26 December 2016

The Return of Doctor Mysterio



If the currently running raft of Marvel films and DC superhero shows on US television are taking a fresh look at the superhero genre and the , this on trend Xmas Special harks back to its roots and the old secret identity angle. The villain’s plan is right out of a comic book and the visual representation of New York looks great (even if the cars are driving too slowly). The result is a brisk production that doesn’t dwell on the festive season and delivers a clever entertaining take on familiar ideas.
Spoilers beyond this point.

14 December 2016

The Original #4 The Firemaker



As has been apparent all the way through the series’ debut story the combination of writer Anthony Coburn and director Waris Hussein has been vital in turning what could easily have been a far less impressive affair into something stylish and clever. Here in the final episode they both triumph bringing matters to an interesting conclusion. 

11 December 2016

Sensorite Gone Wrong!



When I was a child I was a Doctor Who fan (see, not much has changed) and in the fabulous book `The Making of Doctor Who` there was a photo of two Sensorites which I found oddly fascinating. I'd never seen Sensorites before and imagined they were very evil, dangerous aliens. However the book's episode guide told me that in serial code G (which I didn’t even know then was called `The Sensorites` though I might have guessed) the enemy had been a disease killing them so they were not evil. Still they looked it. These aliens were quite unlike anything I’d seen lately which were things like the Sea Devils.  Anyway at the time I was also a member of the Doctor Who Fan Club and members used to send in their drawings so I foolishly drew a picture of a Sensorite and sent it in. 

7 December 2016

The Original #3 The Forest of Fear



People have complained lately that Peter Capaldi’s Doctor was too angry and unfriendly in his first season or that David Tennant’s Doctor acted out of character by imprisoning the Family at the end of `Family of Blood` but what do they know? You only have to travel three episodes into the entire series to find the Doctor at his most unforgiving in a manner that makes his later incarnations seem like big softies by comparison. This episode is a tautly staged, powerful spin on how people react in extreme situations and really deserves as many plaudits at `An Unearthly Child` which it is the equal of.

3 December 2016

Class - The Lost



This is a finale solely aimed at those who have watched the previous seven episodes and as such works towards an emotional climax that contains no easy answers. By the cliffhanger ending not all of the characters have survived and some of the fatalities have been brutally despatched in a shocking manner. It’s almost too much stuff in what really needed to be a 2 parter if only to allow us and the characters to take it all in because like the characters we’re wondering what on earth will happen next!
 

2 December 2016

Good Times! #11 Nebula 91

Photo Special! Snaps from the acclaimed  September 1991 convention held in Liverpool and featuring Sylvester McCoy, Sophie Aldred, Anthony Ainley, John Nathan-Turner, Mary Tamm, Frazer Hines, Nick Courtney, David Banks and even a couple of people from Blake's 7! 


30 November 2016

The Original #2 The Cave of Skulls



In which our newly minted time travellers encounter a Stone Age tribe engaged in a power struggle over who should be the leader setting the tone for all tribes ad infinitum. The line to be balanced with this kind of thing is how the portrayal of cavemen is achieved. There is much potential for over acting here and while occasionally this does happen, on the whole the production manages to achieve a believable take on such an ancient culture. While the tribe speak English they do so with enough linguistic skill to make the dialogue engaging enough. There’s a bit of grunting, usually when someone’s annoyed but only one occasion where things go right over the top. Poor old Za, trying his best to make fire fails in his goal and yells his head off. I suppose this is the Stone Age equivalent of clearing the air.

26 November 2016

Class - The Metaphysical Engine or What Quill Did



For those who have felt that Class lent too far towards Young Adult fiction here’s an episode that would not be out of place in shows aimed at an older audience. It pivots on the concept of belief becoming real and courtesy of what seems to be a mini TARDIS that provides a far less smooth ride, Miss Quill is taken on a mind bending journey to several of these metaphysical domains as she tries to get the troublesome Arn out of her head as promised by the new Headmistress. Suffice to say it’s a tad more traumatic than a trip to Tesco.
 

23 November 2016

NEW SERIES The Original # 1 An Unearthly Child



53 years ago today the first episode of Doctor Who was broadcast and I’m re-watching the first story once a week to see if I can recapture the magic. 
It is impossible to imagine just what an impact this episode had on anyone watching it in 1963 but equally impossible to imagine that anybody would not want to watch the next episode. This really is a textbook example of how to set up a new series in any genre. Keep it simple, tease mysteries, focus on a handful of characters and make it visually stunning. `An Unearthly Child` does all this and never puts a foot wrong. Years back I remember older fans who’d seen the original broadcast talking in hushed tones about its magnificence and even though I’ve seen it lots of times I’m now not sure I have ever actually watched it. That is to say allowed its contents to reveal themselves without the accumulated narrative weight of 53 more years of Doctor Who swimming about my head. When you do that there is something compelling about every minute of this.

