Pond Life

I was looking forward to this; Amy and Rory are perhaps my two favourite companions of the revival, so the promise of a little series of shorts with them at the centre was a previously-unseen bonus for me. But it was really little, and they were really short. I was going to do my usual thing of covering them bit-by-bit, but they don’t feel like substantial enough bits; the whole thing was only about five and a half minutes, and each individual part seemed to zip by in an instant.

Despite this, the tone and style varied wildly each time, which was a little jarring when watching this omnibus edition, but would perhaps have worked better when they were originally released in daily doses. The first one was very similar to the most recent prequel, with the Doctor leaving a message for the Ponds whilst mid-adventure, while the second was more like a trailer for the upcoming series, with tiny clips from future stories.

The following two were the most successful, focussing on comedy to tell the tale of Rory finding an Ood in the bathroom and it becoming their slave. Then the mood becomes considerably darker for the last one, as we witness the Ponds suddenly and very angrily splitting up. I absolutely hate what happens to their relationship between series, but I hoped this would fill in the gaps and make me understand why it happened. It did nothing of the sort; all we know is that everything was absolutely fine for the the four months leading up to the split, with not even the smallest hint that it was on the cards.

And Amy was very clearly wearing a wig throughout. Rubbish. As I head into Series 7, it stands in my memory as by far the worst run since the show came back. I sincerely hope that the rewatch challenges my preconceptions, as has been the case fairly often so far, but this doesn’t bode well.

RATING: 5

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Good as Gold

It’s another one of them mini-episodes written by kids, this time for Blue Peter, but nevertheless following all the same basic rules: set on the TARDIS, one pre-existing monster and a basic cast. In this case, it’s the Doctor and Amy; god knows where Rory is, or where this fits into the timeline considering she’s not travelling in the TARDIS at this point.

It’s a topical tale, set at London 2012, which was only a couple of months away when this was broadcast. The Doctor interrupts the opening ceremony, with very little regard for how exactly this fits in with established events from Fear Her. The featured monster is a Weeping Angel, and it’s a little weird how quickly and easily The Doctor kills it. If all it took was a ten second blast with the sonic, I don’t think they’d be nearly as successful.

But then there’s a twist and a cliffhanger that reveals that it wasn’t so easy to get rid of after all, and fair play, that raised a smile. That was my one and only noticeable reaction to a sketch that, in all honesty, isn’t very good, but that’s not really the point. It’s fine.

RATING: 5

Night and the Doctor

And so I reach a point where there are no more spin-offs to be spun, at least not until one very brief attempt much further down the line. From here on in there are far fewer deviations from Doctor Who, but there are still a fair amount of specials and extras squeezed in between each series, and here’s the latest. These five mini-scenes are set in the middle of Series 6, so it’s a little odd to be visiting them at this stage, even though it’s chronologically correct.

Let’s take the five scenes in turn…

Bad Night: Prince Charles is on the phone because The Queen has turned into a goldfish and Amy has accidentally murdered an alien ambassador because he was disguised as a fly. Sufficed to say, this seems like it’s right up my street. It’s revealed that the Doctor secretly goes and meets River Song at night, and is therefore joining in fun in a way that excludes his companions.

Good Night: As the title would suggest, the first pair are thematically linked, as Amy vocalises my concerns that her and Rory aren’t big enough parts of the Doctor’s life. It’s mainly concerned, however, with explaining away any inconsistent memories people may have as being the effects of causality being altered. He illustrates this by making Amy cross her own timeline. I’m sure that’s supposed to be dangerous.

First Night: It’s River’s first night in prison, and they both know about the Ponds being her parents by this point, which certainly helps to place it in the continuity. We see the introduction of the famous diary, which is part of the Doctor establishing a set of rules for their new (to him, at least) relationship. Rules which River then instantly breaks when her future self bursts through the door.

Last Night: This continues straight on from the last one, and it’s pure Moffatian¬† as yet another River bursts through the door, followed by another Doctor. There’s a sad twist though, as it turns out the other Doctor is taking the other other River to the Singing Towers of Darillium. We all know what that’s supposed to mean, but I guess they must have got waylaid, given that it’s Smith and not Capaldi that bursts in. That would have been some amazing foreshadowing.

Up All Night: Annoyingly, this one’s on a different disc to the others, as it turns out it’s a prequel to Closing Time, in which basically nothing happens. No Doctor, Amy, Rory or River, it’s just Craig and Sophie talking about how shit a father he is, for less than two minutes. It took longer to wait for the menus to play than it did to watch the thing itself.

