Utopia / The Sound of Drums / Last of the Time Lords

* Yes, I am conflicted about whether this is a three-parter or a single episode followed by a two-parter, but the consensus seems to be the former, which I think is just about right. It’s true that Utopia feels separate from the other two, but it’s got a cliffhanger that Sound of Drums resolves.

* Utopia remains one of my fondest memories of a communal viewing experience. There were a bunch of us watching together, and we were all pretty sure that The Master would be turning up towards to the end, but we certainly didn’t know how it would happen. We were expecting an inconsequential little story about future humans being chased by savages, but then as the focus shifted to Professor Yana, we realised what was going on. Each little clue or reveal was greeted with elation, as if they were goals in a football match. One of my friends summarised the evening perfectly as “we have been sold a dummy, and I’m entirely happy with the price negotiated”.

* Ah, so there’s the Captain Jack that I remember from Doctor Who! Where was he during that interminable fortnight? He’s so much fun here, especially in Utopia before everything gets quite so heavy, and it’s exactly what Torchwood was missing – the guy with the lust for life, who will happily flirt with man, woman or insectoid, no matter how much danger he’s in. The conversation between him and The Doctor while he’s in the radiation-filled room is great, and it should give him closure on a few things, thus making him less of a twat when he gets back to Torchwood for Series 2. Will it, though? Will it bollocks.

* Professor Yana is just adorable. Doctor Who is at its best when it’s making highly respected Shakespearean actors play either bumbling old scholars, or evil supervillains. Jacobi gets to do both, and the episode belongs to him, and Yana’s slow realisation of who he truly is. I only wish there was more time for the Jacobi Master, as those couple of minutes are the most dark and sinister incarnation that there’s ever been. I loved Chantho too, but I was almost egging The Master on to prove himself by killing her.

* Simm’s Master, on the other hand, I have slightly more complicated feelings about. I’ve said before that The Master’s personality is always a reflection of whichever Doctor he’s facing, so it’s only right that Tennant’s nemesis should be young, energetic and extreme. But I think the balance is a little bit off, and I don’t think he has enough sensible moments to counteract the – admittedly highly entertaining – silly stuff. I don’t remember having an issue with it at the time, but now that I’ve seen the every apperance of The Master’s every incarnation, this one doesn’t stack up quite as well.

* The customary celebrity cameos in a finale are fulfilled by Sharon Osbourne, McFly and Ann Widdecombe, thus ensuring some competition for The Master as the most evil entity in the episode. This was before she became a comedy figure on Strictly, so she was just that funny old Tory MP who actively fought against LGBT rights, denied climate change and supported the reintroduction of the death penalty. A strange choice.

* Worldwide mind control or no worldwide mind control, the rise of Harold Saxon is just so unrealistic. As if any civilised country would voluntarily elect as their leader an evil, bigoted psychopath, with no tangible policies, and so many holes in his story, just on the basis of unsubstantiated soundbites and spurious charm? I am saying that The Master is like Donald Trump. Do you see?

* One more thing on The Master. This is the first time, as far as I recall, where he’s actually got what he wanted. He set out to become the Prime Minister and he did, then he wanted to take over the world and he did, and then he wanted to subjugate The Doctor and he did. I’ve always wondered what the next stage would be when a supervillain wins, and the answer is apparently to hang around on a flying aircraft carrier for a year, singing along to the Scissor Sisters and having a big old laugh. Fair enough.

* I find Lucy Saxon to be a fascinating character. The Master has had companions of sorts before at times, but they’ve usually either been there under duress or under his control. Lucy seems to be fully aware that he’s evil, but willingly making the decision to side with him. I love the little moment where she’s tentatively dancing along to Voodoo Child while everything goes mental – she seems to be getting a kick out of the chaos. But then a year later, we see her with a black eye, and it’s never commented on. It’s incredibly effective – an interjection of real life domestic horror, which resonates far more as an illustration of The Master’s character than an abstract off-screen decimation.

