The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang

* That’s a hell of an opening sequence, bringing together pretty much every major guest character from the series so far. Well, almost – if you were James Cordon or Meera Syal, you’d have to take it personally. It’s a new twist on the way the finale sits with the rest of the series – as well as there being seeds of the finale dotted throughout the preceeding episodes, bits of preceeding episodes are dotted throughout the finale. It makes the whole thing feel like it’s all been one big story – Series 5 is one long and varied chapter in The Doctor’s life, rather than several smaller ones.

* River Song Timeline Watch: The Weeping Angels story hasn’t happened to River yet. Is the implication that we’re following River’s story in exact reverse chronological order? That would be the easiest interpretation to follow, but hold on – she doesn’t seem to know who Rory is, so this can’t take place after any of her Series 6 or 7 stories. Unless she’s just pretending to not know Rory, in order to avoid any spoiler-related faux pas. Oh, I’m only three River stories in and I’ve gone cross-eyed.

* I really like the way the Cybermen are used here, like creatures in a horror flick. There’s the disembodied head scuttling about on spidery tentacles, then the skull falling out of the helmet, then the headless ghost coming to attack. Despite how unusual a Cyberman appearance this is, it’s the most effective they’ve been in the revival so far, and the skull is the closest they’ll come to nailing the body horror until they give up and bring back the Mondasians.

* Rory’s back. Hooray! I couldn’t quite remember all the details of how it happens, and considered the possibility that he’d remain an Auton for the rest of his life. That would have been great – The Doctor having a companion that’s ostensibly human in pretty much all respects, except that his hand can turn into a gun. And he might accidentally kill his wife when stressed.

* Quick status check at the end of the first part: The Doctor has been imprisoned by every monster he’s ever met, Amy has been reunited with Rory only for him to shoot her dead, River is trapped in an exploding TARDIS, and every star in every universe in every reality is going out, one-by-one. Yeah, that’s a pretty high-stakes cliffhanger.

* When things are this extreme, it makes me nervous, as it’s a big challenge to get out of situations like this in a satisfying way. Moffat handles this by once again tinkering with the format of a finale. It’s often the case that the first ep is largely one long set-up for the second ep, but here it feels more like two distinct stories. By not starting The Big Bang in the same time and place as The Pandorica Opens ended, it’s an indication that the answer to “how do they get out of that one?” is going to take the whole episode.

* It’s an answer that involves the return of young Amelia Pond, and she’s up against stone Daleks, which look a hell of a lot better than the New Paradigm bastards elsewhere in this series. We’re also introduced to The Doctor’s penchant for a fez, as part of a timey-wimey jigsaw puzzle of a plot, which sees the show once more channeling Bill & Ted-style time travel humour. This use of time travel as a story-telling device is something that would become a trademark of Moffat’s era, so it’s easy to forget how fresh, unusual and exciting it felt at the time.

* Inevitably, the ultimate conclusion to the story requires a little bit of what people like to refer to as a “reset button”, but there’s so much more it than that, and it avoids all the pitfalls that often make this term a pejorative one. Firstly, the show acknowledges exactly what it is – The Doctor is rebooting the universe, simple as that. Secondly, it’s not without its cost – The Doctor has to sacrifice his existence in order to make it happen, cleverly linking up with the rest of the series once more as he goes.

But mostly, the crucial part is that by the time everything’s worked itself out, the characters still remember everything that happened. Amy piecing everything together was a thing of joy, and it meant that all the things that the reboot erased were still “real” to her, Rory, River and The Doctor, even if that’s not what the history books will say. As far as they’re concerned, Rory spent the best part of 2,000 years guarding Amy, while she managed to bring both the men in her life back from the dead, and all the character development that goes along with these things will still apply.

So yeah, call it a “reset button” if you like, but it’s not a cheat – it’s our heroes fixing a problem and winning the day like they always do, even if nobody but them will know they did it.

RATING: 9

SERIES AVERAGE RATING: 8.2

  • Seasons/Series watched: 31 of 36
  • Stories watched: 212 of 275
  • Individual episodes watched: 769 of 839

What a fine series that was. One thing I’ve noticed is that when I was rewatching Series 1-4, seeing Eccleston and Tennant was like revisiting old friends, as I had been for Doctors 1-8. But with Smith, despite the fact that I adore Capaldi, I’ve been kind of forgetting that he’s not the current Doctor – he’s still so exciting to watch, and I’ve always thought he could have easily stuck around for longer.

