The Stolen Earth / Journey’s End

Well, there is certainly a lot to process here, having experienced this rather epic tale for the first time since broadcast. And I haven’t had to tag this many returning characters since The Five Doctors (or possibly Dimensions In Time). There are more notes to make than I have time; brace yourself for a fuckload of small to medium sized bullet points.

* This is essentially the entire four years of the revival thus far in one go. It’s a pleasantly nostalgic greatest hits package, celebrating a truly brilliant period in the show’s history, but the joy is slightly tempered by the knowledge that they’re going to do all this again in five episodes’ time.

* Well, Torchwood are less sweary and sex-obsessed than usual. They seem to be over Owen and Tosh already, which should save some time come Series 3. Over on the other spin-off, poor old Maria and Clyde weren’t invited to the party, but at least Mr Smith is better now. The last time we saw him, he was intent on killing Sarah Jane and destroying the world, but this was probably not the occasion to dwell on that.

* The obligatory RTD Episode 12 celebrity cameos: Richard Dawkins! Why is he there doing spacey sciencey stuff? He’s a biologist; it should have been Brian Cox or suchlike, but then Brian Cox isn’t married to an ex-companion. Also, Paul O’Grady! And his dog! Ianto’s a big fan, even if the rest of us aren’t.

* Usually when the human race is threatened by aliens, they all band together and look after each other. This time, they react by setting fire to shit and looting, to the extent that nobody notices Rose running round with a big space gun, at least not until she starts threatening people with it.

* Sarah Jane’s reaction to the Daleks nearly got me going. All four former companions were scared, but it was especially emotional when it was Sarah Jane, hearing those voices again after so many years. The sheer terror they inspire in these characters really sells them as a threat. It’s interesting that these days, the villains are shown to react like that upon realising they’re up against The Doctor.

* It’s a shame that The Doctor spends so long poncing around with the Shadow Proclamation while the exciting Dalek stuff happens without him. While he’s there, he says “someone tried to move the Earth before” – I assume he’s talking about Dalek Invasion of Earth, but does the fact that he said “someone” mean that they’ve retroactively decided that Davros was behind that? If so, excellent.

* Speaking of whom, Davros is utterly excellent. He’s got a metal hand! Within moments, he’s shown admonishing a Dalek for sounding proud, keeping their emotions in check. Considering how much they veered from their fundamental principles in their last appearance, it’s a good statement of intent now that their dad’s back.

* The spooky woman in the Shadow Proclamation who tells Donna that she’s “sorry for the loss that’s yet to come” – that’s a dickish thing to do. If you’re a soothsayer and you can see that something terrible is about to happen to someone, either come out with it so that they can prepare, or just say nothing. Don’t vaguely allude to it and then fuck off.

* So, bees are aliens, and they abandoned the planet when they sensed its impending destruction? The last ever bee message was misinterpreted as a surprisingly sophisticated attempt to ingest nectar, process it and store the resultant substance in a honeycomb, but in fact the message was this: “So long and thanks for all the pollen”.

* I have SO MUCH TO SAY on the big Harriet Jones conference call. Highlights include:

  • Cribbins saying that webcams are “naughty”.
  • Sarah Jane telling Torchwood off for using guns, as it’s not suitable for Luke.
  • Martha’s mum getting a cameo for not particular reason, although it’s nice for her to get some closure on her abandonment issues from the fact that Martha subconsciously chose to teleport home.
  • The Mr Copper Foundation? Not sure he quite warranted a mention, but then everyone else from the last four years seems to be getting one.
  • Rose being jealous of Martha, in a neat role reversal.
  • While everyone’s firing up their supercomputers and their secret alien technology, Martha’s big contribution to the effort is forwarding on a phone number.

Wasn’t as keen on Harriet attempting to justify her Belgrano move on the basis that this latest alien invasion proves that you need to kill all aliens. However, her ultimate sacrifice does provide redemption her character deserved.

* When The Doctor joins the party, he says that “everybody except Rose” is there. Everybody? Has he forgotten the dozens of companions he had when his adventures were 4:3? Justice for Dodo.

