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 Season 3 concept artwork

Now that the long wait for Season Four of the BAFTA award winning show Doctor Who has set in, the BBC has decided to whet fandom’s appetite with the concept designs for Season Three.

I picked out a few that I thought were interesting because they differed from the final result or they had very little (if any screen-time), such as the Seal of Gallifrey.

Enjoy!

THE RUNAWAY BRIDE: Racnoss Empress

SMITH AND JONES: Burnt Sonic Screwdriver


DALEKS IN MAHATTAN: Dalek Console

HUMAN NATURE: Chameleon Arch

THE SOUND OF DRUMS: Saxon’s Ring

THE SOUND OF DRUMS: Time Lord Seal

THE SOUND OF DRUMS: Gallifrey Citadel

LAST OF THE TIME LORDS: Ancient Doctor

To view the full gallery, visit the official BBC Doctor Who website here

Doctor Who 3.13 Review and Series 3 rundown

The goofy Master pushes the aged Doctor 'round in a wheelchair

13. The Last of the Timelords

Oh, what wacky fun the apocalypse is, eh?

The episode opens with a One Year Later text that assures us the much anticipated ‘reset button’ resolution is coming our way.

By establishing an Earth where the Master has taken over completely and erected sculptures that look hauntingly similar to Dave Lister‘s statue from the Red Dwarf episode ‘Time Slides,’ you know that old Russel T Davies is going for the ‘it never happened cop-out.’

So… that leaves my best hope being that something interesting or at least partway entertaining will happen along the way. Oh dear.

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Doctor Who rumors

Rumor is that Martha Jones, the companion that only joined the Doctor a scant 12 weeks ago, will be taking a rest.

The story is a bit complicated (possibly due to the fact that while rumors abound for next year no one, not even the BBC Director-General, have seen this Saturday’s episode, the thrilling ‘Last of the Time Lords.’

The BBC has adopted this strangely secretive policy in regards to Doctor Who finales since the new program returned. Last year, the final shot of episode 12’s surprise villain was kept from the press entirely.

Piecing together what I’ve read, there will be a new companion introduced in the Kylie Minogue-fueled Christmas Day episode (already holding my sides in anticipation).

The BBC is making a big deal about this changing everything, so that probably means it’ll be a male companion. Not a first by a long shot, but the last true recurring companion (aside from the colorful Captain Jack or the wonderful Mickey) was Vislor Turlough back in 1983.

Many would say that’ll keep the will they/won’t they angle out of the program and I say ‘don’t hold your breath.’ I’m not being coy when I say that there is no reason to believe that the Doctor is heterosexual or any sexual orientation… he is after all an alien. The way he views relationships and sexuality is probably very different to a human beings… no matter how modern he or she is. As long as it furthers the plot, I’m okay with it.

The new companion will take the main focus of the show, leaving Martha to meet up with the Doctor as a recurring character, not a traveling companion. Apparently this is due to the fact that her love for the Doctor is not reciprocated so rather than hang about as she has all season looking mopey, she’s moving on.

You go, Martha. But we’ll miss you.

The rumor mill goes on to confirm (as much as rumors can) that both producer/writer Russel T. Davies will be moving on as will Doctor #10, David Tennant. In all my harshness of this year (mainly the Dalek 2-parter and this drawn out finale), I will say it is a stronger season than 2006’s stories. I have nothing but hope that 2008 will give David the send off that he deserves.

But I cannot lie that I’m anxious to hear about who’s next… that’s always the way, isn’t it?

Recommended viewing/reading:
Turlough and the Earthlink Dilemma (The Companions of Doctor Who)
Doctor Who A Celebration
Doctor Who – The Hand of Fear (Episode 87)

Doctor Who Last of the Timelords trailer

Doctor Who episode 3.13 ‘Last of the Timelords’ trailer

With the Doctor captured and humanity enslaved, the Master now rules the Earth. As a new Time Lord empire dawns, it’s up to Martha Jones to save the Earth in the last part of the third season finale.

… this Saturday.

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Top Master stories at Amazon:
Doctor Who – Logopolis (Episode 116)
Doctor Who – Castrovalva (Episode 117)
Doctor Who – The Mark of the Rani (Episode 140)
Doctor Who – Survival (Episode 159)

Doctor Who Season 3 episode 12

What is he looking for, dignity?

What is he looking for, dignity?

Why did I start reviewing this series?Now I have to come up with things to say about this episode, running the risk of actually remembering 45 painful minutes that will no longer innocently lie in the land of ‘what could be’ as I awaited the 2nd part of the 3 part season finale.

Firstly, let me return John Simm into the hero Sam from the incredible series Life on Mars.

sam_leather_357x5xx

There… that’s better. I like that show. Best UK TV program I’d seen in ages. Season 2 will be airing on BBC America this summer they say.

Oh right… I have this episode Doctor Who to review.

12. The Sound of Drums

Part 2 of the 3 parter finale begins with our heroes warping into view via an escape that we then flashback to. The first sign that this is going to be a rough ride. Showing the audience the result of an event that you immediately flashback to… sigh.

