Archive for Tenth Doctor

2.10 – “Love & Monsters”

Posted in New Who, Series 2 with tags , , , , , on January 7, 2016 by Review The Who

DW Series 2 - Love & Monsters

In this largely Doctor-less episode, we meet Elton Pope, a man obsessed with The Doctor and his “blue box,” having encountered him as a child and again in later life. He’s part of a group of fellow enthusiasts who regularly meet to share stories and experiences. One day, a mysterious new member joins their group and things become sinister, as he is revealed to be an “Abzorbaloff,” absorbing the bodies of humans into his own.

Can I just leave the sentence “I pretend this episode doesn’t exist” here and get on with my evening? No? Fine. Then you’re about to see a woman rant in an almost uncontrollable fashion.

Where to start…Okay, the premise. The premise for this episode, that there’s a person who encountered The Doctor as a small child (when The Doctor failed to save the life of his mother), who spends his life searching for this mysterious man and sharing experiences with others who’ve met him, is a bloody good one. We see so much action in Doctor Who that we don’t often pause to think about the lives of the people he briefly encounters and how those lives could be changed by meeting him. He’s a freaking Time Lord; of course they’re going to be fascinated and it’s perfectly believable that there might be a secret group for people who’ve met The Doctor and are desperate to talk about their experiences (and to meet him again). That, as a premise for an episode of the show, is great. The trouble is that “Love & Monsters” takes that premise, chews it up a bit and then spits out something that nobody wants to look at.

Marc Warren as Elton Pope does the best he can with what he’s given. But he’s been given a turd and no amount of polishing it is going to make that baby shine. His video diary entries, which are supposed to frame the story and make us care, come across as perhaps a little too amateurish and overexcited. It’s a shame, because one quote from those video diaries stands out as a rather lovely – if slightly corny – soundbite:

“When you’re a kid, they tell you it’s all ‘grow up, get a job, get married, get a house, have a kid’ and that’s it. But the truth is; the world is so much stranger than that. It’s so much darker. And so much madder. And so much better.”

I love that quote (and that’s the nicest thing I’m probably going to say about this episode), but it’s like having a diamond, glistening in the sunlight, as it sits on top a dollop of steaming horse manure. At the end of the day, you’re still looking at a pile of shit.

The trouble is, the premise needed to be underplayed. It needed to be subtle. The story of this man, driven slightly crazy over the years, because he knows this “Doctor” exists and he needs to meet him again to prove it to himself and to finally gain answers to the questions that have plagued him for so long, has so much potential. But “Love & Monsters” is about as subtle as throwing a brick in someone’s face.

Or a paving slab.

Instead of going down the subtle route, the episode plays for laughs. I have no problem with Doctor Who trying to be funny; I mentioned a couple of comic moments in my last review. The thing with comedy is that you have to actually write stuff that makes people laugh and not stuff that makes people want to find their own “funny bone” and forcibly remove it.

Carrying on with the plot, Elton meets a woman called Ursula online, who he falls madly in love with, because this is now a Richard Curtis rom-com. The two of them set up the most irritatingly-named secret group, ever: “London Investigation ‘N’ Detective Agency (or “LINDA”).” See? Hilarious. There are a few other members of “LINDA,” but they get so little screen time, I can’t even be arsed typing their names. Basically, they’re there to get killed. One day, Peter Kay joins “LINDA,” because of course he does. Now, I’m actually not a member of the anti-Kay brigade, in general. In fact, I rather like him in other things, so I’m not going to slate him just for being Peter Kay, as I’ve seen other reviewers do. Much like Marc Warren, Kay does what he can with what he’s given. He introduces himself as Victor and begs the group members not to touch him, as he has a rare skin disease. But he’s actually hiding something sinister…

Now, I’m going to be extra careful not to massively slag off the alien in the episode, because the “Abzorbaloff” was created by a school child in a competition, so, you know…there are limits to my bitchiness. And again, the premise of an alien who absorbs humans into his own body, leaving their screaming faces on show actually has the potential to be scary and interesting to watch. So, well done school child, you did a good job! If only Russell T Davies had shown your idea some respect, instead of binge-watching Notting Hill and Love Actually and getting shit-faced before he wrote this episode.

Mysterious Victor (so subtly mysterious, he may as well have a twirly moustache) encourages the “LINDA” gang to step up their efforts to find The Doctor. We have a moment of potential comedy, when Elton tries to get info on his whereabouts via Jackie Tyler and is subjected to an attempt at seduction, but even that falls relatively flat. This being a Richard Curtis rom-com, the mood then changes, as Jackie talks to Elton about how much she misses Rose. In another episode (i.e. one surrounded by less crap), these scenes would be quite moving but here it feels like the tone just took a hairpin turn. Meanwhile, members of “LINDA” are going missing. With this being an episode that barely features The Doctor or Rose, it’s up to the rest of the gang to try to solve the mystery. Think Scooby Doo, but with higher levels of persistent irritation.

Eventually, the Abzorbaloff is revealed in his, um, absorb-y entirety, complete with faces of those who’ve disappeared during the show protruding from various places around his body. One minor character from earlier in the episode, Bliss, is on his bum. Because this episode is bloody hilarious, damnit. LAUGH! LAUGH, YOU UNGRATEFUL FOOLS!!

