Into The Dark?

"Into The Dalek"

“Into The Dalek”

Of all the recent Doctor Who episodes, “Into The Dalek” is one that I personally want to see the most, perhaps even more than 50th anniversary special “The Day of the Doctor” itself. Rather than the anticipation that has been built up around current episodes, the War Doctor, regeneration, etc, “Into The Dalek” instead has me curious.

Last week was the broadcast of “Deep Breath”, the first full episode to feature Peter Capaldi as the Twelfth Doctor. Like many (make that all) fans I had been looking forward to this as I was eager to see exactly how Capaldi would portray the Doctor. Even though we have all now seen this portrayal however, there is still the fact that we don’t know who Capaldi’s Doctor is.

Although well read audiences are used to the idea of regeneration and several actors all playing the same character, a new Doctor is still something that takes getting used to. Many fans, particularly those new to the series, will also need convincing that this new character is the same one they know and love. As such “Deep Breath” follows a similar template to “The Christmas Invasion” and “The Eleventh Hour”, the first appearances of the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors respectively.

Whilst fending off an alien invasion these are episodes which see a companion trying to figure out who this new/same man is. Throughout the run of the series it has always been the companion who is the point of view character, through whose eyes the audience discovers time and space. In this situation they are more important than ever, and amnesia or not, the failure of the 1996 TV-movie is often blamed on introducing two incarnations of the Doctor before his companion.

For those post-regeneration episodes of the revived series however, we first get to see the comical but crude side of the Doctor. Capaldi comparing Strax to the seven dwarves is no different from Matt Smith telling Amelia Pond to fry something because she’s Scottish. It may be harsh, but it’s that funny element of being alien and not quite understanding that is the initial reassurance that there is nothing to worry about. So far, so very Doctor.

"Basically, run!"

“Basically, run!”

Throughout the episode the companion is puzzled by the Doctor saving the Earth by asking seemingly ridiculous questions, but come the end of his investigation he will save the day through his ‘I am the Doctor’ moment. David Tennant called the Sycorax’s blood control bluff and pressed their big red button for them, and Smith stared down the Atraxi with his history of saving the Earth. Capaldi on the other hand …. didn’t.

The confirmation phone call from Number 11 wasn’t for Clara’s benefit, it was for ours.

In interviews and previews leading up to Capaldi’s episodes, one word which was often used was “dark”, and here we are given a Doctor who may, or may not, have pushed a (half) man to his death. Regardless of whether it was push or jump, it is hardly the first time the Doctor has had to oversee the death of the antagonist, but here he does so with a look of almost indifference.

Dark indeed, and something which harks back to the days of Sylvester McCoy (apparently) destroying Skaro and committing Dalek genocide. It came at the point in the show’s history that script editor Andrew Cartmel wanted to add some more mystery to the character after years of accumulated drip-fed information. Twenty-plus series after the question had first been asked by Ian and Barbara, “Doctor Who?” had essentially become “the Doctor’s life story”.

The question...

The question…

And after the broadcast of “The Time of the Doctor”, this was exactly where we found ourselves again. Not only have we had revelations regarding the Time War, an element that Russell T. Davies used to renew the character and wanted to leave untouched, but along with Smith’s tenure, “The Time of the Doctor” also saw the end of the question.

This time it was quite literal in fact, as it was even used diegetically within the show itself; “on the Fields of Trenzalore, at the fall of the Eleventh, when no living creature can speak falsely or fail to answer, a question will be asked — a question that must never ever be answered”. To be fair it wasn’t exactly answered properly, but it did at least give a substantial conclusion to an arc that had run throughout Smith’s entire portrayal, if not the series as a whole.

And so now we find ourselves ready to continue/renew the adventures of a character we have known for 50 years. After the climax of “Deep Breath”, we are eagerly awaiting the next appearance of a Doctor who has every indication of being as dark as it gets, and it doesn’t get much darker than when facing the Daleks.

Throughout years of mystery, answers, and revelations, we are once again asking ourselves that central question which brings us back to our television sets Saturday night, after Saturday night: Doctor Who?

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Review: The Name of The Doctor (spoilers and theories not optional)

The season 7 finale contained revelations that audiences were not expecting.

The season 7 finale contained revelations that audiences were (probably) not expecting.

