The End of Time

* Of all the one-off companions The Doctor has ever had, Wilfred is by far the best. He’s initially the focus of this epic story; we’re introduced to it through him, and his band of alien-hunting pensioners. How refreshing to have an older man fulfilling the traditional companion role, and for him to prove so worthy of the position – he dives in feet first, his deep love for The Doctor matching that of the audience.

* It’s a bit weird that, from The Doctor’s perspective, this doesn’t carry straight on from The Waters of Mars. It rather undermines the seriousness of that story’s climax; instead of carrying the weight of his huge mistake and his impending death, he swans in fresh from his holidays and boasts about shagging Queen Elizabeth.

* I’d forgotten exactly what Lucy Saxon’s role was in The Master’s resurrection. I’d seemed to recall that she was complicit in the plan – shooting him so that she could then retrieve the ring – but I must have been remembering my theory from beforehand, rather than the actual episode. Turns out that she’d just been caught up in all of it, and in fact managed to throw a spanner in the works right at the crucial moment.

*  Unfortunately, I’m not keen on the effects of her spanner. The whole concept of the resurrection was a very TVM-esque interpretation of The Master as some sort of irrepressible form of energy, rather than mere flesh and blood. I’m not quite on board with this – he’s more scary if he’s just an evil version of The Doctor, not if he’s shooting lightning bolts from his hands and flying about like a comic book villain. I’m not sure why the trauma has made him blonde either.

* Today’s “oh, it’s them!” watch: David Harewood! In a surprisingly small role for someone of his pedigree. June Whitfield! Her and Cribbins are totally at it. The woman werewolf from Being Human! I had to look her up, because I knew I recognised her from something but couldn’t place what. In my defence, she spent most of the episode disguised as a cactus.

* “President Obama has promised to end the recession”. This was less than eight years ago, but wow, the world truly was a different place, back when we had: a) a President who people around the world respected; and b) so few problems that one single action could make a tangible difference.

* It’s not very festive, is it? Other than the odd bit of tinsel, the only major concession to Christmas is The Master devouring a giant turkey. That’s about it until Part One ends with the words: “And so it came to pass, on Christmas Day, that the human race did cease to exist”. Well, Merry fucking Christmas to you too, James Bond.

* The Master making everyone into copies of himself is basically what happens in The Empty Child, but with an evil genius instead of an innocent boy. Honestly, it’s Simm City out there. With nearly seven billion clones milling about, it’s a good job the original Master seems to be in control of them – I’d have thought they’d all want to be in charge, bickering over who got to show off in front of The Doctor and who had to do the minor admin. It’d be like the Red Dwarf episode Me2, except they’d have to call it Me6.8billion.

* Considering all the epic stuff that’s going on, with The Master victorious and bloody Rassilon turning up with his special glove, the first time I felt moved was when Wilfred tearfully told The Doctor he didn’t want him to die. He’s so sweet, and his presence raises the stakes even further – we know that Doctors die all the time, so can be blasé about it, but I don’t want Wilf to lose his Doctor.

* Although let’s face it, how the fuck does he survive jumping from a spaceship and falling face first through a glass ceiling? That should have been it – Tennant dead and buried before the Time Lords even arrive.

* There’s certainly a hell of a lot going on here, but it’s hard to see what the point of anything of it is, other than it all being a prelude to The Doctor’s death. The Master being back was a big threat, but Rasillon undoes everything he’d done within seconds, so that’s all sorted. So therefore the Time Lords are now the big epic thing, but they turn up far too late in the day to really make their presence felt – we were told how dangerous they were without ever experiencing it ourselves. And then they’re dealt with in five minutes. Those five minutes are good, and it’s nice to see The Master getting some element of redemption, but it’s all very hasty.

* And so it comes to pass that what finally fells the Tenth Doctor is none of these things. He emerges unscathed, and the ultimate irony is that it’s poor old Wilf that inadvertently brings him down. That’s a lovely twist, but don’t be angry at Wilf about it, you prick. He was only in danger because he saved someone else, plus you can regenerate and he can’t. This attitude left a bitter aftertaste to the Tenth Doctor’s era – I hadn’t remembered until now, but my dislike for him towards the end has clouded my view of this incarnation.