Ursula is absorbed (at which point I cheered because, sorry Shirley Henderson, your voice was doing my nut in) and Elton is all “SAD FACE” because did I mention he LOVES her?! He runs away and avoids a good old absorbing, by pretty much bumping straight into the TARDIS. As the Abzorbaloff tries to add The Doctor to his collection of living body-art, the faces of those he’s already absorbed begin pulling away, preventing him from doing so. If you’ve not seen this episode, that moment is as perfectly ridiculous as you’re imagining it to be. Anyway, the Abzorbaloff carries a cane (presumably in case he wants to break into a quick tap routine), which falls during this process. Ursula – yes, from inside the Abzorbaloff – yells at Elton to break it and he does so. This causes the destruction of a field generator that has allowed the alien to stay in control of his body and so he melts into the pavement. What a world, what a world…

The episode ends with Elton finishing off his video diary. We hear Ursula’s voice and we discover that The Doctor managed to save her essence and she is now, put simply, a face in a paving slab. This being a Richard Curtis rom-com, Elton doesn’t care that she’s A FACE IN A PAVING SLAB and gleefully tells the viewer that they’re in a relationship and that they even have a love life. Tell me you’re not picturing that and I will call you a liar. No amount of brain bleach will ever save me. Ever.

Think of the power of some of the Doctor-less episodes we’ve seen. “Blink” was incredible and scary. “Turn Left” was moving and insightful. “Love & Monsters” features over-the-top acting from pretty much everyone in it, a premise that was handled with about as much grace as a pro-wrestler attempting Swan Lake and it ends with the mental image of a man having sex with concrete. It could have been so good. It had great ideas, focusing on people whose lives have been touched by The Doctor, supporting one another and looking for answers, which makes it depressing that it was handled so badly and turned into the kind of “comedy” that even Keith Lemon wouldn’t touch. There are a couple of sweet moments, a few good references for continuity purposes but the episode as a whole is just clunky and overplayed. And that’s my polite opinion (the non-polite version involves way too much swearing).

We end this story with so many unanswered questions. I mean, where is the explanation of why the Abzorbaloff is absorbing all these people? What’s his motivation? Why doesn’t Jackie Tyler show any interest when Elton admits he’s looking for The Doctor, considering she’s missing her daughter who’s away travelling with him? And the most important question by far: WHY MUST WE PICTURE A DUDE BONKING A PAVING SLAB?!!

I really do mean it when I say I pretend this episode doesn’t exist. When it comes to scoring it out of ten, I can only give it a point for the potential it had and a point for the scenes in which the group first come together and bond, because they’re quite sweet. Other than that? In the words of the Tenth Doctor; “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” 2/10

Written and edited by Emma Tofi


2.8 & 2.9 – “The Impossible Planet”/”The Satan Pit”

Posted in New Who, Series 2 with tags , , , , , on September 5, 2015 by Review The Who

DW Series 2 - The Impossible Planet 2

The Doctor and Rose travel to a space station close to a planet called Krop Tor, which is orbiting around a black hole. An expedition crew are drilling into the planet in an effort to understand the peculiar “gravity funnel” that’s stopping Krop Tor from being sucked into the hole. However, the deeper the crew drill into the surface of the planet, the stranger things get. And when a quake hits and the TARDIS falls, it looks like The Doctor and Rose have no choice but to stick around and find out exactly what is lurking below the surface…

The cool thing about “The Impossible Planet”/”The Satan Pit” is that it unashamedly hones in on a pretty scary subject. The concept of a “devil” is one we’re all familiar with and both episodes are littered with references to the number of the beast and other religious overtones. I can remember watching it for the first time and thinking: “Really? The actual devil? Are we going there?!” I was torn between thinking it was one heck of a way to potentially alienate viewers (and piss off Christians) and deciding it was a rather brave thing to do. Brave or insane. I never fully decided.

In my eyes, episodes in which we meet a group of new characters all at once can be a little hit and miss. If the writing isn’t done well and there’s no chemistry between the actors, you can find yourself not caring about the gang The Doctor has encountered. Thankfully, that doesn’t happen here and the crew of the base at Krop Tor are a believable team. It’s a good job, because you need people you can believe in if you’re being told to accept the idea of a “gravity funnel” and a planet magically not disappearing into a black hole.

This story introduces one of my favourite New Who aliens, the Ood. I feel a bit sorry for them; not only are they essentially a slave race, but considering they’re “good guys” they certainly spend a lot of screen time (and not just in this episode) becoming evil in one way or another. Poor tentacle-faced things must spend their lives not knowing whether they’re coming or going! So I’m saying it right now; if the Ood feature in any future stories, can we please decide whether we want them to be nice or nasty and stick to it? That said, I do like the idea of the Ood being a race that are linked to one another telepathically and that does obviously make them rather open to telepathic control by an evil entity. Damn, those Ood and their whole, being possessed schtick. Major design flaw, if you ask me.

The suspense built up by suggesting that the devil is lurking deep below the surface of the planet helps push the episode along nicely and little hints, such as the “impossibly old” writing that the TARDIS is unable to translate help to encourage the viewer into thinking that yes, we’re genuinely talking about the horned beast from the biblical stories. When one of the space station crew, Toby, becomes possessed by the Beast and begins to change, the suspense builds further. The menacing whisper of Toby’s name by the Beast as he fights his possession is pleasingly scary and I can imagine a few younger viewers looking at the back of the sofa as an inviting place to be! Will Thorp does a great range of facial contortions as he fights his possession and eventually gives in to it, going on to murder his colleague Scooti (why, by the way, do futuristic characters on this show have to have such silly names? She sounds like an intergalactic children’s TV presenter). Being possessed by the devil is probably not the easiest task for an actor, so credit here to Will for doing it with alarming realism.