* Sadly, the three-parter fumbles the ending a little bit, with the last episode suffering by The Doctor’s absence. The Old Man Doctor is one thing – it’s a great effect and it’s certainly a shocking sight – but it does slightly hamper his ability to affect the story. Although it’s a damn sight better than House Elf Doctor, who’s so far removed from the character we know and love that I find it impossible to get on board with the idea that they are one and the same. Annoyingly, The Master sets it up as a suspension of The Doctor’s past regenerations, with the promise of us seeing all 900 years of his life at once. The possibilities that you infer from that are all way better than what we got.

* I did enjoy Martha’s stuff of travelling around the world. I’d forgotten about the professor turning out to be a rat, but it’s a miracle I’d forgotten anything with all those flashbacks. They’re a useful device when you’re referencing things from past episodes, but it gets a bit ridiculous when you’re flashing back to things that happened five minutes ago.

* It was good that the magic gun turned out to be a McGuffin, and the idea that The Doctor would be able to use The Master’s Archangel network against him is sound. But in practice, the big floating Jesus Doctor is not good. The Doctor is basically resurrected by the power of prayer, then he briefly becomes magic. Nah, not for me. Then there’s the old Superman ending, where time is reversed so that hardly any bad things happened – although the President of the United States did get murdered on British soil. It’s obviously necessary for future series that the events of these episodes are undone, but it can’t help but feel like a bit of a cheat.

* However, beyond the plot, each of the characters got a much more satisfying ending. The Master’s death was exactly the kind of emotional Doctor and Master scene that the episode needed throughout. Despite his previous imperative for self-preservation at all costs, I totally buy him refusing to regenerate just out of spite for The Doctor, even without the possibility that the whole thing was an elaborate ring-based escape plan.

* Meanwhile, Jack is sent back to his role as Chief Grumpy Bastard and Rooftop Stander of Torchwood Cardiff, via some Face of Boe based lols. My theory is that RTD meant it when they filmed it, then changed his mind later on, when he was feeling less giddy, and backtracked. I can see it. They kind of look like each other.

* And then, of course, it’s goodbye to Martha. I like her far more than most fans do. Her unrequited love for The Doctor doesn’t dominate her adventures quite as much as I’d remembered, and instead she just quietly proved herself to be just as brave and capable as Rose, but without the annoying tendency to boast about it all the time. She gets to leave on her own terms, with the promise of an imminent return. Good luck to her – she deserved a longer stay in the TARDIS than she got.

RATING: 9

SEASON AVERAGE RATING: 8.33

  • Seasons/Series watched: 29 of 35
  • Stories watched: 187 of 264
  • Individual episodes watched: 737 of 827

I’m going to have to pause the project briefly there, as I’m once more volunteering at the biennial Red Dwarf convention Dimension Jump this weekend, and I really ought to start getting ready. I’ll be back in roughly one week…

Blink

* I fear I have nothing to add that hasn’t already been said a thousand times over the last ten years, but yeah, that was amazing. Just like it was the dozen or so other times I’ve watched it. It’s the perfect episode of Doctor Who, so much so that you barely notice that The Doctor isn’t in it. As well as being so good as a piece of timey-wimey trickery that it coined the phrase “timey-wimey”, the video message was a great way of maintaining his presence with very little material.

* I still can’t believe that Sally Sparrow wasn’t the next companion after Martha. I remember being absolutely convinced that this was the plan all along – to introduce her as a one-off character and then have The Doctor run in to her again in the future. But no, Carey Mulligan had to go on to become a huge film star, and instead the same thing happened with a different, vastly inferior, one-off character.

* It’s kind of unfair to compare this to Love & Monsters, because one’s a fun romp for the kiddies and the other is a dark, twisty, horror story. I am fond of L&M, but Blink completely shows it up, especially when you consider the differences between Elton and Sally. She’s a protagonist that’s every bit as brave and extraordinary as any regular companion, while still feeling real and relatable. I would totally watch Sparrow & Nightingale. Come on, Big Finish.

