The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe

Prequel: The Doctor is on a spaceship, with his finger on a button, and the spaceship will blow up if he lets go. He gives Amy a ring, but then remembers that she left the TARDIS some time ago, and as such is unable to help. He then releases the button and the ship blows up. It’s a bit of a bold move to kill the central character off in an online prequel, but hey ho.

I can never remember the title of this one correctly, nor indeed anything much about the episode, other than the general sense that I didn’t like it. I’m a bit fuzzy on most of the Christmas specials post-Tennant – because I’ve never rewatched any of them, my only experience of them was with a belly too full of turkey and most likely a head too full of bucks fizz, beer and Baileys. Tonight, it really was like I was watching this for the first time, except for that one vague recollection that it was a bit of a dud.

It certainly starts strongly. Turns out the Doctor escapes the exploding ship by surfing through the vacuum of space on a passing spacesuit, then he meets Claire Skinner, and she’s always excellent. What’s more, her husband is Mr Smith, and her daughter is Holly Earl, an actress who I met recently and spent the entire time trying to remember what I knew her from. Turns out it was this, although further Googling revealed that she’s also the tiny child who fails to say the word “Vimto” properly in a shit episode of Red Dwarf.

Sadly Mr Smith doesn’t last very long – the sudden jump forward to his World War II death is a little grim for Christmas Day. To combat this, the Doctor basically becomes Mary Poppins, and builds a magical dream house for the kids to make up for the fact their dad has snuffed it. It’s great stuff, and Matt Smith’s really funny during these scenes, but it’s almost a shame when, five minutes later, the action shifts to what is basically Narnia – it doesn’t seem as exciting a setting as the Doctor’s nutty house.

And so it proves, as it transpires that having a bunch of actual trees as the antagonists doesn’t make for a particularly engaging battle of wits. Things perk up a bit when Bill Bailey and Arabella Weir turn up, but they’re such tiny roles for such well known stars that it seems like a huge waste. They get one scene in which to be funny, one scene where they’re serious, and then they teleport off. And apparently they’re all from Androzani Major. I’d have thought you’d have to be pretty confident to invite comparison to that particular story.

The fate of Mr Smith looms heavily over proceedings, as you know it’s only a matter of time before these kids are told the truth. In the end, the Doctor goes one better by inadvertently making them watch it happen. What a shit Christmas present this is. Of course, it turns out that he gets better, but this was a happy accident; the Doctor hadn’t set out to save him, so even if everything had have gone as planned, his idea was basically to build a playroom, take them to see a forest, then say “by the way, your dad’s dead”.

There’s something fundamentally missing throughout the episode, and that’s a companion – Claire Skinner is obviously the big guest star, but she doesn’t perform that function narratively. We finally get to see Amy and Rory right at the end, and while the Doctor’s happy tears are a lovely, heart-warming touch, it is just a cameo. They should be in the TARDIS, damn it – I’m as sad that they’re not as the Doctor clearly is.



A Christmas Carol

Back to proper Doctor Who now, and another small change to this blog’s format. When I was revisiting episodes I was quite familiar with, I found it easy to just jot down whatever had freshly occurred to me in bullet point form, but as the new series has gone on, that format has begun to feel restrictive, as it’s pretty much all fresh to me. For some reason, I stopped getting the DVDs/Blurays on an annual basis after Series 5, and so there’s hardly any subsequent episodes that I’ve seen more than once. So now it’s easier to just watch the episode and splurge my thoughts freely, as per the classic series and the spin-offs. Hurrah!

Anyway, yes. It’s nice to have a Christmas special with proper, regular companions in it for the first time since the very first one – it’s very rare indeed to have the same TARDIS team across a finale, special and season-opener. It’s nice to have that sense of long-term continuity, plus it means they can do jokes about the Ponds having it off whilst dressed as a policewoman and a Roman centurion.

Sadly they’re not in it very much, and are hardly ever seen with the Doctor, because the plot requires them to be separated and for the Doctor to largely work alone. Luckily, his main co-star for the night is Michael Gambon as Scrooge, and it’s always pleasing to see someone of that calibre in Who. It was very much your conventional set-up for a Christmas Carol spoof, as indeed the script acknowledged. Well, The Doctor has met Dickens, so he’s allowed to rip off his ideas.

