Archive for November, 2013

The Tennant Era

Thursday, November 28th, 2013
“Oh, I am brilliant!”
In order to understand the era of the Tenth Doctor, perhaps it helps to see it in context with its successor.
This breaks the rules of Eras, somewhat; but such is the effect of the Smith Era, the reinvention of the character of the Doctor under Steven Moffat (of which, surely, another post to come) and most recently The day of the Doctor. This anniversary special pits the Tenth Doctor against the Eleventh, and both together against the hitherto unseen Ninth/War Doctor. The latter difference are plaint enough, but it’s the former which are the more surprising.

Both post-Eccleston iterations share common characteristics – they are young, dashingly geeky, physical and outwardly emotional, and they rely heavily on the companionship and friendship of their (mainly) female fellow adventurers. Both struggle with mixed messages picked up by said companions, and in turn the companions of both the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors are largely defined by the intensity of this relationship. The Doctors, however, are different men; each gradually distanced from that epochal catastrophe of the new series – the Time War and destruction of Gallifrey, they react and encounter the universe that remains with them in contrasting ways. The Eccleston Doctor carries a palpable air of survivor guilt, while Smith’s Doctor has made new and deadly enemies through his gradual mastery of time and space; Tennant’s Doctor occupies territory between these poles – having regenerated past his immediate shell shock he is constantly testing himself against the cosmos in which he now inhabits (or imagines he does for the majority of his life) as the last of his kind.

Thus, the Tenth Doctor as the “lonely angel”, a man cut off from his past and his home, at first seeking to enjoy an unfettered life, before crucially overstepping the mark and edging towards something as terrible as the world he first escaped, the self-titled ‘Time Lord Triumphant’. Tennant’s Time Lord is a character of exuberant energy anchored in a universe of sadness and regret, his cries of action and enthusiasm (“Allons-y!” the aforementioned “Brilliant!”) matched by an equal, apologetic refrain (“I am so sorry”); little wonder that this anti-hero with his peaks and troughs of emotion would find a ready-made audience in adolescent viewers.

The Tenth Doctor’s first two companions are ready-made audience identifiers – perhaps we could also add others to this list – Astrid Peth, in particular; young women with varying degrees of infatuation for this outwardly young, outwardly exuberant and vivacious adventurer in time and space. Within, we know there is melancholy, and a sense that even these companions may not be able to fill the space left by the disappearance of his own people – witness the Doctor shrinking inwardly in The Impossible Planet, shuddering at the thought of ‘settling down’, and the cool eagerness with which he maroons his mortal second self on Pete’s World with Rose. Indeed , watch how those relationships are broken down with each companion: separation, estrangement, irreversible trauma, with the Doctor compelled to move ever on as he always has. If Eccleston’s Doctor was a reluctant survivor and reluctant hero, then Tennant is a hero still trying to free himself from responsibility, newly-reborn and finding fun in the Universe, before finding it a sometimes cold and empty place. Tennant’s Doctor is a complicated figure, often eulogised in lofty terms (“fire and ice”), but in turns paradoxically and remarkably tactile, chummy, brotherly.

All of which helps to create through his reactions and interactions and impression of the Universe of the new Who era, where for a while the remote and alien territory of the Hartnell and Troughton Eras are reduced and made occasionally very domestic (New Earth in Gridlock), or even silly, with silly names and faces. Indeed, the Universe is probably the most exciting and occasionally slapstick it’s been since the Graham Williams stories, as though showrunner Russell T Davies is imprinting his childhood era over the resoundingly successful relaunch. The remarkable turnaround of the Doctor in his final two years is therefore a story that probably does more to roll out his next incarnation than speak of the exuberance of the Tennant Doctor we might otherwise envisage. In short, here is a Doctor in microcosm; the most successful of Davies’ visions of the show, and in four varied and contrasting years we bear witness to the rise and fall of a pretty interesting and memorable incarnation.


