Thursday, 31 October 2013

State of Decay written by Terrance Dicks and directed by Peter Moffatt

What’s it about: The Doctor comes face to face with an old enemy of the Time Lords…

Teeth and Curls: He supposes that he is incredible but he’s never given it much thought. Tom Baker is clearly so terrifying in the part this point (his boisterous behaviour in the studio is legendary) that hilariously some random extra grabs a spade and runs away as soon as he sees him. You might say that it's scripted but I know the truth. It's easy to forget how charming Tom Baker was in the role when confronted with the weary traveller of The Leisure Hive and Full Circle but in this tale he is a friendly face again. He’s sublime when asking about scientists and making Ivo realise that things haven’t changed in these parts for a long time, gently prodding the status quo with a little revolutionary thought. The ‘What is it?‘You jumped on my toe!’ exchange always makes me giggle despite the fact that it is the lowest form of wit. When they realise that Adric has stowed away both Tom Baker and Lalla Ward can’t keep the eye rolling disdain out of their voices (I especially love the moment when the Doctor literally spits out the name ‘ADRIC!’ as though it is a swear word when Romana suggests they have to rescue him). The Doctor tells Romana about his old mentor, the hermit up the mountain that Pertwee was so obsessed about, and delights in his own brand of overstatement: one single Vampire can suck the life out of an entire planet. You’ve got to love the Doctor’s style in happily sending Romana into danger whilst he heads off to do some research in the TARDIS. Nobody seems particularly impressed with the Doctor’s secret weapon…K.9! This is the last big, bold performance from Baker before he slips back into subdued mode for his final three stories so enjoy him while you can.

Lovely Lalla: More confident than ever and decked out in a gorgeous long beige overcoat, Romana practically owns the show at this point. It would appear that Bidmead has finally figured out what to do with the character and decided to let her go out on a high. There is the vaguest of lesbian undertones as Romana cuts herself and Camilla salivates over her bleeding thumb (and the line ‘there are compensations’ whilst eyeing her up is the most blatant single entendre in the whole series). Romana seems uncomfortable with the attention but then again I think anyone would be uncomfortable having a vampire eying them up. When the Doctor and Romana start going on about yawning chasms and a socio-pathetic abscess its almost as if JNT is determined to convince the viewer that his opinion on this TARDIS team being too smart is correct. I have never heard such clunky, unnaturalistic dialogue. Tellingly, neither of them spoke such shocking lines until JNT took over. How cute is the scene where the Doctor is trying to look for the inspection hatch (already discovered by Romana) and she lets him think he has found it? When the Doctor is trying to creep Romana out about Vampires she strokes her neck nervously. The scenes between the Doctor and Romana when they are locked up are the last great hurrah for these two (they don’t spend enough time together in Warriors’ Gate to really make an impact as a couple) and are imbued with warmth and affection. Clearly Tom Baker was having a ‘fancy the ass off of Lalla Ward’ day that day because the Doctor tells Romana she is wonderful in a way that he only usually reserves for the TARDIS. It's an intimate scene and thank goodness Moffatt chose a day to direct it when they are making moon eyes at each other. It's a beautiful scene.

Boy Genius: Let me ask you…how can you look unconvincing walking across a room? Now I’m no actor but I think even I could pull that one out of the bag. If this was the best JNT could find when he auditioned for Adric then perhaps he should have scrapped the whole idea. Waterhouse is unbelievably stiff in the part and I really mean that as it sounds. Some people are unbelievable in roles because they have been miscast (say Howard Cooke as Pex in Paradise Towers) but they have a fair stab at in anyway and others are stiff because of inexperience (say the little girl Squeak in Survival) but give it a go and earn points for trying. Matthew Waterhouse is so wooden in his portrayal of Adric I find it unbelievable that anyone could be that blank and mechanical. He's like a little wooden boy being operating by invisible strings off set. Nobody behaves in such a robotic fashion in real life so why would they feel the need to portray a character like that, as a deliberate choice. As written by Terrance Dicks Adric is a cheeky opportunist and with the right person in the part (imagine The Awakening’s Keith Jayne or the Sarah Jane Adventures’ Daniel Anthony) he would be extremely likable and a lot of fun but when Waterhouse says lines like ‘gotcha’ to K.9 I simply want to hang him from the rafters with barbed wire and castrate him with a pair of rusty forceps. Squeaky voiced, petulant and by all accounts a little horror on set, I would have fired him on the spot after watching his performance in this story (technically his first). And spare me the thought of Aukon and Camilla lusting after Adric. To be fair Waterhouse makes a great zombie but all he has to do is stand stock still and expressionless and that is his greatest skill as an actor. His unjustified middle class smugness in the last episode is potentially the most irritating the character ever was (hmm…maybe not, Four to Doomsday?). Pretending or not he sounds like a stroppy, petulant, ungrateful twat who needs his blood sucked out as soon as possible.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘The peasants are simple folk. Rich affair would only distress them’ ‘Quite right! It would probably give them indigestion!’
You’re wrong. The Doctor is not weaponless. He has the greatest weapon of all. Knowledge.’
‘Why am I still afraid?’
‘Countless inhabited planets all waiting to feed our hunger!’
‘Then die…that is the purpose of guards…’

The Good: The opening shot of the throne room revealed via a spacious glass shot looks very expensive – once again season eighteen looks as if it has more money in one story than the last season put together. Theatrical performances and subdued make up from the Three Who Rule leaves you with no illusions that this is supposed to be a gothic delight. The Doctor and Romana land in a shady wooded glen that screams of autumn more atmospherically than any other moment of Doctor Who. Only The Mysterious Planet threatens to try and top it. The location work is rich and very evocative throughout. The overlay of the bat on Aukon’s face is a justly famous touch of direction by Peter Moffatt who is so often undervalued. Nice to know that a good whack can still knock some life into Earth technology in the future. Moffatt stresses the sensuality of the villains in their first meeting between our heroes and Zargo and Camilla both in the giving of food and drink and in their casual tactile nature. These scenes are beautifully choreographed to suggest a dancing motif between the four characters. The second episode was lacking in truly memorable incident until the Doctor switches on the lights in the bowels of the ship and we discover the blood drained husks piled up and the engine tanks full of blood feeding something living beneath the Tower. Pretty much everything about the build up to the end of episode three works a treat from the cobweb strewn darkness of the inner sanctum containing the sleeping Vampires to Romana’s visible terror as they wake up. The music is excellent too, hammer horror gone synth. Ticker tape in the TARDIS just feels right. Rachel Davies seems to really get off on the viciousness of the character and I find her by far the scariest of the three villains (‘The blood of the dead is stale and flat! I must feed on the living!’ she seethes as though she is desperately hungry). Go and listen to the sequence with the rocket bursting into the sky and the Great Vampire having his heart well and truly pierced because aurally the whole sequence is extraordinary – it's only when you actually look at the visuals that it falls to pieces. On the other hand the deaths of the Three Who Rule is excellently handled with Camilla’s eye rolling skeleton being especially nasty and the waves of smoke that wipes them into dust proving extremely effective.

The Bad: What a shame that there wasn’t the technology to make the bat attack look more convincing because the location and score are both fab but add a number of rubber bats on strings and it all falls to pot. All of the model shots in and around the Tower are so unconvincing I would have scrapped the lot. Some directors know how to shoot models and others don't, it is as simple as that (having just watched Terror of the Zygons on DVD its model work shows up the pitiful attempts in State of Decay to the nth degree). A shame that after two episodes of underplaying Aukon, Emrys James loses it in episode three and surrenders to the melodrama of the character (‘You shall drink the blood of…Time Looords!’). Some severely dodgy fight scenes add some unintentional comedy to the story. One guy gets stunned by K.9 and realises that he is in the way of the robot dog and so rolls across set after he has fallen unconscious. Predictably the bodies of the Vampires were counted and one had vanished (mightiest and most malevolent of all, naturally) and one of the Bow Ships (it's Achilles’ heel) just happens to be lying around to finish this one off. That's so ridiculously neat this story could have been sown up in about five minutes. Probably the worst example of effects letting down the show comes after the Doctor has built up the Great Vampire to be this awesome mythological beast that threatened to bring down the Time Lords and he is revealed to be…a doll being waved about underneath the Tower. Ouch. Even Tom Baker looks appalled. This really is the most hollow group of rebels the show has ever presented. Hundreds of bats are seen flying into the caves and yet oddly only one seems to want to nibble on Romana’s neck. I'm not sure if it is a model or dreadful animation but the sky ray rocket ascending and falling back to the planet to deal with the Great Vampire fails to convince on any level.

Result: I still assert that State of Decay is the ultimate Tom Baker story with the styles of all three of his producers combining to create a rough overview of the era. There is the gothic horror and scare elements favoured by Philip Hinchcliffe, the witty undergraduate humour highlighted by Graeme Williams and also the scientific approach as loved by (‘Stop this silliness!’) the JNT/Bidmead collaboration. It even highlights the best and the worst of Doctor Who visually with the general design of the piece being very rich and attention grabbing whilst being let down at practically every turn by all of the special effects, especially the most important one at the climax. Terrance Dicks is not a script writer to let you down and he packs in some interesting mythology about the Time Lords, lovely moments between the Doctor and Romana and a wealth of colourful lines to quote. There’s a great Paddy Kingsland score which highlights the atmosphere of terror and the sensuality between the Three Who Rule suggests the eroticism of Vampire tales without ever upsetting the delicate family audience of the BBC. Some dodgy performances aside this is a pretty fun if utterly predictable story to watch with one whopping great problem at the heart of the story in Matthew Waterhouse’s Adric who harms every scene in which he appears: 7/10

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

The Space Race written by Jonathan Morris and directed by Nicholas Briggs

What’s it about: November 1963, and the Soviet space programme reigns supreme. Having sent the first animals, then the first men beyond Earth's atmosphere, now they're sending a manned capsule into orbit around the Moon. Just as Vostok Seven passes over into the dark side, however, its life support system fails. Only the intervention of the Sixth Doctor and Peri, adopting the identities of scientists from Moscow University, means that contact with the capsule is regained. But something has happened to the cosmonaut on board. She appears to have lost her memory, and developed extreme claustrophobia. Maybe she’s not quite as human as she used to be...

Softer Six: As he recalls the last time he failed to have a replacement component for the TARDIS he spend several months trudging across China with Marco Polo. Given time and suitable facilities he should be able to affect a repair. Some might say he is cold to prise the coats from corpses but he is just thinking with his sensible head and preventing himself and his companion from freezing to death. He’s a past master at taking control of situations these days (check out how he takes the lead in The Light at the End) but he’s also able to offer firm but gentle reassurance to a panicking cosmonaut. I like the idea of splitting up the team of the Doctor and Peri so they can tackle the cause (him on the moon) and the effect (her on the Earth) of their latest dilemma. He’s fearless about going up in a space shuttle, in fact he is rather looking forward to it. Firearms in enclosed spaces make him nervous. If there was ever a moment of contemplative poetry it is when he is standing on the barren surface of the moon. I can imagine other Doctor’s jumping into a black hole on a whim, but none with as much gusto as old Sixie. Once you’ve flown one rocket, you’ve flown them all. His return to Earth is given an appropriate air of triumph, he’s coming back to save us all. The Doctor’s favourite kinds of ideas are those that are utterly ludicrous and never likely to work. His lamp chop Pied Piper scheme certainly qualifies then.

Busty Babe: Is Nicola Bryant actually ageing? Her performance sounds barely different from how it did in the eighties. There’s certainly no sign of the intervening years creeping into her voice and she approaches the part with the same amount of enthusiasm, possibly even more so. Only Robert Holmes (‘Zee? Zed!’) seemed to remember that the Doctor and Peri come from very different places on television, he isn’t from Earth but he does speak perfect BBC English and she is from America where the terminology is quite different. Jonny Morris works this into their relationship and makes it quite a fun way to get them bantering. Peri is smart enough to recognise Soviet citizens by their insignia. If they find out where Peri is from whilst stuck in Kazakhstan they could very well have her shot. She’ll have to play this one very carefully. The Doctor is not her type and he’s more interested in his work and she’s more willing to flirt her way out of awkward situations. Wherever she goes in the universe there always seems to be one to remind her that she’s still got it. She really has to keep her wits about her when trying to pretend to be KGB agents pretending to be scientists for Moscow! She turned vegetarian a while back. Peri wont accept that the Doctor is dead and holds back tears for her friend. It’s clear that they’ve really bonded by this stage in their relationship. She’s thought of him dead so many times before and he always turns up when she least expected it and she’s clinging onto that thought. The idea of the Doctor not making it back has made Peri think about what she would do without him, if she would settle down. They say everybody remembers where they were the day Kennedy died and Peri was in the Soviet Space Centre under siege from a pack of dogs. She can’t wait to get home and tell everyone about it. Because she showed her some compassion, Peri is the only person that Laika will listen to.

Standout Performance: Colin Baker gets to show so many sides to his Doctor in this adventure. He’s bombastic, resourceful, sneaky, funny, gentle, warm and gagging for adventure. In Morris’ hands, Baker is delivered the sort of material that he can bring to life with passion. Nicola Bryant is only a heartbeat behind, their pairing a delight to be a part of these days.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘It’s like a blue marble in the darkness. All of history, all of creation, all of the achievements of the human race…and I can cover it with one finger.’
‘Stephen Hawking will explain later.’
‘What sort of idiot jumps into a black hole?’ 
‘Voyaging through strange seas of thought…’
‘It’s a message to the rest of the universe.’