Coming up next, I’m about to go on holiday for a week and a bit, which might rather dent my hopes of finishing this thing before Christmas. However, I’m taking my laptop and my Sarah Jane DVDs with me, just in case it rains…

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

Torchwood: Cyberwoman

Well, I have been complaining recently that Cybermen are more effective when they’re converted from real humans bit-by-bit, and that they’d moved too far away from the body horror aspect of the originals. I also said that I wanted Torchwood to take more time to explore complicated moral issues that are too dark for Doctor Who, so this episode should be right up my street. There’s only one problem: it was bollocks.

I mean, fucking hell. I remember being so, so angry about this on first broadcast. It makes an absolute joke out of the Cybermen, in the most Torchwood way possible. Apparently, the Cyber conversion process works by building a metal bra and knickers first, and leaving plenty of bare stomach and leg exposed to fill in later. What the hell is wrong with people who look at a classic concept like Cybermen and think “it’s good, but let’s do a sexy version”. It’s like a porn parody.

If you manage to ignore the travesty that they’re making of Davis and Pedlar’s work, there are some thrills to be had from the generic infiltrated-base action, but they’re few and far between. What’s supposed to hold the episode together is the emotional trauma that Ianto’s going through, but given that this is only the fourth episode, that falls completely flat. He gains a personality somewhere along the line, but so far he’s been in it for a total of about five minutes across three episodes. He’s literally just the tea boy at this stage, so why should I sympathise with him when he’s betrayed his team and endangered the entire universe?

And apart from anything else, how the fuck has Ianto managed to keep this to himself the whole time anyway? We were told last time that Jack lives and sleeps in the Hub, which leaves very little opportunity for the requisite sneaking about. When he deletes CCTV footage, it comes up with a big message saying “FOOTAGE DELETED”, and Tosh is able to retrieve the file within seconds once she notices. So how has nobody noticed any of this before?

We’re never clear what exactly is going on with Lisa either. Are her Cyberman tendencies taking over her human brain against her will, or is she full-on Cyberman all along and just pretends to be human-like to manipulate Ianto? Some clarification might have helped the moral dilemma at the heart of the story to have more impact – how are we supposed to pass judgement on whether Jack or Ianto are in the right when we have insufficient data?

It’s all hanging together by a thread, which is something I perhaps wouldn’t notice so much if I was being entertained. I admit to being amused at the sight of the Cyberwoman punching a pterodactyl in the face, but that’s about it. I don’t really see how Ianto can snap back in to the comedy butler role after this – the episode doesn’t give us any reason to believe there’s a way back from this debacle, for him or for this godforsaken series.

Owen Watch: A needless moan about women drivers, direct from the 1970s, and somewhat more seriously, sexually assaulting Gwen when the pair of them were hiding in a mortuary drawer. Unnecessary and uncomfortable.

RATING: 2

Army of Ghosts / Doomsday

Tardisodes: The first is the best one yet – a young journalist pieces together clues about Torchwood, before getting too close and ending up being taken away by men in white coats. The second is an emergency news bulletin detailing the Cyberman invasion, in which everything starts blowing up around some poor newsreader, who then gets exterminated by a Dalek. A very strong end to the noble Tardisode experiment, and overall they’re a fun and worthwhile venture. It’s a shame that, save for the occasional online prequel during the Smith years, such a thing didn’t continue.

* We’re entering a phase where I have really clear memories of when and where I first watched these episodes. Army of Ghosts went out just after England had lost on penalties to Portugal in the World Cup Quarter Final. I was emotional, angry at Cristiano Ronaldo for winking after Rooney’s red card, and pissed as a fart. For the finale, two of my very best friends came round to watch it at my student house, after they’d spent the day hunting for the flat where I’d end up watching most of the next series. By the end, the scene was of three young men who knew each other quite well, but not as well as we soon would, sitting next to each other on three rickety chairs in front of a tiny portable TV, with none of us daring to break eye contact with the screen in case the others saw us crying.