Naturally, a good Christmas Carol retelling needs to be given a twist that nobody else could do, and I loved the Doctor using the TARDIS to nip back and forth across Kazran’s life. It was pleasantly reminiscent of a point-and-click adventure game, with the Doctor using time travel to solve puzzles: we need the code for the vault, but Kazran won’t be told the code until he’s older, so let’s go and get the code off the older Kazran. Big fan of this kind of thing.

As well as this, the other addition to the traditional tale was the giant flying shark. I enjoyed this at first, but then Katherine Jenkins turned up and started singing at it, and it perhaps became slightly too weird. It feels odd because she spends the early stages of the episode frozen in ice, so there’s no time for her to be established as a character before the story pauses for her to do a song. It feels like Katherine Jenkins, the famous singer, has turned up to do a turn, as if they’d gone the Young Ones route to secure some extra budget. Strangely enough, the sight of them all riding a shark-drawn sleigh made the episode so ridiculous that it circled back round and became good again.

I tell you what, Moffat really likes a love story where each partner’s life is being lived at a different pace to the other, doesn’t he? That’s what happens here between Kazran and Katherine, but would it not feel a bit weird for her, suddenly fancying someone who had been a tiny little boy just minutes earlier from her perspective? I’m glad the genders were this way round, otherwise it would have all been a bit MailOnline.

There’s an interesting morality around what the Doctor does to Kazran. He makes a point of saying very early on that he’d brought it on himself, and the fact that there’s thousands of lives at stake solidifies the justification for doing it, but it’s quite a major thing, to rewrite someone’s entire personality to suit your needs. The “one day left” thing is a hell of a burden to give to someone, especially considering that what eventually changes is personality is the Doctor bringing the tiny Kazran to the future – from his perspective, that change takes place way before he ever met Abigail, so the pain and anguish he carried round for his entire life wasn’t actually necessary.

Still, it gave her a chance to do another song at the end, accompanied by the obligatory Doctor-originated snowstorm. It’s a good episode – much better than I remembered, given that I barely remembered it at all – and the only disappointment is that when Gambon Kazran hugged Tiny Kazran, the entire planet wasn’t consumed by Reapers. It’s one rule for Rose Tyler, another for Dumbledore.


The End of Time

* Of all the one-off companions The Doctor has ever had, Wilfred is by far the best. He’s initially the focus of this epic story; we’re introduced to it through him, and his band of alien-hunting pensioners. How refreshing to have an older man fulfilling the traditional companion role, and for him to prove so worthy of the position – he dives in feet first, his deep love for The Doctor matching that of the audience.

* It’s a bit weird that, from The Doctor’s perspective, this doesn’t carry straight on from The Waters of Mars. It rather undermines the seriousness of that story’s climax; instead of carrying the weight of his huge mistake and his impending death, he swans in fresh from his holidays and boasts about shagging Queen Elizabeth.

* I’d forgotten exactly what Lucy Saxon’s role was in The Master’s resurrection. I’d seemed to recall that she was complicit in the plan – shooting him so that she could then retrieve the ring – but I must have been remembering my theory from beforehand, rather than the actual episode. Turns out that she’d just been caught up in all of it, and in fact managed to throw a spanner in the works right at the crucial moment.

*  Unfortunately, I’m not keen on the effects of her spanner. The whole concept of the resurrection was a very TVM-esque interpretation of The Master as some sort of irrepressible form of energy, rather than mere flesh and blood. I’m not quite on board with this – he’s more scary if he’s just an evil version of The Doctor, not if he’s shooting lightning bolts from his hands and flying about like a comic book villain. I’m not sure why the trauma has made him blonde either.

* Today’s “oh, it’s them!” watch: David Harewood! In a surprisingly small role for someone of his pedigree. June Whitfield! Her and Cribbins are totally at it. The woman werewolf from Being Human! I had to look her up, because I knew I recognised her from something but couldn’t place what. In my defence, she spent most of the episode disguised as a cactus.

* “President Obama has promised to end the recession”. This was less than eight years ago, but wow, the world truly was a different place, back when we had: a) a President who people around the world respected; and b) so few problems that one single action could make a tangible difference.

* It’s not very festive, is it? Other than the odd bit of tinsel, the only major concession to Christmas is The Master devouring a giant turkey. That’s about it until Part One ends with the words: “And so it came to pass, on Christmas Day, that the human race did cease to exist”. Well, Merry fucking Christmas to you too, James Bond.

