Doctor Who: Heaven Sent

Now THAT was a cracker! In my opinion, Heaven Sent, written by Steven Moffat, is a great follow-up to Face the Raven, the best Doctor Who episode in a long, long time, and definitely the best episode of Series 9 so far.

It was dark, scary, moody, mindbending, intelligent – it’s just how I love Doctor Who, and is the kind of episode that we’ve seen far too little of in recent years. With the exception of Chris Eccleston’s excellent single season, Series 9 is the nearest that Doctor Who has come in tone (if not quite in quality) to the Tom Baker/Philip Hinchcliffe era, by far my favourite era in either Classic or New Doctor Who. I was glued to the screen for the entire forty-five minutes, although I’m not too sure if I like the whole “I am the hybrid” idea, at the episode’s climax. If it pans out like that, it would be just a little too silly for my liking.

Peter Capaldi has taken the role of the Doctor by the scruff of its neck and made it his own, and Clara/Jenna Coleman has grown into an excellent companion. I’ll be sorry to see her go at the end of this series. Despite the multitude of rabid Clara haters I’ve seen online (fandom makes me sick at times – there are far too many total assholes out there claiming to be fans), I’m pretty sure that future critics and fans will look back on Clara Oswald as being one of the better companions in the history of either Doctor Who series.

There’s been a certain amount of moaning and groaning on Facebook and elsewhere that, if we see many more episodes like Heaven Sent, “we’ll lose the general audience”. I disagree. Fans who have grown up with NuWho, TRUE fans, and not the “flyby brigade”, who only watch it if there’s nothing better on the other channels, will still stick to the show like glue. I do agree that there has to be a certain amount of balance between the lightness and humour vs the grimness and serious stories, to vary the pace in between the individual episodes, and give us an entire range of the spectrum between extreme the dark, scary stuff and the lightweight fluffy episodes. But this kind of story is so much more my idea of what Doctor Who should REALLY be like. Others may have their own ideas of what Doctor Who should be like, but Heaven Sent is mine.

However, I do concede that there has to be a balance. But the moaners who can’t tolerate ANY heavy, serious episodes at all really get my goat up. They should just clear off and watch airhead sitcoms or soap operas, if all they want is non-stop, upbeat nonsense. We really do need these “deep” stories occasionally, to balance out the lighter, more dumbed down, all flash and no substance single episodes, that supposedly are aimed at the “general” audience and kids (who, these days, aren’t as stupid as the marketers seem to think). Thankfully, with all the two-parters, Series 9 has seen only a couple of these single episodes, and even they were linked. A big improvement on previous years, in my opinion, and I hope that this trend in favour of two-parters continues.

The David Tennant and Matt Smith eras had FAR too many of those dumb single episodes, far too much old silliness, with the totally ridiculous romance nonsense between the Doctor and human female companions, other completely irrelevant, soap-opera-ish, non-Who-ish distractions, and simply too much bad writing. The Matt Smith era, in particular, was virtually unwatchable at times, despite the fact that he himself was an absolutely AMAZING Doctor. He carried the show most of the time, to be honest, and I continued watching it just for him. In my opinion, Capaldi’s arrival, and the complete change in tone of the series, has revitalised Doctor Who, although there are still too many dodgy stories. But hell, that’s always been true of Doctor Who. Lest the rose-tinted glasses crowd forget, the Classic series also had more than its fair share of total clunkers.

It’s not 1966 any more, fer cryin’ out loud. It’s almost 2016, and modern audiences (including kids) are far more sophisticated than they were back in the 1960s and 1970s. And the show is no longer aired at 5.15pm in the evening, but a full three hours later, sometimes not ending until after the 9pm watershed. I can no longer understand the endless obsession with forcing the show into a shoebox where it has to appeal to five year-olds as well as fifty-five year olds. That approach just doesn’t seem relevant any more.

