27/03/2020

2005- The Year of the Doctor!


To celebrate fifteen years since the series returned, here's a lengthy summary of the momentous events in the Doctor Who world in 2005, originally published in This Way Up fanzine in July of that year. 
Imagine you’re a Doctor Who fan. One day in the 1990s someone appears from the future (and, hey, he might be a bit Northern with prominent ears and a black coat, you never know) and tells you that your favourite telly show will be back on air in 2005 and not only will it be great, exciting, terrifying and epic but it will be a ratings trouncing success, the serious critics will rave and even people who previously thought it was all silly wobbly set laden kids stiff will swoon when they catch an eyeful. There will also, he adds with a twinkle in his eyes, be Daleks, millions of them. “Fantastic!”  It sounds like something that could never happen but here we are in 2005 and it has happened. It were never been like this in the old days when effects were rarely special and Daleks were mostly cardboard cut outs and fans existed in their own enclosed world. A short write up in the `Radio Times`, the odd snippet wedged in the midst of a big `Saturday night on BBC1` trailer and that was your lot in the halcyon days of the 70s. Doctor Who, however successful it was, never had the cachet it has right now.Throughout its run, this new series was constantly placed in the top 20 shows of each week, with audience shares that remained consistently high at around 35 -40% despite fluctuating ratings and was the most watched home grown drama series of the first half of the year. More than that it saw off direct opposition with such finality that ITV eventually gave up and started showing any old film instead. With average ratings of almost 8 million there is no doubting that the series is now more commercially successful than ever before. In these days of multi channels and declining overall audiences its roughly the same as if 70s Doctor Who had been watched by 15 million people each week, which it certainly wasn’t. Yet until February 2005 there was little sense of what was to come after an 18 month production schedule that had seemed to go on forever. Then, all of a sudden things began to lurch into gear with all the ruthlessness of an invasion.

15/03/2020

The Silurians Episode 7 review


Season 7@50. It may be seven episodes long but there is no fat on this story so much so that a lot if packed into this final one. The Doctor’s captivity in the Silurian base after he was taken from the lab is short lived, pretty soon he’s back with the reptilians though as they employ a fall back plan- destroying the Van Allen belt. I had to smile at how easily and simply this actual real life bit of science is explained knowing its equivalent in the modern series would be a good two minute lecture from the Doctor all about it. You do wonder though why the Silurians didn’t just go with this plan in the first place as they must have known what was inside the research centre. Perhaps there had been arguments for months between Old and Young Silurian on this particular topic.


11/03/2020

The Timeless Children review

Series 12 Episode 10 01/03/20 Reviewed by Matthew Kilburn


So it was about authorship after all. Ascension of the Cybermen turns out to have been undermined throughout by a streaming hacker who couldn’t resist introducing it himself at the end and boasting of his reinterpretation of the ensuing acts, of which the Doctor was both audience and unwitting star. The Timeless Children was visually engaging television and I was surprised by some of the resolution it presented, if only because I was expecting something more complicated. Performances were very strong, and as with Ascension of the Cybermen, I felt an energy in the production which I’ve rarely experienced in the Chibnall era. There were a few moments when it seemed The Timeless Children did not marry so well with Ascension of the Cybermen, however, and in hindsight the episode left lingering doubts about the wisdom of the decisions therein.

06/03/2020

The Silurians Episode 6 review


Season 7@50 Unexpectedly this episode seems gruesomely topical right now and judging from this week’s headlines very little has changed when it comes to dealing with a dangerous virus or infection. What was entertainment fifty years ago is now a reality though I doubt if a race of subterranean lizards are responsible. Given this accidental topicality it is even easier to admire the manner in which the production handles it. Plotting the outbreak from Masters to the ticket collector to other passengers and then a phone call that reveals the first foreign case you can see how easily something like this can take hold. Just like our current coronavirus the Silurian’s version doesn’t infect everyone but some die quickly. I think the way the production conveys all this is masterful and quite bold. After all imagine that back in 1970 over seven million viewers watched several minutes of two actors doing chemistry, putting blood samples on slides, making notes and looking at the sample under a microscope. Somehow in the current light it seems much more urgent and serious than it might back then.

02/03/2020

A response to some peoples' response to The Timeless Children


(John- This is not a review of the episode, that is coming later this week, but it does include spoilers about the episode.) The major problem facing anyone wanting to attack The Timeless Children for breaking Doctor Who continuity or ‘the canon’ is the fact that it sort-of fixes it. There are quite a few moments of Doctor Who continuity that make more sense after The Timeless Children than they did before...