* Then Jack fucks off to find the Doctor, abandoning Torchwood and leaving Gwen and Ianto to the Daleks, and then comes the big reunion. Despite not having been on board with the returned Rose thus far, it put a big grin on my face and nearly a tear to my eye. How perfectly tragic would have been if the Doctor actually regenerated at this point, so that she got so close but still never touched her Doctor again. The giant fuck-off “TO BE CONTINUED” that followed is a bit stupid, but kind of justified – it really is one of the greatest cliffhangers of all time.

* Sadly, the resolution to said cliffhanger is all very convenient, with each individual threat neutralised by a hitherto unmentioned safety net: Mickey and Jackie turning up (sans Pete, sadly), Torchwood’s magic bubble and The Doctor’s sneaky hand job. It’s not deus ex machina – very few people who use that term as criticism seem to know what it means – it’s just a bit of a shame. They got away with quick and easy cliffhanger resolutions loads in the old days, but that’s because there were at least three of them per story – with this one, the resolution would ideally have matched the epic nature of the set-up.

* A few random notes from the opening stages of Journey’s End: DALEKS SPEAKING GERMAN! It seems so right, for reasons obvious to anyone who’s watched Genesis. / The Doctor is not often this scared. This is good. / When Jack’s body got incinerated, how come his clothes didn’t?

* All these years later, I’m still not sure what I think about the Meta-Crisis Doctor. I mean, it’s a complete waste of a regeneration, considering he thinks it’s his penultimate one, but it’s kind of cool to have a double dose of TV’s greatest hero. That is until he starts talking like Donna. The only thing more annoying than Catherine Tate doing comedy is David Tennant impersonating Catherine Tate doing comedy.

* Davros wants to destroy reality itself. This is certainly in keeping with the core principle that every non-Dalek life-form must be destroyed, but it would be a Pyrrhic victory. Destroying all matter as well as all life would make them supreme masters of absolutely nothing.

* Other than that, absolutely everything Davros-related is amazing. The moment where he recognises Sarah Jane is even better than when she recognised him. On an intellectual level, I think Davros betters The Doctor for the first time; the argument that his companions turn into weapons is not something I would have necessarily agreed with, but Davros convinced me. His final victory indeed. The montage of all the people who have died in The Doctor’s name was RTD going all JNT on our ass.

* It’s the perfect build up to a big climax, with all the ex-companions’ individual plans failing one by one, and the TARDIS rising from the ashes. But then the day is saved by Donna suddenly becoming magic. I know I didn’t complain when it was a magic version of Rose fixing everything, but this is why this blog is a document of an experience, rather than a series of objective reviews – it may not be fair, but it’s how I reacted. I just don’t like Donna very much. And the only thing more annoying that David Tennant doing smug is Catherine Tate impersonating David Tennant doing smug.

* Which is a bugger, because everything else is very good indeed: Sarah and Rose exchanging pleasantries while shoving a malfunctioning Dalek around; Captain Jack’s cheery suggestion of a multi-Doctor orgy; Dalek Caan turning out to be a traitor. I actually shouted “YES!” when K-9 popped up to say hello.

*The Meta-Crisis Doctor is faced with the old do-I-have-the-right dilemma, but he presses the button without thinking twice. That’s not The Doctor. The proper Doctor offers to save Davros, and he’s right to later chastise Pretend Doctor for committing genocide. In his defence, he was forged in battle, like The War Doctor before him. Perhaps the process extrapolated and personified all the worst, most dangerous aspects of The Doctor, like the triplicator in Red Dwarf, or Richard Herring playing himself at snooker.

* Can you imagine the ecological damage that’s done by dragging the Earth from one end of the universe to the other? Nevertheless, it’s a joyous scene to end the episode… except that there’s still ten or fifteen minutes to go. We then get a long sequence of long goodbyes. Why exactly does he drop off Sarah Jane, Jack and Martha all in the same park? Ealing is nowhere near Cardiff.