So the last one was a disappointing climax, but the other four are great little sketches. As well as it just being nice to have some extra Matt Smith stuff that I’d not previously seen, it feels like quite an important missing link in the story of the Doctor and River’s relationship. It’s sometimes felt like the Doctor has been coerced into this romance by the forces of pre-destiny, so it’s important to see him making the decision to seek her out, and for them to meet up for something other than saving the world. It suddenly feels more like a genuine relationship.

RATING: 7

SJA: The Man Who Never Was

This was obviously never designed to be a series finale, and so naturally it’s not going to be as epic or climactic as you’d ideally want the last ever episode to be. It was fortunate that this supposedly mid-season story was chosen for an in-the-flesh appearance by Luke, with his meeting and bonding with his new little sister providing a full stop to that storyline, even if it was only originally intended to be a semi-colon. It’s also nice that someone other than Sarah Jane was in both the first and last episodes; people have come and gone over the years, but the show has always been, at its heart, the story of a mother and her son.

It’s only a shame that Rani’s mum wasn’t in this one, just so that Constable Habib could be reunited with Constable Goody. James Dreyfus was the main baddy in a story that did its originally intended purpose – a run-of-the-mill but entertaining mid-series romp – very well indeed. There was also a hologram who was basically Steve Jobs, right down to the assessment of his products as being “bog standard, they just look cool”.

While by no means a complicated plot, it did have a couple of nice little twists. You think it’s about someone trying to take over the world with evil technology, but it’s in fact just about someone trying to make money by selling the world shit technology. And the reveal that the hologram is being puppeteered by bumbling little aliens is brilliant – it’s even more like The Numbskulls than the Teselecter was.

Other than those guys, my highlight was a very rude joke for a kids’ show, when Clyde says he’s never been so relieved to see a full stop after receiving the message “grab Harrison’s pen”. Another theme of the episode that works serendipitously well for a finale is the shipping of “Clani”. Unlike Luke and Sky becoming friends, their story doesn’t remotely feel like its reached its conclusion yet, but it’s not hard to extrapolate what their future holds, even if Clyde and Ellie from the last story would have been my OTP.

It was a good story, but it was always leading to the sad inevitability of it coming to an end, taking the show with it. There were shades of Survival in the requirement of a voice-over to add a sense of finality, and no matter how clearly cobbled together than voice-over was, it really tugs at the heartstrings, as does the montage of clips from right across Sarah Jane’s 21st Century adventures. Inevitably, I cried, for the loss of Sarah Jane, for the loss of the show, but mostly – almost entirely – for the loss of Elisabeth Sladen, a woman who I never met but I somehow felt I knew.

The final caption allowed me a brief smile through the tears. “And the story goes on… forever”. Sarah Jane will never die. She’s still out there, saving the world and making it a better place in the process. It’s just that we won’t be able to witness it any more. I’m just so grateful that Russell decided she was the one to bring back in Series 2, and that he saw the potential for this wonderful spin-off. One of Doctor Who‘s greatest ever companions got a second lease of life, and Elisabeth Sladen took the opportunity to show us even more of what she could do. The Sarah Jane Adventures is a very special, very precious thing. But for now…

Goodbye, Sarah Jane Smith.

RATING: 8

SERIES AVERAGE RATING: 8

  • SJA series watched: 5 of 5
  • SJA stories watched: 27 of 27
  • Individual SJA episodes watched: 53 of 53

SJA: The Curse of Clyde Langer

As the end of Sarah Jane’s Adventures grows ever nearer, the penultimate story proves that the show was still in its prime when it came to a premature end. And to think it all started with that strange incident in 21st century Ealing when it rained herring. Where’s a hungry humanoid cat when you need one?

Without me really noticing, Clyde has slowly developed into a really strong character, and Daniel Anthony carries the episode exceptionally well. He’s more than capable of handling a much more emotional performance than we’re used to, and of showing a different side to Clyde: alone, vulnerable and scared. The amount of shit that’s heaped on the poor boy is off the scale, and it’s the type of psychological terror that SJA excels in.

His only ally is a friendly homeless girl called Ellie. When we first meet her, as Clyde hands her some change outside the museum, I assumed it was just there to emphasise his niceness, and that his little speech to Sky about how it’s not her fault that she’s on the streets was a very good message for the kids at home. But it turns out that virtually the whole of the second part is dedicated to really exploring homelessness as a social issue. It goes much further to address a real world problem than the show’s ever gone before, and it feels like it could have been a whole new direction had the series continued.

