18/08/2019

Series 11 - It Takes You Away & The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos


It Takes You Away reviewed by Sean Alexander
I’ll be totally honest here - this series of Doctor Who hasn’t done too much for me.  Generic villains, an almost pathological decision to keep fifty-five years of continuity out of the mix (almost as though showrunner Chris Chibnall took one look at last Christmas’ Doctor-mash ‘Twice Upon a Time’ and had the same misgivings about the direction of things as he did in 1986), a severe lack of consequence in these hermetic ‘bubble’ episodes, and a Doctor who was both generically written and, in Jodie Whittaker’s hands, seems to lack the kind of star power to not only carry a show but extinguish any lingering accusations of the show ‘going female’ for political rather than dramatic affect.  Bradley Walsh remains for me the only great triumph: humble, blokey and capable of saying far more with an anguished frown than some of his costars manage with reams of exposition or passionate grandstanding eulogies.  Oh, and on the subject of dialogue, possibly my greatest bugbear: telling rather than showing.  Week after week the expositional level of each script has been at the cost of actually engaging this member of the audience, almost as though the lengthened timeslot has demanded more jaw-jaw over war-war.  Perhaps it’s the presence of prose writers amongst the all-new writing team, I dunno.  But where I once hankered for the 80s incidental music to tone things down so I didn’t miss the dialogue, now the dialogue intrudes on Segun Akinola’s score.  And that can’t be good, can it?


16/08/2019

Series 11 - Kerblam & The Witchfinders


Kerblam reviewed by John Connors
If you’re a frequent user of online retailers and have wondered what goes on behind the scenes, the packing process is probably not  a million miles from what is depicted in this lively episode, the most traditional this year so far.  Materialising delivery robots are not yet but there is already talk of using drones. It is this familiarity of concept- which shored up many a Russell T Davies period story – that means the viewer can more easily connect with what’s going on.  I do know people though who think it’s the worst one of this series; it looks like it might be one of those polarising stories. For me` Kerblam!`ups the ante over the recent run of episodes which were good but felt small scale. For a change thousands of people are at risk from the antagonist’s plan which itself stems from a deliberate though properly explained reason. After a run of either monsters by accident or rather lacklustre villains it is pleasing to have an episode with more than mild peril. 

From the corporate front to the enormous warehouses and famed Kerblam man the story initially appears to be a direct satire of Amazon and by extension online shopping. Keblam’s headquarters itself has the same sort of design and service model as our favourite online retailer though one suspects a rather more generous 10% human workforce. Yet as the episode unfurls what Peter McTighe’s tale is really interested in is the way employees are treated and the remoteness of decision makers from the people whose decisions they affect.

14/08/2019

Series 11 - The Tsuranga Conundrum & Demons of the Punjab

The Tsuranga Conundrum reviewed by John Connors

Chris Chibnall’s most dynamic Doctor Who script prior to becoming showrunner was `42` which had a superb sense of urgency that is shared by `The Tsuranga Conundrum` to equally strong effect. While there are no real innovations in terms of the scenario, and almost every element can be traced back either to earlier Doctor Who or one or other Star Trek series it is played out with an involving sense of character. It is so well packaged, directed with such flair and performed with such gusto that the viewer is swept along. A visually impressive opening scene on a celestial junkyard leads to a peril strewn adventure in one of the series’ most generously spaced ships which has an air of Star Trek- Next Generation about it. If the cause of much of this danger is a comedic looking albeit dangerous alien kudos to the production team for going with something different. Well something that resembled the Crazy Frog!

That fantastic opening vista pure takes your breath away and it’s not even going to be the setting for the episode! A junk strewn world viewed from above it is one of those moments where you can say- “only in Doctor Who” and I was so taken with it that it the jolt from there to the main location was almost as jarring for me as it is for Team Tardis. Are we calling them that? Yeah, go on then.