* If you’re going to steal, steal from the best. And when you’re talking about complicated time travel stories masquerading as fun-filled family entertainment, the best is Back To The Future. I almost wish Kathy had been transported back to the Wild West, just to keep it themed.

* Ray Peacock/Ian Boldsworth! This is the first time I’ve seen this episode since Ian has become a bit of a cult figure among Red Dwarf fans, thanks to his role as the regular warm up man on audience recordings for the revived series. He’s not appeared on screen, yet he feels like one of the gang, so it’s lovely to see him in my other favourite show, playing a role that surely pushed his acting skills to the limit.

* For the second story in a row, we’re presented with a supposed romance between two characters that we don’t know, played out in barely minutes of screen time, and yet totally compelling and believable. In a script with a lot of competition, the initial car park scene contains two of my favourite bits of dialogue: Billy complaining about the windows being the wrong size on the TARDIS, and Sally accidentally pre-empting their eventual marriage. This little moment feels so real and human, which is what sells the sadness of the subsequent hospital scene. Just lovely.

* But the best scene overall has to be the full conversation between Sally in 2007 and The Doctor in 1969. The type of writing that’s above and beyond almost everything else on TV, and which cements Moffat’s place as one of Who‘s greatest ever writers. I literally have “The Angels Have The Phone Box” on a t-shirt. And, as we noted on my other site at the time, it’s a little bit Future Echoes, which can’t be a bad thing.

* Then it goes into full-blown horror, to such an extent that it gave someone I know, who was already a fully grown adult at the time, actual nightmares. Much has been said about the writing in this episode, and quite rightly so, but Hettie MacDonald’s Hitchcock-inspired direction deserves a special mention too. That very final sequence of statues and sinister music is there for the sole purpose of scaring the shit out of tiny children, which is to be applauded.

RATING: 10

Human Nature / The Family of Blood

* After discovering that the middle section of Series 3 isn’t quite as bad as I’d remembered, I was briefly worried that maybe the last few episodes wouldn’t quite be as brilliant as I’d remembered. If anything, this one was even better. Just the complete package from start to finish – funny, scary and almost overwhelmingly emotional at times. It clearly benefited from having a whole novel’s worth of material to draw from, as the level of detail in the fictional world is almost at Robert Holmes levels. It’s impossible not to get lost in this story.

* Has anyone ever done a mash-up of The Doctor talking to Martha about “this watch” and Christopher Walken talking to a young Butch about “this watch”? John Smith hid this uncomfortable hunk of metal. In his ass.

* Jessica Hynes is utterly adorable, as Joan and in general. I found myself welling up within minutes of her first appearing, just at the memory of what was to come. Joan’s courtship with John is brief in terms of screen time, but I totally buy it because she just feels so genuine. She’s an actress that makes everything look effortless, and yet what she does is so carefully constructed and full of depth.

* Furthermore, John Smith is a fully fledged character in his own right, and he’s adorable too. It’s a testament to Tennant’s performance that you quickly forget that John Smith isn’t real, and that this is the first time we’ve met him. He’s not just The Doctor in disguise, although the characterisation is an utterly perfect transposition of what The Doctor – the Tenth specifically – would be like as a human. Dorky, awkward, capable of extraordinary things, but riddled with everyday weaknesses and insecurities. I’m totally in love with John Smith, and with Joan Redfern. I feel like a Tumblr user.

* I remember being so excited about the Journal Of Impossible Things, and particularly the pictures of former Doctors. I distinctly remember there being a text message (though whether I sent or received it I’m not sure) that night, which just said “MCGANN IS CANON”.

* Some things I wouldn’t have spotted the first time round: a baddy disguised as a little girl, skipping along the road with plinky-plonky nursery rhyme music = Remembrance of the Daleks. The Doctor (or a very close approximation) saving lives by “doing impossible things with cricket balls” = Four to Doomsday.

