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…

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.

The Doctor’s Daughter

* Oh gawd. I remember the controversy beforehand about the deliberately provocative title, although it all seems a bit of an over-reaction in retrospect. Even if she had turned out to be his actual daughter, it wouldn’t have been a big deal – we could have got to meet Susan’s mum. Instead she’s a generated anomaly, who is given the name “Jenny” in much the same way as Frances Barber’s character in Red Dwarf‘s Polymorph. And she’s played by an actual Doctor’s daughter, who has since become an actual Doctor’s wife, and had the actual Doctor’s children and grandchildren.

* The whole thing about the descendants of colonists fighting a war across so many generations that the history has become mythologised, to the extent that technology is being mistaken for ancient symbols and relics = The Face of Evil, isn’t it? This time, there was the twist that this had all taken place across seven days; on second viewing, the clues were there right from the start with the soldiers using the term “generations” as their only unit of time. It stands out a mile.

* This episode hinges on the juxtaposition of The Doctor’s pacifism and Jenny being a soldier, but the central argument that the Time War makes them not so different after all is flawed. The Time War was an anomaly in The Doctor’s life, and he’s haunted by what (he thinks) he’s done, whereas Jenny was literally bred for war. After the revelation that the last action of the Time War was one of peace, the comparison is even wider of the mark.

* Meanwhile, Martha becomes the God of the Hath, and then lures one of the poor sods to his death. Generally speaking, I found Martha’s segments with the Hath much more interesting than the Doctor battling some generic shouty humans and his family issues, but what’s the point of bringing her back if she’s going hardly going to appear with the Doctor? Torchwood put her in the background during her stay there too – what a waste.

* It’s all very sad when Jenny dies, as it is whenever some potential new companion gets hit with the “you can come with me” curse and dies. But the thing is… she’s not his daughter, is she? A parent/child relationship is about more than just genetics; Donna’s earlier analogy about her friend and the turkey baster proves the opposite point to the one she’s trying to make. It’s tricky, because The Doctor should obviously be upset, but given that both he and the audience have only known this woman for forty minutes, the sight of him responding by pointing a gun at someone’s head doesn’t seem justified. The subsequent grandstanding is slightly undermined by the inherent silliness of the instruction to base your society around “a man who never would”.

* You can tell that the resurrection scene is tacked on, and it’s yet another detraction from the episode’s big emotional climax, but we can at least be grateful that they never got round to following up on it. Yet.

RATING: 5

The Sontaran Stratagem / The Poison Sky

* Selling an episode around the concept of “sat-nav gone bad” feels deeply rooted to the time when the technology was relatively new, and therefore still being greeted with suspicion. It was less than ten years ago, but it was still before we all started carrying around Google Maps in our pockets. However, the sat-nav thing is just window dressing in this story; the main selling point of Atmos is as a means of reducing carbon emissions, which seems more relevant today, with hybrid and electric vehicles becoming more and more mainstream. It wouldn’t require a huge rewrite if this episode was being made today – just replace the contemporary sat-nav fear with stuff about driverless cars, and you can still have people being driven into rivers.

* You can’t help but grin as Martha is reintroduced, despite the fact that it was only a week or so ago that I last saw her. I like the idea of having roving ex-companions in the field; people who are doing The Doctor’s work in his absence, and who are there if he needs them when he’s in the area. I also like the decision to make Martha and Donna get along, thus avoiding a retread of School Reunion but with a more annoying incumbent. It ties in with the conscious effort to make current companion relationship more platonic and grown-up than the last one, which I applaud, but then again I didn’t dislike the old way of doing things. It’s good to do something different just to keep it varied, it’s not that the the previous dynamic was a problem that needed fixing.

* I’m still not entirely comfortable with UNIT being repositioned as the bad guys that Torchwood used to be, but I guess that even in the Pertwee days, there was always the suggestion that they were too eager to resort to combat. The idea of Martha working from within to improve the organisation ties in with this – I suppose UNIT can be a force for either good or bad, and their moral stance changes depending on the personnel. They need someone like the Brigadier, or Martha, or later Kate Stewart, to keep them on the straight and narrow. The Doctor has been away for so long that they’ve forgotten the principles he taught them in the 70s (or was it the 80s, etc). But at least they’re still using “greyhound” and “trap” as their call signs.

