SJA: From Raxacoricofallapatorius with Love

Aww, Ronnie Corbett. Of all the victims of the great celebrity cull of 2016, he was one of my favourites. His presence on my screen is guaranteed to make me smile – it’s the warm feeling you get when an old family friend pops round. This was clearly written with a great deal of affection for the man, and it’s exactly my kind of in-jokey humour. Although, by my count he’s the third Rani.

Like any good Comic Relief sketch (and lord knows *good* Comic Relief sketches have been few and far between in recent years), it gets very silly very quickly, and then more so. Of course the gang are all wearing deadly deely boppers. Of course Ronnie Corbett is a Slitheen. Of course K-9 turns up and gets clamped. And that final shot of K-9 improbably sporting a Red Nose for no logical reason is superb. Five minutes of pure joy.

RATING: 9

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.

SJA: The Lost Boy

Rediscovering The Sarah Jane Adventures has been one of the greatest joys this project has provided for a long time, and the last two stories of the first series have been something else. The first few adventures did the job of establishing a status quo, laying the groundwork for a finale that plays so beautifully on said status quo being destroyed. It’s so disturbing to see Luke torn away from the family and enduring the ultimate nightmare – discovering you’re a Chelsea fan.

It was a great double bluff – we trusted Mr Smith when he said that Luke was indeed the missing boy, so we spend most of the first episode believing it might be true. This gives us an excuse to explore the creepiness of that idea, and then to move on before it runs out of steam. It seemed weird at the time that the news reports focused on the idea that the boy had been kidnapped by some mad, lonely woman, rather than… you know. But firstly, kids’ show, and secondly, it all makes sense when you realise it’s part of Mr Smith’s plan.

You could tell that something was amiss with Mr Smith before the big revelation – he wasn’t doing the big fanfare when he emerged, and his voice was subtly different throughout, deeper and more clinical. I listen to Alexander Armstrong’s voice a lot as part of my job, and it’s therefore hard to disassociate his work here from his role as a game show host – since SJA was made, he’s become more famous for being himself on TV than he is as an actor. It’s like when Les Dennis was in Corrie for a bit – his performance was great, but all I could see was Gail Platt marrying Les Dennis from off of Family Fortunes.

But I digress – it was nevertheless a fantastic twist, continuing the fine tradition this series has of throwing in a complete headfuck moment as the cliffhanger. This series has even managed to make the Slitheen an effective villain – skinny Slitheen! Having them hiding as smaller-framed people not only managed to keep their presence as a surprise, but also had them shake off the last vestiges of the sometimes-troublesome size-based humour that’s always followed them around. There was barely a fart joke in sight, and as such they can finally be taken seriously as a threat.

But Mr Smith was the real villain of the piece, even though it looked for a while like it was going to be Floella Benjamin at Pharos, of all places. And when the villain is an alien supercomputer, embedded right at the heart of Sarah Jane’s organisation, there’s only one hero who can defeat it. It may have been an extremely short cameo, but oh it was so lovely to see K-9 once more. It’s a great compliment to the series that he hasn’t particularly been missed, and it’s meant that his brief return felt really special. Worthy of a finale to a damned fine series.

RATING: 9

SERIES AVERAGE RATING: 8

  • SJA series watched: 1 of 5
  • SJA stories watched: 6 of 27
  • Individual SJA episodes watched: 11 of 53

SJA: Invasion of the Bane

On New Years Day 2007, there were no less than three new episodes of Doctor Who spin-offs transmitted on the same day. This is one of the very rare occasions that my rewatch will be going at a slower pace than original broadcast. First up, we welcome The Sarah Jane Adventures to the fold, with a debut that comes along and demonstrates exactly how a spin-off series should be started.

The answer is to basically do Rose, whereby the audience is introduced to the companion figure first (it’s a younger character this time because it’s a younger audience), and we then meet the mysterious alien-y figure through her eyes. It’s a role that Sarah Jane is obviously more than capable of fulfilling; that was evident the first time they tried this show, regardless of its many other faults.

Maria seems just as well-suited to her role, but the big problem in this episode is clearly Kelsey. She’s got some quite funny lines, but as Mrs Wormwood points out, “she’s all noise and ignorance”. I remember being so relieved when I heard she wouldn’t be returning for the main series. Maybe she could have been toned down as she developed, but when you’ve just been introduced to the likes of Owen Harper and Donna Noble, you want the CBBC spin-off to be a safe haven from these brash, disruptive, antagonistic characters.

Luke, on the other hand, is absolutely great, both in concept and performance. It’s an idea with so much potential for both drama and comedy, and you’ve got the makings of a good little gang there, once Kelsey is replaced. Sarah Jane’s attic is very cool indeed, even if the reveal of Mr Smith was a little overblown – this time round, it reminded me of the study being revealed as a TARDIS in Shada. The pictures of The Brigadier and Harry were a particularly nice touch.