* Then of course, there’s the famous farewell tour. First up, Martha, who’s left UNIT, dumped her fiance and married Mickey. That’s quite strange; I wouldn’t have pictured them as a couple, and I hope they weren’t put together just because they have one thing in common. I like how The Doctor saves their lives, then does the same for Luke, but that his gift for Jack is to get him laid. He knows him so well.

* I’ve always wondered why he tracks down Joan’s great-granddaughter, rather than going back and just visiting her himself. But I guess it would be a bit traumatic for her if he suddenly rocked up again, plus “Verity Newman” is a lovely touch. It’s sweet that he wants to make sure Joan was happy, and I found it quite touching this time round. Although obviously not as touching as when Cribbins cries again, and therefore I cry again.

* The bit with Rose is really nice, but it would have been infinitely better had she not reappeared in Series 4, so that a distant glimpse at a woman who doesn’t know him was the closest The Doctor got to seeing her again. In fact, that’s true of the whole sequence – it would have had so much impact if Journey’s End hadn’t have happened, and it still baffles me that the big multi-companion reunion wasn’t Tennant’s swansong.

* God, he doesn’t half make a fuss about regenerating this time, doesn’t he? The Universe itself sings him on his way, which seems a bit excessive when past regenerations have been about as ceremonious as getting a bump on the head whilst wearing a blonde fuzzy wig. It doesn’t really seem to be in the spirit of the show by making such a big fuss about one particular Doctor and one particular showrunner leaving – the console room being destroyed and “I don’t want to go” make everything seem so final, which could have really undermined the incoming regime.

* Mind you, we did see much more of the new Doctor than we normally do. I remember being distinctly unsure about Matt Smith at the time, but now with the power of hindsight, it feels like a baton being passed from a good Doctor to an even better one. But that’s another story…

RATING: 8

So it’s the end of an era – my era, in fact, considering I only became a fan thanks to Russell bringing the show back. It wasn’t without its flaws – looking back, I think the constant desire to make everything exponentially bigger and better began to harm the show towards the end – but I’ll always be incredibly fond of Russell’s work on the show, and indeed incredibly grateful. It was the first version of Doctor Who that I fell in love with, and twelve years later, I can barely remember what it was like to not love Doctor Who.

Technically speaking, this isn’t the end of a series, but I feel like I should do one of these anyway:

SPECIALS AVERAGE RATING: 7.5

  • Seasons/Series watched: Still 30 of 36
  • Stories watched: 202 of 275
  • Individual episodes watched: 756 of 839

It’s taken ages to get through these specials, what with all the spin-offs in between, so I’m really looking forward to having a nice regular series coming up next. I’m about to start the show’s current era, and I hope I can squeeze it all in before it’s no longer the current era…

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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.

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.

Love & Monsters

Tardisode: A man who clearly isn’t Peter Kay, but who we conveniently only see from behind, is Googling The Doctor when he comes across the website of an organisation called Linda. He does some Mickey Smith style hacking in order to trace the IP address or something, then kills the tea lady.

* Ah yes, the single most divisive episode of the revived series so far, and possibly to date. I’ve always been a bit of a fan, but you can’t deny that they handled the double-banking a lot better in subsequent series, especially the following year. But I’m fine with the silly bits like the Scooby Doo-esque running around – what we’re being shown isn’t necessarily meant to have happened exactly as we see it, it’s a depiction of Elton’s memories and his recounting of the story, and he’s just an unreliable narrator. His computer didn’t literally blow up when “the Internet went into melt down”, and his little band doesn’t literally sound exactly like ELO the second time we see them.

* I love that this links up with established continuity from previous contemporary Britain stories. I’ve always been interested in how The Doctor’s adventures affect everyday people, and it’s been a cornerstone of the RTD years. It grounds the show by reinforcing its place in the real world – our world – which we haven’t really had since the UNIT days.

* Much like the crew from last time, Linda are a right bunch of recognisable telly stalwarts. Marc Warren! Simon Greenall! Shirley Henderson, the woman who permanently looks about twenty years younger than she is! The annoying one from Two Pints Of Shit And A Packet Of Shit (no, the other annoying one. No, the other other annoying one)! The only problem with Linda is that they are totally ineffectual before Peter Kay turns up, and terribly smug with it.

