Thursday, 29 September 2011

Series One

And the show is back after a pause the length of several bibles! Russell T Davies is the man in charge of the show and it is faster, sexier and more expensive than ever! Capturing the imaginations of old and young, this blisteringly successful re-invention saw the ninth Doctor (in his only season) and Rose (in her first) face up to Autons, the evil Cassandra, gaseous Gelth, the windy Slitheen, a lonesome but very powerful Dalek, the Jagrafess, the Reapers picking over Rose's emotional stupidity, gas masked zombies, Margaret Slitheen and finally an entire Dalek army...

The regulars -

Rose written by Russell T Davies and directed by Keith Boak

Result: Not the classic that everybody makes it out to be. I sometimes think we were so happy to have Doctor Who back we could ignore the manifest of flaws in this story, especially in the direction. There’s a real feeling of everybody feeling a little uncomfortable in their roles and the decent character work comes at the expense of the lousy, barely glimpsed plot. I can see exactly what Russell T Davies was getting at; seeing the story from the point of view of the companion, learning about the basics of the show for the new audience but the direction lacks fluidity and dynamism and the story lacks atmosphere. Compared to later season openers it really underwhelms and despite a rare moment of choking depth it’s remarkably quiet. The invasion plot barely gets started before it is over and the story is far more interested in the personal lives of it's characters than it is in exploring this latest threat to the Earth. Christopher Eccleston has yet to perfect his character but shows a great deal of promise, Billie Piper is a revelation in an episode that gives her a great deal of exposure but Camille Coduri and Noel Clarke do possibly their worst work in their first appearance. I can remember being underwhelmed when I first watched Rose back in 2005 but subsequent re-watches have introduced me to some of it's charms. The Eleventh Doctor makes for a far better introduction to the world of Doctor Who: 5/10

Full Review Here -

The End of the World written by Russell T Davies and directed by Euros Lyn

Result: After introducing the basic elements of the series in Rose, The End of the World needed to show that the series meant business and it achieves that in spades. It’s a potent brew of some heady characterisation, oodles of creativity and an astonishingly expensive looking production that like a fine wine has only improved with age. It's with this script that I realised just how much Russell T. Davies understands his new audience and is trying to reach out to as many people as possible; there’s monsters and cool gadgets for the kids, an emotive character arc with Rose for the more sensitive members of the audience, a destabilising shock in established continuity for the geeks and pretty production values for those who just want a good time on a Saturday night. It really bugs me when I see a book like Mark Campbell’s guide driving a stake through a story with as much imagination, humour and drama as this just because it has a few moments that you might describe as being ‘a bit silly.’ It’s a Graeme Williams tale with a huge budget and offers a hefty emotional wallop at its heart, The End of the World is massively entertaining and really makes you think as well. I can still remember the excitement this episode gave me when I first watched it, Doctor Who was most definitely back, it was better than ever and the possibilities were endless: 9/10

Full Review Here -

The Unquiet Dead written by Mark Gatiss and directed by Euros Lyn

Result: In recent years it has become quite fashionable to knock The Unquiet Dead but to my mind it is a great little chiller that re-invents the historical genre in the ‘celebrity character’ mould. If that seems like a fatuous thing to do to you then you should cast your mind back to a period when Doctor Who avoided the past altogether. If we have to big up a particular person (and in any case there is a great deal to celebrate in Charles Dickens, Agatha Christie, Shakespeare and the rest) in order to be lavished with a trip into history then I think that’s a fair trade. Take a large pinch of Dickens’ own work, add some supernatural trappings, shove in a slavering zombie horde and wrap it all up with some gentle character drama and lots of funny lines and you have a handsomely written tale that captures Gatiss’ work with the League of Gentlemen better than any of his other scripts for Doctor Who to date. The Unquiet Dead reminds me so much of Doctor Who in general; you’ve got the slower, historical scene setting of Hartnell, the conceptual monsters of Troughton, the horror of Hinchcliffe and the wit and character of Williams all wrapped in 80s gloss. There’s even an element of Gatiss’ previous Doctor Who work as well with the animation of corpses explored to riveting effect in the NA Nightshade and the world of table wrapping exploited in his Big Finish audio Phantasmagoria. It's not the most demanding of adventures intellectually but there is such a feast of performance, direction and dialogue that it's easier to just go with the flow and just relax into the episode that dishes out so many treats. Any five minute segment of this story is packed full of memorable imagery, great lines and acting to knock your socks off. This is a time where Doctor Who commanded a cast that saw Christopher Eccleston and Simon Callow acting their hearts out together and that’s definitely something that should be celebrated. The Unquiet Dead is a cosy slice of teatime horror (or as cosy as something with animated cadavers, neck snapping and suicide can be) and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that when it is presented this well: 8/10

