Tag Archives: David Tennant

Doctor Who – Jumping the Shark?

So after a disappointing finale, and a couple of major announcements about the series, a number of fans can hear the sounds of Fonzie readying a pair of water ski’s… All of this is more amazing following on mere weeks from the triumphs that were Human Nature, Family of Blood and Blink.

So what has brought the turnaround? Firstly there was the finale of the series. As I said at the time, Utopia was about one thing, bringing back the Master, and once it got to that point it was pretty gripping. The following two episodes The Sound of Drums and Last of the Time Lords were successively more disappointing with Last of the Time Lords being the first to poll more people being dissatisfied with the episode than liking it in the Behind the Sofa poll – looking at the table you can see Human Nature, Family of Blood and Blink polling 94%, 95% and 97% respectively.

Towards the end of this blog posting condensing the plot of the three series so far, there is a comment that sums things up well:

R. T. Davies: Hello. I am R. T. Davies and I am excellent. I apologise for the interruption, but I have run out of ideas on how to finish this storyline. Instead, I shall steal elements from Greek mythology, Superman, Douglas Adams, Batman, the Carry On films and …err… Flash Gordon and hope nobody notices the complete dog’s dinner I’ve made of what was, until I got my hands on it, a rather excellent series. Sorry. All sorted. Happy ending. I’ll be off now.

Certainly the big reset button resolution can work, although it is always seen as a bit of a disappointing cop out – the Star Trek Voyager episodes Year of Hell being a good example, however as has been pointed out numerous times on Behind the Sofa, things didn’t reset – time rolled back to the point where the billions of Toclofane appeared, but totally forgot the four that were there already. Alongside this, the whole Face of Boe/Jack thing doesn’t stand up to the scrutiny of watching the previous appearances of the Face of Boe in The End of the World in particular.

Following on from this we had confirmation of the casting of Kylie Minogue in the upcoming Christmas special Voyage of the Damned. This produced some light-hearted puns in news stories based on Kylie’s hits, but nothing too negative – fans seemed to be used to a bit of celebrity casting at Christmas. However all of that was obliterated by the massive negative reaction to the news that last years bit of celebrity Christmas casting, Catherine Tate who played Donna, is to be introduced as a full time companion next year. The reaction seems to be almost universal – you only need to listen to this news item take a look through the angry comments on Have Your Say to establish that. A point raised by many of the comments is that in terms of recent guest stars there is another, much better possibility for a new companion in the form of Carey Mulligan and the character Sally Sparrow that she played in Blink.

Having said that, lets not forget that this isn’t the first negative reaction to a casting decision, nor accusation of celebrity casting. The choice of Billie Piper raise a few eyebrows back in 2005, and more notably there was a similar outcry to what has happened this week when Bonnie Langford was cast as Melanie Bush in the series back in 1986.

So is the show about to Jump the Shark? Although the last couple of episodes were disappointing, and the casting of Catherine Tate has come as somewhat of a shock I think not. Over the past three years it has become clear that although Russell T Davies should certainly get the credit for spearheading the return of the series, he is not the best of the writers. Perhaps because he does write the majority of the episodes, and despite the fact that he has produced some relatively good episodes in the past, he does seem to have been responsible for the majority of the absolute clunkers. Other writers such as Paul Cornell and Steven Moffat are the ones who have won the awards, but it is worth remembering that they are only contributing one or two episodes compared to the four or five that Davies produces. Rumour has it that Davies (along perhaps with David Tennant) will leave the series at the end of season 4.

The thing to bear in mind is that the programme has by many peoples definition already Jumpped the Shark and recovered. Although there is debate over the later Sylvester McCoy stories most people seem to think that the programme hit a low patch during the eighties, similarly shown by the falling ratings and ultimate axing of the show. Even before that there have been points where due to falling ratings it was in danger and radical changes were made, a prime example being in 1969 when amidst falling ratings and an unhappy star, Derrick Sherwin took the decision to make the next season earth-bound and brought in the characters and massive change of style of the UNIT era. Currently ratings look strong, and it remains to be seen whether the initial opposition this week translates into falling ratings next year. Even if that happens, the BBC have certainly discovered what a massive money-spinner a well funded Doctor Who can be, so I don’t doubt that if that happens the series will transform again, and like other era’s we’ll be looking back on the Russell T Davies era and looking forward to something else…

Can You Hear the Drums?

saxon_toclafane.jpg

When Doctor Who returned two years ago, outside the basics, the team behind the programme seemed to quite deliberately avoid too many references to the old series. Wind forward to the present series and the situation is almost the reverse. Following on from the sight of images of all the previous faces of the Doctor in Human Nature, to the voices heard by Professor Yana in Utopia last week, we get a positive overdose of fan pleasing moments in the first part of the finale, The Sound of Drums.