We are then thrust into the arms of John Simm. When I first heard that Simm was appearing in the series, I was very excited. A capable actor, he would surely bring out the best in Tennant and the show in general. How wrong I was. Simm delivers… how can I put this… a terrible performances designed, so it seems, as a send-up to Tennant‘s ‘whee look at me!!!’ Doctor.

The Master implants the bass line to the Doctor Who theme tune into every cellular phone to hypnotize the planet and aquire the position of British Prime Minister.

That is what he did, right?

John Simm then mistakes the role of the Master for Jim Carey impersonator and prances like a fool uttering lines of dialogue that make me dislike him more with every scene he is in.

This should not happen.

As I explained earlier, I like John Simm a lot.

But the script, direction, editing and camera angles are so dire and painful that his portrayal of the Master allows Eric Roberts’ performance in the forgettable Fox TV Movie to climb up a rank from it’s former ‘worst Master ever’ position.

The plot is almost entirely a ‘wait until next week’ affair with aliens that are not explained, a massive McGuffin called the paradox machine that is not explained and a gigantic cliff hanger that can only be resolved with the dreaded ‘magic button press’ that we as an audience have come to expect from the new Doctor Who program.

The conclusion involves an artificially aged Doctor which is a very interesting idea (so interesting that RTD nicked it from the Classic Series episode the Leisure Hive), an unexplained alien invasion (what do you think is inside the spheres??), and a villain taking the Doctor‘s place as the ‘waltzing victor.’

Y’know what I mean… the scenes where Tennant leisurely waltzes around the room while anyone could stop him but instead they all wait for him to finish talking. In this instance it was Simm as the Master who casually provided exposition and ordered the decimation of the entire human race while no one raised a finger to stop him. Saying that his ‘drum machine’ hypnotic tech stopped anyone from standing in his way is defeated by the hordes of humans on the planet running in fear and Martha who has no real reason to not be enthralled by the Master defiantly declaring that she will stop him.

Let me pause to say that I thought I was having a very bad trip when ‘Voodoo Child’ boomed out of my speakers and the heavens tore open. I understand RTD had to have three extra pairs of underwear on hand in the studio to contain his glee from this moment.

I experienced what survivors of disasters must call trauma.

The only real pay off to this episode is, of course, lovely Martha. Next week it looks like her show which I am in full approval of. Yet I smell a ‘tragic finale’ where her magic button press will eliminate her ever meeting the Doctor and the entire season.

I should be so lucky to have forgotten this season. It began quite well and had glimmers of goodness, but in the end it’s another bead in Russel T Davies’ necklace of missed opportunities.

I dislike being so negative about this series. I really enjoy Doctor Who, but this program is just… not Doctor Who.

The series I watched before 2005 was silly and oftentimes just plain boring (I use many Peter Davison tapes to cure my insomnia when I have it) but it never made me sigh with sadness thinking ‘why did they do that??’ while watching it.

I maintain that it can be saved by a new production team and from the frenzied pace and energy of this week’s half-baked attempt at story telling, I can only hope that Russel T Davies is done with Doctor Who and someone else can take over.

But then I thought I’d enjoy tonight’s episode, so I better not bank too much on that hope.

So while we wait a week for the finale, I’d like to open it up to the readers:

What is inside the spheres?

The Master offers a hint that if the Doctor knew, it would surely break his hearts, so… what is it?

  1. The Timelords
  2. The Daleks
  3. The people from the parallel world last seen in Doomsday
  4. The Futurekind
  5. Earthlings from the future on their way to Utopia
  6. Other (come on, give me a clue!)

My vote is for 3 because of the constant build up this season of Rose (every episode the Doctor harps on her and Martha pouts) and the irony that Martha saves the day and as a bi-product never meets the Doctor thanks to the Paradox Machine.

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Doctor Who Season 3, Episodes 10 and 11

10. Blink

Each season, so they say, we are treated to a ‘Doctor-less’ off-beat episode. Last year we had the horrendous ‘Love & Monsters,’ this year we get a story about time travel logic called ‘Blink.’

The gorgeous Carey Mulligan (of the recent obligatory Jane Austen film ‘Pride and Prejudice’) stars as Sally Sparrow in this story as a kind of adventurer looking into a haunted house. Turns out the house was apparently waiting for her as it contains messages directed to her underneath the faded wallpaper. Spooked by this, she calls in her good friend Kathy Nightingale to investigate. Their fun-loving attitude in the face of danger quickly changes when Sally is distracted by a visitor and Kathy is inexplicable transported to Hull in 1920.

Added to the absurdity of all this is the visitor at the front door, Kathy‘s son who swore to deliver a package to Sally on the exact moment she was whisked away in time.

The whole episode is like this… a brilliant opportunity to take the concept of time travel and actually do something with it, a trick that Doctor Who uses in surprisingly rare instances.

Not sure what else to do, Sally delivers a message to Kathy‘s brother Larry that Kathy is safe and that she loves him. This does little to allay Larry‘s suspicions.

While visiting the DVD shop where he works, she finds that he is watching DVD footage of the Doctor… apparently talking to her when the track is unfrozen. Larry assures her that it’s completely a mysterious fluke found of a select set of random DVDs.