20 November 2016

Class Episode 6 - Detained



If you’ve been following and enjoying the series so far `Detained` is a treat, if not then you may find this more character based episode heavy going as it relies on the developments we’ve so far seen to bring more conflict to the group. It’s something of an homage to seminal 1980s film The Breakfast Club though older eagle eyed viewers may also note some similarities with a 1970s episode of The Ghosts of Motley Hall. You can be fairly sure though that it is the only drama in which someone has been called a giraffe as an insult!

16 November 2016

The Power of the Daleks



Matthew Kilburn reviews the newly released animated version of the classic 1966 story which introduced the second Doctor.
BBC Worldwide’s animated The Power of the Daleks is one of the projects one thought would never take place. We’d seen cold water poured on the volcanic flames of an animated parts one and four of The Underwater Menace, and had been assured for years that more than two episodes of a story would never be attempted again. Then, almost without warning, The Power of the Daleks was upon us, and BBC Store was no doubt gratified with many more new customers to strain its servers. As widely trailed, the budget and timescale only allowed for limited powers of expression and motion for the characters and must have entailed difficult choices for a talented team of recreators. 

14 November 2016

Good Times! # 10 ExoSpace 1990



(previously unpublished review 1990)

In its own grounds surrounded by lush greenery and weird fern things, the Imperial Hotel is just the perfect place for Exo-Space! The event may not have been the biggest event of the year but in place of hype and hoopla we instead had a fun, intimate and friendly time where one felt like the committee wanted us to be there for reasons other than balancing the books. It fits in neatly with Exeter itself which has a fresh, exuberant high street, the splendour of a cathedral and lots of those tea shops you normally see in small country villages. The Imperial nestles amidst hills and slopes above the main railway station and not too far from the University.  

Problems? Exo-Space had them by the cartload. The tragic death of Graham Williams, the late change of venue, the fierce competitiveness of the 1990 convention calendar and even changes of main hall between Saturday and Sunday. Despite the open and relaxed mood the sadness of Graham Williams' death was far from forgotten, especially for those of us who'd met him. I’d had the pleasure of interviewing him some five years ago and found him to be charming, modest and great company in one crowded convention hall that day. He'd been scheduled to headline this event and it was re-organised as a tribute. 
 

12 November 2016

Class - Brave-ish Heart



The middle of a series run is a good place to hit a peak and this fifth episode absolutely achieves that. Visually superb and narratively involving matters come alive by focussing as much on the foibles of the characters as the overall scenario. It may be a tad self- conscious in its attempts to woo a target teenage audience and I still can’t understand a word the Shadow Kin say but overall this a bold episode that plays with big themes and big emotions and earns a strong victory.
Spoilerific review follows..
"If we take the Jubilee Line, it's four stops to the Shadow Kin McDonalds"

9 November 2016

Good Times! #9 Nebula 90

Nebula 90 Photo Special- event held at Adelphi Hotel in Liverpool 1990 featuring Peter Davison, Nicola Bryant, Sophie Aldred, Nick Courtney, Debbie Watling, Sharon Duce, Ian Briggs, Frank Windsor, Michael Cochrane.

5 November 2016

Class - Co-owner of Lonely Heart



You’ve got to hand it to Patrick Ness, this episode is an extremely bizarre collision of familial woes and alien goings on. On paper it shouldn’t work yet somehow it does. After `Nightvisiting` set the tone following the uneven two openers, this amusingly titled fourth amps up the overall plot furthering the distance from Doctor Who to become a series with its own identity.
Plot spoilers beyond this point

31 October 2016

Good Times! #8 PanoptiCon 8 1987 and Nebula 26 1989



PanoptiCon 8 Event highlights

Saturday:

MC- David Banks
`The Faceless Ones` episode 3
Colin Baker, Nicola Bryant, Tony Selby – Colin showing off his new slimline figure while Nicola in an answer to a bold question from the audience revealed she was married. Tony made a point of saying how hard JNT had worked to keep the show going.
Sophie Aldred- Introduced as if she were a competition winner, this was her debut convention appearance and she seemed a bit overawed by it. There was also an on screen message from the unavailable Sylvester McCoy.
Barry Letts, Terrance Dicks, Don Houghton and Bob Baker.