It’s just a shame that K-9 can’t join the party, continuing the long-standing tradition of the poor bugger being restricted to a tiny cameo appearance during a story that doesn’t involve him. I’ve never seen the Australian K-9 series, due to the fact that it looked like a load of old bollocks, but it can’t have been worth the sacrifice of a potential series full of adventures for Sarah and K-9 together. The black hole explanation for his absence seems tacked on and not terribly convincing, but that was kind of unavoidable.

The plot is a straight-forward one – the latest in a long line of Willy Wonka retellings, with quite a similar premise to the Futurama version. The monsters were pleasingly old school in design; lumpy and mucky, as if they were made of the same rubber, latex and heavy paint that Sarah Jane faced all those years ago. Apart from the one that’s recycled from Torchwood, of course, although thankfully this one is a star poet, rather than a sexy mind-reading murderer.

It was a fun and happy way to spend an hour, full of warmth and heart. That’s thanks to Elisabeth Sladen of course, who was always such a magnetic presence. The final scenes with her talking about how nobody could compare to The Doctor tugged at the heartstrings, and made me really look forward to seeing more of her – I did watch the first series or so of SJA at the time, but I kind of fell behind at some point and there’s loads of it that I haven’t yet seen.

I’m particularly looking forward to seeing whether that middle eight in the closing theme is a regular thing, or whether it was dropped after this initial special, because it was bloody mental.

RATING: 8

School Reunion

Tardisode: Mickey Smith goes to a cyber cafe to do some more of his l33t hax0ring, only to be stopped by a big flashing “Torchwood – Access Denied” message. You know, that super secret organisation that the Prime Minister isn’t supposed to know about. Of all the companions with the surname Smith to give us a bonus episode with…

* In the pretitles, Finch eats a child, and thinks he’ll get away with it because she’s an orphan from a children’s home. “No parents – no-one to miss you.” Pretty sure orphanages keep records of who lives there, and where they go to school.

* “Happy-slapping hoodies with ASBOs and ringtones”. Between that and the giant VDUs in the classrooms, I think I’ve just pin-pointed the moment at which the mid-00s became “the past”.

* But anyway, Sarah Jane. Brilliant brilliant Sarah Jane. She hadn’t changed a bit, really – a few years older, but instantly recognisable as the same character. Her initial meeting with The Doctor, where she doesn’t know who he is but he’s absolutely delighted, is beautiful, and then I got goosebumps as she stumbled upon the TARDIS. It’s easy to say in hindsight, but there really wasn’t anyone else they could have brought back, was there? The Brig is the only one who can match her, but the story required a direct parallel with Rose, plus Sarah’s departure was tragic and needed to be addressed. For most companions, it would be “yeeeeah, I really should have stayed with you instead of marrying that bloke I’d just met, shouldn’t I”?

* And of course, K-9. Weird to think that if it wasn’t for a failed spin-off pilot a quarter of a century earlier, Sarah and K-9 would never have met, and therefore he wouldn’t have been in this episode or the subsequent more successful spin-off. Understandably considering the other returnee, K-9 sort of got short-changed for screen time, but having now watched his original tenure, that’s kind of fitting. Leaving him in the car with Mickey is just like what the Fourth Doctor used to do with him whenever the adventure featured a location with an uneven surface.

* Why does the big confrontation between The Doctor and Tony Head take place either side of a swimming pool? I’m sure it seemed cool at the time, but it just struck me as odd watching it tonight. It’s also weird that all the Krillitanes can switch between human and bat forms apart from Finch – he’s the boss, genre convention dictates that he should turn in to some sort of giant megabat.

* I found myself fighting back tears when Sarah-Jane and The Doctor said goodbye and I’m not sure why. I know that they’ll meet again, and that I’ve got a hell of a lot more Sarah Jane still to watch, which I’m looking forward to immensely. Obviously, it’s partly to do with the wonderful Lis Sladen no longer being with us, but also I think that this is what long-term fans must have felt when this episode first aired.

Through the microcosm of one iconic companion and her life with and without The Doctor, it’s a small scale celebration of the classic series and a moment of closure – a chance to finally say goodbye, but to move on to something new. Sarah Jane Smith effectively passes on the baton to Rose Tyler, and that’s huge. When I first watched this episode, I loved it because it gave me a glimpse of what the old series meant to people. Now that I am one of those people, it gives me so much more.

* That said, The Doctor leaving behind a new K-9 for Sarah, revealed when the TARDIS
dematerialised… what if she’d have taken him up on his offer and decided to travel with him again? Was K-9 just going to be left on his own on 21st Century Earth? Poor bugger.