* I’ve been trying to figure out whether Rose’s return diminishes the impact of her initial departure. I don’t think it does – I still cried like a baby when I rewatched it recently. It’s like how people complain that a cover version “ruins” a song, or a remake “destroys” a movie – no it doesn’t, because the original still exists. However, the beautiful tragedy of these two soulmates being forever separated is certainly altered by Rose being given a Doctor-shaped sex doll. It’s just all a little grubby – he’s not The Doctor, not the same man she fell in love with, but she’s happy to make do with a lookalike, even though he’s out there continuing his life without her? Nah. At the very least, we should have got to finally hear him – either of him – say “I love you” to Rose. That would have at least provided some level of genuine closure for the audience, if not the characters.

* Sadly, if predictably, the “a companion will die” prophecy turns out to be bullshit, as it was before and has been since. The memory wipe isn’t even a particularly stable metaphor for death – it’s actually saving her life. I found the sight of The Doctor enacting the procedure without her consent, while she’s pleading with him not to, a little disturbing. I mean, he’s doing the right thing, but Moff dealt with this issue a lot better with Clara.

* But at least this deed is a promise that Donna will never come back. Wilfred is damn right when he says “she was better with you” – he must be gutted to have to live with the old Runaway Bride Donna again. The permanently miserable Sylvia can do one and all, but Cribbins is just the best. Despite the high levels of emotion throughout, his goodbye to The Doctor was the only moment that made me shed a tear. Seriously, he’s one of the best actors the show’s ever had. Ever.

* Favourite Dalek lines: “The abomination is insane.” / “The males, the females, the descendants.” / “My vision is NOT impaired.” / “Exterminate Torchwood.”

So, what to make of all this, after comfortably the longest post in the history of this blog? Well, The Stolen Earth is one of the best episodes ever, but Journey’s End not so much. As has been the case for much of Series 4, I’ve found that it’s a lot easier to look past the faults now that so much time has passed – it’s not the “current” show any more, it’s just one brief chapter in a long history. Rather than having to worry about what state the show is in, or which direction it’s heading, I can just judge it on its sheer entertainment value. On that level: massive, massive win.

RATING: 9

And so I come to the end of a series that I thought I hated, but then when you look at the scores…

SEASON AVERAGE RATING: 7.5

  • Seasons/Series watched: 30 of 35.58
  • Stories watched: 198 of 269.67
  • Individual episodes watched: 751 of 834

…the average rating is actually higher than Series 2 (although admittedly, Fear Her is a massive statistical anomaly). I dunno. I still dislike Donna, and I’m definitely starting to go off Tennant by this point, but again, with so much water under bridge, I can now look past those annoyances and see what else each episode has to offer. I guess the conclusion is that there’s very little Doctor Who that’s without a significant amount of merit, but sometimes it’s just a case of taking a few steps back before you can see it.

And now, a short break for a wedding, to coincide with the first of revived Doctor Who‘s short breaks. Join me again in a few days to begin another voyage through a whole bunch of spin-offs and specials.

Daleks in Manhattan / Evolution of the Daleks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RATING: 6

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.

Bad Wolf / The Parting of the Ways

* Ah, Big Brother. When I first watched this episode, I was an obsessive fan, having not missed an episode since I discovered it in the second week of the first series, five years earlier. Since then, my relationship with the show has changed somewhat, having spent seven years working on it – that’s why so many entries in this blog were posted at two or three o’clock in the morning during past Summers and Januaries. I’ve since moved on, but needless to say after seven years, it will always represent something very special and important to me, so revisiting the time that it crossed over with another big part of my life was a joy. I love Big Brother, and I love Doctor Who, and fuck anyone who sneers at either.

* Naturally, I’m somewhat of an expert on the format, and the depiction here is more or less perfect. The guard of honour for the evictee is a fantastic observation, and the subversion of “I’m coming to get you” becoming “we’re going to get you” is testament to both RTD’s more subtle talents and the cultural impact of Big Brother‘s iconography. It was glorious to hear the full Oakenfold mix of the theme again, but the pedant in me wishes to point out that tension beds and crowd noise would have been a more accurate portrayal of an eviction night. Oh, and hindsight tells us that “the one where they all walked out” was much earlier than Series 504.

