Archive for the ‘SERIES 3 REVIEWS’ Category

Hull on Earth

Friday, December 28th, 2007


Self-proclaimed Earthonomist Mister Copper is heard to say mid-point through this year’s festive special that ‘Christmas is a celebration of violence’. Having viewed RTD’s latest efforts I’m in no position to argue the negative.

(spoilers follow)


Five-by Shooting

Sunday, November 18th, 2007


They (well… he) said it would never happen, but finally we get our first multi-doctor story of the new series in the form of the Children in Need special, Time Crash.

And what a lot of fun it was too. Davison stepped back into the role effortlessly, and he and Tennant obviously enjoyed firing off each other. The conundrum of how to explain away the age-old old-age question got sorted with a throwaway line, the half-moon glasses made a welcome comeback and continuity references abound (is the second mention of the Mara a subtle hint…?).

Quite what non-fans would have made of it I don’t know, but based on the audience figures, this potentially could be the biggest story of the new series. which means that mentions of Tegan, Nyssa and Time Lords with weird collars  obviously didn’t stop the general public from lapping up the first new story in 5 months.

But damn you Steven for making me get misty-eyed again (though not to the extent of the last 5 minutes of School Reunion thank god… don’t want to go through that experience again anytime soon).

And so now we wait for Miss Minogue and an iceberg. Fingers crossed.


Dead Beat?

Monday, November 12th, 2007


Guest reviewer: David RonayneThe Sound of Drums really is a guilty pleasure.  I watch, and on some critical level I’m sucking air through my teeth thinking “ooh, this really is a bit sloppy and pandering to the fans”, but on another, more basic one, I’m going “yeee-haa!”

From the almost casual dismissal of the previous episode’s cliff-hanger to the fanhappy shots of Gallifrey (new CGI, old costumes) the episode does suffer from Empire Strikes Back syndrome.  Quickly clearing the decks, and exposing Saxon – all  before the opening credits, followed by a quick run-around to set up McGuffins (TARDIS keys, Jack’s teleporter) and the cliff-hanger for next time. It doesn’t really stand as a story in its own right, but it does it all in such a classy fan-tastic way.  I say classy, because while I was grunting and smirking at the screen my wife loved it, but didn’t any of the references.  I’m not sure I could handle this every week, but just for once it is nice to see them “let the docs out.”

RTD takes his usual swipe against American politics and populist spin (looks nice but no actual policy) with blasts from the past all along the way; Little Britain; Out of the Unknown; “falling from the skies” – a possible Wormwood reference;  jelly babies and chips; the Master’s “hypnotic voice”; the Teletubbies/Clangers; the Sea Devils; a faithful human companion (name checking the old “Doctor’s wife” joke from the JNT era, just like the “secret brother” story); the TARDIS keys emit a Douglas Adams SEP field; nice big red Warner style sticks of dynamite; the Doctor previous dealings with PMs (Cabinet rebuilt, Harriet Jones) as well as mention of every present day invasion since the series rebooted; the “you did this – you voted Saxon” reminiscent of the speech in V for Vendetta; numerous plugs for Torchwood; the Valliant confirming Jack’s place as the new Captain Scarlet, with the TARDIS hidden behind the door with the big Thuderbird 4 logo; the End of the World (again) and for once it’s not the Doctor telling everyone to “Run!”

Even the Master’s laser screwdriver looks good – who’d have sonic? (Although the point of the Lazarus system was that it was based on sonic technology, oh well.)

All this, and tantalising hints of a past we haven’t seen – what did the Master do for Lucy’s father; and what happened to his other blonde from the security service; the Time War, the Dalek Emperor at the Cruciform.  I worked out who the spheres were fairly late into the piece – the irritating child’s voice of one of them being a little too reminiscent of the cute kid last week, especially with the talk of the impending darkness.

Ultimately a good setup with some nice character pieces.  Jack’s “you too, huh” line continues the trend of adding more to his character in throwaway scenes that was ever revealed in his own series, though the Doctor’s line about fancying someone a little too aware.  Again Martha shows great gumption, but John Simm steals the show with the perfect balance of brilliance, evil and craziness (and lets be honest, the best lines, and nifty red lined jacket).  All that’s missing is someone to make a joke about the Master’s “balls of steel”… well, maybe not.


Reprinted with kind permission from Reverse The Polarity! issue 25

Saxon the Single Woman

Tuesday, July 24th, 2007



Funny how those four words are such an important element of the final episode of Series 3, and yet they’re also the words that have been escaping the lips of fans all over the world in its wake.