In most cases, instead of more challenging stories, in recent years we’ve ended up with far too many middle-of-the-road, lightweight “fluff” single episodes aimed at keeping kids and general viewers who are not hardcore Doctor Who fans happy, what I refer to as the “Popcorn Who” audience. Personally, given Doctor Who’s current late timeslot, and the fact that the typical modern audience is much more varied and sophisticated than it was forty or fifty years ago, I really think the series should be written accordingly today, and aimed at a similar audience to Steven Moffat’s other excellent show, Sherlock.

I know those “popcorn” episodes are for keeping up the general audience figures, but too many of them and you lose the hardcore fans (like myself). They are just too bland and lightweight, and while I can take the odd one in between the more intelligent, serious episodes, string more than two or three of them together and I’ll give up on that season as a lost cause. Thankfully Heaven Sent was way over at the other extreme, where I prefer my Doctor Who to be. I like my Doctor Who dark, scary and serious.

I’m hoping Hell Bent lives up to the quality of Heaven Sent (and that Moffat will be able to do it two episodes in a row, as this has been a weakness of his with two-parters). If it’s even half as good, it’ll be a decent series finale. And if it’s on the same level of quality, we’re in for one of the greatest series endings in modern Doctor Who.

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Some New Doctor Who Books (Part Two)

Back at the end of January, I made a start on listing some of the Doctor Who related books that I’ve been picking up over recent months. Here are a few more, focusing specifically on the excellent fan-oriented publications of Mad Norwegian Press:

  • ABOUT TIME: THE UNAUTHORIZED GUIDE TO DOCTOR WHO – BOOK 7, 2005 – 2006 SERIES 1 & 2
  • TIME UNINCORPORATED: THE DOCTOR WHO FANZINE ARCHIVES, VOL 1: LANCE PARKIN
  • TIME UNINCORPORATED: THE DOCTOR WHO FANZINE ARCHIVES, VOL 2: WRITINGS ON THE CLASSIC SERIES
  • TIME UNINCORPORATED: THE DOCTOR WHO FANZINE ARCHIVES, VOL 3: WRITINGS ON THE NEW SERIES

I was an obsessive collector of Doctor Who fanzines way back in the 1980’s and early-1990’s, the era often fondly referred to as the “Golden Age of Doctor Who Fanzines”. In many ways, I still am today, although there are a lot fewer print/paper fanzines around these days than there were back in the 80’s and 90’s. So these four Mad Norwegian Press books are an absolute goldmine of DW reference material, and of great interest to someone like me, particularly the three TIME UNINCORPORATED books, which collect a host of fanzine and fan-related writing.

The ABOUT TIME: THE UNAUTHORIZED GUIDE TO DOCTOR WHO – BOOK 7, 2005 – 2006 SERIES 1 & 2 by Tat Wood and Dorothy Ail (trade paperback, Mad Norwegian Press, US, 2013, ISBN: 978-1935234159), is the first book in the ABOUT TIME series that I’ve bought, and about time (if you’ll pardon the pun). It’s not as though I could hold off forever from buying a series of books which describes itself as “A history of the Doctor Who continuum”. Tat Wood is a name that I definitely remember well from my days collecting zines back in the 80’s and 90’s, and this book is extremely dense and full of fantastic information. This volume is the first in the series focusing on NuWho, covering the first two seasons of the new series, 2005-2006. As I’m an even bigger fan of the classic series than I am of the new (although I do like the new series), I really should get around to tracking down the first six ABOUT TIME books.

TIME UNINCORPORATED: THE DOCTOR WHO FANZINE ARCHIVES, VOL 1: LANCE PARKIN by Lance Parkin (trade paperback, Mad Norwegian Press, US, 2009, ISBN: 978-1-935234012), is the first of a projected multi-volume series collecting “selected treasures” from many of the best pieces of fanzine writing of the past. This particular volume focuses on a single writer – Lance Parkin – and collects fifteen years worth of his fanzine scribblings. Back in the early-1990’s, I was a big follower of the publications put out by Seventh Door Fanzines, and soon became a fan of Lance Parkin’s writing, long before he ever hit it big in the world of Doctor Who publishing. I still have a pristine condition copy of his original 1994 The Doctor Who Chronology, which for years served as one of my favourite Doctor Who reference books. That has now been superceded as a reference source by its immense descendant AHISTORY, although the original still occasionally comes out of its box just for the sheer nostalgia kick that reading those old zine publications gives me. These books are fantastic, but there’s nothing like holding the originals in your hands.