* It’s the return of the dancing metaphor, although I’m guessing that this time it wasn’t as literal as I decided it is when Moffat uses it, otherwise that wasn’t a village dance that the Family of Blood interrupted, it was an orgy. Either way, Smith wasn’t sure whether or not he could manage it, but in the end Joan was utterly delighted by his skillful performance.

* And everything else about this episode was also perfect. The school, the Family, the little boy from Love Actually, Martha’s battles against racial, gender and class prejudice, the creeping shadow of war, everything. Come the second half, I was far too busy watching to make any useful notes, and it was taking all my effort to stop myself from weeping. For John Smith, for the life with Joan that he never got the chance to live, and for the bleak futility of war and destruction. I’d forgotten that the latter played such a big part, and as such the Remembrance Day scene really got me this time round – a timely reminder of what can happen when Europe isn’t united. This is perhaps my favourite story of the revival so far. Until tomorrow.

RATING: 10

42

I feel like I want to break the format, as is my wont. My rewatch didn’t give me many episode-specific bullet points to work with, but it has stirred up some more general thoughts that I would like to jot down.

My memories of Series 3 are that it starts well, goes to utter shit in the middle, then becomes brilliant for the final six episodes. So far I’ve discovered that it does indeed start well, but time seems to have exaggerated how bad the middle few episodes are. Once again, I’ve discovered that a story I thought I hated is actually not awful, just a bit dull.

Maybe I’ve mellowed with age, or maybe my recent Torchwood binge has reminded me of something I’ve always known: that even an average episode of Doctor Who is significantly more entertaining than most other things. Originally, I think my disappointment with 42 was exacerbated by the extra week’s wait, with the series split in twain by Eurovision. The aforementioned mid-series trailer really had me excited for the second half, plus I was looking forward to seeing a story play out in real time, but 42 doesn’t live up to the promise of either, so I dismissed it as being shit and barely gave it a second thought for ten years.

So I was surprised to find I wasn’t hating it during the rewatch, although I wasn’t particularly enjoying it either. The real time thing is mostly a gimmick – it turns out that 42 minutes is more or less exactly the amount of time it takes to unlock all those doors and turn on the auxiliary engines, so everything else that happens is basically just a series of skits to keep us entertained while we wait for the process to be completed.

But that seems like a facetious criticism, because you could boil pretty much any episode, or indeed any work of fiction, down to those terms if you wanted to. The key is whether the content is successful enough to distract you from noticing the narrative framework it’s hung upon.

However, the main things keeping me distracted were constantly mishearing the infected crew member’s name as “Corbyn”, trying to remember whether Elvis or The Beatles had more number ones before the characters did, and how incongruous it was that the computer voice was giving countdown updates at completely random intervals at the end of each scene. It would have been more satisfying, and a more impressive feat of writing, if the scenes had been structured around the countdown (ie. the scene changing every x minutes), rather than just inserting the countdowns higgledy-piggledy.

And this brings me on to what’s really on my mind: the writer who missed that chance to do something really impressive was Chris Chibnall. Forget Torchwood, that was a grand mess on so many levels, it’s his Doctor Who track record that worries me about his forthcoming tenure as showrunner. I’ll obviously be re-assessing as I go, but I’m pretty sure that as things stand he’s yet to write an episode that hasn’t been run-of-the-mill. A dull episode of Doctor Who is a rare thing indeed, and he’s written several. I sincerely hope I’m wrong, but from my point of view, the show is being handed over to a man who, at his best, is yet to match the quality of RTD or Moff at their worst. The show may well continue to be good, but I can’t see where that extra bit of magic to make it brilliant is going to come from.

Sigh. I’m getting ahead of myself. Back to the matter at hand, and the plus side is that the most successful part of the episode was the continuing conspiracy surrounding Martha’s mum and Mr Saxon. I think at the time I felt that the new companion’s family ought to occupy the same place in my heart as Rose’s did, but now I appreciate that this would be retreading old ground. It’s so much more interesting to have a potential traitor in the camp, and this story arc is ramping up much more dramatically than the previous two. Bring on the brilliant bit of the series…

RATING: 6

The Lazarus Experiment

* I bet there’s a shit-tonne of fan-fic set during the pre-titles, in the gap between the TARDIS leaving Martha’s bedroom and coming back. The Doctor was being a bit of an arse in his intention to leave her behind, as she’s clearly brilliant. Plus, she’s already been through so much more than Rose had by the time of her first trip back home. No wonder she gave her mum a massive hug, although I couldn’t help noting that she didn’t do the same to her sister or brother. Awks.