* It’s odd to revisit the original incarnation of Torchwood, considering how little it resembles Captain Jack’s gang of ne’er-do-wells. These guys might be sinister and selfish, but at least they’re vaguely competent, and at least Tracy-Ann Cyberman isn’t the worst woman from the second series of Big Train to appear in this episode. There are little flashes of the Torchwood theme in the incidental music when the Doctor is ghost-hunting, not that we’d have known it at the time. Speaking of the ghost-hunting, why in the name of FUCK does Tennant say a line from Ghostbusters in a Scooby Doo voice? That has been irritating me for over a decade now.

* Hey look, it’s Martha Jones! Flirting with a bloke over MSN, like a early-to-mid-00s idiot. If this was the classic series, she’d survive the story and leave in the TARDIS at the end, rather than the team going to the effort of inventing a new character for a guest actress they liked.

* This is the first finale to contain the briefly traditional raft of celebrity cameos. D’you remember Trisha? I seem to recall she was a bit old hat even by 2006, having moved to Channel 5 and been replaced on ITV by Jeremy Kyle. Barbara Windsor is the highlight, although her (well, Peggy’s) joke about spirits doesn’t quite work – if the only spirits allowed in the Queen Vic are gin, whiskey and vodka, then that’s a shit bar.

* I love the gratuitous little scene of the kid running upstairs, only to find a Cyberman waiting for him. That’s always stuck with me as something that would have terrified me if I was ten years younger. Even though I knew what was coming, I had a HUGE grin on my face as the Daleks descend from the void ship. I jotted down “best cliffhanger ever” in my notes – I was wrapped up in the moment, clearly, but even now I’m struggling to recall a better one.

* RTD may well be the best writer of Dalek dialogue of all time. With the combination of this writing, the vocal performance and the brilliant props, everything is just right – they’re great when they’re being menacing, but the functional dialogue amongst themselves also shines, and Russell is able to make them humourous without detracting from any of this. The bickering with the Cybermen is just extraordinary.

* It’s astonishing just how many returning characters there are. That one from Byker Grove didn’t have much to do, other than over-enunciate “and so did we”, and point out the existence of lifts. It was genuinely nice to see Mickey again, and apt that he got one last chance to fuck everything up for everyone when he activated the Genesis Ark. The Jackie and Pete reunion was the first time I cried, but luckily there was a sharp jolt into some massive pitched Dalek vs Cybermen vs Torchwood battles, so I was able to compose myself temporarily.

* You can take it as read that I enjoyed everything Dalek-related, and most things Cybermen-related – even though they’re not proper Cybermen, and I still don’t think they’re a patch on the originals, they’re better here than they ever were in the 70s or 80s, perhaps because the Daleks are around to pick up the slack. The one bit that I’m really not sure about is when Tracy-Ann Cyberman turns up again, and repeats her new-found catchphrase whilst crying oil. I’m not necessarily opposed to a converted human regaining control of their Cyber body, but I found it a bit jarring in the moment, and the tear was daft.

* Predictably, I was a big blubbering mess by the end, perhaps more so than I was the first time, given there was no need to disguise it. This is despite knowing that the big goodbye isn’t quite as final as seems, and that the “this is the story of how I died” motif is a bit annoying when you know how misleading it is. But the whole thing is just so deeply sad. They’ve been ripped apart and they love each other, but The Doctor can’t even say it. Rose has annoyed me in recent episodes, but you never forget your first companion, and she was mine. I loved her too.

* Nearly eleven years later, I once again found myself croaking “fuck off, Catherine Tate” through a veil of tears. I didn’t like her as a performer then and I don’t now, but I’m going to do my best to re-assess Donna with an open mind when the time comes. But regardless of any of that, that final moment is horribly misjudged, and it damn near undermines the whole ending. I wish they’d have had the nerve and the confidence to end on a sad note, without feeling the need to add a hook to get people to come back. They would have done anyway – you’ve created this brilliant, thrilling, emotional climax, so just let it breathe.

* Fave lines that I’d previously forgotten: “Torchwood refuses to go metric.” / “Neither did we need him alive.” / “Social interaction will cease.”

