Posts Tagged With: doctor who series 1

Have I Got Whos For You (part 912)

If you’re reading this, chances are I’m in the wilds of Staffordshire, checking out Ilam. It is an old hostel in a grand, Gothic manor dating from the seventeenth century. It has no WiFi or phone signal. This is queued; of course it is.

Entertainment first, and a leaked still from a deleted scene in a recent Holby City episode has raised more than a couple of eyebrows.

(This was, as anyone watching will attest, a thoroughly ridiculous plot twist. We knew that Ange had a secret, and we’d worked out what it was, but the likelihood of her coming to the exact same hospital as her son, and then working alongside him for months before finding out who he is? This is worse than bloody Neighbours. As I write this it’s Monday evening and the follow-up episode has yet to air, but I predict that she will say “I already let you go once, and it was the biggest mistake of my life. I’m not doing it again.” Let’s reconvene a week or two from now and find out whether I was right, shall we?)

Elsewhere, it was apparently National Unicorn Day, although it’s fair to say that not everybody enjoyed it.

Not that the man’s bad on a horse, having come from the outside to make a last-dash sprint for the finish line in last weekend’s Grand National.

But it wasn’t all jollity and cheering. As Cambridge celebrated their double win on the banks of the Thames on a cold, grey afternoon, there was a moment of solemn reflection as the crowds paused to remember the year the boat race ended in tragedy.

There’s something on your back, Sarah-Jane…

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Doctor Who: The Hugh Grant Years

Well, there’s a surprise.

The list of Actors Who Were Considered For Doctor Who And Didn’t Do It is long and impressive, counting among its ranks the likes of Bill Nighy, Richard Griffiths, Rik Mayall, Alan Davies, Bill Cosby, Michael Jackson – and a certain Peter Capaldi. It’s always a quick headline grabber, if only because it gives hacks like me an opportunity to imagine existing stories with new actors, knock off thinkpieces about possible directions and legacies, and crack the occasional joke. But we’re now able to add another name to this particular roster, although in order to explore a little further we must go back to the dim and distant pasts of 2003, when Russell T. Davies was still getting the band back together, but hadn’t quite got Christopher Eccleston.

The Davies / Eccleston not-exactly-feud seems to have gained new traction over the last few months, as the party with nothing left to lose becomes increasingly candid and the other is respectfully silent. But it emerged last week that Russell T. Davies had a number of other heretofore unknown A-list actors on his radar – and that he originally tried to get Hugh Grant, only to find his path blocked by Grant’s agent. It’s the sort of thing that wouldn’t happen now, but hindsight is a wonderful thing and you can’t blame said agent for chucking the script in the bin, any more than you can blame Dick Rowe for not signing the Beatles. Even as late as 2004, the resurrected Doctor Who was generally viewed with the same sceptical eye that was originally cast over the first Star Wars movie – an arguably healthier state of mind than the fanatical reverence that is now accorded to both.

Veterans will know that Grant’s been in the show anyway: he turns up at the end of ‘The Curse of Fatal Death’, in which Steven Moffat trolls the fandom by regenerating giving the Doctor a love interest and then regenerating him into a woman, although not before hinting that he’d have liked to do the same to the Master. He gets through as many regenerations as possible in the space of twenty minutes, and has one of his characters age rapidly by having them hang about in a sewer for the best part of a millennium. The cast are all marvellous (particularly Jonathan Pryce) but it is tempting, when we watch it now, to look at Moffat’s subsequent Doctor Who career as some sort of wish fulfilment bucket list.

Certainly it’s difficult to envisage Eccleston’s Doctor in the hands of Grant. It just doesn’t fit, largely because in the grand scheme of things, Eccleston doesn’t fit either. His Doctor is the only one not to be openly posh. It’s partly the accent, but partly his whole demeanour. Tennant looks as if he could sell you a flat and bung in an optional stake in the communal garden in between his third and fourth cans of Red Bull. Eccleston looks like he’s on his way to a nightclub, and not the decent sort.

I’m not saying this was a bad thing. Eccleston may have never quite convinced me, but he was the Doctor, and the phenomenal success of the revived show is largely down to the gravitas he brought with him (along with a short temper and reputation for being difficult on set). In many ways the revived Doctor Who works precisely because he is so different. There is a scene early in ‘Parting of the Ways’ in which Eccleston is observed sitting in a corridor with Billie Piper, surrounded by bits of wire and circuit boards, randomly building something – and it was that moment when, as far as I’m concerned, he actually became the Doctor for the first time. But that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy the rest of the series, even in the company of a not-quite Doctor. He’s cheery and enthused, he spits righteous (and self-righteous) anger, and when he takes the hand of a frightened shop girl and compels her to run, there is nothing I’d rather do than follow.