I went into Episode 13 spoiler free (to paraphrase Dilmah Tea… ‘Do Try It’), and maybe it’s for that reason and also that the episode was the first in a looong time to make me gasp out loud that I haven’t come to the same (some would say obvious) conclusion as the majority of fans. I actually really enjoyed it. There! I’ve said it! Strike me down! Strip me off my TSV subscription! BUT… hold fire for a moment. I have evidence.

I watched this episode with a not-we. She’s watched the entire third series, and she also had a great time watching this and the previous episode. She’s an intelligent one, and knows good TV when she sees it, so I almost feel a sense of vindication in knowing that she enjoyed the series finale. Maybe this episode has actually made me swap sides and become a viewer rather than a fan. Because if you watch it as a dedicated fan, you’d never get anything out of this except disappointment.

You see, I think you’re all being a bit hard on LOTTL (at the very least, its acronym sounds kinda cute!). Yes, it’s camped up to the hilt, yes there are things that don’t make sense (black hole converters? WHAT??), but come on… think about some of the things that it does very well, especially the surprises along the way. Who else got a jolt when we jumped a year ahead at the start of the episode? Or when the Doctor turned into Dobby (a bit leftfield yes, but completely unexpected)? Or when the Master was shot? Or when Martha left? Is all that negated by the fact that the Master sings? Come on…

You can go on all you want about the Scissor Sisters, the naff ‘Doctor!’ resolution (and yes, it was a bit naff), and the way that the TARDIS could NEVER have a ship smash into it because ‘they exist in different dimensions’ (geek!). But then, you’d be looking at it in completely the wrong way. This finale to a family TV show is entertaining, races along throwing caution and fandom to the wind, and do you know what… it may not be brilliant, but it’s fun Doctor Who.

And I’d have fun Doctor Who over fan Doctor Who any day.


Can’t Get You Out Of My Head

Tuesday, July 3rd, 2007


The end of the Universe. We’ve been here before, haven’t we?

There’s a sense of deja vu that permeates Utopia, and yet despite its location, its familiar director (who, it must be said, does a reliably excellent job here), a quarry and the loaned cast of Duran Duran’s Wild Boys video, the story as it stands is fine. Serviceable, in fact, because like many near end-of-term RTD scripts, it’s not so much a story as a vehicle for bigger things to come: this is a story light on plot but heavy on continuity. Who’d have thought that three years into the new series we’d be experiencing flashbacks to The Parting of the Ways?

Utopia is that kind of event – not so much a big build, but one that necessitates a good deal of rib-jogging to recall various institutions of the series, both new and old. Rose’s departure, the Doctor’s regeneration (not to mention his hand), Captain Jack, and of course the fob watch device that renders both the Doctor and his mortal foe human (is it always a watch? Why?) So in a way Utopia is like a trip back into the bad old days of Eighties Who, where inter-story continuity was a given even if it wasn’t necessary, and inter-season continuity was both a given and something to be accepted. What’s curious about all of this then, is that of all the old elements brought back and explained in the story, the Master isn’t one of them.

But, as I’ve been told by fellow fan, what is there to know about the Master anyway? That he’s a Time Lord – sure; that he’s bad, probably mad and definitely dangerous to know, patently. But what else? That he and the Doctor were once old friends? Probably not necessary. That he was once known as Magnus/Koschei? So not necessary. Maybe it’s the lack of foreshadowing in this episode and previous to it that offers the best surprise, as even fans who recognised ‘the sound of drums’ during Yana’s delirious episodes might not have imagined that he of all people could be, well, him.

And so to him indeed. We get two for the price of one – a feat unseen in another Time Lord since Destiny of the Daleks (and even that was a cheat). And he even regenerates – that’s technically a new trick for him. Of the two versions on show Derek Jacobi’s is less hammy and does both sides of Yana’s coin justice. His successor on the other hand… we-ell, maybe it’s too early to tell. If there’s one thing that this story has cleared up, it’s that of all the buttons routinely flicked and teased by the Doctor in his daily lap around the TARDIS console and also punched by the newly-regenerated Master, the big flashing one marked CAMP is sure to be among them. Despite this, or to more than a few fans because of this, the last ten minutes of Utopia are genuine rewind moments. But for its clever build-up (those barmy drums like a vast kitchen’s worth of rattling pot lids, Jacobi’s tears – there’s a mash-up just waiting to be made out there with your choice of earworm ditty overdubbed – The Macarena, perhaps?) the duality of Master No. Six’s regeneration with the Tenth Doctor’s come across as just a bit obsequious. Do we really need to be shown that they’re polar opposites, when they really aren’t? Are they really just the same soul with opposing raisons d’etre? If that’s RTD’s intention then it’s a disappointing follow-up to the questionable Doctor of The Family of Blood. But then, at the eleventh hour, maybe Davies felt it more important to reinforce the Doctor’s heroism with some good traditional murderous and guffawing villainy, and fair enough.

