Thursday, December 27, 2007

Doctor Who: Voyage of the Damned

Another Christmas, another Doctor Who Special ... after one year it was a tradition, after two years it was expected, and as far as the ratings go, over 12 million people tuned in to watch the Doctor and Kylie go through their paces this year.

But what of the production ... any good? A television classic? Or something best forgotten? The word that came to mind for me was 'anodyne' ... fairly bland and unmemorable. Not horrendous or awful, but not spectacular or classic either. To be honest all of the Christmas specials have fallen into this bracket for me ... something nice and light for Christmas day, but which fail to really have any meat or bite to them.

I think part of the reason for this is the way that the production team approaches them - as a special, rather than as a great piece of drama. The first one was David Tennant's first full outing as the Doctor and so had a lot to prove. All the messing about with Sycorax in giant spacecraft was incidental in that regard. Last year and we had the dire Catherine Tate to contend with - screaming out that she was Catherine Tate (ie unfunny and unable to act) in every scene and really distracting from the lightweight but chokka with meaningless technobabble plot about giant spiders, plug holes and secret bases under the Thames. And this year we get Kylie Minogue overshadowing everything else.

First and foremost though, we have to deal with the cliffhanger ending from last season ... the Titanic crashing through the inner wall of the TARDIS. The Doctor just presses some buttons and it's all sorted. A little anti-climactic really and nothing to do with the plot as a whole. Just a mcguffin to get the Doctor onto the ship, which turns out to be a space cruiser rather than the real mccoy, visiting the Earth as a sort of holiday jaunt for a bunch of aliens (shades of 'Delta and the Bannermen' there). Unlike the aliens in 'Delta' though, these all look totally human. All, that is, with the exception of a red spiky conker-like creature called Bannakaffalatta. There's no explanation for this, nor that, despite having researched Earth history to the extent of having authentic period details in the outfits, music, food, culture, Christmas, as well as the Titanic herself, they don't actually seem to know a thing about the actual Earth, having a strange (and faintly amusing) hybrid mish mash of facts, fiction and myth all rolled together and accepted as fact by the tour guide (Clive Swift in a winning role as Mr Copper).

The plot unfolds. For obscure reasons the Captain (a nice cameo from Geoffrey Palmer) attracts some flaming meteoroids to the ship, smashing into it and making it 'sink'. At the same time, the android 'Hosts' - speaking information points - turn bad and start killing all the humans. Now we're into 'The Robots of Death' territory, though not handled nearly as well. And how did they know that the meteoroids would be there anyway?

The Doctor and his merry band of friends (waitress Astrid Peth, Foon and Morvin Van Hoff, Bannakaffalatta, Copper, and the boorish Rickston Slade (is that another veiled Christmas reference ... Slade?)) have to make their way to the ship's Bridge to try and save the day while being attacked by Host, having to cross a chasm on a rickety bridge, and with people dying all around them.

Some of the deaths were very underplayed, and I felt it was perhaps a little too dark for Christmas. Foon and Morvin were established as a very likable couple with some great character writing by Russell T Davies, and believable performances from Debbie Chazen and Clive Rowe. But then they both die. Quite suddenly and nastily, and without even any build up to the event. I found it a little shocking. Then little Bannakaffalatta dies as well ... but he was a cyborg and apparently the planet Stole, from where the Titanic came, is intolerant of cyborgs. So why have human-looking androids as information points then? What sort of society develops a technology to be able to create the Host and then fails to use any part of it to improve the lot of their members? Strange.

So the Doctor gets himself captured and heads down to Deck 31 to confront whatever is behind all this. I did wonder if the ship should have had more decks, and then this could have been on D84 rather than D31 (making another nice in-joke to 'The Robots of Death' - one of the Host's hands being sliced off by the door was another such reference). The Doctor discovers that Max Capricorn, the owner of the Titanic, is behind it all - and he's nothing but a head being kept alive by cybernetics. His plan is to get back at his board by making his company go bust through bad publicity while he retires to an island somewhere. He has an impact chamber to hide in and men to rescue him from the ruins of the Earth after the crash. But why bother? Why be on the ship at all? But then Kylie to the rescue and she drives a fork lift truck into Max and eventually pushes him over into the chasm, following him down herself.

All very sad and all that ... but why didn't she jump free at the last moment? Why did the Host then obey the Doctor (and I winced at the angels escorting the Doctor up to the Bridge, complete with Superman-like clenched fists punching the air) ... since when was the Doctor the second in command to Max ... and since when was Max second in command to the ship's captain? What sort of command structure do these androids follow? Thinking further about it, why didn't the Doctor send a Host down to try and rescue Astrid? And why did he give up so easily on using the teleport system to re-create her?

The Doctor saves the day and manages to pilot the damaged ship down through the Earth's atmosphere (no explanation as to how it stayed intact through the heat of re-entry), narrowly missing Buckingham Palace, and then up into space again (and for a craft to exit the Earth's atmosphere you need an incredible amount of power ... that ship must have some thrust in its engines!)

And that's about it really. Kylie was pretty good as Astrid. She had some nice lines, and flirted with the Doctor well. I was almost sad that she didn't survive the story - but her being turned into stardust was cute beyond reason. I almost wish they had gone with the rumours. That Astrid being an anagram of TARDIS and Peth meaning 'thing' in Welsh, suggesting that she would become a TARDIS, or part of it at least, in something reminiscent of Lawrence Miles' groundbreaking work in the 1990s range of BBC paperback books. Maybe this is what is yet to happen - her TARDIS-blue pixie dust could merge with the TARDIS as it leaves the Titanic.

The other actors were okay with perhaps the worst being Russell Tovey as Midshipman Frame, who reminded me all the time of Lee Evans who played a similar role in The Fifth Element. Jimmy Vee was great as the conker-headed Bannakaffalatta, even if he refers to himself in the third person when he speaks ... no race does that!

There's a cameo from Bernard Cribbins as a newspaper seller in Camden ... what was that all about? If London has been evacuated then why man a stall selling newspapers ... and what newspapers is he selling anyway? London is evacuated so there's no-one to write, print or distribute them. Maybe he hopes the Queen will stop by and buy one. Speaking of which, that whole sequence was just embarrasing ... the Queen, corgis ... 'thank you Doctor' (voiced by Jessica Martin who played a werewolf called Mags in the story 'The Greatest Show in the Galaxy') ... no ... not clever, just cringeworthy.

So overall, while the 71 minutes passed by fairly painlessly - I even quite enjoyed the revamped theme music which sounds like the old theme played by a heavy rock ensemble - it was all a bit bland and non-eventful. The touches to the original series stories were nice (I spotted bits of 'Planet of Evil' and 'Earthshock' in the mix as the kitchen staff were massacred, and there's probably lots more as well), but when 'The Robots of Death' is superior in just about every way to this modern version then you know that something is not quite right. I also found myself playing spot the merchandise opportunity, with characters leaping off the screen and into the toyshops. Astrid with tray accessory, Astrid in fork life truck, Max in his box, Doctor in tuxedo, Bannkaffalatta with removable shirt and EMP device, a host of Host with removable halos, Host Halo Frisbys ... With this in mind, though, it is very strange that there weren't more background aliens present on the ship - a wasted opportunity to bring in a pile more creatures for turning into action figures perhaps, or a deliberate attempt to try and rein the temptation back?

To try and summarise it is a little like trying to hold a snowflake in your hand ... it was nice to look at, rolled by quite well, but if you try and look closer at just about any aspect, it all comes apart at the seams.