Great Ideas: Trust Big Finish not to go for the obvious and tell a story about Neil Armstrong’s manned flight to the moon (leave the series to get on with that) but instead to focus on the much more interesting and less documented efforts of the Russians to beat the Americans to it. This story revolves around the first human to orbit the moon, an impressive that was long given less attention once Armstrong took his first step on its surface. Doctor Who has already played about with manned space travel in the milky way in stories such as The Ambassadors of Death, The Android Invasion, Day of the Moon and The Feast of Axos so Jonathan Morris was always going to have to produce something a bit different in order to make an impact. With a capsule returning to Earth at the end of the first episode you might detect similarities to Ambassadors but the unusual location and secondary plotline of the Doctor and Peri adopting the guise of scientists give this a very different feel.  A real Hartnell atmosphere is brewed immediately with the temperature controls in the TARDIS on the blink and the Ship unable to leave until the Doctor fixes it. That answers the question of why the Doctor and Peri don’t just leave when the shit hits the fan. If the sixth Doctor had first episodes like this one – finding corpses in a jeep in the desert which promptly explodes – there is no way the show would have been put on hiatus. This is exactly the sort of real life grit that the show needed at the time. A town built in the middle of the Kazakh Step in the heart of the Cold War housing the Russian version of Mission Control, one of the most dangerous places the Doctor could choose to be stranded. I do love it when the show heads off internationally. Imagine returning from an orbit of the moon and suffering from claustrophobia and hypoxia – Morris doesn’t shy away from the dangers of space travel at this relatively early stage. Someone based in the Cosmodrome is passing information on to a third party, an agent working for the West. The Soviets have prototype lunar landing module hidden in a secret hangar, an identical copy of the one Neil Armstrong would use to land on the moon. Things get even more complicated when KGB agents make themselves present to muddy the waters and add a delicious espionage edge. Can’t say I saw the end of the first episode coming at all. The Cosmonaut returns to Earth and they open the shuttle to discover…Laika, the first dog in space. As a twist to come out left field, this might beat them all. A talking dog, one which is augmented with the missing Cosmonauts larynx and brain? A flying saucer on the moon? You can never accuse Morris of playing it safe. Once Laika is free she releases all the other animals. Domestic pets, guard dogs…they all turn on their owners and join Laika in a bloodcurdling pact against humanity. Morris manages to capture the beauty and deadliness of the Moon with the differing reactions of the Doctor and his companion in space. Moonbase Eisenhower is a Lunar Base with stars and stripes painted on the side, America having already laid claim to the satellite. Petrov is the spy working for the States. The people that the Doctor and Peri are impersonating were particularly nasty interrogators that Petrov had already bumped off so she was quite surprised when they turned up again. Imagine being able to walk on the surface of the moon without pressure suits and standing in the direct sunlight bursting onto the surface through behind the Earth. What a glorious sight that would be. What could be so bad on the moon that death was the preferable option? In the event of the balloon going up the President and the First Lady can nip in a rocket to the moon where they can sit out a nuclear attack in relative safety. All three dogs that have been sent in to space have been salvaged by the aliens and were living perfectly happy, augmented lives under the protective dome. A black hole doesn’t destroy information, it has been gathering all the light, radio and television waves – this has been manufactured for a reason. A black hole that has been designed to intervene and improve. Laika has been improved by the black hole, given a voice and intelligence and now she wants vengeance for being sent into space and abandoned as a mere utility. She was the first thing the alien probe found, alone and afraid and they offered her a chance at retribution. Trust the Americans to turn up at the last minute with a nuclear warhead to try and blow the Doctor out of the sky! Only the President can call off the nuclear strike but he’s just left for Dallas on November 22nd…and there is a good chance that he will never get to make that call. That’s a dash clever end of episode three. Monkeys with machines, there’s something oddly terrifying about that. A menagerie TARDIS? That’s the last thing I expected to hear! Pleasingly it isn’t the Doctor’s defence of humanity that convinces the aliens to allow them to survive, we managed to do that ourselves through our collective grief over the death of President Kennedy. It’s a rather beautiful statement for our species, one that is often knocked by Doctor Who.

Audio Landscape: Applause, communications from shuttle, whipping wind, a smoking car, a bomb exploding, debris falling, alarm, reverberating bangs, a helicopter screaming into view, screeching, barking animals, a car shooting past, the screaming G-Force as they burst from the Earth and head into space, the crackle of radio blackout, loading a gun, gunfire, the bumpy descent to the moon, crunching through snow, howling dogs, the echoey surface of the moon enclosed in a forcefield, the distorting effect of being so close to the event horizon of a black hole on the moon (I know, bonkers right?), the Doctor being pulled inside out as he leaps into a black hole, hissing gas, hooting monkeys with machine guns.

Isn’t it Odd: It does seem rather churlish to point out that this adventure is far superior to the much more exposed anniversary tale The Light at the End. But that isn’t going to stop me. This is more about what Big Finish can do when the company is really on form.

Standout Scene: ‘I’ve seen the future and I know the human race will achieve great things…’ I love it when Colin Baker gets the chance to be tender and the way he explains to the aliens why he has so much affection for humanity and that there is far more to them than meets the eye I just wanted to give him a big cuddle (‘They are capable of great cruelty, yes, but they are also capable of great compassion too’). This what Jon Pertwee would call a ‘moment of charm’ but it feels like a smashing indictment of the direction Big Finish have taken the sixth Doctor too.

Result: A story quite unlike anything we experienced during the sixth Doctor’s era on television, The Space Race is precisely the sort of drama that might have saved the show from its hiatus. International politics, KGB agents, a manned flight into orbit of the Earth, packs of vicious wild dogs, plenty of surprises on the moon and even the assassination of a President that almost costs the Doctor his life…this is a story that is packed full of substance and incident. It’s one of those plots that keeps on evolving, offering up more and more surprises, complications and fascinating ideas. I really appreciated how intelligently the sixth Doctor and Peri were written and this is a terrific opportunity to study in the anniversary year just how far they have come since Big Finish have gotten their paws on them. Once derided and shoved on hiatus, thanks to the sterling efforts of Colin Baker, Nicola Bryant and countless writers and directors, people are now genuinely excited at their appearance in the schedules and chomping at the bit for their stories to be released (as the ‘late’ release of The Space Race attests). The pair are stranded in a dangerous time and place, with identity bluffs and more problems to deal with than anybody can reasonably try and juggle and they barely break a sweat. Once a disparate team, they are now as rock solid as a Doctor and companion can be. Listen to the extra features and you’ll find out what soul mates Colin and Nicola are and that absolutely comes across in these stories. It’s also further proof that Jonathan Morris can turn his hand to pretty much any set of regulars with rare surety. Nick Briggs is no slouch either, ensuring that this piece keeps one foot squarely in the real world whilst still offering up some very exotic soundscapes and dealing with some insane notions. Some Doctor Who stories on audio are great performance pieces, some are evocatively atmospheric and some are exploit the medium to tell a well crafted piece of storytelling that explores some fascinating ideas. Whilst The Space Race has strong elements of the first two, it scores most highly in the latter and it is the first main range adventure in a while where I was chomping at the bit to find out how this would all piece together and be explained. I certainly didn’t expect an animal cruelty and pro-humanity message to come screaming from the climax but they were unexpected bonuses (and something I heartily approve of in both cases). If The Assassination Games can live up to it’s hype it will be three for three for the sixties trilogy and evidence that the main range starting to produce some consistently strong adventures in the shows anniversary year. Considering the trailer did the story no justice whatsoever, this was an unexpected delight: 9/10

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Full Circle written by Andrew Smith and directed by Peter Grimwade

This story in a nutshell: ‘Tell Dexeter we’ve come full circle…’

Teeth and Curls: One thing that is prevalent in this series is that Tom Baker was not allowed to overshadow the production like he had in previous years. Whilst I might complain that this is to the detriment of the entertainment value of the series elsewhere, I don’t think it is an necessarily always a bad thing because the strength of the story can shine through when it is as strong as Full Circle and the Doctor can be seen to be working as a part of the overall dynamic. So even in the last story when Tom Baker played the hero and the villain he wasn’t the dominant feature of the story. As a result of his discussions (lets conservatively say disagreements) with John Nathan-Turner and Christopher H. Bidmead (blimey could these names get any more pretentious) Tom’s performance is a lot more subdued and internalised and some would say (and I’m on the fence) that he gave his best ever performances as a result. How odd, he usually gets on terribly well with children. It wouldn't be a fourth Doctor story if he was able to have a little fun however and I really chuckle as he returns to the TARDIS and starts poking at the space where it was just in case its invisible as is often the case in this series. The Doctor trying to calm and protect the Marsh Child feels very right even though he does get a right bop on the head for his troubles. He asks: ‘Why can’t people be nice to each other? Just for a change…’ which sums up his attitude to the universe rather nicely. I howled at his deadpan reaction to all those kids piling out of the TARDIS. Talk about your worst nightmare come true and a vision of a potential future if he and Lalla keep enjoying extra curriculum activities behind the scenes. His anger in the face of the child's death is extraordinary, we haven’t seen the Doctor lose it this badly since The Pirate Planet and I was flinching at his furious tirade. Baker has still got it, even in his twilight years.

Lovely Lalla: I really like Lalla Ward. She doesn't bother me in the same way she does others for speaking her mind on the DVD commentaries. It certainly makes for more interesting listening than people simply going 'what a pleasure so and so was to work with!' She has been known to make caustic comments about her opinion of Adric's introduction to the series, Tom’s behaviour in their final few stories together and how JNT and Bidmead sucked the fun out of the show. On the whole she is spot on and perfectly entitled to her opinion, certainly as much as any fan of the show is since she was actually involved in its creation. At the same time she clearly has a great love for the show and appreciates her time on it and oh yes, she’s a damn fine actress too. I really enjoy the domestic scenes between the Doctor and Romana and there is some real attempt to develop her character here. Romana doesn’t want to spend the rest of her life on Gallifrey after everything she has been through with the Doctor, which boldly states how far she come since her initial appearance. Romana can barely conceal her disdain for Adric and his pals and I have always said she is an excellent judge of character. In the sort of moment that would normally be reserved for the Doctor, after Romana is attacked by the Outlers she takes the moral high ground and sensibly gives Tylos his knife back to prove to them that she can be trusted. For her troubles she is left for dead when she is attacked by the mechanical arachnids. It always surprises me what terrific nasties the Doctor Who girls make when they are given half the chance. Dodo finally became interesting when she received a bewitching phone call, Polly became a blazing eyed automaton, Jo hysterically tries to blow everybody at UNIT sky high and Sarah Jane was possibly the creepiest villain in the first half of the series, all sly glances and playful murder. Lalla Ward has a good stab at trying to top Lis Sladen's efforts, wandering the corridors of the Starliner with a virus spreading across her face and clawing at the Doctor like a predatory vixen. Although it’s a really tacky moment, her smile looks radiant when she wakes up.

Snotty Maths Geek: For the record Varsh would have made a much better companion and if JNT was keeping an stronger eye on the long term effects on the show it would have been very clear that Richard Willis is a far superior actor (not amazing mind, but at least he can act), he’s a much more interesting character (imagine having to deal with the death of your younger brother that you were sworn to protect?) and far better looking (shallow, but true). Adric on the other annoying can one kid be? A maths geek (oh please) who wants to be a rebel (oh geez) who wears yellow pyjamas (tragic), has a pudding bowl haircut (and he doesn't even have his mother to blame) and pouts petulantly when he cannot get his own way. How was this considered an appropriate substitution for Romana and K.9? He tries to convince the Outlers to let him join by telling them that he is better than them, both intellectually and socially. Yeah, that'll work. Oddly Adric goes back to the Outlers with the incredible story of the TARDIS and then doesn’t expect them to want to use it as an escape from the approaching mists. Matthew Waterhouse always seems to try his best when acting against Tom Baker and so his quirky description of the TARDIS almost works – for a second you can see how this could be made to work (with triple the rehearsal time and quadruple the amount of retakes). How much of a dweeb does he look when he says ‘I think I pulled the wrong lever!’ I liked the finger-crossing scene because it reminded you that this guy is an alien and doesn’t understand our customs. Matthew Waterhouse has the oddest habit of holding out his hand as he performs which I think is a nervous habit but it looks like a theatrical Shakespearean tic. The very idea. Varsh is all Adric has left now and in the exciting climax he doesn’t manage to save his brother form being tackled and savaged by the Marshmen. Obviously they are going to explore this life changing event in some great depth in subsequent stories…or perhaps not. Unbelievably there is no mention of his brothers death until Adric himself slips off the mortal coil. There should at least be a degree of post traumatic stress but Adric is bopping his way through the console room in the next story as though it was all a dream. Bless Matthew Waterhouse, he doesn’t quite know how to emote so he just glares somewhat gormlessly at his brother’s corpse. It’s nice that they linked Full Circle and Earthshock – when Adric’s death approaches he holds up his brother’s belt, which he takes from his dead body in this story. But in between there is no sign that he is trying to deal with his loss.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Nobody knows how to pilot this ship.’
‘We’re all basically primeval slime with ideas above its station.’
'We cannot return to Terradon…because we have never been there.’
‘But you must agree it does require some thought.’