* I could have sworn that Gatiss wrote this one as well as starring in it, so my apologies to Stephen Greenhorn for forgetting you existed at some point in the last decade. I always enjoy it when actors are clearly having a whale of time just being in Doctor Who, and Gatiss has blatantly being practicing for this his entire life. He’s as good as you’d expect if you’d seen any of the dozens of other creepy fuckers he’s played over the years. I noted with interest that Lazarus once lived above a butcher’s shop. Did it sell special stuff?

* Always an absolute treat to see Mavis Wilton on the telly, although sadly she wasn’t in it for very long. I would have loved to have seen a version where she survived and stuck by her man, acting as a second villain, maybe even controlling the monster and using him as a weapon. It wasn’t to be, but at least we got to see a young gay man snogging an elderly woman from Coronation Street. That’s what Doctor Who‘s all about.

* You get the feeling that this could have been a really interesting talky story about all the implications of eternal youth and immortality, but every time it started going in that direction, Lazarus turned into a slightly crude CGI scorpion and just scuttled around. The dialogue between Lazarus and The Doctor was pretty good, and there was a spark between Gattis and Tennant, but the monster never felt real enough to be threatening, so it all ends up a little bit limp. Still a fairly fun story, but it could have been so much more.

* I’d forgotten about the mysterious man, credited as “Mysterious Man”, who warns Martha’s mum about The Doctor. It’s possibly over-egging the pudding a little bit, as she was already wary of him after he accidentally implied that he’d been shagging her daughter all night. But after he appears the second time, coupled with all the mentions of Saxon, you start to get the sense of a big conspiracy against The Doctor, and that’s very exciting. I’m pretty sure we’d all figured out exactly who Saxon was way before this point, but I remember it being great fun to spot all the clues and piece them together.

* The resolution to the plot is too fucking noisy. I’d noticed that, on the Bluray, I’d had to turn my volume up a couple of notches higher than normal for this episode, and then they blasted that organ music so bloody loud that it disturbed my cats. It seems intentional, which is a dick move. As is removing the “second half of the series” trailer from the original broadcast and replacing it with a 42-specific one. I firmly believe that home releases should match the original broadcast as precisely as possible, as what I’m buying is a facsimile of a live experience. There’s nothing like watching an episode of one of your favourite shows for the first time, so you want the second and third times to be exactly how you remember them.

RATING: 7

Daleks in Manhattan / Evolution of the Daleks

* Well, that was not quite as awful as I’d remembered. I was expecting an absolute stinker, but it’s not, it’s just average. And that’s probably why I’d remembered such a massive disappointment: Daleks shouldn’t be average. Every Dalek story so far in the revival has been a solid ten out of ten, whereas this is the weakest story of the season so far.

* My first issue is with the clichéd New Yoik accents – it’s an accent that grates on me at the best of times, but what’s more some of them are Gunfighters levels of inaccuracy. Mind you, the one who I thought was the worst offender is now Spider-Man, so what do I know? Tallulah got on my tits a little bit, which is a shame because it’s not really a fault of the character, just my aversion to English people doing over-exaggerated old-timey American voices.

* Lots of bits and bobs of this episode reminded me of things from the past. Just the combination of Daleks and the Empire State Building brought back memories of Peter Purves’s attempt at a terrible accent. Daleks pissing about with their own genetics is nothing new either – it’s basically what Davros was up to virtually every time he appeared, and they were trying to inject the human factor as early as the 60s. Most obscurely, the pig slaves reminded me of the similar giving-animal-DNA-to-people antics of Mindwarp, but with a showgirl crying about it, rather than Brian Blessed.