While Ellie is a remarkably clean character, both literally and metaphorically, there are hints of much darker and more adult issues in her life. It’s never spelled out to the extent that it would cause awkward questions for parents to answer, but it’s heavily implied that she’s the victim of abuse, both as the cause and result of her homelessness. It creates a sinister undercurrent to the mood, which feels more real and relevant than any alien threat. The show never shies away from the harsh reality of life on the streets, and it deserves a lot of credit for the respect this shows to its viewership.

The sci-fi element to the plot is really just a backdrop – an elaborate set-up that exists merely to allow the Clyde and Ellie relationship to play out. It comes to a head when Sky saves the day by figuring out how the curse works; it’s a handy way of proving her usefulness, but it does strike you as convenient that the curse doesn’t affect her. Presumably it’s because she’s not human, but I don’t think this is ever clarified.

The lifting of the curse provides a moment of joy, but it’s balanced out by the agony that it unintentionally causes. Maybe I’m tired and a bit hungover still, but man, it broke my heart that Ellie thought Clyde had abandoned her, after their blossoming romance was so lovely. It’s a really melancholic ending, which feels so unusual for children’s drama, but it’s something that the very best examples of the genre can pull off. And The Sarah Jane Adventures is undoubtedly one of the greats.

But hey, given that Sarah Jane carried on her life off-screen, we can assume that everyone else did too, and so who’s to say that Clyde and Ellie didn’t find each other again at some point in the last few years? It’s so sad that we’ll never find out, and it’s even more sad that the very next serial is the very last. It’ll take me a few days to get round to it now, thanks to my other, much more elaborate sci-fi fandom project, but I’m already bracing myself for tears.

RATING: 9

SJA: Sky

Back to Bannerman Road for one final, sadly truncated, series of Sarah Jane Adventures. I’ll cherish these last six episodes, as I’m dreading the moment when these adventures come to a premature end. These are precious opportunities to see this brilliant character one last time, and the series kicks off with a particularly strong story for Elisabeth Sladen, thriving with big speeches about death and morality.

With Luke still only appearing via Skype, Sarah Jane’s role has been much less maternal than it was in the early days, and the gang are a member down, so it was high time for a new “companion”. This time it’s a lot less simple than a new family moving in, with shades of River Song in the way Sky was bred to be a killer. Also, her rapidly getting older within her first appearance was almost like an extreme twist on the way we were introduced to Amy Pond.

Even by the end of the episode, she’s still a lot younger than the other two kids, which promises for an interesting dynamic. All the young characters so far have been peers, but Sky seems even younger than they all were when they first appeared, let alone now. Her skipping straight to adolescence obviously gives her similar characteristics to a young Luke, but her constant “what is X?” questions started to get a little annoying even in the space of one episode. Her power of scrambling electronics with her mind could come in handy though.

Sky was of course central to the plot of her introductory episode, and I liked the backstory about the Fleshkind vs the Metalkind – a morally ambiguous conflict that gave Sarah Jane the opportunity for her aforementioned big speeches. There’s not many shows that would combine the shutting down of a nuclear reactor and a lesson about the colours of the spectrum to form its action-packed finale, but it feels like exactly the sort of thing a Doctor Who spin-off for kids should be doing. It was mightily convenient that the resultant reaction unexpectedly turned Sky into a normal girl, with absolutely no ill-effects, but ho hum.

I’m looking forward to seeing Sky become part of the team, but there’s a rather obvious shadow hanging over this series. It’s so sad; plans are being made, pieces put into place to be paid off later on, and then it all had to be cut short. There’s an intriguing bit at the end when Captain Parrot and the mysterious shopkeeper turn up again, and Sarah Jane says we’ll find out who they really are in good time. But I worry that we won’t, nor will we find out more about how Sky ended up here, or see her relationship with Sarah Jane really develop. It’s a constant nagging reminder that the end is nigh, and I really don’t want it to be.

RATING: 7

Death Is the Only Answer

It’s a short one today, as we’re presented with a tiny mini-episode, written by competition-winning schoolchildren, originally broadcast as part of Doctor Who Confidential. As is the format for any tiny mini-episode, it’s the current Doctor and one other person, on board the TARDIS, with a pre-existing monster. The Doctor’s fez summons Albert Einstein through time; it’s an entertaining premise, and the dialogue between the two is sharp and funny.

