Archive for the ‘2009 SPECIALS REVIEWS’ Category

The Wilf at the Door

Tuesday, January 5th, 2010


Reviewers of Logopolis and Season Eighteen in general have often fallen back on that word used in The DisContinuity Guide to describe the same story – funereal. That a whole season could be seen to encompass the theme of entropy and inevitable decay is taken as a truism these days, and to hang with the question of whether it awarded (or in the language of the Tenth Doctor “rewarded”) its protagonist a hero’s death. The End of Time and by some small extension the Tenth Doctor’s final year draws some neat comparisons with this, and yet with The End of Time being not only the end for Tennant but also Davies, Collinson and Gardner, the sense of this story being a metatextual finale has loaded the two-parter with weighty significance. There the similarities falter, because with the handing over of the TARDIS keys to Smith, Moffat, Wenger and Willis the anticipation of a new series and new everything has been greater than John Nathan-Turner merely changing his lead and script editor (an oversimplification, sorry, but you get my meaning). Investment in the last hours of Tennant’s tenure was amped up to incredible levels, with the staggered ‘gap year’ and numerous cameos, TV idents and animated specials further loading the significance onto arguably the most hotly anticipated regeneration to date.

Reading the updated edition ofThe Writer’s Tale it’s very much apparent how much was up in the air leading up to the 2009 specials. While the Sarah Jane Adventures were cruising along in assured hands the proposed third series of Torchwood very nearly collapsed, and having farmed out the specials to other writers and built the finale around virtually one single scene it appears that RTD’s well was dry. A desperate situation to be in with the aforementioned investment building. Perhaps that’s why so much of Part One is spent gathering together the various strands – the return of the Master, the Doctor returning to Earth, the growing threat that will pull both together to face… what? We don’t really know until Part Two. I was immensely frustrated with this first half, I certainly had a lot riding on Tennant’s last story, to my surprise. For five years the tricks and sleights that RTD was able to pull off (mostly) writing in the ‘now’, leaving plotholes open and only filling in the background with the lightest of touches – worked, because for the most part the end wasn’t in sight. We didn’t think we needed to know that much about the Time War, as tantalising as it seemed, or whether the Master was really dead at the end of Last of the Time Lords, or what the Doctor meant about being truly alone or whether Rose would return (…) Having an end to all that and, as predicted by many, no clear indication that Steven Moffat intends to continue those stories forces the whole Davies Era into sharp focus. New Who is now composed of story arcs, for better or worse, and the greatest investment of fans in The End of Time was surely that of all season closers this would be the one that wrapped the story up as neatly as necessary and possible. Did it happen? Well, Mostly. But it took over an hour of building up new storylines to do this, seeding the conclusion with supporting characters – some practical (the Vinvocci), some indulgent (the Silver Cloak – a lovely idea but narratively pointless), some little more than grease for the wheels (the Naismiths). And that’s without mentioning the Woman in White who will likely remain a figure of fan debate for ever more. Thank God then for Bernard Cribbens’ Wilf, the kernel of the story.

Between an insane Master, a remote and self-absorbed Doctor and a ruthless Lord President this old soldier is the glue of the story, a stoic core orbited by men who will not accept their time has passed. Having Wilf as de facto companion is simply the cleverest and most sensible thing Russell T Davies did for The End of Time because of the states he put the aforementioned Time Lords. Queen Bess and Ood Sphere prologue Doctor notwithstanding this is a story with the Doctor in a torpor comparable to his Fourth incarnation’s last day. The end is nigh, and Death – seen palpably as the Tenth Doctor’s death rather than a renewal this time, has his scent. He is out of ideas. Where he shines are the moments with Wilf, where the action must be slowed (in the café in Part One, aboard the Vinvocci ship in Part Two) and Murray Gold is dispatched for a coffee before the booming and bombast return. With all companions previous spoken for it is fitting that Wilf is the ear to the Doctor, two old men comforting each other, bolstering one another (“I would be proud to have you as my dad”) and if ever it needed saying, speaking much the same language.