The Good Stuff: Peter Grimwade was something a bit special and brought with him exactly the sort of energy, enthusiasm and skill that JNT needed to make an impact with his bold new era for the show. In a way I wish this story could have opened the season because ti would have gotten things off on the right foot. The direction throughout is exemplary, often filmic for all it is squeezed into a TV production. I really liked the simple effect that shows the TARDIS moving through the CVE – anybody else could have overplayed it but it just works because it is so simply and effectively achieved. Is that location really somewhere in England? When the TARDIS arrives and they walk out it is lush, spacious, sunny and gorgeous. They must have caught one of the obligatory three days of blissful weather we have in England each year. The riverside sequences really look like a community at work and there has been some real effort put into making this planet look exotic (the mist that weaves through the forest, the webbing hanging from the trees and the striking lighting that hits the actors faces). The location work in the first episode is remarkably assured, Decider Draith chasing Adric through the misty ferns and being dragged into the dirty water looks really expensive and filmic (I especially loved his hand being smothered by the mist , another simple but striking effect). Whilst it isn’t as celebrated as some of the other better-known cliffhangers the end of episode one is a classic, the Marshmen rising from the water shot through the reeds. Who wouldn't want to know what happens next. Guest stars usually work best in villainous roles in Doctor Who but it's rather wonderful that actors of the calibre of George Baker, James Bree and Alan Rowe get to play such a likable triumvirate of bumbling leaders. Baker is especially joyful and brings the underwritten part of Decider Login to life with real heart. There is a very impressive pan through the crowds as Nefred makes his speech which makes the studio sets feel massive, that's the work a very clever director pulling the wool over your eyes. The designers have done a great job on the Starliner; it feels solid, futuristic and shot carefully by Peter Grimwade it feels like a labyrinth of corridors. How awful are they to the Marsh Child? They shove it in a net and drag it through the ship like they are taking out the rubbish. As ever this season great stuff is done with the TARDIS (I think Bidmead preferred the ship to the regulars on occasion, he certainly imbued it with more interest) and the Marshmen beating on the door and planning to use the ship as a battering ram are both great ideas. Grimwade doesn’t shy away from the sequence where the Marsh Child smashes its way through Dexeter's laboratory, murders him and inadvertently commits suicide. The Doctor’s anger is brilliant – accusing the Deciders of the wilful procrastination of endless procedure because he thinks they want to hold onto the new order when they truth is they simply don’t know how to fly the bloody thing. Every 50 years or so another planet takes Alzarius away from its sun; that's a quick explanation for why the Marshmen are emerging now but a very nice one, the sort of plot point that is usually left out. I really like that there are no good or bad guys in this story, just two races of people misunderstanding each other. It’s rarer than you might think for there not to be a villain or evil monster in a story. It’s hilarious that the Deciders cannot make a decision to react to the threat of the Marshmen (‘that’s your conclusion from all this knowledge…do nothing!’) and so the creatures enter the great hall of knowledge and kill them all. That's some jet black comedy, there. The final twist that the Marshmen are the colonies ancestors really works because they have explored the idea enough to make it plausible and yet it still seems to come from completely the left field.

The Bad Stuff: Isn’t it odd how you can only become a companion this season if you lose a family member? Frankly if I were the Doctor I would be discouraging people from thinking of joining him given this freak occurrence. The wilderness of outer Gallifrey looks a little blurry and unconvincing on the TARDIS scanner. The sudden cut from the location work to the studio bound caves is jarring. Aren’t those Outlers spotlessly clean when they enter the TARDIS considering they have just crossed the marsh? Knives being waved around in the TARDIS, surely this should feel like a bunch of violent hoodies attacking rather than posh kids that have just spent a fortune in GAP playing ineffectually with cutlery. At times the Marshmen look extremely rubbery – they should have glistened (and they do in places) like all the best Doctor Who monsters do (Sontarans, Zygons). I could not work if being touched by the Marshmen is enough to kill you because that seems to be the case in the later episodes but they capture the Mash Child without any harm coming to them in episode two. On the whole Full Circle is the most expensive looking stories since The Talons of Weng-Chiang and yet when the Mash Spiders appear (I can’t believe they were designed with bucked teeth and glowy eyes) in the duff cave sets it looks cheaper than anything from the Williams era. Imagine if the series had continued with those four brats flying the TARDIS? There’s far too much K.9 torture porn in this season and it's impossible not to feel sorry for the mutt when his head is lopped off. Put the poor fella out of his misery rather than this abuse. The Marshmen look ultra rubbery in the harsh lights of the studio. Do the Marshmen have OCD? Why do they all throw themselves on the floor to pick up the image translators?

The Shallow Bit: It could be a co-incidence but the producer and the director are both openly gay and suddenly there are scenes of bare chested men, boys splashing about naked in rivers and very exposed bums as they emerge from water in wet clothes. It's almost enough to give you a funny turn. One for the ladies, perhaps?

Result: Full Circle is the first story of season eighteen that proves that Bidmead’s approach to Doctor Who could work. The script is very good indeed; intelligent and exploring some pretty weighty scientific and biological themes but (and this is the important part) there is an emotional core to the story too (Romana’s dilemma, the Doctor's fury over the Mash child’s death, Adric losing his brother). It’s also the lushest and most attractive looking Doctor Who story in an age with some beautiful location work, detailed sets and imaginative directional touches. Unfortunately this is the story that gave us Adric so it isn’t entirely perfect. There are a few moments where you wonder if he might work out but they are outweighed by some dreadful acting that proves Waterhouse was far too inexperienced for the part. A beautifully structured story with some great surprises and an optimistic ending that promises more exciting things in E-Space: 8/10

Monday, 28 October 2013

Midnight written by Russell T. Davies and directed by Alice Troughton

This story in a nutshell: One shuttle. Eight passengers. One entity.

Mockney Dude: The story that convinced me that David Tennant was not only one of the finest actors to play the part of the Doctor, but when he is on form, the finest actor. All the criticisms that can be levelled at the tenth Doctor are here; he’s slightly goonish to begin with, he speaks with a remarkable amount of unearned authority, he patronises those who think differently rather than teaching them, he has a catchphrase for every occasion. What Russell T. Davies does that is so clever is strips him of all of those escape mechanisms throughout the course of the episode until all that is left is a man laid bare and terrified as the situation has blown completely out of his control. It’s a remarkable thing to do to the Doctor, to any Doctor, and there isn’t a single instance where all of a Time Lord’s quirks have been torn away quite so cruelly before and he has been left with no options but to hang on for his life. Tennant rises to the challenge magnificently and The Waters of Mars aside, this is easily my favourite performance of his throughout his entire run.

The Doctor says something very telling when trying to convince Donna to come with him to the sapphire waterfall (A sapphire waterfall? That sounds amazing. I would be there in a shot…and pay the price) – it isn’t as fun without somebody to experience it with. He’s seen it all, done it all, and travels with humans because it is like discovering the universe anew each time. We get to experience the Doctor’s clever cleverness in the cockpit with the pilots, talking ten to the dozen and knowing everything. That only serves to give a slap round the face when the unknown entity invades the craft – something he knows nothing about. Something he cannot lecture everybody on or judge or outfox. He’s as much in the dark as everybody else and it is amazing how frightening that is. When the Doctor doesn’t know how to cope with something, be scared. There is a moment in Midnight where the Doctor learns a very valuable lesson about pushing people too far. We’ve seen him tell people to shut up before and point out that he is the cleverest person in the room and it has always been met with stolid silence. Not this time. These people are really scared and they take great insult to his arrogance and attempt to take control. It’s rare for him to misjudge a situation quite this badly and he nearly pays the ultimate price for his self-importance. I really like that because it is addressing a flaw in the character that Davies is clearly very aware of and it proves to be the tipping point for an episode that is already balancing precariously on a cliff edge. The tension has been wound up to such a degree at this point that they are capable of anything and the Doctor is just a guy in a suit in their way. If they have to murder him to get to her then that’s just another obstacle to see to because their minds are already made up. He has to answer for himself – what is his name, who was he talking to before he got on board, why does he seem to be enjoying the danger of this situation so much? Suddenly Tennant is pitching his performance at a level we have never seen before; panicked, frightened, unsure. Where he was leading these people, approaching them…now he’s backing away. And then the terror in the Doctor’s eyes when he is trapped in one position, forced to repeat Sky’s words, unable to think of a why out of this situation in his usual manner…Tennant is extraordinary. This is the only adventure where the Doctor needs his assistant to put his arms around him after the experience, to not say a word and just hold him. To be fair I had a similar reaction.

Tempestuous Temp: The downside to having an episode so saturated with Catherine Tate like Turn Left is that there is also an episode where she barely features. It’s never a nice state of affairs when Tate is sidelined but the reasoning is sound and the rewards (Turn Left is a phenomenal performance piece) are numerous. Donna would rather sunbathe than head off in a poxy little tin can with the Doctor for a few hours and for once her instincts are bang on the nail.

Murderous Bunch: One of the few stories where the guest cast are so vital to the story that they deserve a section all of their own. If there was ever a story that revealed so efficiently what Davies brought to Doctor Who with regards to vivid characterisation and realistic dialogue, Midnight would be my prime candidate. Few things frighten me in life like a crowd that has turned nasty, a protest turning into a riot and Davies shows with consummate skill how a bunch amiable holiday makers can be transformed into paranoid, murderous individuals with the right stimulus. The very subtle way that the panic grows feels natural and unforced, the notion that they are in danger increasing with each new suggestion of how bad the situation is having a snowball effect.

I’ve had plenty of journeys on planes where the stewardess as been as clipped and as ‘I’m only doing this to pay the rent’ as this example is. Don’t get me wrong she is clearly good at her job and polite enough but she says each line as though she is slightly better than this that mirrors a sort of person I’m sure we all know. She cracks terrible jokes to her passengers and straightens her uniform after doing the minimal of work as though she has just performed something truly amazing. She tries her hardest to keep her passengers under control but it soon becomes obvious that she doesn’t like confrontation and isn’t up to the task. When the shit hits the fan and she completely loses control it is the stewardess that puts the idea out there to eject Sky from the shuttle rather than listen to her anymore. She makes a compelling case for why this should be the case but the Doctor knows that if they do this there is no going back from the point they have murdered. This is the point where the decide who they are. Subverting all expectations, the stewardess is the one who saves the day by sacrificing herself. The awful realisation that they didn’t even know her name is wonderfully grim touch.

David Troughton is always a delight to see on the telly in whatever role he turns up in (for something gentle and rather gorgeous check out his turn as Carol’s lover in Sky One’s The Café) and as a double coup it’s a delight to have somebody who has played a major role in the classic series (King Peladon) returning in a different guise in the new series. Technically the Professor undergoes more of a transformation than anybody; from kindly, slightly patronising educator to a vicious, impatient, angry old man who is furious that he should have to spend his time with students who are so beneath him intellectually he can barely contain himself. Hobbs thinks he knows everything and doesn’t take kindly to being told otherwise, especially by a young slip of a man like that Doctor. The Professor is ready to rant and rave but when it comes to living up to his end of the bargain he cannot willingly throw a man to his death.

Lindsey Coulson’s Val just terrifies me. There’s no other word for it. Apparently under the thumb of her husband, she shows that she has an iron steel underneath all that amiability and is perfectly capable of manipulating her powerful husband to her will and setting him on whoever she chooses. With some subtle digs at his manhood, he is like putty in her hands. I’m sure under normal circumstances Val would be cracking company but she is the last person you want around in a crisis, the sort of person that suspects the worst and injects that fear into others. Who bends them to her will be shouting the loudest and being the most persistently hysterical.

Jethro has perhaps the most interesting journey because I thought I had him pegged from the start. How many times have we seen this sort of petulant, disinterested teen on TV? When the shit hits the fan he proves perfectly capable of spotting intelligent detail and aiding the Doctor in calming down the others. It feels like Davies is making a point that children aren’t as useless as some adults like to think they are…until it comes to his choice of whether to save the Doctor or not and he chooses to have him ejected like everybody else. It’s probably the ultimate moment of betrayal because the Doctor (like the audience) thought he had him sussed out and for him to turn his back on him so cowardly is quite a shock. It’s telling that Jethro is bored to death until they break down, finally something that he can tell his mates about when he gets back. 

Ayesha Antoine is probably the actress I am most familiar with in Doctor Who circles because she is one of the central figures in the Big Finish range of Bernice Summerfield adventures (and very good she is too). It was only after listening to her for two box sets that I realised that she had already played a role in televised Doctor Who, such was her range from Dee Dee to Ruth. She’s the nicest person of the bunch, a genuinely sweet young girl but when it comes to the choice of whether to murder Sky she makes the wrong one with the others because she is so frightened. Dee Dee is us, she’s the one person who should be better than all this but in all honesty she is too scared to make the right choice, only the sensible one. Dee Dee almost has the answer and I was willing for her voice to be heard but the sad truth is that isn’t the nice people that are listened to in out of control situations like this, it is whoever is the firmest.