Sally is now very anxiously looking for answers connected to the old haunted house and ends up meeting a very charming Detective Inspector Billy Shipton who shows her his strange collection of artifacts connected to the house, including the Doctor‘s Time Machine, the TARDIS. Billy ends up getting zapped into 1969 where he meets an almost annoyed Doctor who is stranded in time.

The next time Sally and Billy meet, the Detective Inspector is on his death bed delivering a message to Sally, the DVDs are not random, they are the only DVDs she owns.
Sally finally assembles all the pieces of the puzzle by watching the DVD Doctor footage recorded in 1969 (with some genuinely hilarious moments from Larry in the script ‘the Angels took the Blue Box! I love that one, I have a T-Shirt that says that!‘), unlocking a bizarre mystery involving creatures called Weeping Angels that turn to stone on sight. Their only hope is to catch their prey unawares. They then zap the victim backwards in time and feed off of the residual time energy. Larry and Sally trick the creatures into looking into each others eyes and save the day.

The epilogue features Sally and Larry co-running the DVD shop (which now sells rare books as well). In a brilliant move, Sally intercepts the Doctor and Martha who are in the middle of some other never explained adventure and passes on the vital collection of notes she’s made which allow the Doctor to enact his brilliant escape plan in 1969.

If only every ‘offbeat’ episode could feature Sally Sparrow, I’d be a happy man.

The plot has a few logistical holes… such as what was Sally doing in the house in the first place, but it’s such a clever episode that I let it go. A top notch tale with lots of intelligence and genuine horror… I almost forgot what program I was watching… again.

11. Utopia

This is the one people will be talking about for a while. That’s a shame because in effect it can be summarized in a single sentence, ‘The Master returns!’

Ofcourse… given that the character has not been since since 1989 (unless you count the Fox TV movie which most fans, the current series producer included, don’t even believe is actually a recognized Doctor Who story), that simple statement is not actually going to matter much.

Oh well. Um… the rest of the episode involve Captain Jack (a character last seen two years ago in Doctor Who unless you caught him in Torchwood), the end of time, a race of mutated humans called Futurekind which sound more exciting than they are and a big big rocket too big and expensive to be seen in the actual episode.

Sir Derek Jacobi delivers one of the most accomplished and ultimately chilling performances of the series as Professor Yana, a mysterious well-meaning scientist using technology the Doctor can only pretend to understand.

It’s not until all of the characters are distracted with the launching of the rocket that Martha notices the Professor‘s pocket watch, which is identical to the one the Doctor used in Human Nature to turn human.

When she tries to explain this to the Doctor, all Hell breaks loose and he realizes who Yana is. While the Time War (first mentioned two years ago) eliminated all of the Time Lords except for the Doctor… one of those Time Lords sought a brilliant escape using the same idea the Doctor hit upon earlier in the season. He became human until a key moment.

As soon as Yana opens the pocket watch, my grin (absent most of this year while watching Doctor Who) nearly split my face in half.

With the Doctor‘s most fiendish villain back in the game, he is completely terrified.

Introduced in Jon Pertwee’s second season as the Doctor in 1971, The Master is the one villain who showed how powerful he is by simply playing with the Doctor. His cunning plans have involved working with the Nestene Consciousness to invade the Earth (Terror of the Autons), developing an intergalactic war between the Earth and Draconian Empires (Frontier in Space) and developing an intricate city out of pure imagination to trap the newly regenerated Doctor (Castrovalva).

A scheming and plotting mincer, the Master has long been the ying to the Doctor‘s yang, the absolute dark mirror to our hero’s intentions. Played now by six different actors (though Roger Delgado and Anthony Ainley are most directly associated with the character). The sound bites of Ainley and Delgado as voices in Jacobi‘s head was an amazing idea that played out well.

I particularly liked the little laugh he gave when checking the star chart, ‘Utopia?… pfah!’ indicating that it was all a ruse to destroy the human race for all? Probably.


I must say, given how glib and unbeatable Tennant’s Doctor has been (I mean, he waltzes all around the Daleks and Cybermen at this point, completely unimpressed by them), it was nice to see him well and truly at a loss. His TARDIS hijacked by a now regenerated Master, the Doctor Jack and Martha wait for a horde of man-eating savages to tear through the doors and attack them.

Martha‘s ‘I know that voice’ is another nail in the coffin given that we now know that the Master has traveled back into the past beyond the beginning of season three to begin his political campaign as Prime Minister hopeful, Mister Saxon (Master No. Six).

I never thought the end-credit sting could make me so anxious to see the next part.

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Doctor Who Season 3-eps 7-9.

7. 42– Director Graeme Harper, the same man who gave us so many classics, such as; the best regeneration story to date, 1984’s ‘The Caves of Androzani’ and the best 80’s Dalek story, ‘Revelation of the Daleks,’ the two-part Cybermen story of 2005, ‘Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel’ and that year’s explosive finale, ‘Doomsday’… returns to work on a gimmicky and so-so story.

There’s no justice, is there?

The Doctor and Martha land on a spacecraft that is plummeting towards a sun. The story is hampered with the ‘real time’ gimmick that our heroes must solve the problem witin the 42 minutes of the program’s run time (I have no idea how this will play out when it gets edited for US transmission). Throw into this frantic pace the charismatic crew that have so little time to register that I’m still struggling to figure out what program so-and-so is from by the time he or she is killed or drenched in red light and sweat.