Perfect Day

Monday, November 25th, 2013
Being a Doctor Who fan in 2013 presents such a vast array of experiences, such a broad variety of access and media in which to enjoy the series that in its semi-centenary this fan was able to watch three celebratory programmes across a terrestrial channel, pay-TV channel, and finally the internet.
When I was a lad of 18 Doctor Who turned 25. It seems now that there was one holy week dedicated on New Zealand television (which at the time comprised of two channels) dedicated to the show. The truth is, the coverage of the show was handsome, but not actually that exhaustive, contained as it was to largely non-primetime transmission hours. Twenty-five years on, and an entire weekend of back to back Who on UKTV, plus Prime’s twice-screened broadcast of The Day of the Doctor (not to mention those 3D cinema screenings for fans lucky enough to get the tickets), plus of course the monolithic internet coverage sees the 1988 marathon seem positively quaint. If Steven Moffat’s promise of Doctor Who ‘taking over television’ were to have been a promise made real, then surely it happened here. What follows then is a potted review of three individual celebration shows from the past weekend.
An Adventure in Space and Time [UKTV 5:50pm November 23]
If Mark Gattis ever considered a tilt at the position of Doctor Who showrunner, then consider this his  major frontal assault. AAISAT is a visual feast, not only for Sixties-philes such as myself (and I was as much enthralled by the real-life period detail as I was the faithfully-replicated shooting scenes), but for anyone interested in the history and miraculous birth of a TV legend, this 70-minute docudrama comes highly recommended. David Bradley is in turns virtually indistinguishable from a version of William Hartnell which surely resides in the collective living memory of those who witnessed Verity Lambert’s days of pass and vinegar. Doctor Who’s series creation myth proves to be as enthralling as the series’ first episodes themselves, and Bradley’s Hartnell is a portrayal of studied restraint.  In stark contrast to the hyperactive man-child of the Twenty-first century Doctor, Gattis’ Hartnell is a man plagued with self-doubt, seeing all too clearly the opportunity of a lifetime slipping from his grasp, and becoming with every year more reliant on the indulgence, the patience and support of his producer and co-stars. The end, inevitably, is heartbreaking. A work of devotion, this drama is the clear highlight of the anniversary weekend reminding us of how close we came to having nothing to celebrate at all, and of the fragility at the heart of Doctor Who’s most critical years. Consider me a Gattis convert.
The Day of the Doctor [Prime 9am November 24]
Simulcast bar-ten minutes (probably enough time for Strax’s pre-screening announcement then), this special is a strange beast. Not entirely the all-in celebration some fans may have wanted it to be, yet possessed with the confidence to build not on a fifty-year old myth, but an eight year old one instead. TDOTD unashamedly looks forward, doffing its coat-tails to the series heritage, but determinedly pushing into the future, where even the reinstated elder statesman of Doctors has been recast as a possible future incarnation (a clever trick – wonder if there are three to six other future Doctors with oddly-familiar faces out there?) It’s an unconventional special, and an anniversary sometimes in name and cameo alone – a former Doctor is brought back (verdict? Too soon!) , and a new former Doctor installed; numbers get juggled, doubles are played off against one another (the story’s Zygon gambit being one strand I felt was less than essential), and via John Hurt’s War Doctor some curious reinventions of the show have been wrought – as some are calling it, a ‘soft-reboot’. Outside of the Time War the story, too, is a little static, recalling the quieter moments of The End of Time during the Tower scenes, where three incarnations of the same Time Lord get to play a game of  ‘Won’t somebody think of the children?!‘ over fallen Gallifrey and its late, lamented may poles. But, churlishness aside, this is a nice diversion, and doubtless the central picture would have looked brilliant in 3D. Onl;y one real niggle: for all of his darkness and terrible nature according to Moffat, how did John Hurt’s incarnation end up so damned sympathetic and  lovable?
The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot [On that Internet from Sunday 24th]
 I’m so glad I saved this for last. Peter Davison’s irreverent story of Time Lord irrelevance is an equal and equally affectionate tribute to the parent series and its triumphs, failures and just odd lineage as Gattis’ earlier feature. Everyone in this production is clearly up for more than a little self-parody, and the result is blissful. I can’t decide who was gamer, between a certain late companion, John Barrowman or Russell T Davies, but I watched this with a near-constant grin on my face and a giddy sense of empathy for yesterday’s heroes, aching in limb, frequently out of breath and distressingly squeezed into increasingly ill-fitting costumes. I’m even smiling looking at the above picture as I type this. Did the three musketeers really pull it off as depicted? I want to believe they did!
And so, comedy, drama, flash and verve, with some nostalgia and humanity in the mix. Truly, to get the full Who anniversary viewing experience you didn’t just have to be there, you had to be everywhere.

Fast Return – October 2013

Saturday, November 23rd, 2013

[Quick - cover October before November runs out!]