* So, having caught up on the classic series, read up on what went on behind the scenes, and all the politics within both the production and the fandom… Peter Kay is Ian Levine, right? One of those entitled, self-righteous tossers who you find in every fan community, who ultimately want to make it all about them and who like nothing better than to nitpick and moan, in order to give the impression that they’re somehow superior to the thing they supposedly love. I should know, that’s what half of Red Dwarf fandom thinks of me.

*  I have a complex position on Peter Kay. Everything I’ve heard about him leads me to believe he’s a terrible person, his stand-up persona isn’t much better, and he’s an incredibly lazy and unimaginative comedian. But I adore That Peter Kay Thing and Phoenix Nights, so I never know what to expect. He’s not bad at playing Victor, who’s quite an old school variety of rotter, and I enjoyed the “eczema” business. But when he turns into the Abzorbaloff, he’s self-consciously trying to be funny, so he falls back on his tedious comedy northerner shtick. The creature effects are weird; the prosthetics are fine, but the performances of the absorbed victims really stilted and unconvincing.

* Meanwhile, it’s one of Jackie’s best appearances, and it’s good to see her in the spotlight as the character we’re most familiar with. Her seduction at the laundrette is great, as is the rather risque reading of “you could always splash out on a taxi or… whatever.” My favourite bit is the look on her face as she drops the facade and pours wine over Elton for the second time, but Camille Coduri can also handle the emotional stuff really well.

* “We’ve even got a bit of a love life” is the single rudest joke the series has ever seen, and therefore one of the best jokes the series has ever seen. Utterly amazing that it ever made it to screen in a family show. It’s probably best not to think about whether The Doctor did the right thing in turning a dead woman into a sentient fuck-pavement without her consent, though.

RATING: 7

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

New Earth

* Each Series 2 episode was preceded by a minute-long “Tardisode”. As this project covers everything, I will of course be watching those alongside each main ep. I hoovered these up at the time – this was the period where I was really into consuming as much Who as possible; I was at university and therefore had an incredible amount of free time. I even watched every episode of Totally Doctor Who on Friday afternoons. Anyway, this Tardisode was a little sales pitch for the hospital, and seemed to hinge on the notion that the cat people are scary. They are in fact just big old cats.

* I hadn’t realised just how many episodes Jackie and Mickey appear in, even if it’s just for a few seconds at a time as it is here. My memory was that they just turn up whenever the episode is set in the present day, but there’s constant reminders of Rose’s roots throughout other stories too.

* This was a self-consciously funny episode, which is code for not very scary or interesting or important. I liked the Doctor’s obsession with little shops, and the substituted swearword gags, but despite a decent performance by Billie Piper, as soon as Cassandra jumped into Rose’s body, it all felt a bit forced and self-indulgent. The kiss feels somewhat gratuitous, like they just wanted to have Tennant and Piper snog at the earliest opportunity after the minor hoohah when it was her and Eccles.

* This is also the episode where the Face of Boe is established as being all knowing and a bit magic, and they set up the big secret that he has to pass on. I lapped this stuff up at the time, but now that we know how it ends, why is it his big secret that The Master is alive? The way the cat nurse talks about the legend, it sounds like it should be a secret about Boe himself, but instead his identity is tossed off as a gag at the end of the following series. Maybe. Also, it was very rude of The Face of Boe to bugger off like that at the end of their conversation. It reminded me of the Cobbles victim from Look Around You.

* It’s just all a bit meh this episode, almost like a series of vignettes and set pieces with nothing holding it together. It’s the kind of thing that was done every now and then in the classic series where you’d have lots of little bitty plots going on, none of which would be substantial enough to sustain an episode on their own. It’s not awful – there are far worse episodes coming up this series – but it’s not one I’m ever likely to revisit again.

RATING: 6

The Christmas Invasion

* Christmas innit! Doctor Who has been the centrepiece around which the rest of my day is planned for over a decade now, and I’ll always remember how special the first time felt. I don’t think there’s been a better Christmas episode since – there have been good ones, maybe even great ones, but it’s hard to top the impact of the first time traditional Who idiosyncrasies were mixed with traditional festive ones.

I adore the killer Christmas trees and the flame-throwing tubas, but the joy is that the same show also contains 70s-flavoured spine-tinglers like the genuinely creepy blood control and the brutal murders of a UNIT major and a beardy civil servant. All on prime time BBC One in the most family-friendly slot of the entire year.