So begins what is perhaps the longest wait for television fans across the globe. Forget Locutus of Borg’s cliffhanger, that was so twenty years ago (twenty-three to be exact, scary how long ago The Next Generation was, but hey, it’s held up remarkably well).

But let’s take a step back for a minute, and first take a look back at how we got to this point. Series 7 started back last autumn, with the final five outings for the Amy and Rory. With casting often hard to keep secret in this day and age, there was no surprise that they would be leaving, and the announcement that Jenna-Louise Coleman would be replacing them was made before episode one was broadcast. Episode one, better known as Asylum of the Daleks to you and me, didn’t disappoint, as it featured Daleks new and old aplenty (even the special weapons Dalek if you squinted hard enough), a nice reference to the shows history where Daleks who had survived his defeats were kept in intensive care, and Jenna-Louise Coleman popped up as well.

Clara boards the TARDIS earlier than expected?, they’ve kept that hidden from us, well done BBC. Nope, wait. She’s a Dalek. And now she’s dead. Touche Steven Moffat, touche!

This rather unexpected turn of events was kept on the back burner while we enjoyed Amy and Rory’s three penultimate outings before their eventual leaving the TARDIS in The Angels Take Manhattan. A teary affair for many in which, for her final act of onscreen heroism, Amy finally redeems herself by choosing Rory over the Doctor, no going backsies.

Well, narratively anyway, considering whatever was stopping the Doctor from returning was localised only to New York, and both Ponds got rather experienced at travelling across the States in Day of the Moon, but as fun as they were, I can’t argue with the fact their particular stories had been told.

Next came the mid-season Christmas special, and another appearance from Jenna-Lousie Coleman. With the Ponds well and truly departed, it seemed we weren’t going to get any classic series style juxtaposition of companions from different parts of time and space (well, 21st century Britain at least). But we did get Clara back, at least for a while, before she too left us with the mystery of what exactly is going on here?

It has to be said however, Clara’s second death left us with a better beginning for the part two opener The Bells of Saint John. As much as I would have loved a companion that wasn’t from the 21st century (even if she was still from London), the (re)introduction of modern Clara added more mystery to the character that would keep us guessing through the rest of the series, than continuing from where The Snowmen would have left off, would have done.

And whilst I enjoyed the rest of the series, I have to say not as much as I was expecting. Considering it has been eighteen months since the end of season six, you’d think there would have been more time to polish it up a bit. Yes I know they’ve been busy planning for the show 50th in November, but surely the extra effort could have been spread throughout the whole year of the anniversary, not just the day itself. What with writing the BBC’s celebratory drama An Adventure in Space and Time, you’d think that Gatiss could have settled for just the one Doctor Who episode, but instead wrote both Cold War, and The Crimson Horror. Likewise new to Who writer Neil Cross who penned both The Rings of Akhaten and Hide. Protests as to the lack of female writers aside, it has to be said that one benefit the 13 episode seasons have over twentysomething American shows is the extra time they have to get the details right, something negated by having twice as many scripts to complete. The big let downs that got to us though, were the fact that the episodes were given a sense of epic proportions that they just didn’t have.

With such a great title, Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS seemed like it could have been so much more than just running through lots of corridors, and for a Neil Gaiman episode, Nightmare in Silver didn’t seem that nightmarish, but was perhaps aimed more at children scared of being abducted by newer and sleeker cybermen in the middle of the night.

Not that the second half was all bad, there were some interesting stories and great actors, not least in the aformentioned Hide. A genre twisting ghost story which, in true Doctor Who colours, was actually about something else all along, and featured a remarkable performance from Dougray Scott as a charming yet shy ghost hunter. Richard E. Grant, as always, is another great addition to the cast.

Where the series shined though, was in Saturday’s final episode, The Name of the Doctor. With a titillating title that had fans everywhere speculating, it was one that didn’t let down on the hype, and was the best Moffat season finale since he took responsibility for them (perhaps in part due to the fact that it hasn’t been an alternate timeline that gets wiped afterwards anyway). Minor quibbles would be left aside (we haven’t quite known Clara long enough for what seems like such a major part throughout the Doctor’s history) right from the beginning of the episode, and indeed the series, starting as we did on “Gallifrey a very long time ago”. Clara telling William Hartnell himself that he’s making a mistake by stealing the TARDIS was one of the two boldest moves made by the show since it’s return, the second coming right at the end with that introduction.