* Around half way through the first episode, I wrote in my notes: “Donna wants to go home again, wah wah wah. Goodbye speech and everything.” And then seconds later: “Ah, it was a gag.” Does the fact that I took it at face value say more about me, or about how Donna has been written so far as being so self-centered and flighty? It’s me, isn’t it? But still, I don’t care about her having sad flashbacks to things that happened a maximum of three episodes ago. Literally the only good thing about Donna in this episode is getting to see Cribbins again. Sylvia’s shtick of being the nagging, Doctor-hating mother has been done to death by now, but Wilf being so excited for Donna, urging her to continue adventuring despite his fears and worries, is something new, and it’s lovely.

* I do like me a Sontaran, and Mike Thecoolperson makes a great commander. It was fun to see massed ranks of them in battle, and amusing that they still have the same old problem that you can only have one or two of them without their helmets on at once. The one that wasn’t Christopher Ryan was Dan Starkey, and it was a little bit odd so see him playing a Sontaran who wasn’t Strax, but then again, clones obvs. It was mostly a faithful and successful revival of an old villain, with the exception of the added “Sontar-ha!” chant, which was just annoying. It seemed mandatory at this stage that every monster needed a repetitive catchphrase for the kids to copy in the playground, but after four series, it’s starting to feel contrived.

* I have no particularly strong opinions on the episode as a whole – it’s one of those that just kind of exists. I’d remembered Rattigan as being absolutely awful, but he’s mostly fine until near the end when he starts throwing a strop about how clever he is. He’s a villain with no particular motivation other than entitlement and attention-seeking, and is probably the worst thing about the story, which is otherwise a perfectly serviceable mid-weight two-parter.

RATING: 7

Torchwood: A Day in the Death

Considering how much I truly dislike Owen Harper, I’ve really quite enjoyed this little trilogy of episodes that are ostensibly about him being a whinging little baby. At least he’s got something to whinge about now, and this episode did a really good job of getting into the specific details about exactly how his new zombie life works – he can’t eat or sleep, he doesn’t heal, he has to exercise to stave off atrophy, and he can’t breathe. But he can talk, so I’m not sure exactly how this works in conjunction with that last one.

This episode was the most successful of the three, which is quite remarkable considering that it’s the one that’s had the highest concentration of Owen – he’s barely off the screen, and the rest of the team are merely peripheral characters. It does help that he’s assisted by two notable guest stars; Mel from Early Doors did an excellent job as the co-lead in the framing device, much better than the previous one-off protagonists the series has managed.

And then of course you’ve got the caretaker from Paradise Towers, appearing in his more familiar guise as the lovely, doddery old posh man. It’s something he did so well in the latter stages of his career, although rarely was he called upon to mix in quite so much nihilism or references to lying in his own piss. I greatly enjoyed his line about Owen being “a very violent doctor” – reminiscent of the Fourth Doctor enthusing about a butler – and his strange, somewhat colonialist flirting with Toshiko.

His role in the story was the guardian of the MacGuffin. It was clear that the alien device was there to function as a reason for Owen to go on a mission of self-rediscovery, and when it led him to his failure to save Richard Briers, it seemed like job done. But then it slightly misfired, firstly because of the aforementioned thoughts about how weird it is that Owen can’t breathe at all considering everything else he can do, but also because they didn’t leave the MacGuffin alone.

It felt like a bit of a cop-out to be told that something is about to blow up and kill untold numbers of people, only for it to turn out to be some sort of intergalactic nightlight – the equivalent of firing a gun and a “bang” banner unfurling. Either make it a genuine threat and have the team quietly neutralise it, or have Owen discover it’s harmless straight away; having the emotional goodbyes ahead of a heroic sacrifice that doesn’t happen is just having your cake and eating it.

Which is a shame, because all the other emotional notes hit home; this was, for the most part, a rare example of Torchwood getting the tone spot on. One of the things the series gets right, for me, is its attitude towards death – it’s characteristically bleak and pessimistic, but it’s also a philosophy I subscribe to. There’s absolutely fuck all waiting for you afterwards, so you might as well cling on to life for the occasional joy like the first sip of tea in the morning.

And finally, this episode concludes Martha Jones’s secondment to Torchwood, and it’s a shame that she didn’t feature nearly as heavily in the second two episodes as she did in the first. She had a decent amount of screen time, but when she first arrived she went out and got involved in adventures; thereafter, she mostly just stayed in the office and did some admin. Here she’s got nothing to do but perform tests on Owen, and then snog Jack as she says her goobyes. I didn’t like that – we’ve just been told she’s got a new boyfriend. What is it about Torchwood that does that to anyone who happens to drop by? I suspect Owen and his alien sex drugs.