Sunday, December 09, 2007


I made my first trip to Chicago a couple of weeks back, to the Doctor Who convention held there each year, Chicago TARDIS. It was a fun trip all told. Getting to the airport was a complete pain though. The trip should take about 30 mins, or around 1 hour maximum, but on this particular morning it took 1 hour 45 mins to get there! The traffic was insane!!! When I eventually arrived, which was still an hour and a half or so before the plane left, the first thing I discovered was that the Virgin flight was not a Virgin flight any longer and was actually going to be on American Airlines as Virgin had 'mislaid' their plane and it was in Bombay or somewhere like that. How can you mislay a plane? And it was leaving an hour later. So I headed off to the AA booking desks and managed to get a window seat (luckily, as initially there wasn't one, but then in the departure lounge they managed to move people about a bit and I got the seat I wanted). I like to sit there as I can lean against the wall slightly and it's a little less claustrophobic than the other seats. Then, on the plane, to add insult to injury, I discovered that AA don't serve alcohol free with meals, you have to pay for it ... it's all free on Virgin and apparently they were supposed to give us vouchers. So I stuck with orange juice and water when I could have really done with a nice glass of red wine with my meal ... But the flight was OK and arrived the expected hour late - I had managed to ring Rosemary from the airport and asked her to email the people meeting me to warn them that I was on a different flight and arriving an hour later on - and all was well. I was picked up and driven to the hotel where I checked in fine and dumped my stuff in the room. On Thursday evening I went out with a couple of friends to a restaurant called Harry Caray's where we had an extensive Thanksgiving meal. Harry Caray was a Baseball commentator and this place is quite famous in Chicago apparently. The food was lovely but as usual in the US, there was way too much of it to eat - the turkey portion was 4 massive slices, each a cm thick and about 15cm diameter ... but the sides were lovely - stuffings and cranberry and bread sauce and all manner of things - a meal in themselves! One of my friends decided that we should have some champagne for the meal as well which was most welcome, and when we had finished it all came to about £15 equivalent each!!! The exchange rate is very friendly to us Brits in the US at the moment. Then it was back to the hotel and sleep ... Friday was spent shopping. I met up with friends in the morning and we headed off by taxi to a local mall where we spent most of the morning and early afternoon shopping. I got a pile of DVDs, and various other Christmas presents for people as well. We stopped by a Borders for a coffee as well ... then back to the hotel for the start of the convention, some panels and the opening ceremony. I hooked up with more friends for the evening and enjoyed drinks and the most massive take-away Chicago pizza pies for dinner, and then we headed off to several room parties where I chatted to people and made new friends :) About midnight I think I crashed and headed off to bed. Saturday was Convention day and so I spent the day chatting with friends, did a couple of panels, and generally relaxing. It was a nice convention, friendly and with a good mix of panels and people. Apparently numbers were down on usual as there wasn't a Doctor-actor as a guest, but it was still very friendly and enjoyable. The main guest was Eric Roberts but it transpired that he was stuck in Bulgaria on a film shoot and the weather had snowed off the planes. He eventually managed to arrive Saturday afternoon and gamely met people and did a panel and signed things for everyone without a murmer of complaint. What a star! He must have been so tired and jet lagged ... not to mention all the waiting around at the airport to get the plane in the first place. In the evening I went out to the Theatre to the Steppenwolf theatre to see a brilliant play called Wedding Play (you can see a review here: Very interesting and well acted and with some excellent use of sound and lighting ... I was very impressed as were the people I saw it with. From there it was back to the hotel for more drinks and parties and chatting ... this time until about 3am when I finally went to bed! Sunday and generally a quiet day at the convention ... more wandering and chatting to people, some panels and then goodbyes to all your friends which is always sad. I bid farewell to my new friends and then hit the bar for an evening with those staying over. Went to bed about midnight again when the bar closed ... Monday morning and I'd arranged to spend most of the day with another friend called Michael. He picked me up about 9.30 and we drove to his apartment in the middle of Chicago. His place had stunning views over the city - really nice to see. We were also looking after his baby daughter Vera and we went out for a long walk taking in the museum, the park, a vast sculpture called the Bean and took in a nice coffee and brunch along the way as well. We even stopped for a drink at the legendary House of Blues :) though it was nice and quiet when we were there - and Vera was asleep in her stroller. After my whirlwind tour of the city, Michael delivered me to the airport to catch the flight back to England which again all went smoothly - except for a potential panic where I realised I had been seated in a window seat but next to the fattest man alive! Luckily the plane was less than half full and so I managed to get a different window seat to myself. It was also a night flight, but only took 6 hours because of the gulf stream running in the right direction - it took around 8 hours to get there. Overall I had a great time, managed to relax and get some shopping done. Met friends old and new and hopefully will be returning next year when there is a Doctor in attendance ... For more details on Chicago TARDIS head to:

Sunday, October 21, 2007


A quick update on some forthcoming happenings ... First of all, next Saturday (27th October), I'm heading down to Portsmouth to see the very wonderful stage production of The Daleks' Master Plan. I was at their presentations of Fury from the Deep, The Web of Fear and Evil of the Daleks and I know it will be a wonderful show. Before the presentation, I'm MCing a mini-con for them, and interviewing folks like Terry Molloy, Nick Briggs and Rob Shearman ... should be fun. I think tickets are all sold out, but you might be lucky on one of the shows if they have any returns. Then, Saturday after that (3rd November), I'm holding a launch for The Target Book, a new illustrated tome by mygoodself about the amazing Target Book range. Everyone's welcome to come along to meet myself and co-author Tim Neal, along with top Target scribe Terrance Dicks, plus as many Target cover artists, editors and writers as we can cram into the venue including Andrew Skilleter, Nigel Robinson, Tony Clark, Colin Howard, Jeff Cummins and hopefully many more. The venue is Mr Pickwick's, 70 Leman Street, London E1 8EU. Nearest Tube stations are Tower Hill and Aldgate East. The event starts at 3pm on Saturday 3rd November. Then I'm signing copies of the book, alongside fourth Doctor Tom Baker, and actress Nichola McAuliffe ('Vivien Rook' in the Doctor Who episode 'The Sound of Drums') on Monday 5th November at The Stamp Centre, 79 Strand, London WC2R 0DE. The signing event starts at around 10:00am. Finally, end of November and I'm heading out to Chicago for the annual Chicago TARDIS convention. Never been to that before so I'm looking forward to seeing some of the city, and meeting as many people as I can at the event.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Audio Who

I a massive fan of Doctor Who on Audio, and also, of course, a fan of the old Target books ... so I was especially pleased to see that those lovely people at BBC Audio have a Myspace Page now all about the titles. There's even an excerpt from the forthcoming reading of Doctor Who and the Doomsday Weapon on there :)

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Silent Hill

Regular readers will know that I have a penchant for horror, and try and keep up with as much as I can.

I'm not a great fan of the current batch of 'torture porn' as I've seen it imaginatively described - where pretty young boys and girls end up trapped and being tortured for no apparent reason. I've not yet seen Saw, which is where this all seemed to start, but I'm told that Saw at least has a decent plot and premise behind it. And follow that with Hostel, sequels to both Saw and Hostel, and several other riffs on the same theme, and it all seems a little stale. I know, not having seen the films, I'm not qualified to comment, and yet there's nothing in what I have seen about them which makes me want to see them in the first place.

However, what I really wanted to talk about was a film I picked up on DVD lately called Silent Hill. I'd seen some pics and features about it when it came out, and it intrigued me, but to be honest there wasn't much of a buzz about it, and I don't recall anyone reviewing it who was blown away.

Well, I loved it! It's the same with several films that really get to me - I love them but I can't put my finger on why, apart from that they are imaginative, well shot, have some great monsters, and just draw you in.

Silent Hill managed all these for me. It's based on a computer game apparently, but I've not played that, and follows the adventures of a woman called Rose who is trying to find her lost daughter in a ghost town called Silent Hill. The mist-shrouded town seems cut off from the outside world, and ash falls constantly from the sky. Every so often, a siren sounds and darkness falls, and then, in the darkness, monsters emerge to hunt, and the whole place rots and putrifies before your eyes.

There are some great CGI effects in here, the town literally rotting away before your eyes. Then there's the monsters. Mind boggling visions of red hot baby-like creatures mewling and shuffling in chase, an armless man-like creature which spews red hot acid-like material from a hole in it's chest, and a huge, hulking muscular man in a giant triangular steel mask who can literally rip your skin from your body! Some of these are enhanced by CGI, but by and large the creatures are real, created by actors, prosthetics and make-up and this is in itsself very refreshing.

I don't want to say too much as the film is expert at drawing you in and along, and the explanations come right at the end. It is a little clunky that they are all told/explained in more or less a single sequence, but I found myself nodding and smiling as I figured out how it all fitted together. The denoument is well crafted and freakily original, and the film even has a thought provoking ending.

One of the best parts for me came when Rose has to pass down a corridor full of nightmare 'dark nurses' - faceless bandage-swathed woman in ripped and torn grey nurses outfits who home in on light and sound, and who are intent on stopping Rose. Their jerky, twitchy movements are awesome and reminded me of the horrific ballet dancers in the video for Christina Aguilera's 'Fighter' - the ones who approach moth-Christina with giant pins ...

I enjoyed the imagery and the originality of the designs - far better than something generic and way above using pure blood and guts to get an audience reaction. Overall one of the better films I've enjoyed lately

There's an official site: so go and have a look at some of the visuals. However the site does give a lot away about the film, and I feel it's something perhaps best experienced with little advance information as to what happens.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Doctor Who - Last of the Time Lords

And so we come to the final episode ... the one that it's all been leading to. I'll add some final thoughts at the end of this piece, but for the moment, we pick up where we left things last week ... well almost.

It's one year later and the show opens with a graphic and a voice telling us that Sol 3 is 'closed' ... I wondered where this was coming from and why? From the last episode, it's obvious that first contact has yet to be established as the business with the Toclafane spheres was big news ... so who has decided that Earth has reached terminal extinction?

Cue Martha, who arrives in England in a boat. It's the first time she's been back for 365 days ... and I wonder how she got away from England so quickly anyway. It would take a few days to reach the coast from London, and who in their right mind would be sailing ships/flying planes while the Toclafane wiped out a tenth of the population! Maybe she is very resourceful indeed. We are told she walked across America ... is that even possible with limited supplies ... and how long would it take? And as if that wasn't enough she's been in Japan and all over ... this is stretching my credibility somewhat.

But she has returned to seek out Professor Docherty ... not sure why just yet ...

Meanwhile the Master hasn't really been busy at all. He's still on his skybase. His wife looks even more drugged up (and has a rather nice red dress on) and looks as though she has been beaten - she has a bruise on her cheek. The aged Doctor lives in a tent with some grass under it and a dog bowl and Martha's family all work on the skybase while Jack is chained up. The Master also enjoys music by The Scissor Sisters ...

It's 24 hours to launch date and the Doctor and Martha's family plot a coup at 3pm ... we learn about the rockets being built to fire into space ... to destroy what? Martha mentions it's to create an intergalactic war ... but they would take days, years even to reach anything worth destroying ... so what is the point of it? These was something about opening rifts to go through but it's all very confused. The Master is plainly insane so maybe it doesn't have to make any sense. Would be nice though.