29 October 2016

Class Nightvisiting



Excellent third episode of Doctor Who spin- off now on BBC3 on the iPlayer.
Anyone who found the opening two episodes too broad or shrill may prefer this thoughtful and occasionally poignant story of an unconventional invasion which sees the streets of London festooned with bizarre appendages reaching into windows. The episode opens though with a montage telling us the story of Tanya’s late father and the aftermath of his death. This is a strong opening to what is an episode that relies on character rather than too much technobabble and is all the better for it. At the centre of things, Vivian Oparah delivers a powerful performance as the confused and shocked Tanya.
Spoiler Warning – key plot points revealed after the break

22 October 2016

Class Episodes 1 and 2



It’s been a while since we had a new Doctor Who spin off and just as it seemed as if that period was gone, along comes Class. At least for those aware of it. Debuting on the BBC’s peculiar channel / portal hybrid BBC3, it starts off at a disadvantage because even the Radio Times barely acknowledges 3’s existence. The show has a potential draw in the form of Peter Capaldi guesting in the opening episode…but nobody really wants to say too much about that because the series is unsuitable for younger people. On the other hand this is a series for…erm younger people. One way or another it will be a miracle if people find this show let alone decide to watch it. Who is it really designed for? 

17 October 2016

The Time When Tom Baker published his autobiography



The gap between my initial encounter with the television debut of the fourth Doctor in December 1974 and what I now know about the actor who played him is Atlantic wide. To a kid, Tom was the lively, boggle eyed, long scarf bedecked grinning hero who saved us all from the squidgy monsters and helped make 5.20 pm on a Saturday night a magical place. To an adult, Tom became a bawdy, crazy eccentric obsessed with death and, er, ironing. Inevitably these two aspects came together in 1997 when Tom Baker published his autobiography. In some ways it was something you didn’t want him to do as explanations often sabotage the most beguiling people. By this time though Tom was out and about on the convention circuit and re-engaging with his best known role. These appearances- and the book they promoted- did not disappoint. 

14 October 2016

Reverse the Polarity



Highly recommended 1992 Jon Pertwee interview.
One of the aspects that made Jon Pertwee such a great convention guest was his rapport with a large audience whose enthusiasm he in turn would feed with a raconteur’s skill. Rarer are one to one interviews outside of chat shows and `Reverse The Polarity` is probably the best I’ve seen. It features a lengthy interview with the actor as well as some fans’ memories of him, additional comments from Richard Franklin plus some behind the scenes footage of the third Doctor as he meets and greets fans at a video signing.

10 October 2016

Good Times! #6 PanoptiCon 6 1985



(Adapted from a review first published in the MLG Megazine 1985)

Standing on a pebble strewn Brighton beach on an unseasonal July morning strafed by winds with waves washing the stones I try to imagine France on the horizon beyond the swirling grey sea though you can’t see it. Indeed you can’t see much but the heavy sky. It’s film weather this and you can imagine taking the cameras over the beach in the build up to some dark drama. This weekend though our particular drama is behind me inside the seafront Brighton Metropole hotel where the latest PanoptiCon is taking place. 

3 October 2016

The Making of a TV Series book 1983



In many ways this is the continuation of the two versions of `The Making of Doctor Who` which had appeared in 1972 and again re-edited with additions in 1976. Published by Puffin and credited to Alan Road with photographs by Richard Farley, the book has the dimensions of a magazine and in 1983 sold for the princely sum of £1.95. While undoubtedly a more detailed analysis of the component parts that go into making a Doctor Who story its value is also that it is now a historical account of what television production was like in another time. Generously illustrated with official and behind the scenes photos- some in colour- it is a visual treat. Just like the previous Making of books it uses one story as an example so following `The Sea Devils` and `Robot`, under the microscope here is `The Visitation`. 

An early double page photo of the studio lights over the TARDIS set serves notice that this is to be an altogether more fact based account though. There are no fanciful Time Lord Files here. While this approach can occasionally make the book seem a tad dry, this is more than made up for by the way it illuminates the different production stages. Peter Davison provides an introduction where he declares “practically everyone involved knows more about what is going on than the actor.” 

25 September 2016

Good Times! #5 DWASocial 5 and Fan Aid 1985



DWASocial 5 (originally published in The MLG Megazine 1985. Extra material 2016)
One month after joining the DWAS exec commitee along came DWASocial 5, an event on a much larger scale than usual, due to the titanic efforts of Gordon Roxburgh, who was looking after most things while Paul Zeus gets to grips with the forthcoming three day summer PanoptiCon. Apart from discovering that a lot of dashing about is required, I also found out something which I may not have otherwise, while stuck in my usual clique, which was the warmth and friendliness of the majority of members within the society who are really a very interesting bunch often contemptuously dismissed as plebs(unfairly). Hopefully I can help change that attitude amongst some of the bigger names in the society. 