* Examining the trauma of regeneration from the companion’s perspective is yet another new avenue for the show to explore, and Billie is fantastic throughout. Mickey is still being a bit of a prick about it all, but he finally seemed to come to terms with things by the end, which tallies with my memories that he becomes a much more sympathetic character between series.

* It’s weird that “Torchwood” was subsequently used as an ominous and mysterious arc word in the same vein as “Bad Wolf”, considering that its nature and its purpose were quite categorically set up in the Christmas Special. It appears to be an all-powerful, scary, superweapon-wielding militia, and it’s odd to think of the organisation in such a way, considering the version we’re now more familiar with are nowhere near competent enough to bring down the Sycorax. They’d have accidentally hit The Moon or something, while at least two of them shagged and Captain Jack looked moody on a tall building.

* Fave lines that I’d previously forgotten: “There’s an act of Parliament banning my autobiography.” / “Did we ask about the Royal family? Oh.” / “Blimey, it’s like This Is Your Life.”

* It’s certainly a gamble to have the new Doctor sleep through the vast majority of his introductory episode, but when he finally comes round it pays off beautifully. Rose misses him, the world misses him, and the audience misses him, until he bursts into life and is immediately brilliant. He’s rude and not ginger, he quotes The Lion King and he can sword fight like a little skinny Pertwee – that’s what kind of man he is. With hindsight, “no second chances” is such an apt motto for the incarnation who ended up as the Time Lord Victorious.

* “Oh, I haven’t seen X in years!” became a catchphrase in our friend group, thanks to this episode and Charlie Brooker’s subsequent impersonation in Screen Wipe. I loved Tennant throughout his original tenure, but given that I love Smith and Capaldi even more, I don’t remember his time quite as fondly these day. It’s therefore really nice to be able to revisit these episodes with an open mind, and be reminded of how positive I felt at the time.

* Aside from Tennant, the best thing about this episode is clearly Harriet Jones. She’s so funny, and such a strong leader to boot, that it’s almost a shame that she did what she did, as it must have been tempting to use her as a recurring Brigadier-style character. The key moment obviously parallels Thatcher and the Belgrano, but the lack of subtlety is justified by the show being bold enough to make a resolute statement that it was A Bad Thing. Which is not to say that I don’t sympathise with Jones’s decision – certainly a fuck of a lot more than I do with Thatcher’s – but I also agree with The Doctor’s retribution. No second chances.

* Fucking Song For Ten! I adore Song For Ten. All the old costumes in the TARDIS wardrobe, along with the earlier subtle callback of seeing Big Ben in scaffolding. And the orchestral theme tune! And the middle eight! Yes, the sheer joy of these moments came flooding back to me as I relived the euphoria of Christmas Day 2005 all over again, beat by beat. I love Doctor Who, especially when it’s this good.

RATING: 10

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

Father’s Day

* I didn’t manage to write down many notes – I was too busy just watching. And crying. I adore this episode, and I remember being astonished back in 2005 that this silly little sci-fi show was powerful enough to elicit such a strong emotional response. It doesn’t surprise me any more, but after Rose showed me how much fun the series could be, and Dalek showed me how thrilling, Father’s Day was the one that established this whole other side, and cemented Doctor Who‘s place in my heart.

* Following on from the possible foreshadowing a few episodes back, I’m still not sure whether or not Rose planned this all from the start. I think the evidence points to the pre-credits scene here being her finally plucking up the courage to ask The Doctor for this favour that’s been on her mind for a while, but that at this stage, she only wants to be there for him. I think you can pinpoint the moment it occurs to her that she can save him – after she watches him getting hit by the car, and realises that he’s already dead, she decides she wants to go back again and change things. So it wasn’t *completely* spur of the moment, but she certainly hadn’t been planning to save his life since the moment she heard “time machine”, IMO.

* The Doctor disowning Rose is harsh and shocking, but can you see where he’s coming from. Much like with her motives, there’s a certain ambiguity as to whether he would genuinely have left her there if it wasn’t for the emergency. I kind of think he would – he feels like he’s been conned, just as he was learning to trust someone again, and since the Time War he has zero time for that shit.

* The TARDIS interior disappearing is a great moment of shock. I love the little indications that the world of 1987 is breaking down, although it’s a sobering thought to consider that Don’t Mug Yourself is almost as old now as Never Gonna Give You Up was in 2005.

