Happy 52nd Birthday Doctor Who!!!

It was on this day, fifty-two years ago, that the very first ever episode of Doctor Who, An Unearthly Child, was broadcast by BBC One, on the evening of Saturday, 23rd November, 1963. The world of television sci-fi would never be the same again.

This story introduces us for the very first time to a strange, mysterious young girl Susan Foreman (played by Carole Ann Ford) and her even stranger grandfather (played by William Hartnell), who both turn out to be aliens, from somewhere else in time and space. This strange old man would later become known to all of us as the very first Doctor, albeit a much more abrasive, alien, and less cuddly Doctor than most of his successors. We also get to meet the two unwilling new human companions, Ian Chesterton (played by William Russell) and Barbara Wright (played by Jacqueline Hill), who are to become not only the eyes and ears of the audience on the adventures with the Doctor and Susan, but also the very close friends of the two alien central characters.

The first episode of this four-parter is an excellent piece of television, and very different in tone to everything that comes afterward. To a viewer back in 1963, it would’ve been a strange story indeed, as they would’ve had absolutely no idea who the old man and his granddaughter were, what they were doing living in a police telephone box in an old junkyard, or what the hell was going on in general. The new viewer would’ve been just as curious and mystified as Ian and Barbara, as they stepped onto the TARDIS for the first time, taking a huge leap sideways into the twilight zone (if you’ll pardon the obvious pun).

We’d all have been just as shocked and confused as both frightened schoolteachers are at the end of the first episode, as they are whisked off (kidnapped is nearer the truth) into time and space on their very first adventure with the Doctor and Susan. To the jaded modern audience, all of this is probably no big deal nowadays, but back then, there was absolutely nothing like it on British television. What must it have been like watching that for the very first time? It must’ve been an incredible experience.

I didn’t get to see An Unearthly Child until almost twenty years after it was first televised, when it was first repeated on BBC Two, in November 1981. I was much too young to have seen it back in 1963, only a little nipper, really – the third episode, “The Forest of Fear”, was aired on my third birthday, 7th December 1963. It would be another two or three years after that before I would be old enough to start noticing Doctor Who on television, and my very earliest vague memories of the series come from about 1965-66. Ever since then, the show has been a life-long obsession of mine, and today I could never conceive how my life would ever have been without Doctor Who in it. But I’m so envious of those old codgers who do remember watching the very first ever episode way back on that cold November evening in 1963.

So I’d like to finish off by wishing my very favourite sci-fi series of all time a VERY Happy 52nd Birthday. And long may it continue.


Doctor Who: The Zygon Inversion

In less than an hour, at 8pm, The Zygon Inversion, the eighth episode of Doctor Who, Series 9, will air on BBC1, with the second half of what looks to be a very good two-parter, which had a very interesting start last week with The Zygon Invasion.

The Zygon Invasion was definitely a step up in pace from the previous four episodes, and on last week’s showing, this story has the potential to become my second-favourite story of Series 9, behind the excellent series opening two-parter, The Magician’s Apprentice/The Witch’s Familiar. There were some potentially interesting plot thingies laid down in The Zygon Invasion last week, so here’s hoping The Zygon Inversion can follow through and deliver the goods tonight. I particularly liked the evil Zygon Clara, with Jenna Coleman getting her teeth into playing a nasty villain for a change, rather than her usual nice-girl companion role. With all the rumours floating around about Clara leaving the series, I’ll be watching what happens to her with interest.

The CapaldiDoc seems to be in a pretty tight squeeze right at the end of last week’s cliffhanger, but he’ll save the day, of course. I’m also wondering how Kate Lethbridge-Stewart came through her encounter with the Zygon last week, although I strongly suspect it was her who survived (again, obvious really). The Zygons seem to be pretty vulnerable in those 5-10 seconds that they take to transform from their human form back into Zygon. That’s five or ten seconds when any trained UNIT member with fast reflexes would fill said Zygon full of holes long before it would complete the transformation.

Anyway, roll on 8pm on BBC 1, and The Zygon Inversion.

