The Day of the Doctor

The Last Day (prequel): I was so excited to get on to today’s main feature that I forgot to watch the prequel beforehand. I watched it afterwards, so it was naturally a bit of an anti-climax to see the events leading up to the Fall of Arcadia after I’d seen the actual Fall of Arcadia. I’m sure it would have been fine the correct way round.

Quite simply, this is the best episode of Doctor Who of all time. Saturday 23rd November 2013 was the last time our big group of friends all got together to watch a new episode, and will probably remain so now that we’ve all got busy jobs and people have started moving away and getting married and having babies. But what a high to go out on. Everyone came round to mine at around lunchtime, and we watched An Unearthly Child (just the first ep, not the full thing), The Three Doctors, The Five Doctors, Dimensions in Time, Time Crash, The Name of the Doctor and The Night of the Doctor as a warm-up.

None of this information is pertinent, but I mention it because it was a very happy day that will forever be lodged in my memory. It’s what makes Doctor Who so special to me, the way it’s intrinsically linked to certain times and certain people. The Day of the Doctor gets that, and it’s the perfect celebration. You don’t need me to write a review telling you why, and I don’t feel capable of doing so. So let’s see if I can do something different. In no particular order, here are fifty things I love about the fiftieth anniversary special.

  1. The original titles and music
  2. I.M. Foreman
  3. Coal Hill School – and having Clara work there is the first step in her transition from the mystery girl into a real person that we can begin to care about
  4. Riding a motorcycle into the TARDIS
  5. Kate Stewart – this is the first time she gets to take control in the same way that he dad used to, having been a bit of a passenger in her first story
  6. Osgood – she’s mostly just a cute fan representative at this stage, but the moment with the inhaler hints at the depth that’s to come
  7. “Codename: Cromer. 70s or 80s, depending on the dating protocol”
  8. Finally seeing the Time War, and it not disappointing after such a build-up
  9. It’s got Billie Piper in it
  10. It doesn’t have Rose Tyler in it – how wonderful to give Billie the chance to do something different, rather than further chip away at Rose’s resolution
  11. The design of The Moment itself is just gorgeous
  12. The way the three main settings – modern London, the Time War and Elizabethan England – are each given their own establishing scenes, one after another, before the Doctors are united, like a more in-depth and expensive version of The Five Doctors
  13. The trail of fezzes leaping from location to location, tying them all together
  14. It made me like Tennant again, having become a bit sick of him by the time he’d left three years earlier
  15. Specifically, I think it was the bit with the rabbit that did it
  16. A silly gag four years ago implying that Tennant shagged Queen Elizabeth I is now a key element in the fiftieth anniversary episode
  17. The fact that Smith and Tennant are quite matey with each other, which at this stage is a subversion of the norm for a multi-Doctor episode
  18. Conversely, how grumpy the War Doctor gets with how young they are, how they use their screwdrivers, and their silly catchphrases
  19. The War Doctor being so much more than just a substitute for Eccleston – he represents the classic era itself, and how despite the different approaches, it’s clear that the new regime owes it all to the original
  20. Just the fact that John Hurt is a Doctor now. John Hurt!
  21. The way that our introduction to him is so bad-ass – a machine-gunned message of defiance
  22. Smith and Tennant’s delight at both having put their clever specs on
  23. The War Doctor assuming they’re both the companions
  24. Smith calling Tennant “Dick van Dyke”
  25. The realisation of why the stone dust in the statue room was relevant
  26. The Black Archive, with its many pictures of old companions in bizarre combinations
  27. The choice of Zygons as the main baddy in only their second appearance – they must have the best average hit rate for any returning monster ever
  28. The relative restraint in only bringing back them and the Daleks – unlike previous anniversary specials, this story is about the Doctor, not any of his friends or foes
  29. Coming up with a brilliant plan to set the Sonic a 400-year task of disintegrating the cell door, only to discover it wasn’t locked
  30. The code for the vortex manipulator being the time and date An Unearthly Child aired
  31. John Hurt asking if there’ll be a lot of kissing in the future
  32. The multiple TARDIS interiors, and the reference to “the round things”, and of course the inevitable “you’ve redecorated” line
  33. The Space Time Telegraph turning up, of all things
  34. That weird, sinister-sounding phone call the UNIT guy takes towards the start suddenly making sense towards the end
  35. The various instances of people having to figure out which is the real person and which is the duplicate reminding me of Red Dwarf‘s Psirens
  36. The tension of that Kate Stewart vs Kate Stewart scene, and the parallel between her threatening to nuke London and the War Doctor’s dilemma
  37. The fact that it lead directly to The Zygon Invasion/Inversion, which is another of my all-time favourites
  38. “Never cruel or cowardly. Never give up, never give in”
  39. The fact that this episode doesn’t actually change anything about the Time War – this is what always happened, it’s just that the Doctor thought that it happened differently. Moffat-haters still can’t grasp this.
  40. “Calling the War Council of Gallifrey. This is the Doctor.”
  41. “No sir, all thirteen” and Capaldi’s eyebrows – I cannot describe how exciting this was at the time. That screenshot was my Facebook cover photo for years.
  42. “Geronimo!” / “Allons-y!” / “Oh, for God’s sake.”
  43. Hurt’s reaction to his regeneration – we’ve never seen the Doctor *happy* to change before
  44. YOU KNOW I REALLY THINK YOU MIGHT
  45. The whole idea of the Doctor reusing his previous faces – “but just the old favourites, eh?”
  46. Tom Baker appearing in Doctor Who in 2013. I cried then, I cried tonight. A wonderful, wonderful surprise – the greatest the show has ever pulled.
  47. For all its dodgy effects, the shot of the twelve Doctors all together was a beautiful thing to end on
  48. The fact that it’s still very much Matt Smith’s story, as per Pertwee in 1972 and Davison in 1983
  49. The faces in the closing titles, and the return of the middle eight
  50. The fact that it wasn’t just me and my friends gathered together to witness Doctor Who celebrate 50 years with the finest piece of television it’s ever produced, but 12.8 million people watching on BBC One, and millions more watching at cinemas or on TV in 98 countries around the world simultaneously.