* Interesting that Big Brother is the only survivor of the formats portrayed – The Weakest Link finished in 2011, and How What Not To Look Like bit the dust within two years of Bad Wolf. I love the Anne-Droid, by the way – her cruel and slightly-too-personal banter was spot-on. But I got to thinking about what shows would be used if this episode were made today. I doubt it would be Big Brother, because it doesn’t quite have the same hold on the public consciousness as it once did. Instead, The Doctor would be in the Bake Off Tent, with a demonic Paul Hollywood urging him to make cakes for his survival. Rose would find herself with The Osmonoid on Pointless, and Jack would perform for a panel of robotic judges on Bad Wolf’s Got Talent, hoping to avoid the dreaded buzzer-saws.

* Anyway, this story is doing the “consequences of a previous adventure” thing again, for the second time in a row. However, this is obviously on a much, much bigger scale than Boom Town. The Doctor causes “one hundred years of hell” after destroying the Jagrafess, and by the end of this adventure, despite Rose’s time vortex antics, a hell of a lot of people stay dead – the Daleks destroyed continents at a time. And poor old Lynda With A Y. She was lovely, but she was cursed to death the moment she asked The Doctor if she could join him, about twenty minutes into a two-parter.

* Guest cast spotting: The Johnson! The man who would soon be touted as a potential Doctor for every subsequent regeneration – he’s probably being touted as we speak. Jenna Russell! Now finding fame on Eastenders, but for a number of us she’ll always be the woman who sings the Red Dwarf theme.

* Fave lines that I’d previous forgotten: “They’ve had to cut back. It’s not what it was.” / “He’s a plant, they’ve only brought him in to stir things up.” (these two are comments I read thousands of times on Twitter over those seven years) / “Rodrigo. He owes me a favour. Don’t ask why.”

* The Doctor’s reaction to Rose seemingly being killed by Anne Robinson – shutting down with grief as the chaos around him fades down in the mix – has always stuck with me, and it still brings a tear to my eye. “And with that sentence you just lost the right to even talk to me” is another one that’s never left me, nor his rant at the Daleks at the end of the first ep, complete with another reference to Davina’s old catchphrase. This is so, so good.

* And the Daleks are just brilliant too. The familiar heartbeat we hear inside their spaceship. The POV shot closing in on Rose, echoing their first ever appearance. “THEY SURVIVED THROUGH ME”. “DO NOT BLASPHEME”. The silent “EXTERMINATE” as they kill Lynda With A Y. Shivers down my spine on all of these.

* Eccleston is awesome as The Oncoming Storm. I love the way the Daleks recoil from him – he knows his enemies so well, and just for a moment he seems to be all-powerful, all-knowing and unstoppable. Then he locks himself in the TARDIS and has a little moment to himself, thus remaining relatable as the flawed hero we know and love. Like all the very best Doctors, you sometimes don’t know which way he’ll go when faced with a dilemma, but the “coward every time” line really landed. Oh, Chris. You *were* fantastic.

* For the record, Jack saying his goodbyes was the first time my lip wobbled during The Parting of the Ways tonight. Then it was the conversation about using the TARDIS to escape, and how it had never even occurred to Rose. Everything about Emergency Protocol One is just eternally sad, and by the time Rose was talking to Jackie about Pete, I was gone.

* The regeneration feels like an actual death, which is kind of the way it should be, but it hasn’t been since the Fifth Doctor carked it. After witnessing the various ways that regeneration manifested itself in the classic series, I like that this episode established the “arms stretched, explosion of energy” method as the way that regenerations work in the new era. A great moment to end a near-perfect series. It was enough to make me go from an interested observer to a devoted fan twelve years ago, and despite being in SD and some of the CGI starting to show its age, the stories, dialogue and performances are timeless, and still as enjoyable as ever.

