I like a good western. And Toby Whithouse’s A Town Called Mercy is really rather brilliant. Genre episodes of Doctor Who work particularly well because, for a show that has to invent a whole new setting with each story, our common understanding and expectations provide a convenient peg on which to hang the actual narrative. Read the rest of this entry »
Well, Dinosaurs on a Spaceship certainly featured dinosaurs. On a spaceship.
Also, an Egyptian queen, a big game hunter, a small army of Ponds and Mitchell and Webb. But it’s an episode that’s less than the sum of its parts: getting a bunch of characters, and a bunch of story elements, and welding them all together (however slick) is the kind of thing you have to be Quentin Tarantino to get away with. Read the rest of this entry »
So was the secret kept or did it leak out? Being slightly spoiler-phobic I naturally avoid all but the mainstream Doctor Who news sites, and so I was not only unaware of the big surprise, I wasn’t even aware that there would be a big surprise. But in an episode I feared would be mired in the petering-out Pond storyline and dubiously dalek continuity, the excitement came flooding back. Read the rest of this entry »
I’ve always liked the idea that, while the Doctor’s life might never be routine, there must be ‘little’ adventures between the big, ever-more dramatic epics that are shared with us. Popping to the library (of Alexandria, perhaps), seeing a few wonders of the Universe, hanging out with Dizzee Rascal or running a few life-saving errands perhaps (just small ones). So one of the many pleasures of this series of (very) short vignettes from both the Doctor and Amy & Rory’s lives prior to Asylum of the Daleks is seeing what he gets up to, whether that’s surfing the fire floors of Floridor 9 or fixing the flashing light on top of the TARDIS. Read the rest of this entry »
There are few traditions I cling on to as we go through the annual festive routine. One is brandy butter. another, of course, is Doctor Who.
Since 2005 (with an exception during the year off) the Christmas episode has been the festival movie version of the show, part James Bond, part Frank Capra. This Narnish addition delivers the requisite holiday cheer, and the misjudged “comic” cameos and wooden techno-babble fail to spoil that. I chatted to @lone_locust about it for the @fusionpatrol podcast:
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Starting from scratch, and brand confidence: two reasons why Doctor Who fans… well, this Doctor Who fan at any rate… might be perturbed by this evening’s announcement concerning the development of a new big screen adaptation to be directed by the excellent David Yates.
I love the fact that Doctor Who is one big story that has run for 48 years, regenerating through genres, eras and styles with an unearthly youthfulness. It’s a shame that David Yates, who directed Paul Abbott’s superb political thriller State of Play and did wonderful things with the latter half of the Harry Potter franchise, feels that “Russell T. Davies and then Steven Moffat have done their own transformations, which were fantastic, but we have to put that aside and start from scratch.” This isn’t the first time this has happened: when the show found its first success it was just 2 years before a cinema version was released rebooting the TV continuity by making the Doctor human and recasting companions Ian, Barbara and Susan. Following the 2005 revival it’s taken 6 years to announce a movie, and it’ll apparently be a further 2 to 3 years in the planning. The first movie was successful enough to spawn a single sequel, presumably BBC Worldwide are banking on this one doing better than that. But even though this isn’t the first time a “fresh start” has been made with the Doctor Who concept, I find it difficult to get invested in. Compare this, to, say, the 1996 made for TV movie which despite being essentially a pilot for Fox in the US was so dedicated to the continuation of the original show it began with the regeneration of Sylvester McCoy (very probably to its detriment in terms of attracting new audiences). Despite the poor regard it seems to be held in, I still enjoy that far more than the Peter Cushing movies of the ’60s. I’d watch anything David Yates directed, but now the Doctor is back on TV there’s no additional appeal in it being a Doctor Who movie (perhaps the opposite, even). There’s something about the continuity of the show that means it will be judged on more than just how good a film it is.