And then afterwards, we all watched Zoe Ball desperately trying to get One Direction’s thoughts on fifty years of Doctor Who, over a satellite connection with a delay of what felt like fifty years itself, while Moffat watched on with his head in his hands. What. A. Night.

In case you hadn’t guessed:

RATING: 10

Advertisements

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.

Turn Left

* It’s hard to reconcile my residual dislike of Donna with the acknowledgement of her importance to The Doctor. My first reaction to the idea that he’d be dead without her is to scoff, but when I think back to The Runaway Bride, I have to concede that her function in that episode, when she was intended to be a one-off, is to snap the Doctor out of his post-Rose funk. It makes the question of whether it’s Donna that’s important, or if it’s just the Time Beetle, an interesting one, as you could interpret her original appearance as a case of being in the right place at the right time.

* In an episode all about the consequences of Donna never meeting The Doctor, one of the worst side-effects is her reverting to her pre-Series 4 personality for half an episode. And in an episode that revisits the recent past, it’s amusing that Donna’s beetle backpack evokes memories of Sarah Jane’s spider backpack. There’s also the return of Chantho, this time as a psychotic fortune teller, and the circle of mirrors being kinda like Kinda.

* I do like a big continuity-based romp, and it was easier to do back when there were only four series’ worth of things to remember. It’s always worth reiterating just how many times, and in how many ways, The Doctor has saved everyone’s arse. This episode tells us that also saves the lives of his former companions just by being around – he shows up to deal with the really dangerous stuff, so that they don’t have to put themselves at risk. Without him, they have to deputise, and they really don’t last very long.