* Fave lines that I’d previously forgotten: “The past is another country. 1987’s just the Isle of Wight.” / “Sometimes a duffel coat is just a duffel coat.” / “Now now Rose, you’re not going to bring about the end of the world, are you?”

* Tiny Mickey’s mum got eaten by The Reapers. No wonder the man’s a fucking mess. I know it all gets undone in the end, but it’s a grim story at times – the cuts to empty prams and child’s shoes in the street are Threads levels of dark.

* While I’ll never not find it weird that he shares his name with a friend of mine – especially considering said friend actually worked on this series – I love Pete Tyler. He drives this story by always being a step ahead of everyone else from 1987. The moment when he figured out who she is was the first time I welled up.

* Then, after the Doctor is gone, Pete figuring out what he had to do is when I stopped welling up and starting welling out. Doesn’t matter how many times I’ve seen this episode, the story of a man sacrificing his life to save the world, and his daughter having to stand back and let him, is always going to make me cry when it’s this well written and performed.

RATING: 10

Aliens of London / World War Three

* You don’t get recaps of important plot-related information at the start of a story these days, do you? Recapping a cliffhanger, yes, but I don’t think the show would feel the need to remind viewers of the companion’s backstory today. It’s a common criticism that it makes the Moffat era inaccessible to the casual viewer, but why should I give a fuck about them?

* I love the way the episode explores the aftermath of Rose’s departure, something the show’s never done before. Of course she’d be declared missing, and of course her mother would be distraught, and of course everyone would blame the boyfriend. Also, I’d forgotten that the whole RTD era is consequently always set one year in the future. So many things that would later become recurring are set up in this episode. I debated whether to bother including Trinity Wells in my ever-expanding list of tags, but in for a penny.

* Erm, Rose says to The Doctor “you’re so gay” at one point. Are we OK with that? I guess RTD has those privileges, but still, it felt weird coming from her mouth. Has the world changed so much in twelve years that I’ve already found something that I don’t think would be included these days? If so, good, because I didn’t like it.

* Tosh! Actually the actual Tosh from Torchwood, not just a different character played by the same actor. I remember my reaction to her being announced as being part of the cast for Torchwood, and it’s the same as it is now: still no idea why anyone would say “ooh, we should get her back”.

* Yeah, the farting isn’t brilliant, and it gets old pretty quickly. It’s a shame, because the Slitheen could have been great – the central concept of faking an invasion as a cover-up for the aliens already being there is lovely – but the execution lets them down. Also, some of the CGI as they’re shedding their skin suits doesn’t quite stand up on the upscaled Bluray.

* Something that I hadn’t twigged before: Jackie finding out about The Doctor is a parallel for humans making first contact with aliens. And favourite lines that I’d forgotten about this time include: “Mainly because everyone thinks I murdered you”; “You’re a very violent young woman”; and “Oh, boll…”

* It’s a good episode for making you go “ohh, it’s whatsisname”. Kurt from Teachers! That big Welsh man from Rovers and shitloads of other things! Big Meat from a shit episode of Red Dwarf! Either Rupert or Hubert from Mr. Bean’s New Years Eve party! Andrew Marr!

* If you’re going to do a cliffhanger with everyone in danger, don’t immediately cut to a “next time” preview of them all escaping. Jesus, I know that they fixed this problem from the very next two-parter onwards, but surely it should have been thought about before transmission.

* Massive Weapons of Destruction, deployed in 45 seconds. I see what you did there. It’s not terribly subtle as a piece of satire, but how amazing to have such a subversive line in a Saturday teatime family show. I also liked Rose’s earlier line about having no idea who the Prime Minister was due to having been away for a year – at the time probably a reference to the upcoming general election, but in hindsight possibly also to do with the Blair/Brown power struggle. The guy in the cupboard was blatantly supposed to be Blair, if anyone specific.

* It’s probably the weakest story of the series so far overall, but there’s still some great moments, particularly towards the end when The Doctor admits he’s putting Rose in danger, and Harriet Jones stands up and takes control. It’s not a shit episode by any means; as always with RTD, there’s a lot of heart. This isn’t a story about an alien invasion, it’s about how the alien invasion affects Rose and her family, and I’m totally on board with that.

RATING: 7