Inevitable Doctor Who blog post

doctor-who deep breath

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past month and have somehow avoided the massive publicity blitz that the BBC has carried out over recent months (including organising a world tour, ubiquitous advertising on BBC One (even during half-time at the World Cup final), several articles about the show appearing in every major newspaper and online publication, choosing to air the première in cinemas nationally, and putting Peter Capaldi’s face on as many billboards and magazine covers as humanly possible), you’ll probably know that Doctor Who is back.

It’s no surprise that the BBC is promoting the hell out of it, it’s one of the corporation’s biggest cash cows (rivalled only by Sherlock), and after the 50th anniversary special it’s more popular than ever.

In much of the pre-première hype, the writers and the cast kept emphasising how ‘mysterious’ and ‘dark’ the new guy was, and how different he’d be, and how jarring this different Doctor would be, both to his companion Clara and to the viewers at home.

The promotional images emphasised this change to a new moody, brooding Doctor. Instead of the cheeky-chappie face and mischievous grin of Matt Smith, there’s an angry, bushy-eyebrowed Scotsman glaring at you. Instead of a bright purple jacket and goofy bowtie, he’s wearing a plain waistcoat and trousers, all black.

In the trailers, he wonders whether he’s a good man and contemplates his past mistakes, while Clara looks on confused and wonders if she even knows who he is any more.

The message is clear: This is going to be very, very different.

And, for much of the super-long episode, which was even longer than last year’s Day of the Doctor anniversary special, it was quite different to anything from Matt Smith’s years.

The bombastic music was toned down to a bare minimum. The colour scheme was dark and washed out. The tone is noticeably different. The 79-minute running time allowed many scenes to be much longer than they would normally be, giving the episode a slow, leisurely pace. There was a general lack of of scenes featuring the Doctor running around frantically and shouting expository technobabble while the music loudly drowns out his dialogue that normally fill an episode of Doctor Who. Instead, there were plenty of long, quiet conversations with the music little more than a whisper.

Many of these dialogue-heavy scenes were spent giving Clara Oswald some much-needed character. When she was introduced last year, Clara was regarded by the Doctor, and the audience, as more of a mystery than a person. He didn’t know who she was and what she was like, so neither did we, and after he did figure out who she was, he was then preoccupied with other matters, like revisiting the Time War (Day of the Doctor) and fighting a centuries-long battle on a distant planet to keep Gallifrey safe (Time of the Doctor), so Clara got sidelined and, despite Jenna Coleman’s best efforts, was still quite boring and bland.

Here, she finally gets some personality. Struggling to cope with the Doctor’s new face, new personality and new, well, everything, she panics and complains and, in her chats with Madame Vastra and the new Doctor, is established as a bit of a passive-aggressive control freak with a fierce inner strength. The scenes with her and the Doctor arguing with each other are highlights of the episode, as is the scene where the Doctor talks to a homeless man about his new face, which is where we get our first real impression of what the new Doctor will be like.

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The Day of the Doctor/An Adventure in Space and Time

doctor who 50th

While waiting for the 50th anniversary special of Doctor Who to begin last Saturday, I did not envy Stephen Moffat. He had a near-impossible task to complete. He had to write an episode that would pay tribute to the show’s past without turning into a boring retrospective, lay down the foundations for the next decade or so of Doctor Who, introduce and establish a new, previously-unknown incarnation of the Doctor, re-introduce an old fan-favourite Doctor, continue the storyline of the current Doctor, quickly and efficiently mix all 3 together through some time-travel trickery, show the much-discussed-but-never-seen Time War even though surely no budget in the universe could do it justice, throw in a few surprises and twists and give Clara something to do. In just over 70 minutes. Oh, and, ideally, he should make all this fairly easy to follow for people who’ve never seen the show before – due to all the hype and the promotion the 50th anniversary received, there was bound to be a potentially-huge new audience tuning in.

Amazingly, he seems to have succeeded. 10 million people tuned into the UK broadcast of the special, and a quick surveying of the online reaction reveals near-universal praise for the episode. This is no easy feat – Who fans on the Internet can be notoriously difficult to please, and they’re usually complaining about how the show’s gone downhill since Moffat took over/Tennant left/Eccleston left/it was resurrected in 2005/Tom Baker left (delete as appropriate).

There were nonetheless a few complaints that I noticed, just the usual ‘this is utter nonsense’, ‘this is too complicated, I have no idea what’s happening’, etc. To the latter, I call bullshit. Unless you were staring at your phone for the first 20 minutes, or talking over everything, I fail to see how you could be lost. My mum, who knows the general gist of the show, tuned in to see what all the fuss was about, and even she seemed to get what was going on. The first few minutes can be a little confusing, due to the episode switching between three different storylines with three different Doctors in three different time periods, but a clever bit of visual shorthand – a fez and a time portal – makes it clear where in the episode’s narrative the characters are.

This is the part where I would normally put a brief plot summary, but since Doctor Who‘s plots often involve a big amount of time travel and messing with the past to change the future – in this episode especially – they’re a right pain in the arse to sum up in text, and they end up sounding far more complicated and convoluted than they appear when we’re actually watching the story unfold.