What the episode successfully achieves more than anything is making the Universe seem very big and sometimes odd. We meet a whole culture and two races we’ve never heard of before and there are no back references which makes the whole thing seem fresh. It’s true that you can sometimes see the parts that make up the sum- the Trek inspired ship and android, the retro sci- fi alien, the influence of `42` and indeed `The Invisible Enemy- yet it coalesces into a packed, breathless 50 minutes. Yes it is convenient that such a legendary pilot just happens to be on board but sometimes we are too super critical of writers. There are just enough different characters and subplots each of which get time to shine yet feed into the overall story.

12/08/2019

Series 11 -Rosa & Arachnids In The UK


Rosa reviewed by Tim Worthington

Television on a Sunday. Never the most exciting or essential time of the week. The place where they put everything that they had to show, but nobody would have tolerated them doing so on a day when they might actually have been watching.

If you got up early enough, there was a bible lesson from The Sunday Gang, with Teena asking why no-one ‘elped that poor geezer before that Samaritan come along while Mackintosh Mouse screeched about sassenachs in the corner. Morning Worship and Songs Of Praise, to remind you that actually literally physically going to church wasn’t quite enough for Jesus. Weekend World, The Money Programme and Credo and their frustrating combination of exciting theme music and tedious topical content. Out Of Town, which didn’t even bother with exciting theme music. Whatever in the name of sanity Cabbages And Kings actually was. That’s Life, which you watched because it was the closest thing to actual entertainment on offer (although I am not prepared to make a legally binding claim that it actually was entertainment). And hidden away right at the end of the night, ITV’s almost-too-hot-for-broadcast stick-them-there-and-hopefully-Mary-Whitehouse-will-have-gone-to-bed comedy shows like Spitting Image, The New Statesman and Clive James On Television. Which were actually good, of course, but due to a combination of parental nervousness and the inevitable clash with something on the ‘other side’, you rarely actually got to see them and had to pretend in school the next day that you had. A pretence that could generally be convincingly maintained for upwards of two and a half minutes.

11/08/2019

Series 11 - The Woman Who Fell to Earth & The Ghost Monument


The Woman Who Fell to Earth reviewed by Matthew Kilburn

When I was growing up, turning on the television at 6.45pm would find BBC1 in the middle of Songs of Praise, or ITV about to embark on its own half hour of Christian devotion. With Songs of Praise now adrift somewhere in the middle of the afternoon, and ITV long having shed its Sunday evening ‘God slot’, it’s tempting to regard Doctor Who’s translation to Sunday nights as a recognition that it, now, is the new established faith of the United Kingdom. The excited reporting of social media’s overwhelmingly favourable reaction to The Woman Who Fell to Earth on the 10pm news on BBC Radio 4, complete with approving quotations from an interview with Jenny Colgan, suggested that the projection of public celebration of the new version of Doctor Who is exceptionally important to the BBC, almost existentially so. 

There were moments when Chris Chibnall’s first script as showrunner seemed concentrated on plugging in to strands of British identity which have been repressed in recent decades. The Doctor makes her new sonic screwdriver of Sheffield steel, which becomes the wonderworking of a forgemaster technogoddess rather than the product of a clapped-out industry as in perhaps the last worldwide entertainment hit to mythologise Sheffield, The Full Monty. The real economy is in the workshops of the land, rather than in the glass towers of London. The aliens attack sturdy old InterCity rolling stock rather than the cut-price Pacers with which most of northern England was fobbed off and which still endure on the privatized railway. The crane driven by Karl is building something rather than demolishing, despite the broken handrail which almost sends Tzim-Sha – cannily credited as ‘Tim Shaw’ – to his death. Yet this isn’t Brexiteer-inspired isolationism, because old-fashioned British craft is at its most marvellous in alien hands. The Doctor blends it with the technology of less pleasant offworlders than herself to pursue her quest for the TARDIS. Her accidental teleporting of Graham, Ryan and Yaz from the workshop surely presages celebrations of open-mindedness and exploration.