Polishing off a riveting ensemble is the irreplaceable Lesley Sharp as Sky Silvestry, the least exposed of the group and the most fascinating. Sky doesn’t want to join in with the revelries with the other passengers because she is still getting over her recent split with her ex girlfriend but if you approach her individually she will strike up a conversation and open out that way. We all know people like that too, ones who are uncomfortable in crowds but much happier one on one. Terrible under pressure, she lays into the stewardess for not having all the answers then near enough has an emotional meltdown as the knocking continues, thinking that her ex-girlfriend has sent this nasty after her. Sharp is more terrifying in these scenes than any monster on Doctor Who could ever be. As she was screaming ‘It’s coming for me!’ I had goosebumps.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘She needed her own space, as they say. A whole galaxy. I reckon that’s enough space, don’t you?’ ‘I had a friend who went to a different universe’ – Exposing a lot about Sky, a beautifully invisible gay reference and a reminder of Rose who is due back next week. Davies can sure pack a lot of detail into very natural dialogue.
‘What if it’s not outside anymore. What if it’s inside?
‘It’ll be you next…’

The Good:
  • My partner often complains that Doctor Who doesn’t visit alien worlds often enough for his liking but I think even he would be happy enough with the stunning visual at the top end of this episode of the pleasure palace glistening in the sapphire gleam of Midnight’s surface. I love the Centreparcs style dome that juts from the top, since that’s where we know Donna is, catching the moonlight rays and topping up her (non existent tan). It’s a beautiful effects sequence in a season that is full of memorable planetary surfaces (The Ood Sphere, Mezzanine, The Library Planet) and a nice taste of something wide open and stylish before we are locked away in the functional confines of the Crusader for the rest of the episode.
  • The early scenes are delightfully warm and witty to lull the audience into a false sense of security, the Doctor and the passengers all having a riot in each others company as they head across the surface of Midnight. Davies shows us snippets of much longer conversations, economically hopping forward through the journey and suggesting how well things are going between everybody. This might seem like filler material at first but without these glimpses into the party atmosphere on the Crusader he couldn’t highlight them so dramatically against the tense and foreboding atmosphere once the shuttle is invaded and panic sets in.
  • This is back in the day when the arc plots weren’t rammed down our throats at the expense of the standalone stories so there is a lovely scene about the lost moon of Poosh and a blink and you’ll miss it glimpse of Rose on a screen after the shuttle has crashed. Subtle moments that help to make up the bigger picture but don’t get in the way of the story Davies is trying to tell. He really had this down to a fine art at this stage.
  • Music has always been an important part of Doctor Who for helping to create an atmosphere and help to keep the action moving. Murray Gold had been scoring the show for four years at this point and you would think that he would be starting to get a little stale and yet I find the majority of his work for season four are amongst his best soundtracks. Midnight relies on its score more than most because it is one of the few stimulus that are allowed into the Crusader 50. Early scenes are peppy and energetic, suggesting the quick passing off time between the passengers on the shuttle and Gold adds a mysterious but fun edge to Hobbs’ lecture. Once the episode dives headlong into conceptual horror Gold has rarely been better, keeping the audience on a knife edge of tension and allowing them no relief.
  • For once Davies shows astonishing restraint, never once allowing us to see the creature but suggesting that we have by cutting away from it approaches the craft. The fact that it is unknowable to the last second is what makes it such an effective nasty. Subtle, simple stages that encourage reactions from the crowd; the knocking, then responsive knocking, Sky’s paranoia and possession, the repetition, the synced dialogue and racing ahead once the creature has trapped the Doctor.
  • Troughton shoots inside the shuttle in so many interesting ways, you can tell she has put a lot of thought into how to make a claustrophobic tale set in one location as visually interesting as possible. I particularly like the shots down from above that encapsulate all the characters, looking down on them like lambs to the slaughter. The torchlight’s pick out Sky from the darkness are a disorienting effect and as she turns to face the camera it is clear that something has happened to her which is all down to Sharp’s still, intense performance. The look in her eyes suggests unseen horrors within.
  • 17 minutes into the story and the stewardess opens the door to reveal that the pilot and mechanic (and the cockpit) have been lost. It’s not just a salient plot point that they cannot escape, it is also Davies setting up his solution at the climax.
  • If the success of a Doctor Who monster is being able to mimic it in the playground on Monday morning then the effect of repeating phrases is a moment of genius on Davies’ part. The near impossible task of making all those repeated phrases knocking back and forth disorienting, fluidic and understandable was a mammoth task but they effort has yielded some unique rewards. There hasn’t been anything on television quite like this before and you cannot say that about a lot of Doctor Who. The creature is learning, copying, absorbing…it is taking in every detail of our species.  When the dialogue starts syncing up it is done almost invisibly to make the evolution effortless, its not until Jethro points it out that you are even aware. DeeDee cleverly states a poem, something the creature cannot possibly know to test whether it is inside all of their heads in some way.
  • I’m glad we don’t just cut away from the characters at the end but get to see them once their lives are no longer in danger. Mute, appalled with themselves and reflecting on what their actions say about their characters, I wish I could get inside all of their heads at this point. Except Val, who is utterly unapologetic for her part in this but at least has the decency to look ashamed.
  • We don’t know what it was, whether it’s still out there or whether it will strike again. All the scarier.

The Bad: Can you imagine going on a journey and having all those various examples of entertainment thrown at you at once. It’s enough to make your claustrophia in that tiny cabin ten times worse. Music blaring from speakers, weird effects climbing the walls and a cartoon projected on the far canvas…it’s horribly distracting and Sky’s reaction pretty much sums up my own.

The Shallow Bit: A gothed up, pre-Merlin Colin Morgan looks positively edible as Jethro.

Result: The best writing, the best direction and the best acting that television has to offer, it really doesn’t get much better than this. Given that the stunning Library two parter came before this and the manifest of treats available from Turn Left and The Stolen Earth come after this, you think that Midnight would suffer since it is such a scaled back and subtle adventure. Not a bit of it. In fact it gets my vote as the best episode of season four (it’s a toughie because so much of it is so good). What’s that I hear you say? Russell T. Davies has turned Doctor Who into a shallow soap opera with no space for scares? Stick that in your pipe and smoke it! Alice Troughton cut her teeth on a much inferior script earlier in the season but now she has something really challenging to get her teeth into and she does a fantastic job at wringing every last ounce of tension out of this piece until the audience as left as traumatised by the events as the passengers. They are such simple ideas and yet they are so effective, that’s why this is so chilling. Banging on the ceiling and walls, the darkness hiding nasties, the game of repeating phrases, the horror behind the eyes…Davies doesn’t need money to frighten his audience when the simple act of locking frightened people in a confined space and scaring them to death does the job better than practically any Doctor Who story. How the story shifts from the horror of the entity to the horror of the passengers reaction provoked a real sense of dread in me, unknown aliens are frightening enough but unrestrained paranoia is a whole new level of psychological horror that the show rarely feels compelled to explore. This is the only story where the people that the Doctor is trying save are so frightened that they turn on him and try to kill him. Not people who are under any influence, just normal, frightened people. That’s terrifying. The simplest of ideas, so effectively executed and the most complex characterisation, Midnight surprises throughout and tightens its grip around your throat until you are gasping for air at the climax. I remember watching this on transmission and being scared to death and blown away by it’s breadth of characterisation. It was worth the cast almost losing their minds being cooped up in one set for days on end because the performances it provoked are tangible. David Tennant is exceptional and Lesley Sharp gives the guest performance in the new series (to date) but there isn’t a weak link, they’re all fantastic. It is one of the few Doctor Who episodes that captures me in exactly the same way every time that I watch it. Astonishingly good television, let alone peerless Doctor Who: 10/10

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Meglos written by Andrew McCulloch and John Flannigan and directed by Terrance Dudley

This story in a nutshell: Thanks be to Ti that the Doctor revisits Tigella in as time of their greatest crisis...

Teeth and Curls: There’s a lovely description of the Doctor as a man who solves the insoluble by the strangest of means, who sees the threads that join the universe together and mends them when they break. This was the beginning of the domestic period of Doctor Who where stories would start with an interminably long period spent gossiping in the TARDIS (actually this began in the Williams era but was far more witty and likable in stories like the Pirate Planet and The Horns of Nimon) and in Meglos the Doctor literally spends the whole of episode one fixing K.9! He doesn’t leave the TARDIS or touch the plot for about 40 minutes – in Destiny of the Daleks he went ‘screw the laryngitis, let’s explore!’ Plus I would have thought that he and Romana would have better things to do in the TARDIS then fiddle about with the metal mutt. I thought that was what JNT was trying to get away from. It's no wonder that people were abandoning the show in droves if the hero does nothing but spout technobabble whilst the guest cast are completely responsible for the plot for almost an hour – they probably thought they were watching an episode of Star Trek. Then they add in a chronic hysteresis loop and we have to suffer the whole shebang over and over again well into episode two. It's almost as if Tom Baker has become so unbearable at this point the writers are instructed to keep him away from the other guest performers as long as possible (where he will inform them the script is ‘whippet shit’ whilst tossing it at their heads and make them question why they agreed to take part in the first place). On the plus side having Tom Baker play the baddie is a small stroke of genius because it is completely destabilising for kids who have come to depend on this character over the last seven years. Plus Baker gives the villainous role his all and had great fun restraining that explosive anger and releasing it a bit at a time (‘I…swear allegiance to Ti?’). Scenes of the prickly, subdued Meglos trying to hold onto his humanoid victim and kidnapping Karis are some of Baker's most effective of the season – strange that they should occur in the seasons weakest story. The Doctor being referred to as a fraud and a liar makes no sense because he simply doesn’t do that sort of thing.

Aristocratic Adventurer: Lalla Ward struggles gamely with the material she is given in this story to make anything of it. Gone is her acerbic wit and resourcefulness from season 17 and instead she is reduced to running repairs for K.9 and running through the forest (and trying to make it look bigger than four foot wide and failing) like a frightened little girl. I find it hard to imagine this is the same person who (‘Despicable worm!’) took on the Doctor’s role in The Horns of Nimon.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘D’you know for one awful moment I thought you’d forgotten your lines…’
‘This is the second time you’ve been in here!’ ‘I say, you’ve got a marvellous memory!’
‘Let’s hope that many hands will make the lights work!’

The Good:
· The musical score for Meglos is one of my favourites in the last ten years of the classic series. If there is one thing that JNT got very right it was to move the show away from The Dudley Simpson Hour (as good as his music can be to was getting a little repetitive as time went on) and introduce some new styles of music to the series. Whilst some might suggest that the tinny, radiophonic synth music lacks the conviction of the Simpson’s instrument offerings I would counter that argument with the fact that the music for season eighteen is some of the freshest, most exciting and beautiful we enjoyed in the entire show. The scores for The Leisure Hive, Meglos, Full Circle, Warriors’ Gate, Logopolis and Castrovalva are all superb and I regularly listen to the soundtracks whilst I am working around the flat (yeah, I know...sad). I love the creepy electronic choral style for the Deon scenes and the insistent, electronic chorus that accompanies the Doctor’s sacrifice at the end of episode three (‘DIEDIEDIEDIEDIE!’). Since the soundtrack is a collaboration of two of the best, Paddy Kingsland and Peter Howell, it is like having the best of both worlds. My favourite piece comes when the screens of Zolfa Thura ascend, it sells a potentially dodgy effect very well.
· It’s only bloody Jacqueline Hill! Just when I was about to give up on the Tigella scenes our very own Barbara and one of my favourite actresses turns up to give the planet a sense of realism and the scenes some gravitas. She’s saddled with an overwrought character but just as she did when a poor script arrived in the Hartnell era she makes the most of it and gives a little extra to turn shit into gold (her rant at Hartnell in the vague and unsatisfying two parter The Edge of Destruction is a great example).
· The sudden cut away from the dreadful theatrics in the Tigellan court to the Zolfa Thura, boasting the new scene sync technology, some glorious music from Paddy Kingsland and introducing the deadpan comic relief thugs is a massive breath of fresh air. The effects aren’t perfect (fringing is obvious and there should have been sand pouring off of the top of Meglos’ base when it rises up before them) but I appreciate the scale and the ambition that has gone into them and as a Doctor Who fan suspension of belief are my middle names (although it is sorely tested throughout this story). Bill Frazer and Frederick Treaves are a very amusing double act, they feel as if they have stumbled onto the set from the Steptoe & Son studios and give deliciously gruff and disinterested performances that makes these characters far more likable than the earnest lot on Tigella. They are exactly the sort of irreverent nasties a story like this needs. McCulloch and Flannigan have created a memorable Robert Holmesian double act in the same mould as Irongron and Bloodaxe (Broterdac stares in uncomprehending reverence at Grugger just as Bloodaxe did and it is just as funny). Grugger kicking K.9 thus making him the most loathsome man in the galaxy is a delicious extraneous moment of enmity.
· Am I the only person who doesn’t mind the idea of a sentient cactus? They are bloody horrid things in real life (I have never owned a cactus that I haven’t scratched myself on quite badly so naturally I consider them all to be up to no good anyway) and we only have to endure the rubbery monstrosity for a few minutes before the much more intriguing (and well realised) idea of the spikes bursting from the skin of those infected begins. It's just another sentient plant (like The Keys of Marinus, The Seeds of Doom) and another creature with the ability to take over its victims minds (pick any Hinchcliffe story). The collaboration of the snivelling, thieving Gaztaks and creepiness of Meglos (his impersonation of the Doctor with spiny skin must have frightened whoever wasn’t watching Buck Rogers to death!) gives this story a much needed kick up the ass.

