Tag Archives: Doctor Who

Can You Keep a Secret?

Back when Doctor Who was re-launched, after a well received opening, the whole thing was very nearly derailed by the shock news that Christopher Eccleston had resigned from the role that leaked out after just one episode. Following on from that debacle they’ve always tried to keep the big shocks secret, although that didn’t stop rumours about the return of the Master last year, nor did it stop the Sun from printing a picture of Davros in the run up to the finale this year. However, I’m certainly not the only fan who was rather surprised when this happened at the very end of last nights episode…

So what exactly is going on? It was announced ages ago that David Tennant was signed on for the specials next year, indeed he has apparently been seen filming the show for Christmas already. Only last week there were reports that the BBC was offering him £1.3 million to stay in the role. About the only high profile “David is leavingâ€? came from Catherine Tate back before Christmas. So has the BBC finally succeeded in keeping something secret from fandom? We’ll have to wait until next week to find out – certainly the trailer is giving nothing away, and the press office release is still only listing Tennant in the part.

Anyway, what about the rest of the episode? I’d mentioned last week my fear that it would be a return to a traditional Russell T Davies episode in that all the numerous guest stars would crowd out elements such as the plot. Certainly from the blink-and-you-miss-it nature of the opening titles, plus a further list of names captioned over the opening scenes, it was clear that there were a lot of big names to fit in. But to some extent, looking back at the episode as a whole although there were a lot of strands there wasn’t really that much of a coherent plot, indeed although we establish that it is the Daleks who have Stolen Earth, by the end of the episode we really have no idea of why the planet has been taken, it having taken most of the running time of the episode for the Doctor to even find where the planet has been taken.

To do this he first heads off to visit the Shadow Proclamation. After being mentioned throughout the series over a number of years, their appearance was frankly rather a disappointment, after a great looking external shot the actual location looked like an office foyer. From an action point of view the Doctor and Donna effectively explain the back story that has been building up, so we get a list of missing planets which alongside several from the new series includes Calufrax Minor, the name being familiar to people who remember the Douglas Adams story The Pirate Planet. Ultimately it is the missing bees, which have been mentioned in throwaway lines that leads the Doctor to a way to locate the missing planets, and takes the TARDIS to the Medusa Cascade, referred to in Last of the Time Lords as the location of a time rift sealed by the Doctor during the Time War. However when the TARDIS arrives, there is no sign of the missing planets and the trail goes cold, leaving a despondent Doctor.

Most of the action is occurring on the Earth, with Torchwood, Sarah Jane and Martha ultimately being brought together through a secret communications network by Harriet Jones in an attempt to contact the Doctor. (It’s worth noting at this point that in a surprising lapse the BBC have missed a trick by not having the phone number used linked to something – 24 for example linked up a special surprise for people who phoned Jack Bauer’s number after it had appeared on screen.)

Once the signal is boosted enough to break through to the TARDIS and Harriet Jones is discovered by the Daleks and apparently exterminated – although note that we don’t see her die. Torchwood again are discovered by the same means, and Sarah Jane ends up face to face with two Daleks too. However it seems that the Daleks are well aware of the Doctor’s allies. Davros it is revealed has been saved from his death during the Time War by Dalek Caan who having escaped at the end of Evolution of the Daleks has broken the time lock around the Time War to save his creator, albeit at the cost of his sanity. Davros however has kept him alive as he now seems to be able to predict the future – making vague predictions about the arrival of the Doctor, the death of his most loyal companion, and the arrival of the Dark Lord.

The one factor that doesn’t seem to have figured in the plans – and indeed is someone never seen by the Daleks is Rose, who despite the Earth being shifted is still quite able to transfer in and out of the stolen Earth at will. She and the Doctor finally meet again at the climax of the episode, shortly before the Doctor is floored by a glancing hit from a Dalek gun, and the apparent regeneration process begins.