The Doctor's coup predictably fails as the Master's laser screwdriver is isomorphic (and the fanboys sigh with pleasure). To rub this in we get the Axons and Sea Devils namechecked as well. The Master transmits a message for Martha ... and by an amazing coincidence she and Tom have just arrived at Docherty's, and Docherty has just managed to get a TV working ... to the second! While Martha watches the Master blasts the Doctor again with his laser and the Doctor is bizarrely changed into a Gollum or Dobby-like character with tiny shrunken body, big head and large puppydog eyes. By this point I was watching with mouth agape, having no idea what was going on and why Doctor Who seemed to have turned into some sort of collision between The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. The CGI on the Dobby-Doc was amazing though. But why!!!!

Martha, Tom and Professor Docherty capture a Toclafane sphere using some information Martha has on a CD and discover that inside it is a face. It transpires that these creatures are actually the future of Mankind - they are the remains of the humans sent off to Utopia by the Doctor. This was a nice touch and neatly tied up that loose end - but why did they evolve into faces and change so much! How long did all this take? Especially as the Master could not travel in time - as stated a couple of times, all he could do was to go from the year 100 trillion to 2007 ... so how could he possibly have influenced humanity to become hi-tech flying balls so quickly? Incidentally, the BBC site points out that 'Toclafane' roughly translates to 'Fool the Fan' in French ... I wonder who was trying to fool who here?

Now we discover that the Master is trying to create a new Gallifrey. I'm not sure how or why, or why firing lots of missiles into space helps that, nor how releasing millions of Toclafane spheres onto the Earth helps as well ...

Martha tells Docherty about her secret gun to defeat the Master which needs a fourth chemical from North London ... while she and Tom head off to get it, Docherty reports them to the Master as he is holding her son hostage.

So the Master arrives as Martha is telling some humans in North London about the Doctor, and she gives herself up. Tom is predictably killed which is a shame as he was quite a nice character, as was Docherty. I like how the series has presented several great older characters - Doctor Constantine and Mrs Moore spring to mind as well as Docherty here.

So back on the Skybase and we're nearing endgame. As the Master's countdown to launch approaches zero, Martha explains that she told everyone about the Doctor and asked them to think his name when the countdown reached zero ... aside from the fact that the Master seems to be making his plan up as he goes along, there was no mention of a countdown and so how would the Doctor or Martha know there would be one, and how does everyone worldwide know when it will reach zero anyway? The idea is that the Archangel network of satellites will boost this thought power and allow the Doctor to restore himself as he has hooked himself into the Archangel network.

And lo it came to pass. The people of Earth prayed for their saviour to the Archangel and he rose again. Floating arms outstretched to forgive the Master ... In the chaos the Toclafane go to protect the paradox and Jack heads off to destroy the thing ... the Doctor and the Master transport to a clifftop for no reason where the Master wants to use more technobabble and black holes to wipe the world out, but the Doctor knows he won't succeed as he can't kill himself.

Jack manages to get past the whole three Toclafane defending the TARDIS (where were the rest?) and starts blasting away with a machine gun inside the TARDIS - didn't the Doctor say they couldn't do this in the last episode? He destroys the paradox machine and the Doctor and the Master are brought back on the skybase as a wind blows and time rolls back.



You do not write good science fiction by rolling time back at the end. What a total waste of time. It makes a mockery of everything Doctor Who has always stood for. Total and utter rubbish.

So the Doctor wants to keep the Master in his TARDIS but, after Francine cannot shoot him, Lucy Saxon does. The Master dies in the Doctor's arms as he refuses to regenerate. We get more mentions of Axons and Daleks (that's three mentions of the Axons in two episodes ... a clue there perhaps?).

As if we cared any more, the Doctor burns the Master's body on a pyre ... why? This seems to be the question of the episode. Why? Nothing is really explained and we don't really care anymore anyway. Martha also gives Docherty a bunch of flowers for something she never did and never will do ... why?

Finally (almost) Jack returns to Torchwood and the Doctor disables his teleport. The final shot across the bows is the intimation that Jack is, in fact, the Face of Boe. Shaking my head in disbelief and cries of 'What!' from my family ... this was the final nail in the coffin of silliness which was this final episode. And then Martha decides not to travel on with the Doctor proving the newspapers correct and the BBC barefaced liars.

As if all the preceeding nonsense wasn't bad enough, we then cut to the embers of the Master's pyre and a female hand (well I assume it's female ... could be Eddie Izzard for all I know, which would actually be far more likely given the way the series is going) picks up the Master's ring - an artifact previously unmentioned in the episodes. Evil cackling sounds and we all intone 'The world will hear from me again' in good old Fu Manchu as this cliched and useless Flash Gordon moment plays out.

But then ... the bow of a ship crashes through the TARDIS internal wall. The Doctor is quite right to cry, 'What!' as this should be impossible. Moreover the ship appears to be the Titanic ... and the 'Next Episode' caption announces that the Christmas Episode will be called Voyage of the Damned ... I may be going mad, but I remember a panel in Doctor Who Magazine of the prow of a ship crashing through the inner wall of the TARDIS ... any ideas?

And so ends one of the most confused, unexplained and basically dreadful episodes of recent Who. I have no idea whether anyone had a clue as to what was happening, and Russell T Davies seemed to be indulging himself in anything which came to mind in order to provide a climax to a series which had been rather good up to this point.

Overall I felt that the third season was stronger than the two previous ones by quite a long way. There were a few really dud stories: I disliked Gridlock (though others loved it) and 24, the second part of the Dalek adventure was a wasted opportunity, and this final episode was very disappointing indeed. But the duds were far made up for by the genius of Smith and Jones, Blink, Human Nature, The Family of Blood and the first part of the Dalek story. David Tennant was brilliant throughout and always watchable, and Freema Ageyeman was mostly very effective as well. It's such a shame that she's not continuing though, and I feel that this decision is, like most of the final episode, poorly thought out. The series needs a 'normal' person to act as an anchor, and the news that the dreadful Catherine Tate is returning as Donna for the whole of next season fills me with dread. Tate is not an actress, she's a comedienne with a one-trick piece of shtick which won't wash for the season. She was only bearable in The Runaway Bride as she was guesting and there was lots of other things to see ... but to be stuck with her for a whole 13 weeks!

It's not just me as well ... friends who are not fans think this is an awful idea as well ... it's the equivalent of Bonnie Langford all over again! For thoughts on that, head over to Lawrence Miles' Doctor Who blog at where he eloquently sums up my thoughts on the whole situation far better than I could.

So overall ... a great season but with a cop out and ill prescribed ending. Allowing the effects and ideas to get in the way of the plot ... fatal for what is after all a drama series, and which needs to make sense.

Doctor Who - The Sound of Drums

First of all, apologies for the delay in posting up my thoughts of the last couple of episodes of this year's Doctor Who. The real world intruded in that my sister decided to get married on the same day as Last of the Time Lords meaning that the family had to take a trip up to Glasgow for the event - this being the same weekend as the airport there was hit by failed bombers, and the same weekend as Britain was drenched and flooded for the first time ... so I was quite pleased we travelled by train all told.

We managed to see the final episode in the hotel room, though, but then back to drinking and festivities all night. Then the following weekend, there was more things to do and sort out ... and you know how it goes.

Anyway, I've finally managed to make the time to sit down and re-watch the final two episodes again, and so here's the first of the reviews.

The Sound of Drums starts with something I thought we'd seen the back of ... a fake cliffhanger resolution. We had left the Doctor, Martha and Jack facing off against a group of cannibalistic humans in the year 100 trillion as the Master nicked the TARDIS. Yet here we start with our trio arriving on Earth. They used Jack's transporter device and what a useful McGuffin this is. Able to transport them 100 trillion years when even the Doctor was alarmed about the TARDIS going so far forward in the last episode.

One of the things about the final episodes is that they move at such a pace that you can't really take it all in. I found that I enjoyed them more a second time as I could pick up on more of the nuances, but it makes trying to write the plot down near impossible! Anyway, I'll do my best. On Earth, Harold Saxon is now Prime Minister and he is also the Master as Martha now realises. And her sister Tish is working for him (poor girl doesn't have a lot of luck does she). The Master gasses all the cabinet members and we start to get the impression that he is not in full possession of all his marbles.

His wife, Lucy, is the female equivalent of Tim Nice-But-Dim and comes over as very cowed but totally devoted to the Master. I wish he had hypnotised her at some point - like when the Jean Rook-alike journalist is slaughtered by the Toclafane sphere - as then we might have had a reason for her trance-like behaviour. I guess we just have to imagine what he might have done to her mind.

So the Master is using these Toclafane spheres (a name that is made up, apparently some sort of Gallifreyan boogieman) to pretend he has been contacted by aliens. He's also somehow able to plant a massive bomb in Martha's apartment which blows up at a convenient moment as the Doctor, Jack and Martha flee for their lives. Nice effects, but it's all a little convenient.

Martha is more than a little pissed at this, but her family is taken into custody by Saxon's men in short shrift and she's on her own. The Doctor uses her phone to talk to the Master and we get bags of backstory ... Time War, Daleks, Torchwood team gone to the Himalayas ... and then we see the Master watching TellyTubbies in a nice reflection of the scene in The Sea Devils where he watches Clangers ... a Toclafane sphere says the Darkness is coming ... what Darkness? Is this the end of all things in the far future? Or the same thing they were going on about in Torchwood? Or are they looking forward to seeing Justin Hawkins and his band on tour?