Meanwhile, when the drill can go no further, The Doctor offers to go down to the planet with another crew member, Science Officer Ida Scott (see, a sensible name!), because of course he does. I mean, the TARDIS has fallen down there, but also OF COURSE HE DOES. He’s The Doctor! They discover the large, circular door of “The Satan Pit,” covered in yet more ancient writing. We’re set up for a cliffhanger as the pit opens, the Beast supposedly releasing Toby and possessing a whole legion of Ood instead and, just for added fun, the planet begins to fall into the black hole…

“The Satan Pit” then starts right at the same moment, which is always a tricky thing for a double-episode to do, as it means fighting to keep the same level of suspense from the word go. As the remaining crew members on the base attempt to stay alive in the face of the possessed Ood (seriously, give those poor guys a break!), Rose finds herself having to persuade everyone not to harm Toby, now that he’s no longer possessed by the Beast. Unfortunately, this never worked for me. Maybe I’m just exceptionally clever, but more likely this was far too obvious a red-herring. Because spoilers, sweetie; he’s still possessed and he won’t make it out of this episode alive. It’s a shame that it wasn’t all that believable, as it would’ve been a cool twist to have Toby’s demonic side revealed as a shock at the end, after we genuinely thought he was back to normal. But like I said, I saw through this right away and spent the rest of the episode waiting for the inevitable “revelation.”

Meanwhile, the much meatier and more enjoyable part of this episode for me should have been the revelation of what the Beast really is (and if he finds love before the last petal falls from the magic rose – will he become a prince again?! Oh, wait…). As The Doctor and Ida prepare to return to base, the Beast declares from within his pit that he was sealed in there at the very birth of the universe and is now ready to break free. He describes himself as the epitome of evil across all religions…again, I really like that the show went there with this theme. Some will definitely have the opposite view and see the idea of a “devil” as incredibly cheesy and trite, but I like how instantly identifiable it is and it’s a well-known thing to be scared of. What I really love is the way the Beast communicates with the crew, playing on their individual fears and weaknesses. It’s a classic tactic and it works, even foreshadowing Rose’s death “in battle, so very soon.” The Doctor makes one of his speeches, insisting to the crew that they can be far stronger together than the Beast is alone. The Beast gets pretty narked about that and snaps the cable to the lift carrying The Doctor and Ida back to base, trapping them underground.

Whilst things are getting ever more chasey and deathy up on the base (with crew member Jefferson sacrificing himself to buy the rest of the gang time to escape), The Doctor decides to enter the pit itself to confront the Beast. He finds two jars on pedestals at the bottom of the pit and the light from these conjures up his physical form. For me, this was a bit of a let-down. The CGI isn’t brilliant and I felt as though The Beast did an awful lot of tongue-poking for my liking. You’re the devil, mate, not a six year old in the playground. Anyway, The Doctor deduces that the Beast’s conscious mind has long left his body and that the planet of Krop Tor has been used for thousands of years as the perfect prison for his physical form. The Doctor realises that destroying the two jars that conjure up the Beast’s form will kill him, by plunging the planet into the black hole, taking the Beast’s conscious mind with it. The Doctor realises that smashing the jars will put the entire crew back on base at risk, as it’ll destroy the gravity field and potentially send them into the black hole, too. However, it’s a risk he’s willing to take and he does it anyway, before conveniently finding his TARDIS as he’s making his escape. A bit too conveniently, to be honest…

Meanwhile, as the rocket containing the crew struggles to get away from the pull of the black hole (and as the “surprise” of Toby still being possessed is revealed and he’s shot out of a window and sucked into the hole), there is an about-turn and the rocket begins to fly safely out of harm’s way. How? The TARDIS, of course. All’s well that ends well. Unless you’re an Ood, because The Doctor apparently couldn’t save them. I’m telling you, guys, those dudes get such a bad time of it on this show!

The episode ends with the crew’s captain listing the names of his deceased colleagues “with honours.” He does at least include the Ood, so they’ve got that going for them.

It’s a hard one for me, this. I really like the suspense and the idea of using the devil, because it’s so instantly recognisable and so instantly scary. But I feel like everything was resolved far too easily and the actual appearance of the Beast just didn’t really do it for me. That and the obviousness of Toby’s ongoing possession let this episode down for me and takes it from a 7/10 to a 6/10. And for the love of all I hold dear, someone give the Ood a break!

Written and edited by Emma Tofi

2.7 – “The Idiot’s Lantern”

Posted in New Who, Series 2 with tags , , , , on October 15, 2014 by Review The Who

DW Series 2 - The Idiot's Lantern

The TARDIS misses its intended destination (an Elvis appearance in New York) and instead lands in London in 1953. A local shopkeeper, Mr Magpie, is selling televisions remarkably cheap and, as a result, most of the families in the area have a set in readiness for the Queen’s Coronation. But why are the televisions so cheap? And what’s happening to the local people, being dragged from their homes with their heads covered by sheets? Time for The Doctor and Rose to investigate…

You know when two things you love accidentally merge into one? Well, I’m a huge fan of the Manic Street Preachers. Having an alien called “The Wire” makes this episode unintentionally hilarious. Although the character is played by Maureen Lipman (relatively well, although with little real menace, it must be said) it’s literally impossible for me not to picture Nicky Wire, face full of make-up and glitter, a dress covering his skinny frame and a bass guitar round his neck, stomping up and down an empty stage, yelling to an unseen James Dean Bradfield “I’m soooo huuungry!” So apologies if I lose track, mid-review, it’s just that I’d happily give this episode 10/10 for that mental image alone.