Full Review Here -

Aliens of London/World War Three written by Russell T Davies and directed by Keith Boak

Result: The first two parter in NuWho has aged very well indeed. It might not be a popular opinion to praise this story but I have never cared to go with the masses, I genuinely believe that this is the sort of show that the show needed to be putting out in its first season, one that showed the potential of old school Doctor Who marrying up with Davies' new domestic version of the show. Often condemned as the worst episodes of the first year, I find this a delightfully quirky spin on an alien invasion and a genuinely funny and exciting piece of drama in it's own right. You can literally hear the gears grinding into place as the Davies era suddenly realises what it does best and starts delivering. It is the story that turns the ninth Doctor, Jackie and Mickey into truly wonderful characters and gives fantastic material to Rose, Harriet and all the wickedly naughty Slitheen. The first episode shoves the existence of alien life in the face of the public and enjoys all the dramatic consequences that come with it and episode two has two of the best set pieces of the entire year, breathlessly well scripted and directed with punch. Those moments are so good it has made me reassess my opinion of Keith Boak as a director, slapdash in some areas but capable of bringing great drama and pathos to the screen too. The Slitheen are here whether you like it or not and whilst the design needs some tweaking they are brilliantly conceived and played. Annette Badland is always good value and I relish the chance to see her chewing the scenery, especially with dialogue as good as she gets here. If you could snip out a few moments where the story runs on the spot and a touch of bland direction this would get full marks for its audacity and confidence but it will have to settle for near perfection: 9/10

Full Review Here -

Dalek written by Rob Shearman and directed by Joe Ahearne

Result: A dramatic and powerful story, Dalek cemented the return of the Daleks in Doctor Who and ensured that they would return again and again and again and again... Saying that, Dalek is nowhere near as clever, funny, twisted, macabre or entertaining as its audio equivalent Jubilee. They can be taken as two entirely different stories though since the audio version has practically three times the length and time to inject a great deal more humour, pathos and detail. It feels as though someone has taken the audio and sucked away all the dramatic bits and made Dalek, a punchy and violent episode but lacking the imagination and dark humour that sparkles in the best of Rob Shearman’s work. This is probably the most individual Dalek we have ever seen on the television, an unforgettable character in his own right. The audio version tested human psychosis to its limits whereas the TV version suffers the indignity of cracking open its shell and reaching out for the sun. A sanitised version of the original story? That's a little unfair since this episode clearly made the impact that it was supposed to...but given the choice I always listen to this story rather than watching it. What helps Dalek is how well directed the story is, the action is visually stunning and Christopher Eccleston gives an unforgettable performance that really slaps you awake whenever he is on screen. Well made and well intentioned and very exciting in spots: 8/10

Full Review Here -

The Long Game written by Russell T Davies and directed by Briant Grant


Father’s Day written by Paul Cornell and directed by Joe Ahearne
Result: Be careful what you wish for indeed. For me this exposes why so many of the New Adventures simply did not work. It is gimmicky, overly sentimental, illogical and turns the show into a depressing melodrama. Father’s Day isn’t completely without merit because Joe Ahearne is directing and manages to salvage the shoddy script with some stylish directorial flourishes but it's probably the closest the New Series has come to being as far away from what I would want to recognise as Doctor Who (Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS and Nightmare in Silver are recent examples of abominable adventures but at least they are still recognisably Doctor Who). It’s an ugly, twisted hollow piece of drama that lacks even basic competence in the areas of plotting and character. The show has toyed with episodes that highlight the emotions of the characters since this (Turn Left, The Girl Who Waited) but this is the only time where it has been harmfully detrimental to the story. The dialogue is crass and obvious and it's one of the very few times when both the Doctor and his companion come across as being thoroughly despicable (one who makes really bad choices and projects those mistakes on others and the other who spends far too much time obsessing over herself). I desperately wanted the Doctor to stop getting angry with people for no reason and Rose to stop pouting and staring off into the distance lost in her thoughts…and for them both to get on with something far more interesting. What’s irritating is that this almost convinced me that the New Series had completely perverted Doctor Who and I came close to giving up but in respect of tone, plotting, characterisation and a general sense of adventure the series was about to show you precisely how it should be done in the very next tale. Juxtaposing the two stories simply leaves Father’s Day looking even more inadequate than it already does on its own terms. How this came from the same pen that produced Human Nature/The Family of Blood bewilders me. But then what do I know? I have never had a great relationship with my dad so perhaps I was not the target audience: 2/10 

Full Review Here -

The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances written by Steven Moffatt and directed by James Hawes