Audio… Go
Go no more, alas. Sad news that AudioGO, holders of the license to new series audio fiction (and the odd classic series reading, plus of course the series that got Tom back behind [the] Mike) has gone into voluntary administration. There’s always Big Finish, it seems, but there is of course now less choice for new series fans –and that’s not a good thing.

Missing Presumed Found

So in October nothing hap- whaaa?

Alright, we’re late to the party again, but hell, what a party! TWO (or one and three-quarters if you must) Troughton stories back, soon to be available on DVD but more importantly immediately available to see on ITunes!!! What’s that? So long as you don’t live in NZ (and some other countries) Grr! Why, if it weren’t for the ever-regurgitating Omnirumour on GB’s Missing Episodes Forum (currently a locked thread because… because… hmmm) we’d have nothing else to hope for and would be scaling the walls of BBC Worldwide demanding The Lion back as recompense!

Suffice it to say: more please. Best. Anniversary. Present. Ever!

Clara’s Mud
Hey, Crooked Dice have made a figure that you could use as Clara if you want. If you squint, that is. How long til we get a Hurt Doctor figure then, eh?

Avoid LATE disappointment – be disappointed early!
Yeah, FigBin’s Light at the End has been released early! An odd thing, to be marking the anniversary a month early (apparently it was “always part of the plan” oh yes), but in this day of internet leaks and moles and other things you can pull out of your garden, it’s a reality of life, innit? Nothing stays secret for long, and premature releases will sometimes occur. In this case, BF swear that’s not what happened, and in any case L.A.T.E is, well, e.a.r.l.y. Plus, it comes amidst a pretty decent 1963-themed triptych of stories (they’re not linked, so it’s not a three-parter0 for BF Doctors 5, 6 and 7 that by all accounts have restored what has been a truly mixed year quality-wise for the audiomeisters. So that’s a Five Doctors for the post-classic series but with classic Doctors (including Tom!), and more companions than you could shake a sonic at. And it’s even come out on vinyl! Enjoy!

On the other hand, that cover looks a bit ropey.

Ticket to Riot
Aand just in time for the Anniversary weekend, tickets on sale for the big screening of The Day of the Doctor. In 3-D! Sigh. Didn’t get any, would have missed out anyway. Sounds like it would be a blast!

Still, there’s always the boundless world of imagination to explore…

[Phew. Think we got away with it this time...]

‘Night’ Fever

Friday, November 22nd, 2013

It’s very difficult as a fan brought up on the old series to remain objective about Night of the Doctor, simply because it delivered so much with such economy. To date, the Paul McGann iteration of the Doctor marks the longest-ever break in a televised role for the series’ lead character yet. Furthermore, the paucity of McGann’s in-character appearance outside the TV Movie lends it extra significance. For a publicity-shy, costume-dodging actor any reappearance would be a boon; a return to round out his own “mayfly” TV role is nothing short of a wonder – for me easily one of the three most exciting, unexpected and utterly brilliant revelations of Doctor Who‘s 50th year.

And it fits so well; that aforementioned economy tells us so much about the Eighth Doctor that props (a sonic screwdriver, novelty headgear) often don’t. His heroism, his doomed reluctance to take sides in an escalating Time War, the battered exterior of his TARDIS (though no interior shot – my only compliant!). When it arrived, his death, resurrection and regeneration were aptly Messianic, book ending with references with which the character was introduced. His final words are an echoing from the New Testament book of Luke, but for him no grand cruciform pose or Roman candle regeneration, but something more understated, something (dare I say it) redolent of the ‘classic’ series, bar all that lying down. “Is this death?”, his Fifth predecessor asked before his regeneration; for the Eighth Doctor it most definitely was, and it’s remarkable to observe now how the most marginal of previous Doctors has been planted at the heart of the new series’ world-building and of the Eleventh Doctor’s last days.

From this fan, then, to Steven Moffat heartfelt appreciation. The Eighth Doctor is now ended, in an act of self-sacrifice that in its non-epic, personal context immediately recalls the old series’ most celebrated regeneration story (Androzani), and in doing so hits the spot Moffat’s immediate predecessor himself vied for (the Doctor spending his last moments saving the life of one of “the little people”) but was unable to hit.