So a fun episode with some great performances and John Simm’s valiant final push Over. The. Top. at the end. A marvellous channeling of the late Tony Ainley, some might say, and on that note who couldn’t admit they loved the inclusion of not just Ainley’s but Delgado’s voices coming from Yana’s mysterious fob? A lovely tribute. And poor Chantho, eh? We just knew she was doomed as soon as she confessed her unspoken love for her scientific friend to Martha. The more things change…


Hell’s Angels

Monday, July 2nd, 2007


Steven Moffat is a genius, and by now it must be very unlikely that anyone would dispute that.  His contributions to the last two years of Doctor Who have produced the very best stories which the new series has to offer.

So when it was announced that he would be handling the infamous ‘random’, budget and regulars–lite episode 10 spot this year, many of us might have thought that the programme’s ‘other Paisley star’ had met his match at last.  Without a lavish war-time two-parter or Sophia Myles and mirror-smashing equestrianism, could Moffat really make it a hat trick?

We needn’t have worried.  Not only does he once again come up with the series’ finest, but Blink is also the first story since new Who began which has genuinely scared me.  What Moffat did for gasmasks and ticking clocks he now does for statues, which were always kind of creepy, anyway.

Like last year’s under-rated Love and Monsters, Blink only features the regulars in the present narrative at the very end of the story, allowing us to get to know the story’s other characters without having them shoved into the background by Tennant’s ‘mouth-and trousers’ Tenth Doctor.  As much as I appreciate and enjoy all that he’s brought to the programme, I’m also aware that this is the second time this series that the Tenth Doctor ha been absent from a story until the very end – and I haven’t missed him.As Steven Moffat says, we get a ‘hot girl’ instead, so who cares? Sally Sparrow is a lovely creation, who’s courage and determination has already earned her Fan murmurings of ‘companion material’ and ‘own series’.  First seen wearing a slightly ‘Doctorish scarf’, later on she even has a ‘taking companion by the hand’ moment which echoes Rose and Smith and Jones.

Eventually charged with rescuing the Doctor and Martha in a plot which not only seems more ingenious every time you think about it but even appears to make sense, Sally must also face one of the programmes’ eeriest threats ever.  In the hands of clever Mr Moffat, we’re not risking your run-of-the-mill mutilation, possession or invasion here, but a ‘sudden change of circumstances’ which at least two victims make the very best of and might even be grateful for.  One of the wonderful aspects of Moffat’s Who is that no-one is ever killed by the menace, or not on-screen at least.  Despite images of WWII body horror, futuristic organ harvesting and a long list of unsolved disappearances, the only death he’s ever presented, Blink’s ex-DI Billy Shipton, is from natural causes and sensitively portrayed.

Unfortunately, an unnecessary two line sub-plot explaining why the Angels want the TARDIS seems out-of-step with the rest of the episode, perhaps clumsily inserted during script editing to make the episode seem a little more conventional? If so, it seems a shame. More than any other, this episode is unique and rather beautiful in it’s own right, outside of the context of the rest of the programme.  Blink can be frightening, but also most effective when giving us glimpses into the lives of ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances.  A brave companion who never was, a woman who enjoys a long and happy life that she should never have had and a dying man who waits forty years for his first date with a girl he’s just met.

Blinkin’ marvellous!


Family Value

Sunday, July 1st, 2007


If most of us spent a large amount of Human Nature looking for the Doctor in John Smith, then The Family of Blood proved a very slow reveal indeed. There are two reasons for this: first of all Cornell had thrown a good number of balls in the air to juggle – the Doctor/John, the Doctor/John and Joan, Martha, Tim and the watch, and the Family themselves; a number of storylines had to move on (including an iconic machine gun scene plus John/Joan confrontation) before we could get to the crux and the assured besting of the episode’s villains (more of which later).

Secondly, and more importantly, this is John Smith’s story; the Doctor’s part in it was always going to be almost incidental. He’s a ghost of a character in this – the rabbit in the hat. We know he’ll emerge eventually, and we look for any tell-tale sign of his presence, but we also know that as soon as he does appear the show is well and truly over. Kudos then to the writer who spends a good deal of this episode showing us that John Smith is not the Doctor, and staving off any Time Lord revelations until absolutely necessary (and, alas, at a moment somewhat expected).