The Bad:
· After their suggestion that Doctor Who is a classy American cult show with the pan across Brighton beach opening the stylishly shot debut story of the season we begin this adventure in a boring long shot of the tatty old console room with things looking as cheap as possible. It's nice to know that JNT still intends to make Doctor Who.
· The early scenes of this adventure (‘Its going to blow!’) showing the Savants scuttling about trying to hold their planet together scream of a writer trying to set up a civilisation convincingly but trying a little too hard to succeed. Those stupid wigs don’t help. Plus the science versus religion angle (which has been handled much better in stories in the past) is dealt with in too unsubtle a manner to portray a convincing population divide. Is this supposed to be a massive underground city because it feels as though a handful of people that live in a small scattering of rooms who have found a way of squabbling to keep their lives interesting. On Argoils in The Leisure Hive the setting was supposed to be one building but you really got the sense of the scale of the planet and the war between the Foamasi and the Argolins but that sense of numbers and history is lacking here. The line ‘Zastor, I tell you this as a Savant, a scientist, one who works hard to understand these things that our safe and bountiful city may well be on the edge of total extinction!’ is appalling because nobody would structure a sentence like that and fill it full of so much hyperbole (except possibly in one of my reviews) and exposition. Why would you tell Zastor everything the man seems to already know? There are much better ways of going about this sort of thing. It’s an unconvincing way of trying to relay information to the audience.
· Without a doubt Edward Underdown is an impressive actor with an illustrious career but he is clearly past his prime when it comes to learning his lines and speaking them authentically and as a result Zastor, as the man who is supposed to be holding this planet together with his bare hands, is a complete non-entity rather than the compelling character the writers would have been hoping for. Mind you ‘I’m Zastor, now the Tigellan leader!’ would be struggle for any actor. Bless him he struggles gamely to react to Lexa and her followers taking over in episode three but he can’t quite get the lines out and as a result sounds like a doddery old git being taken out to pasture. Not the most dignified performance to end your career.
· As much as I protested earlier I don’t mind the chronic hysteresis scenes that much (it’s a different sort of cliffhanger, at least), my objection is that they don’t have any impact on the plot. It is a device to keep the Doctor out of the action for as long as possible so Meglos can infiltrate Tigella. Had the conclusion involved some kind of similar time loop it would have been a clever way of introducing the concept for later use but as it stands it is just helps the story to run on the spot for ten minutes, nothing more. Plus the way to escape the loop is to go through the motions deliberately? How does that make any logical sense? The loop thinks ‘oh look they’ve already done it…I may as well not bother!’ and breaks the cycle? Then to compound the situation there is a number of scenes where Romana literally walks the Gaztaks around in circles…it seems that there is very little plot between the inauguration of the story and its conclusion and so it has to be filled up with lots of tedious reciprocating action. It wouldn’t be so bad if the conclusion was worth getting to but…well it isn’t. The cliffhanger reprises are really long as well and the episodes are really short...perhaps this should have been three parts?
· We’ve seen some great jungle sets in Doctor Who (I would say the terrifying claustrophobia of Mira in The Daleks’ Masterplan and the humid atmosphere of Chloris in Creature from the Pit were amongst the best) and some appalling ones too (the plastic leaves of Planet of the Daleks, the sparse drabness of The Face of Evil…and the undisguised studio of Kinda still to come) but Tigella strikes me as the worst of the lot. It is built upon the worst excesses of all three of these examples – the lighting is so bad it feels as overlit as the TARDIS studio set, the ‘lush aggressive vegetation’ looks distinctly rubbery and the attention to detail doesn’t extend to anything more than some fronds and shiny artificial leaves. The giant roses (sorry bell plants) look especially cumbersome (we haven’t seen anything this bad since the Fungoids and that includes the man eating monstrosity in the TARDIS in The Invasion of Time!) and watching poor Lalla Ward struggle gamely against it must be the nadir of her career on the show.
· Talking of production values…how bad is that shoot out at the end of episode three? It makes the action scenes in the Pennant Roberts helmed classics later in the era look like Reservoir Dogs! The Gaztaks break through the (clearly) sugar glass door with a lightweight battering ram before an exchange of coloured rays ensues. I can suspend my belief in Doctor Who to an extent but there is a limit. In the same vein the giant hunk of rock that threatens to squish the Doctor like an insect is clearly polystyrene because it is being held up by a thin rope that burns through in about ten seconds! Strangely when the Gaztaks and Meglos head back to Zolfa Thura it looks like somebody has forgotten to add the photographic backdrop so they stand against a fuzzy yellow curtain. The green sludge slurping across the floor when Meglos departs his host body has to be seen to be believed.
· Lexa is killed because…? It's one of the cheapest tricks in a story full of them and makes no sense. Are they suggesting she can only be redeemed by giving up her life to save another? Does that make up for trying to kill the Doctor? Not only that but the filming of the scene seems like a dreadful afterthought just before the studio lights extinguished and lacks any poignancy. What a despicable way for Jacqueline Hill to end her Doctor Who career.

The Shallow Bit: Goodness knows why the costume designer chose to squeeze Lalla Ward into that outfit that makes her both no-nonsense and frumpy! It looks as though she has net curtains for sleeves!

Result: It makes me laugh to this day that John Nathan-Turner and Christopher H Bidmead criticised the Graeme Williams/Douglas Adams collaboration and wanted to take the show away from ‘that’ll do’ and ‘too much silliness’ and then they produce Meglos as their second story which is the epitome of those two criticisms. What’s even funnier is that it is the camp excesses of this story that so strongly mimic the best of the Williams era are that are the most enjoyable elements of this story – Tom Baker’s arch performance as Meglos and the chucklesome Gaztaks who feel as though they have wandered into the wrong show and just bully everybody for a laugh! When we are focussing on the Tigellan politics the show abandons all ambition and realism and it's one dreary artificial scene after another (despite Jacqueline Hill’s best efforts). When it comes to the universe of planets in Doctor Who Tigella is up there with Dulkis and Karfel in terms of the effort that has gone into establishing it visually and creatively. It’s a story that is bogged down with sci-fi clichés - a planet on the verge of extinction, doppelgangers (which even the Doctor calls ‘old fashioned’), a megalomaniac wanting to take over the universe, sentient plants - and fails to do anything original with any of them. Add to that a general failing in production values which really highlights the unnatural nature of the production, a waste of Lalla Ward’s talents and a final episode that lacks any interest or ingenuity and you have a disappointing sophomore effort for this supposedly fresh new season. If it wasn’t for the music and Tom Baker’s efforts I would write this one off completely: 4/10

Saturday, 26 October 2013

The Fella - Series Three

Simon and I have been meaning to sit down and complete a new series marathon for a while now and since he has plenty of holiday over Christmas this seemed like an appropriate time. Simon really enjoys the New Series but is a little fickle when it comes to the Doctor, seeming to prefer whoever is the current incumbent in the role. These aren't going to be in depth reviews because he can't bear that sort of thing but at the end of the episode I am going to ask him a handful of questions about the episode and see what he thinks. Expect crudeness and irreverent comments.

Series One archived:
Series Two archived:

The Players... 

The Runaway Bride

It’s our first episode without Billie Piper and our first episode with Catherine Tate! How do you think she fared?

I think on the whole she did very well but given how popular Rose was in the day it probably wasn’t the easiest companion to follow. What I didn’t understand was why she was so Tegan at the beginning. Why was she playing it so aggressively? I don’t remember her being like that at all when she comes back. By the end, after she was rescued from the Racnoss, she had mellowed but at the start she was hard to warm to. You can be shocked because its not every day you find yourself in an alien spaceship on your wedding day but would you be quite this aggressive about it? I don’t know…

Say you weren’t a fan of Catherine Tate’s comedy and thought that she was going to come into the show and be shrill and ridiculous…

…this would confirm all my worst fears, yes. And the trouble was that with certain lines she came out with I could see some of her sketch show characters – Derek, Lauren and Nan. I found myself looking for her characters rather than seeing Donna as a person in her own right. When she does return she comes back and is handled so much better than she is here.

I seem to recall Russell T Davies saying that she couldn’t come back as she was.

There was no way. She would have been completely one-note. I can’t imagine she would have been as popular as she was if she had come back quite this grumpy.

Davies said that this was deliberately done tension because this was a Christmas special and its supposed to be a bit over the top and ridiculous. Donna was never supposed to be a long time companion.

I mean it was funny in places.

Yeah I saw you giggling to yourself!

Santa’s a robot!’ ‘Where? Gone out for a space walk?’ That was bloody funny!

She is likable though, don’t you think?

But I like Catherine Tate so I was automatically going to like what she did in Doctor Who because I’m used to seeing her in over the top roles and enjoy it. If you hate her kind of comedy you are in serious trouble with this episode. It almost feels like in this story she is Catherine Tate but in the series she comes back for she is Donna.

What do you mean? She’s like a caricature here but a character when she comes back?

You took the words right out of my mouth!

Do you think she works well with David Tennant?

Very well because she wasn’t mooning over him! The emphasis is on how she doesn’t fancy him which makes a lovely change. She says something about how thin he is…and I think she uses that line later too. I really liked how she reminded him of the emotional aspect of everything that he does. I don’t think Rose did because she was rather busy thinking about how everything was affecting her. Donna reminds the Doctor that there is a cost to their adventures beyond the pair of them. I really like that and I like that about her return too. They follow that up a couple of times.

Its quite nicely done for the Doctor too because it reminds you that he is an alien and doesn’t see things the way that we do. He might not blink at destroying the Racnoss but to Donna it is a terrible act. Do you think that was quite a dark ending for the Doctor? He basically committed genocide on Christmas day!

I guess so but its not like he didn’t give her ample warning and say the consequences would be on her head.

Would he have been able to have gotten away with something like that when the Times Lords were still around?

They wouldn’t have been able to stop him! Or they would have slapped his wrist gently like in The War Games.

They effectively murdered him in that story!

Yeah but he had a great old time as Jon Pertwee with Jo Grant and the Brigadier! It was like an extended holiday! Mind you didn’t she say that the Time Lords destroyed the Racnoss? Maybe they would have done it for him!

The Time Lords do have a very thorny history when it comes to these wars…

Which is why I say they should be brought back! There’s good stories there for the taking…

There is a pretty good audio series set on Gallifrey. Which is more like a political drama on a multiversal scale – a bit West Wing-y. You could see Lalla Ward and Louise Jameson walking the corridors of Gallifrey discussing policy! Mind you I think any series set on Gallifrey would be more for adults than kids.

It wouldn’t have to be. There could be wars and battles on a massive scale – what did you say again?


What does that mean?

Across all the different alternative universes…

Ooh yeah! See! That would be good! If they brought the Time Lords back it would give the show real substance. He wouldn’t just be wandering alone then but actually go out on missions and stuff.

You want the Doctor to be an establishment figure?

Its like the Key to Time (this is in Simon’s mind because I have been working my way through season 16 over the last couple of weeks whilst on my cross trainer), he could have an actual purpose rather than just floating about finding trouble. In the last season there was a purpose because it was about his death so there was substance to it beyond just telling stories. He had to try and find how, when and why he died and do something to stop it. It felt as though the season was leading somewhere.

And it looks like the next season is going to have the running theme of Doctor Who, Question Mark. Changing the subject completely then do you not want to see more mooning over the Doctor next season?

No. But I know there is.

You don’t know it yet. We haven’t watch it yet.

Al-right. I’ll wait to be pleasantly surprised.

You sound like Marvin the Paranoid Android!

I begin to understand how he feels!

At least its unrequited mooning this time.

I’m sorry but that’s worse! I know why the writers do it because they want people to get involved with the will they/wont they element of the show but the Doctor is never going to settle down with anybody so why bother?

Do you think that’s why Donna was generally quite popular?

She didn’t have time to be giving doe eyes to the Doctor! She was too busy having fun! Why didn’t they just go for a man in season three? Then they could have had done with all the mooning altogether.

This is Russell T Davies you’re talking about, right? The man who wrote Captain Jack giving the Doctor a smacker on the lips?

Good point. We might have entered Queer as Folk, the Doctor Who Years.

What a terrifying thought! I thought they might announce a bloke this time round and was initially a bit nonplussed about Jenna Louise Coleman. Then I remembered that she wasn’t Amy Pond and was happy again. Its like the Billie Piper thing, I should learn not to judge until I have seen anything.

You should. I thought she looked quite spunky. Then again I like Amy too.

But I get what you’re saying. It would be nice to have something different from a young girl again. Not that I have any objection to young girls travelling with the Doctor but it seems to me that when they do something different like older women – Sarah Jane, Donna, Barbara, Romana – they are the most popular!

Like Evelyn.

Now you’re referencing the audios. I have totally converted you.

I like Evelyn. You made me listen to her in the car! Don’t blame me for having a memory! It had the singing in it…what was it called?

Dr Who and the Pirates.

Yeah it was funny and Evelyn had a way of putting Colin Baker’s Doctor in his place. A rare ability!

We’re totally off topic again!


Did you think much of the story?

It didn’t really feel like a Christmas special to me. I’m not sure why. It was like a bog standard invasion story with one Christmas tree thrown in.  

They film it in the summer ready to be transmitted in the winter.

But the Charles Dickens one looked Christmassier than this. Get the snow machine out. And I don’t understand what the spider was doing for four billion years.

She was in hibernation! They said! She was out amongst the stars! We didn’t realise because we thought it was just another glowing star.

For four billion years she’s been hanging around in orbit of the Earth?

She just looked like a star! We didn’t know any better. Admittedly she was covered in cobwebs but we have to allow them dramatic licence.

That does not look like a star! I realise that’s how we depict stars in drawings but a star does not look like that! Tell me you don’t think a star looks like that up close?

Ummm… Why do we draw them like that then?

A star is a great big ball of fire!

Is it?

You cannot be this lame? You’re a science fiction fan and you don’t even know basic astronomy? You better omit this bit otherwise you are going to end up looking like a right tit! Our sun is a star. Think of it that way.

How interesting.

Hash tag, slaphead.

Don’t hash tag me! Why do we draw the sun as a round ball with lines coming off it but stars as criss cross points of light in the sky if they are the same?

Because there is no limit to human stupidity.

Don’t look at me when you say that.

Anybody looking at our sun would just see a star.

Well maybe that’s all they saw when they were looking at the Racnoss. A little speck of light in the distance. So there. How did this compare to the last Christmas special?