Doctor Who: The Zygon Invasion

The Zygon Invasion, the seventh episode of Doctor Who, Series 9, has just started on BBC1. It moves us into the second half of this series’ block of stories, with the beginning of what looks to be a very good two-parter, finishing off next week with The Zygon Inversion.

Great start so far. The Doctor, Clara, Kate Lethbridge-Stewart and UNIT face off against the Zygons. LOTS of Zygons. It’s pretty much a sequel to the 50th Anniversary Special, The Day of the Doctor, with a heckuva lot more Zygons. Of course, there’s a lot of people getting killed and duplicated, and half the time, we don’t know who the hell is whom. But at least we’ve found out now how Osgood can still be alive even though she was killed by Missy in the last series.

A bit obvious, really, when you think of it. :)

TOM’S MIDNIGHT GARDEN (1958) by Philippa Pearce

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This time out, I’m going to take a look at something completely different. It’s a classic Young Adult/children’s novel written by a British author who is very famous on this side of the Atlantic, but is probably a lot less-known to readers in the US.

Ann Philippa Pearce OBE (22 January 1920 – 21 December 2006), better known simply as Philippa Pearce, was a famous English author of children’s literature. She wrote over thirty books during the years 1955–2008, and quite a few of her books and short stories fall under the fantasy and supernatural heading, including this particular novel, Tom’s Midnight Garden.

AUTHOR: Philippa Pearce
SUB-CATEGORY: YA/Children’s Fantasy
FORMAT: 1st Edition Hardback, 229 pages
PUBLISHER: Oxford University Press, December 1958.
ISBN: 0-19-271128-8.

Tom’s Midnight Garden belongs firmly in the classic timeslip fantasy sub-genre, which was so popular in British fantasy literature during the second third of the twentieth century. It’s a charming, gorgeous, beautifully-written tale about the relationship between a young boy, time-slipping from the late-1950s back to the 1890s (and moving closer in time as the story progresses), and the young girl he meets and befriends there.


Tom Long is a young boy sent to stay with his Uncle Alan and Aunt Gwen, when his brother Peter gets measles. They live in a small upstairs flat of a huge house, which was once an impressive Victorian mansion. There’s nowhere for him to play, as there’s no garden, nothing but a tiny yard to park cars. The old landlady, Mrs Bartholomew, who lives in a room at the very top of the stairs, is a strange one. She keeps to herself, and hardly anyone ever sees her. She certainly doesn’t like children running about, so Tom is expected to be quiet and behave himself (some chance of that – young boys must get up to mischief).

Most strange is the grandfather clock down in the hall. Tom can’t get to sleep at night, so he lies listening to it as it strikes midnight. But instead of striking twelve times, the clock strikes thirteen! Overcome by curiosity, Tom sneaks downstairs, opens the back door, and finds not a dingy little back yard, but a huge sunlit garden (hey, it’s supposed to be midnight!). So every night when the clock strikes thirteen, Tom runs downstairs and out into the gorgeous Victorian era garden.

He meets and befriends a lonely little girl called Hatty, who becomes his only playmate. Tom sees many other people in the garden, but only Hatty (and the gardener) can see him. All the other kids think that Hatty is playing alone, and that she’s a bit of a weirdo. But strangely, on each nightly visit to the garden, Tom seems to be jumping around in time, mostly forward. Hatty is getting older, at first slowly, from a little girl a fair bit younger than Tom, to a girl his age, then faster and faster until she is much older than Tom, eventually becoming an adult. At this stage of the novel, she is courting a suitor (Barty), and she doesn’t seem to see Tom any more. He is becoming more and more insubstantial until he fades away altogether.

On the very last night before he’s ready to go home, Tom runs downstairs as usual. But the garden is gone. There’s nothing there but the dark, dingy back yard. Tom crashes into bins, knocking them over and causing quite a racket, waking up the residents. He lies there sobbing, calling out Hatty’s name. His Uncle Alan picks him up and helps him back into the house, excusing what happened to be a result of Tom “sleepwalking”.

The next morning, Tom is summoned up the stairs to apologise to Mrs. Bartholomew. But instead of getting a major telling-off, he is greeted warmly and is astonished to find out that the old woman is actually Hatty, who had heard him calling out to her the previous night. She explains everything to Tom, including what happened after his final visit to the garden. On leaving her, he rushes back up the stairs and, to the amazement of his Aunt and Uncle, gives Mrs. Bartholomew a big hug, like he’s known her all his life, and as though she is still a little girl.