TIME UNINCORPORATED: THE DOCTOR WHO FANZINE ARCHIVES, VOL 2: WRITINGS ON THE CLASSIC SERIES edited by Graeme Burk and Robert Smith (trade paperback, Mad Norwegian Press, US, 2010, ISBN: 978-1-935234029), continues where the previous volume left off, except this time focusing on the fanzine and other fan-related writings of a much wider group of authors, relating to the classic series from 1963-1989, and including the 1996 FOX TV movie. There are nearly seventy-five essays here, and quite a few names here that I recognize, but also quite a few that I do not.

TIME UNINCORPORATED: THE DOCTOR WHO FANZINE ARCHIVES, VOL 3: WRITINGS ON THE NEW SERIES edited by Robert Shearman, Graeme Burk and Robert Smith (trade paperback, Mad Norwegian Press, US, 2011, ISBN: 978-1-935234036), is more of the same kind of thing that we got in Vol. 2, except this time concentrating on the new series, up until 2010. Nearly sixty-five essays, again by a wide range of authors, many of whom I recognize, and many of whom I do not. This one is billed as “the third and final volume of this series”, and it finishes at the end of Matt Smith’s first year in the role of The Doctor. C’mon Mad Norwegian Press guys! You can’t leave it hanging there! This series is really crying out for a Volume 4, to cover Matt Smith’s second and third seasons, and the start of Peter Capaldi’s run on the show. As a matter of fact, as long
as the new series continues to run, there should be more and more new volumes to cover it!

Anyway, that’s it for now. More new Doctor Who book listings coming up soon.

Doctor Who: “Last Christmas”

I watched the Doctor Who Christmas Special earlier this evening. Verdict? Mmmm… not bad, actually.

I must admit that when I first heard that the title of the Christmas Special was going to be Last Christmas, and saw the trailer with Santa Claus in it, I let out a huge groan, fearing the worst. Oh please, not another piece of silly, irrelevant Christmas fluff! I had images of a soppy, saccharine, Christmas-sy pile of old tosh, with Santa and strains of Wham! permeating the background music. The very thought of it filled me with dread.

Thankfully my worst fears didn’t materialize. There was a perfectly good and logical reason for Santa, and a reasonably intelligent story, which was even pretty dark and ominous in parts. Most unChristmas-sy. 🙂 Even the aliens were pretty good, and although derivative, Moffat managed to work a joking reference into the script as an acknowledgement of the original source. I won’t say anything more, in case I give away spoilers for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet.

It was nice to see Clara’s place confirmed as continuing companion in the series, after all the speculation about “will she or won’t she?” (stay or leave). I know that the character has taken a lot of criticism from fans, but I think that she has come into her own during Season 8, after an initial beginning as more of a plot device than a real character. In my opinion, she is fitting in better now with Peter Capaldi than she ever did during Matt Smith’s era. Jenna Coleman is a good actress, and her character has definitely grown and progressed in Series 8, so I’m quite glad that she’s staying with the show for another while yet.

Overall, Steven Moffat has produced a reasonably good Christmas Special for 2014. Sure, it may not have been the best Doctor Who episode of all time, but it was definitely worth an hour of my time.

Doctor Who, Season 8 – “Deep Breath”

I know it’s hard to believe, but we’re already half-way through the new season of Doctor Who. So I thought that it’s about time that I started posting a few brief opinions on each episode, hoping that I’ll be able to catch up before we get to the end of the season.