I’d say it was about on par with that one. The Christmas Invasion had Mickey and Jackie and Harriet Jones – it was basically all the best characters from the first series coming together. It felt more like a Christmas special in that respect.

Not that keen on Donna’s family yet then?

What her mum? She’s alright. Jackie was easier to warm to. Donna’s mum is always in a grump.

No-one’s better than Wilf, though!

Wilf wasn’t in this one.

Oh yeah. I do feel sorry for Jacqueline King who plays Sylvia because she is apparently such a lovely woman in real life and yet she is forced to play this horrid woman.

Who’s Sylvia?

Donna’s mum. You didn’t even know her name!

That’s how much of an impact she had on me! I thought you were talking about the cat (one of our cats is called Sylvie).

Do you think that this felt a bit like a pantomime?

In places, yes. The spider was way over the top with all this ‘say I do!’ and ‘snickersnacker!’ It was a pretty impressive costume though. This was a good story but it didn’t blow me away. Its probably worth watching once but if I hadn’t seen it for a second time I wouldn’t have lost any sleep. The next Christmas special I really like and could watch over and over.

Voyage of the Damned? Really?

Yeah, that’s a classy little story.

What about the one after that?

What’s that?

The Next Doctor.

No. Rubbish.

What about the one after that?

Dot Dot Dot…

The End of Time.


The regeneration story with the Master.

What one?

When David Tennant regenerated!

I can’t picture it at all.

When the Time Lords came back!

Ooh! That one! That was okay. I don’t think they do their best work in the Christmas specials.

And A Christmas Carol with Micheal Gambon?

That was okay too.

And the last one?

There wasn’t one after that.

There was!

There was?

The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe!

Oh yeah there was. No! That was daft, that one! The start of that was good and the end of that was good but the middle bit was rubbish. You fell asleep during that one. During Doctor Who! I rest my case.

Does a bad Christmas special get you less excited about the new series?

Not really because most of the time it is a one off companion and somebody new is joining at the beginning of the next series so there is usually something to look forward to. I give this three out of five. It was passable and quite funny because Catherine Tate was in it. She was a bit shrill to start with but she mellowed. It was watchable, fluffy entertainment but nothing more. If Catherine Tate wasn’t in this it would probably get a more forgettable two and a half out of five but my interest in her lifts it.

*** out of *****

Smith and Jones

If you take out the Rose references, do you think this effectively works as a second pilot for the series?

I personally think that this was better than the first episode of the series. I think David Tennant is a better Doctor but it also felt a lot fresher and more confident. Tennant has come on so much since the last series and Freema Agyeman was really good. In fact it is definitely a better season opener than series one but then they are naturally going to be more confident two years in.

Is Martha likable?

Yeah I think she’s very likable. She’s very gutsy and has a can do and get up and go attitude that I really like. None of this wailing after the Doctor, just ‘lets get it done’ which I approve wholeheartedly of. Rose was so much a reactionary companion, especially emotionally, but with Martha you get the impression already that she will always think before she leaps. And she’s not common! All the better! Its not really fair on the strength of one episode to say whether she is better than Rose but she’s certainly already better than Rose from last year.

There are people out there that really hate Martha, you know.

I don’t understand why though. The actress is competent enough and the character is lively. I don’t like that already they have introduced her mooning over the Doctor because its starting to feel that there has to be some kind of love interest for the Doctor in order to make the show work…which we know isn’t the case from past experiences.

There is a difference between a likable character and a good actress, though.

On the strength of this episode I thought she was impressive. Maybe that’s because its all about her. I don’t think that’s a very fair question this early in. Ask me that at the end. What she did have was good chemistry with David Tennant and the character felt as if she was much more on his level than Rose. That she can think for herself. Its good to see the Doctor being impressed by Martha because then the audience is too. The Doctor doesn’t hand out that kind of praise to just anyone. Also she told the Doctor that he would have to prove himself to her. I liked that.

At the top and tail end of this episode we are introduced to Martha’s family. Can you remember what their names are?


Haha! I though you’d remember him! Anyone else?


Do you know what the mums name is?

No they called her ‘mum.’ You didn’t hear her name in this one.

Even I don’t know what the dad’s called!

That phone call was a clever way of showing all of Martha’s family off. You know that she has a sister and a brother and can see the brothers family in the background. Plus a dad and mum who are at war because of this blond bombshell. That’s quite a modern, dysfunctional family and for some its quite easy to relate to.

Tell me about it.

I don’t like people screaming at each other in the street like they did at the end. There’s such a thing as etiquette, you know. We were approaching Eastenders territory there but it was only for a second and they quickly moved on so that’s okay. If the dad was any kind of man he wouldn’t have invited his girlfriend along…and she did look very orange.

Do you think its good for the companion to have this kind of background?

With the old series there never seemed to be any consequences about getting up and going with the Doctor. It was a bit ridiculous especially considering some of them didn’t even go back to the lives they knew. We never found out what people thought about their disappearances. Plus it does flesh out the character a bit too. We know now where Martha has come from and why she might want to get away. I think its useful to have a family presence.

In the old series they tend to have a family in the first story. For a while there was a period where a family member of a new companion would be murdered in their first story – in one season that happened three times. It was like the Doctor showing up was the kiss of death for the companions family.

But did they deal with the emotional consequences of that or were they all happy and smiley again and ready for the next adventure?

Adric, Nyssa and Tegan all lost family members (umm…a brother, father and aunt) but yeah they had a second where they stared into the camera, upset, and then its barely mentioned again.

How shit is that? Talk about missing out on dramatic opportunities.

There was a Mr Saxon reference in this –

Yeah! I spotted that. I just can’t remember where I spotted that. She was standing right next to a poster at the end near the TARDIS.

This must be right near the election then.

If I remember rightly then from the point she leaves to the point she comes back its been something like four days.

Its quite clever that we are seeing the consequences of something that they are yet to participate in, huh?

Well her entire year is set over four days in real time so squeezing all those adventures into that time, including when they meet the Master, is quite a novelty. It’s a real contrast to Rose who was gone for a year because nobody really notices that Martha has gone because it has only been a day or so. Nice for Russell T Davies to look at the time travelling game from both angles.

One thing that didn’t make sense to me was that if this is a few days away from the election then how did he give orders in The Runaway Bride to fire on the spaceship? If he’s not Prime Minister surely he can’t give those kind of orders?

Trust you to think up such a small detail like that! How do you know that The Runaway Bride isn’t set after this?


The Runaway Bride might have been set at the same time as The Sound of Drums.

But it was Christmas. Its not Christmas at the end of this series when the Master is Prime Minister.

Don’t think about it.

Tell Russell T to think about it more!

There is something I’m going to say and as soon as I do you’ll fly off into a rage.

I promise I wont.

This is the sixth story in a row set in London.

Is it?

Love and Monsters, Fear Her, Army of Ghosts, Doomsday, The Runaway Bride and now Smith & Jones.

I didn’t really notice I have to be honest. Fear Her was just set in one street with little reference to it being in London aside from the cuts to the Olympics. I don’t think you notice so much because there are three companions in that little run so there is enough to distract you from the familiarity of the location. They make up for it in the next one because they head back into the past.

That’s London as well!

I suppose it is, yeah.

But a very different kind of London. And then after that they are off to New New York. And then Old New York. And then back to London again.

It does seem a little absurd that the Doctor has a time travelling police box that can go to any alien world and they keep ending up in the same spot. I don’t think the Doctor spent this much time on Earth when he was exiled there!

Actually that’s a good point! What did you think of alien space rhinos?

‘Judoon platoon upon the moon!’ Did he make up that name just so he could use that rhyme? I thought they were very alien…sort of. Considering they looked like giant rhinos. I really like it when shows make a real effort with their costumes rather than just putting one piece of make up on their faces like Star Trek. It must be really hard to make a face like that operate in a way that it appears to be talking and animated and the poor actor must be bloody hot inside. They weren’t just aliens for the sake of it either, they had a reason to be there and they were a bit different too being space policemen. It does seem odd that they developed from Earth based creatures.

Well you can say that about a lot of aliens in a lot of shows though.

That’s true.

Looking at it objectively there is no other show that would feature a hospital on the moon with space rhino police chasing a blood sucking old woman, would there?

But that’s part of the joy of Doctor Who, don’t you think? That it can do all this crazy shit and get away with it?

Definitely. Did you like it when they have guest stars like Anne Reid in the roles of the villains?

Without a doubt. My interest perked up again when she appeared because I really like Anne Reid and the other work she had done and she was clearly having a blast playing this role. You would never suspect an old lady to be the villain of the piece so I was laughing when she pulled out her little straw! She reminds me of one of the old style Doctor Who villains from the classic series. She was over the top but not too over the top that you could take her seriously.

It is what they used to do in the sold series- give all the best roles to the top actors at the time. Even this series they are dotted about.

I can’t think now…Mark Gatiss? Was he this year?

Yep. Well remembered.

Umm…Deirdre Barlow! She was in that one too!

You mean Thelma Barlow?

Her too.

There’s the guy from Father Ted in Gridlock. The guy from Shameless in The Shakespeare Code. Derek Jacobi and John Simm as the Master.

It’s a good show for that though, isn’t it? You don’t have to commit to a long term part and you can just come in, play a quirky role and have fun for a couple of weeks.

Does the calibre of the actors surprise you?

I don’t think they had many famous stars in the first series, did they? It seems to have become popular to appear in Doctor Who the more popular it has become.

Come series four there is a well known guest star in every episode. Come The Unicorn and the Wasp they have shoved in as many guest stars as possible!

Oh I love The Unicorn and the Wasp. Can’t we watch that one next?

Of course you can’t! Although I can’t wait until we get to series four. I love that year too.

Going back to this episode though I thought it was a really good season opener. It feels fresh which is really important at the beginning of a new year and David Tennant came back with real enthusiasm. It set a good tone for the series as a whole. It wasn’t too deep and meaningful which was nice, it just wanted to give you a rollicking good time whilst introducing Martha and it did that really well. I can’t remember if I spotted this Mr Saxon stuff the first time round. I don’t think that I did. Maybe you told me.

I didn’t know myself the first time round. I didn’t even know the Master was coming back in Utopia! I nearly pissed my pants with excitement!

Anyway that’s all coming up later. I’ll give this story an energetic four stars out of five because it made me feel happy watching it.

**** out of *****

The Shakespeare Code

Let’s get this out of the ay first…you’re not the biggest fan of Shakespeare, are you? You philistine.

That is right.

Why is this?

I hardly understand what he is saying in his plays and I don’t like poetry at all.

Do you remember when we watched the Le DeCaprio Romeo & Juliet?

Oh yeah. I didn’t understand what was going on!

You made me turn it off halfway through!

Well I could kind of understand what was happening because of the visuals but its annoying to watch something when you are constantly on the edge of understand what its all about. It feels like everybody else has been let in on this big secret and I’m plodding about trying to grasp at it. That’s how Shakespeare makes me feel. So yeah, not a fan. I’ll help you to push this one along a bit because visually this episode was absolutely stunning. The sets were amazing, the CGI London looked like it had come from a film, the effects were amazing…but it did bore me a little bit because of the subject matter. Perhaps bored is too strong a word. I wasn’t bored, I was disinterested. Perhaps all this conjuring powers with words was a bit silly.

But you loved Harry Potter and that is based on exactly the same premise. Magic with words.

No its not, its different.

It is exactly like Harry Potter. They even reference Harry Potter in the script just in case you didn’t get the parallel.

I liked the witches and I liked everything up until the number bits…

The number bits? I thought you were complaining about the words?

The numbers at the end of his play. How did the numbers at the end of his play conjure up the Carrionites? It just felt a bit silly, a bit too magic for Doctor Who which always seems more grounded in logic.

Maybe in the old series but I think a wave of the hand to explain a plot has become much more common in the New Series.

Did you say this was written by the same guy who wrote The Unicorn and the Wasp? I much preferred that story because I love the time period and the genre. And I understood all the difference title dropping.

That’s because you’ve seen a ton of Agatha Christie’s and you’ve never bothered with Shakespeare.

Maybe it would be more fair to say this is tailored for somebody like you, then.

Yeah I got all the references. Mind you they weren’t exactly obscure ones.

Ooh, get you. He said ‘ooh I’ll nick that one’ after every one so I did get that they were quotes from the plays. But I didn’t understand them in context like you did so my reaction was more ‘meh’ than ‘yeah!’

You think an aficionado of Shakespeare would get more from this then? Because I really liked this one and assertion of the power of words. I realise it is numbers that make up the universe but words are what give it meaning.

Oh very profound.

I wish words were what made up the universe but science disagrees with me. Give me a crossword over Sudoku any day.

I like words. I just don’t necessarily think we need a story built around them.

That’s the silliest thing you’ve ever said. We’d all be watching mime if that was the case.

Oh you know what I mean. I thought the theatre set was incredible.

That wasn’t a set. That was the actual Globe Theatre in London. You can visit and see plays.

Really? Maybe we’ll have to pay a visit one day.

Its good that they went there so we had the full Shakespeare Experience, if you know what I mean.

I thought Martha was very good in this one again. She contributes a lot of the ideas where Rose wouldn’t have done and the Doctor continues to be impressed by her. I don’t think Rose would have known that a sonnet has 14 lines. Even I knew that. And when Martha stepped forward and wagged her finger and shouted ‘Carrionite!’ it was one of the brilliantly funny moments where you want the world to swallow you up because its so embarrassing. And all the stuff about stepping on butterflies was fun because nobody ever asks those sorts of questions. They just step out of the TARDIS unfazed and off they go.