* The problem with the Daleks’ final experiment, other than the fact that the results were plastered all over the Radio Times beforehand, a decision so stupid it’s still the thing I most remember about this episode ten years later, is simple. Fundamentally, why would you want to see the Daleks out of their shell? Don’t get me wrong, the fact that there’s a living creature inside the travel machine is an important factor, but it’s the machine that makes them such an enduring icon.

* Also, from their perspective, it makes no sense for the Daleks to make themselves so vulnerable, without the casing’s armour or weaponry for protection. It doesn’t help that Sec looks stupid and sounds stupid, with his mandibles tightly packed into a swanky suit, and his whispering, softly-spoken voice. I’m kind of on the rest of the Cult’s side when they turn against him, as the things he’s saying veer so far away from how Daleks should be thinking. They’re simply supremacists, and any fundamental change to their physiology should be abhorrent to them – they should rather die than become humanised.

* There were still plenty of good Dalek moments, such as the two of them having a gossip about Sec in the sewers, and one turning round to check nobody’s listening in. I loved Solomon delivering a massive speech about peace and harmony, only to be greeted with a predictably blunt extermination. It’s just a shame that these moments were so few and far between – there wasn’t nearly as much action as in any of their previous appearances, and the dialogue isn’t close enough to RTD’s standards to compensate.

* Fave lines that I’d previously forgotten: “I should have guessed. He’s in to musical theatre. What a waste.” / “You told us to imagine and we imagined your irrelevance.”

* An story that celebrates the spirit of liberty and freedom in which America was founded feels sadly outdated, given the comprehensive destruction of those principles which is currently taking place. The Daleks aren’t the only evil megalomaniacs to have operated out of a New York tower.

RATING: 6

Gridlock

* I distinctly remember watching this episode on broadcast. I was staying with my then-new girlfriend, and it was the first time she saw me cry. Tonight was the most recent time.

* My new-found knowledge of the show’s history makes me appreciate the consistency in the descriptions of Gallifrey, but I’m also more aware that the Doctor is massively romanticising the place. The rose-tinted spectacles are fair enough, considering it’s dead and gone and it’s all his fault, but it was always a place to be feared before. Time Lords are all bastards.

* Father Dougal playing a big old cat! It’s a small role, but a memorable one, imbued with an infectiously cheery personality and a lovely turn of phrase. My only disappointment was that they went down the cute kitten route in depicting the offspring of him and his human wife, rather than the hideous mutation that would surely occur from such a union. I also enjoyed the glimpses of the other cars, particularly the old lesbian couple and the little city gent. The cavalcade of various species that had been cobbled together for a few seconds of screen time each reminded me of The End of the World, which in turn reminds me of Milliways.

* The Doctor fiddling with the police screen in order to get information and attempt to get through to someone reminded me of something, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. I’ve just realised that an animated McCoy does the same thing in bloody Death Comes To Time. There’s no chance it was deliberate, but if it was it’d be the oddest choice of source material for a callback ever. Until…

* The sodding Macra! After rationing himself to only Autons, Daleks, Cybermen, Sarah Jane and K-9 so far, it’s hilarious that the next thing Russell decided to bring back was a previously one-off monster from a serial that doesn’t even exist any more. In a way it’s perfect, because only those that know the backstory will know that there even is a backstory – when it’s something like Silurians or Sontarans, your casual fan will know the name but potentially be confused about the details and feel like they’re missing out. But with the Macra, you’d just assume they were a new invention, and as such I plumped for them when “characters or species that appeared in the classic and new series of Doctor Who” was a question on Pointless.

* I don’t know why the death of The Face of Boe makes me cry – my reaction surprised me then and it surprised me now. He’s just a big old face, as The Doctor so expertly points out, and he’s barely been in it – he said more words on his deathbed than in the rest of his appearances combined. But there’s something about what he represents that makes him feel important, and it’s the esteem in which The Doctor holds him that makes it emotional. It’s essentially fridging, but with an ancient giant face who may or may not be Captain Jack.