RATING: 7

Torchwood: Dead Man Walking

I seem to have very little memory of this episode whatsoever, which is surprising considering some of the extraordinary sights it contains. I’d remembered that they find a second resurrection glove to bring Owen back, and that he somehow stays as a zombie for the rest of the series, but nothing else about the plot beyond that. I’d assumed, for example, that the “something waiting in the darkness” that Suzie mentioned was the big baddy from that year’s finale. Nope.

This was a mostly enjoyable exploration of an interesting idea – what happens to a corpse if a brain is brought back to life, but the rest of the body isn’t – but with an additional, more conventional monster-of-the-week story bolted on towards the end. It does the first part well; it’s entertaining, well thought through, and even well performed at times. But I wasn’t so convinced by the other stuff, and it weighed the rest of it down.

When I went through the list of common Torchwood pitfalls yesterday, I forgot one – comically stupid things happening. Things that are so bizarre and incongruous, and often so spectacular, that they’re the only things you end up remembering. You can have as much nuance and intelligence as you can muster for the majority of an episode, but it’s so frequently undone by one minute of madness.

It happened so often during this one that I decided to make a list. This is my list of the stupid things that take place in just one episode of Torchwood:

  • Captain Jack going to a speakeasy to meet a little girl, who tells him where to find the resurrection glove by consulting tarot cards.
  • Captain Jack strolling up to a church and kicking down the sign for no reason.
  • Owen being filmed exclusively in Sir Digby Chicken Caesar Cam for a full minute.
  • Owen projectile-vomiting an entire pint of Guinness.
  • John Barrowman attempting to deliver the line “I guess I was hoping for a miracle. I still am.” with a straight face.
  • The resurrection glove coming to life and attacking the team by flapping about at them.
  • Ianto attempting to defend himself using a hockey stick.
  • Martha getting Sara Kingdom-ed.
  • Owen projectile-vomiting the Smoke Monster from Lost.
  • Owen grappling with a giant smokey skellington.
  • Martha getting better again for no adequately explained reason.
  • The episode ending with Owen looking like he’s about to say something profound in response to Tosh asking what they’re going to do now, and then just not saying anything.

This episode was almost all nonsense, but hey – it was entertaining nonsense. I enjoyed it, and I’d take this over the po-faced, self-consciously serious nonsense of last year. I am, however, finding my tolerance starting to drop the longer this series goes on. It’s got to be nearly over now, right?

RATING: 6

Torchwood: Reset

Martha Jones! I’d kind of forgotten about her stint in Torchwood until she popped up in yesterday’s next time trailer, so this is a bonus. As you’ll have gathered from my posts on Series 3, I’m quite a fan of hers, and it’s nice to see her doing so well for herself after leaving the TARDIS – she’s a fully-qualified doctor now, and working for UNIT. She shows up and instantly puts Owen in his place; she was always an incredible capable companion, so it’s no surprise that her ability is head and shoulders above these clowns.

The rest of the team seemed to up their game in her presence, and as such this is one of those rare episodes where Torchwood are vaguely competent in their approach to the threat. Jack even acts like a leader, and it was lovely to see the bond the exists between him and Martha after their experiences with The Doctor and The Master. Even though they were only together for three episodes, the strength of their friendship felt real, and he was right to put his faith in her – she has faced worse threats before.

The big baddy here was of course Jim Robinson, who at this moment in time was cult TV’s most perennial guest star worldwide. He didn’t have a great deal to do – he was only in a handful of scenes – but he did it well and made an impact. Then, of course, he became the greatest hero ever in the history of the Doctor Who universe. He killed Owen Harper.

Despite the improvements that have undoubtedly been made to his character for the second series, the despicable wanker from the first still looms large in the memory, and so my reaction to him being shot amounted to a small cheer and then an ever-expanding grin. The joy is tempered only by the knowledge that he’s going to come back – amusingly, Wikipedia refers to this as “the first death” of Owen Harper – but I do recall that this arc is quite a good one, and I even remember feeling sad for him at one point. I’ll look out for that over the next few days.

