Tag Archives: the Doctor

Blink and You’ll Miss It

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Blink was this years ‘Doctor Lite’ episode. Essentially due to the tightness of the shooting schedule for Doctor Who much of the shooting on multiple stories is done in parallel. By having an episode that has little involvement from the main characters almost the entire episode can be filmed at the same time as other episodes are being shot. It also of course gives the writers a chance to do something a bit different.

Last year, the ‘Doctor Lite’ episode was Love and Monsters, which although it didn’t feature the Doctor and Rose, gave Camille Coduri as Jackie Tyler a chance for a bit more screen time. However this time Steven Moffat had no regular characters at all aside from a few brief scenes with the Doctor and Martha. The story instead focuses around Sally Sparrow played by Carey Mulligan, a girl who at the start seems to have wandered into events quite by chance when she explores an old abandoned house. However strangely she then finds a message written to her by name, from the Doctor, but written in 1969…

The house is occupied by four alien creatures who look like stone angel statues. Whenever people can see them or are looking at them, the angels are frozen like stone – they can only move when they are not seen, like in the blink of an eye. They live by feeding on time energy, obtained from people they touch – the act of touching them sending the people back into time. They have trapped the Doctor and sent him back to 1969, and the Doctor now needs Sally to locate the TARDIS and send it back in time to rescue him. However alongside the message on the wall, the Doctor has also turned up in hidden messages on DVD’s – strangely the same seventeen DVD’s that Sally owns. More than that, when Sally watches the DVD’s it’s like the Doctor is having a conversation with her.

As a episode that didn’t feature the Doctor much it worked a good deal better than Love and Monsters. In Love and Monsters, the Doctor effectively popped up at the beginning, and at the end to defeat the monster, and whilst the plot was a group of people looking for the Doctor it didn’t really involve him. This time around the Doctor was part of the plot, and although not on screen much was apparently driving events in order to guide Sally towards the TARDIS. However once she’s done that, we still don’t quite know how the Doctor knows about Sally. As with other Steven Moffat stories, the payoff comes right in the final scene where we see Sally a year later who has collected together everything about her adventure and then a year in the future by chance meets the Doctor – but the Doctor in his past, and hands him the file, causing a predestination and ontological paradox.

After the fantastic two-parter we’ve just had, Blink wasn’t bad, and it’s interesting to note that we’ve now had three episodes on the trot without much of the Doctor, so it might well be a bit of a shock when he is back on screen for a lot more next week! The story benefited from the good Steven Moffat script, and good acting from Carey Mulligan left to carry the episode. Then just to really freak the kids out, the episode closes with a series of shots implying that whilst the four angels have been trapped, there are others still out there…

The Family of Blood

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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.

Suddenly Human

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One of the favourite techniques used by regular weekly shows is to have an episode that plays with the underlying concept, so for example we have the Mirror Universe stories in Star Trek, or stories such as Superman II where the hero either looses or gives up his powers. Doctor Who has done similar concept breaking episodes at times in it’s history, and this week was one of those times, where we had a story where the Doctor wasn’t himself – indeed he wasn’t even the same race – as in order to hide from a group of aliens referred to initially only as ‘the Family’ he uses a device in the TARDIS called the Chameleon Arch that creates a new character and biology for him, allowing him to hide. His Timelord persona is safely stored away in a device disguised as a pocket watch ready for when he is able to come out of hiding.

The episode, Human Nature is based on the 1995 book of the same name, however whilst a number of plot elements and character names are reused, the plot is somewhat changed. The basic concept of the Doctor becoming human, and the main location as an English public school in the winter before the Great War are retained, but characters are changed. For example the widow Joan Redfern who falls in love with Doctor John Smith becomes a nurse in the TV episode, whilst in the book she is a science teacher. The reason for the Doctor becoming human is different than in the book too.

The episode operated on many levels. On the surface you have the story of the Doctor hiding from aliens who need the last of the Timelords, however as Beth pointed out in many ways it is a tragic story. Alongside the simple surface story one of the boys, Tim, appears to have telepathic powers and can see the future. Whilst these are partly in the main plot to allow him to see visions of Martha’s real life, he also at times gets premonitions of the impending war, including his death alongside a fellow boy from the school in an attack. There is also an element of tragedy surrounding Joan Redfern, who having lost her first husband is attracted to Doctor John Smith, but who you ultimately know will loose him as the personality and life are artificially generated and will disappear when the Doctor regains his previous character.

The episode is also a great opportunity for Freema Agyeman to shine as Martha Jones. Doctor John Smith obviously doesn’t remember who she really is, and believes she is just his maid. Whilst the Doctor is blissfully unaware, except through strange dreams, of his true identity, she is tasked with keeping him safe, and if something goes wrong bringing him back, her only guide being a list of instructions that the Doctor has left behind in the TARDIS, also hidden away so as not to attract attention.