Perhaps the biggest troll to fans everywhere, but also the biggest relief for many who were dreading the loss of mystery, the Doctor told both Clara and the audience at home that “my name, my real name, that is not the point”. More than just the revelation however, there were also some nice little details, what could have easily been reminiscent of Malkovich Malkovich, the Doctor being inside his own timestream which contained shadowy graves in the background was a nice touch.

doctor

Introducing the omninous figure who apparently both is, and isn’t quite the Doctor, show runner Steven Moffat has here made a brave move that unlike his previous “alliance” storyline of every alien race ever joining forces, has to evoke the same sense of awe and anticipation from Doctor Who fans of all ages, new and old fans alike.

Even if you didn’t recognise that deep rich voice declaring that “what I did, I did without choice”, let alone know of his upcoming appearance in the 50th anniversary special, whether your jaw dropped due to the arrival of John Hurt as either actor or character (or both), it was nothing less than spectacular, and will ensure that the internet chat rooms and forums will be bursting with theories and ideas for the next six months.

And so we await the 50th anniversary with perhaps more questions than answers. Although we discovered the answer to Clara’s being impossible, her story can be far from over (I’m still waiting to find out who the woman in the shop was). More than this however, just who is John Hurt??

Adding to his list of iconic science fiction moments that go do in history, he is credited by the BBC as playing the Doctor, despite Matt Smiths insistence that he is isn’t, even though they are both in a place where “there’s only me here, that’s the point”. Only the Doctor, “the one who broke the promise”, and Clara as well actually, but that could be looking too much into it.

So who exactly is he? Fans have already been keen to point several things seen (or not) throughout the episode that may or may not be important. Firsty, despite being referenced previously in the series, Paul McGann’s eighth Doctor was missing from the clips of his past incarnations, although his only on-screen appearance is still stuck in a sticky web of joint ownership with FOX. The fact that Hurt’s costume bears a resemblance to McGann’s newer image for his latest audio releases has also been mentioned.

Was the naming of the Valeyard just something to put an extra smile on the face of classic fans, or was it introducing an older concept that newer fans will need to be aware of in the future? Or is he something new altogether, a missing incarnation made possible by the fact we’ve never actually seen a McGann/Eccleston regeneration??

Over the past several years modern television has come to embrace longer and longer and longer story arcs, something which has made Doctor Who perhaps the last bastion of what is an icon of science fiction and fantastical television, “To Be Continued…”

Taking it to whole new levels however, with no-planets or galaxies in need of rescue, no one on the brink of death, but with the history of a character loved by generations about to be re-written on the eve of his 50th birthday, “To Be Continued … November 23rd” is perhaps the cruelest trick ever to be played on TV audiences, past, present, and probably even future…

john hurt as

Who had a busy weekend(?)

As much as I’ve been busy over the bank holiday weekend, my diary seems nothing compared to that of the Doctor’s. Not content with spreading his schedule throughout time and space, this weekend just gone has been something of a bumper celebration for Doctor Who, past, present and future.

Let’s go through this in a wibbly wobbly timey wimey fashion, and start with what fans had been waiting for; the long awaited beginning/continuation of the new season, and the (re)introduction of Clara/Oswin/Oswald, in an episode that did not disappoint.

'The Bells of Saint John' properly introduced Jenna-Louise Coleman's third (?) character.

‘The Bells of Saint John’ properly introduced Jenna-Louise Coleman’s third (?) character.

Although perhaps a bit too similar to season 4’s opener Partners In Crime (evil business woman leads evil corporation as a front to alien manipulation of contemporary London)The Bells of Saint John was all that you could want in a contemporary-set Who episode; an exciting episode full of danger, one liners, surprise twists, and gave fans more questions than answers (does the Doctor himself not wonder who the “woman in the shop” is?). the end result was only the start of what promises to be a great rest of the season.

Rather than simply review the episode however, (I’d only be quoting the best bits and spoil it for you, so I’ll just say head over to iplayer and watch it here), I’m instead going to talk about how I watched it.