 

29/02/2020

Ascension of the Cybermen review


Series 12 Episode 9 23/02/20 Reviewed by Matthew Kilburn
Ascension of the Cybermen is ‘about’ narratives and their ownership. It teases with an opening narration through which Ashad, the Lone Cyberman, frames the story which follows as his. The discovery of the title sequence within the eyehole of a detached Cyberman head might suggest the Doctor’s victory over the dead Cyberman, or alternatively that only the Cybermen, in their undeath, survive to tell this tale. As the episode unfolds, this question of ownership of the narrative is raised again and again. Whose story are we watching? Whose story is Brendan’s, from its mythically golden morning to its dully nightmarish twilight? It’s left uncertain where his reality lies. The Doctor and friends arrive specifically as visitors to the end of the Cyber Wars, there to make sure the last humans survive and frustrate the recreation of the Cyber Empire, but are swept forward in a small, final refugee wave as their scheme is frustrated, struggling to retain possession of their destinies. 

Characters assert agency and make decisions for their own survival, only to find more terror and ever more limited options; unless, of course, they are a Cyberman. For a Doctor characterized in her first season as a Doctor of Hope, this is a bleak tale of foreboding. The author is Chris Chibnall, and in depriving his characters of much of the illusion of autonomy, he is letting his audience know of his presence; or is he represented by the Master, lord of substituted orders? 

28/02/2020

The Silurians Episode 5 review


Season 7@50 Something I’d never really thought of before is how versatile the Silurians’ third eye is. In this episode, a large chunk of which we spend in their subterranean company, it is used to open and close doors, create a forcefield, operate a console and finally to kill another Silurian. Presumably it is controlled by the power of thought but even so it must have to be concentrated thought of some strength. Perhaps that’s why they are so jumpy. Each of the three main Silurians we see seems to have been given a different movement in order for us to differentiate between them and it gives them an eerie quality. They are jerky movements whereas we might expect reptiles to be slinkier. The most remarkable aspect to them is that Peter Halliday does all the voices arguing with himself over Silurian politics. It’s a cruel game with someone able to seize power simply by turning that third eye on their rival. I’m not sure why Old Silurian as he is known in the tv version (see below about the novel) doesn’t fight back, maybe its because he’s old? As for Silurian scientist (aka K’To if you’re reading the book) he’s clearly not a fighter and will acquiesce to whoever’s third eye looks the most threatening.

21/02/2020

The Silurians Episode 4 review


Season 7@50. Mid- way through this episode (and hence mid- way through the story) there’s one of those conferences that Seventies Doctor Who excelled in. It serves several purposes; firstly to get across some story points in as interesting a way as possible, secondly to state everyone’s position and thirdly to give the actors some juicy officialdom to get their teeth round. In the room each person represents their profession whether a soldier, a bureaucrat, a boss or a scientist. If I were awarding points I’d say Peter Miles comes out on top here; his slowly seething Doctor Lawrence is a study in repressed anger. You can just tell he wants to literally lamp the Brigadier! 



17/02/2020

The Haunting of Villa Diodati review


Series 12 Episode 8 16/02/20. Whether Doctor Who is something of a horror series despite most people describing it as `fantasy` or `sci-fi` has always been up for debate. There are definitely moments when it strays over that divide and these are often followed by viewer complaints about an episode being too shocking for the children. Yet for a programme whose history is littered with such things as giant spiders, killer robots, animated plastic dummies and people mutating into plants that divide is often hazy. `The Haunting of Villa Diodati` definitely counts as horror at first but as it evolves takes in a few more genres as well resulting in a busy, rewarding fifty minutes packed with questions and surprise left turns. 

Spooky Spoilers after this point

14/02/2020

The Silurians Episode 3 review


Season 7@50. An episode mostly devoted to searching for the wounded reptile, part 3 consolidates the story without adding a lot to it. This works well due to the sweep of the search that we’re shown. These were the days when Doctor Who appeared to look expensive and expansive hence a helicopter is deployed to fly around moorland and there are even shots from it looking down over a substantial number of searchers.  The production marshals this so confidently with director Timothy Combe determined to show us the widest views and there is even a confident parping theme accompanying the search. Doctor Who has rarely seemed so solid and real as it does in these scenes.


12/02/2020

Can You Hear Me? review


Series 12 Episode 7 09/02/20. Episode reviewed by Sean Alexander.
 “The cruelty of their own minds directed toward themselves.”
 This second series of Chris Chibnall’s ‘reimagining’ of modern-day Doctor Who could be mistaken for Doctor Woke.  Now, this isn’t going to be another tedious rant about how the show has become all PC and demographic-ticking in its current incarnation (various websites, blogs and social media platforms are available for that, if one desires) but it would be remiss of me to mention that Chibnall’s Doctor Who has become issue-led rather than plot-driven.  ‘Can You Hear Me?’ isn’t even the show’s first occasion at looking at mental illness and offering a helpline ‘for those affected’ after the end credits (2010’s ‘Vincent and the Doctor’ got there first, albeit with a somewhat less preachy mandate) and as a first-time writer to the show (the latest in countless new scribes commissioned by the current showrunner) Charlene James does at least find a fresh angle to using sci-fi mental health in a tangible, albeit fantastical, way.  And that is where the episode’s problems largely begin and end.

