Doctor Who Series 10: Episode 1 – “The Pilot”

Earlier this evening saw the welcome return of Doctor Who to our TV screens after a prolonged absense, when the first episode of Series 10, “The Pilot”, aired on BBC1 at 7.20pm.

This is the beginning of not only Peter Capaldi’s final series as the Doctor, but Steven Moffat’s final series as showrunner. We’re also introduced to the new companion, Bill Potts, a “canteen lady” at a university, who has, for some reason unknown to her, somehow been called up for an interview with one of the university’s most prestigious and popular professors, who just happens to be the Doctor, ably assisted by his rather strange companion, Nardole. After her interview at the Doctor’s office, he becomes her “tutor”.

Much of the episode focuses on Bill and her personal life (she may not be the first openly gay companion in the series – that honour goes to Captain Jack Harkness – but she is certainly the first gay, black, female companion). She starts a relationship with a student called Heather, but things immediately take a turn into the twilight zone when Heather shows Bill a weird puddle, which gives “wrong” reflections of the people who look into it.

The puddle is actually an alien “space oil” entity that eats/absorbs Heather and proceeds to chase after Bill in a watery form that mimicks Heather. First to Bill’s flat, then to the Doctor’s office, where Bill, the Doctor and Nardole are forced into the TARDIS, which jumps first to some kind of locked, guarded vault (which I reckon we’ll see a lot more of later in Series 10). Then it’s to the other side of the world, to Australia (where the Doctor has to explain about himself to Bill). The Heather-water thingy follows them there.

Next the TARDIS travels to a planet on the other side of the universe, twenty-three million years in the future. The Heather-entity finds them even there. The damned thing can time travel. It can go anywhere that the TARDIS can go. Finally, the TARDIS lands in the middle of one of the greatest space battles in all of time and space, between the Daleks and Movellans. The Heather-entity follows them there as well. Bill, against the wishes of the Doctor, decides to confront her pursuer, and realizing that the Heather-entity is only following her because of the promise that Heather had made to Bill that “she would never leave her”, Bill releases Heather from the vow, and the entity just melts away and vanishes. It hadn’t been following Bill to harm her, but to invite her to join it (unfortunately she would’ve ceased to exist as a human, just as Heather had). The TARDIS returns to the Doctor’s office, where he tries to wipe Bill’s memory, but she refuses to let him, and leaves, only to meet him waiting outside with the TARDIS, inviting her to join him.

Overall, I quite liked “The Pilot”. It wasn’t Earth-shatteringly brilliant, but it was a pretty decent story, and although quite subdued and relatively low-key, it served as a good introductory episode for the new companion. It was a nice “character” episode, and I thought that the whole introduction of Bill thing echoed strongly the very first episode of NuWho (“Rose”) very nicely indeed. The entire exciting chase sequence later in the episode only lasted a few minutes, but was pretty effective, and I loved the very short “blink and you’ll miss it” cameo of the Daleks vs the Movellans, giving us our first short glimpse of that famous war first mentioned way back in the Peter Davison era.

The short sequence with the Dalek blasting away (totally ineffectually) at the Heather-entity was quite chilling, with it just standing there ignoring the Dalek laser blasts as if they were nothing, and repeating “Exterminate!” every time the Dalek screeched it. It was a strong reminder that there are lifeforms out there far more powerful than even the Daleks. The Heather-entity assuming the Dalek’s likeness makes me wonder what happened to the poor old Dalek. Did she destroy and absorb it, or did it crap itself and scarper? 🙂 The scene where Bill touches the Heather-entity and it shows her all of time and space was also pretty well done. That was a tough one for Bill to turn down, but I reckon the dying and being absorbed thing kinda put her off a bit. 🙂

Anyway, a good start to Series 10. Roll on next week and the second episode, “Smile”.

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 Witch’s Familiar is On TV Tonight!

The Witch’s Familiar, Part Two of the Doctor Who season opening double-parter, airs on BBC One at 7.45pm tonight. It’ll be interesting to see how things turn out for Clara (Jenna Coleman) and Missy (Michelle Gomez), and how the complex relationship between the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) and Davros (Julian Bleach) may or may not have begun. And the Daleks. Oh, yes, let’s not forget the Daleks! 🙂

Given how good Part One, The Magician’s Apprentice was, I’m really looking forward to tonight’s episode, while hoping that it lives up to the potential of the first one. In general, I greatly prefer two and three-parters to single episodes, as they are less rushed and give a lot more scope for story and character development. However, an unfortunate tendency of the Moffat-era two-parters is that they have great first parts, but slightly disappointing second parts, which almost always fail to live up to promise of the first episode.

Here’s hoping that The Witch’s Familiar does not fall into that trap, and turns out to be a cracker.