28/07/2019

The Decline of Doctor Who Fanzines


Once upon a time, there were loads of Doctor Who fanzines and even when the Internet arrived they thrived for a while because they tended to go into more depth than was generally acceptable on websites or blogs. Yet now the generational shift means that younger fans don’t really know paper fanzines because they are growing up with the brevity and instant opinion that current social media, blogs and forums tend to suit. Why bother constructing an elaborate argument when you can Tweet your opinion in a handful of words and an emoji to a greater audience than most fanzines ever achieved?

The word `fanzine` is a simply an amalgam of `fan magazine` and was first coined as far back as 1940 by someone called Russ Chauvenet. Prior to this amateur magazines were called fanmags or letterzines and the earliest recorded example is believed to be `The Comet`, a science fiction zine that appeared in 1930 in Chicago. The first Doctor Who fanzine was probably `Tardis` edited by Andrew Johnson from the mid -1970s though the BBC recognised Doctor Who Fan Club did have a monthly newsletter which might be considered a fanzine of sorts. The boom really began with the formation of the Doctor Who Appreciation Society (or DWAS) in 1976. This itself was partly brought together by `Tardis` readers and contributors as it became the Society fanzine. 

09/06/2019

Thirds


It is fifty years since Jon Pertwee became the Doctor and 100 years since his birth. He is the first Doctor I remember and even though I became a big Tom Baker fan I still hold his predecessor in high regard. I took much too from the stories of his era, a linear method that may seem strange in today’s climate but which I still like. The abiding memory that I have of Jon Pertwee is that of a mega star. His appearance was once the climax of many an event and always announced with the appropriate fanfare. Then Pertwee himself, sporting some variation of the third Doctor costume, would stride up the central aisle occasionally pausing to acknowledge the tumultuous applause. He’d arrive on stage, turn to the crowd, his cloak outstretched to grandly announce; “I am the Doctor” to even more cheers and camera flashes. Then with a swish of that cloak he would sit down to survey his followers. Many politicians would do anything for such an appreciative response. It’s unclear who was the more thrilled by this entrance – the actor or the audience.

03/06/2019

DWM's Third Doctor World Cup!


Can you imagine the characters from the Third Doctor’s era taking to the football pitch? The Doctor sporting velvet shorts and a cape, Jo Grant stopping to pick daisies, the Autons walking rather than running, the Sea Devils preferring the dressing room bath to the outdoors. Alpha Centauri in goal of course. This is actually not what DWM’s Third Doctor World Cup is about at all. To celebrate fifty years since the Big P became the third Doctor, their Twitter page has been running what must be one of the most fun Doctor Who related ideas in a long time. Based on the format of soccer’s biggest competition the process divided Jon Pertwee’s stories into random groups and then asked people to vote for their favourite in each group. The story with the fewest votes was knocked out. As we’re used to polls in which you award a mark for each story or episode, this process brings with it all the fascination and frustration any football fan will recognise with mismatched draws, very closely fought contests, shock eliminations and unexpected results. It also shows from the first round how consistent a period in the show’s history this was with some excellent stories exiting right away. Goodness knows how hard it would be to vote like this in a Fourth Doctor poll.
The Third Doctor's goalkeeping skills were legendary!

17/04/2019

The Macra Terror review


The idea of animating a whole, unavailable old Doctor Who story is a step forward from filling in missing episodes and judging from what’s been done here, a fascinating opportunity. Originally shown in 1966 and long since wiped, this 52 year old tale has always been one of the less regarded of the canon. Those who did see it at the time don’t rate it highly, those who have seen telesnap reconstructions or heard audios don’t seem much more enthusiastic either. This release lifts `The Macra Terror` from its foggy origins and gives it a chance to succeed. It can’t be some huge re-make nor can it alter the overall plot but it does take liberties with the original to service a better story and also to make the Macra more memorable for those who only know them from their surprise re-appearance in `Gridlock` and those couple of photos. Purists may carp – and a telesnap version is included for them – but this is as good as `The Macra Terror` can be- and it’s better than you think it will be. 