07/02/2020

The Silurians Episode 2 review


Season 7@ 50. The speed at which episode 1 played out hardly slows for the second part. This episode is a particular example of clear scripting that avoids too many scenes of people talking about what they will do instead cutting straight to us seeing them doing it. Any potential gaps are covered by lines of dialogue after the fact. For example there is no scene where people find out the Doctor has gone down to the caves, instead we cut straight to the plans to find him.  I also like the fact that, as everyone is panicking and arranging rescues, the missing Doctor strolls in and asks if he can come too! Having recently watched `Spearhead from Space` episodically week by week it strikes me that so far the pace of `The Silurians` is much quicker, the script far tighter.


05/02/2020

The Silurians Episode 1 review


Season 7@50. Familiarity can dull the impact of creative material yet there are some things which remain absorbing even though we know their every secret for example a favourite film or album or place. Or a Doctor Who story like `The Silurians`. The behind the scenes situation suggests this 1970 classic could easily have been a bit of a mess. With Derrick Sherwin and Peter Bryant having left, Barry Letts unavailable for the location filming, a 7 episode storyline and a new Doctor still finding his way it was hardly a settled production though nothing of this makes the finished version. Instead a confident, bold narrative offers a fresh take on the traditional `aliens on earth` story and a compelling representation of the Doctor as a high profile agitator rather than the low key subversive the previous incarnation had tended to be. The first episode is masterfully assembled and played and a sign that during this era of the programme episode ones would almost always be top class.


03/02/2020

Praxeus review


Series 12 Episode 6 02/02/20
After a week in which Doctor Who seemed to excite social and journalistic media more than it has for many years it is likely that this episode - which doesn’t deal at all with the momentous developments last time - will disappoint. It will probably go on record as a filler episode between the bigger ones. It is disappointing as Pete McTighe’s `Kerblam` was one of the highlights of last series. In this co-write with showrunner Chris Chibnall he takes a similar tack with a more ambitious globe spanning tale using a contemporary concern as ballast for a story. However the scenario never clicks into place anywhere near as effectively as `Kerblam` though the episode does have an unintended similarity to current news headlines.
Spoilers past this point

27/01/2020

Fugitive of the Judoon review


Series 12 Episode 5 26/01/20 Review by Tim Worthington
Other than the baffling and bafflingly enduring Cilla Black vehicle Surprise Surprise – in which ‘the unexpected hit you between the eyes’ courtesy of live link-ups between servicemen and their families and Bob Carolgees getting old women in the street to ‘bring back’ The Twist or something – Sunday Night television never really was anything that anyone would have associated with surprises. Harry Secombe sang about how God made the trees from that grassy bit in the middle of a dual carriageway, Compo, Clegg and Seymour built yet another hang-glider, Esther Rantzen pondered how many more children would have to be injured by sub-contracted plastic bollards before someone took action and then handed over to Doc Cox with a bundle of suspiciously convenient newspaper misprints, and Clive James guffawed at Hale and/or Pace microwaving the Spitting Image puppet of David Steel. There were all things bright and beautiful – and indeed All Creatures Great And Small – but you always knew what to expect and when. A place for everything, and everything in its place.
Spoilers past here...



24/01/2020

Spearhead from Space Episode 4 review


Season 7 @50. Watching an episode a week you can see this is a slim storyline which has an unfinished or rushed sense to it. The way the Doctor and Liz knock up a machine overnight seems too perfunctory with the resulting device not being convincingly strong enough to defeat such a powerful creature as the Nestenes. What actually even happens there? How do those globes help `create` the Nestene? The concept of the globes suddenly seems out of kilter with what we’re seeing- we’ve been told this final one is the Swarm Leader but its just a globe like the others and the Doctor has worked out that it contains nothing sentient. Channing places it on a receptacle and some noises happen. We see something moving in the front of the glass tank yet the tentacles that later emerge are surely the wrong scale for the whole creature? The thing is there’s been plenty of time and opportunity to smooth out these edges.