RATING: 10

SEASON AVERAGE RATING: 7.2

  • Seasons/Series watched: 28 of 35
  • Stories watched: 177 of 264
  • Individual episodes watched: 723 of 827

That’s actually a lower average rating than most of the original run, but that’s mainly due to Fear Her, and to compare a new series to an old season is not like-for-like anyway. But still, not as good as the first series, but a damn sight better than what’s coming next. Brace yourself. I know I am. Expect weevils and bollocks and shit.

Rise of the Cybermen / The Age of Steel

Tardisodes: First up, an intelligence briefing about John Lumic / Cybus that pretty much tells you everything you need to know about the fact that he’s building Cybermen. It’s then revealed that the broadcast is being watched by Mickey, although it’s actually Ricky, except we don’t know that yet.

Secondly, an update from Cybus Industries urging people to upgrade from flesh, and lots of footage of some Cybermen marching about. Which I guess would have been exciting at the time, but I’m used to footage of Cybermen marching about by now.

* Urgh, new Cybermen. I don’t mind that there’s a new origin story – it’s a parallel world, it doesn’t affect our universe, so it’s fine. The problem is – and it’s something that I feel like I’ve mentioned every time the Cybermen have appeared from the 70s onwards – the concept that originally made them so scary seems to now be permanently lost. They work best when they’re recognisably human-but-with-extra bits, because the horror comes from how similar they are to us. When you make them uniform and regimented, they’re just generic robots – toy soldiers for The Doctor to knock down.

Transferring a human brain into a completely artificial metal suit just doesn’t cut it. A biological blob in a weaponised travel machine isn’t the Cybermen. They’ve basically just made shit Daleks. Besides which, if they’d have gone for the traditional augmentation of existing human bodies, it would have fitted much more neatly into the tech upgrade element of the parallel world.

* And then Trigger made a face. John Lumic is a ridiculous character, and Roger Lloyd Pack didn’t stand a chance with dialogue such as “and how will you do that from beyond the grave?” in the pre-titles. I quite liked a broad villain in the old days, but it doesn’t work with the gritty reality of the new series. He’s no Tobias Vaughn.

* Fishing a newspaper out of a bin to find out the date. They really don’t mind a tired old cliché, do they? But good things about parallel world include Rose being a dog (and The Doctor laughing about it), Lumic’s clever use of the ear pods to steal information, and the presence of an International Electromatics lorry.

* The Geordie boy from Byker Grove with the mid-00s haircut is rubbish. He seems like he’s having a lovely time pretending to be a big hero, but it’s not particularly convincing. Don Warrington as the President of Great Britain is a lot more like it, though you have to question why his character decided to go gallivanting off to a birthday party at such a crucial time for the country.

* Mickey has a point that The Doctor cares more about Rose than him, but a) Rose has been there longer, b) you invited yourself on board in the first place, doofus, and c) Rose is just nicer than you. His journey in this episode actually makes a lot of sense thanks to the dead nan element, and it’s in keeping with the progress he’s already made, but that line towards the start about “looking out for a better offer” just makes him sound ungrateful as fuck.

* Actually, rather than shit Daleks, when the ear pods activated and people started voluntary walking into the factories, I realised that what Lumic is actually making are just more advanced Robomen from Dalek Invasion of Earth. I must admit I do have a soft spot for the Lion Sleeps Tonight bit though.

* I like that Alternate Pete feels a connection with and an inherent trust in Rose, in exactly the same way Past Pete did last time. Alt-Jackie is a bit of a dick, though, with ridiculous knockers. More could have been done with her post-conversion; I seemed to recall a bit where she regained a modicum of control and aided Rose and Pete, but I might be mixing it up with a similar moment in a later episode.

* The Cybermen’s attack on the party and resultant cliffhanger is pretty bloody good, but it raises the question of what exactly constitutes “maximum” deletion. There’s no “next time” preview to be seen, either before or after the credits, which is a big improvement. The resolution, however is a pile of shit – The Doctor pulls out a magic weapon and the Cybermen are conveniently vapourised. It’s not a deus ex machina – the criticism that’s been misused so badly by Doctor Who fans that it’s become meaningless anyway – because we’d already established that he had this bit of TARDIS on him, but its newfound zapping ability had never been mentioned before, so it’s still a complete cop-out.

* Quite a lot of the second episode seems to concern lengthy scenes of people walking quite slowly. It’s not terribly exciting – an early example of something that’s plagued a handful of modern two-parters whereby the scene-setting and the build-up are a lot more fun than the main action.