* The Master making everyone into copies of himself is basically what happens in The Empty Child, but with an evil genius instead of an innocent boy. Honestly, it’s Simm City out there. With nearly seven billion clones milling about, it’s a good job the original Master seems to be in control of them – I’d have thought they’d all want to be in charge, bickering over who got to show off in front of The Doctor and who had to do the minor admin. It’d be like the Red Dwarf episode Me2, except they’d have to call it Me6.8billion.

* Considering all the epic stuff that’s going on, with The Master victorious and bloody Rassilon turning up with his special glove, the first time I felt moved was when Wilfred tearfully told The Doctor he didn’t want him to die. He’s so sweet, and his presence raises the stakes even further – we know that Doctors die all the time, so can be blasé about it, but I don’t want Wilf to lose his Doctor.

* Although let’s face it, how the fuck does he survive jumping from a spaceship and falling face first through a glass ceiling? That should have been it – Tennant dead and buried before the Time Lords even arrive.

* There’s certainly a hell of a lot going on here, but it’s hard to see what the point of anything of it is, other than it all being a prelude to The Doctor’s death. The Master being back was a big threat, but Rasillon undoes everything he’d done within seconds, so that’s all sorted. So therefore the Time Lords are now the big epic thing, but they turn up far too late in the day to really make their presence felt – we were told how dangerous they were without ever experiencing it ourselves. And then they’re dealt with in five minutes. Those five minutes are good, and it’s nice to see The Master getting some element of redemption, but it’s all very hasty.

* And so it comes to pass that what finally fells the Tenth Doctor is none of these things. He emerges unscathed, and the ultimate irony is that it’s poor old Wilf that inadvertently brings him down. That’s a lovely twist, but don’t be angry at Wilf about it, you prick. He was only in danger because he saved someone else, plus you can regenerate and he can’t. This attitude left a bitter aftertaste to the Tenth Doctor’s era – I hadn’t remembered until now, but my dislike for him towards the end has clouded my view of this incarnation.

* Then of course, there’s the famous farewell tour. First up, Martha, who’s left UNIT, dumped her fiance and married Mickey. That’s quite strange; I wouldn’t have pictured them as a couple, and I hope they weren’t put together just because they have one thing in common. I like how The Doctor saves their lives, then does the same for Luke, but that his gift for Jack is to get him laid. He knows him so well.

* I’ve always wondered why he tracks down Joan’s great-granddaughter, rather than going back and just visiting her himself. But I guess it would be a bit traumatic for her if he suddenly rocked up again, plus “Verity Newman” is a lovely touch. It’s sweet that he wants to make sure Joan was happy, and I found it quite touching this time round. Although obviously not as touching as when Cribbins cries again, and therefore I cry again.

* The bit with Rose is really nice, but it would have been infinitely better had she not reappeared in Series 4, so that a distant glimpse at a woman who doesn’t know him was the closest The Doctor got to seeing her again. In fact, that’s true of the whole sequence – it would have had so much impact if Journey’s End hadn’t have happened, and it still baffles me that the big multi-companion reunion wasn’t Tennant’s swansong.

* God, he doesn’t half make a fuss about regenerating this time, doesn’t he? The Universe itself sings him on his way, which seems a bit excessive when past regenerations have been about as ceremonious as getting a bump on the head whilst wearing a blonde fuzzy wig. It doesn’t really seem to be in the spirit of the show by making such a big fuss about one particular Doctor and one particular showrunner leaving – the console room being destroyed and “I don’t want to go” make everything seem so final, which could have really undermined the incoming regime.

* Mind you, we did see much more of the new Doctor than we normally do. I remember being distinctly unsure about Matt Smith at the time, but now with the power of hindsight, it feels like a baton being passed from a good Doctor to an even better one. But that’s another story…


So it’s the end of an era – my era, in fact, considering I only became a fan thanks to Russell bringing the show back. It wasn’t without its flaws – looking back, I think the constant desire to make everything exponentially bigger and better began to harm the show towards the end – but I’ll always be incredibly fond of Russell’s work on the show, and indeed incredibly grateful. It was the first version of Doctor Who that I fell in love with, and twelve years later, I can barely remember what it was like to not love Doctor Who.