I love Wilf, I love his undying affection for the Doctor, his natural reaction to the TARDIS (“I thought it’d be cleaner”), and the way he makes me cry, so it was a perfect moment that his part in the Doctor’s demise (I only saw it coming when he entered the booth) was treated with the same quiet gravity that their earlier dialogue had shared. Beautiful. The rest of the story? Disposable, which is a shame. The Time Lords return for long enough to be a fly in the ointment due to a technical loophole that simply didn’t need to be so complicated. Likewise, Donna’s appearance was a mis-step, a cheat of a cliffhanger (couldn’t she just have gone snorkeling again?) and like Lucy Saxon, window dressing in an already packed story. Which leaves John Simm’s Master, as barking as Crufts and as hyperactive (and annoying) as in The Sound of Drums, yet granted with a heroic send-off and character arc resolution (“All My Life!!”) that I hadn’t seen coming and found highly rewarding for a character I’ve never warmed to. With his phantom skull recalling The Deadly Assassin in his final(?) moments, I’d be immensely satisfied if this was the last we saw of him.

And so to the regeneration and coda, both of which have been subjected to intense scrutiny. “I don’t want to go” is a loaded phrase, impossible to detach from its creator and performer – I can’t hear it as anything else than self-indulgence, but for me the Tenth Doctor had for twelve months been a man after his time. At least I’ll say this – it wasn’t from my chair that the repeated cries of “just get it over with!” were coming. The Tenth Doctor’s protracted regeneration and revisiting past acquaintances could have been trimmed too – for the most part these are stories that had already been resolved elsewhere (Mickey and Martha, and particularly Sarah Jane who has now been farewelled three times by this Doctor) or remain problematic (Jack). Donna’s farewell is fittingly really Wilf’s, disingenuous to say yet another quiet scene for the reaction it provoked in me, but there it is. By far the most important, and the most restrained is that of Rose Tyler – God bless Russell T Davies’ self-control in scripting this scene, for leaving one conclusion untouched (better late than never), and deservedly revisiting happier times and places. In times to come I believe I could just begin watching The End of Time at the beginning of Part Two and have done with the over-stuffed lead-up, not so much a ‘reward’ as voiced by the Doctor for services rendered, but as a single installment almost perfect.

And then… renewal, the destruction of the coral TARDIS console (I never warmed to it, especially the tatty foam rubber), and the arrival of Matt Smith as scripted by Moffat. The verdict on the new man? Too early to tell at the time, more on this later, but even at the time the sense of change and newness, despite a distressed suit and flaming interior, was there. Onward and upward.

Bleak – with a leak.

Wednesday, November 25th, 2009



I am not a complicated person. Among my favourite television programmes are America’s Funniest Home Videos and Wipeout. I like the natural humour of calamity (which says a lot for a person who broke his back on a trampoline) and I know I’m not alone in enjoying a little schadenfreude. Petards a-hoisting? I’m there. But my tastes are not low-brow either, and I think I know a rote storyline or phoned-in performance when I see one – that’s where I was earlier this year for Planet of the Dead. As far as rote storylines go that’s where I was for the first half of Waters of Mars, as, I suspect, many viewers were. Planet, alien threat, a base, some ‘failproof’ protection on a limited warranty. Stoic humans. Human interest. Robot. The Doctor. Speeches. Allons-y. You can skip the first half of the story, really – it’s a nicely directed, functional pastiche of much of what we’ve seen before.

But Waters of Mars is different, because it knows we know. So it has an in-built spanner, and this is the clever bit. When the Doctor recognises his location in time and space he realises he is, quite plainly, in a dead end. He says “I really should go”, knowing that with his current whereabouts a Fixed Point in Time, any resistance directed towards the inevitable, or what “must happen, will happen” is reliably futile. His eventual decision to meddle, informed perhaps by the sounds of the dying pioneers in his head mic but more strongly by his resolve to act as The Last of the Time Lords, is Russell T Davies’ spanner, and it’s a good one.