19 September 2016

Don't Shoot- He's British Part 4



Apprehensions of national identity and the Doctor by Matthew Kilburn

Doctor Who survived its end of history moment. The last three years of its first run saw a refocusing on the postwar Britain of paternalist, class-led social democracy not as the present or near future, but as the past just gone. The pastiche of Paradise Towers is drawn from the 1970s with its acknowledgements of J.G. Ballard’s High-Rise and Monty Python’s Flying Circus’s architect sketch, but collides with a design aesthetic which doesn’t know how to navigate the fashions of the 1980s let alone reconcile them with the script, and consequently any statement on society which Paradise Towers makes is stifled. The first story to explicitly explore this new hinterland of the newly-lost present with some success is Delta and the Bannermen

18 September 2016

Pyramids of Mars - the prequel!



It is a quiet Tuesday in the Pyramid of Mars. Sutekh is asleep snoring loudly under his helmet when the door slides open and a rather stout cleaner sporting gingham overalls and with her hair in a tight bun enters. She is carrying a mop and bucket which she places with a clang on the floor, splashing soapy water in the vicinity. She roughly picks up the mop and starts mopping.

Sutekh stirs on his throne.

“Scarman?” he intones in a sonorous voice.

The cleaner carries on her work but replies, “Oh ‘ello love. Sorry to disturb.”

“Where is Scarman?” demands Sutekh.

“Oh I dunno about that, luv. I don’t normally do this room but Marj is off to the Azores this week so I’m filling in. I won’t be two tics then you can get back to your forty winks.”

“I am Sutekh the Destroyer.”

“Nice to meet you. I’m Ethel the cleaner.”

16 September 2016

Good Times! #4 The Anniversary Party 1983 & Interface 3 1984



The Doctor Who Anniversary Party (review published in `Shada` 1984) 
Who would have thought that when Doctor Who began all those years ago in grainy monochrome as a children's show that, some twenty years later it would have provided the impetus for an event like the Anniversary Party, held at the Grand Hotel Birmingham on September 3/4 1983. It's one of the greatest achievements of television that it has brought together as many people from different areas of the country who might not have otherwise crossed paths and if I'm getting unusually philosophical its probably because I'm still recovering from the sheer gut wrenching horror of the Demon Driver, Steve Mercer, speeding out of Brum at the weekend's conclusion as if we were being chased by a dozen homing missiles; hapless onlookers diving for cover. Not that I exaggerate, though if I told the truth about some of the things which went on that weekend, you wouldn't believe a word. So here goes with the (relatively) censored version.

12 September 2016

Don't Shoot- He's British Part 3


Apprehensions of national identity and the Doctor by Matthew Kilburn

Specific models of Britishness were important to a series which was beginning to be marketed more consciously and more aggressively towards stations in the United States. In 1978 Tom Baker was pictured at the head of a queue of monsters in front of the US visa applications office in Grosvenor Square, London. The launch of Doctor Who Weekly by Marvel UK in 1979 was presented as the meeting of a distinctively British hero, cerebral and eccentric, with the marketing values of the costumed American superhero. This was in part a misrepresentation, given how far Dez Skinn’s Marvel UK sought to assimilate American characters and storytelling to British comic traditions, and how the Doctor’s British identity and perceived eccentricity depended upon subtler layering than reporting suggested. However, the tone of the campaign may have influenced the fashioning of the Doctor’s identity in the ensuing decade.

9 September 2016

Good Times! #3 PanoptiCon 5 and DWASocial 3 (1982)



PanioptiCon 5  (Originally published in `Shada` 1982)

What a hotel Birmingham's Grand is! Full of huge oak doors, ornate chandeliers, detailed carvings, rich deep carpets and long rather disconcerting mirrors. Totally different from the usual semi-modern University set ups of old, and no doubt light years away from that Battesea Church Hall where the first Convention was held in '77.  

5 September 2016

Don't Shoot - He's British! Part Two



Apprehensions of national identity and the Doctor by Matthew Kilburn

It’s in the third Doctor’s period that the programme makes its most deliberate critical allusion to British imperial history. In The Mutants, the Doctor’s mission to Solos and his conduct represents one strand of British establishment thinking, the civilized British administrator as liberal interventionist. The Marshal and his regime embody the grubby reality of exploitation and subjugation. The Doctor’s open-mindedness and persistence leads him to play his part with Sondergaard and crucially the Solonians in the restoration of an all-but-obliterated Solonian culture and self-knowledge. One thinks of British anthropologists and ethnologists reaching in the late imperial and immediate post-imperial phase to demonstrate appreciation of the cultures which had previously been officially dismissed.