In the interim we have John Smith the human, paralysed into inaction when confronted by mortal enemies he does not recognise, the schoolmaster familiar with the brutal necessities of war and prepared to send his boys to defend the school and, by extension, their country. He’s a blunderer, but a sympathetic one, which makes him all the more a believable man for Joan Redfern to become smitten by, rather than a hardened man of action with no discernible flaws. The Doctor has flaws too, as this story is at pains to show us, but his heroic action at this story’s climax brings with it moments of anguish for Joan, Martha and John Smith that the Time Lord himself cannot know.   

I’m not entirely convinced that this is the Human Nature Russell T Davies wanted for his series. The story is there, and the emotional sting that would surely have hooked Davies the fan reader into the thing as much as any of us; but for the second time I’ve been reminded, and continue to be, that the version of the Doctor we’re left with at story’s end is not RTD’s cuddly bounder, but the cold and distant manipulator of the New Adventures. As Joan astutely observes in the story’s most cutting line, no-one need have died had the Doctor not chosen to visit that time and place to hide from The Family (although we are led to believe that the fate of the entire Universe was at stake otherwise), and we are left in no doubt that the Doctor’s moment of glory comes at the price of a man’s life, fictional or not, and that it is John Smith’s self-sacrifice that saves us all in the end. The punishments meted out to the Family are awful in scope and imagination – very ‘Cornellian’ with their mixture of mysticism and cod-SF, and this is surely the closest we’ve ever come to the ‘no second chances’ promise of The Christmas Invasion being fulfilled. But this is no heroic Doctor, and it would be a crime if Martha’s feelings for the man who hugs her blithely (it’s her reaction we see to this, not his) did not receive a solid blow as a result.

This however is Davies-Era Doctor Who, and we must prepare for Human/Family to be something of an aberration; for just as its successor is the Doctor-less Blink (another aberration, this time of technique), from here on we’re into the final stretch, and all bets are off. Is Cornell’s Dark Doctor the way of the future for Tennant’s incarnation? I doubt it, but I would be disappointed if the effects of this story on Martha were swept aside without the chance of further examination.


Natural High

Friday, June 22nd, 2007


There are a number of fans who might once have said that you can’t turn a New Adventure into a television programme; that such stories belong in their own time and place, contextually removed from the series by readership, maturity and the eagerness to break many of the taboos of the old TV series. That the New Adventures represented in themselves stories which simply could not be reduced to fit inside a small box of wires and light, and that in the language of this episode they were, literally, Books of Impossible Things. Those people were right, for the most part; but Human Nature is one of a few exceptions, because its author Paul Cornell writes small enough for the small screen, in the most important ways.

What made Human Nature‘s reputation is that it was a simple idea executed masterfully, without the distractions of space opera settings, alternative realities, cyberspace (yikes, remember that?) conclusions and the remnants of a Cartmel Masterplan(tm). Here in 2007 we are in the thick of a Davies Masterplan, and that’s always going to be more intimate and personal and emotionally-driven; so our man Cornell, who writes for these things predominately and very very well, is in his element.

There are hazards associated with the story’s relocation to Davies’ era however; part of the original Human Nature‘s charm was that it featured a Doctor visibly matured and for whom ‘settling down’ was a mildly outrageous concept. What we have now with the Tennant Doctor is a young man Time Lord who’s already professed his eternal love for one and a half ladies while of sound mind and body. He also has a young companion in town following him around with puppy dog eyes (again), so the ‘surprise’ has been anticipated before this series. Cornell has to work harder to make the romance between ‘John’ and Joan more plausible and significant, but make it work he does, despite the casting of a known-face in Joan and aided undoubtedly by the luxury of a double-episode, allowing the story to be told steadily. It deserves to be told well; the story is not about love but sacrifice, and without the time to discover what is at stake and who is under threat from The Family, the Doctor’s pursuers, the story risks becoming a set piece runaround-with-snogs, in the manner of The Girl in the Fireplace. Of paramount importance of course is that this is not the Doctor’s story, it’s John Smith’s and that of his maid, and we shall see the importance of that in the story’s second act.

 In the mean-time, some last points: Harry Lloyd is a great find – there’s a future in upper-class cads for this guy, if not lop-grinning alien fiends. Tennant is, alas, on top form as John Smith; it’s almost painful to admit that the Doctor (as he and RTD interpret him) is not missed, and this vulnerable, fumbling and believable reluctant protagonist is at times preferable to our usual hero. The ‘Doctor-ish’ scene with cricket ball and piano seems distracting as a result – drawing too much attention to the Time Lord lurking in the wings, surely to reappear. But while he’s away this is a joy to watch. It’s not Doctor Who, but it must surely become Doctor Who, just as John Smith must inevitably be shrugged off to find our hero hiding within.