* The depiction of a post-apocalyptic dystopia is stunning, adding an extra layer to prevent the episode from being just a continuity-based filler. Rather than just leaving it at bad things happening to characters that we know, it was great that they took the time to explore what happens in the aftermath of these disasters. It was grim stuff – people had to move to Leeds. It’s kind of how I picture the real UK will be after Brexit and five more years of Tories, and that was before they started rounding up immigrants. That was the darkest and most affecting part of the show, and it was neat how they didn’t need to explicitly state what happened at the labour camps, but you totally got it. Cribbins was amazing – his reaction should be shown to far right groups, as a warning of where their nonsense leads. Do you really want to make Cribbins cry? Do you?

* Lovely to see Rose, but why can’t she talk properly? She seems so different after just two years away, and it’s a bit sad – I can’t tell whether she’s supposed to have changed and developed off-screen since we saw her last, or whether it’s Billie not quite remembering how to play her. Rose has existed as an unattainable ideal for the last couple of series, so it’s hard to live up to the legend on her first reappearance. I tell you what though, that Bad Wolf stuff at the end was amazing – it was on the Pull To Open sign and everything!

RATING: 8

Partners In Crime

Ah, Series 4. I’m nowhere near as familiar with this series as I am with the previous three. For one reason or another, Who became a slightly smaller part of my life around this time – since the last series, I’d left uni, moved in with my partner and started full-time work, plus my Who-loving friends had moved out of the flat we watched most of Series 3 in, and scattered across the country. Also, I was less than enthusiastic about the announcement of the new companion, having hated Donna in The Runaway Bride and developed a strong aversion to Catherine Tate, whose piss poor sketch show was ubiquitous at this point.

When the series arrived, I found myself disliking the majority of the episodes – my memory is that it didn’t pick up until really close to the end – and as such I didn’t rewatch it on DVD nearly as much as the first three series. As always, I’ll be doing my best to approach these viewings with an open mind, and re-evaluate as I go, which should be aided by the fact that most of the details are long forgotten.

Turns out I quite like how Donna is written in this episode. I’m always intrigued as to how one-off encounters with The Doctor change people, and having Donna turn into a freelance alien investigator – like a pound shop Sarah Jane Smith – is a neat idea. I assumed at first that she was doing this because she’d been inspired by The Doctor to improve herself and live the best life she could, but the reveal that she was just doing it to try and hunt him down works just as well.

So yeah, I like how she’s written, just not necessarily how she’s performed. It’s been dialled down a notch or two since the previous Christmas, and it’s clear that Catherine Tate is a fine actress, but I just don’t get on with her as a comedy performer, with her exaggerated mannerisms and the all-pervasive am-I-bovvered tone of voice. She’s actually great in the smaller, more dramatic moments, but every time there’s a joke, no matter the quality of the writing, her delivery is always the same – shrill, over the top and way too big. It’s like nails down a blackboard for me.

The miming reunion scene isn’t as bad as I’d remembered – I don’t think the wah-wah comedy music helps, but the moment when they realise Sarah Lancashire is watching them is very good. On the other hand, “you want to mate?!” is absolutely piss-poor. It’s a rubbish joke and I’m not sure it even needed to be said – just show us that the new Doctor-companion dynamic is different over the course of the first few episodes, you don’t need to treat it like a mission statement.

Comedy was at the heart of this episode – it’s present in every episode, but the balance was definitely tipped here. It’s a bold choice for a series opener, and obviously good to mix it up after four years, but I’m not sure it paid off. The Adipose are a great visual effect, but ultimately forgettable as a Who alien, were it not for the subsequent raft of merchandise. The lack of a scary enemy made it hard to feel like much was at stake, and I found the digs about Britain being a nation of fatties a bit distasteful. And I’m not on board with Sarah Lancashire pausing mid-air to make a face, like she’s Wile E Coyote.

On the plus side, and it’s a very big plus, Cribbins continues to be utterly adorable. It’s almost worth having Donna in every episode just so we get to see Wilfred every now and then. He’s the perfect grandfather figure, and his reaction to seeing Donna in the TARDIS was a moment of pure joy.