So after a couple of episodes in which the show fell back into old habits, I’m now coming back round to thinking that this series isn’t too bad. There’s basically two traps that it falls in to – plots that rely on the team’s incompetence, and the team behaving like utter twats. It’s still inconsistent on the first point, but killing off Owen and replacing him with Martha Jones makes the group a thousand times more likeable. It’s only temporary, but I’ll take it.

Besides, having a series each of Sarah Jane and Torchwood to watch between series of actual Who is making me miss the proper show, so having a recent companion around will help with that. And also, once again there are elements of the plot that remind me of the series currently airing – I’ve seen two races of alien insects curing human illnesses in as many days. Is Moffat mining Torchwood for ideas? I’m sure his successor was hoping for first dibs on that.

RATING: 7

The Infinite Quest

Yes, I’m back, fresh from the surprising news that something I rewatched recently might have been more apt than I thought, and it’s a nice gentle restart to ease me back in. This is thankfully nothing like the seemingly inexorable run of cheap animated efforts I sat through between McGann and Eccleston – the animation’s far from perfect, but at least the characters’ mouths move, and you can tell that it’s designed to be an animation first and foremost, rather than the old Flash ones which were just audio plays with pictures over the top. I quite like the art style, and it’s a good likeness of Tennant, although Martha’s look is somewhat inconsistent as to how closely she’s modelled on Freema – it’s clear where the priority lay.

I fondly remember Totally Doctor Who – my memories are fuzzy because I was a student and therefore usually wasted by the time CBBC came on, but it was a fun little show even though it clearly wasn’t aimed at me. It amuses me that I’m now sort-of-friends-even-though-we’re-yet-to-actually meet with Clayton Hickman, a man who I so strongly associate with his stint as a talent show judge in another TDW feature.

So yes, I will have watched the vast majority of this story as it went out in tiny weekly installments, although I don’t recall having seen the omnibus edition before, which is what I watched tonight. It gives it an unavoidably odd structure – it’s fairly exciting to effectively have a cliffhanger every three and a bit minutes, but it’s obviously going to feel disjointed, frequently straying towards “and then this happens” storytelling.

The story is a pretty traditional quest for components, like your various Keybased ones from the show’s past, and they’re always good opportunities to see lots of different characters and situations very quickly. It inevitably ends up feeling a bit slapdash in this format, but I do remember it working a lot better when it was once a week – when you watch it that way, the frequent recaps of the premise would have been useful, rather than just slightly jarring.

Those characters and situations were fairly interesting, but with the broad strokes you’d expect from a format that’s aimed at under-12s and has to resolve the previous part of the story, tell its own, then set up the next part, all within three and a half minutes. Always nice to hear Anthony Head, of course, and I liked the various robot birds. Each of the settings we glimpsed had an interesting premise, although there was no real time to examine them too closely. The prison towards the end was very reminiscent of the Red Dwarf episode Justice, with its mind-scan to detect any guilt felt by visitors, leading to automatic sentencing and detention without trial.

It sort of fizzled out a bit towards the end, with the revelation that there was nothing useful at the end of the quest anyway, rendering the whole thing somewhat redundant – loads of people died so that The Doctor could get prevent something that no longer exists getting into the wrong hands. Overall, it was not as enjoyable in this format as it was when it was spread over thirteen weeks, so I feel that my score should reflect that, but ultimately it’s just a bit of harmless fluff for the kiddies, and I’m glad it exists.

RATING: 5

Utopia / The Sound of Drums / Last of the Time Lords

* Yes, I am conflicted about whether this is a three-parter or a single episode followed by a two-parter, but the consensus seems to be the former, which I think is just about right. It’s true that Utopia feels separate from the other two, but it’s got a cliffhanger that Sound of Drums resolves.

* Utopia remains one of my fondest memories of a communal viewing experience. There were a bunch of us watching together, and we were all pretty sure that The Master would be turning up towards to the end, but we certainly didn’t know how it would happen. We were expecting an inconsequential little story about future humans being chased by savages, but then as the focus shifted to Professor Yana, we realised what was going on. Each little clue or reveal was greeted with elation, as if they were goals in a football match. One of my friends summarised the evening perfectly as “we have been sold a dummy, and I’m entirely happy with the price negotiated”.