So what is going on? There are lots of strands to connect, and quite a few throw-away lines that I’m sure will come back to be significant – in particular the mysterious Osterhagen Key that Martha is given as she escapes New York, but later told never to use by Harriet Jones. The fact that Dalek Caan has broken the time lock around the Time War may yet prove to be significant, along with the stolen worlds being hidden outside the normal flow of time. I’m sure that there will be some more significance to some of the things that Dalek Caan has said too.

In all it was an enjoyable episode, but with some classic Russell T Davies techno-babble to hurry the plot along. I’m more inclined to credit the crisp direction from the highly experienced Graeme Harper that rose above the script for the final result. It wasn’t only the good director that made it enjoyable, there were also some fabulous performances from the extensive guest cast – Julian Bleach being a particularly creepy Davros, and some great moments from Bernard Cribbins reliving his earlier encounter with the Daleks with some well aimed paint gun pellets. The crossover elements relied somewhat on knowing the other programmes, and certainly there were lines in those scenes that would be totally lost on people who hadn’t watched them, however nothing that really required that you had watched. As you can no doubt gather from my comments further back, the ending was a real surprise, and certainly if David Tennant isn’t leaving I hope we don’t get a total cop-out of a resolution.

They have now released a trailer for next week – needless to say it doesn’t really give that much more away:

“Surprise” Return?

The trailer for Doctor Who next week started showing tonight – I notice that aside from a fully lit shot (for that see the Sun) – they are not bothering to try and hide the “surprise” return of Davros much any more…

Also from the flashes of faces in the trailer, it does look like this is going to be a three-way crossover between Doctor Who, Torchwood and Sarah Jane Adventures – whether it will be brief cameos or something more we’ll have to see, but with that many people, and a load of returning characters from the main series I doubt there will be a lot of screen time for many of them.

Fingers crossed that in amongst the cross overs and guest stars RTD left room for a decent plot – it has got Graeme Harper directing which is a plus, and the trailer looks good though…

What If?

Doctor-light episodes seem to have become a way for the Doctor Who production team to do something a bit more experimental. This has happened right back from the early days when a lead actor needed to take a break the Doctor or his companions would find one or other of them turned invisible as in The Celesital Toymaker, transformed temporarily into a different actor as occurred in The Mind Robber or imprisoned as happened in The Time Meddler. In the new series we’ve had a couple of Doctor light episodes where the main cast gets involved in the story but the core characters are separate. This year we had a pair of stories, with Donna taking a break last week, however it is rather more difficult to sideline the Doctor in the same way.

In Turn Left the chosen route was a classic alternative history story, exploring what would have happened if Donna had not taken the job where she initially gets involved with the Doctor. As a result, she is not present to snap the Doctor out of his almost trance like state during the climax of The Runaway Bride, and in the alternative version of events the Doctor dies during the encounter. Throughout the rest of the episode we see key events in the series through the eyes of Donna as an ordinary person. So the events of Smith and Jones are seen, but Martha Jones dies, and it is Sarah Jane Smith who gets involved, and again she doesn’t make it out alive. The next big event series wise is the return of The Master, but of course since he is released by the Doctor after the events of The Runaway Bride, in this alternate reality he is still trapped in the far future. Next up without the Doctor, the replica of the Titanic does smash into London, wiping out millions and plunging the UK into chaos. Thanks to a bit of intervention from Rose Tyler, Donna is safely away in the country. Moving on to the latest stories, the Adipose don’t much affect the crippled UK, and with petrol rationed, the Sontaran Stratagem has much less of an effect, but it is Captain Jack and Torchwood who help defeat that threat, but again at the cost of their lives – the immortal Captain Jack is left stranded on Sontar.