Lastly, there is soooo much foreshadowing in this episode. You’ve got the Adipose planet being lost, an “Atmos” sticker in the window of a taxi, and a reference to the bees going missing. And then, of course, BLOODY ROSE. Despite the knowledge of what’s to come, hearing that music again sent shivers down my spine, even now. It’s a great moment.

RATING: 7

Army of Ghosts / Doomsday

Tardisodes: The first is the best one yet – a young journalist pieces together clues about Torchwood, before getting too close and ending up being taken away by men in white coats. The second is an emergency news bulletin detailing the Cyberman invasion, in which everything starts blowing up around some poor newsreader, who then gets exterminated by a Dalek. A very strong end to the noble Tardisode experiment, and overall they’re a fun and worthwhile venture. It’s a shame that, save for the occasional online prequel during the Smith years, such a thing didn’t continue.

* We’re entering a phase where I have really clear memories of when and where I first watched these episodes. Army of Ghosts went out just after England had lost on penalties to Portugal in the World Cup Quarter Final. I was emotional, angry at Cristiano Ronaldo for winking after Rooney’s red card, and pissed as a fart. For the finale, two of my very best friends came round to watch it at my student house, after they’d spent the day hunting for the flat where I’d end up watching most of the next series. By the end, the scene was of three young men who knew each other quite well, but not as well as we soon would, sitting next to each other on three rickety chairs in front of a tiny portable TV, with none of us daring to break eye contact with the screen in case the others saw us crying.

* It’s odd to revisit the original incarnation of Torchwood, considering how little it resembles Captain Jack’s gang of ne’er-do-wells. These guys might be sinister and selfish, but at least they’re vaguely competent, and at least Tracy-Ann Cyberman isn’t the worst woman from the second series of Big Train to appear in this episode. There are little flashes of the Torchwood theme in the incidental music when the Doctor is ghost-hunting, not that we’d have known it at the time. Speaking of the ghost-hunting, why in the name of FUCK does Tennant say a line from Ghostbusters in a Scooby Doo voice? That has been irritating me for over a decade now.

* Hey look, it’s Martha Jones! Flirting with a bloke over MSN, like a early-to-mid-00s idiot. If this was the classic series, she’d survive the story and leave in the TARDIS at the end, rather than the team going to the effort of inventing a new character for a guest actress they liked.

* This is the first finale to contain the briefly traditional raft of celebrity cameos. D’you remember Trisha? I seem to recall she was a bit old hat even by 2006, having moved to Channel 5 and been replaced on ITV by Jeremy Kyle. Barbara Windsor is the highlight, although her (well, Peggy’s) joke about spirits doesn’t quite work – if the only spirits allowed in the Queen Vic are gin, whiskey and vodka, then that’s a shit bar.

* I love the gratuitous little scene of the kid running upstairs, only to find a Cyberman waiting for him. That’s always stuck with me as something that would have terrified me if I was ten years younger. Even though I knew what was coming, I had a HUGE grin on my face as the Daleks descend from the void ship. I jotted down “best cliffhanger ever” in my notes – I was wrapped up in the moment, clearly, but even now I’m struggling to recall a better one.

* RTD may well be the best writer of Dalek dialogue of all time. With the combination of this writing, the vocal performance and the brilliant props, everything is just right – they’re great when they’re being menacing, but the functional dialogue amongst themselves also shines, and Russell is able to make them humourous without detracting from any of this. The bickering with the Cybermen is just extraordinary.

* It’s astonishing just how many returning characters there are. That one from Byker Grove didn’t have much to do, other than over-enunciate “and so did we”, and point out the existence of lifts. It was genuinely nice to see Mickey again, and apt that he got one last chance to fuck everything up for everyone when he activated the Genesis Ark. The Jackie and Pete reunion was the first time I cried, but luckily there was a sharp jolt into some massive pitched Dalek vs Cybermen vs Torchwood battles, so I was able to compose myself temporarily.