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

Dimensions in Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RATING: 3

Search Out Space

So what now? The magnitude of last night’s milestone only really sunk in today. When Alexander of Macedonia was 33, he cried salt tears because there were no more worlds to conquer. I am only 30. I spent my morning working my way through the DVD extras for Survival, and it was a surprisingly emotional experience. You got the sense that the main players were genuinely upset when it got cancelled, and it’s a crying shame that they never got the chance to finish what they’d started.

Of course, if the events of 1989 were any different, then we wouldn’t have had the triumph of 2005, or at least not in the same way. So the next stage of my trip through Doctor Who history is to retrace the journey that leads from the old show to the new one. After a brief wallow, I cracked open the massive spreadsheet, and made sure I had as comprehensive a watch-list as possible. I kind of want the gap to last as long as possible, to reflect the long wait that fans experienced at the time, so here are the ground rules.

From this point on, I’ll be consuming everything that fits these criteria:

  1. Regardless of the medium, a video-based format, so not the New Adventures or Big Finish. I’d absolutely love to, but it would be too mammoth a task.
  2. Fictional, or at least containing a fictional element. I’m not arsed about canon, as that way madness lies, but basically not a bunch of documentaries, and not Confidential when the time comes.
  3. Made by or for the BBC. It’s too complicated to try and classify all the semi-licensed fan projects, plus I can’t be arsed with that Australian K-9 series later down the line.

I may make some exceptions for things I really want to see, but for now the first stop on leg two of the journey is a very special episode of Search Out Science, a BBC schools programme from 1990. Since we last saw him, The Doctor has become a game show host, floating around in space on a small plastic disc. This is not the “work to do” I had in mind. Ace is his glamorous assistant, and K-9 is also back for some reason, along with an alien called Cedric, who I assume is a regular in the series.

What was lovely about this was that the makers of this obscure little show were clearly fans of Doctor Who, and they were really having fun with the idea. What wasn’t lovely was virtually everything else, but hey, their heart was in the right place and it was harmless enough. It could have easily been straight-forward and by the numbers, but there was some real effort put in. The Doctor may have been confined to bluescreen – at one stage projected against the same arctic stock footage as used in Red Dwarf‘s Marooned – but Ace and K-9 were getting up to all sorts.

The highlight was an utterly ludicrous shot of Ace sitting inside one of the Jodrell Bank telescope dishes, and the stuff of her with the mirrors was cool too. Meanwhile, K-9 alternated between drifting hopelessly through space, and matching up different colours of Smarties to different types of star. Cedric was a bit irritating, as was the constantly-repeated game show music sting. I was initially amused and delighted to hear the K-9 & Company theme tune, but now I’ve realised that it’ll be stuck in my head for days again.

It concluded with a twist ending, in which The Doctor magically transformed the final question of the quiz into an ice cream. That was a bit bizarre – I assumed they were going to run through the answers and recap the facts or some shit, you know, so that it had some actual educational value. The whole thing slightly outstayed its welcome, but hey, it could have been a worse start to this section of the project. Tomorrow’s viewing is going to be terrible.

RATING: 5

The Five Doctors

That was a load of silly nonsense that barely held together to form any kind of coherent plot. It was just an excuse to line up as many old faces as possible, for little to no reason other than to create a cheap thrill for hardcore fans. Basically, it was absolutely perfect.

I’ve probably seen it more times than any other classic story; I’d often turn to it as a way to get a quick fix of virtually all of Doctor Who‘s best bits. Placing it into context made the Borusa stuff work better; when you know that he’s one of The Doctor’s oldest friends, it means a lot more, plus his descent into full-on villainy makes sense when you see how he’s become a bit of a shit since becoming Lord President. I could buy it a lot more here than in Arc of Infinity.

It’s interesting that Borusa’s plan essentially has him doing the same thing as JNT, Saward and Terrence Dicks (surely the ideal candidate for this particular job) – creating a narrative by picking up a bunch of characters from the toybox and chucking them together in various combinations. Maybe the whole thing was an elaborate marketing ploy for a range of action figures.

It’s undeniably a shame that it’s actually only really three Doctors at best, with one refusing to play ball and another refusing to remain alive. In the end, they got around these unavoidable obstacles well; the Shada footage works fine alongside the specially-shot abductions, and Hurndall does a passable impression of Hartnell. I mean, it’s definitely jarring to have someone pretending to be the First Doctor, but there’s not much they could have done differently.

It was arguably even weirder to see Susan as an adult; her character was almost entirely based on being a childish liability, so she couldn’t really do the same thing here. Instead, it was interesting to see some unusual pairings of Doctor and companion; obviously you have the First going off with Tegan, but also the Second and Third are not the Doctors you’d most associate with the Brig and Sarah Jane respectively.