Doctor Who Series 9 Episodes Listing

Saturday past gave us the first episode of the new Series 9 of Doctor Who, The Magician’s Apprentice, and a cracking start it was too. Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman reprise their roles as the Doctor and companion Clara Oswald, and this first episode alone gave us a cracking story and a whole bunch of guest stars, including Missy (played by Michelle Gomez), Davros (Julian Bleach), and Daleks. Lots of Daleks. How’s that for a great start?

In the spirit of avoiding spoilers, I’ll leave a more detailed analysis of the story until a later date. I’ll say only that it was the first episode of a two-parter (unusual in itself, as two-parters are almost always season-enders – I don’t recall any season ever beginning with one), and to say that I’m REALLY looking forward to Part Two is putting it mildly. I hope that it lives up to the first episode, as these two-parters have an unfortunate tendency to start off brilliant in the first episode, but fade away disappointingly in the second.

I’ve been going out of my way to avoid seeing any spoilers on the internet, on TV or in magazines, which can be incredibly hard to do, especially when you spend as much time online and read as many magazines each month (including Doctor Who Magazine) as I do. I’ve been trying to come to the new series knowing absolutely nothing in advance, for maximum impact and surprise. Until I saw it on television, I knew absolutely nothing about the first episode, other than it had the Doctor, Clara, Missy and the Daleks. I don’t want to know the storylines or synopses in advance. So I’m trying to avoid anything like that like the plague.

Anyway, here’s a listing of the episode titles for Series 9, with zero spoilers.

Episodes:

  • 01. The Magician’s Apprentice
  • 02. The Witch’s Familiar
  • 03. Under the Lake
  • 04. Before the Flood
  • 05. The Girl Who Died
  • 06. The Woman Who Lived
  • 07. The Zygon Invasion
  • 08. The Zygon Inversion
  • 09. Sleep No More
  • 10. Face the Raven
  • 11. Heaven Sent
  • 12. Hell Bent

Roll on Saturday and The Witch’s Familiar!

Doctor Who Series 9 Starts Today!

I’m looking forward to the rest of this evening, just sitting here, eagerly awaiting the start of The Magician’s Apprentice, the very first episode of the new Series 9 of Doctor Who, which begins very shortly, at 7:40pm, on BBC1.

Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman return as the Doctor and Clara, and I won’t give away much, other than to say that this one features both the Daleks AND Missy/The Master, and the Doctor goes missing, leaving Clara forced to do the almost unthinkable – team up with Missy to find him! So it should be pretty interesting, to say the least.

Roll on 7:40! 🙂

Plaything of Sutekh #4 Is Now Available

Plaything of Sutekh 4 montage

As a follow-up to my last post, I’m now happy to report that Plaything of Sutekh #4 is now available, after what seems like an eternity since the last issue. 🙂

As the details on the Plaything of Sutekh blog state, the new issue features articles on:-

  • Pacifism in Doctor Who – a look at how The Daleks and The Dominators gave turning the other cheek the thumbs down.
  • The Ark vs The Ark in Space – David Rolinson looks at the similarities between these two stories.
  • RTD & Religion – Sean Alexander examines a key aspect of the series under Russell T’s tenure.
  • E-Space – Jez Strickley spies a dystopian slant in this Season 18 trilogy.
  • Secret Who – we look at two underrated stories The Claws of Axos and The Time Monster
  • Changing Times – a look back at Peter Capaldi’s first season.
  • Doc Top Ten – one writer looks at his favourite Who comic strips.
  • Gateway Drug – Stephen Wood confesses how it all started with him and Who…

For those who aren’t familiar with it, Plaything of Sutekh is a professionally produced, traditional A5 print Doctor Who fanzine – yes, a real paper zine, not an electronic download, a website or a blog. It is brought to you by Richard Farrell, John Connors and their Merry crew – Richard also edits the very excellent Gerry Anderson fanzine Andersonic. Both zines are among the best fanzines currently available, especially considering that the traditional print fanzine is an endangered species in the increasingly electronic and online modern era.

Issue 4 is 36 pages, fully illustrated with colour covers and black & white interiors. It only costs a mere £2.20, which also includes free postage within the UK (check the blog for postage outside the UK).

To find out more details or order the zine, either go to the Plaything of Sutekh blog, or simply send a Paypal payment directly to playthingofsutekh@mail.com – with your address in the ‘notes’ section. You can also pay by cheque, please email for the payee details.

Issue 3 is also still in print. All self-respecting Doctor Who fans should run along sharpish to the Plaything of Sutekh blog and buy these two issues before they’re sold out.

Doctor Who DVD Marathon Session

I’m having a bit of a quiet night in tonight, watching a few Doctor Who DVDs with a couple of mates. We have four DVDs on the menu tonight, and they’re all Tom Baker stories, among them three of my all-time favourite DW classics from the Hinchcliffe era.