RATING: 10

Ooh, it’s been a while since I did one of these:

SEASON AVERAGE RATING: 8.4

  • Seasons/Series watched: 27 of 35
  • Stories watched: 166 of 264
  • Individual episodes watched: 709 of 827

Dalek

* This near-future episode is now so old that it is in fact set in the past. Therefore the President that Van Statten wants replaced must be Obama – 2012 was the year of his second election victory. He says he wants a Democrat next, but of course the next President after Obama is categorically not that. Given that Van Statten was taken away and effectively killed before his orders were fulfilled, is it his former assistant’s fault that we’ve got fucking Trump?

* Top Trivia Fact: The stock footage of Bad Wolf One descending is used in The West Wing‘s opening titles.

* I started watching Coronation Street regularly in 2010, and so when Todd Grimshaw returned to the cobbles a few years later, I was eternally amused that Adam Mitchell had ended up in Weatherfield. Now, having watched several hundred episodes of Corrie since I last watched Dalek, it’s completely the other way round, and Todd Grimshaw has somehow shown up a secret facility in Utah.

* Eccleston’s finest moments so far come in his initial scene with the Dalek. He’s just incredible, and while there are other Doctors before or since that could have done wonderful things with this material, I can’t picture anyone else doing it in quite this way, with so much venom and rawness. Soon afterwards, the Doctor is essentially depicted as Christ, but after that scene, it’s earned.

* The Daleks – or rather, the Dalek – are/is genuinely better than ever. The writing is on a par with the finest Dalek stories of the old series, even before they take it into a whole new direction, and Nick Briggs is easily up there with Hawkins and Skelton. Their physical depiction is what raises the game – the beautiful construction job by Mike Tucker and team, and their newfound abilities. They can sucker people to death, dissolve bullets, rotate every section independently, and properly fly; some of these abilities have been implied before, and I’d never detract from the last bit of Dalek/stairs action, but it’s such a treat to actually see it all in such glorious detail.

* There are so many great moments – The Doctor with the Cyberman head, the Dalek setting off the fire alarm and in order to electrocute everyone, Rose saying goodbye when she was trapped behind the bulkhead. The Dalek is undoubtedly the star of this show (and as much as I love Davros, it’s nice to see them centre-stage without him), but Rose is a close second – the only human who can understand and reason with both the Dalek and the Time Lord. This episode is utterly, utterly perfect.

RATING: 10

The Curse of Fatal Death

Ah, do you remember when Comic Relief used to be good? This is one of the all time great skits, and it actually stands up pretty well as an installment of Doctor Who. All the storytelling staples from your average classic story are there, but condensed into 20 minutes and played for laughs. I’ve always felt that the format lends itself well to a comedic approach even within the series itself, and it’s something that Moffat hasn’t been afraid to do following this dry run.

The key thing is that it doesn’t take the piss out of the series. There are a few in-jokes, such as The Master’s hyperbole and the great “I’ll explain later” running gag, but it’s mostly just clever, interesting concepts mined for comedy instead of drama. The Doctor and The Master travelling further and further back in time to outdo each other is something I could see the current series doing with a straight face, and is The Master crawling through sewers for hundreds of years really so different to Heaven Sent?

Rowan Atkinson actually makes a really good Doctor, which shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. He gives it maximum smoothness, with a constantly arched eyebrow, and I wouldn’t have objected to him being the new Doctor for real, even so soon after McGann’s one night wonder. I can totally buy him as the latest incarnation of the same old character, but that’s not quite the case with Jonathan Pryce’s Master – he’s good, but he’s a bit more of a generic supervillain.

Then of course the main set piece is the cycle through all the other new Doctors, and yep, I totally want all of them to do it for real too. I’m going to see Richard E. Grant’s second crack of the whip soon, but I can’t get over how brilliant Jim Broadbent would have been at the job. Joanna Lumley is of course superb, and the concept of Time Lords changing gender has evidently stayed in Moffat’s mind. I like to think The Doctor and The Master walking off arm in arm was a precursor to Missy.

