Tag Archives: John Simm

Ashes to Ashes

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Ashes to Ashes was born out of the nightmare of TV producers everywhere, the unexpected commission. Probably the most famous example of that is the fourth series of Blakes 7, where the production team had believed that the third series was to be the last, blown up the Liberator, tied up loose ends, and the production office had closed. The first most of them knew about a fourth series was when the continuity voice-over over the closing credits announced that the series would return the next year. Other examples include the rushed conclusion of season four and slow pace of season five of Babylon 5 as a result of a very late renewal for the fifth season. The key problem in all those situations is that the writers and producers generally aren’t prepared, or at least their plans tend to have to be changed at short notice – more often than not the result is regarded as not nearly so good – Blakes 7 built new sets, new props and a slightly changed concept, and was axed after only another season. Babylon 5 always was going to end after season five, but the final season is regarded by many as a disappointment.

With Ashes to Ashes, during the closing weeks of production on Life on Mars, after the news that John Simm wanted to stop, and with the final story written and in production, the BBC requested that the producers find some way to reuse the characters. At a late stage the scene in the final Life on Mars where Sam produces a report of his experiences was inserted, and the idea of having another police officer end up in a similar world was created.

Certainly, it is fair to say that I wasn’t keen on the idea – whilst the final episode of Life on Mars, which although I thought was left fairly open clearly pointed to it being something related to Sam, I really couldn’t see how you could drop another person in to that. If the characters were to be the same people that Sam had met you were starting to stray into more sci-fi territory.

Having said that, the situation was largely as a result of trying to find a vehicle for the characters, and the unwillingness of people like John Simm to continue. Whilst the linking of the series might be a bit of a problem, I certainly was still going to watch Ashes to Ashes.

So at the end of last week, we sat down to watch Ashes to Ashes. I have to say that my comment that it is nothing more than a rehash of Life on Mars is pretty well spot on. There may be a bit of a changed dynamic in having a woman in the Sam role, and some changes in that she knows about Sam’s experiences and strongly believes she is in a coma, essentially this is the same basic plot, even down to having links between present day events and the era in which Alex Drake arrives.

However, don’t conclude that because it’s a clone, it’s not any good. Even though you can draw clear parallels with Life on Mars, it was still a fairly entertaining watch. True it doesn’t have the originality, and not the same level of mystery as to what is going on that you had before, but with the much loved trio of Gene Hunt, Ray Carling and Chris Skelton, and a different selection of nostalgic pop culture references, you felt right at home.

It certainly goes to show that you don’t necessarily need originality to produce entertaining TV – it just remains to see if stripped of the originality and the mystery elements of the original series there will be enough to keep the interest of the audience longer term, and take it beyond being a shadowy clone of Life on Mars.

Can You Hear the Drums?

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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…

He’s Back

Lets be clear, in Utopia the apparent main plot, about the last of humankind trying to escape a dying planet on a rocket was really an irrelevance. This episode was about one thing, and one thing only – bringing back the Master.

The rumours had already let slip key facts, that John Simm was going to be the Master, and that Derek Jacobi was playing a character who could be a Timelord – possibly the Master, however tonight was when all the pieces were put together. Rolled into the mix was the return of Captain Jack who quite literally jumped onto the TARDIS for the ride.

Having picked up Captain Jack the TARDIS is sent hurtling into the future where they find a group of humans barricaded in a rocket silo, hunted by ‘Futurekind’ the de-evolution of humans to savages. Inside the silo kindly Professor Yana is struggling to build working rocket to take the humans to Utopia, a legendary place believed to be a colony of humans.

The Doctor and Professor Yana quickly build a rapport, as the Doctor helps the professor fix the problems with the rocket. The professor drifts away into his thoughts at times, and says he hears the sound of drums, but has done since childhood. He does not know his origin, aside from being found as an orphan on the home planet of the Face of Boe – the creature who told the Doctor he was not alone back in Gridlock.

The Doctor asks to have the TARDIS retrieved and brought into the silo, which the humans do, but this produces a strange reaction in the professor. It seems some how familiar – he starts hearing voices (voices that would certainly be familiar to fans of Doctor Who…) but is still confused as to what is happening. Then Martha sees that he has a pocket watch – a watch that is identical to the watch used by The Doctor to become human to hide from the Family of Blood. She tells Professor Yana enough to get him to examine the watch, and then Yana starts hearing another voice insisting that he open the watch. Martha runs to tell the Doctor, and whilst she is telling him of the watch, Yana gives in to the voices and opens the watch. Gone is the kindly personality, and the Master is released. As the effects of the Chameleon Arch are reversed the Doctor senses that he is no longer alone – another Timelord now exists.