Another of my great loves is the fashion and music of the 1950’s, so Rose’s appearance in this episode is pretty much “dress-porn” for me. But I suppose I ought to get on with talking about the actual episode…

“The Idiot’s Lantern” is one of those episodes that gets a fair bit of flack for a variety of reasons, but it’s one that I’m quite fond of. Mark Gatiss is a writer whose work I admire a lot and I have to give him credit here, because I love the idea of TV being evil. I mean, switch on The X(tremely contrived and over-hyped) Factor and you’ll find that, well, maybe TV is evil. But the idea of people having their faces sucked into the screen and removed altogether fits in beautifully with age-old sayings about your eyes going square and more modern opinions that reality TV sucks out your soul. It’s clever and, of course, the TV is something we can all relate to. Without TV there’d be no Doctor Who, after all.

What I also like about this episode is how very human it is (I mean, despite the presence of a bassist an alien that has turned itself into an electrical form and can appear in your telly at will). The family The Doctor and Rose first encounter – the Connolly’s – are very much of the age, with the stern man of the house, Eddie, ruling the roost. He’s forbidden anyone from going upstairs to see his wife’s mother, after she had her face removed by The Wire. Straight away, we get a very human glimpse as to how this rather fantastical problem would affect a family of the era. Eddie is depicted as a nasty piece of work, lording his authority over his timid wife Rita and son Tommy. When Rita finds the nerve to kick him out at the end of the episode, the audience at home can’t help but be glad for her. That being said, I find that part of the episode oddly moving. Jamie Foreman plays Eddie so well, that in spite of his temper, I struggle to see him as an inherently bad man; just someone mentally stuck in an age that’s already out of date. He’s a man in a world in which attitudes are changing and he’s being left behind, too stuck in his ways to catch up. It’s extremely touching to see Rose persuade Jamie Connolly to go after his father, implying that Jamie shouldn’t stop at saving the world, but can try saving his father from his outdated views and behaviour, too (or at least salvage their relationship). When Jamie simply takes his father’s case from him and walks alongside him, no words are needed to convey the emotion of the scene. We don’t even see the character’s faces, yet the moment is hugely poignant. That storyline actually makes the episode for me. Maybe I’m overly soppy.

It’s my view that some thought has gone into the alien and its plans in this episode, too. The Wire has evaded capture and execution by its people, through manifesting itself in electrical form. I like the idea of television becoming an alien’s hiding place and the use of the Queen’s Coronation as the perfect opportunity to gain enough human minds/faces to build a new body is a clever plan. The scene in which The Doctor sees rows of televisions, featuring the panicked faces of those who’ve already been taken by The Wire is a really good one. So good, in fact, that Steven Moffat seemed to steal it for “The Bells Of Saint John”, in which we see a row of screens with people trapped inside the WiFi (am I alone in seeing a huge similarity?!).

However, one let-down of this episode for me, is that when we actually see the faceless people who’ve been taken by The Wire, they look…well, a bit funny rather than creepy. But that might just be my view. A faceless Rose Tyler might be terrifying to other viewers, so I’ll let that one slide.

The climactic scenes in which The Wire transports herself into a portable television and demands that Magpie takes her to Alexandra Palace for the final part of her plan are good. There’s a decent amount of tension, as by this point, The Wire has already fed from The Doctor and knocked him out cold. When The Doctor regains consciousness, he and Tommy are in a race against time to stop The Wire before she can take the minds and faces of everyone watching the Coronation at home. There’s a nice, pacey atmosphere as the viewer realises what’s at stake. We also realise just how much pain – emotionally and physically – Magpie is in as a result of being controlled by The Wire. He begs her for peace and receives it eternally, when The Wire responds by incinerating him with a bolt of electricity.

The Wire taunts The Doctor that she can electrify him too, but of course Tennant is wearing his trusty “sand shoes” which have rubber soles. The Tenth Doctor clearly has more luck climbing pylons than the Fourth Doctor…

Of course, in spite of The Wire’s wicked plot and a sudden blown fuse putting The Doctor’s plans to rescue the situation briefly in danger, he saves the day by trapping The Wire in a Betamax video cassette. Some think that’s twee, but I like it. And I chuckled at the end of the episode when The Doctor tells Rose that The Wire should be trapped forever, because he’s going to tape over it.

So, the world has yet again been saved and the Doctor and Rose get to attend a street party for the Coronation. Yay!

Okay, so there are problems with this episode, as several before me have pointed out. Maureen Lipman’s cut-glass announcer voice might be perfect for the 50’s, but it’s not exactly scary and neither are the faceless people. Perhaps you could argue that the resolution was a bit too easy, as well. But the fashion and the feel of the episode captures the age rather well and I always enjoy a Who story in which human emotion can be felt. And I felt it in the story of the Connolly family. Because of that and because it’s set in my favourite era and features an alien that I like to imagine writing political lyrics and cross-dressing, it’s getting a 7/10. So there.

