet! I can’t believe it! I grew up in the suburbs and here I am on an alien planet!!). This exchange of lines is so painfully drawn out that a death row inmate forced to watch this episode asked if the schedule could be stepped up a bit. The setting is quite stunning and it’s a change of pace to see the TARDIS land on an alien planet full of snow and ice.

The Doctor and Donna discover a dying Ood and are enthralled in a mystery. Say what you will about contrivance, but this is one of the few ‘classic series moments’ in this new Doctor Who… something that almost made me like this one. Nearby is a factory where Ood are processed and sold as slaves to Earth colonies. The Doctor and Donna sneak into the facility (after a brief ‘we’re not married’ joke that just never works) and soon find that things are not as innocent as the company Ood Operations would like people to think.

Given that the story opens with an enraged Ood and then a pathetic dying one, this is hardly a surprise. The story progresses at a painful pace as excellent guest star Tim McInnery (of Blackadder) acts in one scene steering the evil plot and the Doctor and Donna wander around the factory uncovering random plot points that don’t really connect. We discover that the Ood are born with their brains in their hands (not one person in a read-through laughed out loud at this??) and a gigantic brain has been housed in a secret storage facility for hundreds of years, trapped in an energy prison and thereby keeping the Ood prisoner.

This major plot point involving a giant brain fails miserably to connect up with the rest of the story. This is a shame, because the rest of the story is actually quite good. See, there is this splinter group of humans who call themselves ‘Friends of the Ood’ who have been working very patiently to free the aliens from slavery. One member of the group is the docile assistant Ood to McInnery‘s evil Halpen. While McInnery has been thinking that he was being fed hair tonic throughout the story, it was actually a fluid that was slowly turning him into an Ood. Okay, so that makes about as much sense as enslaving a race with a giant brain being kept in a warehouse. Yet the Friends of the Ood storyline is the best bit of this story.

Again the special effects department have risen to the occasion in producing very impressive masks, but the story itself is so flimsy and undercut by Tennant‘s uninspired performance and terrible Catherine Tate who still fails to bring anything to the program. During his second year as executive producer, Russell T Davies said that he was dead against setting stories on alien planets because it just looked cheap and unbelievable. This is very ironic because the stories set on other worlds have been quite good. Also ironic is that according to wikipedia, the initial drafts of this story by writer Keith Temple were deemed as being “too dark” and “too old Doctor Who.”

Many fans have highlighted similarities between this episode and the classic 1980’s serial ‘Revelation of the Daleks.’ Both take place on cold planets, both stories operate almost entirely independent to the Doctor and his companion and both stories have an unusual amount of violence and gun play.

Given a few tweaks in the right direction, this episode could have been quite good. As it happens, it’s only a slightly above par episode of a series that seems to be treading water at best. Next week, the return of the Sontarans.

Doctor Who -Planet of the Ood premieres in the US this Friday on the Sci-Fi Channel.