The season opener, Deep Breath, was a longer than usual 75-minute episode. It’s a typical regeneration debut story, much more about introducing the new Doctor than anything else, and, as such, it did that very well. Here are what I regarded as the plus and negative points:

The Good Stuff:
The most important thing first. I loved the new Doctor. Peter Capaldi is a fine actor, and I think he’s going to be excellent in the role. He’s totally different to the previous incarnation, and that’s how it should be. He’s a grumpy, sarcastic Scotsman (and very funny, in a totally different way to the manic Matt Smith), with a strong streak of “alienness”, which any good Doctor needs to offset his humanity. He pushed all the right buttons for me in his debut story, and I’m looking forward to watching him grow into the role.

I also really liked seeing Lady Vastra, Jenny and Strax again. I always enjoy the appearances of the Paternoster Gang, and I think that Strax is absolutely hilarious. Lots of humourous moments and good character scenes in this story.

The Bad Stuff:
The story itself was okay but wasn’t exactly amazing either. The plot was a bit on the thin side, and if you take out Peter Capaldi and the Paternoster Gang, the episode would barely have rated a C. Also, Steven Moffat’s seeming obsession with having the Doctor constantly revisit the Victorian era is starting to wear a bit thin, as much as I might like the Victorian era.

I also had a couple of major plot and character quibbles with this story:

Number One is Clara’s totally out of character reaction to the new Doctor. Yes, I know that Steven Moffat was using it as a strong dig at the type of fan who was reacting negatively to Matt Smith leaving, and all of the stupid, irrational hating on Peter Capaldi before they’d even seen him in the role. But it was a completely wrong reboot of Clara’s character. Any other companion reacting like this, yes, maybe, just maybe it might’ve been a bit more realistic, but not the Impossible Girl.

She’s met all of the Doctors, and a new one shouldn’t even phase her, older or not. Hell, she’s even been in an adventure with three different Doctors, Matt Smith, David Tennant and John Hurt, in The Day of the Doctor, so she’s pretty familiar with regeneration and other Doctors. I know that some people are of the opinion that Clara doesn’t remember any of her other lives (or the Doctor’s she met), but I’m firmly in the “yes she does” camp. But even if she doesn’t, she would never, EVER have reacted in this way.

Her overly-negative, almost hysterical overreaction to the Peter Capaldi Doctor being “older” is also way out of character, and totally immature and unrealistic. She’s already met an older Doctor (Hurt), and got on really well with him. The Clara that we all know simply would NOT have behaved like this towards the new Doctor.

Number Two is a major plot/continuity cock-up by Moffat: the phone call from the Matt Smith Doctor on Trenzalore to Clara. He says to Clara that the time is getting close, and “it’s going to be a real whopper” (obviously referring to the upcoming regeneration). This scene was quite poignant and well-acted, until you actually stop and remember back to what happened at the end of The Time of the Doctor. The Doctor, as far as he was concerned for the ENTIRE episode, wasn’t going to regenerate. He was going to die.

That was the whole damned point of the story. He’d run out of regenerations, and, right up until the climax of the episode, when the Time Lords popped up and gave the Doctor a new cycle of regenerations (after Clara pleading with them, of course), he was resigned to meeting his end while fighting to save the people of Trenzalore from the Daleks. He didn’t know he was going to regenerate UNTIL IT ACTUALLY HAPPENED. So Matt Smith’s Doctor wouldn’t/couldn’t have made that phone call to Clara. As beautiful and emotional as the scene undoubtedly was, it was also a stupid continuity error and very sloppy writing on Moffat’s part.

So overall, a couple of major issues, and a fairly average, unremarkable story. That said, there were quite a few nice character pieces, sad bits, and slices of humour. The performances of Lady Vastra, Strax and Jenny were excellent, as usual. And Peter Capaldi’s performance (which is, after all, the most important thing) as the new Doctor was A-rated. So Deep Breath was a success, both as a regeneration story and an introduction to the new Doctor.

Doctor Who Back on UK Television!