Still: you could never imagine Davison suggesting beans on toast. And it’s difficult to imagine any other actor complaining about ‘stupid apes’ without sounding, frankly, a little bit racist (although we might legitimately argue that Eccleston does as well, so let’s not go there). By and large the Ninth Doctor’s dialogue, with its use of colloquialisms and affectations (‘Listen, love’) is written for Eccleston, and it shows. You can imagine the Ninth Doctor quoting dialogue from other Doctors (some fans, indeed, have already done just that) but it’s difficult to imagine the reverse. By and large it simply doesn’t work: the Ninth’s entire manner is different. Even Tennant’s use of ‘fantastic’, in the closing scenes of ‘The Christmas Invasion’, is a one-off.

So there can be little doubt that the Ninth Doctor under the baton of Hugh Grant would have been a very different kettle of fish – perhaps a little posher, a little less earnest and a little less dark. And they’d probably have to change half the dialogue.

And that, dear reader, is exactly what I’ve done.

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Have I Got Whos For You (part 978)

This week: as the recent series of The X-Files draws to a close, speculation mounts as to exactly what happened in ‘The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat’, and what it could possibly have to do with Doctor Who.

News breaks of Christopher Eccleston’s impending arrival at Comic Con.

And Peter Capaldi turns sixty. To which we say Happy Birthday, sir. May all your camels be fertile, and may the wind be always at your back, except when you’re standing at the edge of the harbour.

D

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A new body, at last

It’s Easter / Resurrection Sunday, so it seems the perfect time to mention this.

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You’re probably aware that I’ve spent much of the last year writing for Kasterborous, the Doctor Who news and features site. For a variety of reasons, the original team from Kasterborous have departed to set up this new venture, leaving Kasterborous itself to an uncertain fate that’s in the hands of its owner. As we go to press all of the old content seems to still be there, although I have no idea how long this will last.

But enough of that. The Doctor Who Companion has set out to be your guide through the crazy world of the Time Lords and the TARDIS, bringing you news, features, reviews and a bunch of other stuff. Oh, and did I mention that I’m joint editor for the Fandom section? That’s where we’ll be looking at “the strange alchemy that occurs when a talented artist, author, cosplayer, theorist, musician or sock puppeteer expresses their love for Doctor Who” – art, video, music, sculpture, and even TARDIS-themed crazy paving if we can find any.

There are two ways you can show your support:

  • Visit / bookmark / follow the site itself (to follow, click ‘The Doctor Who Companion’ at the bottom of any article, just above the comments, and then hit the ‘follow’ button)
  • Like our fledgling Facebook page.

We will, at some point, have a Twitter account, I’m sure.

We’re still in the very early days of producing and adding content, although I am really quite proud of the inaugural article I wrote about Rose – which aired eleven years ago yesterday evening, and if that doesn’t make at least some of you feel at least a little bit old, then you’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din. It’s purposely chatty, but I think it reads better for it. The vibe I was aiming for was that press conference in Iron Man – you know, the one where he sits down to chat about the future of his industry, and declares he wants a cheeseburger? (I do not have a cheeseburger in the house, but as I write this the kebab shop is still open, so we could go and get Shawarma or something.)

We’re still responding to feedback about layout, setup and other things, so bear with us in this initial setting-up period, but I think it’s going to be quite special.

And look at the ears.

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The New Who Top Ten: #3

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Number Three: ‘The Empty Child / The Doctor Dances’ (2005)

You’re doing it now, aren’t you? You’re tilting your head slightly and softly murmuring “Muuummmyyyy….” in that child’s sing-song voice, dropping the second syllable by a major third so that it sounds a bit like a door chime. You’re thinking about that bit with the telephone. You’re thinking about the gas mask growing out of Richard Wilson’s face. And somewhere, in the back of your head, there’s a memory of the Doctor doing something that looks mildly like interpretive dance.

In story terms, that first series of the revived Doctor Who really is a bit hit and miss. There are stories that are good (‘Dalek’). There are stories that are basically sound, but flawed (the Dalek finale; ‘The Unquiet Dead’). There are stories that are probably not as good as we remember them (‘Rose’). There are stories that are downright awful (anything with the Slitheen). And there’s one absolute masterpiece. There have been fewer tales in the new series that have been so frightening, or so ultimately satisfying.

