Posts Tagged With: doctor who series 1

Have I Got Whos For You (pie and mash edition)

Here’s how Jodie Whittaker spent her 19 September.

I mean honest to god. What the hell is it all about, really, apart from the whims of a single internet user, gone viral in an annual marketing extravaganza? It’s just an excuse for more pitiful emails from people trying to sell you stuff. It’s worse than Star Wars Day, and at least that one was rooted in a joke.

I am a little grumpy this evening, as you might perhaps have guessed, so I am cheering myself up by looking back at one of the finest albums ever made. I did my dissertation on the Beatles – the department head took some convincing and some twenty years later I’m still not sure there was really any actual substance, but I scraped an upper second so it can’t have been that bad. In any case it gave me the excuse to listen to wall-to-wall Beatles: something I still do from time to time, although I always come back to their final studio production, which is a fitting swansong for a quartet of musical legends, graced with an iconic cover, and forty-three minutes of sheer unrivalled brilliance. Plus ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’.

Elsewhere, a host of freshly unearthed transcripts reveal Admiral Nelson’s actual last words.

And on a train in Denmark, Greta Thunberg gains a new lunch buddy.

It may have escaped your notice, but the other week was Batman Day. We’re celebrating eighty years of the sexually ambigous, morally ambivalent flying rodent with a latex fetish; it’s quite fashionable, in these supposedly ‘enlightened’ times, to bash the bat for misappropriation of his philanthropic funds into a score of expensive cars and gadgets and imported weaponry that’s illegal on just about every high street, but I’m having none of it. Batman doesn’t owe you or anyone diddly squat. He’s Batman, and that’s all there is to it. Yes, he’s a multi-millionaire who beats up the mentally ill. You say that like it’s a bad thing.

Anyway, any excuse.

“This has nothing to do with Doctor Who.”
“Clara is in it.”
“BATMAN HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH DOCTOR WHO.”
“Look, tenuous mashups are what I do. Besides, it works on a number of levels. There’s Clara’s omnipresence. There’s the fact that Batman has been played a number of different ways by a number of different actors over the years, with varying degrees of severity. And there’s the fact that the Oswin doll is deliberately arranged so that she’s imitating the hug she has with Capaldi at the end of ‘Listen’. But hey, report me if you want.”

I mean honestly.

Finally this week, there are rumblings over in one of the Hogwarts classrooms.

“Hello, I’m the Doctor, and I’ll be taking you for Defence Against The Dark Arts this year…”

 

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The One with the Friends Titles

In many ways it feels like yesterday. That sense of envy, the homage to stressed-out Village life (capital intentional) where people are happy and unhappy at the same time, where humdrum jobs and complicated (or non-existent) love lives are made bearable by the people you hang out with. I was almost seventeen and it seemed such a carefree way to live: these twenty-somethings who existed in a hubbub of late films and spontaneous baking sessions and endless cups of coffee. I had just found, in the real world, an uneasy point of entry into a peer group in which I never really belonged and in which I was, for the most part, an outsider: a Gunther to everybody else’s Ross and Rachel, surrounded by ostensibly lovely people who would never actually call me.

But when you’re that age recognition of any sort is important, and you start to draw parallels. During more reflective moments, in evening conversations conducted over cider or Grolsch in our local pub, I would compare myself to Ross – heartfelt, sincere and slightly pathetic Ross. The analogy worked: Ross really was a bit of a dickhead. I didn’t see it at the time, seeing as I only recognised what how awful I was years down the line. Still, Phoebe was always my favourite – good old Phoebe, who was unable to think a sentence through in her head before saying it out loud (“There isn’t always time!”) and whose songs alone made the show worth watching, if only to detract from the tedium that was the Ross and Rachel love story. They wound up having a baby (by accident) and settling down, presumably in Scarsdale where the schools are good. We don’t know. I still don’t think I’ve seen that last series; the novelty had long worn off and my life had moved on.