Tom’s Midnight Garden was Philippa Pearce’s second novel, and was published by Oxford University Press in 1958. It is by far her most famous book, and it won the prestigious Carnegie Medal in 1958, an annual British literary award (first awarded in 1936) given to that year’s outstanding new book for children or young adults (its nearest equivalents in the US would be the Newbery and Printz Awards). It’s beautifully written, from the intelligent story, to the touching relationship between Tom and Hatty (and her older self, Mrs. Bartholomew), and the regular correspondence between Tom and his brother Peter, to whom he writes daily accounts of his adventures in the garden with Hatty, as Peter recovers from his bout of measles. Quite a few of the scenes in the book are exquisite and genuinely moving.

It’s quite a different kind of book to the mainstream fantasy that most readers devour today. Pearce’s novel comes from a storytelling tradition of an earlier age, from an era before mainstream fantasy became dominated by Tolkein and the endless stream of clones/copycats that took over the bookshelves in the wake of the meteoric rise in popularity of the Lord of the Rings books during the 1960s, and which still rule the bookshelves today, more than half a century later. Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings trilogy was written during the years 1954-1958, so Tom’s Midnight Garden was a contemporary literary work. However, it is an entirely different kind of fantasy to the Lord of the Rings books. Thankfully, I may add, as I am certainly no fan of the Tolkeinesque brand of high fantasy.

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Tom’s Midnight Garden has been a lifelong favourite of mine, ever since I was a young boy. I first read it when I was nine or ten, picking it up from the school library. I also had easy access to it over the years as it was readily available from local libraries (it was a very popular book in the UK back in the day). So I was able to revisit it quite a few times during my teens and twenties. I eventually bought my own paperback copy back in the 1970s (the 1976 Puffin paperback edition), which I dig out every couple of years for a re-read.

Philippa Pearce’s classic novel was one of those remarkable childhood favourites that made an indelible mark on me as a young boy, and my love for this book will remain with me till the day I die. This is a true children’s fantasy classic, and every young boy or girl really should read this gem at least once in their lives. Hell, even if you are not quite so young any more, if you have never read this book, put it right at the top of your “To Buy” list.

Doctor Who: The Girl Who Died/The Woman Who Lived

This week’s episode of Doctor Who, The Woman Who Lived, which aired on BBC1 at 8.20pm last night, marks the half-way mark of Series 9. It’s a direct follow-on from last week’s episode, The Girl Who Died, and they form two self-contained stories in a prequel/sequel format, as opposed to the first two Series 9 stories, which were genuine two-part stories. The Girl Who Died and The Woman Who Lived are two different stories, set in different time periods, but both featuring Maisie Williams playing the same character. It seems like Steven Moffat is concentrating on writing in two-story blocks this series, a trend which will continue for the rest of Series 9. That’s okay by me, as I believe two-parters are inherently much stronger than single episodes.

The Girl Who Died was of interest to me mostly because it is written by Jamie Mathieson, the same guy who wrote Flatline and Mummy on the Orient Express, two of my favourite episodes from the last Series (I make a point of looking out for anything written by this guy now). The fact that the story featured Maisie Williams (playing Ashildr) helping the Doctor and Clara fight off an alien (the Mire – not exactly the greatest alien threat in the series’ long history) attack on a Viking village meant that this had the potential to be a good one, and it certainly wasn’t terrible. However The Girl Who Died was only a fair-to-middling story, far from earth-shatteringly brilliant. But compared to the extremely high quality of Jamie Mathieson’s previous two stories, it was a bit of a let-down for me.

Last night’s follow-up episode, The Woman Who Lived, written by Catherine Tregenna, was a stronger story, very well written, with some excellent characterisation and dialogue, and quite a bit of heavy and fascinating morality lens material. The story was also notable in that Clara didn’t appear in it at all until right at the end, making it a Doctor/Ashildr adventure as opposed to a normal Doctor/Clara one. It was interesting on this level because of all the rumours surrounding Jenna Coleman’s impending departure from the series, and there were more than a few rumours floating around hinting at Ashildr becoming the new companion, but that didn’t happen. However, it’ll still be interesting to see if Maisie Williams’ character becomes a recurring one in Doctor Who, as she’s definitely one of the more interesting characters that NuWho has produced in recent years.