I’ve made no secret of my dislike for the Tenth Doctor. It hasn’t always been there; sometimes I think he’s great and most of the time I think David Tennant deserves the accolades he receives. But sometimes I despise this smug, gurning hyperactive incarnation and crave someone calmer, more measured, more calculating. Someone without a sonic screwdriver and four knees. Waters of Mars gave me that Doctor in Tennant by playing on those traits I dislike and, for me at least, confirming their limited appeal by turning them up to maximum. Tennant’s Time Lord Victorious is a frightening spectacle for his casual overuse of the screwdriver – literally forcing a woman into her locked home, manipulating a robot to race across the surface of Mars and pilot the TARDIS (sansisomorphic controls) to rescue everyone in the base, congratulating himself (“I. Am. Good.”) in just as detached a manner, and witheringly observing the paucity of gratitude from those around him. He moves too fast for the ‘little people’ whose lives he has saved to even register, all except Adelaide. In their exchanges, the core of the story, she gets the Doctor and sees right through him. The wanderer in time, on Mars for “fun”, but also the stranger for whom being ‘human’ is a very dangerous thing. Their conversations are the best thing of the story – RTD gets to the heart of the Time Lord’s dilemma, and that of the Last of the Time Lords especially.

There are nods to the new series past of course – Pompeii, The Stolen Earth, and some have pointed out Voyage of the Damned and The Runaway Bride in particular, addressing Donna’s belief that the Doctor needs a companion about him not to drive him forward a la Rose but to provide his moral compass, to make him “stop”. I do wonder about that argument. In every companion permutation bar, perhaps, the second Romana, the Doctor has always been the stronger party. Armed with knowledge, expertise, inspiration, daring and foresight his picture is the larger than any of his charges can conceive, including the moral one. It was Sarah Jane after all who told him to destroy the Daleks on Skaro and rewrite history, and he ignored her, seeing a universe made better for their threat to civilisation. Furthermore, a different motivation is behind his travels than the need for companionship. Barring accidents, incarceration and the threat of extermination the Doctor’s greatest threat and that which he has evaded since leaving Gallifrey, is his own people. They summon him, abduct him, tractor beam his TARDIS, rip him out of his timeline with a time scoop – on almost every occasion he works for them under duress because despite their stuffiness and staid approach to time, he acknowledges their authority and power. The laws of time are more than a matter of quantum physics, they are the statutes under which he is obliged to live – to attempt to ‘master’ them, to ‘meddle’ in time, or behave as though he should be a god, are all crimes which carry severe consequences. In the absence of the Time Lords then the Doctor’s decision as the last of their kind to take the reins and bend them to his will has less to do with what is morally ‘right’ or humane, and more to do with him asserting that same authority and sweeping away all aspects of governance. As we see, time will sort itself out and realign around a fixed point despite any meddling (perhaps that’s what turned Adelaide’s Dalek back?), but I presume it isn’t the time line that strikes the TARDIS Cloister Bell. There are consequences to follow, and in the closing moments it’s the Doctor’s knowledge of what he has done and what transgressions he has committed that spell the doom of Christmas to come.