20/01/2020

Nikola Tesla's Night of Terror review


Series 12 Episode 4 19/01/20. Doctor Who stories set in the past tend to work better when they focus on a lesser known individual rather than renowned figures like Dickens or Queen Elisabeth as they can avoid the caricature and instead provide an insight into the person. Thus it proves in the tongue twistingly titled `Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror`. It is surprising he’s never been the subject of an episode before as his work is very much the kind of thing the Doctor would- and does- admire while Victorian machinery always looks great on tv.  The pioneer of many of the innovations we take for granted today comes under the spotlight in a fast moving adventure that includes the educational content that has made a return under Chris Chibnall’’s stewardship.  Unlike some of this Doctors’ previous lectures though this is an interesting topic.

Spoilers past this point

17/01/2020

Spearhead from Space Episode 3 review


Season 7 @50. Meg Seeley is not be trifled with. While earlier in this episode Ransome runs in total terror from an Auton, Meg’s reaction to our plastic pal’s incursion is to reach for her shotgun and let loose both barrels. Never mind UNIT, they should send her down to Auto Plastics to sort the situation out. Even the Auton, which happily fired at Ransome, doesn’t kill Meg on the spot as it could easily do but seems to just knock her over. On the upside, her husband’s light fingered tendencies mean their cottage will soon have a full stock of replacement items for all the damaged furniture. A curious collection of scenes, episode 3 confirms the story’s slender narrative has room to spare as you realise that most of the well remembered moments are actually in the other episodes.

13/01/2020

Orphan 55 review


Series 12 Episode 3 12/01/20
Ed Hime’s debut story `It Takes You Away` was a curveball in an otherwise straightforward series so its surprising to find his sophomore offering sticking to a more familiar set up. `Orphan 55` is fast, sometimes too fast, with excellent visuals and becomes more interesting as it goes along though the guest characters don’t get enough of an opportunity to shine. Neither classic nor clunker it is a good, solid Doctor Who story that leaves the viewer with something to think about at the end. It feels both very Now yet also quite traditionally Doctor Who. The fact that it seems to have generated more chatter and differing opinions than `Spyfall` suggests it may be a story that grows in reputation over the years.
Spoilers after this point 

  

10/01/2020

Spearhead from Space Episode 2 review


Season 7 @50.  This episode is home to some of the most filmic direction original Doctor Who ever staged. Derek Martinus never misses an opportunity to exert maximum big screen camerawork when he can utilising the generous locations and accentuating the creepiness of the Autons. Shots zoom in and out at the Auton scout as it seeks the signal. There is an almost cartoon style impact to these flourishes most noticeably in the final shot of a terrified Ransome. It is rare to end an episode with someone other than either the Doctor or companion in danger and odd too that we’ve already seen an Auton in action so we know what he doesn’t. 



06/01/2020

Spyfall Part 2 review


Series 12 Episode 2 05/01/20

After such an action packed romp as the first episode there was inevitably going to be a change of pace this time and it is to introduce surprising new elements to an already packed narrative. Yet with another hour’s running time this plays out very well and incorporates some unexpected developments and a powerful climax that has implications for the rest of this series and beyond. More than anything Chris Chibnall has now provided a story that can match the best of both his predecessors.

Spoilers beyond this point



04/01/2020

Spearhead from Space Episode 1 review


Season 7@50. 
Remarkably it is fifty years – half a century! -since Jon Pertwee debuted on screen as the Doctor. A new Doctor is a tricky proposition for which there are two ways to go. One is to make them totally eccentric and over the top, the other is to have them largely sleeping establishing the other characters before the Doctor wakes largely fully formed. Given that the season 7 team had to establish a new format they wisely plumped for the latter. It does mean that Jon Pertwee has little screen time save for scrambling about trying to find his shoes though when he does get the key hidden in them there’s definitely a Troughtonesque look on his face. Other than that we don’t really get much chance to say whether we like the new Doctor or not. 

03/01/2020

Spyfall Part 1 review


Season 12 Episode 1 01/01/20. "Everything you think you know is a lie.” This teasing line from an energetically propelled episode just about sums up the world today and if real life is crazy then surely fiction has to be crazier? This is a pitch- and a strong one too- to be a classic Doctor Who story and while we’ll have to see part 2 before we know the signs are good. It almost feels like the Chris Chibnall era starts here! It is far and away the best episode of his stewardship and also his best script for the series. After a tentative yet not always thrilling debut season (which nonetheless had its moments) last year’s special `Resolution` seemed to finally get the engine running albeit cautiously. In the twelve months since something strong must have been in the tea because `Spyfall` Part 1 is an outrageously bold attempt to re-connect those adventure synapses lying dormant since, yes, `The End of Time`. Modern Doctor Who really does work when you loosen the atmosphere a bit, go with a big concept that can be summed up in one sentence and then shove in a surprise for longer term fans. The results are an exhilarating opening episode.
Spoilers aplenty past here..