I could have done with more scenes of the various Doctors together, but what we had was so much fun. I loved that the Second still thinks the Third is a bit of a dick, after last time. It was also interesting to see the Fifth Doctor acknowledge the First’s attitude towards women, it the same way people react awkwardly to a racist grandparent. It was apt and pleasing that the Fifth should remain the protagonist; all the others were resolutely guests in his story, and he outshines them all.

There were so many returning companions and villains that it’s hard for any of them to stand out; I just enjoyed them as players in a series of vignettes. It was a celebration of all things Who, and not of any particular character or era over any other. My only gripe would be that Sarah Jane was written as fairly slow-witted, which she just isn’t. The Brig was reliably excellent and I enjoyed seeing glimpses of some less obvious returnees, such as Yates, Liz and Zoe.

As for the villains, the little Dalek cameo was more than welcome, and The Master was on pretty good form. It’s the first time since perhaps Logopolis that he’s been written with any particularly grey shades; he’s always much more effective when you’re not quite sure of his motives. The new addition – the Raston Robot – threatened to steal the show, with a great design and a formidable style. The way it dispatched all those Cybermen was like a version of Robot Wars where it’s men in costumes fighting with explosives. Weird that platoons of Cybermen got their asses kicked on two separate occasions, but to be fair it’s probably the best way to use 80s Cybermen.

Elsewhere, the Hartnell clip at the start was a lovely touch, as was the slightly modified opening theme. The amalgamated closing theme was less successful to my ears, but their heart was in the right place. Also exciting to see a glimpse of a brand new TARDIS console. I was mightily impressed by how new and different it looked in the opening shots, but I went off it a bit the more I saw it. I’ll reserve judgement for now.

All these touches combine to make this feel like a real special occasion. Me and a big group of friends watched it as part of our 50th anniversary celebrations, and even tonight, my girlfriend and her brother couldn’t help watching along with me. It feels like a film, with its extensive and sumptuous location work, and the picture quality is superb.

I loved it so much that it took me until half an hour after it finish to notice that Kamelion wasn’t even referenced, despite having watched his introduction just yesterday. I’m aware that I’m about to delve into a very difficult period in Who‘s history, and I’m hurtling ever closer to the end of the original run. But whatever happens next, this stands out as a near perfect celebration of the first twenty years, and indeed the journey I’ve been on for nearly two years. I love Doctor Who so much.

RATING: 10

K-9 and Company

Oh boy. That theme tune is going to be in my head forever, and that’s not a good thing. It’s very, very 1981. I assume it was supposed to be cool and exciting, but the title character shouting out his own name at random intervals just makes it comical. That title sequence as well. It was clearly supposed to be a sexy, American-style montage showcasing the exciting situations that Sarah may find herself in, but the lack of footage meant that these situations were limited to driving down a country road, reading The Guardian and having a nice glass of wine.

The fact that this ludicrously bright and frothy title sequence immediately cuts to some dark and doomy gothic ceremony is completely incongruous, which rather sets the tone for the following fifty minutes. Which, incidentally, is way too long. The story of rural witchcraft and human sacrifices is one that could have slotted nicely into the Pertwee era… in fact, I’m pretty sure it did, but with The Master being behind it all.

No aliens at all here though, which is odd choice – I was expecting something where Sarah and K-9 would be the first defence against a potential invasion, like a miniature UNIT, or indeed a precursor to the much more successful spin-off decades later. The Hot Fuzz-esque thing of the entire village being in on the conspiracy was good though, and it was an enjoyable cast of character actors.

It hasn’t been long at all since I’ve seen K-9, but he’s actually better here than he was for his last season and a bit in the main show. My favourite scenes of his are always the ones where he gets to go out exploring with The Doctor, and he now gets to do this with Sarah Jane. It’s weird that this is the first time the two characters have met; from watching the new series and The Sarah-Jane Adventures, I’d always assumed that they’d overlapped during their travels with The Doctor, but in fact their whole partnership stems from this one failed pilot.

And yes, it’s absolutely lovely to see Sarah Jane again. She’s not much older than when we last saw her, but she seems a lot wiser, and she takes to being the central character immediately. She is The Doctor here, with K-9 to help her out, and Brendan for her to look after. He, incidentally, is a much better everynerd figure than Adric, despite being weirdly unable to laugh on cue.

Overall, it’s not terrible, but very patchy, and the bits that work are only ever on a par with the least good bits of actual Doctor Who thus far. An interesting and worthwhile experiment, but I can’t really picture it as an ongoing series. Would she have carried on living in that sleepy little village? What adventures could have unfolded, given that the coven was completely disbanded? Would aliens have shown up? It’s a little bit of a shame that none of these questions are answered, but I won’t lose any sleep over it.

RATING: 6