Martha is hurled into a sub-plot as she and a nameless sweaty technician attempt to hack their way through a series of doors protected by questions programmed by the crew during an all-night drink-up. While it’s not a bad concept, it plays out as an embarrassing conceit that works against the program’s futuristic setting (why would they care about who had more #1’s out of the Beatles and Elvis?). It’s such a lame idea that even the Doctor can’t be bothered and Martha has to phone her mum who is still trying to talk her out of traveling with the Doctor because of info fed to her by the evil camp of PM-hopeful Mr. Saxon.

Add to this pacey runaround a possessed crewman who is killing off the crew by raising his visor and saying ‘Burn with me’ and you’ve got one of the most contrived Doctor Who stories to date.

It’s like the production team thought ‘we need to introduce a moody villain with a catchphrase in every other story.’ It ends up making the program seem far sillier and less imaginative than it needs to be.

The phrase ‘burn with me’ is hardly even a clue to the solution of the problem, it’s just an evil phrase. The possessed men might have instead saaid ‘Oooga-booga’ with about as much meaning.

All of this aside, it does look wonderful. The CGI ship, the sun and the possessed ‘effect’ are all great visuals. The acting is top notch and the cinematography is outstanding. The set is almost identical to last year’s ‘Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit’ which reduces the program’s already slim margin of impact. In fact, I had to remind myself what happened in this story before writing the review.

Martha spends some time trapped in a life pod with some nameless very polite guy and decides to call her mum which seems very odd considering both of them are very… up for it. This continues the ‘Martha loves the Doctor‘ storyline and throws a few extra minutes into the ‘Mr. Saxon’ storyline which is clever but perhaps not as well told as it should be.

I feel there should be a little inset image of John Simm in the bottom of the screen every time Saxon gets mentioned. The Saxon threat is so disembodied, that it’s difficult to pay attention to it.

The Doctor goes through perhaps his most harrowing experience as he is possessed and almost driven to tears with fear that he’ll hurt the crew. It’s a character defining moment that Tennant pulls off with aplomb. The conclusion involves lots of shouting and a button push to release the sentient energy that the ship scooped up and the trouble is over.

Not the most memorable episode, 42 did have lots of style and character. I still say that Harper saved a lame script, but at least the conclusion did not involve the Doctor waltzing in front of the villain and pressing a button to end the threat.

8. Human Nature- The beginning of season 3’s second 2-parter is intelligent, well-written and full of so much character and mood that I almost had to make sure I was watching the new Doctor Who.

Based on Paul Cornell‘s novel of the same name, Human Nature is constantly threatened by the book/TV problem. While fans of the book will be frustrated with some changes and relieved at others, the bigger problem is the premise of the book versus that used in the televised story.

In the novel, the 7th Doctor had become a manipulative and distant character who had alienated his longtime companion Ace. Depressed and doubting himself, he creates a fake persona and ditches his Timelord life in order to become human.

In the TV version, the Doctor and Martha narrowly escape into the TARDIS with a quartet of raygun-happy aliens on their tail. In a desperate attempt to fool them, the Doctor hides in the human guise of teacher John Smith (using a device eluded to in the very first episode of season 3… for no real reason) and orders Martha to look after him in this weakened state.

Regardless of the problems with the premise the story is masterfully told.

Full of wonderful scenes with Jessica Stevenson as Joan Redfern romancing John Smith and Martha frantically trying to watch his back while playing along with his fake life, Human Nature is probably the best episode of the new series. The Family of Blood themselves are damned creepy villains which are unfortunately made to appear less that threatening by the inclusion of an army of scarecrows.

Lots of little moments, such as Martha and Jenny‘s interactions as maids, John Smith writing the Doctor‘s adventures out as a fiction and John Smith‘s discussion with the lively widow Ms. Redfern on the subject of the upcoming first World War (which Smith is training the students for) make this a special episode. Redfern‘s disgust at watching Smith train the boys on the use of a machine gun is an especially poignant scene. Her love for Smith is touched upon by her ability to see within him the potential for a better man to shine through, one who does not have to resort to violence or war.

The unexpected arrival of the Family of Blood causes Martha to jump into panic mode. She tries to release the true Doctor from the pocket watch hiding place only to discover that it’s missing. Her awkward argument with Smith only causes a rift to grow between the two of them as Smith considers this to be a misunderstanding of his diary. He attempts to point out to her that the diary is a fiction and this life a reality which only confuses and angers Martha more. She strikes him in an attempt to rouse his senses and only succeeds in cementing Smith‘s opinion of her.

Martha, in tears, realizes that she has lost the Doctor to Ms. Redfern and has no idea how to stop the aliens on her own.

The awkward and simple school boy, Latimer, took the watch earlier in the episode as it had been calling to him. A lonely character in a world girding its loins for war, I really want to like Latimer, but he ends up being a lost opportunity. The other school boys are portrayed as evil little kids formed into gangs with cruel intentions for the quiet and meek Latimer, who has a strange ability to read minds which only makes the boys hate him more.