For the first time in too long, I watched this particular episode of Doctor Who amongst a group of friends, all of whom were as equally  as I was. This hasn’t happened since my first stint at uni, and even then possibly not in as big a group as this. Not only do you get to share in the suspense and the laughter with others, but Moffat seems to write new-Who in a way that just can’t be watched on its own. Each of us picked up on a variety of the myriad of details, and were desperate to share our thoughts, theories and questions once it had finished.

This is how I now want to watch all of Doctor Who.

Going back earlier that day however, before people arrived and I had only the internet to share my thoughts with, there was a cast announcement for November’s forthcoming 50th anniversary special. David Tennant fans everywhere delighted at the news he would be back, but speculated as to who he would be playing; regular, or meta Doctor. Billie Piper fans were also delighted at her return, although it’s fair to say a number of Who fans in general weren’t. A group in which I have to say that I am included.

Don’t get me wrong, I thought Piper was fine in her portrayal of Rose, who was also a fantastic character. Admittedly I still haven’t decided whether her stringing Mickey along was worse than Amy’s trying to sleep with the Doctor the night before her wedding (actually, Amy’s decision was worse, Rose was just naive), but my problem is with her return, not Piper or Rose.

Doomsday, the finale of season 2 was a landmark episode. Catherine Tate aside, it not only introduced modern Torchwood, but featured the Daleks and Cybermen in a Monster vs Monster battle that Aliens and Predators could only dream of, and also a companion’s leaving that beats all others hands down in terms of emotional farewells.

Modern companions often  have more in common with Ace than is generally acknowledged

Modern companions often have more in common with Ace than is generally realised.

Following on from Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred’s Ace, those who travel with the Doctor in New-Who have generally been more than just companions, each having a specific relationship with the Doctor, and experiencing a personal journey as much as an intergalactic one. It is because of this relationship that, worse than Adric dying without ever knowing if he was right, Rose was abandoned, forced to live without the Doctor, and knowing how he felt about her. He was never even able to finish his sentence. As I said, an emotional farewell.

A farewell that was ruined two years later in season 4, by the only possible thing that could ruin the emotional moment of knowing they’ll never see each other again: them seeing each other again. Needless to say, I’m hoping Billie Piper’s 50th return is more The End Of Time than Journey’s End.

One piece of casting that cheered me up immensely after this news however, was that the 50th anniversary would also star British acting legend himself, John Hurt. Like Derek Jacobi, Ian McKellen, and David Warner who will appear later on in this current season, Hurt is the latest in a line of veteran (no, I don’t just mean old) actors to grace the show with not just their presence and reputation, but also immense talent. No stranger to sci-fi, having previously appeared in the scene in Alien, V for Vendetta, and everything in between, the association of Hurt’s name with Doctor Who is even more exciting than that of Peter Jackson’s, and most fans seem to be in agreement that no one more fitting could have been cast in the shows 50th anniversary.

Cut again to some time later, and the internet was ablast with snippets of a photographic nature. First came two pics of Tennant and Matt Smith (and the tip of a Dalek Gunstick?) together at the scripts read through, and once those had gone viral, the BBC also tweeted an image of a 21st century Zygon, complete with #DoctoWho50th hashtag.

But while fans are eagerly awaiting for November’s celebrations to grace their screens, showrunner Steven Moffat is no doubt waiting for September, and the announcement of who has won the prestigious Hugo Awards. Celebrating the best in last years sci-fi & fantasy, and with a shortlist of just five TV episodes in the running for Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form category, three of last years episodes, Asylum of the Daleks, The Angels take Manhattan, and The Snowmen, have been nominated.

Jeff Murdock was a constant source of comedic theories and phrases in 'Coupling'

Richard Coyle’s Jeff constantly had the best lines in Moffat’s earlier ‘Coupling’

Yes, not only is he celebrating as Doctor Who showrunner, but those three episodes were written by Steven ‘Juggernaut’ Moffat himself as a writer. The writer who ten years ago was entertaining TV viewers with Jeffrey Murdock and the Visual Access Angle, is this year celebrating the fact that his stories alone have earned a total of eleven nominations in only eight years, and is no doubt hoping for his fifth win.

Between writing and helming the 50th anniversary episode, working with John Hurt, and adding “buy bigger display cabinet?” to his to-do list, it would seem that 2013 is already a fantastic year for Doctor Who, and Moffat truly has the key to the gates of paradise, regardless of having too many legs.