* You can take it as read that I enjoyed everything Dalek-related, and most things Cybermen-related – even though they’re not proper Cybermen, and I still don’t think they’re a patch on the originals, they’re better here than they ever were in the 70s or 80s, perhaps because the Daleks are around to pick up the slack. The one bit that I’m really not sure about is when Tracy-Ann Cyberman turns up again, and repeats her new-found catchphrase whilst crying oil. I’m not necessarily opposed to a converted human regaining control of their Cyber body, but I found it a bit jarring in the moment, and the tear was daft.

* Predictably, I was a big blubbering mess by the end, perhaps more so than I was the first time, given there was no need to disguise it. This is despite knowing that the big goodbye isn’t quite as final as seems, and that the “this is the story of how I died” motif is a bit annoying when you know how misleading it is. But the whole thing is just so deeply sad. They’ve been ripped apart and they love each other, but The Doctor can’t even say it. Rose has annoyed me in recent episodes, but you never forget your first companion, and she was mine. I loved her too.

* Nearly eleven years later, I once again found myself croaking “fuck off, Catherine Tate” through a veil of tears. I didn’t like her as a performer then and I don’t now, but I’m going to do my best to re-assess Donna with an open mind when the time comes. But regardless of any of that, that final moment is horribly misjudged, and it damn near undermines the whole ending. I wish they’d have had the nerve and the confidence to end on a sad note, without feeling the need to add a hook to get people to come back. They would have done anyway – you’ve created this brilliant, thrilling, emotional climax, so just let it breathe.

* Fave lines that I’d previously forgotten: “Torchwood refuses to go metric.” / “Neither did we need him alive.” / “Social interaction will cease.”

RATING: 10

SEASON AVERAGE RATING: 7.2

  • Seasons/Series watched: 28 of 35
  • Stories watched: 177 of 264
  • Individual episodes watched: 723 of 827

That’s actually a lower average rating than most of the original run, but that’s mainly due to Fear Her, and to compare a new series to an old season is not like-for-like anyway. But still, not as good as the first series, but a damn sight better than what’s coming next. Brace yourself. I know I am. Expect weevils and bollocks and shit.

Fear Her

Tardisode: A hard-hitting advert for a service called Crime Crackers, in which a slightly irritating Welsh man appeals for information on the mysterious disappearances of several children in Dame Kelly Holmes Close. It then ends with a crash zoom into a wardrobe; there’s a formula to these Tardisodes whereby each one has to end with a fleeting glimpse of the Monster Of The Week, but often, when the rest of the piece has a central conceit such as this one, it doesn’t quite fit, and the clip would be better off without it. Especially when the monster is just a wardrobe with a red light in it.

* Ah, remember when 2012 was the future, and not some far distant nostalgic utopia where it briefly felt like we had a united country and hope for the future? The prevalence of Union Jacks has slightly different connotations now, and there’s a hint of racial tension bubbling under throughout – it just so happens that the only black family on the street are the ones who are causing the paranoia, and it’s the only black workman that everyone rounds on and basically accuses of being a child abductor.

* There’s no way around this – the big baddy this week is shit. She’s basically a malevolent Penny Crayon, except Penny Crayon had a bigger budget. Having the cheap and quick episode back-to-back with the double-banked episode gives this season a very odd structure, losing all momentum as it heads to the finale. They could have made more of the personal drama to make up for the lack of a traditional monster, but it was all so broad and half-arsed. The only details that are memorable are the ones that stand out from an otherwise particularly child-friendly episode because they’re so dark – there’s hints that Chloe’s father was abusive in some way, and naturally you assume the worst.

* The scribble monster is shit, obviously, and that’s when you really know that this is a duff episode. It’s leads to Rose making a hell of a leap to go from “this is made of graphite” to “it’s the little girl that I saw in the window, she must be trapping children in drawings”. It’s one of a number of unconvincing plot contrivances which culminates in Chloe’s mum leaving her alone in her room with a bunch of colouring pencils, minutes after Rose specifically told her not to. And what’s it all leading up to? Some flashing red lights at the top of the stairs, defeated by the simple act of a mother reassuring her child for the first time in a year.