Taking the plot first of all, it is all a relatively straightforward affair. The Doctor repairs Captain Jack’s vortex manipulator allowing them to escape. Whilst the Doctor had been unable to stop the Master escaping at the end of Utopia, he had managed to jam the TARDIS controls causing it to return to the same place it left – twenty-first century Earth. However they quickly realise that the Master has returned somewhat earlier, and that the mysterious Mr Saxon is in fact the Master – the mysterious Mr Saxon who has just been elected Prime Minister.

The Master is working with a race of aliens that he calls the Toclafane – although the Doctor believes this to be a made up name. The Master has also prepared traps for the Doctor, and has arrested Martha’s family. He has managed to win the election through the mobile phone network – the same technique that he has used to hide from the Doctor over the preceding months.

The Doctor and his companions manage to sneak onto the secret UNIT airship where the Master is to reveal the Toclafane to the world. However they fail to stop the Master’s plan, indeed the Master uses technology created by Professor Lazarus to age the Doctor, and incapacitates Jack, with only Martha managing to escape. The Master uses the TARDIS – which he has significantly modified and cannibalised, to open a rift and let in the Toclafane – ordering them to immediately destroy one tenth of the population of the world.

Alongside the main plot, there were a lot of back story and references, some very definitely for the fans. Chief among them is an explanation of how the Master comes to be alive and able to regenerate in the first place. Back in the TV Movie the Master manages to escape extermination by the Daleks but has to take over a human ambulance driver to do so. With his new human body decaying, he tries to take over the Doctor, but in the final climactic battle is sucked into the Eye of Harmony at the heart of the TARDIS. During the course of tonight’s episode we find out that during the Time War the Time Lords resurrected him in order to fight, giving him a new life-cycle much as was promised to him for helping the Time Lords in the Five Doctors. However, having been present during a key battle he fled and hid, using the Chameleon Arch to hide his identity. This explanation throws up interesting questions about what involvement the Doctor had in the Time War as he was unaware of the Master being resurrected, perhaps implying that the Doctor only becomes involved later on, after the Master has fled.

There are also several moments that hark back to well remembered Master scenes – for example at one point the Master is seen watching the Teletubbies, harking back to a scene in the Sea Devils when the Master is seen watching The Clangers.

Perhaps the biggest moment from a fan point of view is the first appearance of Gallifrey and of the Time Lord’s themselves as the Doctor describes the origin of the Master. Thanks to modern CGI, we see a panning shot from snowy mountains towards the gleaming Time Lord citadel covered by it’s protective dome. We also see a young Master surrounded by Time Lords, staring into the abyss of the time vortex. There is a definite effort to ramp up the Time Lord mythology, with the sequence reminding me very much of the epic style of movies such as the Lord of the Rings. From comments made by Russell T in the subsequent Doctor Who Confidential the return of the Master was on his list to do, and he implies that there are other things still to do – a return for Gallifrey and the Time Lord’s? Next weeks episode is called The Last of the Time Lords – whether this is because the Doctor has to destroy the Master, or is ironic due to the Doctor rediscovering his people remains to be seen.

It wasn’t only Time Lord references. After the Master has announced to the world that he is going to make first contact, the President of the United States arrives to take over control with UNIT citing that thanks to an agreement in 1968 – a reference to the episode The Web of Fear. Amusingly, considering that the real United Nations has asked that it’s name not be used in reference to UNIT, there were a number of points in the episode where the two organisations were referred to closely together, without ever explicitly stating what the acronym stood for! Having said that, the big budget has also extended to UNIT, with their base of operations this time being The Valiant, a vast airborne aircraft carrier, designed in part by the Master.