Technically speaking, this isn’t the end of a series, but I feel like I should do one of these anyway:


  • Seasons/Series watched: Still 30 of 36
  • Stories watched: 202 of 275
  • Individual episodes watched: 756 of 839

It’s taken ages to get through these specials, what with all the spin-offs in between, so I’m really looking forward to having a nice regular series coming up next. I’m about to start the show’s current era, and I hope I can squeeze it all in before it’s no longer the current era…

The Waters of Mars

* Yes, sorry, I’m back. Luckily nothing major has happened in the world of Doctor Who since I’ve been away, right? I’m returning with a story that features an accomplished female space adventurer, and it’s one that is largely overlooked in the pantheon of great episodes, but it really is a corker.

* Gemma Chan! Playing someone called Mia, no less. This is a really early role for her, which makes this the equivalent of when the likes of Martin Clunes or Gail Platt turned up in the classic series. And yet it still feels so recent. I am getting old.

* “Bowie Base One” was a lovely touch back in 2009, but even more so now. It’s a great setting – this is basically a celebrity historical, but with celebrities from our future. Clever too that fictional events can be fixed points in time, as well as ones from Earth’s real-life past – it means you can explore what happens when The Doctor interferes with “history”, without any danger of affecting the present.

* I’d completely forgotten about Gadget! He’s adorable. As with Series 4, I haven’t revisited this period of the show very much in the intervening years – in fact, there’s probably only a handful of episodes from now on that I’ve seen more than once. It’s fun that this rewatch still has the ability to surprise me, even though it is simply down to my own terrible memory.

* Lindsay Duncan is a much better one-off companion than Michelle Ryan was (which seems like ages ago now, considering it was only the previous episode). Mind you, this is far from the traditional companion role – Adelaide isn’t there to assist The Doctor, it’s her that’s in charge of him. She’s lived her best life and achieved so much more than most of the characters we usually meet, and she happens to be utterly brilliant too.

* The Flood are a cheap monster, but an effective one. It’s RTD and/or Phil Ford doing for water what Moffat has done for statues and shadows. Compare “just one drop” to “don’t blink”. Of course, people being piss wet through with gushing water now reminds me of Bill and her soggy girlfriend.

* I love the sequence with young Adelaide and the Dalek. Seeing previous adventures from different perspectives is something I associate with Moffat’s era, but RTD has beaten him to it a fair few times. The Dalek spared her because of her historical significance, which means they have more respect for the laws of time and space than The Doctor has at this stage. At least he eventually tells Adelaide exactly what he knows about her and the fate of the base, unlike most people who know the future.

* The Doctor does a bad thing, but you can see why, and in fact you’re urging him to save the day while all his instincts are telling him to walk away. It’s only when it works, when he gets cocky and declares himself Time Lord Victorious, that you realise he’s gone too far; significantly, this is before The Doctor himself realises this, which makes him the bad guy in the story, albeit briefly. He robs Adelaide of her destiny, but she takes it back with one single, devastating action. It’s so powerful. This is a great story.


Planet of the Dead

* I will never forget the Easter of 2009. For the first time since the revival, a brand new episode of Doctor Who was not the most exciting TV event of the week. Red Dwarf, the show I’ve been running a fansite for since I was in school, returned for a three-part special, a decade after the original run ended. A huge number of us squeezed into the house I’d just moved into, for three straight nights of blogging, podcasting and boozing. Frankly, Doctor Who was an unwelcome distraction.

* I am naturally predisposed to side against the incredibly posh and privileged, so I wasn’t thrilled to have one of them as a companion. Michelle Ryan is perfectly fine, but Lady Christina is more than a little annoying. In fact, she’s reprehensible. It’s probably as much to do with me as it is with the character, but that type of entitlement goes against everything I stand for. She doesn’t steal because she needs to, she just does it for the thrill, and gets away with it because her status.

* That’s quite the collection of recognisable telly faces on the bus. One of the Julies from Bad Girls! Tealeaf from Psychoville! Her from Teachers! And apparently (I didn’t recognise him in the show, but I read afterwards that) her husband used to be in Boney M!

* Odd to be having another bus-based story so soon after Midnight. The situation is very different, obviously, but reminiscent enough to warrant an acknowledgement in the script. I was expecting the opportunity to get to know the passengers, and to discover their secrets and fears, but it was all very superficial – we got the reassuring mundanity of them cooking chops and watching telly, but we learned little about them as individuals.