Like every other Doctor Who fan on the planet, I’ve been eagerly awaiting the start of the new season, and most of all the first full appearance of the new Doctor, Peter Capaldi. Now at last, Doctor Who returns to UK television tomorrow, Saturday, 23rd August, at 7.50pm, in a 75-minute feature-length episode.

The first episode of twelve in the new Season 8 (or Season 34, if you prefer to include the classic series, as I do), is Deep Breath. Here’s a list of the twelve episodes of the new season:

  1. Deep Breath
  2. Into the Dalek
  3. Robot of Sherwood
  4. Listen
  5. Time Heist
  6. The Caretaker
  7. Kill the Moon
  8. Mummy on the Orient Express
  9. Flatline
  10. In the Forest of the Night
  11. Dark Water
  12. Death in Heaven

The last two episodes are the two-part Season Finale. I’ve deliberately avoided giving any spoilers. Indeed, I’ve actively avoided encountering any spoilers myself, and I know absolutely nothing about the episodes other than their titles. I’ve become royally fed up, every single year, having each new season ruined by spoilers all over the internet, on TV and in the magazines, so this year it’s been me dodging any kind of spoilers as nimbly as I can. Fingers crossed I can make it to Saturday, and woe betide anyone who ruins things for me. 🙂

I’ve always been a huge fan of Matt Smith and his portrayal of the Doctor. Starting off as a relative unknown, he took to the role like a duck to water, and he has been, without a doubt, a huge success as the 11th Doctor. He brought us a zany, eccentric, manic, and often truly alien version of the Doctor that reminded me most of Tom Baker (on speed), which can never be a bad thing as far as I’m concerned, as TomDoc has always been my favourite Doctor of all.

By adopting some of the best elements of not only Tom Baker, but also other previous Doctors (there’s a lot of Patrick Troughton in there as well), combined with his own natural hi-energy craziness, Smith created a new persona which really appealed to me in a “he was born for the role” kind of way. I absolutely loved him, which came as a big surprise to me as I was really apprehensive back when he first took over from David Tennant. Even in the less notable episodes, he lights up the screen and he makes even the worst stories watchable, even if only to enjoy Smith doing his thing.

So Peter Capaldi has a lot to live up to, although I’m sure he’ll be more than up to the job. He’s an accomplished actor, and has been around for a long, long time. He’s also a lifetime Doctor Who fan, and has been since he was a young child. Or at least he was an obsessive fan of the classic series (I’ve no idea what he thinks of the new series), from the beginning with William Hartnell, right on through to the fourth Doctor, Tom Baker. So this bodes well for the show, in my opinion.

I’m actually looking forward to this older, darker Doctor, and to seeing how he works with the current companion, Clara (Jenna Coleman). Roll on Saturday evening, 7.50pm!

Doctor Who 50th Anniversary – My Personal Favourites

Now that November is over, I can look back upon Doctor Who’s 50th Anniversary and state, with some enthusiasm, that it was a very good anniversary indeed, one of the best I can ever remember. There were lots of excellent Doctor Who items on television, on DVD and in the magazines, but these four were by far my favourites:

In first place, it was the sublime An Adventure in Space and Time, which aired from 9-10.30pm on the night of Thursday 21st November. This was simply the best Doctor Who production that I’ve seen in many years. The performances of all of the actors were exemplary, particularly David Bradley in the role of William Hartnell. Indeed, the ONLY real criticism that I could express is that An Adventure in Space and Time, at under ninety minutes, was too short, hence the need to skip over a number of extremely important details (for example, the vital roles played by Ray Cusick, Terry Nation, David Whitaker and a number of other figures in early Doctor Who history) because of time and space constraints (if you’ll pardon the pun). The drama would have profited greatly by being at least half an hour longer, or even forty-five minutes. Many, many thanks to Mark Gatiss for having the dedication and perseverance to stick with this until The Powers That Be at the BBC gave the go ahead to put it into production.