* What’s the point of being the Cyber Controller if you’re still confined to a big wheelchair when you’re doing the controlling? The rest of the climax is better than I remembered, to be fair. The Doctor pleading his case by extolling the virtues of emotion is a pleasingly old-school method, and the stuff with the emotional inhibitors at least acknowledges that the traces of humanity within the Cybermen are where the interesting material lies. I seemed to remember thinking that the Doctor fixing everything by jamming Rose’s phone into a handy docking station was another cop-out, but it didn’t bother me at all this time – maybe it’s because we have NFC and wireless docking now, but the technologies being universally compatible made sense.

* Mickey’s departure was another staple of the classic series being dusted off – staying behind to help rebuild a world that they’ve been in for five minutes. If only the line about Ricky and Jake being a couple hadn’t been cut, he could have gone the whole hog and married a bloke he’d only just met. I did enjoy the dynamic of having a third traveller for a few episodes, but overall Mickey has been less likeable than I remembered, and I’ve just about had my fill of him. The timing was right for him to go.

* Fave lines that I’d previously forgotten: “Or maybe Lucy’s just a bit thick.” / “Well, it could be that Cybus Industries have perfected the science of human cloning, or your father had a bike.” / “I once saved the universe with a biiiig yellow truck.”

RATING: 6

Real Time

Erm, Happy New Year! I had an unscheduled pause over the festive break; my Christmases are always hectic, but for the last couple of years I’ve been doing my best to squeeze in as many episodes of Who as possible in between all the commitments to friends and family. This year, I was struggling to get the chance, so I tried not to worry about it. If I was currently on a run of actual episodes, I’m sure this might have been different, but after last time, I wasn’t exactly in a rush for more ancient Flash animation.

However, I didn’t want to return to work with the thing hanging over me, so I decided to watch the whole shebang tonight in an hour-long omnibus edition I found online. I was instantly struck by how much better the animation and technical quality were this time around. The story is a lot more accessible too – a lot less ambitious and much more conventional, but that’s a good thing when you’re in such a restrictive medium. It’s hard enough to create an immersive experience for the audience, even without throwing additional complicated nonsense at them.

It was therefore a neat idea to have the story play out in – as the title suggests – real time. This is a nice, self-contained slice of The Doctor’s life, and we don’t need any prior knowledge in order to understand the story as it unfolds. I’d heard of Evelyn Smythe as being one of the Sixth Doctor’s audio companions, so I assume that if I was familiar with those, then this would be even more accessible.

As it was, I didn’t really get much of a grasp on who she is or much of the dynamic between them, other than The Doctor making a dig about her being fat at one point. He can fucking talk. I wasn’t really sure how much he cared for her, but then that’s a problem with the Sixth Doctor in general – time has certainly mellowed him, but he’s still a bit of a git, fundamentally.

The Cybermen were on pretty good form though, and were perhaps a more convincing threat than they had been on TV for years by this stage. I enjoyed the attempt to consolidate all the conflicting bits of Cyberhistory, and to create a plausible new development. Obviously a great idea to return to the fundamentals of humans being converted bit by bit, and this was more visceral than anything before or since. The result of the slightly shoddy conversion process looked unfortunately similar to Torchwood‘s Cyberwoman, but at least this version made sense.

But really, if you know me at all, you’ll know the thing that most interested me about this production. Bloody Lee & Herring! I’m a ginormous fan of them collectively and individually, and this is one of the few pieces in their oeuvre that I hadn’t previously seen. Probably one of the last things they did as a double act too. Their presence was fascinating, but ultimately a bit distracting.

I got the sense that Rich was having a lovely time, but he’s not the greatest straight actor, bless him. Stew couldn’t really be arsed, could he? He sounded more lively after the conversion. They both met incredibly gruesome ends, but I couldn’t take them seriously, because of how odd it was to hear the voices of Lee & Herring being placed in those situations. Surreal and incredibly silly, but entertaining.