Overall, the biggest plus point was that you could feel the love and affection for the series throughout, right down to the choice of music cues for the regenerations. This was made explicit when The Doctor was seemingly dying for real, and Julia Sawalha became Steven Moffat’s mouthpiece as he composed a love letter to the show, perfectly nailing all that it stands for and just how important it is to those who care. Who’d have thought that a decade or so later he’d be given the opportunity to show us how good the show can be, rather than just tell us.

RATING: 9

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.

Remembrance of the Daleks

Oh, wow. The last season showed improvement at a steady and somewhat slow pace, but this is something else. The show has spent three seasons in a state were the highlights are only as good as the more average episodes of any other era, and now all of a sudden they deliver one of the finest serials of all time.

The pre-credits sequence suggests we’re in for something special, and the scale is impressive right from the start, with massive explosions left right and centre, and no delay whatsoever in wheeling out some heavy Dalek action. It’s the first time since the early 70s that they’ve been allowed to take centre stage, and the culmination of the civil war arc gave us some amazing Dalek-on-Dalek violence, along with the sheer brilliance that is the Special Weapons Dalek. The spaceship landing in the school playground was beautiful too – I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, late 80s BBC practical effects are so very special.

The stair-climbing cliffhanger to Part One is also amazing – one of the best ever – and it’s one of many moments that make this feel, in retrospect, like the new series came early, and not just with the idea of The Doctor being caretaker at Coal Hill School. Taking elements from the Doctor’s past and adding new meaning is the big one, and instantly the Seventh Doctor is a vastly improved character thanks to the huge dollop of mystery that’s just been layered on top of him. I love not knowing what The Doctor’s up to, and it allows the story to be all about him, rather than the usual trick of him stumbling upon something and getting in the way. His scheming is a joy to behold, and I’m totally on board with The Doctor being this powerful and manipulative.

McCoy is really bringing something unique to the role now; a serious side that allows for a deep discussion about slavery with Geoffrey from the Fresh Prince, but without losing the humourous side that allows him to mock Davros with shouts of “unlimited rice pudding”. (Hey, that’d make a good name for a website, that.) It feels like a lot of time has passed between seasons, and that he and Ace have been travelling together for a while – no need for a gentle getting-to-know-you adventure, they’re already firm friends.

And yes, in only her second appearance, and her first as a full companion, I can already see why all my Whovian friends adore Ace. She outs a traitor, expresses horror at racism, and beats the shit out of several Daleks with a super charged baseball bat. What’s not to like? She’s already a much more rounded character than in her debut, and her vulnerabilities seem much more real this time, along with her mannerisms. I think I’m in love.

There was so much going on here that it’s easy to forget that it’s also an anniversary story. Unlike Attack of the Cybermen returning to Totters Lane seemingly arbitrarily, Remembrance uses links to the show’s past as a way of enhancing its own story, by posing the question of what the First Doctor was doing there in the first place. This is where other recent nostalgia trips have gone wrong – you have to build on what’s gone before, otherwise you’re just repeating yourself. No danger of that here.

Other miscellaneous notes include: The creepy nursery rhyme music cues are equal parts disturbing and silly. Michael Sheard playing an evil teacher is wonderful for obvious reasons. And hey, there’s the great George Sewell, playing an actual Nazi sympathiser. Between those two and the aforementioned soon-to-be-Will-Smith’s-butler, that’s three really recognisable faces playing relatively minor parts, with the more major guest characters being played by actors that I’m less familiar with.

Actually, it’s a shame this story is set before the UNIT era, as it could quite easily have been them instead of this Counter Measures outfit. Mike Smith is easily as slimy and turncoaty as his UNIT namesake. But really, I wouldn’t change a thing. This is the kind of story that reaffirms my love for Doctor Who all over again, and while it’s unreasonable to expect this to be the standard for the next two seasons, the fact that a story like this can pop up out of nowhere means that it was such a pity when they pulled the plug so soon afterwards.

