The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot

This was, of course, the final component of our 50th anniversary party, and I remember it being somewhat of a surprise to see it appear on the red button during the evening. After everything we’d seen that day, we were all slightly delirious already, and so a surreal, fourth wall smashing mockumentary featuring pretty much every living cast member of the original series blew our minds.

It could so very easily have been awful, but it’s genuinely funny throughout, and the three main Doctors involved are all such endearing company. Everyone was more than willing to send themselves up in every way imaginable, from Colin forcing his family to watch Vengeance on Varos to Sylv gleefully boasting about being in The Hobbit at every opportunity. He’s the stand-out performer overall – the way he says “I’d like to go home now” so solemnly when he’s stuck in a TARDIS is exquisite.

The astounding amount of cameos are a joy, and are too numerous to mention them all; I loved the audacity of having about a dozen companions all appear at once, as part of a homage to Davison’s regeneration. Two of the most memorable appearances were the two showrunners – Moffat playing with his toys, and Russell “The” Davies with his “quel dommage!” catchphrase. Then there’s Frank Skinner and David Troughton turning up to be mostly-silent Dalek operators and – brilliantly – Rhys Thomas appearing as Gary Bellamy on Davison’s radio.

I make it six Doctors who make proper appearances, thanks to the tiny cameos by Smith and Tennant. Paul McGann gets a full scene, and it’s a shame that he’s not in it more, but perhaps he was busy doing his own fiftieth anniversary mini-special – I wonder if he knew that he’d be doing Night of the Doctor when they were making this. It’s also a shame that Tom couldn’t be arsed, but similarly, at least he did contribute elsewhere, and I wouldn’t swap the Curator for him turning up in this. And they dealt with it in the best possible way, with the same Shada snippet as used in the actual Five Doctors.

This was one of several wonderful meta-jokes, which culminated in the three Doctors breaking character – even though they’d been playing themselves – to make The Five(ish) Doctors itself the subject of the mockumentary, which leads to the aforementioned RTD stuff. My favourite meta bit was the music changing from 80s synths to 2010s orchestra when the guys stepped inside Roath Lock – and them noticing and going outside again.

At a full thirty minutes, it could easily have run out of steam, but it doesn’t, keeping up the pace of the gags, the cameos and the in-jokes throughout. My only criticism is that they spend slightly too long getting chased by security, but this does lead to the brilliant final reveal that they hid under the shrouds in the Under Gallery. I know it’s not real, but wouldn’t it have been wonderful if it really was them in the real episode? It would presumably have been feasible to make that happen.

Regardless, if you’re not going to feature all the classic Doctors in the anniversary special – and there are many reasons why that’s regrettably for the best, not least being that the anniversary special was perfect as it is – this is the best compromise. Something that’s officially part of the celebration, featuring as many familiar faces as possible, but that is doing its own thing, imbued with humour and love and joy. I adore it, and everyone involved.

RATING: 10

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The Night of the Doctor

I’ll never forget the sheer joy when this appeared out of nowhere one nondescript weekday lunchtime. We didn’t even know a minisode was coming, let alone who was in it. I received an email with a link and the words “HOLY FUCK”, so I sat and watched at my desk. I let out an audible high-pitched yelp when McGann appeared. “Probably not the one you were expecting”. Damn right.

It’s amazing how far things developed in the eight years between the show coming back and the 50th. From a complete fresh start with no more than fleeting references to the past, to putting together a short film starring a one-off Doctor from seventeen years ago, in a sort-of-sequel to a serial from the seventies. As if that wasn’t enough, they also reel off a list of Big Finish companions, seemingly for the sole purpose of instigating tedious arguments about canon. It’s pure fanwank, but what better time to indulge?

The aim is to fill in all the blanks ahead of the main special, but it does so much more than that, managing to fit in a surprising amount of story and character into a short running time. There’s a great economy to the storytelling. Just from subverting the normal reaction to the TARDIS, we’re told everything we need to know about the impact of the Time War. I had no idea who the Sisterhood of Karn were at the time, but the concept is easy to grasp – they’ve got magic potions that influence a regeneration, and that works even if you don’t know there’s a back-reference there.

Paul McGann is brilliant. Again, he gets a lot to do in a short space of time, with his comedy stuff about getting bored and needing knitting being the highlight. It remains a great shame that his Doctor was so short-lived, but what a wonderful thing it is for him to have had one last chance to shine, right in the heart of the fiftieth anniversary celebrations, and for us to finally see his regeneration.

The glimpse of a reflected Hurt is very well done, and it struck me at the time that they used a photo of him as a much younger man. Given how he looked by the end of the Time War, and how Matt Smith’s Doctor titted about for two hundred years without ever looking a day older, how long must the Time War have been for the War Doctor? Poor sod.

RATING: 9

Shada (webcast)

I had a bit of a mishap with this. After watching all of Real Time in one go, I was under the impression that this would be of a similar length, so I intended to do the same again. I therefore waited until an evening when I had enough time, only to discover that each part is in fact roughly the length of an average classic episode, so I had no choice but to treat it as an old six-parter. Consequently, there’s now been a fortnight between updates, and this project has needlessly stuttered for the first time.

As it turns out, I don’t really feel I have much to say now I’m back, as obviously I was already familiar with this story, but I must say that the animation was a huge improvement on the last effort. This was made just as web video was really taking off, and it’s probably only a couple of years ahead of its time. It was almost passable as full animation – nobody’s mouths moved and everyone glided around, but it was dynamic, busy and well directed within its limitations.

Lovely to hear Lalla Ward again, as an older and slightly wearier Romana. The presence of John Leeson meant that K-9 is a lot better here than he is in the abandoned TV version. Andrew Sachs made a great Skagra, but I don’t think any of the other guest cast matched the TV equivalent. Chronotis was nowhere near as loveable, and Wilkin really didn’t work as anything other than a posh old fruit.

I enjoyed Paul McGann, and as always I want there to be more McGann stuff to watch, but he’s at a little bit of a disadvantage on this occasion. For the sections that match what was filmed, his lines do little for me but conjure the memory of Tom Baker performing them. Tom and Douglas is a very special mix that’s hard to match.

Nevertheless, the continuity-mashing intro did a good job of establishing why McGann was taking part, and it was a very worthwhile stab at the story. The most interesting parts were obviously the bits that weren’t filmed back in the day, and it was great to finally experience any scenes that take place in somewhere other than the Professor’s room/TARDIS or the Think Tank. Interesting to note that a lot of the “location” sequences were dropped, but understandable considering how action-orientated they were. Well, if high-speed bicycle chases can be considered action-packed.

There were a few bits of the plot that didn’t seem to make as much sense this time around. I gave it the benefit of the doubt last time, because the thing was only half-finished, but even now I’m not quite clear on how exactly the Professor came back to life. Also, how come Skagra needed to sphere him on Shada when he’d already sphered him earlier? Ah well, Douglas’s plots don’t necessarily have to hold water; speaking of whom, I appreciated the little nods such as the Ford Prefect and the Nutrimat machine.

It was a fun thing to watch, although I am a bit fatigued by all this slightly crude animation. It feels like it did back in the day whenever I went through a telesnap-heavy patch. I must admit that the impetus to press on regardless has lessened now that I’m through all the proper episodes, but I’m sure it’ll come back as soon as Eccleston shows up. We’ll be back on track soon.

RATING: 7

Doctor Who: The Movie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RATING: 8