* I see UNIT are still being a shower of absolute shits. They’re *just* a bunch of blokes with guns these days – none of the various leaders we’ve met offer much in the way of a humanising presence – and now shoot-to-kill is their default policy. They do, however, have Lee Evans. If you like Lee Evans, I imagine his unmistakable brand of Norman Wisdom impersonation would have been a welcome addition to the episode. I do not like Lee Evans.

* The whole thing is incredibly lightweight for a special, but that’s sort of fine – this was obviously only one of several specials that year, not the big centrepiece that Christmas usually is, and so it can afford to do something a little less serious, with its big friendly flies, its flying bus and its salacious Doctor-companion snog. It’s not bad if you’re not expecting an epic, but it does mean that the the deeply dark foreshadowing at the end is a bit of a crunching gear change. And once again, a soothsayer acts the prick by being deliberately vague, rather than spilling the beans properly or keeping schtum altogether.

* A friend of mine once got into a dispute with one of the co-writers, via the letters page of Doctor Who Magazine, regarding the politics of the ending. Suffice to say, with UNIT in the state they’re in at the moment, I’m not particularly comfortable with the supposedly pacifist Doctor concluding that joining the army will make men of those two lads. He then compounds this by deciding that the criminal aristocrat deserves to evade justice once again. I dunno. The Doctor is kind of whatever you want him to be; he’s done so much over the years that you can pick and choose the evidence that proves he fits whichever socio-political stance you care to name. But naturally, I’m going to react negatively on the handful of occasions where he takes a stance that’s categorically incompatible with my own.


The Next Doctor

* This is an episode that was perhaps a little overshadowed by the hype and speculation surrounding it. It was a precision-engineered piece of publicity, with the announcement of Tennant’s departure followed quickly by the reveal of the title, and of David Morrissey’s casting. Luckily, if you take away that hype, you still end up with a pretty good episode – rather than the mystery being whether or not Morrissey is actually a future Doctor, it’s instead about why this guy thinks he’s The Doctor, and what happened to make him this way.

* Morrissey is great, as both a potential Doctor and as Jackson Lake. It’s a very classic-series approach to The Doctor – a big, broad performance with lots of quirky turns of phrase – perhaps because he was forged in Victorian London, and so is harking back to the past in the same way The Doctor did when he was younger. The look is reminiscent of McGann, for similar reasons.

* Another landmark moment in terms of links between old and new – actual, moving footage of all the previous Doctors! Well, apart from one, but Moffat hadn’t invented him yet. So exciting at the time, and yet soon to become much more common as we hurtled towards the 50th.

* There are some very dark undertones for a Christmas Day edition of a family favourite. It’s not explicitly stated, but it’s made perfectly clear, that Jackson’s companion Rosita is/was a prostitute, and that Miss Hartigan was a victim of some sort of physical and/or sexual abuse. There’s also talk of children going missing, a massacre at a funeral, and the loveable Jackson Lake losing his wife. Merry Christmas.

* I liked the Cybermen here, more so than in their previous new series appearances. They didn’t talk much, which is good – they could just concentrate on being scary and imposing, thanks to some low angles and fast cuts. I liked the Cybershades, although they’re not really that Cyber-y, they’re just attack dogs with masks on. Miss Hartigan was good too, the kind of cold-blooded, heartless mercenary that suits accomplished guest actors like Dervla Kirwan.

* Then she turned into a giant version of Preston from Wallace & Gromit’s A Close Shave, and I wasn’t so keen. It’s undoubtedly cool to see a big cyberpunk Cyberman stomping about, but it didn’t seem to fit with the rest of the story. There was all this talk about the combination of the Cybermen’s logic and Hartigan’s raw anger being used to take over the world, and that’s more interesting than just flattening the place with a big stompy robot.

* Nevertheless, the best Christmas special since the first one, and a good start to Tennant and RTD’s farewell tour.


Voyage of the Damned

* Firstly, apologies for the increasing infrequency of this blog. It’s been a busy few weeks, and it’s taken me a while to find enough time to watch a feature-length episode. It probably doesn’t help that I’m entering a period that I’m not particularly fond of – quite aside from the fact that I’ve got more Torchwood coming next, I don’t think much of this period of proper Who either. But I’m reassessing as I go, and this one wasn’t quite as bad as I’d remembered, although still far from great, for reasons we’ll get to.