More continuity - I feel the spirit of JNT looming! - the Master is not the Doctor's brother. Excuse me ... you seem to have confused me with someone who cared! I'm afraid that this sort of fannish referencing is a little lame ... why bother to even mention it? It's as though someone has a checklist of Mastery things and they just have to tick them all off. Next we'll have references to previous adventures with Axons and ... oh ... we do have those. Check. What about the Master as a boy on Gallifrey ... check. We have to have those nifty Time Lord collars in ... check. What about a time portal ... have to have a time portal ... check. Sighs

So the child Master looked into the total perspective vortex and saw the whole of creation ... and it drove him mad and he now hears drumming all the time (and the drumming is never explained). But they also said that all young Gallifreyans look into the vortex as part of their initiation ... so why is only the Master driven bad and mad?

Now the Doctor gets all A-Team and builds some TARDIS keys with somebody-else's-problem fields in them so their wearers are not seen, and the team head off to watch what's happening.

The Master meanwhile assembles everyone on Valiant - a skybase nicked from Colonel White and Spectrum - and the President of the US is killed by a Toclafane. The Doctor, Jack and Martha use the transporter to get there - a very useful device indeed - and find that the Master has converted the TARDIS into a paradox machine (a what?). All hell breaks loose after the President is killed and the Doctor, Martha and Jack are uncovered. The Master uses the power of referencing another story (The Lazarus Experiment) to age the Doctor into someone we saw in The Family of Blood.

Are you still with me. The problem with all this is that it feels so ... so unoriginal. We saw an aged Doctor in The Family of Blood, and there it was a shock and felt right. Here it feels like they loved the make up so much they just had to use it again. And the first incarnation of the Doctor was something like 450 years old when he regenerated, so why would adding 100 years to the Doctor now make him age so dramatically? I guess we just have to go with the flow.

So the Master keys his favourite pop record to play, 'Voodoo Child' by Rogue Traders, and as they sing out about the Sound of Drums, so Mrs Saxon bops cutely, and the Toclafane spheres descend from a rip in the sky. Again, we've seen this before. There were the Daleks descending on the Earth to wipe it out, then the Cybermen, then the Daleks and the Cybermen ... it all feels old when it should feel new and exciting.

Martha listens as the Doctor whispers something to her, and then escapes with that handy transporter as the Toclafane start to decimate the Earth, killing one in ten of the populace. Standing on a hill, overlooking a devastated London, she vows to return.

Meanwhile the Master is getting all biblical (foreshadowing how this all ends) and mis-quotes from Genesis as he and his wife and the Doctor look down on the Earth ... cue the credits.

So ... an exciting episode yes, but one which increasingly felt as though the show had started to go off the rails. There was little that we hadn't seen before, and scenes reminded me of similar set ups in any number of earlier stories. The whole thing was suffused with backstory and menky bits of information about Gallifrey, Time Lords, the Master, techno-stuff about mobile phone networks (didn't Lumic use that trick?) and Paradox Machines (unexplained), Jack's super-transporter which seems better than a TARDIS, and keys which make you invisible ...

However it sets up some nice mysteries - who or what the Toclafane are for example, that could have potential. How the Doctor and Martha get out of the mess they are in, and whether the Master actually has some sort of plan or whether he is just completely barking mad.

Only one episode to go ...

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Who is the Greatest Who

While you patiently wait for me to find time to pen words about the climax to the recent Who season - it's getting there! - have a look at Where you can vote for your favourite TV Doctor. There's also a Doctor Who weekend on the 14/15 July with several great stories being shown on the UKTV Drama channel. Check it out David

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Time Factor

Profuse apologies for a lack of review for last week's Doctor Who episode ... basically the weekend was taken up with collecting son from Uni, and then tidying the house. Evenings this week are mental, and next weekend is also completely occupied with stuff. So the chances are that The Sound of Drums and Last of the Time Lords won't be reviewed for a couple of weeks yet ... Sorry about that but sometimes the real world intrudes ...

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Doctor Who - Utopia

I feel so torn by Utopia. On the one hand, I really enjoyed it. It's exciting and gripping and rattles along at a great pace. It hit all the fannish buttons in me: the Master returning, but also the tremendous pace and the ending. But it also has little or no plot, and, in common with many of the episodes written by Russell T Davies, seems to exist solely to acheieve an objective: in this case to introduce the Master to a new audience. But I'm not sure it even does that very well.

The opening had a very much 'been there done that' feel. Cardiff again, and the TARDIS needs to re-fuel. Again. And Captain Jack. Again. I'm not sure how he knew where the TARDIS would be though. Perhaps he has bionic hearing like Jackie and Mickey have at the start of The Christmas Invasion. He races for the ship, and in a moment which must have had evil bus drivers the world over clapping with joy, although the Doctor sees him on the monitor, he takes off anyway. Leaving poor Jack clinging to the side of the TARDIS as it headed through the Vortex. Hmmm. Not sure about that. Visually great, but not really explained and not in keeping with what we've heard about the Vortex before.

Anyway ... Jack's presence sends the TARDIS hurtling into the distant distant future. Again. But this time they arrive on the planet Malcassero - a deserted and decidedly quarry-like place. I half expected to see a bunch of extras from Blake's 7 there. Malnourished and tribal, dressed in the remnants of their costumes and managing to somehow survive ... hang on ... there they are! And they're chasing a human.

Said human is naturally rescued by the Doctor, Jack and Martha and they all race to somewhere called the Silo. There they gain entry and the ragged outsiders, with their pointy teeth clashing, are locked out. But what is young laddo doing running about out there anyway? Everyone else is in the Silo, patiently waiting to board the rocket to take them to Utopia, the promised land. It seems that the pointy toothed ones eat humans ... well they must be pretty starving then as there's not much evidence of them out there!

In the Silo is Professor Yana and his assistant, the insect Malmouth, called Chantho. The Professor is trying to get the rocket working but is failing to do so. So the Doctor helps and before you can say 'reverse the polarity' he has buzzed with his sonic screwdriver and it's all fixed. But first, five lever things have to be set in a room full of deadly radiation. I get it. This place was designed by the same committee who did Platform 5 and that spacecraft from 42. It's the only explanation as to why the radiation can't be turned off, or even why the switches are in a lethal zone anyway.

Handy Jack gets it sorted though - there are advantages to being immortal - but meanwhile Martha discovers that the Professor has a fob watch the same as the one the Doctor stored his Time Lord self in a couple of episodes earlier. This was a lovely touch. Very unexpected. Of course it points towards the Professor being a Time Lord ... perhaps even the Doctor!

But it's obvious something is up. The voice the Professor hears is evil and old ... and I cheered out loud when I heard a clip from The Daemons in there of Roger Delgado's distinctive voice ... we know what's coming.

The Professor opens the watch and becomes his Time Lord persona ... that of the Master! I liked the idea of the Professor's name relating to the Face of Boe's message 'You Are Not Alone'. Y. A. N. A. Very clever.

Now, all avid fans know who the Master is. We know the history and everything. But new viewers don't. He's just a bad guy. Another Time Lord admittedly, but that's about all we know. Put it like this, if it wasn't the Master, and was someone called Askwith, would it have made any difference. Nope. Hopefully we will get more of a sense of the Master and why he is special in the next couple of weeks. I just hope it doesn't involve him unexpectedly growing a goatee beard and chuckling a lot. Oh, and wearing black leather gloves.

While all this has been going on, the Doctor and Jack have allowed the rocket to take off, and race back to the Professor's lab. The Master has opened all the external gates allowing the great unwashed to enter, and so the final moments of the episode are a chaos of running, snarling, exciting music (some of which seemed to be pinched from the soundtrack to one of my favourite horror films, Phantasm) and shouting.

The Master electrocutes Chantho (Chan. Well, her stupid language was starting to get on my wick as well. Tho.) and she in turn shoots him. The Doctor recognises his old adversary, but the Master gets into the TARDIS and locks the door against the Doctor. He then regenerates into the form of John Simm. Very nicely done, but I wish it hadn't looked the same as the Doctor's regeneration ... I guess the production team was providing a reference point for the viewers though.

Simm seems far more like Tennant's Doctor, and is manic, energetic and rushing. He promptly leaves in the TARDIS after a last gloat at the Doctor over the speakers (and Martha recognises his voice) and we leave the episode with the Doctor TARDIS-less, and Jack and Martha trying to keep the tribe of Blake's 7 extras from getting through the door.

Breathless stuff.

On the utterly awesome front was Derek Jacobi. What a brilliant performance. Full of pathos and love as the Professor, and then cold and hard when the Master took over. I did sense the scenery being chewed a little in these scenes, but that's forgivable I feel. John Simm? Not enough to really tell. The only question of course being whether he is in a coma, dreaming, or really in the far future (sorry ... you have to have watched Life on Mars to get that).

On the 'a bit rubbish' side, the plot - there wasn't one. The whole Utopia thing and the savages - or futurekind - outside and the running about and snarling. Maybe Utopia is significant later on in the season - the Master did take the disk from the machine which was showing its location. Captain Jack was a bit of a wet fish, though I did like the Doctor's 'stop it!' every time Jack said hello to anyone (though quite how a blue insect girl would be attracted to a human is hard to fathom).