There was another guest star in this episode.

I think there was two!


Two guest stars. Obviously I recognised Kev from Shameless but I think one of the Carrionites was somebody I recognised too.

I think you mean Jane Duvitski.

From Waiting for God and One Foot in the Grave. Yeah.

Its not her.

Are you sure?

No, its not her. I thought that before and I looked it up.

She looked very similar.

Oh come on, Jane Duvitski isn’t that ugly!

It’s the eyes. There was a point where Martha said that she knows that the world didn’t end in this time period but I didn’t understand his explanation.

He was basically saying that time is malleable. At its simplest if you go back in time and change something then the future will change.

But it doesn’t change.

But it would. I guess every time they go back in time they are making it how it is supposed to be. How it is now. With Love Labours Wonne vanished into the ether.

But the world didn’t end in 1599 or whenever this was set. What’s happening now has happened.

I suggest you don’t watch The Aztecs, then.

But I don’t get it. There’s no way that Russell T Davies is ever going to not set stories on modern day Earth. Its his favourite thing. So to suggest that the past could be where it all ends, it just seems a bit pointless. When they go back into the past it would be much better if they just concentrated on a few characters and made us care about their fate rather than threatening to bring the apocalypse down.

Its like Back to the Future when the photograph changes. It can change. That’s why they have to stop it. You like everything to be logical, don’t you. It all has to slot into place.

Yeah, I’m a numbers man. Screw words.

You could be best friends with Christopher H. Bidmead.


Never mind. This is science fiction, though. Its not reality.

Its more fantasy, this one.

If you liked the witches and the guest stars and the effects and the scenery then there is quite a bit you liked about this one.

I think it was just theme and the silly bit with the numbers. I liked how explosive that ending was with all the witches circling about. Everything else was pretty good. I’m going to give it another four because I’m not going to drop points on the fact that the subject matter wasn’t for me. Because as a piece of television it was practically flawless. Its my fault if I don’t understand or like Shakespeare. Not the episodes fault.

I suppose its like somebody else watching The Unicorn and the Wasp who doesn’t like Agatha Christie. They aren’t going to get a lot out of that.

Yeah, the fools. I liked the bit at the end when Elizabeth the First showed up. Couldn’t we have a story that explained why she wanted him dead? I do like the ones set in the past. Everybody seems to up their game.

Are there any other historicals this year? I can’t think…

There’s Gridlock…

…and then we’re back to the 1930s. Not really a historical but it is back in time.

Then its…


Then its…

42. Then its Human Nature, isn’t it? Pre-First World War. Love that one. What do you call that decade? What do we call this decade?

The Tens?

That sounds stupid. We had the Noughties (even though I don’t like the sound of that) and then the Twenties and the Thirties and so on…

The Teenage Years?

What about 2011 and 2012 then?

Does it really matter?

I’ll have to look it up.

**** out of *****


As we were watching this episode you seemed to be having terrible problems with the plot. Or at least the setting. Can you elaborate?

 When they first arrived it was raining and they were clearly outside.

I think that was artifical rain.

No don’t think. Don’t assume. But if they are outside then why would anybody get in a cat and join that big massive motorway? Why didn’t they just sail off into the sky and go that way?

And it really bothered you that much?

It really, really annoyed me.

But then you were okay with it by the end because they explained that the motorway was on a higher level. So it must be artificial rain and an artificial environment.

But that still doesn’t make any sense. Why create an artificial environment that looks like outside down there when there is in fact a real outside up the top? Why didn’t anybody think ‘hang on a minute, I’m going round and round in circles for years, I’m getting off because this is ridiculous!’ Some of them had been doing for 23 years! You would think that by the time they got to a lay by they would have given up and thought ‘d’you know what I’m getting out. I honest don’t care where I end up as long as it isn’t spending another two decades in a tin can!’

So you think there was something inherently flawed in this episodes logic.

It made them all look stupid. Its like you and I heading off to Scotland for a weeks holiday but spending a couple of years on the motorway trying to get there. Its bloody ridiculous. Nobody would behave like that. We heard there were jobs going in Scotland so we thought we’d take a chance. What, you heard there were jobs 24 years ago? Bloody morons. I get the idea behind this one but the premise is really flawed and it tied me up in knots rather than just sitting back and enjoying it. And then to have those giant crab things! That was just something else!

We’ll get to that later. Does Doctor Who have the budget to pull off this kind of effects heavy show?

Again I thought it looked amazing, just like the Shakespeare episode. There’s no part of this that doesn’t look authentic and you can well believe by what is up on the screen that this is a real culture. It was just the writing that got me. Even the crabs looked fine in CGI although the idea of giant crabs sitting down there is just…

I said we’ll get to that later.

I assume that the budget went up as the success of the show grew. They could pull off a proper alien world now. They just shy away from it for some reason. This was not an alien world. All we saw was a cat!

Nonsense! You had men who were red and white! A woman who was black and furry! And Boe!

She was also a cat.

She wasn’t a cat! She was all black and furry! Maybe she was a cat…weird looking one though.

So two cats and albino and a big head. I want an alien world with alien people!

You will next year. We’re going to Planet of the Ood.

With more humans on it.

And Ood. Oh there’s no pleasing you, you miserable old git. What do you want – a Star Wars style Cantina?

Yeah! Bloody right I do!

You’ll get one of them by the end of the era too!


Just before the Doctor regenerated. Jack was in a bar and it was full of aliens.

That’s not a very nice thing to say about Russell Tovey’s ears.

So in your face. Why did the Doctor lie to Martha about Gallifrey.

He didn’t want to let her in, I guess. And he didn’t want to have to go through the pain of talking about the loss of his planet all over again. Apart from Adric did he ever lose any companions like Rose?

A couple of one hit wonders in the sixties but nobody else. Everybody else choose to leave.

So I don’t suspect its something that he’s used to. He doesn’t want to let anybody else get that close again. It was quite nicely done when he did tell her the truth though because we got the emotion of the moment without having to listen to the whole story all over again.

Its not like they can’t mention Gallifrey this series given that the Master is back at the end of the year.

And the Daleks appear in the next one.

You really like Martha, don’t you. I can just tell.

She’s strong minded and quite sassy. She’s able to head off and do her own thing and she’s a thinker. Yeah, I do like her. It was great when she ripped the patch off that woman’s neck. Plus she isn’t common.

Oh dear.

At the moment she’s not swooning too much around the Doctor.

She wasn’t really around him much though.

I don’t mind this ‘one more trip’ stuff because again I don’t think he wants to be attached to somebody. He doesn’t want to replace Rose and what she meant to him. He doesn’t want to go through the whole process of getting to know somebody again because he knows they will leave him eventually.

Even though he is reluctantly starting to really like her.

Well you can’t not, really.

Did you know about the Macra.

No, I did not.

Does their inclusion bother you since this is a moment for the classic series fans?

It was stupid.


The explanation was that they feed on gas or something. Giant crabs? Feeding on gas? They had no purpose to be there.

They needed a danger down there so why couldn’t the danger be a classic series monster? And actually that’s another alien. See – there are a lot of aliens in this one!

You cannot classify a giant crab as an alien!

That is an alien! It’s a Macra!

No it’s a crab. It doesn’t count.

You just don’t like to be proven wrong.

Hmm. For a more gentle viewer like myself it was more than a little ridiculous having giant crabs down there eating cars. I don’t think it made a lot of sense, really. It was just a bit too out there for out there’s sake. There were quite a few holes in the plot, I think.

There was a nice futuristic landscape at the end for you. They are trying to create some nice science fiction vistas.

But it was just a city. It looked gorgeous but I want to visit somewhere truly alien. They aren’t trying hard enough.

Would you rather they just visited some quarry and said it was an alien planet? Or go to the Stargate forest? How many forests did they visit in Stargate and you never complained once. They even did quarries in Star Trek.

They have the money and the budget to do alien worlds now. They just have to get on with it.

Well we’re visiting an alien planet by the end of the series when we visit the planet Utopia. Even though its just a quarry with a few CGI effects thrown in. So you better be happy. Then you are going to the Planet of the Ood. And the world where he creates his daughter! And Midnight! So ner!

Its supposed to be a science fiction show but it always seems to centre around humanity.

And the library planet! Four planets next year! Ner ner ner!

But why are there humans at all of those places.

Because people don’t think the way you think and if you did something like The Web Planet or The Happiness Patrol now – characters dragged up and a Bertie Bassett monster – they would switch off an think its ridiculous. Maybe its got a little too safe because of it, I don’t know but the point stands that keeping that human element keeps people watching.

All I’m asking is that they go to an alien planet. Not New Earth or a space station. An actual alien world where there are no humans about.

Its not going to happen. Stop dreaming.

Its like arriving on the Klingon homeworld on Star Trek and its full of humans!

Oh fuck off! Those Klingon episodes are little more than Shakespearean dramas with Mars Bars on their heads. They don’t act in the slightest bit fucking alien. Its just Hamlet and Macbeth and Henry V with pretensions of being science fiction.

And breathe.

Sorry about that but you push me. I don’t understand your criticism because you’ve watched years and years of Star Trek where they’ve visited hundreds and hundreds of worlds where they are just humans in costumes. Here you’ve got cats and crabs and big heads and black, white and red people! At least they are trying! Next year you get the Adipose which was a bit different.

Set on Earth.

Never mind that we’re talking about aliens now. Then the Pyroviles. A bit different. The Ood. Very unusual. Then the Sontarans.

All those are on Earth except the Ood.

I’m not talking about whether they are on the Earth!

Oh I’m sorry.

Then you get the Hath.

With humans.

You are trying to rile me.


Then a giant wasp.

That episode I can forgive because it’s a very good episode but again it on the Earth and with humans.

The Vashta Nerada…skeletons.

With humans.

Then it’s the unnamed creature in Midnight.

Attacking a ship full of humans.

Then the bug monster in Turn Left.

On Earth.

Actually there’s an alien world at the beginning of that one too.

Then you’ve got the Daleks. It’s a whole menagerie of fascinating, interesting and very unusual monsters.

You are starting to sound like Sarah Jane and Rose when they had their monster bitch fight.

Well you try and get my back up.

Why, for example, with the Sontaran episodes (even though I like that one) couldn’t they have arrived on a planet right in the middle of the war and the Sontarans and the Rutans.

Well remembered.

It would turn people off.


I think you’re asking a lot. You’re asking a lot of Doctor that you don’t ask of any other science fiction show. How many science fiction shows have you ever seen where it is primarily science fiction in the way that you are asking? None at all. Not one. Because it wouldn’t work or retain an audience. Star Trek is full of humans and there is a massive human element to it. Stargate is all about humans and human mythology. Buffy is all about humans. The X-Files is all about humans. All with the odd alien/supernatural bit in it. I think you are being picky for the sake of being picky and asking for something that will never exist and has never existed as far as you have seen.

(Stony silence)

You say that you like blatant arcs and you can’t say that the You Are Not Alone mention at the end isn’t blatant.

It was good. Gives you something to look forward to.

So you absolutely despised this episode then?

I didn’t despise it. I’ll give it three out of five.

Are you kidding me? You are nuts. After all those complaints?

It was funny in places and the effects were good and some of the characters were fun. The story was flawed. It feels like Russell T decided what the ending was going to be and then tried to construct the rest to lead to it but it doesn’t quite work. And the rain bugged me because it made me think they were outside.

Its weird how you cling onto these obscure details.

I’m quirky like that.

*** out of *****

Daleks in Manhattan…is that a ridiculous title?

Not really, that’s what it was a about. Perhaps it’s a bit too self explanatory.

Yeah but couldn’t it have been a bit more exciting? It sounds more like a Dr Who Experience in America.

Like what then?

I just think we can pitch a little more mature than Aliens in London or Daleks in Manhattan or Dinosaurs on a Spaceship.

The Daleks’ Evolution? Nah that implies that they all change.

That’s the title of the second episode.

Is it?


But they don’t all change.

Don’t take it up with me! Empire of the Daleks?

Empire? There was only four! That’s too silly.

Pig Slaves of the Daleks?

Really? I thought the title was fine. It wouldn’t put me off because it know it has Daleks in it. I don’t really remember titles anyway. I think people that worry about things like that have too much time on their hands.


You certainly do!

If I hadn’t of told you that they hadn’t have taken the actors to New York would you have known watching that?

No. When you think about it though a lot of those locations could be doubled in England. A park. A brick wall. A sewer. Everything was superimposed in really well. I’ve been to New York several times and I thought they captured its flavour rather well. For a British show to block off an area of New York to film is probably a bit difficult.

That’s what they’ve done this season though. But then the show is bigger in America than ever before.

I really enjoyed the setting I have to say. I enjoyed the atmosphere more than I enjoyed the story. The way people dressed and talked, it really takes you back to the 30s.

What about the Hooverville stuff?

I honestly didn’t know anything about that until I watched this so I learnt something interesting. I knew about the Wall Street Crash but beyond that I wasn’t privy to any of the detail about the slums in the park.

Sydney Newman would be delighted!

Who’s he?

Never mind. The fact that you liked the setting is a good start because that is the thing you usually moan about the most.

I didn’t like the pig slaves, if you are fishing for a complaint. I didn’t see the point of them. What was the point of turning them into pigs?

Are you only saying that because you thought Lazlo was hot?

Umm, I would never be that shallow.

If they hadn’t turned Lazlo into a pig would you still have had a problem with it?

Probably not.


