Posts Tagged With: catherine tate

Have I Got Whos For You (half rice, half chips edition)

In the news this week: there is general panic in supermarkets up and down the country as Donna and Martha struggle to keep the Tenth Doctor away from the ice cream.

An alternative, previously unseen angle from the Apollo 11 moon launch fifty years ago throws up a disturbing sight.

And the full, unseen edition of the poster for Patrick Stewart’s new Star Trek vehicle shows exactly what Picard was staring at off to the right.

Elsewhere, the Thirteenth Doctor’s pleased when her Amazon order shows up.

And a deleted exchange from ‘The Sound of Drums’ proves to be oddly prophetic for Boris Johnson.

Talking of Boris, his announcement during last week’s debate that “we must get off the hamster wheel of doom” kind of gave me an idea.

Finally, this week’s recipe, which has no ingredient lists or method, and consists instead of a single instruction from the War Doctor. “Great men are forged in fire,” he tells us. “It is the privilege of lesser men to light the flame.”

Be good, and if you can’t be good, be careful. And if you can’t manage that, remember the date.

 

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The New Who Top Ten: #10

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It seems funny to think that it’s been ten years since I was a young upstart working in academic publishing, making the most of the office broadband connection in order to read BBC articles about the upcoming revival of Doctor Who. It was early spring 2005, and everyone was fairly excited. We’d seen trailers showing animated shop dummies, ghosts and a spaceship crashing into Big Ben (well, the clock tower that contains it, although I’m sure they hit the bell on their way down). Farting aliens, irritating love stories and the arm-folding shouts of ‘Fantastic’ that would define at least the first series of Russell T. Davies’ reign were still a world away, and in the meantime the imminent ‘series one’ was little more than an intoxicating world of wonders waiting to be discovered.

A decade later, with four more children than I had the first time Eccleston put on the leather jacket, I’ll admit that I’m very jaded about this revived Doctor Who. Those of you who read this regularly will know that I spend a lot of time whinging about story arcs, companion-centric universes and ontological inanity – to the extent that the list that begins today will feature, you will note, absolutely nothing from the last series. It’s nothing personal. I’m a big fan of this new Doctor. Capaldi’s fiery and glacial and wonderful, embodying Hartnell and Pertwee and even bits of Colin Baker. He just doesn’t have the stories he deserves, although I live in hope that this will change.

But enough of that for now. It would be nice to spend a couple of weeks accentuating the positive. Over at Metro, where I write occasionally, the very talented Cameron McEwan is doing a top ten countdown of New Who episodes, one story a day – so it makes perfect sense to do our own here, in parallel. Well, sort of parallel. He’s writing “episodes you have to see”, which is a little different to the somewhat more subjective “best episodes”. But it may be interesting to see how our lists compare, so I will link to Cameron’s posts as we go (not that he needs the traffic). And we start with…

Vesuvius_Erupts

Number 10: ‘Fires of Pompeii’ (2008)

Let’s get one thing straight: I bloody love Donna Noble. If New Who were a recruitment consultancy staffed by giggly hormonal teenage girls (and many recruitment consultancies are), she would be the branch manager, older and wiser and more grounded. She crash-lands in the TARDIS as the most irritating sidekick since Mel – with hair to match – and then is completely transformed. She is that rare breed: a New Who companion who undergoes a character arc that doesn’t leave me fired up with loathing and irritation.

Oh, for sure it all goes to pot in those final episodes. The Doctor-Donna thing is mind-numbingly tedious, and the Dalek-crushing, super-intelligent Donna in ‘Journey’s End’ is borderline offensive (what, she couldn’t save the universe on her own; she needed the Doctor’s brains?). But her transformation prior to that convergence is wonderful, and most refreshingly of all it’s done with comparative restraint, at least for this period in the show’s history: it’s nice to have a companion in the TARDIS who genuinely doesn’t want to shag the Doctor, and while the “No, we’re not a couple” gags quickly become tiresome, just for a change, the lady doth not protest too much.

"WOTAN!"

“WOTAN!”

