Last Christmas

This is the first time during this project that a Christmas episode has fallen within the general vicinity of Christmas, and given that it’s been chucking it down with snow all day, it feels particularly apt. With the heavy sci-fi setting and super serious plot, this might have been one of the less festive feeling offerings were it not for the main guest star. And not just because his surname’s “Frost”.

The presence of Santa is obviously ridiculous, but it’s pointed out very early on that the concept is no less realistic than a friendly alien bounding around time and space in a blue phonebox. It’s enough to keep you guessing, as it’s also clear early doors that we’re not to trust everything we see, as clues start to get sown as to the true nature of this story, mainly through the medium of film references.

Alien is explicitly mentioned, despite it starring a young War Doctor, and later on it all goes very Inception, and I’m sure there’s a Terminator 2 reference when the sleepers punch through the door. Clara’s dream-within-several-dreams reminded me of the depiction of Better Than Life from the first Red Dwarf novel – Kryten gets a message to Lister that he’s “dying”, much like the Doctor does with Clara here.

Speaking of that sequence, I’d forgotten that we hadn’t already seen the last of Danny Pink. He functions much better when he’s an unattainable, idealised dream figure – what he represents to Clara now is more important that the reality, which remains that he was a bit of a prick. The unravelling of this dream, and the realisation that it was only one of several layers, is neatly done, with Santa acting as our guide, convincing us of his own non-existence.

This culminates in Clara waking up as an old woman, in what is her second potential departure scene in as many episodes. It would have been quite a nice way to write a companion out, but when it’s revealed to be yet another dream, the number of false endings begins to wear you out a bit. It’s hard to get too emotionally involved in a scene when you’re not sure whether it’s actually taking place, and you’re constantly on the look out for the rug being pulled.

Still, the pair of them running off excitedly towards new adventures is a lovely moment. Plus, I’m a bit concerned that I’m going to struggle to get to sleep tonight thanks to all that talk about nobody ever being able to really know whether they’re awake or dreaming. That kind of existential conundrum is far scarier than any monster, and a nice spot of psychological terror is something that only Doctor Who can bring to Christmas Day telly.

RATING: 8

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The Time of the Doctor

It’s the last of the of the Doctor trilogy, and the end of a tenure that somehow feels too brief, despite complying with the de facto regulation three series. It’s a testament to how good Smith is that I’m left wanting more, while the time seemed very much right when Tennant stepped down. It’s a shame that his last full series wasn’t up to the standard of the first two, but his final two specials have been incredible.

The swansong did a noble job of tying up all the remaining loose ends from the Smith era, in a way that’s a lot more satisfactory when you watch it in the space of four months instead of four years, when it’s all relatively fresh in the memory. This was the culmination of the crack in time, Trenzalore, “Silence will fall” and the sharp increase in people chanting “Doctor Who” over and over again, wiping the slate clean for Capaldi.

Its other main selling point was the appearance of multiple monsters sharing the baddy duties, complementing The Day of the Doctor by going down the route that it resisted. The Weeping Angels got the best of the cameos, slowly rising creepily out of the snow. Other highlights included a wooden Cyberman, who the Doctor persuaded to set fire to itself, and clarification on the nature of the Silence – the ones we’ve met previously are a renegade faction, which allowed for the unusual sight of these scary bastards being deployed as goodies.

But it was another Cyberman variant that threatened to steal the show. Handles is such an amusing concept, and he’s one of the better one-off companions we’ve had. This is also the first time we properly meet Clara 2.0 – now that she’s no longer The Impossible Girl, she’s changed her job, moved into a new flat and been given previously-unseen family members, with the annoying kids quietly dropped.

The truth field on Trenzalore, as well as providing some excellent comedy capers, afforded an opportunity to re-establish her core character traits, although you can probably drop the “re-” from that sentence. This soft reboot of Clara unfortunately paves the way for Danny Pink, who I’ll no doubt be talking about a lot in the coming weeks, but it’s nevertheless a step in the right direction.