The other reason to be fearful is what it says about the BBC’s confidence in Doctor Who that they’re willing to dilute the brand in this way. Since the early summer, Private Eye have been running stories filled with innuendo about the BBC’s slicing away at its commitment to the show, with the next 14 episodes commissioned to be spread far more thinly beyond 2012. Eminent Doctor-Who-ologist Matt Hills fears it might even mean suspending the TV series.
The concern is rooted in the fact that a large part of Doctor Who‘s current success is in its revenue raising merchandising and branded spin-offs, and to have two different versions of the show trying to cash in on the same market would be very… weird. So whether or not the TV series continues, to be contemplating a movie suggests that the BBC are willing to risk the TV series and everything it earns for them to take a punt on trying to break into blockbuster cinema. It seems an awfully long-shot to me, and I can’t escape the conclusion that the BBC no longer value the Doctor Who brand as highly as they did a couple of years ago.
I sincerely hope I’m wrong. We don’t want another charity single.
Photo: Doctor Who and a Dalek with the TARDIS by Camera Wences CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Three thousand years in the future, a time traveller meets someone. A woman. A woman he’s never met before, and yet who knows his name.
“There’s only one reason I would ever tell anyone my name. There’s only one time I could…”
Back in 22nd April 2011 the time traveller meets her again, for what should be the last time. It’s the end for The Doctor. Because she’s going to kill him.
Steven Moffatt is clearly not a writer who believes in giving himself an easy time. This is the only time a series of Doctor Who has ended with a single story, though in many ways it’s not a single story in the traditional sense, because this year the inevitable story arc has been woven strongly throughout all of the episodes he is written. In some ways it is the final episode of a five part serial, and an ambitious serial at that. It has to tell the story of the Doctor’s death: because we’ve seen him die, we know it is a fixed point in time. “Maybe he’s a clone or a duplicate or something?” No, that most certainly is The Doctor and he most certain is dead. Instead it provides a wonderful conclusion to the Silence in the Library story (rating 11/10) and cheats miserably when in resolving the Doctor’s death (rating 0/10).
As an entry in story focusing on the events of 22nd April 2011 it began well. We already know that there was the younger Doctor, last seen in A Christmas Carol and an older Doctor following from Closing Time each approaching the day from a different perspective. Stepping out of time, the alternate timeline Soothsayer Doctor proved an effective way of taking a slower, sidelong look at the potential consequences of the Doctor and River’s decisions in the fateful moment. The Doctor’s helplessness and desperation, River’s neediness, the hand fasting, the kiss; it all came together in a perfect point of inflection in the Melody/River continuity. I loved it.
After a series of Amy & Rory and then the Doctor fretting about his demise, turning the tables to make the Doctor’s goal in this story – his triumph – the bringing about of his own death was a superb device. Everything came together in a single moment on top of a a pyramid. Unfortunately, in the last five minutes, a switch was pulled that undermined not only the audacious opening two-parter but the climax of this episode itself: the teselector. Of course when the teselector shows up at the beginning of the episode I dismissed it. That would be cheating. “Maybe he’s a clone or a duplicate or something?” asks Amy, over the Doctor’s body, in The Impossible Astronaut. “Let me save you some time” says CEDIII. “That most certainly is The Doctor and he most certain is dead.” That’s the writer’s voice. That’s his promise: not a duplicate. Yet that is exactly what this is, regardless of whether there’s a miniature Doctor inside it. I rewatched the scene on top of the pyramid. Does it have the same emotional impact if you know that the Doctor didn’t really whisper his name; that it was the teselector that River kissed? Does it even make sense than they as opposite poles they short out the alternative timeline if River’s not really even touching the Doctor?
No, no, no.
It’s a cheat. And it’s cheap. The same goes for River’s apparent admission that she was acting not recognising the suit she wore as a little girl in The Impossible Astronaut. Alex Kingston is the actress, and there’s something fraudulent about claiming that River was engaged in such an undetectable deception.