Overall then, a true example of style over substance. From the sublime and superbly plotted and acted adventure of Human Nature, The Family of Blood and Blink, we regress to a plotless runaround which is just crammed with great bits. Rather like an unthemed buffet meal consisting of everything you enjoy, but with no structure or menu to make palatable sense of it. I really enjoyed it, but feel that in time it won't stand up to repeated viewing.

Next week looks like some sort of party political broadcast as Mr Saxon takes centre stage ... Listen for those drums though.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Doctor Who - Blink

Blooming blinking brilliant! That was the verdict on this latest episode of Who. An absolutely cracking story, simple and yet really effective in all the right ways. Steven Moffat pulled out all the stops to present something scary and creepy, and the direction and acting combined to make it totally rivetting from beginning to end.

The opening is awesome. Sally Sparrow is exploring an old house called Wester Drumlins and sees a message written on the wall, behind the wallpaper, telling her to beware the weeping angel, and to duck! A rock thrown through the window narrowly misses her ... and she sees that the message is from the Doctor.

Aside from idly wondering who threw the rock! When the Angels are not creeping up on people at the speed of light, do they bung stones at people for a laugh? It's only in retrospect that this makes little sense. As does the idea of the Doctor knowing where to write his message, knowing that it will be seen by Sally at that moment ... it's all a little contrived. But it doesn't really matter as the episode is just so good.

Sally is intrigued and so gets her flatmate Kathy Nightingale to come with her back to the house. The Angels approach and Kathy abruptly finds herself transported from London 2007, to Hull 1920! What a brilliant concept: aliens who kill you simply by sending you back in time to die naturally! It's all so well handled too. Kathy's grandson delivering the letter from Kathy to Sally at the same time as Kathy vanishes. Sally goes looking for Kathy but just finds one of the stone statue Angels with a yale key in its hand, which she takes.

I loved with a passion the way the statue changed position behind her. The editing and direction of this episode is awesome, with tension ratchetting all the time, and the Angels a very sinister and creepy presence.

Sally now goes to see Kathy's brother, Larry, who works in a DVD store, and we find that the Doctor is an 'Easter Egg' extra on 17 different and apparently unrelated DVDs. He is apparently holding one side of a conversation, but the other side is unknown so it all seems a little meaningless. More clever ideas from Moffat here, and the idea of the Doctor being a hidden DVD extra is again fun and fitting.

Sally goes to the Police, and meets Billy, a young black copper who takes a shine to her and asks for her number. However the Police have a car park full of cars abandoned outside the old house ... and the TARDIS is there also. When Sally has gone, however, the Angels approach the box, and Billy is transported back to 1969 where he meets the Doctor and Martha. They get him to take a message to Sally in 2007 ... which he delivers to her on his death bed.

Sally asks Larry to bring the Doctor's message on the DVD to the old house where they play it, and Sally is able to have a conversation with the Doctor, which Larry records in a pad ... this is how the Doctor knows what to say, and what Sally is asking him ... my mind reels with all this, but it's just so neat and clever!

But then ... the Angels attack. The Doctor explains that they are quantum locked, which means that they can only move when unobserved. So you must not take your eyes off them or even blink as then they can get you. He tells Sally that she has to get the blue police box back to them, and she eventually finds it in the cellar, surrounded by the Angels. She and Larry hurry to use the key she has to get in, but the Angels make the light fail, and in the flashes of darkness, they close in.

Finalls, Sally and Larry get inside and are safe, but a hologram of the Doctor appears and asks them to place the DVD in the console to activate it. They do this, and the ship dematerialises from around them! They are surrounded by the Angels ... but are safe as the creatures are all now looking at each other and so will remain stone forever.

I loved the simplicity and cleverness of this solution. However I'm sure that someone will move the statues eventually and they will be able to escape somehow ...

Now we flash forward a year, and Sally has been unable to get over the events. She has all the information, transcript, photographs in a folder ... and suddenly she sees the Doctor and Martha outside the DVD shop which she now owns with Larry - they are just friends.

She talks to the Doctor, but in a genius stroke, the adventure has not happened to him yet. She gives him the file of information and he and Martha rush off to whatever adventure they are having ... This is lovely ... really lovely. But do you know what I would have loved. I would have adored there to have been a scene in, maybe The Lazarus Experiment, where, from Martha's point of view, we saw the Doctor talking to Sally, and not know what it was all about ...

The problem for me is that, as with Love & Monsters, we catch a glimpse of an adventure which is not 'real' in as much as we've not seen it on TV. Of course the business with arrows and reptiles might be in a future story, but I severely doubt whether we'll see the 10th Doctor and Rose battling the Hoix anytime soon ... It would just have been nice to have seen the exchange beforehand in an earlier story, and to have, at that point, been in exactly the same position as the Doctor and Martha and not know what on earth it was all about. A small missed opportunity I feel.

And then we end with a final collage of statues ... loads and loads of statues. Imlying that any and all of them could be Weeping Angels, and that they could come and get you if you so much as blink!

I'm sure several kids went to bed eyeing any statues around carefully that night. Blink was a brilliant slice of Saturday evening entertainment and did everything that Doctor Who does at its very best. Even the fact that the Doctor's not in it very much didn't seem to matter. Carey Mulligan, playing Sally, was brilliant, bringing warmth and humanity to the part. Her reactions were spot on, from the terror, to the confusion, to the loss of her friend, to the embarrasment at Billy's flirting with her. Larry was also well played, and even Kathy and Billy were excellent. Especial kudos to Louis Mahoney playing the old Billy. He's come a long way from playing a newscaster in 1973's Frontier in Space, and Ponti in 1975's Planet of Evil.

In fact the only thing that really ruined the episode for me, was the BBC squishing the end credits into a box the size of a postage stamp, and allowing Graham Norton to shout about his show on next ... very, VERY annoying indeed. All BBC channels have apparently adopted this approach for most shows, and I really feel it is something of an abomination. If you feel strongly then maybe consider making your voice heard, and phone the BBC complaints line on 08700 100 222. I did, and who knows, maybe if enough people contact them to say that they like watching the end credits, and being able to read them, and that it spoils the mood of drama programs to have this happen at the end, and that the people involved in making the shows deserve for their names to be seen and to be readable on screen ...

Anyway ... next week we have the end of the Universe (again), Derek Jacobi, Captain Jack, and some pointy-toothed individuals in what looks like it could be a remake of The Savages ... time will tell.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Doctor Who - The Family of Blood

The two part stories have, in these new series of Doctor Who, often been the most disappointing. Adventures like Aliens of London/World War III, The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit and Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways have featured one brilliant episode, and one which was less than brilliant. However we have also had gems like Rise of the Cyberman/Age of Steel and Army of Ghosts/Doomsday where the production team seemed to get it right. And now with Human Nature/The Family of Blood, they get it so right that it seems impossible to ever top it.

As readers will know, I loved the first episode, Human Nature, and now with The Family of Blood, it all seemed to come together and gel into something cinematic in scope and which touched your heart and mind as you watched, making the audience think about what had happened as well as enjoying the scope and spectacle of it all.

We open as we left last week, with the Family threatening the lives of Martha and Joan unless the Doctor changes himself back into a Time Lord. Well Martha well and truly takes the upper hand, gaining control of a gun and getting everyone out of the church hall alive. I loved her off-hand comment to John Smith: 'God, you're rubbish as a human!' Very fitting given the circumstances. Everyone dashes back to the school where John Smith starts to rouse the boys and staff into a fighting force to see of the Family and their ambulatory scarecrows. Before the battle starts, however, the Headmaster and Phillips go out to talk to the attackers. These are great scenes, with the sounds of battle over Baines' foretelling of the War to come. But Phillips is disintegrated by the Family and the Head rushes back as battle commences.

Baines calls for more Soldiers and loads more Scarecrows arrive - all identical. How many do they have in the fields around this village? I counted at least 30 in shot, with more arriving all the time.

We have lots of great character interplay, all switched together here. The boys preparing for the fight with guns, June and John Smith trying to come to terms with what's happening and Martha trying to find the watch to restore the Doctor.

The Family start their attack and the initial phlanx of scarecrows are cut down with bullets as the school hymn plays. I felt this was a moment too far. For a start, why did the bullets affect the scarecrows at all, and the mood of the battle was, I felt, trying too hard to elicit a Blackadder the Fourth moment of poignancy which didn't work as the 'dead' were only scarecrows anyway. But the lead up, with the boys crying with fear, was brilliantly handled, and brought to mind similar moments in the middle Lord of the Rings film, The Two Towers.

It all ends when the little girl appears and disintegrates the Headmaster. Panic ensues and everyone runs again.

The Family now know they just need to get the pocket watch, and they also have the Doctor's TARDIS brought to the school to tempt the Doctor out. However the Doctor is nowhere to be seen and John Smith starts to crack under the strain. He just wants to be John Smith. This is a bravura performance from David Tennant. Absolutely believable and brilliant. Tennant is so watchable as an actor ... pure genius.

Smith, Martha and Joan head off to the Cartwright's cottage (little Lucy Cartwright is the small girl possessed by the Family) where they finally meet up with Tim who passes the watch across. These scenes feature the most poetic description of the Doctor ... 'He is like fire and ice and rage. He's like the night and the storm in the heart of the sun. He's ancient and forever. He burns at the centre of time and can see the turn of the Universe. And he's wonderful.'