However, I’m suspecting that maybe not all the changes will be so welcome. Probably chief amongst the complaints will be the character of the Master, who is even more insane than he has been on previous appearances. Whilst at times there are elements of the dark and brooding character of before, at others he is cracking jokes, and being almost comic, showing many of the traits of David Tennant’s interpretation of the Doctor that so infuriate elements of fandom. John Simm mentions in his Doctor Who Confidential interview that he played the part exactly as written, perhaps passing the buck somewhat in advance of criticisms from the long term fans. Having said that, whose to say that being resurrected and then being long term disguised as a human didn’t unhinge him significantly?

So what is coming up next week? The trailer implies that there is a resistance movement to the Toclafane – but really I’m expecting that that is only going to be a small part of what is going to happen. Return of the Time Lords? We’ll have to wait and see…

The Family of Blood

49.jpg

Quite often with two part stories, the second part is by far the weakest, almost as if the writers had put everything into a spectacular cliff-hanger, and then don’t know what to do with part two. With Human Nature being such a great first part, coming to part two there was a definite question mark over whether The Family of Blood would live up to it. I’m glad to say therefore that part two more than lived up to it, indeed in ways it possibly even surpassed it giving a fantastic conclusion.

Ultimately, the episode turned into a character piece. The cliff-hanger was resolved not by a flash of the Doctor through the Doctor John Smith persona, but purely by Martha. Indeed at one point Nurse Redfern has to encourage a shocked and confused Doctor John Smith to even escape. In the course of the escape Martha even comments how hopeless he is as a human.

They return to the school where Doctor John Smith mobilises the boys, all of whom have been training to protect King and Country, and they mount a defence of the castle. However faced with the Family of Blood and the scarecrows they have little chance, and with the headmaster and another teacher vaporised the boys run. John Smith, Martha and Nurse Redfern end up hiding in an abandoned cottage, whilst the Family of Blood start bombarding the village. Reunited with the pocket watch that holds the essence of the Doctor, we have the heart of the episode, where Doctor John Smith has to choose between a normal life as a human, or to sacrifice himself to become the Doctor again and save humanity.

Essentially, the episode boils down to very much a character piece. When ultimately Doctor John Smith chooses to open the watch, and to return to being the Doctor, the actual defeat of the Family of Blood is very brief. You see almost snapshots of how the Doctor despatches each member of the family – giving them the eternal life they crave, but trapped for eternity in various ways.

Then the final few minutes finish off the story of Tim, the boy who has been hiding the pocket watch, and also continue the First World War theme. The Doctor gives him the watch for good luck, and thanks to his vision of the future seen in episode one he survives the war. The episode finishes with Tim, now an old man, sitting in a wheelchair at a Remembrance Day service, holding the pocket watch. As the priest says the familiar words of the service, the camera pans from a tearful Tim holding the watch across to the figures of the Doctor and Martha on the other side of the green.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

This in some ways very much pointed back at the often forgotten parallel aspect of the show to educate the children watching about history. In the early years this was through purely historical stories, but here the end of the episode is devoted to connecting the characters shown in the rest of the programme through the horrors of the First World War through to the reasons why we wear poppies, and the services at war memorials. Whilst I’m sure there will be some who will bemoan the time spent on these sequences against seeing The Doctor despatch the baddies, ultimately this was the heart of the story, the tragedy of many of the boys in the school being trained for war, a war from which they will never return and also the personal tragedy of Doctor John Smith and Nurse Redfern who thanks to the watch get shown a vision of their future, if
the Doctor is never brought back.

In both cases – Tim, and Doctor John Smith they realise that it is something that has to be done. As Nurse Redfern says to the Doctor when she refuses to come with him, Doctor John Smith was by far the braver man choosing to sacrifice himself, whereas all the Doctor did was hide, and in doing so caused the unnecessary deaths of the villagers who the Family of Blood had killed.

The two episodes had complex themes, themes that I’m sure will take time to explore. However they also turned in some fantastic performances.

Freema Agyeman again had a chance to shine as Martha, with David Tennant giving a great performance in the dual roles of Doctor John Smith and the Doctor. This was especially highlighted in moments when he first held the pocket watch where the two characters switched back and forth with a moment when he was clearly the Doctor, and then returning to an increasingly scared Doctor John Smith, having to choose what to do.

Perhaps the episode was so good because of it’s genesis as a book, although a number of elements of the book were changed for the TV story, however you can now see for yourself, as the BBC have replaced the eBook of the original novel so if you want to compare the two you can. To help you along, you’ve also got extensive authors notes about the original book, plus Paul Cornell’s own notes about adapting it for the screen.