2 September 2016

Good Times! #2 DWASocial 2 (1981) & Interface 2 (1982)



Over 21 years from 1981 to 2002 I attended dozens of Doctor Who conventions and events reviewing many of them at the time for various print fanzines. In this series of posts I’m reproducing some of those reviews which hopefully capture the spirit and flavour of what conventions and also smaller events were like. They remain largely unedited except for anything completely embarrassing! These are very much personal opinions of the events, what I saw and the people I shared them with.
(Originally published in 1982 in `Frontier Worlds`)
In late November, Edinburgh played host to the second social of 1981, and those who attended enjoyed themselves a great deal. Set in the impressive structures of the University, the formal side of things kicked off with a showing of `Beyond the Sun`. a story which perhaps lacked pace but certainly fell in no way short on drama. It was an opportunity that gave the cast a chance to stretch out a bit (yes, they all got to lie on the floor) and a tense atmosphere was quickly attained by the increasing tension between just the main four characters. Some scenes were literally gripping - such as Susan running riot with a pair of scissors, and Ian trying to throttle the Doctor, who himself has a blazing row with Barbara. As the story went on, there was a gradual change from confusion to fear and finally hope. When their problems were at last over, the relief flooded over to the audience such had been the conviction of the acting and script. Definitely an adult story, though, which probably lost the younger audience at the time.  


29 August 2016

Don't Shoot- He's British! Part One



NEW SERIES Apprehensions of national identity and the Doctor
by Matthew Kilburn. Part One.
Lots of Doctor Who commentators seem to agree that the Doctor is somehow quintessentially British. This is inevitable when Doctor Who has been produced over five decades by one of the United Kingdom’s principal binding institutions, the BBC. It’s often assigned to a genre, dramatic science fiction, widely regarded for much of Doctor Who’s history as dominated by the United States. This is the first of three articles which will suggest how Doctor Who’s Britishness is constructed, not only through its production (until 1989) from a base which is not only British but London-English, but through some of the other contextual markers evident or implied in production. Few seem to be agreed on what qualifies the Doctor as a character to be considered British. Indeed, a mark of Britishness is that its qualities are difficult to identify. While all national identities are to some degree constructions consciously assembled by political, business, military or literary figures, or built upon assumptions and identifications particular to one cultural centre and then disseminated across territories as a secondary consideration to commercial or administrative needs, British identity is more self-aware of its artificiality than most. On the one hand, this confers a greater ‘authenticity’ upon the national identities of the component parts of the United Kingdom, but on the other it opens Britishness up to be adopted more readily by incomers.

26 August 2016

Good Times! #1 PanoptiCon 4 (1981)



NEW SERIES! For 21 years from 1981 to 2002 I attended dozens of Doctor Who conventions and events  reviewing many of them at the time for various print fanzines. In this series of posts I’m reproducing some of those reviews which hopefully capture the spirit and flavour of what conventions and also smaller events were like. They remain largely unedited except for anything completely embarrassing! These are very much personal opinions of the events, what I saw and the people I shared them with. We start at the beginning (for me) with PanoptiCon 4 held at Queen Mary College in London in August 1981.

(Originally published in 1981 in `Steel Sky`)

So there we were, in Euston Station at midnight, Andrew Smith, (yes, him), Mark Crowder and myself when this bloke looking about as healthy as Muto stumbles towards us asking for money. There was I, having just spent about fifty quid on Panopticon IV and this guy will sleep on the stone cold floor of the station. Welcome to the real world. You may think your city centre is large but that's peanuts compared to London, as Douglas Adams might say. It is a huge teaming mass of people each to his own. You could be alone and forgotten in a crowded street of milling thousands. You never see London. You see bits of it and fleeting images stick with you, but every time you go back its a whole new place to explore. 

This was my first convention and my companions through the labyrinthine corridors of our beloved capital were Mark Crowder, (who luckiIy knew the place fairly well) and Ian Mackenzie, (hot on ideas, but not on how to get there). Still we managed to find our way onto the Tube and finally arrived at the accommodation centre. Our sense of anticipation was soon replaced by boredom was we watched Ian McLachlan bravely try to sort out someone else’s mistakes with the room listings as familiar figures milled about, everyone trying to pretend they had nothing to do with a Doctor Who convention. Over in the pub opposite a small band of people clustered around tables; Martin Wiggins tried telling everyone how good `Savage` was and, failing this, vanished into the raining darkness. Not an auspicious start.