Despite all that I do still like this episode. Having hugely enjoyed this series – the best series of Doctor Who ever, in my book – I’d wanted this episode to be the best story in the arc (hoping it would be the best in the series would be too ambitious following the heights scaled inThe Girl Who Waited). And it did have its moments. Indeed, purely for the line “she’d like to go out with you for…. texting and scones” it deserves classic status, and the tribute to Nicholas Courtney’s character is deeply touching and effective. I’m not sure how much the disappointment of the last five minutes bothers me, yet. I love Matt Smith’s performance throughout – yet again he is so unexpected, so old, so alien. And as in A Good Man Goes to War Karen Gillen shows us a chillingly tough side to Amy Pond.
So on to some minor niggles…
- Eye-drives: isn’t offloading all your memories far too complicated? I had assumed they would just have a tiny little screen in them that shows a Silence to those who work for them, since when you’re looking at them you remember them.
- When everything is resolved, who can remember the alternative reality? It made sense that the Doctor and River do, but I was surprised that Amy appears to – so who else does? And when do those memories occur? I had assumed they would occur on 22 April 2011 – but that would change the version of events we’ve seen – and I think we see those that for Amy, the alternate reality events occur post-God Complex. If that’s correct, I cannot see the reason, and whether it is or not, I think this is an area where the writing could have afforded a little more clarity.
- What changed time when River saved the Doctor by draining her weapons systems? What did we see in The Impossible Astronaut and what could have changed it? The Doctor’s foreknowledge might have, but if River was going to do that she’d have done that originally and we’d have seen the Doctor not die. My interpretation is that the original course of events included River trying to do this and undoing it following the alternate reality timeline, but I’m not certain this makes absolute sense. I’m also surprised by how much River’s demeanour changes from her sorrow before killing the Doctor and her flippancy after avoiding it. Could there be other timer-wimey trickery here that is yet to be revealed? Will it link up with how River was at Amy and Rory’s wedding (and Mels wasn’t)?
Indeed very few of the questions were answered. We did not find out who is Kavorian’s boss (other than the Silence, but who do they work for). We still don’t know, for example, who could beam the signal that controlled Amy’s flesh avatar into the TARDIS. So is this story over? I don’t think so. We have Trenzalor to look forward to, Kovarian is still alive. And there’s no longer any reason why the Doctor and River might not meet again. After all, she’s yet to learn his name.
I hope they do.
- How does River know the Doctor’s name?
- Who blew up the TARDIS?
- Why does the (older) Doctor invite the Pond family (and himself) to Lake Silencio?
- Why does River not remember being the little girl in the astronaut’s suit?
- Who is Madame Kovarian’s boss?
- If that was the Doctor’s cot, why did he have it in the TARDIS?
- Who were Mels’ parents or guardians in Leadworth? (great question from @lone_locust)
- How did Mels get to Leadworth in the 1990s?
- Why wasn’t Mels at Rory and Amy’s wedding?
- How was River at Rory and Amy’s wedding?
- Did the Doctor revisit Rory and Amy’s wedding after River kissed him with her toxic lipstick, and before she saved him with her spare regenerations? (And if not, why the top hat and tails?)
- What did the Doctor whisper to River when he was dying?
- Doctor Who?
- What do Time Lords pray to?
- Who is the little girl who regenerated? (River)
- Who kills the Doctor? (River)
- What is the question hidden in plain sight? (Doctor Who?)
- Who did the Doctor see in room 11? (The Doctor)
Have I missed any?
Update 22:55 I missed some.
- When was Amy swapped with her ganger?
- Who could project the signal to control the flesh through time and space into the TARDIS? (may be same answer as fifth question above)
Have I missed any more?
Update 1/10 12:20
Another thought: what actually kills the Doctor? What is that green flash? A weapon or a phenomenon, eg. the energy discharge from the shorting out of some time differential?
I don’t normally take my Doctor Who in text form but I was intrigued by Glyn’s tweet.