With a build-up like this, the resolution has a lot to live up to.


Dark Side of the Sun

Saturday, June 9th, 2007

42 logo 

This story comes across a little like a reality TV programme set in hell. Contestants are forced to cooperate and battle for their survival against a relentlessly ticking clock, extreme physical tests, rogue team mates and, yes, general knowledge questions, all in a Dante-esque setting of lurid fiery colour and unbearable heat.The premise of this story is relatively straightforward and wastes no time in getting started.  Which is a good thing too because our heroes are cut off from the TARDIS and have 42 minutes to save the SS Pentallion and its gritty, industrial, surnames-only crew from plunging into a sun, in real time. 

The main strength of this episode, and apparently defined by the keyword ‘suffering’ in the Production ‘tone meeting’, is that the Doctor and Martha are both fed through the wringer as never before – and with barely a sonic screwdriver in sight! It’s wonderfully refreshing to see the vulnerable side of Tennant’s ‘Super Doc’, needing the urging of a minor character to find the strength to fulfil his promise to save Martha. And most movingly, the Doctor desperately admitting his fear as she struggles to return the favour.  Having him succumb to the threat and be taken out of the picture is a very welcome move, allowing Martha to move centre stage and take charge for a while.  “More pace and energy!” was apparently Director Graham Harper’s war cry during the filming of this episode and it certainly shows, but what surprises is how effective the quieter, more emotional moments are amongst all the super-heated frenzy.Martha’s ‘last moments’ in the escape pod, both with her mother and Riley are sensitively handled and very affecting.  But the standout has to be the demise of Michelle Collins’ ‘Ripley unleaded’ character, spinning slowly to a fiery oblivion in an almost balletic embrace with her doomed husband.  Of course this might also be seen as a good lesson never to work in the same business with your ‘other half’.  Not only do we have a beautifully directed story unfolding in real-time, but two over-arcing storylines are also advanced: the claws of Saxon tighten a little more around our heroes, and more significantly the Doctor and Martha’s relationship appears to move to the next level.42 does exactly what it says on the tin, and does it well without trying to be too clever.   In fact, the only aspect which leaves me dissatisfied is its probable reception from Fan viewers in particular.  I really wonder if we are being spoilt more then we realise; in years gone by I‘m sure that this story: ‘The one with the sun’ would have been a season highlight, but this year will probably be regarded by the majority as merely average and adequate.AH

76 Comeback

Thursday, June 7th, 2007


If there’s one hang-up I have at the moment that just won’t go away it’s Baby Boomers. Can’t stand ‘em. Born into a fully-operating welfare state, brought up on milk in schools, served the best era of rock and roll, and the first real generation to get not only a proper Yoof Culture, but also Free Love. Bastards! Of course we know how it turned out – by the Eighties they had the power and used it to make movies about themselves and their nostalgia (Back to the Future, Peggy Sue Got Married, The Big Chill), they became Yuppies, the Stock Market crashed and the inevitable loss of dignity carried on from there. More recently of course they’re making the headlines by Not Retiring, Spending The Grandchildrens’ Inheritance on Holidays and Harleys, Outbidding First-home Buyers For Investment Property, and in general Not Moving On and Letting Someone Else Have a Crack.  Their crime? Longevity.

Doctor Richard Lazarus is no Baby Boomer, having been a child of the previous generation, but he too has lingered and devoted his last years to recapturing the past. He has a young man’s weaknesses and faults; age has only brought him power without wisdom. And he’s a creepy sod too – hitting clumsily on Martha’s sister Tish when he really ought to be old enough to know better. In many ways Stephen Greenhorn’s script is essentially a box-ticker – there’s weird science, the ambitions of people trying to live beyond the boundaries of nature, and there’s reconciliation and a moral at the end. What gives it the edge, along with some nice design, some very good performances (Mark Gatiss is reliably good, although Thelma Barlow is criminally underused)  and fairly decent CGI work, is the umbrella arc showing through – Martha’s battleaxe mum only wanting the best for her kids, the implied threat of Mister Saxon’s people to the Doctor’s future. The race to the season cliffhanger ending begins now…

Perhaps after two slightly bat-arsed episodes in Old New York the injection of a story arc into the season is a little jarring, but we’re here at last. Wherever the Doctor goes on contemporary Earth, Saxon’s peole will be keeping tabs on him, and now that Martha’s permanently on board her future is in question as well. And it does prove that old adage so true to Lazarus’ plight that, in the words of one celebrated Baby Boomer Mr Robert Zimmerman – you really can’t go home again.