18 July 2016

The Doctor Who Holiday Special 1977



Our look at the three magazines produced by Polystyle Productions during the Seventies concludes  with the 1977 Special.
It would be more than three years before another Special but in the meantime Doctor Who fans had enjoyed two brilliant glossy poster magazines that abandoned comic strip stories and educational articles about space to print gorgeous colour photos and have pin ups of Styre and Vorus! Quite why then Polystyle returned in late 1977 with a Winter Special that did none of these things and didn’t even match the previous ones is a mystery. Anyway return they did on cheaper paper but now costing 35p. The cover photo is of the fourth Doctor and Leela in the sewers during `Talons of Weng Chiang`. This will turn out to be the visual highpoint unfortunately.

15 July 2016

The Doctor Who Holiday Special 1974




Our look at the three magazines produced by Polystyle Productions during the Seventies continues with the 1974 Special.


The 1974 Special is fronted by a curious photo of the third Doctor looking a bit knackered. See inside, it says, for “thrilling picture stories, quizzes, exciting features, portrait pin ups and lots more!” 
Judging from the photo the excitement has exhausted him! Jon Pertwee’s introduction on the inside page hopes we have a lovely holiday and continue to be fans of the Doctor. Well so far I am but the holiday I’ve totally forgotten! 
 `Doomcloud` is the first comic strip story this time concerning the bulbous headed Zirconians who seem to travel about looking for new planets in the middle of a galactic cyclone. After only a page and a half this is a far more engaging story than any of the ones in the 1973 Special. In order to save people’s lives UNIT has to evacuate everyone to nuclear shelters as a poisonous cloud envelops the world. The ending is a little pat but even so this is a good start.

8 July 2016

The Doctor Who Holiday Special 1973



During the Seventies a number of one off Doctor Who magazines were released including three Specials which were produced by Polystyle Publications (yes, their logo features a parrot!) who were based in Edgeware Road in London and produced the magazine TV Action. Published in 1973, 1974 and 1977 it is fair to say these are not the best examples of Doctor Who publications in a decade that brought us the Radio Times Special, The Making of Doctor Who and two excellent poster magazines. Nonetheless they are an interesting snapshot of another era.

1973

This is by far the best and the one that would be of most interest to fans, especially in the day.  It cost 10p back then! The first thing that strikes you is the rare photograph on the cover which seems to have been specially shot during the making of `Frontier in Space`. It depicts the Doctor, Jo and The Master all looking at something to which the Doctor is pointing. Perhaps it was Barry Letts dancing a jig? It’s a fairly random picture for the cover except that it does feature the three principal cast members. Eschewing an official logo the bold red words Doctor Who are emblazoned across the top. However much of the rest of the mag uses the shorthand Dr Who.

4 July 2016

Doomsday



2006+10
Gripping and emotional finale draws together the season’s themes.
The most remarkable aspect of this gripping finale is not the Daleks vs Cybermen dust up nor the skyscraping concepts on display but the acting of Billie Piper. When it comes to the crunch she delivers a performance that is so nuanced and interesting it takes your attention away from the metallic battling elsewhere. Rose Tyler’s always been both normal and yet unusual with a rare empathy for the victims of the Universe; that’s why she and the Doctor are such a good fit. There’s a scene early on where she stands up to the Daleks with a mixture of cheekiness and grit. It’s one of many moments where Billie P nails exactly what Rose should be like, the template for the modern companion. When we reach the sad ending of the story the way she just crumbles on the other side of the Void just seems real. The series did- and in some ways still does - miss her not that I’m suggesting she keeps popping back of course. In fact the show almost undid the simple beauty of the final Bad Wolf Bay goodbye when Rose did indeed come back a couple of years later. “Will I see you again?” she asks tearfully. “Yes, in a couple of season’s time” the Doctor doesn’t say. 

29 June 2016

Army of Ghosts

2006+10


Unlikely beginnings give way to sterling climax.
“I ain’t afraid of no ghosts” warbles the Doctor and the trouble with this episode is that nobody else is either. For a writer who prefers to emphasise the emotional aspect of his work, the first half of Russell T Davies’s season finale treats the apparent return of the familial deceased as little more than a gimmick. There’s certainly mileage in a more carefully calibrated tale of such apparitions but it is absent here, replaced by a somewhat irritating David Tennant performance and said ghosts just standing about while people play football or wash the dishes. There is no real interaction with them neither does the subsequent parade of then contemporary television programmes featuring ghosts convince. A more qualified student of television might be able to relate how clever this all is but in this context it provides an awkward opening to a story, totally devoid of any sense of threat.  Admittedly RTD does throw in references to some kind of psychic suggestion but much of the episode lacks the fire suggested by the bold introduction. Luckily better things are lurking later on.