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As the Doctor races back to the professor’s lab, the reawakened Master tries to block his way by shutting down the doors, and letting in the Futurekind. Confused as to what is happening, the professor’s assistant pulls a gun on the Master, but is murdered by the Master by electrocution. The Doctor reaches the lab in time to see the Master shot by his former assistant with her dying breath, and stagger into the TARDIS and lock the door.

Inside the TARDIS the Master regenerates, and taunts the Doctor over the intercom. The Doctor begs him, telling him that they are the last of their race and to put their old battles behind them – Martha says that she recognises his new voice. However despite the best efforts of the Doctor to stop him, the Master takes off in the TARDIS leaving the Doctor and his companions stranded at the end of the universe.

All in all it was a fantastic ending. Despite the spoilers, the production team had managed to keep enough secret that even though you knew the Master was returning, the kindly Professor Yana threw you off the scent, and the rest of the action kicked along enough that you didn’t get a chance to think back until the pocket watch is revealed. You were also thrown off somewhat by the return of Captain Jack and the need to resolve issues left over from The Parting of the Ways.

In terms of the return of the Master, there are some unresolved questions. One of the memories that Professor Yana hears from the pocket watch before he opens it is of the final battle between the Master and the Eighth Doctor, at the conclusion of which the Master is sucked into the core of the TARDIS, having survived the death of his Timelord body at the hands of the Daleks using a creature that has allowed him to possess a human body. How did he escape the TARDIS? Perhaps during the events of The Parting of the Ways – but that still doesn’t quite explain how he has returned as a Timelord with a renewed power to regenerate (the goal he was seeking over many of his previous appearances) and with access to a Chameleon Arch. Perhaps all will be explained in what now transpires to be parts two and three of the final three part story, The Sound of Drums, and The Last of the Timelords.

The Lazarus Experiment

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After being a bit disappointed with the return of the Daleks last week, I’m glad to say that the Lazarus Experiment was a definite return to form. Of course it was ripping off other sci-fi stories all over the place – The Fly and the Quatermass Experiment for a start, and of course the ambitious scientist whose experiment goes wrong has been done before in various forms during the history of Doctor Who, but it was thoroughly enjoyable none the less.

Amongst the cast, it also marked the first appearance of Mark Gatiss on screen in the series, him having penned The Unquiet Dead and The Idiot’s Lantern shown in the previous two seasons. Gatiss was given the pivotal role of Professor Richard Lazarus, the scientist whose great experiment on himself, alongside apparently making him younger, reawakens long dormant genes that transform him into a monster that rampages through the building. Considering that Gatiss is both primarily known as a comedy actor and is also a fan, his appearance could very well have been a hammy overacted disaster, but I am glad to say that it was great, with Lazarus being believable and well rounded, a notable scene being towards the end in Southwark Cathedral (although as the scissor arch in later scenes gives away was actually filmed in Wells) where Lazarus and the Doctor talk before their final battle.

Alongside the entertaining main plot, we also go quite a bit of significant seed sowing for later on in the season. During the course of the episode, Martha’s mother is warned by a mysterious guest at the party that the Doctor is dangerous. Initially you take it to be someone who works for Lazarus. However later on he reappears and tells her something else – something we as the audience do not hear, and later she slaps the Doctor. Then in the final moments of the episode she leaves a message on Martha’s answering machine saying that she knows who the Doctor really is, and the information comes from Harold Saxon himself. By this point it is too late for Martha to hear the warning – by this point she’s already talked herself into a permanent spot in the TARDIS, and is heading to new adventures…

Which leads nicely on to what is usually the ‘next time’ trailer. The episode next week has been postponed thanks to the Eurovision Song Contest. Since we’re also about halfway through this season, the production team gave us a special treat, a trailer for the whole of the rest of the season. In amongst clips of 42, you get to see quite a few moments from the much anticipated reworking of Paul Cornell’s 1995 novel Human Nature, plus Jack Harkness who is due to reappear in Utopia, and some more tantalising glimpses of John Simm as Harold Saxon – definitely looking good.

Ashes to Ashes – Nothing More than a Life on Mars Clone?

Is anyone else as amazed as I am about the un-originality of the Life on Mars follow up? Not only is there going to be a US remake but it looks like the British team are doing the same. According to the article on the BBC news website the new series focuses on a 21st century police officer who has an accident and wakes up in the past, working with DCI Gene Hunt. The key differences is that the 21st century police officer is a woman, and this time it’s London in the eighties rather than Manchester in 1973. Is there going to be some sort of underlying plot linking Sam Tyler’s 1973 experience to this new characters 1981 experience, or was the production team just caught out by John Simm wanting to leave after two series and don’t have any new ideas?

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…