For about the first third, I was convinced Moorcock was purely pastiching Wodehouse. There’s a henpecked husband (Uncle Tom, James Schoonmaker, etc), a plot to steal something an object by its owner (cf. Aunt Dahlia’s fake pearls) a character called Bingo, young lovers forbidden to marry and prone to squabbling over misunderstandings, and an Aunt Agatha type (the splendidly named Enola Banning Cannon). And why not? I enjoyed The Unicorn and the Wasp doing Agatha Christie and surely the joy of Doctor Who is that it can regenerate into almost any genre, from one episode to the next, with no warning…
Then, abruptly, the Wodehouse plot is suspended as the large cast of players of Quidditch – no, sorry, the Renaissance Tournament – embark on a perilous journey on a series of space skiffs. The narrative includes increasingly frequent lectures (not always delivered by the Doctor, but in the voice of the author) concerning the nature of the multiverse, and the fact that space is a relative dimension of time.
Reading this must be a very different experience for a Moorcock fan. This is the first of his works I’ve read, and I got the strong impression that he was conscious of introducing readers like me into a Universe he has long established and is already familiar with. Indeed, Wikipedia informs me that Captain Cornelius, a pirate with a ship very reminiscent of Enlightenment is a recurring character. By the time I reached the final chapters of the book I was beginning to enjoy the awesomeness of the multiverse (as Miggea shifts between universes).
Despite the strange mixture of styles, my regret at the premature abandonment of the Wodehouse pastiche, weariness at throwaway jokes being laboured through the full length of the book, and the awkwardness of the cut-and-shut melding of a somewhat incompatible multiverse with the Whoniverse, I found this far more readable than other original Doctor Who novels I’ve persevered with in the past; indeed I found it hard to put down at times.
So I’d endorse “odd, quirky, but fun”.
A rare dud among this year’s Doctor Who gems, Closing Time for the most part is a by-numbers episode, not just the poorest of this year’s crop but not as good as many of last year’s episodes either.
This is the first appearance of a recurring monster this year (besides minor appearances of sontarans, silurians, cybermen and even weeping angels in minor roles). That’s evidence of the originality of this year’s of stories. But that’s not to say I wouldn’t welcome the occasional appearance of a classic villain if it’s well done. And generally, I love a cybermat. But neither they nor the cybermen were well-served by this episode (and the more we see of cyberconversion the less scary it is). The crashed ship plot was rather pedestrian (and, to me, having new cybermen on Earth in 1986 feels wrong) and insufficient to sustain a story in its own right. Perhaps that’s why we have the other recurring element, the reappearance of Craig from The Lodger to which this is a direct (if inferior) sequel.
I enjoyed James Corden’s performance as Matt Smith’s house-mate a great deal. But with less opportunity to play off the Doctor, he is shriller and more erratic. The baby storyline is a nice progression from when we last met him (“You’ve redecorated. I don’t like it.” “We’ve moved!”) but without the culture-clash elements, the story feels a bit rudderless.
Additionally, the (obviously Moffat-penned) ending also feels bolted on, in the way that the final sequence in The Cold Earth did. Elements of the story arc through this year’s episodes have typically been well-integrated but this stuck out starkly with the kids in the street providing the clunkiest of links.
The real strength of the episode is Matt Smith’s well-judge melancholy performance of the Doctor on the eve of his death. This must be around 200 years, in the Doctor’s timeline, since The God Complex. The moment when he sees Amy and Rory walking through the shop is very affecting; the success Amy has enjoyed modelling conveying effectively the time that has passed for her. There’s a sense, as he chastises himself for being a selfish old man, of how much further he’s fallen since he rose so high. That was there in the performance, but it felt like the writing shied away from it: for Craig to have been converted would have illustrated just how irredeemably toxic the Doctor has become. I can see how that would have been unpalatable for the family audience, but it would have given a mediocre episode meaning. Even revealing the Doctor’s cutesy “I can talk baby” as being a sham (a careful line has been trodden to avoid confirming this) would have exposed how sad and pathetic the Doctor is with no companions.
Instead, this one plays it safe. When Doctor Who is at its best I don’t even notice that I’m watching scenes filmed in the corridors at work. So it can’t be a good sign if, during airing, I’m wondering whether the episode was filmed in Debenhams.