3 December 2018

It Takes You Away review

Written by Ed Hime. Directed by Jamie Childs. Episode reviewed by Sean Alexander.
“A cottage in the winter in Norway, with a chimney but no smoke.”
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?

30 November 2018

The Witchfinders review

Written by Joy Wilkinson. Directed by Sallie Aprahamain
The tone of this year’s third historical episode differs from that of its predecessors. Despite some playful moments there is an understandable air of solemnity about both `Rosa` and `Demons of the Punjab`, a reverence by the writers to get it right and be respectful. You could argue that this can make matters more dutiful than exciting whereas `The Witchfinders` has no such concerns being an unashamed romp in the grand Doctor Who tradition. It is interesting that while the issues surrounding those earlier episodes are not considered suitable for such treatment, the drowning of innocent women somehow is just because it took place hundreds of years ago. We do seem to pick and choose elements of history that we seek to atone for. Perhaps because things like the witch trials are born from superstition and people exploiting religion rather than actual prejudice we’re less judgemental? 

23 November 2018

Kerblam! review

Written by Pete McTighe. Directed by Jennifer Perrott.
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.

21 November 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.

12 November 2018

Demons of the Punjab review

Written by Vinay Patel. Directed by Jamie Childs.
What I like about this year’s series is that in certain scenes you could turn on and not even realise it’s Doctor Who. It has the heft of a proper drama and that is even more the case here. This is also an episode that seems more deeply rooted in its geographical context than is usual for the series. Not only is the incidental music spiced with Indian influences but the tone is a measured one reminiscent of the culture. Add a shot of poppies to commemorate the day of broadcast and you begin to see that this is one of those episodes that has been carefully calibrated. Vinay Patel has penned the most rounded episode so far this year that adds a new tone to the often used idea of travelling back in time.

5 November 2018

The Tsuranga Conundrum review

Written by Chris Chibnall. Directed by Jennifer Perrott
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 crossed with a Pokemon!

31 October 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.