On his blog Al draws attention further to the Eight Doctor’s new costume, an approval I must echo. Past posts tell too well that I’m no fan of the WETA/Big Finish ensemble; Night‘s rendition – nodding to the Partisan, the brigand, the Romantic hero, retains the kernel of McGann’s US costume, while deftly pushing it along to something truly ‘lived in’. True to McGann’s naturalistic performance, you hardly notice the outfit at all – it’s a master stroke.

The rest is just wonderful fan service – Karn (the Eighth Doctor has a history here already thanks to Big Finish), audio companions name-checked, and some knowing Moffat lines pitched perfectly, that show that the current show runner has a good ear for the timbre of the McGann version, and I for one would welcome another appearance by this pair.

In all, Night was a magnificent surprise, and a brilliant gift for McGann fans as well as fans of the previous series. Rumour has it that higher heads at BBC Worldwide have taken note of the minisode’s success – we can only hope. Could the Eighth Doctor return again for another brief adventure yet? It’s a question I’d stopped asking a long time ago; how strange to be revisiting it now with such optimism!


Zeus Plug flashback: issue one

Monday, November 18th, 2013

To mark November being Tennant month, here’s a return to Zeus Plug‘s debut, and a Tenth Doctor focus straight outta The Christmas Invasion. Oh, we were all so optimistic back then, weren’t we? Feel that youthful hope…

X the Unknown

Illustration: Alistair HughesIn the year 2000 BBC Books, saddled with a Doctor four years into his tenure and carrying a history about him like a tortoise does a shell, took a drastic measure. It made the Eighth Doctor forget who he was, not just for one story, but for a year. Eschewing his companions, temporal knowledge and TARDIS, and for nearly a hundred human years experienced the world and his environment fresh and unaided. This wasn’t the first time such a thing had been done of course – Virgin Books had done a similar thing with the Seventh Doctor in Paul Cornell’s Human Nature; but that story, like every story before it and the ‘Caught on Earth’ cycle, returned the Doctor to his present history-steeped, continuity sodden ‘familiar self’. Of course, what Richards needed, most likely wanted to do that no story before had been able to do, and what he could never hope to achieve, was not making the Doctor forget who he was, but his audience.

Five years later the idea would seem moot, because now most sensibly, Doctor Who is made for a new audience, not a curmudgeonly and shrinking fan base tied to the old series and its continuity. Played from the outset very smartly, with few instances of a ‘restart’ button having been pressed, and (thankfully) no strange desires to make the Doctor half-human, the Eccleston series has been a smash hit. The issue at the end of his supposed first season? The short televised life of the Ninth Doctor, gazumphed in a BBC plot (sort of).

With that in mind, and the how’s return neatly assured, the real gambit would surely be the first regeneration – hardly the surprise that it was in 1966, but still an effective show changer. The Tenth Doctor, therefore, is RTD’s newest gamble, and The Christmas Invasion saw him arrive in style. David Tennant – young actor, a board-treader recently tested with some RTD-produced top shelf BBC fare. But what of the new Doctor himself? The Christmas Invasion, whatever individual fans may review it as, is a master-stroke, and it’s all in the imagery. Blood, shades of the occult, lots of shouting and visceral reds courtesy of the Sycorax, tribal paraphernalia recalling some aspects of the Lord of the Rings movies, and then there’s the Doctor himself. It may well be that in this story the quintessential image of Tennant’s Doctor – of any Doctor for the new century, has been achieved.

And this may be a scary thought if we’ve peaked this early. Nevertheless, can there be a more Doctorish image than that of our hero wielding a sword high above London in his pyjamas? It’s both sublime and ridiculous, projecting bravado and peril as well as delivering a knowing nod to the British tele-fantasy heroes of old as well as those more recent – Arthur Dent’s dressing gown, Harry Potter’s sword. It’s also a neat reflection of Davison’s Doctor’s first moments in Castrovalva; incapacitated, rendered all but useless while some greater peril gathers strength about him. In all its vulnerability its also a symbol of confidence – the polar opposite of Tennant’s predecessor with his tough leather-clad and cropped hair exterior but soft, guilt-ridden centre.

Indeed, if rumour is to be believed, that this season’s theme is of the new Doctor’s over-extended confidence and perilous self-assuredness, then its initial story neatly galvanises both ideas – of the handing down of some very British hero archetypes with an internal motif being developed. What to make of the Satsuma? Is it the ‘Torchwood’ of the new series, appearing as it does in two stories to date (if you care to include Attack of the Graske)? Probably not.