It helps to look at things in context, and in that context, ‘Dalek’ is the Ninth Doctor’s Emperor’s Throne Room moment. It is the point in the story in which the protagonist comes dangerously close to losing the plot. The Doctor is not only brandishing that gun at the evolving Dalek; he’s dangerously close to firing it. After the story concludes, his anger seems to evaporate somewhat, and what we see in the second half of the series is a lighter, cheerier Doctor more at ease with his place in the universe. In terms of tone, this two-part tale is the zenith of that ascent, and almost inexplicably it’s all down to the bananas.

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This is Moffat’s first stab at a New Who narrative and it’s arguably his best, which is unusual seeing that its structure is so uneven. Oh, I don’t mean that it doesn’t hang together; it does. But tonally, the Gas Mask Zombies story (as we shall probably not refer to it) is very much a game of two halves. Linking them is a suave intergalactic omnisexual conman who would swiftly become a gay icon and a Saturday evening staple, at least on the BBC. In years to come, Jack would spend an awful lot of time hanging around on rooftops (is this where 51st century swingers go cruising?) and deal with the ramifications of immortality, and it’s strange to see him looking so young and fresh and carefree. ‘The Empty Child’ is the one story where Jack’s morality is up for grabs, and that’s what makes his eventual development of a conscience so ultimately satisfying, even if his passion for gunplay never really diminishes.

But if ‘The Eleventh Hour’ (as discussed yesterday) disappoints in terms of its monster, this story serves up a creation so devilishly creepy it’s almost iconic. The mask-fused child is the stuff of nightmares, staring out through soulless eyes, forever repeating the same dialogue in that melancholy deadpan. It’s like watching Orlando Bloom. Most of the horror occurs within ‘The Empty Child’, with ringing phones and open doors. When Dr. Constantine gives his clinical assessment, the story kicks up a notch and delivers a moment that will, in twenty years’ time, be showcased on a documentary called ‘Was early 21st century Doctor Who too frightening?’.

Dr. Constantine is to ‘The Empty Child’ as Severus Snape is to The Deathly Hallows: his role is brief but significant, narrative focus lingering on him, at least to an extent, even after his conversion. This is largely down to Richard Wilson’s screen presence, lending Constantine the world-weary gravitas he needs without being bereft of humour. Moffat generously gives him the episode’s punch line when, following the denouement, an elderly patient informs him that her missing leg has grown back. “Well, there is a war on,” Constantine remarks. “Is it possible you miscounted?”

But if Constantine gets the belly laugh, there are plenty of giggles along the way. For such a sinister story, ‘The Doctor Dances’ has comedy in abundance. It starts with the Doctor’s relief that his ‘go to your room’ gambit has worked on the zombies (“Those would have been terrible last words”) and from then on the gags fly thick and fast: when the Doctor and Jack aren’t bickering over the relative merits of sonic technology (“Who looks at a screwdriver and thinks ‘Ooh, this could be a little more sonic’?”), they’re playing cowboys with bananas. The Doctor is a man who does all his best work under pressure, which is probably why the jokes don’t feel out of place.

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There are moments that don’t work. The Glenn Miller dance that closes the story feels forced, and the ‘magic hands’ in the closing scenes are utterly contrived – it’s hard, in a way, to accept the fact that the Doctor is literally saving the world by waving his arms. The offence is, nonetheless, instantly forgiveable, occurring as it does within a moment of pure euphoric joy. Irrespective of cliche and dated analogies about emailed upgrades, it’s impossible not to feel a lump in your throat when Eccleston punches the air in triumph, crying out “Just this once, everybody lives!”. As feelgood endings go, it’s up there with Dawn of the Dead, in which hardly anybody lives, but characters we felt sure were doomed manage, at least, to survive long enough to fight another day.

It’s typically overstated, of course, but ‘The Doctor Dances’ is that rare beast: a Doctor Who story with a body count of precisely zero – or minus one, if you want. We could throw up all sorts of theories as to whether Jamie’s revival was predetermined or whether it screws around with causality (as epitomised by the previous episode, in which we’re introduced to a monster that supposedly feasts on paradoxes but which we conveniently never see again, presumably because the CG budget prevented it). But that’s missing the point: this is a story about surviving: the darkest days of the war, and ever-decreasing odds. In the end the battle is won not by physical prowess but by simple acceptance of what we are, and our capacity to do good in spite of the mistakes we have made, and it is this that allows Nancy to reconcile with her son, and which ultimately calms the Doctor, paving the way towards Jack’s eventual redemption. Moffat’s written better-constructed stories, but few come close to capturing the spirit and sense of imagination and wonder that he managed here.

Cameron’s Episode: The Girl in the Fireplace

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