Other comedy capers were provided by the Doctor and Clara’s hologrammatic clothes, which is a very silly concept indeed, but pleasingly skirting the border of appropriateness for Christmas teatime on BBC One – the scene of them rolling around in the snow to escape the Angels is a lot ruder when you remember they’re both completely billy bollocks. It’s also heavily implied that the Doctor is shagging a woman who is essentially the Pope. She’s this episode’s other big guest star, and as well as being the Pope she’s also a giant floating head and an undercover Dalek at various points. It’s a weird episode when you think about it, isn’t it?

I mean, we’ve also got the baldy Doctor, and then the oldie Doctor, who seems to have gone all cockney with age. The Time Lord ageing process has never really been nailed down, but it’s weird that he ages so much in his first 300 years on Christmas, considering he’s already lived for 200 years. It’s never stated how much time passes before he becomes the very old Doctor towards the end, but it must be millennia for him to get to that state.

I wasn’t convinced it was necessary at the time, but it was nice that Moffat chose to tackle the regeneration limit head on, if only to stop the tedious discussions about it once and for all. The Time Lords’ intervention also gave the Doctor magic Dalek-killing regeneration energy, which was nice of them. I’m glad that Smith got to regenerate as himself – when Clara goes back to the TARDIS, I remember being convinced that Capaldi would walk down the stairs, but it wouldn’t have been right for the Eleventh Doctor’s final moments to happen off-screen, or for him to not look like the Eleventh Doctor.

Instead, we get a nice long speech about life and change, and a cameo from Amy – two all-time Doctor Who greats reunited, both in dodgy wigs. It’s a lovely moment, but slightly harsh on Clara that her Doctor’s pretending he’s with his ex instead of her. And then the super-fast regeneration is brilliant – a way of confounding expectations during the now-familiar process, without straying too far from what’s gone before.

It helps that Capaldi is absolutely brilliant from the get-go. Both then and now, it’s hard to feel too sad about Smith going when you’re so excited for his replacement. But in any other circumstances, reaching the end of the Eleventh Doctor would be a huge blow. Matt Smith was the first Doctor of the modern era to be equally adept at the comedy and the gravitas, and we haven’t had a Doctor so charming since Tom. Absolutely one of my all-time favourites – even when the scripts weren’t great, he was, and I could never tire of watching him.

RATING: 9

Just for the record, let’s do one of these:

SPECIALS AVERAGE RATING: 9.5

  • Seasons/Series watched: Still 33 of 36
  • Stories watched: 241 of 275
  • Individual episodes watched: 800 of 839

So now I move on to the current Doctor, with only a little more than a month to go until he’s no longer the current Doctor. I was hoping at one stage that I’d be caught up by Christmas, as that would be the natural point to bring this blog to a close, but work commitments and Red Dwarf XII have put paid to that. Nevertheless, it’ll be nice to remind myself of Capaldi’s beginnings before he gets to the end.

The Day of the Doctor

The Last Day (prequel): I was so excited to get on to today’s main feature that I forgot to watch the prequel beforehand. I watched it afterwards, so it was naturally a bit of an anti-climax to see the events leading up to the Fall of Arcadia after I’d seen the actual Fall of Arcadia. I’m sure it would have been fine the correct way round.

Quite simply, this is the best episode of Doctor Who of all time. Saturday 23rd November 2013 was the last time our big group of friends all got together to watch a new episode, and will probably remain so now that we’ve all got busy jobs and people have started moving away and getting married and having babies. But what a high to go out on. Everyone came round to mine at around lunchtime, and we watched An Unearthly Child (just the first ep, not the full thing), The Three Doctors, The Five Doctors, Dimensions in Time, Time Crash, The Name of the Doctor and The Night of the Doctor as a warm-up.

None of this information is pertinent, but I mention it because it was a very happy day that will forever be lodged in my memory. It’s what makes Doctor Who so special to me, the way it’s intrinsically linked to certain times and certain people. The Day of the Doctor gets that, and it’s the perfect celebration. You don’t need me to write a review telling you why, and I don’t feel capable of doing so. So let’s see if I can do something different. In no particular order, here are fifty things I love about the fiftieth anniversary special.