As this is in part a Russell T Davies story there is an existential aspect, the domain of the human onlooker. If the Time Lords are the gods of time, then in their absence the Doctor is in charge. In his absence (or the absence of his self control) no good can exist, as Torchwood‘s Children of Earthsuggests. Torchwood’s answer to this however was not to bring the Doctor in at the last merciful minute as some viewers (my missus included) expected. It didn’t even elevate Jack to that role, and in fact made him a party to the crime. Rather than pulling away it fixed its gaze on the consequences, brutally cutting down the hero figure; RTD does a similar thing with the Doctor here by reducing him, making him less than a Time Lord but with a Time Lord’s abilities. What ‘turns’ him is not the acquisition of new or greater powers, but the realisation of his potential – he simply doesn’t hold himself back. Or isn’t held back, if you buy into the Donna argument (I don’t entirely). Children of Earthprovided an answer of sorts by making its heroes the humans – Gwen and Andy, police officers but ultimately just trained people, Rhys and Jake, Bridget Spears and Lois Habib – the Doctor’s “little people”. In Waters of Marsthere is no hero, only Adelaide, who resists the Doctor’s tampering with destiny in the only effective way she knows, denying herself the promised life after death offered by him. She doesn’t run away from her obligations (oddly the Doctor does by running ‘back’ to the Bowie Base) but seizes them and, outraged, takes control of them. The Doctor’s refusal to take responsibility for what he knows he has to do (i.e. walk away) and eventual understanding damns him. Fall. Suicide. Ood. History reasserts itself but leaves him dangling to meet his end, possibly at the hands of the last Time Lord to pretend to the throne.  How fitting that he should be joined by the other last survivor, the demon of his own consequences.

Of course we’ve been here before, and your results may vary on the pride-before-a-fall motif. Doomsday or Last of the Time Lords? We shall see.


Buzz Fare

Thursday, April 23rd, 2009

You know how it is with buses – you wait for one, then two appear, then some dockers drop a container on it. So it is with ZeusBlog reviews – except for the bit about the dockers, hopefully. Here’s our fly boy Foo with his Doctor Who review…



Format wise, I’ve stolen from Jono, but hey, it makes it easier for me!


The Good


Loved it. Almost.


The juxtaposition of Earth and the alien planet was very well done – almost a way of splitting the Doctor and companion without actually splitting them. I really like the idea of Doctor Who trying out different things and believe it keeps the series fresh and alive – stories like Midnight, Turn Left, Love & Monsters and Blink are all a bit left of centre and this story partially fits into this category.


Dubai – sand is sand is sand. But, it does feel that little bit extra special when you know it is foreign sand rather than British sand. I think the on location aspect did add something, but maybe next time we’ll get a little culture thrown in as well as per Arc of Infinity or The Two Doctors.


A very fun and fast paced episode that for me, blew three of the previous specials out of the water and left me yearning for more…roll on The Waters of Mars. I also had a little chill run down my back at the “He will knock four times” line at the end of the story. Brilliant stuff.


The Mixed


UNIT, they should be tougher than the 70’s crew but in Planet of the Dead, they don’t feel like it. Thinking about UNIT’s treatment of Tosh in Torchwood adds to the tough as nails impression, but in PotD they fail to deliver. The exception to this was Captain Magambo threatening Malcolm with a gun…hmm; I don’t recall the Brig ever doing that to the Doctor!


It also bugged me about the way UNIT seems to regard the Doctor as a god like figure. I would have thought they weren’t his biggest fan. Now, I’m not sure why I feel this and perhaps it should be the other way round as the Doctor isn’t too enamoured with military organisations.


Lady Christina de Souza had shades of Romana which I understand was the general idea but she doesn’t seem to have a returning companion aspect. While she showed promise, I think a little more meat in the script would have helped Michelle Ryan.


With Russell and Gareth co-writing this episode, I didn’t know what to expect. I love Gareth’s novels, loathed The Shakespeare Code and loved The Unicorn and the Wasp, so wondered how the two would bounce off each others. I think that having a co-writer tempers some of Russell’s more extremes and wish that we had more examples to see if this makes stories better or worse.


A solid plot and prior to screening, Gareth had made much of there being many disparate elements that work well together. I think the many plates being spun do work; however a little more complexity would have been nice. Yes, it was a romp, but can’t we have more detailed brush strokes?


The Bad

 The people on the bus seemed a bit lacklustre – it felt like they were secondary to the main action and more of an afterthought. An attempt to relate to viewers as being normal, everyday people was done, but they simply came off as feeling 2D.