This is said by Tim to John Smith as he agonises over whether to open the watch or not. Whether to return to being the Doctor or not. These are great scenes, perhaps a little long played, but necessarily so. John Smith must die if the Doctor is to live, and Smith does not want to die. He sees a flash forward of his human life as it might be ... of marriage and children ... happiness ... and then his death. And the make-up on Tennant for his old, dying frame is awesome. These are tear jerking, emotional moments, but also classic Doctor Who, making you care for the people and what's happening ... what decision would you ... could you ... make yourself?

And so it's endgame, and the most brilliant twist by writer Paul Cornell ... the Doctor was not hiding to protect himself and Martha, but to save the Family ... for when he returns (and of course we knew he would) he exacts his wrath on these alien beings in a way which is callous and cold - he gives them exactly what they wanted. This echoes the temptation posed by Rassilon in The Five Doctors, that those who wish immortality would be granted it ... at a price. But the Doctor's price is immense.

I loved the way the narrative suddenly shifted to Baines talking us through the fates of the Family members. Showing the Doctor as an implacable alien being, doing what he has to do. But cruel too, as if he had just waited, then the Family would have all died anyway. With his involvement they live forever in their own private hells.

After this, there's a sequence of endings to rival that of The Lord of the Rings. One at a time the plots and characters are wrapped up: Joan no longer wants the Doctor - her John Smith was the braver as he died to save everyone: the Doctor just had to change. Latimer sees the Doctor and Martha leave in the TARDIS, saves the older bully, Hutchinson, from a shell during the War the following year, and lives to an old age. The final scenes around the War memorial, the elderly Latimer holding his lucky watch and remembering, as the Doctor and Martha look on from a distance is awesome television. It's almost impossible not to be moved by it.

'They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old:

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning

We will remember them.'

From 'For the Fallen' by Laurence Binyon

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Doctor Who - Human Nature

What a difference a week makes. From the generic SF of 42, to something intelligent and thoughtful in Human Nature. This is why Doctor Who is the greatest show on television ... nothing else can present such differing episodes and still be the same programme!

Human Nature was written by Paul Cornell, and based on his Doctor Who novel of the same name. The novel comes highly recommended and often tops polls of peoples favourite Who novels, and so the pedigree is good for a cracking television yarn. And that's what we got!

We open with a bang ... something I'd often thought should happen but until now never did - starting a story at the tail end of an unseen one. I always liked the idea of that which is why we did it when Telos published the original Doctor Who novella Companion Piece a few years back ... but anyway ... something is after the Doctor and he has to try and escape. The details of what happen come a little later on: he uses something called a chameleon bridge to rewrite his biology and make him human. What is it with the current Doctor Who team and DNA? Barely a week goes by without something happening to mess with it. In Smith and Jones, the Judoon are detecting non-humans with DNA scanners, in The Shakespeare Code the Carrionites have DNA replicators, in Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks it's the Daleks playing with human and Dalek DNA, in The Lazarus Experiment it's all about DNA gone wrong and now we have more DNA messing about. So the Doctor is now a single-hearted human called John Smith who teaches history at a boy's public school in 1913. Martha is keeping an eye on him by posing as a servant and somehow the Doctor's personality is now held in a pocketwatch.

There are so many great things about this episode that it's hard to keep track of them all. The pacing is brilliant, introducing concepts perfectly, and managing to slowly crank up the tension all the while. The other schoolboys are a wonderful lot, with the spooky Baines and the brilliant Tim Latimer as the highlights (Thomas Sangster playing Latimer is simply awesome). The Doctor is falling for the school matron, the widower Joan Redfern, brilliantly played by Jessica Haynes, and although some of their scenes are perhaps a little mawkish for a Doctor Who audience (the kissing mainly), you had to see the Doctor (or rather John Smith) going through this to make him real to the audience. And David Tennant pulls another rabbit from the hat by managing to make Smith different from the Doctor. It's a stand out performance as usual from Tennant and he makes it all look so simple and elegant.

There are some beautiful scenes with the journal that Smith has been keeping. I felt these were wonderfully played and am I the only one who wants a 'Journal of Impossible Things' of my own?

But this is Doctor Who and any life of idyll bliss will soon be shattered. The nasty aliens arrive in their spacecraft and promptly start harvesting bodies to occupy through the services of a stack of animated scarecrows (I have assumed that the collective noun for a number of scarecrows is a stack ... sounds right anyway). I guess the aliens took the scarecrows as temporary bodies at first until they could get enough human flesh to work with. The hapless schoolboy Baines is one such body, a farmer called Clark is another, a small girl with trademark red balloon is a third, and fourth is Martha's fellow maidservant Jenny. The aliens call themselves 'the family' and are after the Time Lord for some unknown reason.

The effects throughout the story are awesome. The invisible Family spacecraft is magnificently eerie, I loved the green lights everywhere and the alien voices. In fact, the spooky scarecrows were perhaps the least successful element - I wondered why they all looked the same. Did they all come from the same farm perhaps? The direction of their first appearance was also a little sloppy and non-threatening. Something of a lost opportunity I thought. As was the whole elaborate sequence with the piano falling. A great idea, but the execution was clumsy, spoiled by never actually seeing the woman with the pram in the same shot as the piano until the very end, thus not bringing home the tragedy that Smith was averting.

The plot rolls forward and Latimer, who seems to be able to see people's futures (he witnesses the death of an older bully on the battlefields of the Second World War), takes the pocket watch with the Doctor's personality in and opens it, thus alerting the Family to the Doctor's presence (I guess they knew he was on Earth somewhere but couldn't trace him precisely enough). There were some wonderful scenes here, with short cameo flashbacks to a Dalek, Cyberman, Ood, Werewolf, Sycorax, Racnoss and Lazarus. I did with some concern find this resonant of the self-indulgence of the eighties where barely a season could go by without too many back-references and the show slowly vanishing up its own posterior. I sincerely hope this isn't an indicator of the future here.

Smith and Joan head off to a local evening dance, and Latimer follows, realising that something is up. No sooner have the couple enjoyed a waltz than the Family-inhabited humans and scarecrows burst in, and confront Smith - Martha had given the game away trying to get the Doctor to snap out of it - and demand that he turn back into a Time Lord or they will kill either Martha or Joan ... and Smith must decide.

A cracking ending to the episode, and a great cliff hanger. All the performances here are uniformly brilliant, with no-one in particular taking overall kudos as they are all so good. There is an elegant simplicity in the Family's ray guns, turning victims into little clouds of ash, and the idea of the Doctor's Time Lord persona being in a pocket watch is a cute idea and very well handled. I can see kids in the playgrounds pretending to find invisible spacecraft, and eyeing the school nurse strangely ... not to mention that new teacher.

There are so many subtle nuances to the story, in the way it unfolds and is paced that it is a joy to watch. I really enjoyed it, and on a second viewing I enjoyed it more. I really can't wait for the concluding episode next week, and I hope that it manages to maintain the high standards set by the opening half.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Doctor Who - 42

One of the great things about the new Doctor Who series is that if you miss an episode, you can always catch it later as they're being repeated all the time. I was, however, a little surprised to tune in to catch the new episode, only to find that they were showing a condensed edition of The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit instead ... but then I looked closer and realised that some of the cast were different and there weren't any Ood around, so reasoned that it had to be a different story. But even so ... isolated group of humans in danger of being sucked into a space event, a mysterious power taking over characters and making them speak catchphrases and making their eyes glow with light, the TARDIS cut off from the Doctor, the day saved by the Doctor's companion ... Add to this a dirty/grimy sub-Alien feel to it all, some rubbish science and loads of CGI and the whole feeling of the story was of something very familiar that we had seen before.

The sense of deja vu does not stop there though. Here's a question: which Doctor Who story features the Doctor picking up a distress call and arriving to find a group of characters trying to harness a power source. One of them becomes infected by a creature composed of that power and their eyes glow white as they start killing off the other crewmembers one by one. Meanwhile, in trying to escape, a spaceship is dragged back to its doom because some of the power source is still on board and it must be ejected to escape, and the Doctor's companion is nearly fired into space along the way ...

Answer at the end.

So, for 42, the problems are manifest from the start. There's an almost overwhelming sense of familiarity about it which is not good. Little things like the Doctor fixing Martha's phone so she can phone home (shades of The End of the World). Also the whole element of being too close to the sun is the same as in The End of the World.

So the Doctor finds that he's cut off from the TARDIS for no good reason - something to do with the heat in that area rising too high, but why not in the rest of the ship as well? The spaceship is falling into a sun, the engines have been sabotaged and the auxillery engines are at the other end of the ship, past 29 locked and password protected doors. Cue Martha and Riley on a mission to open the doors. Whoever set these random password questions is a nutter though. The only reason you'd want to open them is to get to the other engine room ... and yet it's the equivalent of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire to do so. Whatever year this is, how are they supposed to know who had the most pre-download Number Ones out of Elvis or the Beatles! It's lucky Martha has her phone, but who does she call? Her useless mother. If it was me, then my mum would be the last person I'd ask about a question like that (and not only because she doesn't have the Internet). Surely Martha has other far more net-savvy friends. And then there's the later question of what Riley's favourite colour is! They are all doomed I tell you.