Written and edited by Emma Tofi

In Defence Of…”I don’t want to go.”

Posted in Articles, In Defence Of... with tags , , , , on October 11, 2014 by Review The Who

In Defence Of 4

A lot of people hated the final lines of the Tenth Doctor, saying they were out of character or too melodramatic. In this edition of “In Defence Of…” guest writer Ben McCarthy presents an intriguing counterargument.

After watching Matt Smith’s brilliant departure in “The Time Of The Doctor” last Christmas, I’ve been thinking about David Tennant’s exit from the role of The Doctor. Comments across the web often cite Tennant’s exit as being inferior by comparison to Smith’s; after all, Doc 10 went out crying that he didn’t want to go whilst Doc 11 went out accepting the change, even being excited by it. And while I have never really liked the Tenth Doctor’s final line, I’ve concluded that it was actually the perfect way for that incarnation to go, and made sense for The Doctor’s character as a whole.

It all goes back to the Eighth Doctor’s choice to become the War Doctor, throwing aside everything he had always believed in and chosen to be. As the War Doctor, he hated himself; hated that he couldn’t seem to save everyone, hated the things he had to do during the Time War and hated that he was no longer The Doctor. So desperate was he for that the war to be over, he was prepared to wipe out all of Gallifrey to do it. Although we now know that he didn’t succeed, as far as the Ninth Doctor was concerned…he did.

We meet the Ninth Doctor at probably the lowest point ever in the Doctor’s long life. He’s fresh from the War, fresh from an incarnation he despised and, more than anything, he’s disgusted with himself for what he had to do to end the conflict. However, the War was finally over and, for the first time in probably hundreds of years, he could finally travel the universe again. He could finally start helping again, save lives and, with the help of Rose, he began to get better. On Satellite 5 he was prepared to die to finally wipe out the Daleks and was prepared to sacrifice himself to save Rose. But in the end he refuses to kill the Daleks if it means destroying Earth, basically the same decision he had to make on Gallifrey. The Ninth Doctor was an incarnation who was still recovering when he met Rose but, right at the very end, he realised that he was still The Doctor after all and that he didn’t have to spend the rest of his lives carrying so much guilt.

And thus, along came the Tenth Doctor. Now less burdened by the Time War, Doc 10 threw himself into his adventures. He was The Doctor again, the man he’d always wanted to be. In this new incarnation, he felt something that he’d not felt in years; he genuinely loved being himself. The Eleventh Doctor states in “The Time Of The Doctor” that he had “vanity issues” during his tenth incarnation and that’s certainly true, but it’s not because Doc 10 was handsome and didn’t want to change physically. It was because he was happier than he had been in years during that incarnation. The guilt carried over from the war was still there, but he was able to look past it and try to move on.

So, when Doc 10 was faced with a regeneration, he really didn’t want to go. After so long, he was finally the man he had always strived to be once again. That’s why, more than any other incarnation, the Tenth Doctor is so gung-ho heroic and swashbucklingly charming. He’s relishing the fact that he’s The Doctor again. To loose the incarnation where he finally felt he could face himself in the mirror, the incarnation in which he properly recovered? It terrified him. He had no idea what he would turn into. Would his new persona see things the same way he did? What if the crushing guilt of the war came back? Or worse, what if the new incarnation was more like the War Doctor and he ended up doing something even more terrible than he had done before? So desperate was the Tenth Doctor to cling on to the better man he’d become, he chose not to change in “Journey’s End”, basically wasting a regeneration.

However, in “The End Of Time”, there was nothing to stop it. He was going to change no matter what he did. And he didn’t want to. He couldn’t abide the thought of it. He couldn’t become a “new man that goes sauntering away,” not after he’d come so far as the Tenth Doctor. But change he did…

Doc 10’s final moments make even more sense when you look at the journey of the Eleventh Doctor. In that incarnation, The Doctor realised that change was not a bad thing. He had an even better time than his predecessor in most cases, always choosing a scenario or adventure that kept him intrigued and smiling. In “The Day Of The Doctor”, the Eleventh Doctor had a bit of a sarcastic reaction to Doc 10 saying “I don’t want to go.” Maybe that’s because he remembered just how afraid he was when he regenerated and how, on reflection, he really needn’t have been so worried. After hundreds of years as the Eleventh Doctor, after saving Gallifrey and after having decided he was going to truly die on Trenzalore, Doc 11 welcomes his regeneration. He’s grown up, realised that change isn’t a bad thing but a welcome one. He’s no idea who he’s about to be but, for the first time since his regeneration into the Eighth Doctor, he’s not petrified at the thought of it.

So, there you have it. My ramblings on a massive character arc for The Doctor, started by RTD and properly completed by The Moff. On reflection, I think it was beautifully done; Eccleston, Tennant and Smith played The Doctor so differently yet, because of this, it’s easy to remember that all three Doctors are, fundamentally, the same man. A wounded man going on a journey and finding himself once more.

And it’s been a treat to follow that journey. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for the Twelfth Doctor.

Written and edited by Ben McCarthy

2.5 & 2.6 – “Rise Of The Cybermen”/”The Age Of Steel”

Posted in New Who, Series 2 with tags , , , , , on October 1, 2014 by Review The Who

DW Series 2 - The Age Of Steel

The TARDIS crash-lands on an alternate version of Earth in which Rose’s dad, Pete Tyler, is not only alive and well but mega-rich. In this alternate universe, Trigger from Only Fools And Horses turns out to be an evil genius called John Lumic, whose company, Cybus Industries, has designs on upgrading humanity by encasing people’s brains in metal. Upgrading is compulsory and those who refuse will be deleted.