I ended up not hating this at all, and even found it enjoyable at times, but it fell a little way short of being actively good. I’m slightly regretting bending the rules by consuming it all at once, but I think ten minute chunks would have been a little too stop/start. I’m now not dreading the next animation, and at least I know that the script and storyline are both decent and familiar…

RATING: 6

More than 30 Years in the TARDIS

This is what I meant about this blog becoming both more frequent and less regular. I’m forging my way through the wilderness years, but I had to wait until I had a spare 90 minutes set aside to watch this. Technically speaking, this is one I could have skipped, as I’m primarily concerned with fictional things, but they’re my rules and I can break them if I want to.

Plus of course there are some fictional elements to this, but we’ll come to those in a minute. The main purpose is a documentary to celebrate 30 years of Doctor Who, and it manages to pack a hell of a lot in, even considering the luxurious running time of this home video edition. It whooshes its way through the show’s history in a largely linear fashion, but with a few pauses to explore the bigger issues. It’s constructed well, with each topic dovetailing into the next, and lots of lovely archive footage to glue it together.

My favourite was the clip of a particularly pedantic Pertwee on Anne and Nick, utterly undermining their competition, to Nick Owen’s barely disguised distaste. It was their own fault for picking such an ambiguous question. The ad breaks were lovely too – I’d forgotten how much the Prime adverts conflated The Doctor and Romana with Tom and Lalla. The clips from the episodes were always well-picked, and my only complaint is that they were a little stingy with the rushes, but then we’re used to a much more generous portion in the DVD age.

As with the other, much less successful 30th anniversary celebration, it was good to see representatives from so many eras of the show as interviewees, and their family members too in some cases. With the exception of Gerry Anderson, who’s welcome on my television any time, I could have done without the random celebrities. Give me more Lambert, Dicks, Letts and Hinchcliffe, and less Mike Gatting bollocking on about cricket, or Toyah Wilcox remembering her inappropriate sexual awakenings.

I recognised the Douglas Adams interview set-up from Don’t Panic, the equivalent Hitchhikers documentary from a very similar time. That too mixed in the occasional sketch using old monster costumes and actors reprising their roles, but here they were much more ambitious. The classic scenes of Cybermen at St Paul’s and Daleks on Westminster Bridge were recreated beautifully, and Pertwee pissing about with the Whomobile was marvellous.

It all climaxed with the little boy walking through a police box prop and into the TARDIS, which is something we all take for granted these days, but was achieved for the very first time here. This is slightly overshadowed by the truly bizarre and sinister turn that the rest of the narrative takes, where Nick Courtney/The Brig (the lines are deliberately blurred) is driven off by an Auton, and Elisabeth Sladen/Sarah Jane turns into some sort of Sontaran agent and attempts to kill said little boy.

A strange ending, but a very solid documentary, which tells you everything you need to know about how Who was perceived at the time. Having been off the air for a few years, the problems of the later seasons were being forgotten about, and the nostalgia factor allowed the fond memories of yesteryear to become the thing that defined the brand. That was certainly the impression I got as a youngster who was just starting to become a TV obsessive.

RATING: 8

P.S. I’ve only tagged the people/monsters who appear in the sketches, not everyone that was interviewed, or who featured in clips. That would be pretty much all the tags.

Dimensions in Time

Technically, the 1992 VHS version of Shada should come next, but I’ve already watched that, knowing that the animated version is coming up shortly. So instead, today’s treat is a rewatch of what would have been the first Doctor Who I ever saw. I was seven, and distinctly remember sitting down with those 3D glasses from the Radio Times. The version I watched today thankfully included the Noel’s House Party links, in which Jon Pertwee accurately predicts the success of Deal Or No Deal.

We all know that this is awful, but it was slightly more coherent than I remembered (not from when I was 7 – I last watched it at a gathering for the 50th in 2013). The Rani’s plan is not dissimilar to Borusa’s in The Five Doctors, and it seemed like the special was an attempt to do similar things to that story, but in ten minutes, which would have been a tall order even without the added element of the EastEnders crossover. The problem of certain Doctors being unavailable/dead is not handled nearly as well. I could see what they were going for with trapping the first two Doctors in time, but representing Hartnell and Troughton as floating, lifeless, disembodied heads was ill-advised.

Meanwhile Tom Baker phones it in, with his eyes never breaking contact with the page of script that’s clearly just out of shot, and the worst title sequence in the show’s history is sped up and accompanied by a “updated” (read: “shit”) theme tune remix. But once it gets going, it’s actually rather lovely to see just so many familiar faces taking part. It seems harsh to criticise the endeavour when all these people gave up their time for free, purely to celebrate Doctor Who whilst raising money for charity.