RATING: 10

Revelation of the Daleks

This was one of the first Classic Whos I ever watched, but I only ever watched it once, because I thought it was complete rubbish. I’ve now realised that my issue was probably with the trappings of this particular era – the Doctor and some of the production values are rubbish, but this is by no means a bad serial overall, and it stands head and shoulders above the rest of this season.

I remember finding the plot confusing the first time round, but I think it benefits from knowing more about Davros and the Daleks – I’ve now seen their story play out in the order it was intended, and this is a decent installment of the ongoing civil war thread. The highlight is the scene in the catacombs, with the truly gruesome and scary mid-conversion mutant. One of the few all time classic scenes from the Sixth Doctor’s time, and tellingly him and Peri aren’t in it.

This was the case for much of the first part in particular – what little we did see of them was some irritating bickering and some extremely dodgy, sexist bullshit about Peri putting on weight. 1) That’s absolutely no way for the Doctor to talk about a companion; 2) You can talk, you fat fuck. The pair wandered around while a story happened independently in the distance, which did give us the great, chilling moment of The Doctor finding his own grave. The cliffhanger was slightly let down by the statue falling in neatly-segmented polystyrene chunks, and indeed by the resolution, which revealed that it was only polystyrene after all.

There was more screen time for the pair in Part Two, and The Doctor/Colin was actually on decent form – he seems to work much better when he’s separated from Peri. But again, he felt disconnected from the story. It obviously had to end in a face-to-face meeting between him and Davros, but that meeting didn’t amount to much more than an amputated hand. The main plot was still happening around him, and would have played out much the same had he not been there at all; his sole contribution to the resolution was to make Davros turn his back on Orcini so that he could grab the bomb.

Nevertheless, it was an exciting conclusion, particularly the Dalek infighting, and Davros hovering around like it ain’t no thing. Much like Caves of Androzani (but obviously nowhere near as good), it relies on a rich and complicated back-story to create an interesting tale to tell regardless of the Doctor’s presence, with a large guest cast to back it up. It’s almost a little too densely packed at times – Eleanor Bron turned up out of nowhere, and I struggled to see how she fitted in until quite late on, but it all works if you give it a chance.

Orcini and Bostock were a lot of fun, and Clive Swift did a good job of portraying a completely unlikeable bastard, which can’t have been much of a stretch. I do wish the show would stop using being creepy towards Peri as way of defining their character, though, as it’s usually quite uncomfortable to watch. I spent all serial wondering what to make of Jenny Tomasin as Tasambeker – she clearly can’t act for toffee, but I couldn’t help but like her, and I was totally on her side as she plunged that needle into the odious Jobel.

And then there’s Alexei Sayle. One of my favourite performers of all time, in one of my favourite shows of all time. But his role is so weird. I couldn’t stand it the first time round, and the disappointment was a key factor in me writing the serial off as a stinker. I liked it a lot more this time – I’d forgotten about the bits where Peri comes to see him, which fleshes him out a lot more and gives his presence a clearer purpose, but I do still find him highly incongruous prior to this point.

But hey, it’s something new and original after over twenty years. There’s been a few little things like that among the dross of this season. This story is clearly the standout, and it was the most I’ve enjoyed watching Who since Colin took over. But I don’t think I’ll ever truly adore any story with this Doctor, written and performed in this arrogant, patronising and smug manner. With the knowledge of what’s to come, this serial is most likely the closest any Colin story comes to greatness.

Oh, and I thought there was some sort of DVD error at the very end, until I read that it was an inadvertent cliffhanger, brought about by necessity. “All right, I’ll take you to… an eighteen month hiatus!”

RATING: 8

SEASON AVERAGE RATING: 6.33

  • Seasons/Series watched: 22 of 35
  • Stories watched: 142 of 263
  • Individual episodes watched: 639 of 826

To get me in the mood for the next fortnight of joy (I’ll be dealing with each section individually, btw, even though I’m counting it as all one story), I’ve just listened to Doctor In Distress for the first time, and watched the video. Jesus Christ. It’s not exactly Band Aid, is it? It’s not even Band Aid 20. It was slightly before I was born, but even so – I didn’t recognise anyone other than the various embarrassed-looking Who actors and the somewhat incongruous Faith Brown. You can really tell that the talents behind the song were the same as that for the K-9 and Company theme tune. We should be grateful the series came back at all after this.