Ever since “Dalek” brought back the deadly enemies of the same name, Whovians had been wondering when the dreaded Cybermen would return to the screen. In “Rise of The Cybermen”, they finally did. The episode opens with a man declaring that the “prototype is working,” before John Lumic (played with villainous joy by Roger Lloyd-Pack) comes into view in his wheelchair. We see that familiar silhouette; the Cybermen may have developed and changed over the years, but they still have the power to send shivers down a viewer’s spine. Of course, a shadowy figure isn’t enough to really get the pulse racing so when Lumic’s scientist tells him that they need to report their new form of life to government officials, Lumic orders his Cyberman to kill him. The credits roll and…

…I have to stop here and make a confession. This episode is around the time when I stopped being such a fan of Rose Tyler. Yes, it’s sacrilege to some, but whilst I thought she kicked untold amounts of backside in series 1 of New-Who, by midway through series 2, she was…getting on my tits a bit. We see her in the TARDIS after the opening credits, laughing and joking with The Doctor about the adventures they’ve had. Mickey is sitting close by and is clearly left out of the conversation. I’m giving The Doctor a pass here because he’s not human and goodness knows he gets excited chatting about space-y wace-y stuff, but Rose is meant to be the character the viewer identifies with and experiences things through. It was annoying that she talked to The Doctor about this stuff in front of Mickey, rather than include her friend in the conversation. Consequently, when Rose sees an advert featuring her father and is overcome at the idea that he’s alive in the parallel Earth they’ve landed on, a tiny part of me thinks “Stay here, then!”

We soon meet the living, filthy-rich version of Pete Tyler and discover that he’s planning a party for his wife, Jackie. I like the idea of a wealthy Jackie Tyler; her character has always seemed as though she’s yearning for the finer things, so it was fun to see her have them for a change. The only trouble is that it’s not the “real” Jackie Tyler and so any emotional connection she should have with Rose just isn’t there. That, for me, detracts a little from the story but maybe I’m nitpicking. I liked that Pete was still a seemingly decent guy, though.

I also thought the earpods, wired directly into everyone’s brains and delivering information from Cybus Industries were a very cool touch. The moment when everyone stops in unison to “download” information was delightfully sinister, especially when they all laugh as one at the joke at the end. This worked well as a subtle dig at modern society’s obsession with smart phones and downloads etc. News and entertainment sent direct to our brains? SIGN US UP!

Rose is determined to meet Pete and Jackie Tyler in this version of Earth, despite The Doctor warning her against it and she throws a bit of a wobbly (have I mentioned I was going off her by this episode?!). I find myself empathising much more with Mickey than Rose in this two-parter. Without a great deal of dialogue, we’re shown just how downtrodden Mickey has become, feeling that he’s competing with The Doctor for Rose’s affections and how much he longs to prove himself. Credit to Noel Clarke for that; he shows it brilliantly. Speaking of brilliant, it was a clever nod to the previous series to have Mickey’s alternate universe counterpart be called “Ricky.” The Ninth Doctor would have thought that was fantastic.

Speaking of which, the new, modern Cybermen are tall, powerful and definitely scary. Whereas the image of the Dalek was too iconic to mess with, Cybermen have had something of a revamp since the classic era and I love their rather ghostly faces and the jerking, mechanical way they move as a unit. They waste no time in crashing a party at the Tyler residence, deleting anyone who stands in their way. As The Doctor, Rose and Pete make their escape, Jackie is left inside the house and is upgraded. “Rise of The Cybermen” ends with The Doctor, Rose et al surrounded by Cybermen. It’s a classic cliff-hanger and works well as a hook for “The Age of Steel”.

After their inevitable rescue, we discover that Pete is working for the Lumic Corporation (something most viewers could have guessed from the first episode, to be honest, so it’s hardly a shock). The rebel gang Mickey has been hanging out with know this because they have a government mole who sends them information. That mole? Pete Tyler. Quickest killing of an interesting plot twist ever. Hands up who’d have liked to have seen an evil Pete Tyler? *raises hand*

It all gets a bit deathy after that. Ricky is killed by a Cyberman and Lumic undergoes a compulsory upgrade. But fear not; the scary bits are interspersed with emotional ones. The issue of Cybermen having once been real people is brought to the fore in this episode. Some would argue that it’s overdone, but I think, for the most part, it straddles the line between schmaltzy and emotive pretty well. In my mind, it’s good to remind the audience that the scariest thing about these particular monsters is that they were once humans, who’ve had all trace of emotion removed.

The rest is pretty standard fare; The Doctor saves the day (with help from Mickey). Rose tells Pete that in another universe, he’s her father; Pete can’t handle this information and walks away. Then Mickey, tired of being “the tin dog,” opts to stay in this universe rather than leave with Rose and The Doctor. Mickey’s decision to stay cements him in my good books, whereas Rose’s “but what about me?” line merely sends her lower in my estimation. However, Murray Gold’s stirring composition for this moment works beautifully with the scene and I for one am glad that Mickey was given a fitting ending to his story (well, kind of – we know he features in future episodes, but ssh, spoilers).