It’s the character of Latimer that provides the episode’s first mis-step.

The young boy in the novel more or less ends up representing the Doctor‘s conscience. In the TV version, he finds the Doctor‘s true self hidden in a pocket watch and absorbs certain elements of the hero’s persona. These elements don’t really result in Latimer doing much of anything other than hiding out, giving the audience hope for a stunning and clever conclusion involving the pocket watch and boy.

Martha crashes the local dance that Redfern had been trying to get Smith to ask her to for the entire episode. She thrusts the sonic screwdriver in the Doctor‘s face in some kind of attempt to snap him out of his reverie.

This hammers the Doctor=sonic screwdriver premise into yet another episode. producer Russel T Davies was apparently traumatized as a young lad by a screw and has it in his head that his Doctor will act as a kind of cosmic revenge against this experience. This causes the sonic screwdriver to take on mystical abilities that solve every single problem and also makes the Doctor almost useless without it.

Added to this wrong-headed take on the Doctor is the very obvious perception that it looks like Martha just produced Smith‘s ‘personal massager’ in an attempt to out him in public. What exactly is anyone unfamiliar with Doctor Who to make of such a phallic device?

Think on that for a while.

The ending of the episode sees all of the characters lumped into one setting, a sure sign that the script which seemed so articulate at first, is in trouble.

The concluding part would prove how right I was.

9. The Family of Blood– The conclusion to what had been the most insightful and promising Doctor Who story since the program returned to the airwaves ended in tears… and the all-purpose run-a-round.

The Doctor, Redfern and Martha escape to the school as the Family of Blood yell at Smith to change back into the Doctor. Smith, who has no idea what is going on, freezes into a mask of confusion and terror. Gone is the thoughtful and perceptive character of part one. For the second part, we are treated to a bug-eyed character to foams at the mouth hollers at Martha and whimpers into Redfern‘s bosom.

The episode is full of so many ‘huh?’ moments that it stuns me.

  • There’s a shot of the little girl with the red balloon (in the book it smothered people like Rover from the Prisoner, in the TV version, it’s just a balloon), during which you can hear an audio cue from an earlier Doctor Who episode, ‘The Sea Devils.’ Why??
  • Right before the Family attacks the school, you can hear the scream of a soaring eagle (a la Comedy Central’s the Colbert Report).
  • Repeated shots of four shambling scarecrows are overlaid to give the impression of an oncoming army, but it goes on for ages and is so obviously one shot of four scarecrows digitally repeated that it causes laughter.
  • The boy soldiers who were so anxious to kill for King and Country  are overjoyed that their enemies are scarecrows and therefore not human… putting aside the puzzling ‘yes, but you’re being attacked by WALKING SCARECROWS!,’ there is the conundrum that the boys were more than happy to cut foreigners into burger meat last episode.

The immediate danger over, the boys disappear from the story and we are left with Redfern, Martha, and Smith hiding out in a country home. Latimer shows up with the pocketwatch and mumbles some nonsense about the Doctor being a terrifying force of the cosmos, full of fire and danger at the heart of time, but like Darth Vader before him, he is still a good friend.

There’s a cutaway to the Family in their spaceship and the bumbling Smith clambers in touching all kinds of buttons by the doorway before giving up the pocketwatch. When the Family discover the watch is empty, the Doctor straightens up and explains that it was all a trick and the buttons he pressed set the ship on self destruct.

Now… I’m a polite host… but if someone started messing with my thermostat or DVD player, I’d not only know what they were doing but I’d ask them to quit it. If I had a self destruct panel, I’d be sure to keep an eye on who messed with it (and not place it right inside the front door).

But that’s me.

So the stunning pay-off is a muddle of crossed intentions and ideas. The Family, a ruthless band of blood-thirsty killers was looking to steal the Doctor‘s Timelord energy or sommat and thereby become immortal. Like houseflies of space, they don’t live long, so the Doctor figured he’d mask his Timelord-i-ness for a bit and wait it out. When they find him he somehow grants them immortality and traps them in the most absurd traps that Virgil would scratch his head.

Putting aside the how of all this, the why is equally questionable. Surely the Doctor could have just done the buttony pressy thing without becoming human for a season, and how can he make someone immortal, especially if he didn’t want them to become immortal??

The Doctor then returns to visit Redfern to see how upset she is. He comments that Smith is very real and very much a part of him, but he will never become Smith again.

I’ve been on the dealing end of some harsh break-ups, but man…. that’s cold.

He also casually asks her to join him and she declines, angrily pointing out that all of the deaths caused by the Family of Blood are his responsibility. The Doctor has no defense for this and just… leaves.

He then rejoins Martha (whom he was just about to ‘dump’ for Redfern) and nips off for another adventure.

The audience is then treated to two epilogues…

First is a glimpse into Latimer‘s life at war where Murray Gold provides a whimsical and upbeat grand score, revealing war to be one exciting adventure. This scene then fades to a Memorial Service for the British soldiers who died for their country, with the Doctor and Martha standing by proudly (with a knowing nod to the now aged and wheelchair bound Latimer).