* Huw Edwards is comically useless. For over ten years now, every time I’ve seen him on TV, I’ve found myself saying “it’s not just a torch now, it’s HOPE and it’s LOVE.” I’ve now discovered that he doesn’t say that exact sentence in the episode, but close enough to make it an accurate parody. One even funnier bit that I’d forgotten was when the torch bearer fell over, and Huw asks, in the most matter of fact way possible, “does this mean that the Olympic dream is dead?”. He delivers it as if he’s asking Nick Robinson whether something or other is good news for the government, as if “the Olympic dream” is a quantifiable thing that actually exists.

* Then if Tennant’s shit-eating grin as he lights the flame isn’t enough, we get the worst piece of foreshadowing I think I’ve ever seen on Who, and possibly on TV in general. Everything is completely fine and resolved and straightforward, and then the tone switches in a split second as Tennant looks up at the sky and arbitrarily decides that “a storm’s approaching”, although we’re never told exactly how he knows this. What a load of wank.

* As you may have surmised, I’m not a huge fan of David Tennant in this particular phase of his tenure – I thought he had a brilliant start, and that he got better again later on, but right now him and Rose together are so smug that I’m glad there’s a storm coming to split them up. Despite the godawful conclusion to the episode, the next time trailer is particularly good – although I wasn’t expecting to hear a Dalek gun, as I remember being surprised by their appearance at the cliffhanger to Army of Ghosts. Maybe I wasn’t quite as familiar with what a Dalek gun sounds like at the time…

RATING: 3

Love & Monsters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RATING: 7

The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit

Tardisodes: First, a tough-looking space captain receives a mission, from an astonishingly unconvincing corporate official, to retrieve a mysterious power source from a distant planet. He accepts, and then an Ood makes a sarcastic-sounding comment about The Beast rising from the pit. Secondly, a scene that’s set after the first Tardisode but before the first episode, where a book full of those symbols burns up, transferring the symbols to some poor sod in the process. It’s slightly quirky in terms of chronology when you watch it all in order, but I guess it’s hard to do a prequel that sits well in the middle of a two-parter.

* I liked that the pre-titles to the first episode introduced the Ood with a mini-cliffhanger that turned out to be a red herring – in the old days, those couple of minutes would have been 25. I do like the Odd, with their sing-song demonic threats that always sound slightly sassy. Of course, this is the first time I’ve clapped eyes on an Ood since I watched The Sensorites, so now I can see that they’re so clearly cut from the same cloth.

* What a guest cast. Danny Webb from off of Alien³ and Humans! Claire Rushbrook, who interviews Daisy Steiner for a magazine job! The guy with all the writing on his face who I now know best as a man in Corrie who tried to steal Craig Charles’s girlfriend by pretending he had brain cancer! Pretty much all the crew are famous telly faces, and they play a big part in this story’s success.

* Having said that, it’s weird that there’s two extra crew members who don’t speak and who nobody ever refers to. A bloke with a gun who turns up when The Doctor goes down the mineshaft, and a woman with a gun who’s caught up in the initial Ood attack. Unless I missed something, neither are mentioned early on when they go through the crew roster, and nobody seems to care too much about their deaths, considering the fuss they (rightly) make when the more senior crew members snuff it.

*  There’s lots of little hints about the society the crew are from. They’re the type of people who would happily keep slaves without questioning the morality, and who talk of “the empire”, which all sounds a bit Brexit in retrospect. It’s not a huge thing, but it’s a level of detail that would be reminiscent of an old Robert Holmes serial if there was just a little bit more of it.

* There’s a sound effect on the crew’s communicators that Charlie Brooker’s Screen Wipe used to use for transitions. This is most distracting.

* There’s a lovely build up of tension and drama leading to the cliffhanger, where your man gets possessed and properly scary, and absolutely everything goes to shit. But cutting when the pit opened, before we’d seen what was inside, wasn’t particularly satisfying, and it left it feeling a little like clickbait – you won’t believe what’s in there, tune in next week to find out.