It does go a bit weird though. Einstein – a theoretical physicist from 20th century Earth – has invented a potion that turns him into an Ood. The Einstein-Ood then starts chanting “death is the only answer” for no adequately explained reason. Was the inclusion of this phrase a requirement of the competition? Because if not, that’s a little disturbing to have come from the HB pencils of junior schoolkids.

Then a big bright light appears out of nowhere and turns the Ood back into Einstein. Total deus ex machina. Buck your ideas up, Oakley Church of England Junior School.

RATING: 6

Torchwood: The Blood Line

I HAVE FINISHED TORCHWOOD. This makes me so happy. I am thirty-one years old, and I will never watch an episode of Torchwood ever again. I’ve now seen them all at least once, and most of them twice, and that is more than enough times. This feels like a significant milestone in the latter stages of this project – from this point on, everything I watch will be stuff that I actually want to watch.

For what it’s worth, this final episode was slightly above the average – having taken so long to get everything in place for the end of the Miracle, they did a decent job of making it happen. Mind you, a lot of the big plot revelations we were waiting for came through the woman at the Blessing just telling Jilly everything for some reason. An attempt at excitement came through a quite extraordinary number of bombings – the Category One count is very high in this episode, with Jack and Rex happily snapping people’s necks willy-nilly to bring the total up.

It gets quite dramatic towards the end, and genuinely gripping in places as the upper hand flits between Torchwood and the Families. But the trademark Torchwood silliness is never far away. The climax of a season-long story being John Barrowman’s guts spilling into a gorge is clearly very silly indeed, and his face doesn’t exactly help you take it seriously. Also, I’m no doctor, but Miracle or no Miracle, I’m pretty sure you can’t just swap your entire blood supply with someone else’s and continue walking and talking.

Then there’s Oswald Danes. I’m still not quite clear what the point of his character was. If it was satire on the way the media works, or a parable about how dangerous it is to give terrible people a platform, then that still doesn’t account for why he had to join the team for the last couple of episodes. His usefulness to the mission was accidental – they found that suicide vest after they’d already broken in, it wasn’t pre-planned – and at no point could I shake the knowledge that there was a paedophile in our midst. Even as he sacrifices his life to seal off the Blessing, he reminds us of his crimes by recalling his “shoulda run faster” catchphrase. There is no redemption here.

Naturally, not all of the Torchwood team could survive the adventure, and it was Esther who drew the short straw. She did so fairly consistently over the course of the series, with her character being far less prominent or interesting than any of the others. She seemed entirely defined by her devotion to Rex, which is never a good sign for a female character. Speaking of Rex, him gaining Jack’s healing ability made me chuckle, but he’s the last person you’d want to live forever. He’s a tit.


Having finally seen this ten-part story in full, I’m left to conclude that there’s something seriously wrong with the pace and structure. In part one, a big mysterious bad thing happens. In part ten, they solve the mystery and fix everything. The middle eight parts were a series of diversions, dead ends and deviations, which would have been fine if they were brilliant, but they weren’t.

That leaves four fifths of the series looking suspiciously like padding. At times it was mildly entertaining padding, but it rarely did more than pass the time. It’s no surprise, but they failed to live up to the story-telling potential that the Miracle provided – too often it got bogged down with the latest relatively trivial problems befalling our heroes, leaving the big world-changing events to be conveyed via news reports and intelligence briefings, rarely impacting on the various characters we followed.

I suspect the whole experience would be much better if you just skipped episodes 2-9 and watched it as an RTD-penned two-parter instead. There’d be bits which didn’t make much sense, but probably no more than in an average Torchwood episode, and you really wouldn’t miss too much vital information. Crucially, it would have only wasted two hours of my life, not ten.

I like the way they left a sequel hook, with Jilly being informed that this was just the first part of the Families’ plan, along with the aforementioned Rex immortality. Nice try, but come on, the show was already on borrowed time. I stand by my earlier statement that Torchwood really ought to have ended with Children of Earth. Miracle Day concluded with a far more open path to new stories, but it left us with far less appetite to see them.

RATING: 6

SEASON AVERAGE RATING: 5.1

  • Torchwood series watched: 4 of 4
  • Torchwood stories watched: 37 of 37
  • Individual¬†Torchwood episodes watched: 41 of 41

TORCHWOOD DONE. Now, finally, let’s kill Hitler…

Torchwood: The Gathering

We’re so nearly there guys. We’re on the final disc of the complete Torchwood boxset. Thank Christ. The most annoying thing about this series is that it’s not complete and total shit. At least the first two series almost always gave me something to talk about, but there isn’t even anything to tear to shreds here. It’s mostly just about fine, but it’s pedestrian and tedious.