It’s become fashionable to sneer at Friends, to dump the word ‘problematic’ into discussion as if that covered the multitude of readings: as if it is as simple as calling it homophobic (it isn’t), fat-shaming (guilty) and disproportionately white (so were the social lives of most people watching it). As ever, things are more complicated and as ever, the internet isn’t interested in grey, not least when black and white looks so much prettier. As far as I’m concerned Friends lost some of its sheen once it became markedly less Jewish, at least in terms of the humour it was producing, and when the characters disappeared up their own backsides in order to become stereotypical parodies of themselves, instead of rounded people: in other words, taking what the audience found funny and building the entire show around it, rather than writing something that could actually be called interesting. But I had this conversation a couple of years back, if you can call ‘conversation’ an eight-hundred word pot-stirrer I did for Metro that actually did reasonable traffic, not least because there were a number of people willing to haul me over the coals for it – or, as a particularly cynical American wrote on Twitter, ‘The one where the straight white man gets to have his say’.

What’s left? A series of eight stills from Doctor Who, accompanied by (hideously in)appropriate Friends episode titles. I have eschewed the obvious ones – hence, The One With The Flashback isn’t there, simply because it wouldn’t be funny. The rest of it sort of works. I don’t watch Friends anymore, for the same reason I don’t re-watch Doctor Who: there is too much TV out there I haven’t seen yet. But it  was a big part of my life for years, and it would be churlish to deny it that sense of cultural importance, at least on a deeply personal level: programmes like this are a comfort blanket, a sense of reassurance, a Friday spent in familiar company even if the conversation is only ever one way. It would be nice if we could just view it as that, instead of having all this other baggage. It would be nice, but I don’t think it’s going to happen, which is why I tend to keep out of it these days.

Anyway, those images.

How you doin’…?

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The Inevitable Eurovision write-up

We open, as you knew we would, in a sepia-tinted art gallery.

Ah, Madonna. I had to slap down someone on a Facebook group this morning who compared her to Cassandra from ‘The End of the World’, largely by leaving “MOISTURISE ME!” gags on every thread I posted. When I asked him to explain himself, he said (and we paraphrase) “Well, because she’s old and she’s had so much surgery”.

I’m fairly open minded, even as I stumble on towards the inevitable midlife crisis part of my forties. But I confess I don’t find this sort of thing particularly amusing, largely because it’s symptomatic of an unpleasant type of humour: namely the idea that women of a certain age are there to be mocked if they do anything to physically defy that age. Madonna, presumably, is ripe for the pickings because she’s rich and famous and she can take it, and besides she was flat when she sang ‘Like A Prayer’. From one perspective it’s harmless fun and this is a free country and can’t you take a joke? From another, it’s sneering, condescending and judgemental and it’s an unpleasant reminder of how we treat women in these supposedly enlightened times. You pick. When I called out this behaviour I was accused of having a sense of humour bypass, so I think I’ll leave the judgement to someone else.

We might reasonably call out Madonna for not really producing a decent record since Ray of Light, with Saturday evening’s clearly rehearsed ‘Music’ singalong a cynical headline grab. That’d be a more reasonable target for a poison arrow, rather than her spandex-clad buttocks. But in many ways it was textbook Eurovision: glossy, overblown and a little bit controversial but seldom making the headlines for the right reasons. That makes her the perfect choice, because it’s not about the music, and for all our attempts to pretend that Eurovision used to be a singing competition, it never really was. Madonna also made waves on the forums, not least because her eye patch thing wasn’t the only Doctor Who reference she managed to include over the course of a nine minute set.

This was just after she lined up on a set of steps to perform ‘Like A Prayer’ with a set of cowled, possibly headless monks. Go figure.