So… gone is the cleverness and mood of episode one, but also gone is the thoughtful theme touched upon on war being justifiable. Instead we are given Latimer’s adventures in explosion land and a ‘phew! we made it’ memorial.

It’s insulting to both veterans and to those young enough to be granted the philosophical debate over war.

While I enjoyed the novel and part one, this concluding episode sat in the back of my throat with all the bitterness of a stale cup of coffee.

This has become a mantra of mine for new Doctor Who episodes: “So much potential, ultimately wasted.” I’m boring myself saying it at this point.

In two weeks, the concluding three out of four episodes.

Doctor Who Season 3-Eps 4-6

So… for those of you just catching up (look here for the first part), this is a continuation of my review for Doctor Who Season 3 being shown in the UK.

In the last three episodes we got introduced to Martha, met Shakespeare and found out there’s another being like the Doctor out there somewhere. Oh, and the Doctor still misses Rose. Other things happened, but were greatly sidelined by these points.

The lack of fully developed stories is all thanks to producer Russel T Davies, who feels that the audience needs an emotional journey to hook them rather than a fully fleshed out story. So far this season, he has pretty much fulfilled that claim by sacrificing story telling opportunities in favor of emotion journeys. It’s not for me to say if this is a good or bad idea, as the ratings are high and the show is well received. Personally, I think he’s selling both the program and the viewers short.

Then again, I’ve watched the entire 26 odd years of Doctor Who programming, so I have more than a vested interest.

4. Daleks in Manhattan- No, I’m not being silly. That really is the title.

Seeing as how the Daleks have been in three episodes of the new series so far, it’s odd that there has not been a two part story yet. Looking at their previous new Who appearances; they got a deeply involved look in 2005’s ‘Dalek’, were a big-screen invasion force in ‘Parting of the Ways’ and returned to their state of biggest baddest monster ever in ‘Doomsday.’ But apart from ‘Dalek’, the monsters got side-lined each and every time for some ’emotional story’ or other on each episode. ‘Parting of the Ways’ and ‘Doomsday’ both centered on Rose. This is very strange since the Daleks are the most popular and recognizable monster in Doctor Who.

The only classic series stories that did featured a storyline beyond ‘stop the Daleks‘ are the 1984 tale ‘Revelation of the Daleks’ and the 1988 adventure ‘Remembrance of the Daleks’, both of which are highly regarded in their own ways. So, making a Dalek story not just about the Daleks can be done… so why does the new series get it so wrong?

The pre-credit sequence is by now a standard ‘unknown character gets attacked by a monster,’ but this time there is a twist. These characters, winners of the silliest accents of 2007- Laszlo and Tellulah, return to take over the entire story in part two. I had no idea.

Set in depression-era New York City, the first of the 2-part Dalek adventure continues the Martha/Doctor unrequited love storyline that has been developed so far. She points out that the Doctor has been taking Martha to every place he took Rose, something that the Doctor refuses to even comment on. The duo investigate disappearances in a flop town set in Central Park called Hooverville. Since the missing persons are unemployed and unwanted citizens, the NYPD could care less and it’s up to the Doctor and Martha to figure out where these people are going.

Protecting the citizens of Hooverville is Solomon (I suppose they passed on naming him Subtle), a wise and well-meaning man trying to make sure that his township functions on trust and does not dissolve into anarchy. Solomon and Hooverville are both really great and add a lot of meaning to a Doctor Who monster story.

Desperate for work, many of Hooverville are working for the sleazy businessman Diagoras on completing the Empire State Building. Diagoras, in turn, is working for a group of Daleks lead by Dalek Sec (last scene performing an ‘exit stage left’ routine in ‘Doomsday’). Aiding the Daleks are weird and never really explained pig-men. We are told that the pig-men are cast off experiments of the Daleks and slaves… but we never see them do anything other than run down tunnels squealing.

In fact, it appears that either Diagoras insists on using local labor or the mob-controlled Workers Unions of NY are terrifying even to alien killing machines.

The Diagoras and Hooverville stories finally intersect when the evil businessman arrives to ask for workers to help in the sewers. The Doctor, Martha, Solomon and a hilariously accented Tennessee boy, Frank.

Enter standard Doctor Who creeping about in dark tunnels scenes (which are a welcome breath of old air) followed by a standard being chased by monsters in tunnels scenes. Frank gets developed as an innocent young man looking for work and then gets captured and our heroes escape through a manhole to enter story A, Tellulah. How conveeeenient.

Here’s a short clip from the episode

Meanwhile the Daleks reveal that they are performing an experiment that is nutty even by their standards. They’ve torn off bits of themselves and attached the panels to the still unfinished tower atop the Empire State Building. Why? I dunno. Then Dalek Sec opens up his shell to apparently ‘eat’ Diagoras… which is a weird visual. Even the other Daleks have no idea what to make of this.

The finale involves musical numbers, Laszlo revealed as a pig man, Martha literally trying to upstage Tellulah who has now almost completely taken over the story and the Doctor discovers that the Daleks are alive and well and can also afford NY City rent.

The bastards.

The whole shebang ends with the reveal of what is admittedly the oddest visual ever on Doctor Who, a human/Dalek hybrid. In effect, a man in a nice tailored suit with a squid for a head.