It’s a tough one. Parts of this two-parter are really great. Other bits just grate. Although the alternate version of Pete Tyler will become an important character later, in this episode I was much more interested in Mickey’s emotional journey than Rose’s. Still, it was good to have a classic enemy back and I liked the focus on the humanity behind the Cybermen. It gets a respectable 7/10.

Written and edited by Emma Tofi

2.4 – “The Girl In The Fireplace”

Posted in New Who, Series 2 with tags , , , , on July 4, 2014 by Review The Who

DW Series 2 - The Girl In The Fireplace

The TARDIS lands on what appears to be a derelict space ship. Rose, Mickey and The Doctor set off to explore their new surroundings and stumble upon a fireplace, which The Doctor recognises as being from the 18th century and almost certainly French. This fireplace turns out to be a time window, leading to the bedroom of a young Reinette Poisson, the future Madame De Pompadour. The Doctor has to work out why these time windows are following her life and defeat some pretty scary clockwork droids in the process.

Real-life events are always exciting in Doctor Who because we know they’ll be given a fascinating twist. The true story of Jeanne Antionette Poisson (better known as Reinette), who really did become the official mistress of King Louis XV, is no different. We first meet Reinette as a young girl, after The Doctor crosses into her room from a derelict space ship via a “time window” in her fireplace. Stepping back into the space ship, The Doctor returns moments later only to discover that months have passed since his last visit. Before he has time to process much of what’s going on, he hears a ticking noise. In a room with no clocks.

The clockwork droids are, for my money, bloody scary. There’s something very unnerving about their jester mask faces and jerking movements. Of course, I suppose you could argue that they aren’t really monsters; after all, their primary function was simply to repair their stricken space ship. Still, any repair droid that cheerfully kills the crew in order to use their organs for spare parts is pretty damned scary to me. I wouldn’t fancy being left in a room by myself with one! That said, they’re clockwork and not indestructible. We know The Doctor will find a way to defeat them and, indeed, he issues a warning to one: “I’m not winding you up.”

Gotta love a pun!

When he’s not rehearsing his stand up routine (is it just me who’d really like to see that?!), The Doctor shows a lot of his many other sides in this episode. We see what we think is a drunk Doctor, fresh from a party, only to discover he’s faking his merry state as he quickly saves Mickey and Rose from becoming spare parts. He shows his intelligence (okay, so that’s nothing new) when he works out that the clockwork droids are waiting for Reinette’s 37th birthday, so that they can remove her brain and use it to power their space ship, which is 37 years old. Later, once The Doctor, Mickey and Rose discover that there’s only one time window remaining and that if The Doctor crosses back into 18th century France he’ll be stuck there forever, we see the Doctor’s courageous side as he bravely – and rather bombastically – rides into battle. Literally. On a white horse. All that was missing was the shining armour but Tennant’s chivalrous performance more than makes up for that.

Of course, “The Girl In The Fireplace” is more than just a history lesson for Whovians. It’s a love story for The Doctor. He and Reinette openly flirt (and indeed “snog”) and they appear to be fairly well-matched; Sophia Myles’ Reinette is intelligent, brave and strong. You can see why The Doctor is excited to meet her. Meanwhile, Rose is less than impressed that The Doctor has eyes for someone other than her and gets a bit sulky, wondering what’s so special about Reinette. Come on Rose; don’t go all Martha on me…

Still, there clearly is something special about Madame De Pompadour. Indeed, The Doctor is so intrigued by Reinette that he’s even prepared to take “the slow path” with her, suggesting that he’ll stay in eighteenth century France after the last time window has closed behind him and the clockwork droids have shut down, knowing they have no way of returning to their ship. The Doctor’s feelings for Reinette are definitely mutual, too; she refers to him as her “lonely angel,” having found herself able to read his mind as well as vice versa and she appears to understand him in a way that unnerves The Doctor, yet leaves him keen to spend more time with her. When he finds that the fireplace from the start of the episode is still an active time window, The Doctor is quick to tell Reinette to pack a bag and pick a star, promising to come back for her. His excitement at the thought of showing her the wonders of the universe is evident as he rushes back through the fireplace just moments later, only to discover that six years have passed. The poignancy of the episode’s final moments is beautifully played, as we realise that Reinette spent the final six years of her life wondering whether her beautiful angel would ever return for her, only to pass away at the age of just 42.

As The Doctor watches her coffin leave the palace for the final time, we’re reminded yet again that this is a man who has known pain and loss far too many times. A man who will always be alone at heart, no matter how many people surround him. It’s a touching moment and one which is brought into even greater focus when The Doctor returns to the space ship without Reinette. The TARDIS leaves and as the derelict ship drifts alone, aimlessly through space, we finally see its name: SS Madame De Pompadour.

My only major quibble with this episode is the lack of continuity; at the end of “School Reunion”, Rose has a strop at the thought of Mickey joining her and The Doctor in the TARDIS. In “The Girl In The Fireplace”, Rose can’t wait to show him the ropes. Okay, so this episode was moved in the season running order, but still…Anyway, I’m being picky, really. This episode gives us a scary villain, a space ship and a history lesson, plus it ends in a rather beautiful, yet emotive fashion. It gets 8/10 from me.