While the first half to two thirds was engaging, as was the conclusion, about two thirds of the way through I found things began to drag. I didn’t feel on the edge of my seat as I had for, say, The Next Doctor. While it picked up towards the end, the special effects were good but we have seen better. I always think that the specials should stand head and shoulders over other episodes, but for me, they rarely do. The twee ending with UNIT standing around clapping and Lady Christina flying away didn’t help either.


Another review I read said Planet of the Dead was as hollow as an Easter egg. I see it more as a Cadbury creme egg where someone has stolen a third of the filling. More yolk next time please! Thinking about it more and more, I realise I didn’t love it as much as I thought I did. It’s solid, but also very average. I’m really looking forward to the descending darkness of the last three specials and expect this in turn to be swept away by a new Doctor, companion and Executive Producer.


Sinking in the Sand

Friday, April 17th, 2009




I’ve been reading a lot of reviews on Ain’t It Cool recently, so in the interests of brevity, I’m stealing their format:



The kick-off – I have a soft spot for the ‘hit-the-ground-running’ format that seems to start each new series, and this was no exception. Yes the ‘Tomb Raider’ start was a bit lame (why the OTT security around a cup!), once the bus comes into the picture. Nice to see some good aerial shots of London too. Maybe I’m biased, but it’s a great city to look at.  

Malcolm – He might have come across a bit like a diminutive Rhys Ifans in Notting Hill but what a great little character to turn up, and certainly one of the more brighter parts of the episode.

HD – Yay! Finally Doctor Who looks filmic!



Michelle Ryan – she looks good in black, but where was the chemistry that was supposed to be prevalent through the show? Some reviewers are raving about Lady Christina… I just didn’t see it. Ryan certainly gave the episode some glamour, but some of the dialogue was spoken like a first read-through, and the all-action anti-hero was more like ‘bird on a wire’. She isn’t any more the Doctor’s match than Rose, Donna or River Song. Disappointing

Location – some shots looked fantastic, but when the vistas are enhanced with CGI storms, you can’t help but feel that they could have filmed this on a beach.

Effects – a mixed bag. Loved the skeleton coming out of the wormhole… very creepy. The cityscape was also good, even if shown on a screen. The metal creatures… not so much. The bus… see below.



The Bus – or specifically, the bus when it was off the ground. Good grief, you can tell that the production time was short on this one. The bus looked horrible when it started to fly, with no sense of scale (in fact it looked strangely small) and an almost pixellated look. Even worse was the ‘critter swatting’ moment – nice idea, but just so badly executed.

The Tease – yes it creates a good atmosphere for the rest of the specials, but having the Doctor forewarned AGAIN by someone with psychic powers (after the Face of Boe, the soothsayers, the Ood) is getting a bit ho-hum for my liking. A story arc should be more than just ‘by the way, something’s coming’ – which is why I think I enjoyed the Mr Saxon storyline so much… it wasn’t so much ‘Beware of Mr Saxon, Doctor’, rather hints and subtle mentions that slowly built to a climax. This clunked.

The Plotholes – erm… given that the wormhole destroys flesh but not bone, and only gives a London bus a dent or two… can I suggest that maybe a metal tow-rope might have been a reasonable idea?


It’s not that I’m not grateful for a new episode on our screens – I am. It’s great. But when a much-hyped special (following a much hyped special) has two writers, overseas locations and an international guest star… but is only on par with middling episodes from a regular series, then I feel like we’re getting short-changed.


By the looks of the Waters of Mars trailer though, hopefully by November Planet of the Dead will be but a distant half-forgotten memory.



Ladies and Gentlemen…

Sunday, April 12th, 2009

…we have a Water Of Mars cloister bell a-coming. (inviso-text for those who don’t want to be spoiled)

Full review of Planet of the Dead to come…