  1. The original titles and music
  2. I.M. Foreman
  3. Coal Hill School – and having Clara work there is the first step in her transition from the mystery girl into a real person that we can begin to care about
  4. Riding a motorcycle into the TARDIS
  5. Kate Stewart – this is the first time she gets to take control in the same way that he dad used to, having been a bit of a passenger in her first story
  6. Osgood – she’s mostly just a cute fan representative at this stage, but the moment with the inhaler hints at the depth that’s to come
  7. “Codename: Cromer. 70s or 80s, depending on the dating protocol”
  8. Finally seeing the Time War, and it not disappointing after such a build-up
  9. It’s got Billie Piper in it
  10. It doesn’t have Rose Tyler in it – how wonderful to give Billie the chance to do something different, rather than further chip away at Rose’s resolution
  11. The design of The Moment itself is just gorgeous
  12. The way the three main settings – modern London, the Time War and Elizabethan England – are each given their own establishing scenes, one after another, before the Doctors are united, like a more in-depth and expensive version of The Five Doctors
  13. The trail of fezzes leaping from location to location, tying them all together
  14. It made me like Tennant again, having become a bit sick of him by the time he’d left three years earlier
  15. Specifically, I think it was the bit with the rabbit that did it
  16. A silly gag four years ago implying that Tennant shagged Queen Elizabeth I is now a key element in the fiftieth anniversary episode
  17. The fact that Smith and Tennant are quite matey with each other, which at this stage is a subversion of the norm for a multi-Doctor episode
  18. Conversely, how grumpy the War Doctor gets with how young they are, how they use their screwdrivers, and their silly catchphrases
  19. The War Doctor being so much more than just a substitute for Eccleston – he represents the classic era itself, and how despite the different approaches, it’s clear that the new regime owes it all to the original
  20. Just the fact that John Hurt is a Doctor now. John Hurt!
  21. The way that our introduction to him is so bad-ass – a machine-gunned message of defiance
  22. Smith and Tennant’s delight at both having put their clever specs on
  23. The War Doctor assuming they’re both the companions
  24. Smith calling Tennant “Dick van Dyke”
  25. The realisation of why the stone dust in the statue room was relevant
  26. The Black Archive, with its many pictures of old companions in bizarre combinations
  27. The choice of Zygons as the main baddy in only their second appearance – they must have the best average hit rate for any returning monster ever
  28. The relative restraint in only bringing back them and the Daleks – unlike previous anniversary specials, this story is about the Doctor, not any of his friends or foes
  29. Coming up with a brilliant plan to set the Sonic a 400-year task of disintegrating the cell door, only to discover it wasn’t locked
  30. The code for the vortex manipulator being the time and date An Unearthly Child aired
  31. John Hurt asking if there’ll be a lot of kissing in the future
  32. The multiple TARDIS interiors, and the reference to “the round things”, and of course the inevitable “you’ve redecorated” line
  33. The Space Time Telegraph turning up, of all things
  34. That weird, sinister-sounding phone call the UNIT guy takes towards the start suddenly making sense towards the end
  35. The various instances of people having to figure out which is the real person and which is the duplicate reminding me of Red Dwarf‘s Psirens
  36. The tension of that Kate Stewart vs Kate Stewart scene, and the parallel between her threatening to nuke London and the War Doctor’s dilemma
  37. The fact that it lead directly to The Zygon Invasion/Inversion, which is another of my all-time favourites
  38. “Never cruel or cowardly. Never give up, never give in”
  39. The fact that this episode doesn’t actually change anything about the Time War – this is what always happened, it’s just that the Doctor thought that it happened differently. Moffat-haters still can’t grasp this.
  40. “Calling the War Council of Gallifrey. This is the Doctor.”
  41. “No sir, all thirteen” and Capaldi’s eyebrows – I cannot describe how exciting this was at the time. That screenshot was my Facebook cover photo for years.
  42. “Geronimo!” / “Allons-y!” / “Oh, for God’s sake.”
  43. Hurt’s reaction to his regeneration – we’ve never seen the Doctor *happy* to change before
  44. YOU KNOW I REALLY THINK YOU MIGHT
  45. The whole idea of the Doctor reusing his previous faces – “but just the old favourites, eh?”
  46. Tom Baker appearing in Doctor Who in 2013. I cried then, I cried tonight. A wonderful, wonderful surprise – the greatest the show has ever pulled.
  47. For all its dodgy effects, the shot of the twelve Doctors all together was a beautiful thing to end on
  48. The fact that it’s still very much Matt Smith’s story, as per Pertwee in 1972 and Davison in 1983
  49. The faces in the closing titles, and the return of the middle eight
  50. The fact that it wasn’t just me and my friends gathered together to witness Doctor Who celebrate 50 years with the finest piece of television it’s ever produced, but 12.8 million people watching on BBC One, and millions more watching at cinemas or on TV in 98 countries around the world simultaneously.