Quite aside from having a great multi-layered plot, we also have some nice moments for the fans. Doctor John Smith has been keeping a journal of his strange dreams, and as he shows Joan the notebook, we see pictures he has drawn of creatures from the new series, but then for the first time an on screen acknowledgement of the previous series with the journal including images of many of the previous Doctor’s. Later on when Doctor John Smith is talking about his family he mentions that his parents are called Sydney and Verity, acknowledgement of Sydney Newman the Canadian TV producer who created Doctor Who, and Verity Lambert it’s first producer.

All in all I thought it was one of the best episodes of the new series, nicely evoking the atmosphere of the period, along with some scary badies whose traits were more unnerving compared to the cringe-making give-away of the Slitheen. Amongst all of that you also had a noticeably different character in Doctor John Smith at the centre, who even when he is confronted by the badies in the cliff-hanger, still can’t remember who he is. Great stuff, and I’m now really looking forward to the conclusion next week. Hints about that episode seem to imply that ‘the Family’ are part of a bigger plan. Part of the Mr Saxon story arc? We’ll have to wait and see.

The Christmas Invasion

So tonight we had the first Doctor Who Christmas episode since the sixties (the last one was The Feast of Steven, episode seven of the Dalek Master Plan if you’re curious), and also the first full outing for Doctor number ten, David Tennant.

As in previous new Doctor stories, the Doctor himself is not in the centre of the action for the first part of the story, this time being in bed suffering the effects of his regeneration, whilst the alien invasion takes place. The invasion starts off with robotic Santa’s with flame throwers, and remote control killer Christmas trees. Also rolled up in the plot is a British backed mission to Mars, that gets hijacked by the invading Sycorax. By midway through the episode the main characters are on the Sycorax spaceship, and the Doctor is on the floor of the TARDIS unable to help. However, just in the nick of time, he is brought round by a cup of tea, and saves the Earth in his pyjamas, dueling with the alien leader. That leaves just enough time for the traditional new Doctor costume choosing scene, and a bit of Christmas cheer, before we get a tantalising sequence of clips from the upcoming series, including the return of Sarah Jane Smith, K-9, and a glimpse of the new Cybermen.

All in all we thought the story was a great episode, although there was a Christmas theme, it was still a decent Doctor Who episode. It gave the impression of having had some more money spent on it too, with a fully orchestrated soundtrack this time around. There is also a new version of the theme, again more orchestral, which restored the middle section of the theme that the Murray Gold theme left out (although enthusiastic fans have remixed the Gold version to include the missing section too) although the continuity announcer talked over the relevant bit in our region. The bigger budget also extended to showing us another part of the TARDIS – the vast wardrobe that has been mentioned in the past, but never shown. Here it is seen in a similar style to the console room, but with a sweeping spiral staircase in the centre. We also get some new surprises, with the Doctor, whilst still close to his regeneration being able to regrow his hand at one point, and who can forget the spectacular opening scene with the TARDIS crash landing.

As the upcoming clips showed, aside from the bigger budget, there are still elements from the old series. Tonight, UNIT reappeared as the nerve centre from where the British Government were operating as the invasion began. There were also references to other well known BBC sci-fi, with the Doctor saying that he felt like Arthur Dent, saving the world in his dressing gown.

Following on from the episode on TV, there was even a special interactive episode on the digital TV services, which although being pretty simple from a plot point of view, again seemed to have had some time spent putting it together, and had more of the new Doctor. It also had a great last line, when the Doctor warns that the residual effect of the sonic screwdriver on your TV remote may cause the universe to implode if you switch to ITV!

As is usual, the way David Tennant plays the role compared to Chris Eccleston, although there are still all the elements of the character, going from humour and fun, through to some serious and intense moments, particularly when the Prime Minister orders the retreating alien spaceship shot down, and the Doctor says he can bring her government down with a few simple words. Currently one of the lasting impressions, particularly from the interactive episode is quite what energy Tennant has in the role, possibly contrasting the new, more youthful Doctor to Doctor number nine. To some extent it is as if the events of Parting of the Ways have brought closure to the events that haunted the Doctor during the previous season. Certainly it will be interesting to see how the new series unfolds, with a different character for the Doctor, and with the strong characterisation we have come to expect from the new series, I’m sure we will see the dynamic between the main characters change and grow.

If you missed the episode first time around, both the episode, and the interactive stuff on digital are being repeated at New Years – and I’m sure I’ll be taking a second look then too! You can read some more opinions on the episode over at Behind the Sofa Again too.