So while Martha is off answering questions and opening doors, the Doctor and the others are faced with the possessed figure of Korwin - husband of McDonnell. Now don't get me started on the casting of the, frankly, useless Michelle Collins as McDonnell. The woman has no presence, no authority, was totally unbelievable, and was simply walked all over by the rest of the cast who were uniformly superb. In script terms, why does she call her husband 'Korwin' when we learn from the end credits that his first name is 'Hal' - and why are their second names different anyway? Sheesh. There is no discernable plot though, as Korwin works his way through the crew, killing two of them by blasting them to ash with his glowing eyes, and transferring his 'infection' to a third.

But the question is, why is this alien entity bothering? In less than half an hour all the crew will be killed when the ship crashes into the sun, so why bother possessing people and then getting them to kill the rest? Then there's the question of the escape pods ... they have escape pods ... so why is the crew still on board at all? And why are the escape pods apparently down this corridor of locked doors? That's handy in the event of a problem.

But then whoever designed this spaceship was a raving loony anyway. Who in their right mind puts buttons and levers on the outside of the fuselage which will return an escape pod launched in error? Never mind as to why the auxilliary engines are so hard to get to, and why the fuel could not be ejected from the main engine room. I was reminded of the scene in The End of the World (again) where the Doctor has to get past a row of spinning fans to pull a switch. The same design madness at work.

Then there's the question of the size of the ship. From outside it looks like it's large - maybe half a mile long? I guess Martha is therefore a marathon sprinter to get from one end to the other in about a minute. And we won't go into the totally variable lengths of time it takes other characters to get from one part of the ship to another.

So there's lots of running around, people being killed, the Doctor doing a heroic spacewalk to save Martha (despite the fact that there is no way that magnetism would be strong enough to reclaim the pod and return it when up against the gravitational pull of a sun), and finally McDonnell doing the honourable thing and putting us out of the misery of her abysmal acting by shooting herself and Korwin into space where they can hug and fall into the sun together (more shades of The Impossible Planet). But even more questions: in The End of the World, just the light of the Sun was enough to scorch the walls and vapourise anything it touched, but here, even though they are 10 minutes from impact and getting closer every second, the light does nothing. Even the Doctor is able to spacewalk without even breaking a sweat, and McDonnell's body should have been burnt to a crisp in a nanosecond the moment she opened the outer door. But then maybe this living sun isn't as hot as the Earth's Sun. Yeah. Right.

The Doctor realises that the sun is alive and is possessed by the creature. He is then able to tell Martha that they will be saved if they jettison the stolen fuel with the sun particles in ... well if that's all it took, then why did the sun creature go to all the trouble of meting out personal and nasty revenge on the crew? It's just going to let them all go is it? And lo and behold it does. Or when the fuel is dumped, the engines start working ... or something. It's all a little unclear.
Overall, 42 was a story with so much potential, all wasted in a runaround based on a familiar plot and a series of very familiar set pieces. It just makes no sense at all. Compounded with the first major casting mis-step of the ineffectual Collins in the lead role, 42 just doesn't work.

There are some kudos to pass out though. First to David Tennant who makes playing the Doctor seem just so effortless. His performance when possessed was nothing short of brilliant, he managed to set the right levels of tension and angst and was supremely watchable. Such a shame that the production team didn't play a double blinder on the viewers and actually have him regenerate into John Simm mid way through ... now that would have been magnificent ...

Other praise to the rest of the cast who were very convincing. Martha was just the right side of annoying, and the others were all believable and watchable (with the sole exception of you know who). Martha's mum was still pretty annoying though, and there's the undercurrent about her having her phone tapped by mysterious colleagues of Mr Saxon, who, for whatever reason seems to be after the Doctor. I know this is setting things up for later on, and thankfully it's less sledgehammer than the 'Torchwood' arc last year so I forgive it.

Oh, and the Doctor Who story I was describing above was actually Planet of Evil from way back in 1975 ...

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Dig Deep

While we wait for Saturday and more new Who, I wanted to take a short sidestep into the real world for a moment. One of my best friends, Gwyn, suffers from a mild form of epilepsy, and she is trying to raise awareness of the condition through raising money for the Epilepsy Foundation, an American-based organisation dedicated to funding research into the condition in the ongoing hope that greater progress can be made towards understanding it, and eventually curing it. Have a look at her words on her page here: The condition hit her out of the blue when she was 18, and is still with her today. It's something that is misunderstood by many people, and it's really not a nice illness to have to live with. So, if you feel moved to spare a few pounds (or dollars depending on where you are reading this), then please consider donating through the link on Gwyn's page on the Foundation website above. Thanks so much.

Sunday, May 13, 2007


Regular readers of my blog will recall that back at the start of March I posted my woes on not being able to find a job. Well I'm pleased to report that the situation has finally changed and I start my first contract with the Royal Bank of Scotland this coming Wednesday. Obviously I'm over the moon about this, and can't wait to get back into the thick of things. Thanks to everyone who offered words of sympathy, advice and help.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Doctor Who - The Lazarus Experiment

There's something about episode titles which seem to give the whole game away which sometimes make you wonder whether it's worth watching the thing or not. Here we have Professor Lazarus ... now what could he possibly be going to do? Die and come back to life again perhaps? It's a shame really, because this episode was really entertaining and one of the best so far. I suspect that Lazarus' name falls into that unique category of science fiction where all planets, alien races and names must define wholly the major characteristic of that planet/race/creature. So guess what the Planet Aridius is like? Arid perhaps? Give the man a peanut. And the inhabitants? Well they have to be Aridians don't they. And the Hungersaurs ... what might they be like? Hungry dinosaurs perhaps? Now ... a tricky one ... Doctor Phoenix ... now see if you can guess the plot of whatever episode of whichever science fiction series he appears in ...

Anyway, back to the plot, and The Lazarus Experiment was, as I said, a superb slice of Saturday evening entertainment. After the hole-riddled plot of the previous episode, something complete and watchable without saying 'Yes, but ...' after every scene.

We open with the Doctor returning Martha to Earth. Her reactions were spot on ... having enjoyed her trips with the Doctor she is in no mood to go back to mundanity, and the cheer when the TARDIS reappeared was immense. But what of the mysterious old Professor Lazarus and his wonderful machine?

The Doctor and Martha attend the evening's event, and it transpires that Martha's sister, Tish, is Lazarus' PR secretary and has organised the event. Now this does pose some questions. Given how close Martha and Tish are, it's strange that she never mentioned the Professor or his experiments to Martha. And that if she did, Martha didn't find it all a little odd and mention it to the Doctor or want to investigate further herself. And there was no mention of this groundbreaking event the previous day when Tish seems to have time to meet Martha for lunch and to go to an evening do in the local pub with her family ... I somehow think that for something as large and lavish as Lazarus' demonstration, poor Tish would be totally rushed off her feet the day before ...

Anyway, we get some name drops of Mr Saxon again: the old lady who seems to be Lazarus' main financial partner in the venture (and who also appears to have been with him all his life) says that Saxon is one of the main investors in the project. Oddly the lady isn't named until Martha refers to her later on as Lady Thaw. There's more Saxon to come though ... Thaw was wonderfully played by Thelma Barlow, her out of Coronation Street, proving that sometimes soap actresses can actually act.

I loved the reference to James Bond as the Doctor and Martha arrive, and it was a great shame that this wasn't carried forward into the incidental music, which was mawkish and out of place throughout the episode. I guess that the theme which kept playing was the 'Martha' one, but it seemed wrong and out of place for much of the story.

So Lazarus gets into his machine (a sonic microfield manipulator according to the Doctor) and is regressed to a young man. Meanwhile the Doctor falls foul of Martha's mum, Francine, who is way too overprotective and just nasty. How old is Martha? Isn't she able to make her own decisions as to who she sees? This just didn't ring true to me and edged the scenes way too far into soap territory for my liking.

Lazarus starts chowing down on food - he needs energy - and the Doctor is very suspicious. Shades of The Fly here I felt, and very nicely handled by both Mark Gatiss as Lazarus and David Tennant as the Doctor. Lazarus kisses Martha's hand and heads upstairs with his unnamed old lady.

As Lazarus transforms into a monster and sucks the lady dry, the Doctor and Martha use the labs to analyse Lazarus' DNA (from the kiss) and learn that his genetic structure is still changing. Next on Lazarus' list of munchies is Tish, and the Doctor and Martha arrive on the roof in time to save her, and to watch him transform into some huge scorpion-man thing with a human face and an expandible jaw (definite shades of Predator's monster in the jaw, as well as the alien from the Jeepers Creepers films, and some other films/TV shows that I can't recall the names of at the moment).

The chase is on! The monster gambols around the building after the Doctor, as Martha tries to get everyone out to safety. This is a great chase with some lovely CGI moments and a genuine sense of tension as Lazarus goads the Doctor in a whispery, papery, horrific voice.

While all this is going on, Martha's Mum is approached by a mysterious stranger (played by the unlikely named Bertie Carvel, but he does seem to be a real actor) outside - the same man who had earlier warned her of the Doctor in the reception - and he apparently tells her more about the Doctor ... very worrying and nicely handled, fitting season-arc stuff into the story in a way which was not intrusive.

The Doctor and Martha end up trapped inside Lazarus' machine, and the monster activates it. Luckily the Doctor is able to reverse the polarity (in a nice nod to the Pertwee years) and reflects the power back out again, apparently killing Lazarus (who reverts to young human form on death).