Resurrection of the Daleks

I’m back, and so are they, and therefore so is he. I’m committed to watching the episodes as originally broadcast where possible, so I had to wait until I had enough spare time for 45 minute episodes (which thankfully won’t too much a problem for Colin’s first year), and this serial was well worth the wait. The extended running time, combined with brilliant production values, made this feel very special.

It would indeed have made a superb conclusion to the anniversary season, which was the original intention – it even had a montage of (almost) all the old companions, including Katarina and Sara. The story was suitably epic; in a similar way to Earthshock, it took an iconic baddy from the 60s and put them into an action setting. And it did that very well, which is to be expected when you see the name “Peter Wragg” in the credits. As well as the effects, the locations and sets were also top-notch.

The Daleks are used a lot more effectively than they have been for a long time, anniversary cameo aside. For the first time, the mutant itself is dangerous outside of its travel machine, which allows them to add a tense, Alien-style section to break up the standard Dalek stuff. We also see the first seeds of the Daleks breaking off into factions, thus providing further new avenues to explore next time.

Your man Davros is played a hell of a lot better than he was last time, but – having already seen Revelation and Remembrance – it’s now confirmed that they never came close to bettering his first appearance until Julian Bleach came along. Here, he could do with calming down a bit; his long sleep having seemingly made him very grumpy and shouty. Terry Molloy’s incarnation was definitely Davros’s Curious Orange phase.

It’s a shame that there’s only one scene between Davros and The Doctor, but it’s a belter. It’s neat that the Genesis dilemma is referenced, and interesting that The Doctor now believes his decision to be wrong. I don’t necessarily agree with him, but it makes for a compellingly tense scene between the two old adversaries, where you’re genuinely not sure whether the Doctor will pull the trigger or not, and in the end, the decision is taken out of his hands.

Davison’s Doctor is getting slightly darker as he nears regeneration, and this is probably the most grimly violent serial we’ve seen since the days of Hinchcliffe and Holmes. It’s not just the high body count – although it is pretty damn high – it’s the casual manner of many of the deaths. It was getting to the point where I was grimacing with (enjoyable) discomfort with each new killing, particularly that poor metal detecting man near the end.

It’s good that the show acknowledges all of this, which brings me on to the other big part of this story. It’s incredibly effective to have a companion wanting to leave out of disgust at what they’ve witnessed, especially as it’s partly The Doctor himself that’s caused it. It’s a wake-up call for him – people usually leave because he’s made them a better person and they’ve got a new calling, not because he’s actually making their life worse.

I hadn’t really thought about it, but Tegan has been around for bloody ages at this stage – her episode count is up there with Jamie, Jo and Sarah Jane, but I don’t feel like she’s anywhere near as iconic as those three. I’ve never really been sure whether or not I like her, but I must admit that her lonely utterance of “brave heart, Tegan” got me right in the heart. I’ll miss having her around, as from what little I’ve seen of the rest of the classic run, we’re not going to have a strong female companion now until the very last one.

I can’t let this one pass without mentioning the absolutely stellar guest cast. Rodney Bewes! Rula Lenska! Dirty Den! The guy who conned Del Boy by faking a heart attack! All of the above are great, particularly Bewes with his varied and conflicted performance. Some of the prison ship staff were not so good, but I did like Lytton – I’ve since learned that he’s coming back pretty soon, which is an unexpected addition to my recurring enemies list.

Do you know what? Fuck it, I was going to give this an 8 or a 9, but I’ve talked it up to a 10. It’s got pretty much everything I want from a Doctor Who story, and on-form Daleks are always worth a bonus point or two. As is an on-form Davison, and I’m sad that his tenure will be over so soon…

RATING: 10