It was the closing ‘statement’, of course, that was responsible for most of the eyebrow raising. I missed the dual flags entirely (perhaps the BBC cut away from it, or perhaps I was just looking at my phone). It was marginally less controversial than the stunt that Iceland pulled, although this isn’t the place to discuss any of that: I have my opinions and you do not get to hear them. Eurovision has always been a hotbed of whatever’s topical – political squabbles, military skirmishes and financial disrespute dressed up in a negligee of supposed togetherness and solitary brother / cisterhood…seriously, don’t get me started on France. At least I could understand the words to that one: over the course of the evening the automated subtitle generator interpreted Malta as ‘melter’, ‘multi’ and ‘Mulder’. Thank goodness Jools Holland wasn’t there.

There were highlights. Denmark (“like a Tesco advert”, to quote the thirteen-year-old) was chirpy and fun, vocalist Leonora ascending a set of steps to a giant chair with her pals, while Graham Norton noted that the “WhatsApp group will probably be deleted around midnight”. And San Marino’s entry – the delightfully retro ‘Say Na Na Na’, which supposedly took five minutes to write (well, one minute and then another four scrolling through Facebook) was both naff and brilliant, and probably would have done quite well a couple of decades ago (I thought much the same about Scooch’s grotesquely comic ‘Flying The Flag’, a 2007 entry that turned up at the party at least eleven or twelve years after its friends had all gone home to bed). And the whole thing was slick and decently compered – Eurovision presenters tend to be dreadful, but this lot weren’t bad, even if there were only four of them so they could cover the entire arena at once. (And why, in these days of twenty-first century open plan introvert’s nightmares, do they still insist on calling it a green room? It isn’t a room of any sort. It’s a roped-off VIP area a meticulously timed short walk from the stage. You can’t even duck under the tables for an illicit shag.)

Anyway: gallery of memorable moments follows. All thoughts are from yours truly unless I tell you otherwise.

1. To kick off, here’s Cyprus’ Tamta, modelling the next Rani outfit.

2. Meanwhile, as Middle Earth burns around her, Albania’s Jonida Maliqi is despondent that she didn’t head into the West with the other Elves.

3. North Macedonia. I have this sudden urge for Quality Street.

4. “Lister, they’ve got to learn.”

5. Serbia? It’s Mike. He wants his tubular bells back.

6. Ladies and gentlemen, Mr Elton John.

7. So that’s what happened to Mad Max 5.

8. It was all going so well for Greece, until they brought out the Prisoner balloon.

9. SLOVENIAN STARING CONTEST! GO!

10. Workprint footage from those promo videos.

11. “NARNIA IS MINE!”

12. It’s the Wiggles! It’s the bloody Wiggles!

13. And finally, the inspiration for Spain’s set design proves fairly obvious.

Same time next year? I’ll bring the Prosecco.

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The Smallerpictures video dump (2019, part three)

Videos. You know the drill by now. And I’ve got a Holby I haven’t watched yet, so what say we dive straight in?

 

1. Things the Thirteenth Doctor loves (February 2019)

It was Emily who noticed. We were tidying the lounge one Monday morning, the day after ‘The Witchfinders’ (unless you had Amazon, in which case you’d probably already seen it), and talking about Series 11 and the way it was written. And Emily picked up on something about the new Doctor that I’d missed. “She doesn’t have a catchphrase as such,” she said, “but she does tell us about stuff she likes, doesn’t she? ‘Oh, a conspiracy. I love a conspiracy.'”

I looked through the transcripts, and it’s all over the place. I think almost every episode is referenced in the video below – ‘Rosa’ is missing, as is ‘Resolution’ and ‘The Woman Who Fell To Earth’, although in fairness the Doctor spent half of that one lying on a sofa. But everything else has at least one, and some have several. It’s the sort of thing that’s easy to criticise, if you’re not a fan of Chibnall, although this is somewhat pointless as Moffat did much the same thing with Smith, who had a tendency to say “And then you did that. Why did you do that?”. It became something of a trope, although it’s trickier to actually source the dialogue. I’m of the conviction that Doctor Who does not need catchphrases, and that (Baker aside) the fandom’s attempts at finding them are scrappy at best, but if we must have one these days I’m not sorry that it’s manifested as it has here. I know we’re giggling about it, but at least there’s a bit of variety.