‘Pompeii’ is early Donna. It’s her baptism of fire, in an almost literal sense. She is a willing traveller and the Doctor the most reluctant of hosts (the look on Tennant’s face at the end of ‘Partners in Crime’ as Tate loads her suitcases into the TARDIS is absolutely priceless). She reacts to the site of ancient Rome (or what she and the Doctor believe to be Rome) by addressing one of the street vendors in Latin, just to see what will happen. She takes the sight of fiery volcanic monsters in her stride, crying “You fought her off with a water pistol; I bloody love you!”. And she implores the Doctor to intervene in a raging, tear-stained exchange as Pompeii burns – although her high point arguably comes a few scenes earlier, when she clasps a hand over the Doctor’s inside the escape pod, as the two of them silently make history together. (It’s a scene Moffat would visit – however unconsciously – years later, at a pivotal moment in ‘Day of the Doctor’.)

But good as she is, Tate isn’t even the best thing about this episode. That honour goes to Phil Davis, in a performance described as “scowling” by Digital Spy: Lucius is a wrathful soothsayer who starts out intense and builds to fire and brimstone of Biblical proportions. It’s possibly the most angry performance in New Who and Davis hams it up like the villains of old. Not for him the balanced, morally ambiguous Machiavellian of ‘Timelash’ or the complex morality of ‘Genesis of the Daleks’. This is Omega territory. We could be back in 1973. In a way, we very nearly are. The entire episode has an almost overblown feel to it, as if James Moran wanted to write a contemporary story in the style of the Doctor Who he knew years ago.

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‘Fires of Pompeii’ is infamous, of course, for featuring an early appearance from a red-swathed Karen Gillan as well as a supporting role from a future Doctor. It gave Moffat the excuse for yet another over-arching mystery in a tedious scene in ‘Deep Breath’ (one to which I’m sure we’ll return at some point) but the episode really deserves a stronger legacy than this. ‘Fires of Pompeii’ is gratuitously ham-fisted, and is as invested in silliness as it is in the moral debate that forms the narrative thrust of the third act. But there’s a satisfying consistency that runs right through to the ending, and the Doctor’s decision to save Caecilius and his family – however inconsequential in the grand scheme of things – feels as much in character as does his initial decision to abandon them. When Tennant opens the door of his TARDIS, bathed in light, peeking through the fourth wall and beckoning both the helpless Romans and the entire audience to “come with me”, you can’t help but cheer. And that’s my general reaction to the entire episode. It’s crowd-pleasing, but sometimes that’s not a bad thing. Even with Doctor Who.

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Cameron’s Episode: ‘Turn Left’

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Donna Noble says ‘Oi!’

Look. It was this or the ironing, OK? Seriously, it took me an hour. It came about because of a repeat viewing of ‘The Runaway Bride’, which Thomas wound up enjoying very much, although for me it merely served as a reminder of how bloody irritating Donna was in that first appearance. But amidst all the posturing and slapping and an accent that wouldn’t have been out of place on Eastenders (or perhaps that should have been ‘aaahhht of place’) there was one word that stuck out / aaaahhht, and it’s there in the title.

“I’m surprised and a little disappointed,” said Gareth, “that there weren’t more of them.” He’s got a point. I went through transcripts from every episode in that series (and ‘The End of Time’) and picked out every single occurrence, including a few that are borderline. The use of ‘Oi’ tails off mid-series when they’re making Donna very straight-laced, before building an entire scene around it in the meta-crisis sub-plot in the finale. Nonetheless, it’s the closest she got to a catchphrase, and by and large assistants aren’t around long enough to get catchphrases, and for that I suppose we should be grateful.

The bit at the very end, by the way, was put in exclusively for the benefit of my children, who found it hilarious, even if I don’t…

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Cowabunga Redhead

Because some days, orchestrating the Ninja Turtles’ next mutation needs to be top of your to-do list. (Particularly when they all have a Doctor Who connection of one kind or another.)

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Standing corrected (part one)

“It’s funny, isn’t it? The things you make up. The rules. If that thing had said it came from beyond the universe, I’d believe it, but before the universe? Impossible. Doesn’t fit my rule. Still, that’s why I keep travelling. To be proved wrong.”

(The Doctor, ‘The Satan Pit’)

I am, by my nature, an opinionated sort. I probably wouldn’t have a blog if I wasn’t, at least not one like this. I’d stick to a tumblr account and fill it with memes and gifs. Instead I’ll write reams and reams of text about anything that suits – whether that’s in a dedicated post, or a comment thread on a newspaper website. Never use a single word, I’ve learned over the years, when a hundred will do.