All of this goes towards removing all the possibilities for salvation when towards the climax of the episode stars in the night sky start to disappear as part of what Rose refers to as the approaching darkness. Using the last remaining power from the TARDIS, which UNIT had salvaged, but which following the passing of it’s owner is slowly dying, Rose sends Donna back in time to stop her past self from making the fateful decision that leads her away from the Doctor, turning right rather than turning left. Ultimately Donna sacrifices herself in the alternate timeline, and as she lays dying, Rose appears once again and whispers two words to tell the Doctor.

Much as with Utopia last year, episode eleven was very much about putting things in place for the series finale. With that episode as with this, it is the last few minutes of the episode that are key. This time around the big reveal moment is when Donna repeats the whispered words which both confirms the identity of Rose, and also highlights the importance of what is happening – Bad Wolf – the words that Rose scattered through time to guide herself and the Doctor towards their fateful battle against the resurgent Daleks. In much the same way, from the glimpses in the trailer, it seems the last Dalek who escaped at the conclusion of Evolution of the Daleks may have started anew – perhaps with a little help – and once again Bad Wolf is guiding the Doctor and his companions towards another battle, and again from the clues laid down in this weeks episode, the cost is going to be high.

What made the episode, was the big conclusion, and the expectation it produced for the finale. Despite some strong performances, I thought the rest was pretty derivative. The “What Ifâ€? idea has been done in a lot of other series, and whilst it was interesting to see the alternative history, it was in some ways pretty predictable, and a lot of the episode was very much a whole series of continuity references for fans – and yet another temporal paradox. The almost messianic idea that Russell has used previously was clear as well, everything is bad without the Doctor. What might have been more experimental would be if some things had actually been better had the Doctor not been involved. The giant beetle monster and the whole concept of what it did really didn’t hang together overly well either – and the question of how a dying Donna in the alternate timeline that ceases to exist was able to give a message to the Doctor is something that really doesn’t make sense either. As the SFX preview of the finale has said cramming an episode with continuity references entertains the fans, but sometimes when you look at it rationally, peeling back the references, there isn’t much underneath – sadly my opinion this week was that it was primarily a vehicle for the fan pleasing references, and didn’t do much underneath. Hopefully things might be better next week.

Turning to next week, it looks like we’re going to get multiple trailers, the first of which is online already.

Something Different

It’s good to be surprised from time to time, and a surprise was exactly what we got when we watched Doctor Who last night. The episode that went out was the first of the last block of four, all written by current lead writer Russell T Davies, and it has to be said that there are a good few people who don’t look forward to his contributions, indeed some people actively avoid watching now. Therefore it was a rather pleasant surprise when Midnight turned out to be probably one of his best scripts, taking a small cast, limited sets, and a simple idea and turning it into a very creepy episode.

As with previous seasons, by this point of the filming schedule they have to make two episodes simultaneously. In previous years episodes such as Blink and Love and Monsters have had minimal contributions from the main cast, this year the programme is doing something slightly different so this week Midnight was the first story since the Deadly Assassin to feature a main narrative where the Doctor has no companion, and also the first since Genesis of the Daleks where the TARDIS does not appear at all. Next week the Doctor will have only a minimal contribution, with companions Donna and Rose carrying the main story.

Perhaps the reason why Midnight is so creepy is because there isn’t a monster as such. The Doctor and Donna are relaxing on the planet Midnight, a place which is bathed in deadly radiation that would vaporise any living thing that walked on the surface. A leisure corporation placed a holiday resort on the surface, and runs tours to see some of the amazing sites on the planet. The Doctor decides to join one such tour to see the amazing Sapphire Waterfall, leaving Donna behind. Thanks to the deadly radiation, the tour shuttle is totally enclosed, leaving the passengers unable to see outside for the four hour trip, however part way through, the transport mysteriously stops, and the driver reports seeing a shadow moving outside. Then the passengers hear something hitting the outside of the metal transport – at first they think it might be rocks – but they are rocks that repeat the knocks they make on the inside. The transport is then violently shaken, and the power fails, at which point one of the passengers starts acting very strangely and repeating everybody else, getting to the point where she is simultaneously speaking with everybody else. The Doctor attempts to take charge, arguing that this is a new lifeform that should be understood, whilst his frightened fellow passengers demand that the possessed passenger be thrown outside. As the Doctor rapidly loses control, he too is possessed, and the passengers decide that he too should be thrown outside.