We’re starting of with Image of the Fendahl (just finishing now), followed by Terror of the Zygons, Genesis of the Daleks, and finally Destiny of the Daleks. The first three stories are all in my Top Ten classic Doctor Who Stories list. Destiny is pretty decent too, if not quite up to the standard of the first three.

Tom Baker has always been my favourite Doctor, and the Hinchcliffe era by far my favourite era ever of Doctor Who. The underlying horror, more subdued Baker humour, excellent acting and extremely high quality of the scripts in Baker’s first three seasons have never been equalled, let alone surpassed, either in the classic or the new series.

I haven’t seen any of these in quite a long time now, so it’ll be really nice to revisit these old classics again. We’re in for a very enjoyable evening. 🙂

Classic British Telefantasy: My Top Ten Favourites (Part Two)

Here’s the second part of my rambling list of favourite Classic British Telefantasy series:

At Number Four is Sapphire and Steel, one of the strangest telefantasy series ever. Short on budget, hence relatively scarce (but effective) special effects, but oozing with quality writing, and oppressive, frightening mood and terror, this was a truly classic sci-fantasy series, featuring two of the most charismatic and mysterious central characters in telefantasy history, Sapphire (played by Joanna Lumley) and Steel (played by David McCallum). The sheer mystery, the fact that nobody ever found out who or what the main characters really were, where they came from, or what the hell was actually happening most of the time, added greatly to the attraction of the show. The fact that Sapphire and Steel was rarely repeated on television also added to the effect, as all we had to go on for many years were our fading memories. Luckily the series has been made available in recent years, firstly on VHS video, and then on DVD. And even more fortunately, it definitely lives up to our fond memories of the show.

At Number Three, it’s UFO, by far my favourite of the Gerry Anderson shows, not a stone’s throw from the top of my list of favourite British telefantasy series. First airing in 1970, and set in the not so far off future of 1980, the gorgeous hardware, the aliens, sexy women (those gorgeous moonbase babes – Gay Ellis, oh my poor heart!), and interesting characters were a huge attraction for a young boy like me. From an adult perspective, that totally kitsch, retro futuristic feel (unintended at the time, of course), gives UFO an undeniable charm that allows the series to still hold up really well today. The complex alternate-universe 1980-that-never-was, combining a mix-mash of styles from 1970 and the imagined future “1980” (which actually feels more mid- or late-21st Century) give it a retro but also an undefinable “sometime just a few years from now” feel which makes the show work even in 2013, although its version of a 1980 “future” is actually thirty-three years in our past.

At Number Two, it’s Quatermass. If there’s any British telefantasy that might give Doctor Who a run for it’s money, it has to be Quatermass. The original Quatermass serials were well before my time (I wasn’t born until 1960, and those serials appeared in 1953, 1955 and 1958), although I really enjoyed the three film versions and the 1979 Quatermass serial featuring John Mills as the Professor. Reading a number of excellent Quatermass articles in various telefantasy fanzines during the 1980s really fired up my interest in the original 1950s serials. I was also fortunate, at some point during the early 1980s, to come upon three books containing the scripts/teleplays of all three original 1950s serials (complete with nice b&w photos). I was hooked on the original serials even more by that time, and, just to complete the circle, soon afterwards I also bought the novelization of the 1979 serial. I was now a hardcore fan of Quatermass in all its forms, both serials and films.

A few years later, I was absolutely elated to get my hands on the VHS video release of the third (and the best of the three) 1950s serial, Quatermass and the Pit, and finally got to see what all the hype was about. I’d always loved the 1967 film version of Quatermass and the Pit, but the original serial absolutely blew my mind. It was way, way better than the film, and remains, to this day, my favourite ever single piece of British telefantasy. If the first two serials had been as good as the third (only two episodes of the first serial still exist), Quatermass might’ve made it to the Number One spot in my list. I was doubly delighted, about ten years ago, to get my hands on the excellent three-DVD release of The Quatermass Collection, featuring the beautifully restored Quatermass and the Pit, the entire (unrestored) Quatermass II, and the two surviving episodes of the Quatermass Experiment. This remarkable DVD set is an absolute treasure, and any British telefantasy fan worth their reputation should have a copy of this in their collections.

And finally, at Number One, it’s Doctor Who, just about my favourite telefantasy series of all time. I’ve been watching Doctor Who since I was five or six years old, way back in the mid-1960s. I like the modern version of Doctor Who, but not as much as the classic 1963-1989 series. I love the classic 1960s Hartnell and Troughton b&w stories, but my favourite Doctor Who eras were the Jon Pertwee years and the first half of Tom Baker’s run on the show. In my opinion, the Tom Baker/Philip Hinchcliffe years were, without a shadow of a doubt, the best ever in the show’s history. This show had (and still has) so much history, continuity and detail. The Doctor(s) and the Tardis, travelling anywhere in time and space, Daleks, Cybermen, Ice Warriors, Sutekh the Destroyer, Omega, the Master, the list goes on and on and on, spanning the alphabet, from Autons to Zarbi, Doctor Who is immense. It was a huge part of my growing up process from early childhood right up into adulthood and to the present day (I’m now 52), this is the British telefantasy series (indeed THE telefantasy series, British or not) that has had the biggest effect on my life.