Result: The highlight of the first season of NuWho, this is a frightening tale which generates its scares through the performances and the subtlest of effects and direction. A horror tale that understands the genre and allows the time to build up an atmosphere. As such it’s the most ‘classic Who’ story yet with an appropriately slower pace, a stirring location, some freakish faceless monsters and a Doctor/companion combo that positively twinkle. In all those respects this is the Pyramids of Mars for the next generation. Moffat’s first script is still one of his best, managing to tell a wartime story whilst avoiding all the clich├ęs and a fine science fiction story at the same time with plenty of gorgeous lines for everybody and some unexpected moments of poignancy. It’s a beautifully realised piece as well, evocatively all shot at night and with some stylish touches that really make this an under the duvet experience. John Barrowman joins the cast and he makes an instant impression and by the end of the tale the Doctor, Rose and Jack make for a blissful trio of regulars. All in all this is one of the strongest Doctor Who stories you are likely to see, just when you think its going to end with a load of technobabble the story hits you with the most emotional of revelations. This is what Moffat was producing when he only had to deliver one story a year and I really miss those days. A top ten classic: 10/10

Full Review Here -

Boom Town written by Russell T Davies and directed by Joe Ahearne

Result: Turn away if you want to hear a wrap up that condemns Boom Town because it is one of my favourite episodes of the first series. Like The Unicorn and the Wasp later in the series what we have here is a tried and tested action director turning his hand to something lighter and more character based and doing a bang up job of it. It’s an episode that juggles dialogue concerning consequences, capital punishment and the pain of being left behind when people get on with their lives without you and it examines the ninth Doctor better than any other episode in this season. Christopher Eccleston is a revelation in a story that shows how this Doctor's life is all coming together (his trio of companions are a delight and it is rare to see him smiling quite so much) but he's also allowed some quieter moments, a chance to examine the Doctor's carefree attitude to adventure when there are so many lives at stake. His scenes with Annette Badland manage to be very funny and extremely poignant which is a tough act to pull off. Who cares that there isn't the budget to produce something more blockbusting, Davies returns to the tried and tested method of the classic series and uses the lack of money as an excuse to give the episode more meaning. Boom Town is a pause between two massive two parters and yet manages to have far more to say than either of them. Light and frothy and dark and thoughtful, it’s far more than the soap opera of repute: 9/10

Full Review Here -

Bad Wolf & The Parting of the Ways written by Russell T Davies and directed by Joe Ahearne

Result: With a few forgiveable flaws Doctor Who’s first attempt at a two-part season finale is a complete success with many memorable, shocking and dramatic scenes. Joe Ahearne’s handling of the material is superb and he manages to pile on atmosphere and scares whilst always highlighting the actors and giving them the focus. This story mixes the epic science fiction world of Doctor Who with Davies’ enchanting domestic character-based vision for the show to blistering effect and the eleven weeks of material that have come previously inform so much of what takes place here. No Doctor Who season has been structured this skilfully before so that so much of the finale rewards. Somewhere in the second episode around the time where Rose is sitting in that god awful takeaway restaurant I realised that not only had Davies' unique approach to the show really worked but it was starting to produce some of the most epic and personal Doctor Who material we had ever seen. The reality TV parodies work like a charm, the first episode making me laugh like a nutter before things turned very black and for once a Dalek invasion feels positively cinematic. The massacre that takes place in the second episode puts the Daleks on a level of menace that is way above anything we have seen in the previous season. Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper have managed to bring the show back with an explosive real bang and save their best performances for their last story together and the ninth Doctor and Rose are simply made for each other at this point. It’s unique in Doctor Who’s history to have a cliffhanger and a regeneration that both feel so positive and the ending promises great things for the future. Both episodes earn a practically perfect 9: 9/10

Full Review Here -


Ben Ripley said...

I never understood the hatred a lot of fans had for 'Boom Town'. I too thought it was brilliant.

Doc Oho said...

I love it! I was just discussing it with a friend yesterday and neither of us understood why it attracted so much bile. A misunderstood little gem.

AndrewBuckley said...

Unable to resist the new and shiny Blu Ray box set at Christmas, I've just re watched this whole season - amazing; and you're right about Boom Town, it's a highlight! I was away in Germany for most of series 1, year abroad for my degree, so Boom Town was the first episode I actually caught on first transmission, having arrived home on the Friday. Gosh they were wonderful days... The Doctor was back and he was BRILLIANT. Despite his subsequent Scrooge like attitude, I'll always be thankful to Christopher Eccleston, without whom the whole thing might well have failed...

Anonymous said...

I've read the Campbell book, and wasn't impressed - far too succinct and brief to provide meaningful feedback.