In second place, and, in my opinion, not very far behind An Adventure in Space and Time, was The Day of the Doctor, which aired on BBC1 on the evening of Saturday 23rd November, from 7.50pm-8.05pm. I usually find most modern Doctor Who specials to be a bit hit and miss, a bit of of fluff filler in between seasons or breaks in seasons. But The Day of the Doctor was excellent. Not perfect, but definitely excellent, and I consider it to be, despite a few minor niggles, without a doubt the best Doctor Who special of the modern era.

In third place, it’s the November DVD release of The Tenth Planet. I’ve been waiting to see this one for a long, long time, and it didn’t disappoint. I’d only seen a few surviving clips before (on the Lost in Time DVD), so being able to see the whole story at last was really exciting. Episode 4 is still missing, but was expertly recreated here in animated form by the same people who animated the missing episodes on the Second Doctor stories The Ice Warriors and The Invasion. Excellent DVD release.

In fourth place, it’s the November 50th Anniversary edition of Doctor Who Magazine, the biggest and one of the best ever editions of the magazine. There was so much good stuff in this one, simply choc a bloc with 50th Anniversary goodness, that it’s difficult to know where to start. But if I had my arm twisted up my back and was forced to choose, my two favourites would have to be Ghosts in the Machine, a behind the scenes feature on the excellent An Adventure in Space and Time, and An Unearthly Beginning, which features never-before-seen drafts of An Unearthly Child. Great stuff!

Those are my four favourites, but there were a number of other notables:

The reshowing of all four episodes of An Unearthly Child on BBC4 at 10.30pm on Thursday 21st November, right after An Adventure in Space and Time ended on BBC2, was one of the highlights

The Science of Doctor Who Special, which aired on BBC2 on Thursday 14th November, at 9pm, hosted by Professor Brian Cox (with a guest appearance by the Doctor himself, Matt Smith), another excellent programming choice

Yet another was the two-hour The Ultimate Guide to Doctor Who, which aired on BBC3 from 8pm-10pm, on Monday 18th November, Part 1 of which was reshown on BBC3 last Sunday at 7pm. Part 2 will be reshown on BBC3, on Saturday 4th January 2014, at 7pm.

There were others, notably:

The three-part Doctor Who: Monsters and Villains Weekend, which aired on BBC3 over three nights from the Friday-Sunday, 15th-17th November

Doctor Who: The Doctors Revisited, which aired on Watch at 2pm on Saturday 16th November

These were all good, but the first four were undoubtedly, for me at least, by far the best of the bunch.

November was, overall, a great 50th Anniversary for Doctor Who. With less than a week left until the Christmas Special The Time of the Doctor, and the departure of Matt Smith and the arrival of Peter Capaldi as the new Doctor, the series now moves into its 51st year.

Here’s to the new Doctor and another fifty years of Doctor Who! I hope I live long enough to see it!

Countdown to “Day of the Doctor” – Two Hours and Counting Down

I’m sitting here eagerly awaiting the start of the 50th Anniversary Doctor Who Special, The Day of the Doctor, which airs on BBC1 in about one and a half hours, at 7.50pm. I’m really looking forward to seeing the Zygons again, after almost forty years. I’m also really looking forward to seeing the David Tennant Doctor and Rose again. And John Hurt. Oh yes, more John Hurt, please!

We’re all aware that Matt Smith is bowing out with the upcoming Christmas Special, The Time of the Doctor, after three really good years on the show. That’ll be sad, as I really liked him. But I’m sure the series will be in safe hands, as Matt gives over the reins to Peter Capaldi, who is a darned good actor. Steven Moffat, and Russell T. Davies before him, haven’t let us down yet with their choices of actors for the modern series. I trust their judgment. Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant and Matt Smith have ALL been excellent in the role, and I’m certain that Peter Capaldi will be, too. I’m particularly interested in how the relationship between the new Doctor and companion Clara Oswald will pan out.

So here’s looking forward to The Day of the Doctor. I’m sure it will be a cracker, although it will have to be something really “special” to be better than the truly excellent An Adventure in Space and Time, which aired on BBC2 on Thursday night. If it’s even half as good as that one, I’ll be happy! 🙂