21/11/2018

Radio Times 1973 Doctor Who Special


In the Seventies select BBC programmes would merit a Radio Times Special, a separate glossy magazine going into the production in far more detail than the weekly listings magazine was able. Mostly these were for historical dramas like the BBC’s 1972 adaptation of War and Peace. In 1973 to celebrate its tenth anniversary Doctor Who was awarded such a Special and it definitely lived up to its name. Covering the entire history of the show it was, for fans, a wonderful gift in those pre Internet, pre Doctor Who Magazine times. Older fans would be able to wallow in the nostalgia of the early days while younger ones would be seeing information and photos about Sixties Doctor Who for the very first time. The previous year’s excellent Making of Doctor Who had listed story titles but for some fans their first knowledge of what those old stories were actually about came from the Special.

What the magazine also does is show the care and attention the BBC gave it’s programmes back then. The 1973 Special comes complete with a specially shot iconic gatefold cover image featuring Jon Pertwee’s Doctor in heroic red, blue and crimson on the front. Facing him on the back cover are a Sea Devil, a Cyberman and a Dalek plus a couple of smaller Daleks in the distance. It is an interesting choice for many reasons not least because the big Dalek is only half visible and pride of place goes to the Sea Devil. They really liked the Sea Devils in the 70s as the Making Of book also had them sharing the cover with the third Doctor. The setting for this photo is an alien planet with a surface that looks like a lumpy pancake. The whole thing is like an album cover. It is such a great picture that the editors avoid covering it in text, instead restricting that to the bottom right hand corner of the cover. It describes Doctor Who as “BBC1’s great adventure series”. The cover price is 30p!

Opening it up in 1973 was astonishing because the inside cover contains small frames of the title sequence. And not just any title sequence but the re-jigged third Doctor one that we had not yet seen! In terms of colouring and style this is my favourite ever Doctor Who title sequence and ended up only being used for the 1974 season. Spread across the best part of two pages it looks gorgeous.

Over the next page the classic `Three Doctors` photo is reproduced ahead of brief interviews with each of the actors. I’m not sure when the William Hartnell one was done as he sounds chatty and lucid whereas by 1973 was apparently ailing. Perhaps they got him on a good day. He says he always knew the series would be a great success, mentions the letters he’d receive asking him to solve complex questions and how the role was “a test for any actor”. His favourite memory of the show is an off screen fete he opened in costume. “I’ll never forget the moment we arrived. The children just converged on the car cheering and shouting, their faces all lit up. I knew then just how much Doctor Who really meant to them.”

Patrick Troughton tells how he was very reluctant to play the role to the point where the idea of him doing it as “a windjammer Captain” was seriously mooted. Thankfully for everyone he went for “the cosmic hobo” based on Charlie Chaplin.  The Yeti were his favourites and he speaks fondly of his co-stars. “Doctor Who was a jolly fellow and I just bubbled along,” he says. Current incumbent Jon Pertwee is depicted as very much the Seventies star interviewed in a hammock by a swimming pool at his vila in Ibiza. The interview includes another preview- this time of the Whomobile car – while he too talks of the process of selecting a way to play the role. He talks of having fun in the studio –“my main concern is to make people feel at home”. He finds the Daleks “boring” (he’s going to love the story later in the magazine!) and the Draconians are his favourite. Of the series he says, “Its got to be scary” because he reckons children like to be scared.


31/10/2018

Derrick Sherwin 1936- 2018


When people list the great Doctor Who producers and showrunners, Derrick Sherwin is often overlooked because his period as producer was brief involving just two stories. However they were hugely significant stories and his influence on the programme was considerable. He cast both Jon Pertwee and Caroline John, created UNIT and has also been credited with creating the Time Lords. He rejigged the series to an Earthbound setting and also oversaw the programme’s move from being shown in black and white to colour. Provocative, outspoken and passionate he sounds like a difficult person to work with but his influence on Doctor Who looms large to this day. 