* If it is Jack, he could have been a bit more specific with his message. “You are not alone. However, it’s the fucking Master, and pretty soon he’s going to keep us both imprisoned and tortured for a year. Also, to be clear, the initials of the first four words I said comprise the surname of a professor that the Master is disguised as, so look out for that, and make sure you remember this warning the very second you’re introduced to this man.”

* The final scene is just perfect, Abide With Me and all. I’m an atheist, but I love the religious subtext in this episode. The climax boils down to The Doctor realising that Martha is someone he cares about, and someone he can trust with his secrets. Convenient that he tells her about the Daleks just before she meets them. And unfortunately, “I’m not just a Time Lord, I’m the last of the Time Lords” will always make me laugh, due to a chameleon arch toy I’ve got with a dodgy sound chip, which speeds Tennant up until he sounds like a chipmunk. (Like this video I’ve just found, but mine is worse.) But it doesn’t spoil the best episode of the series so far.

RATING: 10

The Shakespeare Code

* This is a cracking and possibly under-rated episode, and I’d forgotten how much I like it. It’s not one that you’d necessarily get a hankering to go back to, and there are certainly episodes later in this series that vastly overshadow it, but it’s a fun and thrilling forty five minutes, and it’s funny. Nothing too deep or heavy, but one of the better light-hearted episodes.

* I’m glad that the presence of a black woman in Elizabethan England was addressed. It’s obviously great that race isn’t an issue in modern Doctor Who for the vast majority of the time, but there’s also a responsibility to not ignore a character’s colour completely, especially when there’s an opportunity to address a specific issue. It also fits in with Martha’s habit of asking the kind of questions a genre-savvy audience would ask. This is another difference between her and Rose, who would ask the questions that a general audience would ask, further reflecting the show’s new status as an established fixture.

* When Martha suggests recording the performance of Love’s Labours Won, she asks The Doctor if he’s got “a MiniDisc or something”. A MiniDisc? This was 2007, not 1997.

* Shakespeare was great. It would have been so easy to portray the classic image of the old man with a skullet from the cheque guarantee cards hologram, but instead they made him Robbie Williams with wit. I enjoyed the running joke of Shakespeare nicking phrases from The Doctor, and “57 academics just punched the air” is a superb gag, even more so now I know that the oddly specific number is a reference to a homoerotic sonnet.

* Super Hans! He’s on a particularly bad trip here. Also, his jailer is Bear Strangler McGee from Red Dwarf‘s Gunmen of the Apocalypse, and the woman from the inn is Angie, the secretary from the first series of The Brittas Empire who was replaced by Julie and then never mentioned again. I recognised those two straight away, yet I’m pretty sure this is the only thing I’ve seen the much more famous Christina Cole in, and my reference point for Dean Lennox Kelly is his role as the Gazza equivalent in Mike Basset: England Manager. My cultural references are very specific.

* The Doctor talks about Back To The Future. A meeting of the two greatest works of time travel fiction of all time. Although, given that BTTF is now established as a movie (and a novelisation) in the Who universe, we’re now extremely unlikely to get a crossover episode, The Two Docs. With all the Harry Potter references, we can only assume that the books were never made into films in Martha’s world, or if they were, Barty Crouch Jr was played by someone else.

* Sod it, I’m adding Queen Elizabeth I to the list of recurring characters.

RATING: 8

Smith and Jones

* This is an era that I have very strong memories of watching first time round, which is why I refuse to believe that it was just shy of ten years ago. It was a turbulent but very happy time in my life; I was preparing to leave uni, I’d just come out of a long term relationship, and I’d just started a new one that’s still going today. Much of my spare time was being spent at the flat of my friends who were flat-hunting when we watched Doomsday together. They celebrated the new series with a party, in which all the men wore what they’d wear if they were The Doctor, and all the women wore what they’d wear if they were companions. If we held that party today, I’d like to think we’d all be Doctors.