* Ah, so there’s the Captain Jack that I remember from Doctor Who! Where was he during that interminable fortnight? He’s so much fun here, especially in Utopia before everything gets quite so heavy, and it’s exactly what Torchwood was missing – the guy with the lust for life, who will happily flirt with man, woman or insectoid, no matter how much danger he’s in. The conversation between him and The Doctor while he’s in the radiation-filled room is great, and it should give him closure on a few things, thus making him less of a twat when he gets back to Torchwood for Series 2. Will it, though? Will it bollocks.

* Professor Yana is just adorable. Doctor Who is at its best when it’s making highly respected Shakespearean actors play either bumbling old scholars, or evil supervillains. Jacobi gets to do both, and the episode belongs to him, and Yana’s slow realisation of who he truly is. I only wish there was more time for the Jacobi Master, as those couple of minutes are the most dark and sinister incarnation that there’s ever been. I loved Chantho too, but I was almost egging The Master on to prove himself by killing her.

* Simm’s Master, on the other hand, I have slightly more complicated feelings about. I’ve said before that The Master’s personality is always a reflection of whichever Doctor he’s facing, so it’s only right that Tennant’s nemesis should be young, energetic and extreme. But I think the balance is a little bit off, and I don’t think he has enough sensible moments to counteract the – admittedly highly entertaining – silly stuff. I don’t remember having an issue with it at the time, but now that I’ve seen the every apperance of The Master’s every incarnation, this one doesn’t stack up quite as well.

* The customary celebrity cameos in a finale are fulfilled by Sharon Osbourne, McFly and Ann Widdecombe, thus ensuring some competition for The Master as the most evil entity in the episode. This was before she became a comedy figure on Strictly, so she was just that funny old Tory MP who actively fought against LGBT rights, denied climate change and supported the reintroduction of the death penalty. A strange choice.

* Worldwide mind control or no worldwide mind control, the rise of Harold Saxon is just so unrealistic. As if any civilised country would voluntarily elect as their leader an evil, bigoted psychopath, with no tangible policies, and so many holes in his story, just on the basis of unsubstantiated soundbites and spurious charm? I am saying that The Master is like Donald Trump. Do you see?

* One more thing on The Master. This is the first time, as far as I recall, where he’s actually got what he wanted. He set out to become the Prime Minister and he did, then he wanted to take over the world and he did, and then he wanted to subjugate The Doctor and he did. I’ve always wondered what the next stage would be when a supervillain wins, and the answer is apparently to hang around on a flying aircraft carrier for a year, singing along to the Scissor Sisters and having a big old laugh. Fair enough.

* I find Lucy Saxon to be a fascinating character. The Master has had companions of sorts before at times, but they’ve usually either been there under duress or under his control. Lucy seems to be fully aware that he’s evil, but willingly making the decision to side with him. I love the little moment where she’s tentatively dancing along to Voodoo Child while everything goes mental – she seems to be getting a kick out of the chaos. But then a year later, we see her with a black eye, and it’s never commented on. It’s incredibly effective – an interjection of real life domestic horror, which resonates far more as an illustration of The Master’s character than an abstract off-screen decimation.

* Sadly, the three-parter fumbles the ending a little bit, with the last episode suffering by The Doctor’s absence. The Old Man Doctor is one thing – it’s a great effect and it’s certainly a shocking sight – but it does slightly hamper his ability to affect the story. Although it’s a damn sight better than House Elf Doctor, who’s so far removed from the character we know and love that I find it impossible to get on board with the idea that they are one and the same. Annoyingly, The Master sets it up as a suspension of The Doctor’s past regenerations, with the promise of us seeing all 900 years of his life at once. The possibilities that you infer from that are all way better than what we got.

* I did enjoy Martha’s stuff of travelling around the world. I’d forgotten about the professor turning out to be a rat, but it’s a miracle I’d forgotten anything with all those flashbacks. They’re a useful device when you’re referencing things from past episodes, but it gets a bit ridiculous when you’re flashing back to things that happened five minutes ago.

* It was good that the magic gun turned out to be a McGuffin, and the idea that The Doctor would be able to use The Master’s Archangel network against him is sound. But in practice, the big floating Jesus Doctor is not good. The Doctor is basically resurrected by the power of prayer, then he briefly becomes magic. Nah, not for me. Then there’s the old Superman ending, where time is reversed so that hardly any bad things happened – although the President of the United States did get murdered on British soil. It’s obviously necessary for future series that the events of these episodes are undone, but it can’t help but feel like a bit of a cheat.