But I have a confession to make: a lot of what I’ve learned over the years was garnered from YouTube hits, Wikipedia entries and a fair bit of bluffing. The fact of the matter is that when it comes to much online debate I’m often far more ignorant than I may come across, having relied instead on the ability to weave an argument rather than actually give it any substance. If you can be convincing enough in your tone, it’s relatively easy to persuade your audience. A little flash and sparkle goes a long way. In this, I’m reminded of Richard Gere singing ‘Razzle Dazzle’ near the end of Chicago, a song I now have stuck in my head and which I thus won’t quote here for fear of inflicting the earworm upon the rest of you.

But insofar as popular culture is concerned I can talk about Doctor Who with reasonable authority, at least up to a point. I can say whether a story was good TV or bad Who, or the reverse. I can deconstruct an episode and talk about what worked and what didn’t (although Gareth does it better). I can view it within the context of the series as a whole (although again, Gareth does it better). I even have a decent-ish knowledge of Classic Who (three strikes, you’re outta there). I can even look at an episode from the point of view of a small child, purely through having watched every episode of New Who at least once with Joshua. (As a result, I can now see the merits in ‘The End Of The World’ and am far more appreciative of ‘Love and Monsters’, even though the oral sex joke is still a colossal misfire.)

Where I fall down, as it happens, is my tendency to make predictions that turn out to be spectacularly and indelibly wrong. Over the next couple of days, I’m going to be talking about just a few of them.

This fits thematically but I have no idea whether or not it's any good. Gareth could tell you.

This fits thematically but I have no idea whether or not it’s any good. Gareth could tell you.

“Bringing Donna back is a disaster waiting to happen.”

“No good will come of this,” I remember saying. And you know, you can hardly blame me. Donna Noble was an irritating trollop the first time we saw her. I don’t care that she was ‘feisty’ where Rose was doe-eyed and soppy (largely because feistiness has been the single defining trait of every single companion the Doctor’s had since 2008, with the notable exception of Rory). She had a voice like a foghorn. I was a big Catherine Tate fan, but she essentially aged Lauren Cooper by fifteen years and stuck her in a wedding dress. I spent the whole of ‘The Runaway Bride’ waiting for the inevitable “Am I bovvered?”, and in a way it was almost disappointing they didn’t include it – rather like a famous pantomime dame who’s not allowed to deliver his TV catchphrase.

I should have figured that Unenlightened Donna (which makes her sound like the crap version of Rimmer from Red Dwarf’s ‘Back To Reality’) was thoroughly unsuitable material for an entire series, and that Davies would have to develop her. He did this by taking out the mouth – although the feistiness remains – and getting her to cry in front of an Ood. It’s an overwrought scene, but it solidifies her, if only because her response – to plead with the Doctor to make it stop – is so utterly real. Donna had a moment of clarity at the end of ‘The Runaway Bride’, in which she suggests that the Doctor needs a companion because “sometimes you need someone to stop you”. Davies takes this as his starting point and has her become the Doctor’s conscience in a series where the Time Lord Triumphant is waiting in the wings.

Oh come on, admit it. This scene was hilarious.

Oh come on, admit it. This scene was hilarious.

And oh, it was refreshing to have a companion who wasn’t constantly flirting with the Doctor! As is usual with these things they took the situation to the other extreme and ran a whole series of “We’re not together” gags that were typical examples of the lady who doth protest too much, but Davies (like his successor) is always one for his recurring gags, and you can’t have everything. Donna treated the Doctor like a mate, and he responded in kind, and the two worked wonderfully together as a result – indeed, the chemistry between Tennant and Tate was good enough to see them take to the stage the following year in Much Ado About Nothing.

In the end it all got very tedious and companion-centric, as we’re treated to yet another series finale where the Doctor’s closest ally becomes the most important thing in the universe (I don’t know, what was wrong with just travelling with him?). This is always a mistake, because it kills any sense of empathy we might have with the character – it gets very hard to like Donna once she starts spouting technobabble and teaching the Children of Time how to fly the TARDIS. Then the Doctor takes it all out of her head, in another death-that-wasn’t-really-a-death – it’s a cheap trick, but that final, wordless scene in the control room is stupendous (particularly when you then read that Davies originally intended for the Doctor’s brooding fit to be interrupted by Cybermen, which would have ruined the episode). Series four wasn’t always an easy ride (the Sontaran story is still rubbish), but Donna’s easily one of my favourite companions, and Tate played her to perfection. Much missed.