22 June 2016

Fear Her



2006+10
Unusually low key episode works until the last lap.

`Fear Her` feels like it’s come from somewhere else, that it was written for another project or as a short story and somehow found its way into the 2006 version of Doctor Who for which it just seems a bit out of place. Only Matthew Graham knows if that is the case but unfortunately it has gone down in history as the dud of the season which makes it sound like it’s awful. Which it isn’t. Parts of it are quite intriguing and it has the rare distinction of being a genuine mystery that the Doctor and Rose have to solve by deduction; an aspect Graham’s script acknowledges with their jokey detective banter. 

20 June 2016

Fashionable Frontier In Space



Last year Rosalind the grand- daughter of actress Vera Fusek did a photoshoot on her blog in which she rocks the very same dress sported by her grandmother in `Frontier in Space` back in 1973. The erstwhile President of Earth was seen lounging about during the story but perhaps not quite like this. That would have surprised General Williams!

17 June 2016

Love and Monsters



2006+10
Playing with the format of Doctor Who yields surprising results.
There’s something quite prescient about `Love and Monsters` that has only become apparent since it was broadcast. YouTube had only been going for less than a year when the story was written and made yet the episode presents it’s main character Elton’s story like a vlog even taking time to comment on the fact. Elton has to lean over to do a zoom in (but gets a remote control zoom at the end) and he offers his story with an awareness of the form in which he is doing so mixing it like a tv series. Like Doctor Who I suppose. The episode has become synonymous with being a comment on fandom and fans but it is actually not specifically about that at all. Russell T Davies writes here passionately (well he always writes with passion) on friendship through shared interests, on how such relationships develop and also how fame can affect things for the worse. LINDA’s happy gatherings, though initially intent on tracking down the mysterious Doctor, develop into more conventional activities like baking or making music. It’s only when the original aim is hijacked by Kennedy that everything is spoiled. 

13 June 2016

The Making of Doctor Who 1976



Four years after the excellent `Making of Doctor Who` book was published it was decided to re-release an updated version in 1976. Much had happened in the ensuing period, not least a change of Doctor and production team as well as an increasing number of novelisations of the series under the Target imprint owned by Tandem Publishing which was a division of Howard and Wyndham. Features in the `World of Horror` magazine, two special poster mags, the new Doctor Who Appreciation Society and most of all the 1973 Radio Times special did mean that this updated version did not hold quite the same allure as its 1972 predecessor. In four years Doctor Who material was not so thin on the ground. The book was still credited to Terrance Dicks and Malcolm Hulke and included some of the material from the first, sometimes revised and updated as well as new material. The cover features a rather striking piece of artwork of Tom as the Doctor though presumably to fit the brand he is in front of a target!

8 June 2016

The Satan Pit

2006 +10
A clever, exciting watch from start to finish.

“The devil is an idea,” says the Doctor at one point in this fascinating second part which mixes up traditional action, an astoundingly big monster and some philosophical debate in a glorious package. It’s an episode that brims with the confidence of success yet also continues to grow the series in interesting new directions. It’s easy to imagine a story like this in the old days only it would limit itself to the threat of the possessed Ood. `The Satan Pit`, rather like the Beast himself, is wilier than that and has the Doctor and Ida discuss the idea of the devil while trapped at the bottom of a 10 mile abyss. I remember watching this at the time and being constantly wrong footed as to where it was going especially when we get to see the Beast and it can’t speak at all. That his mind has been separated adds another jeopardy in an episode that first time round keeps you guessing. 

5 June 2016

Could the Doctor be played by a black actor?



Why not? It seems an odd question in some respects, far less significant than if the character were to be played by a woman. That, while still plausible, would involve some re calibration of the series whereas a black actor would in theory be no more odd that someone with curly hair or someone who was only 27. There’s been quite a fuss this week following Steven Moffat’s revelation that the part of the Doctor was offered to a black actor at some point, believed to be at the start of his era when Matt Smith was eventually cast. The hitherto unknown news was coupled- in an interview with DWM- with the additional information that only non- white actors were auditioned for the role of Bill, the newest companion. This kind of thing always stirs up a mixture of opinions with some fans reacting with horror, other with nonchalance. Digital Spy have since run through which actors they think may have been offered the role which, oddly (or not) consists of the best known British black actors. One name shouts out (and he would certainly be shouting) in the form of Paterson Joseph whom some people have been linking to the role for years.  