Smith and Jones

So far, Russell T has taken producers prerogative, and written the opening story of each season, and this year was no different. I have to say that New Earth, last years effort was a bit of a stinker, so I wasn’t quite sure what we were going to get, what with a new companion to introduce.

I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. We were introduced to Martha Jones and her entire family within the first few minutes, and then a brief and slightly peculiar encounter with the Doctor, who takes off his tie and disappears. Martha gets even more bemused when after she gets to work as a trainee medical Doctor, when following encounters with strange motorcycle couriers, and a static electric shock, the Doctor turns up again as one of her patients, but claims never to have left the hospital.

350px-smith_and_jones.jpg

Then things start getting really weird. The hospital gets hit by a very strange, and very local thunderstorm, where the rain is going up, and suddenly the building shakes violently, and they find themselves on the moon, with the building being invaded by rhino-like aliens, the Judoon, who the Doctor describes as intergalactic police officers. Martha quickly realises that the Doctor knows a lot about what is going on, and the two team up.

All in all it was a great opening episode. The plot was pretty good too in that the monsters, the Judoon were in a way the good guys – the main baddie actually being a little old lady with a drinking straw! Seriously, expect young children to be terrified of people with drinking straws for a while after this! David Tennant has definitely found his feet in the role of the Doctor with a nice mix of seriousness and bizarre moments, for example after a massive dose of radiation, he shakes it down into his left shoe, which he then throws into a bin. Martha at this point says that she thinks he’s mad. The Doctor agrees, and takes off his other shoe to match!

There are a couple of minor, but probably significant references during the episode. Firstly there are some references to ‘Saxon’, including ‘Vote Saxon’ posters similar to those seen in Torchwood. Secondly, when in the hospital, the Doctor is asked whether he has a brother, and replies “Not any moreâ€?. The Doctor has also taken to name dropping again – claiming he had a laser spanner that was stolen by Emmeline Pankhurst, and talking about meeting Benjamin Franklin. In a moment reminiscent of Peter Davison in The Visitation, the Doctor has a moment of sadness when his trusty sonic screwdriver is destroyed. Unlike the fifth Doctor though, by the end of the episode he has a replacement.

There is also a nice little epilogue – as Martha doesn’t just leap into the TARDIS after the hospital is returned to Earth. Instead, he appears later that evening after Martha has attended a party for her brother. After her enthusiasm at her visit to the moon, the Doctor has come to offer her a trip as a thank you for her help. Martha says that she doesn’t have time, and doesn’t believe the Doctor when he says that he has a time machine. The Doctor proves it’s time travelling abilities by going back to that morning and returning with he tie removed – the strange meeting on the street that so bemused Martha. She then asks the Doctor why he didn’t warn her when he went back, to which the Doctor replies that it is against the rules, ‘crossing into established events is strictly forbidden – except for cheap tricks’. After that she is questions the amount of room, plus the fact that his spaceship is apparently made of wood. The Doctor shows her in side, where she is as usual amazed at the size inside ‘It’s bigger on the inside’ she exclaims, ‘Really? I hadn’t noticed’ answers the Doctor. They then briefly discuss Rose, and how it is one trip only, and she isn’t a replacement for her, and then the Doctor sends them plunging through time to a meeting with Shakespeare next week.

All in all, a great start to the new series, and the trailer for The Shakespeare Code next week looks great.

A Day to Go…

For those of you without access to Sky or Virgin Media, here is the full trailer for the new series of Doctor Who that is currently running on BBCi – but not on Freeview.

The trailer only runs for ninety seconds, but crams a lot in. We get to see some flying Dalek destruction, some scary looking walking scarecrows, lots of pigs running around and someone that looks like the Doctor saying that he isn’t the Doctor amongst other things. We also get a whistle-stop run through some of the guest stars who are turning up this time around, including Michelle Collins, Derek Jacobi toasting Utopia, a brief snippet of the Doctor apparently marrying Jessica Stevenson, John Simm looking really smarmy and of course John Barrowman is back as Captain Jack. The most intriguing snippet though is a couple of shots of someone who looks rather like Denzel Washington – an actor linked with the US revival of the series back in the nineties. He pops up at about 23 seconds, and again at 43 seconds. Having said that, since I suspect a cameo by such a high profile actor would probably have been picked up by the press by now, it probably isn’t. Sure looks like him though…

Having a Laugh with Comic Relief

Yesterday, this years Comic Relief appeal reached it’s climax with eight hours of TV on BBC1 and BBC2. Yet again it pulled in the donations at a fantastic rate, reaching the fantastic total of £40,236,142 by the end of the night (as a comparison, the BBC’s own Children in Need managed £18,300,392 last year).