Torchwood’s gonna be great.”

I refer you to something I wrote on October 17th, 2005.

“It sounds like a cross between The Lone Gunmen and Spooks, with a dash of Queer as Folk. Whatever you think about Davies’ political agenda with Captain Jack, he was an interesting and compelling character whom I liked a lot. In terms of character arc he was there to provide a suitably gung-ho replacement for the previously violent tendencies of the Doctor – once Eccleston’s incarnation decides to stop being a war hero and goes back to pacificism (notably after ‘Dalek’), he became more like some of the previous, more peaceful regenerations. At the same time, he retains a vicious streak: while Jack isn’t violent for the sake of violence he is nonetheless far more comfortable handling a gun, and in that sense he almost seems to be a projection of the Doctor’s own buried sense of violence; a necessary character. For all that rambling, he was one of the most fun aspects of the last season, and I can’t help thinking he deserves his own show.

It could all go horribly wrong, of course, but just consider the alternatives – they could have decided to make a spin-off series entitled The Further Adventures of Mickey.”

Ah, Torchwood. It could have been so glorious. A lot of people don’t like Jack Harkness, but I confess I always found him watchable, whether he was flirting or shooting – often both at the same time. The prospect of a darker, more adult-themed show, able to discuss the issues that Doctor Who, with its family audience and prime time slot, couldn’t touch? With Barrowman at the centre? Bring it on.

What we got was episode after episode of inane plotting, unnecessary swearing and ephemeral fucking. Barrowman spent most of the first series standing on a rooftop looking broody. It’s like Davies had cutscenes from Devil May Cry 2 playing on a loop when he was approaching deadline. Episode two was centred around sex as a plotline (ha!) but it was embarrassing rather than appropriately carnal. And I don’t mind a bit of language, I really don’t, but not when it comes across like the work of ten year old schoolboys who have been left alone with a tape recorder, charged to produce a radio report but unable to resist the temptation to goad each other into muttering the occasional rude word.

Torchwood eventually got much better. I nearly gave up after that first series, but in the second they all stopped fighting amongst themselves, gelled as a team and had a lot more fun. James Marsters turned up. Oh, and it has one of the funniest series openers I’ve ever seen. A couple of years later there was Children of Earth, a five episode miniseries that stands amongst RTD’s finest work, at least for the BBC, and which upset a good number of people for killing off a much beloved character – a brave decision and the sort the show has never shied away from, taking its cue from the likes of 24. Then it all went to pot again with Miracle Day, which took the formula stateside, without much success (although it does have a mesmerising performance from Bill Pullman). The finale of this features Barrowman saving the world by depositing his bodily fluids inside a gigantic crack. The irony of this is not lost on me.

Spot the girl who didn't make it past episode one.

Spot the girl who didn’t make it past episode one.

So I was right, I suppose, if you count those middle two series, but I’ve always seen Torchwood as a missed opportunity. It’s not entirely down to the writing, which was uneven but occasionally brilliant, but the whole show never seemed entirely sure whether it should be appealing to the teenage market or the adults who watched Doctor Who with their kids. In the end, it never fully appealed to either, which is a shame because Barrowman is a great actor, and there were some wonderful moments amidst the dross, particularly once the show stopped taking itself too seriously – such as the time Jack and Ianto were searching an empty office block for their quarry. “Check the roof,” Ianto mutters. “You’re good with roofs.” More scenes like that, and we’d have had the makings of a classic.

(FWIW, I also think Martha and Mickey: Bounty Hunters definitely has wings.)

Tomorrow: we look at theories concerning one of the biggest conundrums the show’s thrown up since its revival, and how I couldn’t have been more wrong about the Eleventh Doctor…

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Four have fun on a Sunday

Walking the Ridgeway with Joshua.”So Daddy, why can’t the Doctor just go back in time and stop that Dalek from shooting him?”
“Because he can’t travel back over his own timeline. Just not done. Ever.”
“I see.”
“Besides, if he hadn’t been shot, he wouldn’t have had the near-regeneration that eventually created the second Doctor. Donna would then have died in the fire when the TARDIS fell into the core. And they wouldn’t have saved the Earth.”
“That’s right!”
“So that’s why – ”
“And then there would have just been a blank screen and a lot of  screaming and wailing as everyone in the whole universe got killed.”
“…Yes.”

 
 

“WOTAN!”

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