However, it’s obviously not very good. It’s impossible to disguise the fact that the story is cobbled together based on who and what was available, and almost every actor is playing a generic catch-all character, with no time to display any of their own traits. They whizz by so fast it’s hard to clock them all on first viewing, although obviously the fact that they’ve all aged by up to 30 years is a hindrance to instant recognition. It’s the same problem with the menagerie of random monsters that turn up halfway through – it was just a bunch of moving costumes, and none of them got a chance to do… anything, really.

I’m not particularly familiar with EastEnders, so I can’t judge how successful it would have been for fans of the soap, but Mike Reid chewing the scenery was a highlight. Obviously there are troubling continuity questions surrounding the likes of Mel and Leela turning up in Albert Square when they look so similar to people who’d live there in the future. And wasn’t Pauline Fowler dead by 2013? I think Kathy Beale was too, but she got better…

Inevitably, the flimsy conceit completely fell apart by the end. The Rani is suddenly back in her TARDIS after she was defeated by Mandy bumping into her (should’ve been Big Ron), and an attempt to clear up the nature of the time-slips ends up making the story much more confusing. When Leela tells The Doctor that she was in the form of Romana, that implies that all of this is happening to the Seventh Doctor and Ace, but that they’re reverting to previous incarnations at times. Aside from the fact that that doesn’t really make sense for the companion, what about when there’s more than one companion on screen? Or when Romana is on her own, hiding in the Mitchells’ lock-up? They even had K-9 turn up out of nowhere seconds after the explanation!

If this was an attempt at a full-on revival of Doctor Who for the 30th anniversary, then it was a fucking disgrace. But it wasn’t – it was a daft little comedy sketch for charity, and seeing such a huge number of characters from throughout the show’s long history all at once is obviously a joy. It’s just indicative of the show’s standing at the time – in an ideal world, a big anniversary would be marked by a blockbuster episode of a current series, but that simply wasn’t the case for the 30th or 40th. Sadly, Dimensions in Time suffers simply because it’s an emblem of the darkest time in the show’s history.

RATING: 3

Silver Nemesis

Well, as an officially designated anniversary story, that was pretty underwhelming, especially considering it’s the second time this story’s been done this season. The ancient Gallifreyan weapon? Different factions fighting over it? The Doctor being all mysterious, before revealing that he’d set the whole thing up in the first place in order to destroy one of his greatest enemies? Ace’s ghetto blaster? It’s exactly the same as Remembrance, only not as good, and their proximity really emphasises this.

The Cybermen were the big baddies here, looking shinier than ever before with their big silver heads. They were pretty ineffectual here, with no real plan and absolutely no control over proceedings. They were just constantly chasing the action, making threats that they never put into action, and retreating at the first signs of trouble. I love the idea of the Cybermen, but they’ve only ever been brilliant in the 60s. These are a very pale imitation of the originals.

I was obviously aware beforehand that this is supposedly one of the worst of all time, and while I can certainly see why people think that way, I didn’t think it was completely terrible. This is mainly thanks to McCoy and Aldred, who have an incredible energy between them. Ace is quickly becoming the perfect companion – ballsy, fiercely loyal, capable of being truly exceptional and yet remaining completely identifiable. She’s much, much closer to Rose than she is to Mel.

As with Remembrance, the best bits of this one surrounded The Doctor and the newfound levels of mystery around his past. All the stuff towards the end about his secrets being unveiled was great, as was his defiance, almost willing Lady Whatserchops to just do it and fuck the consequences. McCoy is a great Doctor, and he really excels whenever he gets the opportunity to inhabit the darker side of his nature.

Aside from this and the other parts that mirrored Remembrance, the plot was pretty thin and forgettable, but there were enough neat little touches to keep me interested. Nazis are always fun – as long as they’re fictional and not part of the President’s staff – and I liked the comedy wrung out of Elizabethan pair and their chat in the back of a limo. Also a big fan of The Doctor chasing the Queen around Windsor Castle, and I’m amused to note that Cybermen hate jazz. At last we agree on something.