* But the second part is all very exciting, and so I have far fewer notes for it. I remembered liking it the first time around, but couldn’t recall much about it. The details of what happens are perhaps not that memorable because the various components – base under siege, power failures, dwindling oxygen supplies, crawling around in the air ducts – are not particularly original, but as an action-adventure romp, it’s a very decent one. Jefferson’s sacrifice is very sad, and the little hint that Toby was still possessed added an extra dimension – you knew he’d go bad and ruin everything, you just didn’t know when.

* Rose is apparently “the valiant child who will die in battle so very soon”. Or just get stranded on a parallel world for a couple of series, but whatevs. Those words obviously stirred something in her, as she does an absolutely sterling job of taking command in The Doctor’s absence soon after. In a series where she’s been far harder to take seriously than she was last time, this is an undoubted high point for the character.

* The Doctor’s side of the story was much slower paced, but no less interesting. It’s always intriguing to see what he does when he thinks that he’s lost everything. The TARDIS is gone, they’re trapped down a ten mile mineshaft and he’s got less than an hour’s worth of oxygen, so fuck it, let’s jump down a totally deep hole. As he falls, he stops short of saying that he loves Rose, which is more galling when you know what happens at the end of the series.

* Throughout, I got a vague Alien series vibe, which is obviously right up my street. Maybe it was just the presence of Danny Webb, but also the design of the base and the fact that the crew were designed to be identifiably ordinary people. But that ending, with the highest ranking survivor logging a roll call of the deceased, confirmed to me that it was a deliberate homage. Fine by me, no wonder I enjoyed it so much.

RATING: 9

The Idiot’s Lantern

Tardisode: An old lady’s brand new telly is on the blink, so gives it a good whack. In retaliation, the telly eats her. This is followed by a trailer for the Queen’s Coronation. Bloody repeats.

* Ah, the Doctor and Rose pissing about with scooters, grinning inanely as they reel off some suspect 50s slang. They’re definitely back to the annoying phase now that grumpy old Mickey is gone. Everything’s bright and vibrant, even the grade seems noticeably more Technicolor than usual, which serves to place a barrier between the audience and the aciton, making it harder for us to care because it all feels artificial and detached from reality.

* Cockney Hitler dad is a bit over the top, and is an irredeemable tosser – no shades of grey to be seen, and some of the dialogue reminded me of Gatiss’s earlier work, specifically Legz Akimbo’s take on kitchen sink dramas. If they’d have left it at The Doctor and Rose admonishing him, it would have been worth it for the nice bit of patriarchy smashing on a Saturday afternoon. But instead, his comeuppance is spread out over the course of the episode, and it just gets in the way of this week’s monster story.

* Aside from when they gang up against Cockney Hitler, The Doctor and Rose are both better when they’re apart at the moment. Rose gets to play the lead role for a while when she’s confronting and interrogating Magpie, and things are beginning to look up. Then she loses her face, which is careless of her, and so The Doctor gets all angry and teams up with Cockney Hitler’s son. He’s played by someone that I used to work with – it was years after this episode was made, and while I knew in the back of my mind that he’d been in Who, I failed to recognise him until I saw his name in the credits. I can only conclude that the costume and period detail had a transformative effect.

* “Hungry” is a rubbish catchphrase for a monster, “The Wire” is a rubbish name and her power is to turn everyone into Holly from Red Dwarf. I should be all over a villain based on an in-vision continuity announcer, and Maureen Lipman doesn’t do a bad job, but the character is so thin and inconsequential.

* It all becomes very cheesey towards the end. The dashboard-mounted camera in Magpie’s van reminded me of Marion & Geoff, and the long, drawn-out climbs to the top of the Ally Pally transmitter took forever. “It’s closedown, I’m afraid, and no epilogue.” Oh, shut up, you tit. Extra points for The Doctor’s use of Betamax and the action taking place on “Florizel Street”, but very little else in the plus column.

RATING: 5