* However, beyond the plot, each of the characters got a much more satisfying ending. The Master’s death was exactly the kind of emotional Doctor and Master scene that the episode needed throughout. Despite his previous imperative for self-preservation at all costs, I totally buy him refusing to regenerate just out of spite for The Doctor, even without the possibility that the whole thing was an elaborate ring-based escape plan.

* Meanwhile, Jack is sent back to his role as Chief Grumpy Bastard and Rooftop Stander of Torchwood Cardiff, via some Face of Boe based lols. My theory is that RTD meant it when they filmed it, then changed his mind later on, when he was feeling less giddy, and backtracked. I can see it. They kind of look like each other.

* And then, of course, it’s goodbye to Martha. I like her far more than most fans do. Her unrequited love for The Doctor doesn’t dominate her adventures quite as much as I’d remembered, and instead she just quietly proved herself to be just as brave and capable as Rose, but without the annoying tendency to boast about it all the time. She gets to leave on her own terms, with the promise of an imminent return. Good luck to her – she deserved a longer stay in the TARDIS than she got.

RATING: 9

SEASON AVERAGE RATING: 8.33

  • Seasons/Series watched: 29 of 35
  • Stories watched: 187 of 264
  • Individual episodes watched: 737 of 827

I’m going to have to pause the project briefly there, as I’m once more volunteering at the biennial Red Dwarf convention Dimension Jump this weekend, and I really ought to start getting ready. I’ll be back in roughly one week…

Blink

* I fear I have nothing to add that hasn’t already been said a thousand times over the last ten years, but yeah, that was amazing. Just like it was the dozen or so other times I’ve watched it. It’s the perfect episode of Doctor Who, so much so that you barely notice that The Doctor isn’t in it. As well as being so good as a piece of timey-wimey trickery that it coined the phrase “timey-wimey”, the video message was a great way of maintaining his presence with very little material.

* I still can’t believe that Sally Sparrow wasn’t the next companion after Martha. I remember being absolutely convinced that this was the plan all along – to introduce her as a one-off character and then have The Doctor run in to her again in the future. But no, Carey Mulligan had to go on to become a huge film star, and instead the same thing happened with a different, vastly inferior, one-off character.

* It’s kind of unfair to compare this to Love & Monsters, because one’s a fun romp for the kiddies and the other is a dark, twisty, horror story. I am fond of L&M, but Blink completely shows it up, especially when you consider the differences between Elton and Sally. She’s a protagonist that’s every bit as brave and extraordinary as any regular companion, while still feeling real and relatable. I would totally watch Sparrow & Nightingale. Come on, Big Finish.

* If you’re going to steal, steal from the best. And when you’re talking about complicated time travel stories masquerading as fun-filled family entertainment, the best is Back To The Future. I almost wish Kathy had been transported back to the Wild West, just to keep it themed.

* Ray Peacock/Ian Boldsworth! This is the first time I’ve seen this episode since Ian has become a bit of a cult figure among Red Dwarf fans, thanks to his role as the regular warm up man on audience recordings for the revived series. He’s not appeared on screen, yet he feels like one of the gang, so it’s lovely to see him in my other favourite show, playing a role that surely pushed his acting skills to the limit.

* For the second story in a row, we’re presented with a supposed romance between two characters that we don’t know, played out in barely minutes of screen time, and yet totally compelling and believable. In a script with a lot of competition, the initial car park scene contains two of my favourite bits of dialogue: Billy complaining about the windows being the wrong size on the TARDIS, and Sally accidentally pre-empting their eventual marriage. This little moment feels so real and human, which is what sells the sadness of the subsequent hospital scene. Just lovely.

* But the best scene overall has to be the full conversation between Sally in 2007 and The Doctor in 1969. The type of writing that’s above and beyond almost everything else on TV, and which cements Moffat’s place as one of Who‘s greatest ever writers. I literally have “The Angels Have The Phone Box” on a t-shirt. And, as we noted on my other site at the time, it’s a little bit Future Echoes, which can’t be a bad thing.

* Then it goes into full-blown horror, to such an extent that it gave someone I know, who was already a fully grown adult at the time, actual nightmares. Much has been said about the writing in this episode, and quite rightly so, but Hettie MacDonald’s Hitchcock-inspired direction deserves a special mention too. That very final sequence of statues and sinister music is there for the sole purpose of scaring the shit out of tiny children, which is to be applauded.

RATING: 10