And then afterwards, we all watched Zoe Ball desperately trying to get One Direction’s thoughts on fifty years of Doctor Who, over a satellite connection with a delay of what felt like fifty years itself, while Moffat watched on with his head in his hands. What. A. Night.

In case you hadn’t guessed:

RATING: 10

The Snowmen

First of all, another new title sequence? Come off it now. I very much approve of the Doctor’s face making an appearance, but I’m afraid I was too distracted by the godawful new music to notice anything else. It’s way too busy, it’s like we’re back in the 80s. There’s a new TARDIS interior too, creating a clear line in the sand as if it were the start of a new series – it’s most peculiar that this happens when we’re supposedly mid-series. Having Christmas in the middle feels wrong, and contributes to the feeling that these are more like two separate mini-series.

Most notably, this is the first time Clara appears in a companion role, even though it’s not actually Clara. It’s a lot easier to get on board now that I’ve got to know her; at the time, the big mystery overshadowed absolutely everything, and it was impossible to know what to make of her without even knowing her motives. But now you can see that she’s just an inquisitive, brave and intelligent young woman, like any other companion, and it suddenly feels reassuringly conventional.

Well, other than the fact that she alternates between the slightly too posh sounding cockney you’d get in Mary Poppins, and actually being Mary Poppins. You’re never sure which is the pretend life and which is the real one, but nevertheless it’s fun to see her relationship with the Doctor develop. Not so keen on the snogging, which felt like they were just ticking off that particular Doctor/companion combo to get it out of the way. It did seem a bit sudden for the Doctor to go from a total recluse to giving the TARDIS key to someone he barely knows, so it must have been a hell of a kiss.

Another fun twist – and one that’s potentially quite apt to be revisiting given recent announcements – is that the Doctor’s part of a big gang again, with the Paternosters proving to be great company once more. Strax is the best one – the joke of him wanting to destroy everything never gets old, and the memory worm skit was a tremendous way to disguise a Chekov’s organism. Despite all the Doctor grumpiness, there was a high dosage of comedy throughout the episode – there was even time for a Sherlock parody, complete with sound-alike music. I admire the audacity to pull off such a meta joke on such a big stage.

With so much character work going on, the big returning villain was rather low down in the mix, and it left me yearning for a little more from the Great Intelligence. Richard E. Grant is much more suited to being a villain than being the Doctor, but I’d completely forgotten that he’s not actually TGI until right at the end, he’s just his servant for most of the story. It didn’t do a great job of explaining who or what TGI is – I had to wait until I’d seen The Web of Fear until I fully understood it, and indeed fully understood the references to the London Underground in this one.

The eponymous Snowmen are barely in it either; this episode was less about the scares and more about the human drama. That’s OK, because it does that well, but it means that the plot is a little undernourished. In the denouement, the Doctor is completely defeated with no escape plan, until all the snow miraculously turns into water and the Great Intelligence fucks off. The Doctor had no idea that was going to happen, and had no part in making it happen, so it feels very convenient.

Ah, but then again, now that we know that this version of Clara only exists because our Clara went back into the Doctor’s timeline to help defeat the Great Intelligence, the fact that her death helps solve the problem makes it part of the bigger story. This is what was meant to happen all along – it’s our Clara defeating the Great Intelligence in The Name of the Doctor by defeating him in The Snowmen. Our Clara made this happen.

My brain hurts.

RATING: 8

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.

RATING: 7

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.

RATING: 8

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…

RATING: 8

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:

SPECIALS AVERAGE RATING: 7.5

  • 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.

RATING: 9

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.

RATING: 5

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.

RATING: 8