Setting this episode two months after the last one was a sure-fire way to lose the momentum of that cliffhanger. Oh no, Jack’s going to die, oh wait he’s fine now. They try to distract you from this by having RTD make a cameo as a newsreader, but this only serves to remind you that one of the finest TV writers of his generation is attached to this show, and even he can’t make it work.

The world has changed considerably in the two months we skipped; borders are closed, category ones are being rounded up, and Oswald Danes has got a job delivering bread. He was always going to become more central to the plot towards the end, and it seemed somewhat inevitable that he’d join the team. It kind of works with him as an outsider, pointing out where people are going wrong and making quips from the sidelines, until you remember who he is, and that Torchwood now has a nonce on their books.

After a brief interlude for Gwen’s dad to be incinerated, the gang finally got somewhere in their investigation, and it was fun to watch the pieces being put together. The stuff with Jilly being quite literally Shaghaied was fairly exciting too, although I was distracted by the location of The Blessing looking exactly like the alley where the Seventh Doctor was shot. The secret behind the Miracle seems to be a big hole down the centre of the Earth, running from Shanghai to Buenos Aires. What, is someone going to turn the planet into a vehicle and fly it through space?

By the end of the episode, we finally have everything in place for the gang to fix this whole Miracle Day problem, but there’s still quite a lot to be done in the final hour. We still don’t know what the Blessing does, who’s controlling it, or why, or how it can be stopped, all of which needs to be answered before Torchwood can start defeating the baddies and fixing the world. It’s a lot to ask to squeeze all that in and leave room for any satisfying exploration of the aftermath, or emotional resolution. What could possibly go wrong?

RATING: 5

Torchwood: End of the Road

You know what’s really annoying? I could have watched Doctor Who tonight. The last few episodes of Miracle Day overlapped with the start of Series 6B, so if I was sticking to strict broadcast order, I’d be killing Hitler right now. But alternating between the two for a while would be a bit annoying, and I’d rather just get this nonsense out of the way once and for all, so I decided to crack on with¬†Torchwood and get it over with.

My decision was instantly punished with quite possibly the dullest hour of television that Torchwood has produced so far. Perhaps I was in a bad mood with it because it’s not Doctor Who, but I spent the last fifty minutes taking in everything that was being said and done, and not one bit of it affected me emotionally or stimulated me intellectually. I’d have got an equal amount of enjoyment from reading the synopsis on Wikipedia, and it would have been much quicker.

The appearance of your man from Breaking Bad raised a smile, and your man from Jurassic Park blowing himself up raised an eyebrow. That was about it for the bulk of the episode. Angelo, like PhiCorp before him, turned out to be another red herring, and instead we’re introduced to yet another mystery in the form of “the families”, and only two episodes in which to explore it. We’re 80% of the way through, and the identity of those behind the Miracle is no closer to being revealed – we’ve always known it was some shady people in the background, and that’s still as far as we’ve come. All we learn here is that they were apparently responsible for the subprime mortgage crisis.

The worst thing was that Jack has got back into his old habit of withholding information from his fellow team-members – and therefore the audience – in order to look mysterious and brooding. When the one thing you want from a series is for it to answer some of its mysteries, it’s so frustrating when you know the answers are right there, but they’re arbitrarily choosing not to tell you. It’s also far less dramatic when you know for a fact that the situation could be resolved by one character simply telling another what he already knows – any jeopardy is false, generated solely by this wilful schtum-keeping.

Meanwhile, everyone’s favourite right-wing paedophile is back, and we get to enjoy watching him bully his female employee and intimidate a prostitute. We’re then seemingly supposed to feel sorry for him when he’s condemned to a new type of death sentence and forced to go on the run. I mean, I’m against the death penalty in all circumstances, but it’s hard to make that argument when you then see Danes slapping and punching a woman. Send the fucker to the module.

I’ll admit that I did have one moment of genuine surprise and intrigue: when (the now mortal, remember) Jack got shot. Not for the first time this series, it’s a great cliffhanger that serves to raise the stakes for the next episode and take the story in a new direction. It’s just a shame that you could have cut the preceding 48 minutes or so out and still got the same effect.

RATING: 4