Add in some decent fight sequences, most of which involving seeing rubbish Cybermen being blown up by golden projectiles, and while it’s far from excellent, it’s nowhere near the worst of all time. It’s not even the worst this season, and is actually quite enjoyable in the most part, and I think being confined to three episodes helps. These serials, and indeed seasons, are just zipping by at the moment. I’m past half way on McCoy, and I’m rapidly running out of classic DVDs…

RATING: 7

Attack of the Cybermen

The switch to 45 minute episodes is a mildly annoying one, as obviously watching Who now takes up a bigger chunk of my day than usual, but then I suppose I’d better get used to it, considering it won’t be too long before I reach the new series. It works pretty well here, to be fair – I didn’t find my attention wandering, which I feared would be the case, and it’s structured well, with the cliffhanger coming as The Doctor and Cybermen meet for the first time.

The Doctor himself was a lot better this time, although he could hardly have been much worse. He’s merely grumpy rather than nasty, and while he’s not yet redeemed himself enough to stop being my least favourite Doctor ever, I can at least tolerate this version. He still feels OTT at times, but he’s calmed down the florid language a bit, and is a perfectly believable Doctor during the lower key moments.

Peri, on the other hand, is beginning to really get on my tits. She’s so scared and nervous all the time, and it manifests itself by her sounding unsure and tentative on every single line. Mind you, she’s probably still scared that The Doctor might kill her at any moment, and the energy in this pairing is very poor. There’s no love or friendship of any substance, and they’re constantly on edge around each other.

Aside from that, this was a pretty decent story, especially when viewed back-to-back with the previous one. I’m never going to be a fan of 80s Cybermen, but they didn’t annoy me too much here, despite their new found vulnerability to human weaponry. They’re supposed to be unstoppable killing machines – you shouldn’t be able to kill them with a normal pistol. Especially if you’re The Doctor or a companion; they shouldn’t be stashing guns at all, ideally.

The continuity nods to previous Cyberman encounters were interesting, but the danger of reminding viewers of past glories is that it shines a light on the current deficiencies. The nostalgic element was a little over-played, I felt – was there any actual reason for the TARDIS to land at Totter’s Lane? That sort of thing should be saved for special occasions, otherwise it dilutes the mythology.

Lytton was perhaps the most interesting thing about the serial, which again surprised me, as he was good but nothing special last time. Being unencumbered by a Dalek-y helmet enhanced Maurice Colbourne’s screen presence, and made me realise that he looks a bit like Eric Roberts, doesn’t he? His journey from baddy to goody was well handled. I was sold on the change of heart, but not quite on The Doctor being so hard on himself for not spotting it earlier. The script seemed to be implying that he’d been a good guy all along, but the impression I got from Resurrection was that he was a thoroughly bad egg deep down, mercenary-for-hire or not.

One last complaint – the Cryons were a bit annoying. The slowed down movement and lolloping speech patterns are quite a 60s thing, and the reason that they were dropped is because they make the conversations drag on and on. Also, when there’s fifteen minutes to go and you see a bomb being irreversibly set to completely destroy the entire enemy base, it kind of takes the tension out of things.

But despite these complaints, I want to stress that I did enjoy this serial – it’s far from a classic, but there’s plenty to enjoy. It’s always nice to see Brian Glover pop up in things, and his “I thought you were from Fulham” line to Lytton was very Arthur Dent. I wasn’t sure we needed the scenes of the two lads wandering around Telos at first, but the awesome decapitations of Cybermen kept it interesting, and the cool grimness of their semi-converted state made it worthwhile. Seeing Lytton in the process of conversion was also fun, and I liked the extremely violent crushing of his bloodied hands.

And a working chameleon circuit! I wasn’t expecting that, and I enjoyed it so much that I was almost disappointed when it stopped working again right at the end. I always like seeing how The Master’s TARDIS blends in, and there was clearly mileage to be had in a running gag of The Doctor’s TARDIS always getting it slightly wrong.

Having seen that 45-minute episodes can work, and a slightly calmer Sixth Doctor, I’m now less worried about this season as a whole, and I’ll continue to try and judge it fairly. It’s just that each serial is now having to fight against so much – the inconsistency, the testy companion relationship, the horrible production design – that the episodes will have to work a lot harder to match up with the hundreds that I’ve already seen.

RATING: 7