Written and edited by Emma Tofi

2.3 – “School Reunion”

Posted in New Who, Series 2 with tags , , , , on June 25, 2014 by Review The Who


DW Series 2 - School Reunion

After a tip-off from Mickey, The Doctor and Rose head undercover to investigate a school in which pupils are displaying intelligence far beyond their capabilities. With the help of former companion Sarah Jane Smith and sidekick K-9, the gang discover that several teachers, including the school’s headmaster Mr Finch, aren’t as human as they appear…

It’s always good to see The Doctor in a “normal” setting; in many ways, he’s never more alien than when posing as a human and although we don’t see as much of him pretending to be regular John Smith in this episode as we do in others, the glimpses we get are enjoyable. There’s something additionally unsettling about the action taking place in a school too. Alien planets and trips back in time are fantastic, but when the show takes a location that is familiar to everyone watching and manages to make it scary and unfamiliar, it only serves to remind the viewer just how clever Doctor Who can be.

The concept of the episode is a good one; the idea of a school where the pupils are unnervingly well-behaved and impossibly bright, rather than being “happy slapping hoodies with ASBOs and ringtones” is eerily sinister. Of course the clues are there right from the start, when a dinner lady informs the Doctor and Rose that the school’s menu “has been designed by the headmaster to improve concentration and performance” and later, when a barrel of cooking oil is spilt, it appears that one of the dinner ladies is a goner after getting splashed by the stuff. There’s enough intrigue at play to keep you guessing for a while as to what’s really going on. Whilst there may not be the horror of a Dalek Fleet to have you hiding behind the sofa, there are certainly plenty of tense moments and the sight of dozens of children plugged into their school computers, tapping away like zombies, is genuinely unnerving.

Of course, the episode’s emotional heart is found with the return of Sarah Jane Smith. Ever the inquisitive journalist, Sarah Jane is also investigating the goings-on at Deffry Vale and Lis Sladen’s reappearance in the show is enough to delight any fan. The Doctor’s reaction as Mr Finch introduces Sarah Jane in the staff room is beautifully understated from David Tennant, who manages to convey a whole range of emotions without speaking a single word. As he and Sarah Jane shake hands, The Doctor is clearly delighted to see his former companion and the way Tennant’s voice cracks with barely disguised feeling is lovely. Lis, always a great actress as well as a much-loved companion, portrays Sarah Jane’s shock at seeing the TARDIS and realising that “John Smith” is The Doctor wonderfully. There appears to be a genuine chemistry between Sladen and Tennant, which fits the tone of the episode perfectly. Although The Doctor has regenerated since Sarah Jane last saw him, their interactions show that, at his heart(s), he’s the same man he has always been.

Having such a popular classic companion appear in the modern incarnation of the show gives us the chance to answer questions that many Whovians have long asked themselves; what happens to the companions once their time with the Doctor is through? Does he remember them? What would happen if two of them were to meet? Rose and Sarah Jane take an immediate dislike to one another, providing some comic relief to the deep emotional content. The scene in which The Doctor’s former companion and his current sidekick attempt to outdo each other in terms of the adventures they’ve had is a great piece of writing and, indeed, a brilliant bit of acting from Lis Sladen and Billie Piper. When the two women finally realise their common bond, the friendship they forge appears genuine, albeit occasionally at The Doctor’s expense.

Meeting Sarah Jane also gives Rose a chance to analyse her own relationship with The Doctor. This leads to an exchange between the two that has become an almost immediate classic, The Doctor telling her that she can spend her whole life travelling with him, but he can’t do the same with her. It’s loaded with emotion and offers us a glimpse of what life is like for The Doctor; often surrounded by people but, ultimately, always alone.

K-9’s appearance in the episode is yet another nod to the classic era and it’s hard not to be touched when our favourite tin dog sacrifices himself for his master (but don’t phone the RSPCA just yet, The Doctor does fix him at the end of the episode).

While the emotional content takes centre stage, the drama doesn’t suffer for it. Once The Doctor realises that he’s dealing with Krillitanes, he gets straight down to the business of stopping them in their tracks. The Krillitanes are using the pupils of Deffrey Vale in an effort to solve the “Skasis Paradigm” – the theory of everything. Cracking the code will allow them to become Gods and we get an interesting confrontation between Mr Finch and The Doctor, in which Finch tries to tempt The Doctor into joining the Krillitanes with the promise of saving the Time Lords and eradicating human mortality. We see that The Doctor is tempted and, yet again, Tennant shows us a flash of his loneliness and the difficulty he faces being the last of his kind. Sarah Jane’s pleas to him are bittersweet – she’s begging him not to do something that would enable her to be young and to travel with him forever.

Again, the emotion is tempered with several minutes of high-tempo action as the Krillitane are defeated, saving the episode from ever becoming schmaltzy. Even Sarah Jane’s final goodbye to The Doctor, as she turns down his invitation to join him, Rose and Mickey aboard the TARDIS is played perfectly – sad, beautiful, but never OTT. A fitting farewell to a much-loved companion and the ideal starting point for the hugely successful Sarah Jane Adventures. We also get a nice touch of foreshadowing for the end of the season, when Sarah Jane tells Rose to stay with The Doctor, because “some things are worth getting your heart broken for.”

This episode was about more than just scary monsters and The Doctor swooping in to save the day. It was a poignant reference to The Doctor’s past and indeed his future, with two companions examining their relationship with him and accepting how he has changed their lives. The balance between emotion and drama was just about spot on too. For that reason alone, it deserves a high score. I’m giving it a solid 8/10.

Written and edited by Emma Tofi