I had a lot of fun making this one. Whatever you think of the writing, Whittaker has a sense of fun about her that I hope comes across. There is something particularly endearing about the way she bellows “APPLE BOBBING!”. Oh, and in reference to number 7, it was explained to me (via a YouTube comment) that the they’re talking about Hamilton, the Broadway musical dedicated to the life of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, which opened a couple of years ago and which, according to the Doctor, is destined to have more revivals than Cher’s musical career. You learn something new every day, don’t you?

 

2. The Bohemian Rhapsody edit (March 2019)

Quantum of Solace is a big pile of shit, isn’t it? Well, perhaps that’s a little harsh. It’s better than View To A Kill, at least, although I confess I’ve undergone tooth extractions which were less arduous than having to watch that one. But Solace – which has an interesting premise – is completely massacred by Marc Foster’s fondness for jump cuts. There are sometimes two or three a second, usually in the action sequences (the boat chase springs to mind), pummelling the viewer with shots of flying fists and the chains and the fizz of surf, as Bond and some random guy whose name I can never be bothered to remember duke it out in an exotic locale that we can’t even see anyway because the bloody camera won’t stay still. It is impossible to follow. I have no idea what’s going on and I refuse to put this down to old age: it’s just incomprehensible garbage.

Compare this to the fight scene in Atomic Blonde. You know, the one in the stairwell? Or John Woo’s 2 minutes, 42 seconds in the frenetic final act of Hard Boiled. Or, if we’re thinking about 007, the beautiful, single tracking shot that opens Spectre, where Bond wanders in and out of hotel rooms and across roofs as the dizzying spectacle that is the Day of the Dead unfolds below him. That, film students, is how you open a blockbuster. It’s all studio trickery, of course – so is Atomic Blonde, come to that – but it doesn’t matter: the only real difference between the two of them is that Atomic Blonde has an outstanding fight sequence couched in a generally wonderful movie, whereas Spectre is graced with a mesmerising opening and then it’s downhill all the way.

Anyway, I thought we were done with frantic jump cuts, until I heard about Bohemian Rhapsody. It’s a film I got to see quite recently and, as a word of reassurance, most of it’s fairly straight-laced, perhaps too much so. There is a press conference which mines every cliche in the book and there is a dramatic climax outside, at night, in the rain. Because obviously. On the plus side, the band look and sound the part (even if certain songs are dropped in earlier or later than they should have been) and the Live Aid set is so well done you can forgive the liberties they take with history. Besides, it’s kind of hard to concentrate on the anachronisms given that you spend about fifty per cent of the running time staring at cats.

Still. There’s one scene. You remember. It’s the one at the pub. The one that has more edits than the ITV version of Robocop. There are 52 in all, making the average shot around 1.57 seconds long (someone else’s homework, not mine). I’m told there are reasons for this; that narrative shifts after the scene was shot meant it no longer made sense and they had to go back and re-sequence it, but that doesn’t stop it inducing migraines. The film was Oscar-nominated for best editing; go figure. Interesting times at the Academy.

How to translate this into Doctor Who? It had to be something dialogue heavy, something featuring a number of people who could form different focus points, something where everyone stayed roughly stationary to keep the continuity fluid, and something I knew reasonably well. This one was an obvious choice: it is my favourite scene in an otherwise patchy episode and I do find it rather sweet, so I thought it might be fun to chop it up a little. The results speak for themselves, and not necessarily in a good way.

 

3. Doctor Who and the Vow of Silence (November 2018)

Yeah, I dunno. Thirteen years since ‘Rose’, and the Doctor still doesn’t have a clue.

 

Allons-y!

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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

Categories: New Who, Top 10 | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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