05/10/2018

The Hand of Fear@42


It’s testament to the effectiveness of the story’s conclusion that all this time later following multiple returns to the series for the character, Sarah’s departure remains one of the original series’ rare emotional moments. It’s presented in a very English manner, all repressed and buttoned up as neither the Doctor nor Sarah says what they really want to say. The genius of the scene though is that Sarah has only just been having a bit of a strop and if nothing else had happened would undoubtedly have been talked into one more journey and another and… Instead the Doctor gets a call and realises he can’t take her to Gallifrey. It adds weight to the feelings of both because for sure the Doctor wants her to stay. Incidentally when Sarah does meet the Doctor again in `School Reunion` her reaction is so in tune with this farewell scene.  The end of part 4 is such a good sequence, especially from both actors, that it can lead you to think the whole story has been as subtle which despite some strong elements it hasn’t.

23/09/2018

The Masque of Mandragora@42


By 1976 Doctor Who was in the midst of an imperial period of distinction with one classic after another being broadcast and more to come. Yet this story, which debuted Tom Baker’s third season, seems to have been curiously undervalued at the time. It’s less showy than the rest of the season and one of the more cultured scripts the original series had thanks to Louis Marks drawing from his knowledge of the Italian Renaissance. It was certainly well thought of enough to be given prominence in obituaries when the writer died in 2010 with The Guardian mentioning “Machiavellian comedy, a book-burning priest and the musical surnames Rossini and Scarlatti” as influences the story included.
Part One: You’ve got to admire this opening episode for its urgency. My own memory of this story is a certain low key, slow unfurling but part one turns out to be the opposite. Packed into an eventful 25 minutes is a lot of material that lays out the parameters of the story and gives us lots of action. By the end both the Doctor and Sarah are facing the prospect of gruesome executions, both having been knocked out (the Doctor twice). There’s some very dangerous Mandragora energy loose in fifteenth century Italy thanks to the Doctor materialising the Tardis in the middle of it. Oh and we’ve seen a new console room and met our retinue of central players. 

08/08/2018

Fan Scene Tardis77 Issues 7 & 8


Issue 7: This issue sees another re-organisation due to the difficulties of combining CT and Tardis as one publication. From 1978 CT will be a separate monthly newsletter. It doesn’t say how regularly Tardis will come out but anyway this would be the format that the DWAS would use from here on and may well still be using today if they still publish zines? Membership fees of £1.50 per year (yikes!) will pay for this. Debate Corner is a feature that seems to come and go but this issue is still rattling on about whether the Meddling Monk is The Master. NO, HE WASN’T!!! Delightfully on the letters page the idea of female Time Lords is discussed by someone. Of course in 2018 it is interesting that the letter does not seem to suggest that male Time Lords could regenerate into female ones but perhaps a young S. Moffatt was reading this issue? I should mention The Song of Taliesyn a comic strip which is well drawn but seems nothing like a Doctor Who story at all. I wonder how many people read it back then? 

25/07/2018

Fan Scene Tardis77 Issues 5 & 6


Issue 5: The cover heralds the start of a new series called The Doctor’s Diary and inside another new feature called Debate Corner aims to iron out inconsistencies in the series. However it is printing problems that catch the eye when you turn the page as parts of this issue are barely readable due to fading print and large foggy splodges of something or other across them. It’s a shame for Geraldine Landen whose debut issue as editor this is. The first Debate Corner is actually only half a page and runs with a theory that the Meddling Monk is The Master even though no episode ever suggested he was! Secondly it asks how come `Evil of the Daleks` was not “the final end” of the metal meanies as the Doctor suggested it was. The trouble with this sort of thing is that fans are aware of both the fictional and factual background of stories so while speculation can be fun the real answer to such a conundrum is that different production teams had different ideas. Talking of fannish speculation there’s a particularly teeth clenching piece of fiction in this issue that lays out an alternative history of the Doctor and it’s not clear if this is a spoof or not but it is best flicked past.