The show included the conclusion of The Apprentice Does Comic Relief, that I wrote about yesterday. It finished up with Sugar choosing between Campbell and Morgan for the nominal firing – he went for Morgan in the end, which had been hinted at from the start in that in his start of show interview he was the only one seen commenting that he didn’t want to get fired! To be honest the best moments of that can be found in the first part of the show on Thursday – Campbell and Morgan trying to get the other one fired was amusing, but really a postscript to the main programme.

As usual, the show included a mix of hard hitting documentary sequences showing some of the areas the appeal aims to help in both the UK and Africa, and special comedy sketches. The comedy sketches were a bit hit or miss, with the Vicar of Dibley special, whilst having some funny moments, not being the best, and a live Mitchell and Webb sketch that was greeted with pretty well total silence by the live audience. However, Harry Hill provided what was pretty well a TV Burp Greatest Hits, and there were some star studded sequences from the special Little Britain Live. Peter Kay produced a memorable musical number to follow up Amarillo from last time. This time it was the old Proclaimers number, “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)â€? along with Matt Lucas. The video includes an unbelievable range of celebrities, including Lord Lucan and Shergar according to the credits. The video and song are available from iTunes and is going for a record in terms of being the fastest selling online song – we’ve been star spotting in the video, and about the only non-dead celeb who is credited that we can’t spot so far is David Beckham.

The sketches that we laughed at most though, were two of the Catherine Tate ones with a variety of famous people. The first includes David Tennant as a new English teacher, which if you watch, you’ll realise quite why Beth likes it…

The second was just amazing, as it includes Tony Blair, who actually gets a number of the funny lines…

All of the Catherine Tate sketches from the night, together with some bonus material will be available on DVD on April 9th, and is available from Amazon amongst others.

Whilst on the subject of fund-raising goodies, check out Shaggy Blog Stories, a book of one hundred funny blog postings pulled together by Mike Atkinson, and including contributions from a real mix of famous and not so famous UK bloggers, including Dave Walker from Cartoon Church.

422582004_58782f9ad5_o.jpg

Too Much TV Bad For You?

Last night on Doctor Who we got the contribution from Mark Gatiss. After last year where the monsters came through the gas supply, this year his story was set in 1953, with the monster coming through the TV, in The Idiot’s Lantern.

Much as with his story last year, the Doctor hasn’t quite hit his target destination. Instead of his target of New York for a performance by Elvis, he instead ends up in early fifties London, who are preparing for the coronation. Along the street, a local electrical store is selling TV sets at knock down prices, apparently out of duty. However, strange things are happening – residents of the houses are being found, with their faces mysteriously gone, and no sooner does this happen do the Police turn up, and take the faceless people away.

As with his previous script, Gatiss has produced a great episode. The story is based around a lot of the warnings that parents used to give their children about what would happen if they watched too much TV, and there are some amusing jokes based around the whole TV monster idea, indeed the ultimate conclusion where the Doctor defeats the monster effectively by recording it onto a video tape continues the joke. As with some of the earlier stories, it’s all a bit of preposterous hokum, but enjoyable none the less. We again had the mixing of an alien threat, with a bit of domestic drama, and the character of the Doctor seemingly a lot more balanced than he has been – perhaps due to the friendship between David Tennant and Mark Gatiss himself. We also had Maureen Lipman doing her best BBC announcer – but becoming the monster…

Next week we have another of this seasons visits to a planet other than Earth. Although New Earth was set off world, it was on a planet that was supposed to be similar to Earth following the destruction of the original planet. The Impossible Planet is going all out for a really alien planet apparently, so it will be interesting to see how it turns out, as one of the often mentioned reasons for focusing on Earth based stories has been that the production team have been concerned that they couldn’t do an alien planet justice. The writer of the episode, Matt Jones although new to the series, is another who has been involved in writing Doctor Who before, in particular two stories in the New Adventures range.