* The Titanic crashing into the TARDIS was a hell of a cliffhanger, and how was it resolved? Oh, The Doctor presses a button and everything’s fine within seconds. Meh.

* New theme tune! It’s better than the current one, but not as good as the one it replaced. Every new iteration throughout the revived series has added new elements over the top of Ron Grainer’s composition, and it’s diluted the impact of the fundamental bassline and melody. It’s basically followed the same pattern as the original series, but over a much shorter space of time.

* Kylie Minogue! “Stunt casting” is a term that always gets bandied about with negative connotations, but you’ve got to admit that this one’s a hell of a stunt. It’s clear from the start that The Doctor wants her as a companion, and so because she’s Kylie Minogue, and therefore unlikely to commit to a full series, that means she has to die, especially after The Doctor promises he’ll get her out of there. I quite like Astrid though – having the companion view everyday Earth in the same way most companions view alien worlds was a fun new dynamic.

* The rest of the guest cast are not bad either. Geoffrey Palmer! A man so loveable, you really don’t mind him willfully killing billions for money. Russell Tovey! Thankfully only exhibiting small glimpses of the squeaky voice acting that’s dominated most of his other roles, despite spending most of the episode bleeding out from a gunshot wound. Clive Swift! Mr Copper is pretty good, but I can’t separate the performance from that shitty interview he gave to DWM. Tit.

* The disaster movie ensemble provides mixed results. It’s hard to know what to make of Foon and Morvin at first, but they emerge as the most likeable and well-intentioned characters of the bunch. There’s clearly a good socialist message in there, as you compare this ordinary working class couple to the merciless and selfish posh cunt, who is absolutely loathsome and irritating to watch. I get Mr Cooper’s point that you shouldn’t be able to choose who lives and dies, but come on – it’s Christmas, let us see him get what’s coming to him. The whole thing is deliberately unfestive at times; there’s a very high death count, and a lot of heroic sacrifices in quick succession.

* But never mind all those accomplished actors and musical icons. Get you a guest star who can do both. IT’S BERNARD CRIBBINS. This is not quite the same Wilf that we’ll soon come to know and love – he’s slightly more of a cheeky cockney, and less of a wise old man. While later developments would add more significance to his scene in retrospect, it also continues RTD’s slow-burning arc that the human race have acknowledged the existence of aliens, and are increasingly aware of the dangers. Moffat has since undone that with a few big resets, and it’s entirely at his discretion to do so, but I liked the period when Who was set in a ever-so-slightly different version of the world to our own.

* Tennant delivering that line about who The Doctor is, with the sparks firing behind him to punctuate every clause in the sentence, is cheesey as fuck, but it really works in context. The big bank holiday movie feel provides a fun and thrilling ride, and while it’s not particularly complex or intellectually stimulating, it’s a decent episode… until Max Capricorn turns up and ruins everything, with his stupid gurning face and ridiculous pronunciation of the word “metal”. He doesn’t look like he belongs in this episode; it’s like he’s been dropped in from the JNT era, and his presence completely takes you out of the drama.

* And it’s at this point that everything just gets a bit out of hand – my one criticism of RTD’s tenure was that he sometimes got a bit overexcited and chucked absolutely everything at the screen at once. This certainly felt like he lost his discipline before the end. There’s a lot of pomp to The Doctor these days, but he couldn’t just leave it at the aforementioned cheesey-but-effective speech – the Messiah metaphor gets invoked again as he’s carried to the heavens by angels, then next thing you know, The Queen shows up to thank him, then he’s snogging the ghost of Kylie Minogue. At least some of this could perhaps have been reigned in.

* The Doctor tells Mr Copper that the £1m in his bank account is equivalent to 50m credits. Earlier on, Foon tells Morvin that she spent 5,000 credits on entering the competition, which is therefore equivalent to £100. And that’s going to take them 20 years to pay off, is it? She must have borrowed it from Wonga. Also, if Mr Copper wants to buy a proper house with a garden with his million quid, he’ll have to move out of London.


The Runaway Bride

* YAY, IT’S DOCTOR WHO. There’s nothing to make you appreciate the sight of the TARDIS and the sound of the theme tune like a solid fortnight of Torchwood. Even though it’s an episode that I don’t particularly care for, this was a timely treat, and a welcome reminder of why I’m bothering to do this in the first place.