The ambulance arrives to take him away, and the Doctor enjoys a slap and a showdown with Francine before we hear the ambulance crash - the medics have been drained and Lazarus is on the loose again ... you see ... you can never believe that a man named Lazarus will actually be dead when you think he is ...

The Doctor tracks him to nearby Southwark Cathedral where he turns into a monster again chases Martha and Tish up into the bell tower while the Doctor plays the organ, the sound waves created - along with a little extra oomph from the sonic screwdriver - being enough to kill the Lazarus creature and send it crashing to the ground. I loved here the mention of turning it up to '11' - obviously the Doctor is also a fan of Spinal Tap. Also note the allusions to The Quatermass Experiment in the location.

So Lazarus is killed (but is he ...), and I wondered why he still looked like a young man when the Doctor gets to his body, but then instantly reverts to the old Lazarus ... didn't make much sense. If anything he should have been old all along ...

The crisis averted, and it's back to Martha's bedroom for the Doctor to offer to take her with him permanently ... well we knew it was going to happen, but again the interplay and reactions from Martha were excellent. They head off to new adventures, missing the telephone call from Martha's mum: she knows who the Doctor is and Martha is in danger ... and the information comes from Harold Saxon himself!

A great ending to a very entertaining and enjoyable episode. Mark Gatiss was simply brilliant as Lazarus, managing to bring pathos and a sympathetic element to a ruthless and driven character, and his interplays with David Tennant's Doctor were very well handled. The CGI was top notch, and the monster looked real for the most part. I suspect that the other actors could have done with a physical prop on occasion though, and the inclusion of this may have made it all just a little more real. However it was scary and nasty and I can't wait for the action figure ... well ... it has to happen doesn't it?

No Doctor Who next week due to bloomin' Eurovision Song Contest, but there was a trailer showing what's coming up ... scary scarecrows, Captain Jack, spaceships, the Sun, Martha separated from the Doctor, a man tapping a table with his hand ... it's all go! What's confusing though is that these are clips from several of the remaining 7 episodes, and not all from the next episode. I hope kids won't be too disappointed ...

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Doctor Who - Evolution of the Daleks

Well what happened there then? The first part of this adventure was exciting and dramatic and built brilliantly ... and then in the concluding part it all seemed to fall to bits, as though they had put all their effort into the first bit and then just forgotten about the second!

The problems all seem to stem from the script, and it looks like no-one cared to ask Helen Raynor what was actually meant to be happening and instead just went with whatever she had come up with. There are several inconsistencies in the plot and the way it all came together and hopefully I'll touch on these as we go through.

So we open with the amazing cliffhanger from last week - the human/Dalek Sec hybrid creature. Someone pointed out that the reason he's not speaking with a Dalek voice is that this voice is created by the casing (as evidenced in a couple of earlier stories) and that's true! I had forgotten this, so I guess we have to then get used to the New York accented Dalek for the story. Sec wants all the humans to become like him, and then the Doctor reveals himself and does one of his speechy things to him - seems that Sec is becoming more human which is a good thing for him, but less so for the other three Daleks. The Doctor makes a radio explode with his all-purpose sonic screwdriver (how does he do this precisely?) and they all run for it, being chased by Daleks and pigmen.

Then we have one of the most ludicous scenes in the show - two Daleks talking in a sewer and one looks around to check it's not being overheard!! By who exactly? And don't the Daleks have sensors for this? It reminded me of the 'thick' Dalek in The Chase (1965) who hesitates and gets its words wrong when reporting.

Back in Hooverville and the Doctor tells Soloman to get his people out as the Daleks need humans for conversion. Then the pigs attack, closely followed by two of the Daleks flying in and blasting everything. Soloman does a War of the Worlds speech to the Daleks and is promptly exterminated. Then the Doctor does the same but is spared by Sec, much to the other Daleks' annoyance. These scenes drag terribly, slowing the action down - maybe we needed Soloman to do this, but the Doctor as well? Sheesh.

Before he leaves with the Daleks, the Doctor gives Martha his psychic paper wallet, but fails to tell her what to do or where to go. That's handy. Poor girl is left to figure it all out on her own ... whether what she eventually does is what the Doctor intended is left to our imagination as, really, she does nothing at all!

Anyway, the Doctor arrives back at the Empire State Building where he rants at the Daleks again. He says the green globby Rutan thing he found was a Dalek embryo ... what? Where did that come from then? There are only four Daleks in the Cult of Skaro and all are accounted for, so where did an extra embryo come from? And the Daleks have 1000 or so humans, brains wiped clean, suspended on pallets in a sort of mad Frankenstein way in the basement of the Building ... what a lot of effort to go to! Constructing all that with no-one knowing or realising. And ... hang on ... the people have their minds wiped, so why were the Daleks last week only after the intelligent ones? Seems a bit of a waste to me. The idea is that the bodies will be filled with Dalek ideas by Dalek DNA going through them in some sort of blue liquid. How does that work then? DNA is an encapsulation of physical attributes, not mental. It says whether you'll have three eyes and no hair or whatever, not whether you'll think like a Dalek or not.

Now comes the biggest load of tripe yet - the Daleks need a gamma radiation strike to activate the bodies, this is coming from a solar flare, and yet it's night time ... so how, when the face of the Earth the Daleks are on is away from the Sun, could a blast of anything from the Sun affect it? And then it's delivered via a lightning bolt - which is electricity and not gamma radiation. And did the whole Earth suffer the same lightning ... and what happened on the side which was actually facing the Sun at the time? The Daleks had attached Dalekaneum to the lightning conductor, it seems, to add their DNA to the gamma radiation to pass to the bodies ... so what was the blue liquid the Doctor helped develop then? And since when did a lightning bolt extract DNA from anything! Does this mean that people who survive being hit by lightning turn into trees or whatever they happen to be touching at the time?

Pauses for breath as all this is so much rubbish that it's hard to get it all down.

So ... we have to believe that the Daleks have managed to convert a load of mind-wiped humans into Daleks via this means. Okay. And that the action of the Doctor in holding onto the lightning conductor somehow adds his Time Lord DNA to the mix.

While all this nonsense is going on, Martha figures out that she has to go to the Empire State Building - which is a good 5 miles from Central Park by the way - and use the Psychic Paper to get in ... well I guess that's okay though I wonder who would be guarding a half-built building anyway ... and then she and Frank and Tallulah and Laszlo get up to the top. She then spends ages frikking around with the plans for the building to try and see the differences between two versions (what?) so that when the Doctor arrives she can tell him it's Dalekaneum on the mast. However before this we get the second most ludicrous scene in the episode - the pigs in the lift! Standing there, looking embarrassed as they ascend. This has to be one of the most unintentionally hilarious scenes in Doctor Who ever. Made me laugh anyway.

So the humans are converted to Daleks, and Dalek Sec is overruled by the other three Daleks and put in chains - why didn't they just exterminate him? Dalek Kahn takes command of the Dalek army, and the Doctor needs somewhere to use for a final showdown ... so what other set do we have in these episodes? The Theatre! Of course ... so he, Martha, Frank, Tallulah and Laszlo head for the Theatre where the Doctor summons the Daleks with the ever-useful Sonic Screwdriver.

They mysteriously arrive in a flash of pyrotechnics on the stage, and with Dalek Sec crawling on the floor before them? What? Why? Why bring him along? Why make him crawl? Oh well.

The human Dalek army arrive, neatly kitted out with spanking new Dalek exterminator guns - should we ask where they came from? No, thought not - and there's a standoff. The Daleks try to kill the Doctor but Sec blocks the blast and is finally killed himself. The human Daleks are then ordered to kill the Doctor but they do not. Instead they ask why they should. So the Daleks and human Daleks fight, and the two real Daleks are blown up by the weapons. Interestingly, the Daleks don't just kill the Doctor themselves in all this ...

So Dalek Kahn promptly destroys all the human Daleks. Now if he could do this, then why bother having the Daleks and human Daleks fight at all? Why didn't Kahn just kill them all the moment they turned on the Daleks?

The fun's all over and the Doctor returns to confront Dalek Kahn, who, just like Sec before him, engages temporal shift and vanishes. Handy function that.

So it's all over bar the shouting. Laszlo is saved by the Doctor who whips up something in the Daleks' lab to stabilise him and stop him dying, Tallulah has her man back (although he now looks like a pig) and the Doctor and Martha return to the TARDIS where the Doctor predicts he will meet Dalek Kahn again one day ...

So after a very promising start, Evolution of the Daleks descended into a runaround which really makes little sense as soon as you start to actually try and follow the plot. The pigmen were a nice idea (and I heard them dubbed as 'Hogrons' the other day which I liked a lot - the Ogrons were an earlier race of ape-like humanoids that the Daleks used as slaves in the stories Day of the Daleks and Frontier in Space) and the story looked magnificent. The actors were all first rate, and the CGI and effects were well up to par. Unfortunately this one fell down on the script ... the most important element of any story.

The ideas seemed to be pinched from the earlier story The Evil of the Daleks (a search for the 'human factor' so the Daleks could become more human and thus win out over humanity, however this in itself was a trick so that the Dalek Emperor could find the 'Dalek factor' and instead turn all the humans into walking Daleks). However there it all made much more sense.

Next week it looks like a bit of a runaround ... Mark Gatiss, Professor Lazarus (now what could that name possibly infer), more of Martha's family (I so hope it's not going to be another soap-fest), and a rather nice looking CGI monster.