And just outside the Top Ten, in no particular order:

The Avengers – I quite enjoyed the weekly exploits of John Steed and Emma Peel, and later Tara King (I was too young to remember the earlier stories with Cathy Gale). Emma and Tara were certainly extremely easy on the eyes, and those two ladies absolutely kicked ass each and every week. The series was extremely psychedelic (hey, it was the Sixties!) and was overly camp at times. I was never a fan of the camp thing (hated it, actually), a major reason why I didn’t enjoy the show quite as much as other UK telefantasy shows. I also quite liked The New Avengers, although it only occasionally crossed into telefantasy from its primary action adventure format. But it was worth watching for Joanna Lumley, playing Purdey, another gorgeous yet kick-ass Avengers female.

The Champions – enjoyable super-spy hokum in which three super-powered agents save the world each and every week from mad scientists and other menaces. I quite enjoyed this, although, with the exception of a handful of episodes, there was very little real sci-fi in the series, other than the agents showing their weekly portion of super strength, super speed or telepathy. I mostly liked it for the great theme tune and the epitome of eye candy provided by the absolutely gorgeous Alexandra Bastedo (who played Sharon McCready), who was, as far as I’m concerned, one of the most beautiful women ever in the history of telefantasy.

Thunderbirds – loved the hardware, but, unlike Captain Scarlet, most of the stories themselves were not sci-fi enough for my tastes, even at that early age. Also, and despite my liking for Captain Scarlet, I was never really a fan of those damned puppets. I hate those wooden actors! I always preferred the live-action Gerry Anderson series.

That’s about it for the more famous British telefantasy series. At some point in the future, I’ll be devoting one or more blog posts to other, more obscure British telefantasy, particularly series aimed at children. My own memories of most of these are very incomplete and vague, so I’ve been buying a few of the more recommended classic children’s sci-fi series on DVD from Amazon UK. So far, I’ve got my hands on the entire original series of The Tomorrow People, Timeslip, Sky, Children of the Stones, The Owl Service, The Demon Headmaster and the 1980s version of Tom’s Midnight Garden. I think I’ll nab a few more series so I can post a reasonably comprehensive blog review.

Doctor Who Returns to UK Television

This coming Saturday, 30th March, at 6.15pm, sees the return of Doctor Who to UK television screens, as we finally get to see the first episode of the second half of Series 7, The Bells of Saint John. I’m really looking forward to the start of this sequence of new stories, as is, I’m sure, every other Doctor Who fan on the planet.

As far as I’m concerned, Matt Smith has been a huge success as the 11th Doctor. His zany, eccentric portrayal combines the best elements of previous Doctors, but is influenced mostly by my favourite Doctor of all, Tom Baker, which has to be A Very Good Thing (at least in my book). Even in the Doctor Who stories which are… let’s say… not exactly the best, Smith puts in a performance that is rarely less than excellent, and, by sheer acting ability alone, often elevates the quality of those episodes beyond that of the mediocre scripts.

I’m also looking forward to seeing how he works with his new companion, Clara Oswin Oswald (played by Jenna-Louise Coleman). We’ve already seen her a couple of times before, firstly in last season’s Asylum of the Daleks, and then in the last Christmas Special, The Snowmen. She’s already died twice, but keeps coming back, which bodes well for some intriguing story and character development in coming stories. From what we’ve seen so far, Jenna-Louise Coleman is an excellent young actress, and Clara Oswald should more than ably fill the shoes of The Ponds as the Doctor’s new companion.

But most of all, and I’m sure many Doctor Who fans will empathize with me here, I’m looking forward to the monsters. Yes, the monsters! What adversaries, both old and new, will the Doctor be facing this year? I’ve caught the trailer on TV a few times over the past week, and I’m pretty excited about it. The Cybermen are back, looking better than ever. But what excites me the most is that we’ll at last be getting to see the Ice Warriors, the very first time they’ve appeared in the new series.

The Ice Warriors have always been one of my favourite classic Doctor Who monsters, right up there with the Daleks, Cybermen, Autons, Silurians, Sea Devils and Zygons, and it’s long, long past time that they made an appearance in the new series. They look absolutely amazing, at least from the brief glimpse that we got of them in the trailer. I don’t know which episode of the new season the Ice Warriors will appear in, but I can’t wait to see them. Hopefully Moffat and co. will do them proud with an excellent story.

Roll on Saturday evening, 6.15pm!