* Why isn’t Wilfred Mott at his own granddaughter’s wedding, then? I can only assume that he dislikes Donna Noble as much as I do. As I said at the time of her initial surprise appearance, my aim is to reassess her fairly. My second first impression is that she was a bit of a hindrance to an otherwise exciting plot. Her constant negativity and aggression slowed the pace considerably; The Doctor couldn’t get anything done because she kept interrupting him to do her school girl character.

* She did get better as the episode went on – as soon as Donna began to trust The Doctor and co-operate with him, she mellowed and became much easier to empathise with. That said, I was initially quite pleased that Lance betrayed her in such a cruel way. It felt like she probably deserved it.

* I’d forgotten that the Robot Santas and Killer Christmas Trees made a second appearance. But then as soon as they appeared, I remembered the dodgy modified X Box controller that comes with them. I quite enjoyed the motorway chase with the TARDIS – nonsense, but it’s fun and it’s Christmas. Plus it resonates with me, having once been in a car that accidentally turned onto the M4 at Chiswick Roundabout. It took us an extra half an hour to get home. As for the TARDIS flying straight up into the air at the end? Nah, not for me. A bit of a step too far, after the wise-cracking giant red spider had been teetering on the edge of silliness beforehand.

* Love Don’t Roam! Excellent.

* I remember being very excited about the “Gallifrey” mention at the time, even though I was nowhere near as up on my Classic Who as I obviously am now. It was part of what seemed like a conscious effort to drip-feed the mythology into the new series bit by bit, with the flow increasing as the production gained in confidence. It’s good that we’re now at a point where New Who is creating its own legacy, but those days of speculating about who or what would come back next were happy days indeed.

* The Doctor’s subsequent victory is a little bit grim, thanks to the Racnoss’s anguished cries for her children. It’s kind of a bit genocidey, but it was the justifiable type of genocide. I remember being a little bothered by it at the time because it felt like The Doctor was acting out of character just so that Donna got the opportunity to pull him back from the brink, but I no longer agree with my foolish past self. I think Donna’s right when she says that he needs someone to look out for him, and it’s perhaps future occasions when he’s travelling alone that have changed my mind. Timey-wimey.


The Christmas Invasion

* Christmas innit! Doctor Who has been the centrepiece around which the rest of my day is planned for over a decade now, and I’ll always remember how special the first time felt. I don’t think there’s been a better Christmas episode since – there have been good ones, maybe even great ones, but it’s hard to top the impact of the first time traditional Who idiosyncrasies were mixed with traditional festive ones.

I adore the killer Christmas trees and the flame-throwing tubas, but the joy is that the same show also contains 70s-flavoured spine-tinglers like the genuinely creepy blood control and the brutal murders of a UNIT major and a beardy civil servant. All on prime time BBC One in the most family-friendly slot of the entire year.

* Examining the trauma of regeneration from the companion’s perspective is yet another new avenue for the show to explore, and Billie is fantastic throughout. Mickey is still being a bit of a prick about it all, but he finally seemed to come to terms with things by the end, which tallies with my memories that he becomes a much more sympathetic character between series.

* It’s weird that “Torchwood” was subsequently used as an ominous and mysterious arc word in the same vein as “Bad Wolf”, considering that its nature and its purpose were quite categorically set up in the Christmas Special. It appears to be an all-powerful, scary, superweapon-wielding militia, and it’s odd to think of the organisation in such a way, considering the version we’re now more familiar with are nowhere near competent enough to bring down the Sycorax. They’d have accidentally hit The Moon or something, while at least two of them shagged and Captain Jack looked moody on a tall building.

* Fave lines that I’d previously forgotten: “There’s an act of Parliament banning my autobiography.” / “Did we ask about the Royal family? Oh.” / “Blimey, it’s like This Is Your Life.”

* It’s certainly a gamble to have the new Doctor sleep through the vast majority of his introductory episode, but when he finally comes round it pays off beautifully. Rose misses him, the world misses him, and the audience misses him, until he bursts into life and is immediately brilliant. He’s rude and not ginger, he quotes The Lion King and he can sword fight like a little skinny Pertwee – that’s what kind of man he is. With hindsight, “no second chances” is such an apt motto for the incarnation who ended up as the Time Lord Victorious.