For all its glitz and atmosphere… this is only a sub-par episode. Setting a story in New York of the 30’s is a very decent idea. Focusing on unemployment in the city of promise is another great idea. Taking that focus away to musical theater… not so good. Bringing back the Daleks so that they can stand around and talk to each other, another uninspired idea. Using monsters that ape the Nazi party, setting the story in a time when the Nazis were gaining power and then not having the Daleks meet Nazis… is so dumb I’m almost speechless. All things considered, Tennant was on good form and though Martha is almost forgotten, she’s still a star to me.
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Doctor Who Season 3-episodes 1-3

What has come before…

The return of Doctor Who to the airwaves is old news now. No longer a cult series but now a Hugo and BAFTA Award winning program, Doctor Who has not been this popular since William Hartnell held the role in the 60’s.

The premiere season of 2005 featured Christopher Eccleston as the Doctor, a strange and moody alien wanderer in time and space. His mission is to fight injustice wherever he finds it and push the human race forward so that they can reach their full potential. In the season finale, the Doctor sacrificed himself so that his deadliest enemy, the Daleks were wiped from existence and his companion Rose watched in shock as he changed forever into a new man.

With his Christmas Invasion debut as the 10th Doctor, David Tennant brought such life and vitality to the part that fans have not seen in ages. Gone were the deep thoughtful glances and inner turmoil of his predecessor, Chris Eccleston. Now we had the most animated version of the Doctor since Tom Baker. Waltzing around dangerous aliens set to destroy the planet, excitement over little things we humans take for granted and a fierce protective instinct for his companion.

2006’s Season Two saw the Doctor‘s relationship with the incumbent companion Rose ebb and grow until it was an over-current of the season. A veritable will they/won’t they situation was dashed to bits in a large scale dual invasion of the Daleks and Cybermen, leaving the possible lovers separated forever.

A gloomy Doctor then met an anxious wife-to-be played by comedic actress Catherine Tate and got his edge back in time to flush an entire race of spider-people into the center of the Earth.

That brings us to Season Three (still broadcasting as I type)…

David Tennant has been the Doctor for 15 episodes and has signed a contract making him the highest paid actor on British TV to play the part for two more years.

But the big change this year is new companion Martha Jones. Gone is Rose, the street-level shopgirl who became one with the forces of time and space. Her ‘replacement’ is a level-headed doctor-in-training at medical school. The first companion to scoff at the Doctor‘s title as being his name, Martha is a welcome addition to the show who plays to Tenant’s strengths. A unique and strong pair, this is a Doctor/companion duo that I’m more than happy to accept.

Freema and Tennnat - 'Smith' and Jones

1. Smith and Jones– In the series premier, Martha Jones is the center of attention. This is a good thing since the story is very light and makes no sense if you think about it for a minute or more.

In the opening, we see Martha struggling with both her family and divorced parents as well as her demanding superior at the hospital where she works. When an enigmatic and smart-talking patient enters the story, it’s just one more annoyance for her to work through. But that’s her strength; working through problems. While she’s not the best student or even the best daughter, she just muddles through it. This is what makes her the star of the episode. After a patient attacks the head of the hospital and the building itself is pulled to the moon, everyone freaks out… except for Martha.

sontaranIt doesn’t take long for her to team up with the Doctor to set things right… which involves lots of silliness from Tenant’s Doctor that just takes up screen time and makes little sense. His anti-radiation dance and ‘shoeless on the moon’ routine are both groan-inducing moments. He touches on charming at several points, but I give full marks to Martha for humoring him. The space cop Judoon are very well-designed and visually impressive, but otherwise forgettable and just poor imitations of previous monsters the Sontarans (left).

The plot dissolves into a run-around and hasty explanation of the last 42 odd minutes, leaving our heroes to get back to their lives. Almost as an afterthought the Doctor offers Martha an escape from the frustrations of her overbearing mother and frustrating family issues. Inside the TARDIS, the Doctor and Martha have an awkward exchange where the Doctor‘s long lost love Rose is mentioned and he insists that Martha is not a replacement for her.

Ofcourse she’s a replacement.

All in all, a promising start to the season. Full of impressive special effects and a new companion who breaths fresh life into the series, it gets full marks for getting me excited about the series once more.

2. The Shakespeare Code- The second episode involves a story that many are probably surprised has not happened before in Doctor Who‘s long history.

The Doctor meets Shakespeare.

Set directly after the play ‘Love’s Labors Lost‘ has finished its initial run, this episode features stunning effects work showing us England in Shakespeare‘s time and utilizes the BBC’s ability to produce period pieces to its fullest. Shakespeare is shown to be a sex-crazed ass who writes his plays of genius at the last minute. After the awkward conclusion of ‘Love’s Labors Lost’, he promises the audience a sequel which will make all right.

This is, for those of you not in the know, the story behind Shakespeare‘s lost play, ‘Love’s Labors Won.’

The Doctor meets his hero, but is sidelined for Martha, whom Shakespeare cannot resist, and who can blame him? The villains of the piece, three alien witches called the Carrionites, have a plot that involves manipulating Shakespeare into writing certain words into his play which, when spoken in the perfect resonator, the Globe Theatre, will open a portal and allow a race of weird alien witches to take over the world.