But anyway, this episode always brings back memories of that first communal viewing, right from the very start. I remember someone commenting on what they described as a “not cold opening”, following which we collectively coined the immortal term “warm opening” to describe any episode that doesn’t have a pre-titles. Similarly, I can’t see the Doctor’s demonstration of his time-travelling capabilities without hearing the heartfelt plea from a drunken Yorkshireman of “don’t cross your own timeline, you cunt”.

* Of course, the last episode to have a warm opening was Rose, and the parallels are brazenly apparent. We start small and humdrum, see the companion going about her everyday life, going to work, having something catastrophic happen to her work, and end up running hand-in-hand with The Doctor. It’s the revival’s first deliberately-designed jumping on point, and if the formula ain’t broke…

* I’m not as keen on the family this time round. Individually, they’re all perfectly fine, with the possible exception of the dad and his girlfriend, Stock Outdated Female Stereotype #4. But together, it’s just a big cacophonous mess, and not something I’d ever be interested in seeing more of. In retrospect, they were never used in the same way as Jackie and Mickey, and so there was no need to paint them with anything other than a broad stroke. The problem is that when the episode matches the beats of Rose so precisely, you start to compare the families directly against each other, and that’s not a fair fight.

* Anne Reid! dinnerladies alumni are always welcome in Doctor Who, and in fact in anything I ever watch. She was part of a duel threat with the Judoon, who I really quite like. They’re baddies in this story, but really they’re morally neutral – they’re just diligently carrying out their task, and other than their Vogon-esque devotion to bureaucracy and overzealous use of capital punishment, they don’t do any harm. There’s nothing wrong with those things in their culture, so they probably think of themselves as the goodies.

* Why does everyone start running away when they realise they’re on The Moon? Where are they planning on going? All they’re doing is using up more precious oxygen than is strictly necessary, the pricks.

* Martha is genetically engineered to be the perfect companion from the off. It’s like they’re working through a checklist of attributes to demonstrate: asking pertinent questions, risking her life in order to help out, being open-minded to alien involvement, appreciating the beauty of the universe, taking it all in her stride, trusting The Doctor a little too easily… she does all this within minutes of the hospital moving. Normally, it takes a few adventures for a companion to cover all these moments, and I quite like the change of pace. It feels like the show is acknowledging that the audience has just been on this long journey with Rose, and so by skipping ahead to the finished product, Martha feels like less of an imitation.

* While they’re at it, they also take the opportunity to get a little bit meta, by having Martha question things that fans would take for granted. She points out how daft The Doctor’s name is, and how pompous “Time Lord” sounds, and the theme culminates with all the “bigger on the inside” gags. It’s a sign of the production’s growing confidence – three years in, it’s no longer a fledgling new project, it’s an established part of the TV furniture once more.

* Fave lines that I’d previously forgotten: “Where’s he from, the planet Zovirax?” and “Since when did you watch the news? You can’t handle Quizmania.” Both of which are firmly rooted in 2007, but sod it, they’re both excellent references.

* Downsides? I could have done without The Doctor doing a little jig to rid himself of the radiation via his shoe. It could have worked if it had have been a little more deadpan, but Tennant is often in the habit of gilding the lily. Also, as was the case in New Earth, the kiss felt gratuitous and gimmicky. It worked when Rose and Eccleston kissed because it was the culmination of their relationship, but if you do it within the first half hour of them meeting each other, where do you go from there?

* Something which I don’t recall bothering me at the time, but which did tonight, was the fact that The Doctor is killed, the Judoon pronounce him dead… but then he’s not dead any more. In retrospect, this kind of business is a trend which started around this time. Telling the audience one thing and then telling them that the exact opposite is true basically amounts to a broken promise. It gets harder to become immersed if you start to not trust what you’re seeing, and therefore the overall stakes are lowered.

* Right at the end there, did The Doctor say “welcome aboard, Miss Jones” in a Rigsby-from-Rising Damp voice? If so, I heartily approve.

RATING: 9