During the whole course of the episode you neither truly find out exactly what the creature is, nor do you actually see it – all the time it is merely possessing other characters. It doesn’t actually do anything particularly threatening either except repeat the words of other characters, but it is this repeating that builds the tension and adds to the fear. Compared to many Russell T Davies scripts it is a much more adult story, very psychological, and relying on characters rather than special effects – as guest star (and son of former Doctor Patrick Troughton) David Troughton said on Confidential, it was much more of an old style episode that we’re used to now. As such I’m not quite sure how it would have been received by some of the younger fans of the programme, however I suspect it will be a nice counterpoint to the Dalek/ex-companion-fest that we’re expecting over the last three weeks of the season.

Forest of the Dead

Years ago when Star Trek: The Next Generation did a two part episode, it seemed to be almost a given that part two would be a bit of a letdown, that the exciting cliff-hanger built up in part one wouldn’t go anywhere much in part two. Steven Moffat on the other hand seems to produce second parts that whilst they aren’t more of the same, are still equal to the first part.

Take his episode of Doctor Who shown yesterday, Forest of the Dead, the conclusion of Silence in the Library. Whilst it continued from the end of the previous episode, the focus was rather different. The major focus last week had been on the Vashta Nerada, who this week were there as a threat, but with little further exposition, indeed by the end of the story they had not been defeated, but instead the Doctor had negotiated a truce with them in order to give him the time to rescue the four thousand people who had been saved by the central computer when the library had originally been taken over.

This time the main focus of the story was on Donna, who had been saved by the computer, and was starting to live within the virtual reality within the computer itself. We also discover that the girl seen previously is in actual fact the preserved consciousness of a dying child, who had saved the occupants of the library, but was now struggling to keep the four thousand personalities in check. The mysterious Doctor Moon is in actual fact a representation of the moon of the planet, an artificial satellite placed in orbit to maintain the computer core.

Whilst Donna is trapped in this virtual world, in the real world the temporal paradox around the Doctor and River Song is deepened when in order to persuade the Doctor that he should trust her, River reveals that she knows his real name – one of the longest running mysteries in the series (the title of the show is actually a question – Doctor who?) – needless to say it doesn’t get revealed to us the viewer. However the revelation is enough for the Doctor to trust her, to the point that he is caught out when she knocks him out in order that she might sacrifice herself to save the saved people of the library, rather than the Doctor. All is not lost however as thanks to the temporal paradox, the future Doctor knows when River is going to die, and has rigged the sonic screwdriver he gives to her to save her consciousness, allowing his past self to transfer her into the data banks of the computer.

Despite River spending most of the episode carrying around a book of spoilers – stories of the Doctor’s future, he doesn’t look. The most he gets is a description of the last time River met the Doctor, and the knowledge that the TARDIS doors will open if the Doctor snaps his fingers, something he tries out at the end of the episode. The Doctor deliberately leaves the book behind as he leaves, although we the viewer, if you are quick with the pause button get a little glimpse at the very end of the episode as we look over River’s shoulder as she reads from the book…

So after a tour-de-force from the new lead writer of the series, for the last four episodes we are back with the current lead writer, Russell T, with firstly a pair of lead character light episodes, Midnight being mainly the Doctor, and Turn Left being companion focused featuring Donna and the much anticipated return of Rose.

Incidentally, if you weren’t up and watching TV this morning, you would have missed David Tennant talking about (amongst other things), his upcoming turn as Hamlet, plus a bit about Doctor Who, including the standard “when are you leaving” question, to which he gives the usual answer! However, you can catch up with the interview thanks to the BBC News website.