1 June 2016

The Impossible Planet



2006+10
Superior episode that shows all that is great about this era of the show.

A sure fire way of knowing just how much Doctor Who has permeated popular culture is when you see kids playing a scene from the series. Ten years ago I was in a shop when I heard a familiar refrain - “We must feed”. Sure enough, two children were pretending to be Ood in public as if it was the greatest thing ever. They were re-playing what is both an excellent opening scene and also one of the best gags the show has done. And after that the episode never stops delivering on every level. Those kids obviously loved it because it’s big, colourful and packed with incident. It’s got the spine tingling voice of Gabriel Woolf who chilled another generation thirty years or so earlier. It’s got the Ood one of the few classic monsters the modern series has created. Yet it also has a mind bending concept and an undercurrent of devilish behaviour. It looks fantastic, it moves at just the right pace, it manages to show a convincing lived in and worked in base. It has a great roster of characters. In fact, there is absolutely nothing wrong with it! 

27 May 2016

Was the 1996 TV Movie any good?



Re-visiting the TV Movie twenty years on
There are few Doctor Who stories whose stock has dropped as rapidly as the TV Movie. People and fans (even me!) seemed to really like it when it was first shown but as soon as it became obvious there would be no series as a result the production got the blame which seems unfair. The Movie is, in the end, an enjoyable but not classic sort of story. Had it been just the start of a new series it would no doubt be looked upon fondly as the `Robot` of the Paul McGann era. Two decades on and we now have a lot of modern Doctor Who to compare it with so it doesn't look as good as we might have thought.

23 May 2016

The Idiot's Lantern

2006+10

The traditions of the 1950s and of Doctor Who itself meet in a well-played, visually impressive episode.

Sitting between a couple of ambitious two parters,  The Idiot’s Lantern has tended to be overlooked which is a pity because there is much to love in Mark Gatiss’ compact homage to both the dawn of television and classic Doctor Who. He takes the traditional elements of a great Who story- a memorable monster, a gaggle of interesting characters, a crazy mad villain, a companion in danger and a pseudo historic setting and brings them to life in fresh ways. The episode shows too how in that old Doctor Who tradition minimal resources can be stretched. The story was probably cheaper to make than either of the two epics that surround it yet this never shows. Director Euros Lynn’s love of askew camera angles ensures 2000’s Cardiff easily becomes 1950s London. If the static sometimes looks a little like it’s been rushed this actually fits in with the tone of the story. All together it turns out this is one of the season’s best episodes.

18 May 2016

Age of Steel


Series 2006+10

Second part of alternative Cyber origins story has plenty of action and surprising heart.

After the awkward `Rise of the Cybermen`, part 2 of the story proves to be better if only for the fact that a lot happens. Coming across at times like a pocket 45 minute movie, `Age of Steel` is an old fashioned adventure in which our heroes storm the headquarters of the villain three ways and each has a tale to tell. Furthermore it belatedly does introduce something of the people who become Cybermen. These are fleeting (because the pace of the episode is speedy) but important moments where the original person behind the metal mask is revealed in tragic metallic tones. In both cases the person was female which somehow makes it more poignant. 

15 May 2016

The Time When the TV Movie arrived




While we can now put the TV Movie into perspective the fact remains that in 1996 there was a lot of excitement amongst fans and the media about the apparent return of the show. We’d been waiting more than six years for something concrete after a string of rumours and vague statements from the BBC and others. However in May 1996 it arrived..... 
The UK Premiere! 
There was a swish premiere of the TV Movie at BAFTA in London on 23 May 1996 with two screenings and here’s an actual account written at the time by Neil Hutchings who was there.
“So there we are, at BAFTA, lurking outside like sad fans. I’m gazing across the road, probably distracted by the traffic lights changing when someone says; “That was him. He’s very short.” It seems Paul McGann sneaked inside before our very eyes (or not in my case). “Was he wearing his wig?” I wonder. “No but he’s wearing a nice blue suit.” Rumour has it that Sylvester McCoy is also on the premises but I didn’t see him either. Wouldn’t make a very good reporter would I? It’s only 8.10 and the screening isn’t due to start until 9.30 so it is decided to have a bite to eat. When we return to BAFTA the other 196 ticket holders appear to have arrived and formed what I understand is known as a queue, a phenomenon invented in Wiltshire in the early 80s. TV cameras have arrived to take pictures of the queue and some days later I am informed that I have made a non -speaking standing still appearance on Newsround. Hoorah!