I suppose after the incredible series-opening two-parter The Magician’s Apprentice/The Witch’s Familiar, it was bound to be difficult for the rest of the series to live up to the first adventure. But, that said, none of the other stories have been terrible so far. The Under the Lake/Before the Flood two-parter wasn’t bad, very moody and atmospheric, and The Girl Who Died/The Woman Who Lived certainly weren’t bad stories either, but they certainly suffer by comparison with such a classic series opener. I mean, that story had the Daleks, Davros, AND Missy/The Master. It’s certainly hard to top that, although the upcoming Zygons two-parter also promises to be a good one.

I think the problem with the past three stories is that they’ve been fairly strong character pieces, but the aliens seem to be a bit of an afterthought, in comparison to the first story’s roster of classic villains. However, Peter Capaldi has really grown into the role of the Doctor, and the Doctor and Clara are an excellent team now. I consider them to be one of the better Doctor/Companion pairings of the New Series.

Here’s looking forward to next week’s episode, The Zygon Invasion, the first of a two-part Zygon adventure.

Doctor Who: The Woman Who Lived

The Woman Who Lived (written by Catherine Tregenna), this week’s episode of Doctor Who, will be starting shortly on BBC1, marking the half-way mark of Series 9.

The Girl Who Died was an okay story, although not earth-shatteringly brilliant. I suppose after the incredible series-opening two-parter, it was bound to be downhill the rest of the series. At least none of the other stories have been terrible so far. And the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) and Clara (Jenna Coleman) are really getting along well as a team now, and I consider them to be one of the better Doctor/Companion pairings of the New Series.

We were wondering whether or not Steven Moffat was giving us another two-parter. Well, he is and he isn’t. The Girl Who Died and The Woman Who Lived are two different stories, set in different time periods, but both featuring Maisie Williams playing the same Ashildr character. They are basically a prequel/sequel. It’ll be interesting to see if Maisie’s character will become a recurring one.

Happy Back to the Future Day!

Has anybody seen any Deloreans recently? ‘Cos today, Wednesday, October 21st, 2015, is Back to the Future Day!!

It’s time to get out your Back to the Future Box-Sets, and stick on the classic 1989 movie sequel Back to the Future II, the future leg of the classic time travel/time loop romp. The entire trilogy is a real mind-bender, kicking off from the home base of 1985, back to 1955, forward to 1985 again, then forward even further to 2015, back again, but sideways, to the dystopian alternate 1985, back to 1955 again, then back to 1885, before finally jumping forward to the “real” (but slightly altered and much-improved) 1985 again. Phew! What a trip!

It’s funny comparing the fantasy Back to the Future II Wednesday, 21st October, 2015 to the real one. It’s just as much, if not more, of an alternate reality than the alternate 1985 in Back to the Future II itself. As with most sci-fi futures, a lot of it is laughably wrong (hey, it IS a comedy, after all), but there are a few things that have come to pass, or almost come to pass (anyone mention hoverboards?). But I won’t dwell on that now, as this particular topic is all over the internet at the moment, rivalling the hype surrounding the new Star Wars movie. I always love this “tomorrow isn’t what it was” kinda thing, so I just sit back and have a good chuckle and revel in the contradictions.

The time-travelling adventures of Marty McFly and Doc Brown comprise one of the very best, and definitely most fun, series of sci-fi cinema adventures in the history of Hollywood blockbusters. And just by coincidence, I’m sitting here right now, watching ITV2, which is showing the entire Back to the Future trilogy, back-to-back. And what’s playing right now? Yes, Back to the Future II! :) We’re right in the middle of the alternate 1985 sequence at the moment, my very favourite part of the entire trilogy.

Anyway, I’m off to sit back, chill, and enjoy the rest of the trilogy. Happy BACK TO THE FUTURE DAY!!!!