The resolution has Shakespeare, the Doctor and Martha recite a counter-line which closes the gate. The ‘incantation’ relies heavily on the Doctor‘s faith in Shakespeare as a master of words… including constellations of alien planets he’s never seen. The dodgy finale over, the Doctor and Martha narrowly escape the clutches of an enraged Queen Elizabeth to the safety of the TARDIS (apparently resulting from an adventure that has not yet happened) for another adventure.

Hailed as a high mark for season 3, this is only an average story in my opinion.

The Shakespeare jokes where he is constantly stealing bits of dialog from Martha and the Doctor… lines which are written by Shakespeare… only not yet… are far from funny and take up much of the episode.

This is a continuation of the new series problem with humor.

It THINKS it’s funny, but it seldom is.

The word magic of the Carrionites is also very interesting at first but sillier as the episode reaches its end. And the deepening romance between the Doctor and Martha is painful enough (the program has run for over 26 years without a single Doctor/companion romance and suddenly he’s going for whoever steps into his ship?), but made even worse when the Doctor is insistent on talking about Rose.

This Doctor in love with Martha angle is already tiresome.

Dean Lennox Kelly has a lot of fun playing Shakespeare, but we’ve already got a lead actor full of himself. If nothing else, this forces Tennant to reign in his manic performance for a change and deliver a more restrained version of the Doctor.

3. Gridlock- The third episode is a return to ‘New Earth,’ last seen in the premiere of Season 2, where the Face of Boe (from Season One) told the Doctor he had a great secret to lay on him. So in some ways, this is a loose trilogy.

The future city of New New York is very similar to anyone paying attention to Doctor Who v.2. It’s almost identical to the episode ‘The Long Game’ from Season One, where the Doctor is introducing his companion to what he expects to be a great and modern culture but is instead surprised to find that it has been replaced with gutter trash. In the Long Game, the reveal was junk food salesmen. In Gridlock, it’s emotion drug sellers.

If that doesn’t make sense to you now, you’re S.O.L. because it never gets explained fully.

All of the inhabitants of New Earth are either commuters or a drug addicts on the streets. The commuters are stuck in a perpetual gridlock (hence the title) from which there is no escape. When Martha is abducted by a couple trying to get into the faster lane reserved for larger groups, the Doctor dashes after her into a series of slapstick encounters with strange personalities. One of whom, a cat man, is played by Father Ted’s Dougal, Ardal O’Hanlon.

Not even this welcome addition to the cast can sell the unfunny gags including a litter of kittens delivered from a cat man and a human woman, and an aged Lesbian couple who obsessively watch the vehicular traffic on paper (thus enabling the Doctor to track down Martha).

Putting humor aside, Martha is the prisoner of a desperate couple who have unwittingly put themselves in great danger. Unknown to all, a fierce race of man-eating crabs are picking off anyone stubborn enough to get into ‘the fast lane’ which leads to instant death.

The rest of New Earth‘s populace are revealed to have been completely wiped out by a virus spread from an emotion drug, Bliss. Before you can ask how a drug can spread a virus, we are also told that The Face of Boe protected his cat nurse from the virus with his force field that no one had any idea he had.

If it’s not the bad humor that annoys me in new Doctor Who stories, it’s the way that one impossible problem is done away with by an impossible solution. I played with kids who pulled this kid of crap back in the day. If I could give producer and sometime writer Russel T. Davies a chocolate swirly for pulling it now, I would.

The Doctor finally (and reluctantly) meets up with The Face of Boe and finds his great secret is that he is not alone. A heavy message in that we’ve been beaten over the head with the constant reminder that he is ‘the Last of the Time Lords‘ in every episode. This is rumored to pay off in the season 3 finale.

The Doctor refuses to treat this message with any seriousness and also sees no reason to explain the implications to Martha, until she forces him to. He finally drops the manic facade and tells her of his home, Gallifrey. This is perhaps the most touching moment Tennant has had in the role since 2006’s The Girl In The Fireplace. Ofcourse the moment is cut off as the camera pans away… why we were not allowed to listen in on this conversation but were allowed to hear many other nonsensical moments in the story is a mystery to me.

In case you’re interested, the crab monsters are 1960’s characters, the Macra, last seen in the 1967 story, ‘The Macra Terror’ (not seen since ’67 since it was burnt to a crisp in the famous BBC junking of old programs). Even knowing this does not make this stinker of an episode any easier to watch.

A terrible and stupid story, Gridlock did feature some of the most impressive visual effects I’d seen in the show’s history. A breathtaking future city skyline, the Doctor hopping from flying cars like he’s Tom Cruise in Minority Report and the Macra themselves were all quite well done.

But the anti-drug message was so painfully lazy and ham-fisted that I desperately needed a drink after watching this one. While I am hard on this episode, I still found it entertaining. Perhaps it’s just the interesting visuals or getting to see Dougal again, but I found this easier to bear than the English degree silliness in episode 2.

After a good rest and drink, I’ll submit my reviews of the next three episodes, consisting of the two-parter Dalek story and The Lazarus Experiment.

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