* “Oh, I haven’t seen X in years!” became a catchphrase in our friend group, thanks to this episode and Charlie Brooker’s subsequent impersonation in Screen Wipe. I loved Tennant throughout his original tenure, but given that I love Smith and Capaldi even more, I don’t remember his time quite as fondly these day. It’s therefore really nice to be able to revisit these episodes with an open mind, and be reminded of how positive I felt at the time.

* Aside from Tennant, the best thing about this episode is clearly Harriet Jones. She’s so funny, and such a strong leader to boot, that it’s almost a shame that she did what she did, as it must have been tempting to use her as a recurring Brigadier-style character. The key moment obviously parallels Thatcher and the Belgrano, but the lack of subtlety is justified by the show being bold enough to make a resolute statement that it was A Bad Thing. Which is not to say that I don’t sympathise with Jones’s decision – certainly a fuck of a lot more than I do with Thatcher’s – but I also agree with The Doctor’s retribution. No second chances.

* Fucking Song For Ten! I adore Song For Ten. All the old costumes in the TARDIS wardrobe, along with the earlier subtle callback of seeing Big Ben in scaffolding. And the orchestral theme tune! And the middle eight! Yes, the sheer joy of these moments came flooding back to me as I relived the euphoria of Christmas Day 2005 all over again, beat by beat. I love Doctor Who, especially when it’s this good.


Doctor Who: The Movie

He’s back, and it’s about time. I clearly remember watching this when it first went out, and as a nine-year-old, it didn’t make me become a fan in the same way Rose did as an eighteen-year-old. Looking back on it now, it’s easy to see why, although it’s not without its charms. Now that I’m more than familiar with the show’s mythology, I can enjoy the direction and design of the opening scenes, but RTD clearly knew what Philip Segel didn’t, which is that you don’t fill the first installment of a revival with baffling back-references.

It was admittedly lovely to see Sylvester one last time, and his performance was just as good as it was seven years previously. It was a shame that the new companion had to come along and kill him. An unconventional introduction, but it was apparent from the start that Grace is a great character. She’s a high achiever like Liz Shaw, but far warmer and easier to empathise with.

The regeneration came along and the show couldn’t decide whether it wanted it to be a parallel of Frankenstein’s monster or the resurrection, until McGann tipped the balance into full on Christ territory. Either way, it was 20-odd minutes before he turned up, but when he did he was right into his stride straight away. The scenes where Grace is helping him to remember who he is were a joy, and they make a great pair.

Meanwhile, The Master has recovered from being a weird spunky snake thing, which I wasn’t keen on, and is coercing Chang Lee into doing his evil bidding, on a truly excellent TARDIS set. Everything was looking extremely promising at this stage, but as soon as the Eye of Harmony is introduced, it takes a steep nosedive into the realm of utter bollocks. Eric Roberts suddenly turned way too cartoonish, and it all became hard to take seriously.

That said, the motorcycle chase and clock theft bits were good fun, and the denouement was nice and tense even though I found the plot to be a bit confusing; I’m still not clear exactly how travelling back to before the events started helps to prevent damage that we’re told is unstoppable. Plus, a few too many liberties were taken with the mythos – I can buy the theory that it’s only this Doctor that’s half-human, but I’m still not keen on it, nor on the TARDIS containing the Eye of Harmony, and all the powers that come with it, which seemingly include eating The Master.

The thing is, whoever the current custodian of Doctor Who is, they’re allowed to pretty much do what they like with the mythology in the pursuit of telling the best story possible. But if you’re going to go as far as to bring back the incumbent Doctor, casually fling unexplained back-references around, and cover everything in Seals of Rassilon, you set the expectation that the history is to be respected. You can’t have it both ways.

Having said all of that, the issues are not so pervasive as to detract a great deal from the overall mood, and it was a perfectly enjoyable way to spend an hour and a half. You can see the similarities to the new series; for one thing the theme tune and title sequence aren’t a million miles away, and the dynamic between Doctor and companion is much more akin to Ten and Rose than the more student-mentor vibe of Seven and Ace. I don’t give a shite if The Doctor wants to snog his companion, and it seems daft from a post-2005 perspective that it was such a huge deal here.

I would have definitely have liked to see more from the Eighth Doctor and Grace. I was surprised and disappointed when she stayed behind at the end – the whole thing needed rounding off with that key moment of her making the decision to join him, in order to really whet the appetite for adventures new. As it stands, I can totally see why it didn’t go any further, but I kind of wish it had.