Update: The overnight ratings for Christmas Day have been released (and Behind the Sofa Again have published these under the quote from the interactive episode “If you switch to ITV tonight, the galaxy may implode…”), showing that Doctor Who came second to Eastenders in the Christmas Day ratings, with 9.4 million viewers. The only ITV show that is close is Coronation Street, and with only three out of the top ten programmes being on ITV it looks like the BBC have won the Christmas ratings once again.

So did you work out Bad Wolf?

So we’ve just watched the final part of Doctor Who, and it was definitely a great episode.

Daleks with the Tardis

Rather than an entire forty-five minutes of dalek mayhem it was split into four parts, with the daleks in only the first and third parts. Surprisingly the cliffhanger with Rose trapped on the dalek spaceship was resolved pretty quickly with the Doctor landing on the flight deck, and the reveal of the new style Dalek Emperor (a bit more spectacular than the 60’s version), and then the Doctor escaping back to station 5 to defend the Earth.

Old style Dalek Emperor Dalek Emperor 00s style

Then we have what seems as if it is going to be a long bit of filler with the Doctor, Rose and Jack preparing for the oncoming dalek invasion, but this gets a lot more interesting when the Doctor sticks to his promise, and sends Rose back home – tricking her knowing that she wouldn’t go willingly, so then intercut with the preparations, we get Rose back in the past.

Then the daleks invade, but with Rose still stuck in the past.

It is interesting to note at this point that Beth has never really found the daleks frightening, possibly because unlike me she didn’t watch them as a child. However she said after one particular scene in tonights episode she now finds them frightening! The scene in question involved the hundred or so civilians who were left on the station. The daleks only need to enter the station near floor five hundred, so the civilians are left out of the way down on floor zero. However part way through the action, the daleks stop their march on floor five hundred, and divert to floor zero just to exterminate the hundred unarmed civilians. Other classic moments are when one character, stuck in a room with the daleks trying to cut through the door, turns round to see three daleks float up outside the window. You don’t hear them say exterminate, just see the lights flash before the window shatters, and then she gets exterminated too. As with most dalek stories it is absolute carnage, with every human apparently killed.

Meanwhile, back in the past, Rose is trying to work out what to do, and sees Bad Wolf everywhere, and she realises that it is a message, telling her she can get back. Although she can’t fly the TARDIS, remembering where the Doctor tells her that the TARDIS is telepathic, she tries to open the TARDIS console in order to get back to help the Doctor. Ultimately she gets the console open, and the TARDIS takes off.

Back on the station, the Doctor has built a device that will destroy the daleks, but will destroy the Earth too. Surrounded by daleks, the emperor challenges him to do it, which he cannot, at which point the TARDIS appears, containing Rose, but transformed by a golden light. At this point we finally find out about Bad Wolf – it is Rose, or at least Rose with the help of the TARDIS. In a classic paradox, the Bad Wolf references through history have been scattered through time by Rose to bring her to this point, so Rose has created the Bad Wolf references in order to become the person that creates them – confusing.

Anyway, the Rose/TARDIS superbeing destroys the Daleks, but ultimately is going to die because she can’t contain the power of the time vortex she has absorbed. In a gesture of self sacrifice, the Doctor absorbs the power himself (through a kiss), and takes her into the TARDIS.

With the TARDIS in flight and Rose regaining conciousness and not remembering anything, the Doctor reveals that he can’t contain the power of the time vortex either, and explains about regeneration, preparing her for the possible changes to come. Then we get a pretty spectacular regeneration as the power of the time vortex explodes outwards, two lines and a quick smile from the new Doctor, David Tennant, and then the credits roll.

Regeneration

All in all, a great episode, and a brilliant finish. Some of the best bits were the daleks, especially the ones at the window, and a time paradox that, unlike the Star Trek efforts doesn’t annoy me!

Interestingly, I’d half guessed the Bad Wolf thing watching the documentary before the show, wondering whether it was significant that Bad Wolf is painted on the side of the TARDIS earlier in the series (particularly as that picture has been pinned on Russell T Davies wall behind his desk all the way through Doctor Who: Confidential). However I didn’t get the Rose bit until just before it happened, I kept expecting someone else to appear as Bad Wolf!

The whole regeneration was well done, and does pose the question of whether it was filmed with the main episode, in which case they knew about David Tennant when the news of Chris Eccleston leaving leaked, or was added later. Anyway, I look forward to Christmas, and then to series number two of the new run.

Building Up to the Finale

The BBC are going all out with the build up to the final episode of the current series of Doctor Who, even going so far as to suggest that fans avoid the internet so as not to be tempted by the daily teasers and clues on the www.badwolf.org.uk site!

I’m still no nearer to working out who or what Bad Wolf is, however a quick glance and the cast list for the episode on Saturday shows two names playing the Doctor, so it looks like it was always planned that David Tennant would take over at this point. It will certainly be interesting to see what happens, and how the changeover occurs.