So let’s talk about John Hurt instead. John Hurt’s in this! John Hurt! He’s playing the ‘don’t call me the Doctor’ Doctor, who’s helping the Time Lords fight a seemingly-endless battle against Daleks that somehow gained access to time-travel tech. He steals the most powerful weapon in the universe, The Moment, a weapon that can go through space and time and lay waste to entire civilisations, planning to destroy both Daleks and Time Lords to end the horrible war. The weapon also has a conscience, so it can judge him and punish him for choosing to use it. This conscience takes the form of Billie Piper as super-powerful Bad Wolf Rose*, who urges the not-Doctor to see what his future selves are like, and what effect his use of the weapon would have, before he goes through with his big decision.

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Doctor Who: A catch-up guide PART ONE

doctors

With less than a month to go until Doctor Who‘s big 50th Anniversary Special, the advertising and build-up to the big day has really kicked off. There was that ’50 years’ trailer which was shown after Atlantis a week ago, with another trailer – this one with footage of the special – and a rumoured mini-episode still to come.

All of this extra attention on the show could attract new fans who, overwhelmed with episodes, may be unsure of where to start watching, or even understand what it’s about. Well, basically it’s a sci-fi show about a time-travelling alien, and each episode could be set in any time, place or genre. You could start with the Ninth Doctor’s first episode, ‘Rose’, and go from there, but be prepared for some very inconsistent quality (in the first series there’s a really good World War 2 two-parter, but there’s also farting aliens. So…). Or you could start slightly later with the Eleventh Doctor’s first episode, ‘The Eleventh Hour’. You would catch up faster, and there’s a lot of good episodes there, but there’s also a long story arc involving one character which isn’t quite as good as it could have been.

There we go, done. Boom, sorted. Off you go.Have fun!

The rest of this blog post is for those who may have once been fans but gave up watching, having had enough of the increasingly, and rather unnecessarily, complicated storylines that made up much of Series 6. For those who watched the finale, in which all of time happened at once, with Winston Churchill riding on a mammoth, the leader of the Silence being quickly defeated somehow and River Song killing/marrying the doctor at the same time, though he’d actually faked his death, despite repeatedly being told that he really, actually, honestly, seriously was going to die, really this time, and oh for God’s sake.

After watching that, I can’t really blame people for throwing their hands up in the air and going ‘I give up! I quit! Fuck this show, no more!’ But it’s gotten better, honest. The overarching storyline has gotten simpler and, in Doctor Who logic, actually makes some sense. None of the episodes (though, of course, this is very subjective), have been awful, and a few come close to being classics. A lot of them have been fun, standalone adventures, instead of head-hurting, nonsensical, overstuffed crap like ‘Let’s Kill Hitler’*. And if you have been away from the show for a while and start watching the special, you might be a little confused.

*(For any Doctor Who newbies still reading this, yes, there really was an episode called ‘Let’s Kill Hitler’. And no, no they didn’t kill Hitler. I know, what a waste. And yes, that Winston Churchill on a mammoth thing really does happen, but don’t let that put you off. Also, why are you still reading this? There’s spoilers everywhere, go! Go!)

So, here’s a quick, spoiler-free summary of every episode in series seven. In all, there’s only about 5 or 6 episodes that you absolutely should watch. They aren’t necessarily the best ones, but they are the most story-heavy. The rest of the series is also a rather good, a fun mix of adventure, horror, noir, Victorian silliness and dinosaurs.

I’ll try to keep this short, but no promises, alright?

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Doctor Who – A catch-up guide PART TWO

If you’re interested in the fiftieth anniversary of Doctor Who but haven’t watched the show for a couple of years and are thinking of jumping back in before the special airs on November 23rd, this is the guide for you. Here’s a mostly-spoiler-free summary of each episode of series seven, with the story-crucial MUST WATCH episodes clearly marked, and the fun standalone episodes briefly reviewed so you can pick and choose which ones to watch depending on whether they sound good to you.

Part one of the guide is HERE.

THE SNOWMEN – MUST WATCH

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The Doctor has become a miserable recluse after the events of ‘The Angels Take Manhattan’, staying above the clouds over Victorian London. Vastra, Jenny and Strax keep those who want to meet him at bay, but one girl gets through (by saying something which is supposed to seem clever, but is really massively coincidental). The girl is troubled by something lurking in a frozen pond and asks the Doctor for help. The Doctor recognises her voice, but can’t quite place where it’s from. Together, they fight baddies Sir Ian McKellen and Richard E. Grant in a fun Christmas Special.

THE BELLS OF SAINT JOHN – MUST WATCH

st john

The Doctor is jolted into action when the phone on the TARDIS rings. Clara is on the other end of the line, a girl who looks just like the Clara in Victorian London, and sounds like the soufflé girl in ‘Asylum of the Daleks’. But that’s impossible, isn’t it? Who is this Impossible Girl? Meanwhile, something weird is in the Wi-Fi, and the Doctor has to sort it out. Back to being happy and bouncy, rather than glum and Scrooge-y, he indulges his inner action hero to save the day yet again.

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