No I would! I would! It does seem a bit ridiculous! Why go to all that effort to turn them into pigs? Why not just hypnotise them or something?

Pigs are quite brutal, aren’t they? So they’ve got quite an effective little army backing them up.

What do you mean pigs are brutal? What sort of pigs do you hang around with?

They call them swines! They tear at each other!

(Simon pauses to laugh his head off)

They are brutal!

When was the last time you were attacked by a vicious pig?

Okay then would wolves have been more acceptable?

Surely it would be better to leave them as people. If they had just brainwashed them they could have moved about unnoticed.

Like they do in the second episode.

Yes! Although we haven’t seen that yet.

What did you think of the continuation of the story of the Cult of Skaro?

I enjoyed that. I like the fact that there is a running story for the Daleks now rather than just new ones turning up every time after the Doctor has wiped them out forever at the end of each story. When were the Cult last in the show?

Only in Doomsday. Only four got away.

That’s right and there’s just one left at the end of this story.

And where did he go?

He fleeeeew into the time vortex! We’re getting ahead of ourselves here!

Okay, sorry. I just can’t resist you saying that. Do you think there were too many elements in this?

What do you mean?

Well when I was watching I thought there was too much going on. You had the Hooverville stuff, the pig slaves, the experiment, the stuff with Tallulah –

Three Ls and an H

-         it was really busy and bit too all over the place.

I didn’t think that at all. There’s a whole other hour yet to finish the story off so there is space for more to happen in the first episode. Two parters allow for more set up.

I think this might have worked better as one episode.

The Hooverville lesson was only to set the scene, its really nicely done. You’re too harsh. Why do I get the feeling that this one wasn’t enjoyed so much by the fans?

Because you are amazingly perceptive?

No because you always go into those episodes on a downer…your questions about it accentuate the negative. I rather liked this episode.

Do you think had this been a single episode they would have taken all the Hooverville stuff out?

Well duh. They would have had to have taken 45 minutes out. Scene setting would have gone out the window. They would have been beamed into the sewer or something.


Umm…what’s the word?

Materialised. Beamed is Star Trek!

Whoops. They would have materialised right into the sewers and fallen straight into the hands of the pig slaves and the cliffhanger to this episode probably would have been in the first five minutes or the episode.

Oh if only!

That’s why I like it when they have multiple part stories and arcs because there is time for the story to breathe.

Unless its written by Steven Moffat. Then it has to sprint about all over the joint. I’ll be very interested to see how you find the end of the season then because that’s practically a three parter.

I remember. I look forward to it.

What about Tallulah?

Three Ls and an H. I liked Tallulah a lot. ‘Its either that or a spear’ – see if I can remember the dialogue that is a memorable character.

Or memorable dialogue. Do you think she would make a good companion?

Umm…yes and no. I’m not sure. She’s quite a novelty and it might wear off in other settings.

She kind of performed Martha’s role in this story, didn’t you think? Martha didn’t really do a lot.

She got captured a few times.

Ooh bestill my beating heart, a companion that gets captured. That’s new.

I think she does more in the second episode.

I think you could be right.

Sometimes it gets dull with the companions so its nice when somebody is as prominent as Tallulah. They do it quite a bit, don’t they. Bring in a big name guest star to shake things up a bit. When its all about the companions you end up with episodes like Father’s Day.

You really hated that one, didn’t you?

Could you tell? Mind you aren’t fond of it either.

I know and thanks to watching it with you I hate it even more now. Do you think the musical number was needed?

I enjoyed it. It added a bit of colour.

Would your father approve? (Simon’s dad is a professional choreographer)

Probably. I give this episode four out of five.

Excuse me? You don’t wrap this up until I’m finished!

Then ask your next question instead of going on about musical numbers.

I don’t appreciate your rudeness.

You haven’t got any more questions, have you?

I do! Did you like the cliffhanger?

(A few moments of Simon and I breaking into an all male choir mimicking Murray Gold’s music at the end of the episode)

A human Dalek is an interesting idea. Its an unusual spin but I think anybody watching will know that they wont change the Daleks. Like ever. They’re iconic. You cannot change something like that.

But they did change them into fat coloured ones in series five.

I liked them. I can’t wait until we get to that story so I can give those Daleks a little praise.

Why? They were shocking!

They were a bit more stylish. Anyway back to Daleks on Broadway…the big fat colourful Daleks were just a variation on a theme, this would have been a permanent change in making them humanoid. Its okay for one episode but I don’t think it was ever going to be permanent. I can’t imagine them turning up too often with those slimy tentacles on their faces.

So you knew at this point, his introduction, that this person was going to be dead by the end of the next episode.

Pretty much, No point watching it now, is there?

Go on then wrap it up.

Nice setting, good characters, interesting developments…not bad at all. I preferred this one to Gridlock. At least it had some kind of logic to it.

Logic be damned, you are one weird bloke.

**** out of *****

Evolution of the Daleks

Before we start I want to tell you a little story about the writer of this episode. I want to see what you think about it. This two parter was not very popular with the fans at all, its probably the most loathed two parter of the New Series. And the writer, thinking that she had done a good job, went online once the episode had been broadcast and after she read the comments that were left she was left in tears and in serious doubt that she had any ability to write whatsoever. She did write again for the series, she wrote the Sontaran two parter, but it took Russell T Davies to calm her down and convince her to never go looking at what the fans think again if she is going to write for the show again. Do you think we have the right to be that vicious about these things? Like these people who are sending death threats to Steven Moffat? Do we have a right to claim this series as our own and persecute those that contribute towards it?

I think people have a right to say if they don’t like something. You’ve paid money for a television licence which means you have worked hard in order to pay for a product. But that doesn’t mean that people have a right to be rude. Not personally rude and vicious about the writers or the actors or whatever. That’s when it tips over into abuse.

People do though. Steven Moffat has been hounded off of Twitter…

That’s because some people are freaks who don’t realise that this stuff isn’t for real. Its fine to invest in this stuff but not the point where you are insulting people and threatening their lives. There is something very wrong with that. What about that guy online who went on a massive rant about Doctor Who magazine finding everything ‘completely insulting!’ and calling people who enjoy the latest series ‘fucking nuts!’ – what a fruitloop he was! (Here’s the link if you have the stomach for it…) These hardcore fans think that this show is just their domain but it really isn’t, its something that is enjoyed by a lot of people now and as a result the tone and the style of the series has had to change.

I’m sure some fans of the classic series feel that the show has gone mainstream.

But it has. Its for everybody now. And I think that some people don’t like that. It was probably a lot more fun when it was a secret cult that you whispered about in corners of rooms rather than everybody discussing the latest episode by the water cooler.

But it always was pretty mainstream. At its height 16 million people tuned in.

Yeah but not when it went off air for so long. Then only the hardcore fans stuck with it. Now its sleek and sexy and has a lot of money thrown at it – it isn’t the same show that they knew. Fundamentally it is, but its never going to be that creaky old plutonic show again and the fans that get worked up about that should just go and watch their old DVDs instead. Its moved with the times. People don’t have the right to be rude and abusive. You can say why you don’t like something without personally attacking people. I think some (not all) of these hardcore Doctor Who fans lack the social graces to make that distinction.

People say things like ‘so and so should die’ or ‘Steven Moffat should be dragged through the streets in chains…’

These people need to get a grip. Its just a television programme. There are so many things out there that are worth getting passionately angry about. Poverty, racial abuse, domestic violence. Not Doctor Who. There are worse things in the world than a bad episode of television.

There is a sense of ownership about Doctor Who though, isn’t there. Actually no I think Star Trek fans are the same. Actually I think it might be science fiction in general. Okay let’s talk about the episode before we write 1000s of words off topic…did you think that this was quite an interesting use of the Daleks?

The irony of this conversation is that I thought much of this episode was pretty terrible. But I shall try and be constructive rather than rude. Lets say it wasn’t to my tastes. I did enjoy the first half a great deal and it promised a lot by introducing this human Dalek guy but I felt as if I had wandered into an episode of Star Trek.

What do you mean?

Remember when they first introduced the Borg. They were scary. And then in typical Star Trek fashion they decided to make them more human over time. Allow us to get to know them. Taking away everything that made them scary in the first place. I felt the same thing was happening here. ‘I’ve got all these human emotions and that music sounds lovely…’ – no! No! No! No! You are a Dalek! The idea is you’re supposed to exterminate everybody and be the masters of everything. That’s your thing.

I suppose your argument works until they went the other way and turned human beings into Daleks.


The army at the end in the theatre.

Oh yeah, the army of twelve! They weren’t Daleks!

They had Dalek guns! What were you watching? That’s what the whole plot was about…turning people into Daleks. That was the big twist.

There must have been too much going on then because I didn’t get that at all. I just thought they were zombies. I think the Daleks should just go around killing people. Its what they do best. I get that the writer was trying to do something a little deeper with them but I kind of like them shallow. That whole plot with the human Dalek that looked like Dr Zoidberg from Futurama was a bit naff – ‘Wobwobwobwob…’

I tell you it is awfully like an old Patrick Troughton story where they did the same thing. You had the Daleks pretending to want the human factor when in fact they wanted to plant the Dalek factor into humans.

Oh so it wasn’t even original?

Not really. Evil of the Daleks had humans going around pretending they had Daleks suckers with their arms.

At least if they had done that I would have figured out what the zombies were supposed to be!

So you don’t think they should do anything interesting with the Daleks?

Yeah, interesting. Just not this.

You didn’t like it the last time they tried to give the Daleks a psychological angle when they opened up its casing in Dalek and it wanted to touch the sunlight…

You’re just trying to get me angry now, aren’t you? To turn me into one of those psychotic Doctor Who fans! Yeah, that was pretty bad too. Again its trying to make the aliens human. What is wrong with being a badass alien?

But you did like it when Dalek Caan went off in this story and went nuts.

Yeah but let’s be honest all of the Daleks are nuts all the time. That one was just out of his casing and even more nuts. Just let the Daleks stay alien and let them kill people.

But that’s what they always do. Isn’t that a bit old?

Clearly not since they are still popular. And besides don’t be shy when you are going to do something like this. Its like they went to do something audacious with the Daleks but got scared and suddenly backtracked. This was a dead end development. Mind you they had to, didn’t they? You could have had an army of those willy heads turning up everything time the Daleks appeared. The army of Zoidbergs! ‘Wobwobwobwob!’

You don’t want the Daleks humanised, do you?

No, I like the new ones.

What the Fatleks?

Yeah, they are colour coded. An ideal marketing opportunity!

The action sequences were quite ambitious in this episode. They staged action in Central Park and on the Empire State Building.

Don’t get me started on those electrified poles!


The lift went down, they were looking at it, it went from 0 to 50 in about 30 seconds but then took forever for it to travel the last 50 whilst she got the poles together. The pacing was terrible. The bit in the park was quite well done. Except they only killed one person.

They certainly wouldn’t have been able to pull off flying Daleks in the classic series.

They might have done. They could have had the Daleks wobbling on strings. Given some of the stuff you have shown me it wouldn’t have stopped them. What was that one called with all the moths and ants?

The Web Planet.

If they can try and pull that off would try anything.

I remember you were doing the funny Menoptera hand movements for ages after we watched that.


(I demonstrate)

Hahaha! Oh yeah. Poncy moths.

I’ve totally lost track of what we were talking about.

Action sequences. I tell you what was a good action sequence. In that episode Dalek when he went around those corridors killing everybody and electrifying the water and causing a massacre. That was a good action sequence. That Dalek was doing what comes naturally to them. And in the one where they moved the Earth…there were loads of good action sequences in that one. The electrified poles don’t really compare.

How about Martha this week?

She’s okay but she’s going down that route of mooning after the Doctor all the time. I like the fact that she gets things done but every scene seems to want to mention that she’s in love with the Doctor. He’s quite abusive of her here. Donna would tell him that he’s behaving like a knob but Martha just takes it.

She does get there by the end of the season.

Yeah, I remember. She eventually tells him where to go. But it’s a bit odd to suggest that Martha is this independent new assistant and very capable in one breath but in the next she’s desperately seeking the Doctor’s approval and mooning over him. I want one without the other. I want Donna.

Is that the rudest mask ever?

It was alright. I don’t find it as rude as you do.

I’m sorry but they do look like twitching penises!


They do!

Well they are pretty ugly willies then.

Willies are ugly!

That’s true. I thought he so looked like Dr Zoidberg from Futurama.

Oh go on I know you want to do it again…

I kept expecting him to run around going ‘wobwobwobwob…’

Okay I want to see if you were paying attention, which you clearly weren’t. What was the Dalek plan?

They were adding Dalek bits to the Empire State Building so the lightning could put lots of energy into the bobbly things to do something with the Dalek DNA. Or something.

So you weren’t really paying attention then?

They were trying to put Dalek DNA into humans.

I told you that earlier!

Damn. I was hoping you’d forgotten. Normally I’m really good with plots but I think I lost interest with this one. Had they come down looking like Daleks I might have realised what was going on – like those ones in the latest Dalek episode with the bits coming out of their heads. That would have given me a big clue as to what was going on. Instead they looked liked people. Plus I thought there was supposed to be thousands of them. There were only twelve! Where was the rest? Plus what was the point of the pig people?

Dalek Caan vanished at the end. Where has he gone?

He fleeeeew into the time vortex! You only wrote that question so I would say that, right?

Its so cute.

You’d think if he was able to beam back into the Time War he would do more than save Davros. I would meet up with the other Daleks and say ‘hey guys, the Doctor is going to be along shortly…’

Do you think the Daleks should shoot first and say exterminate later?

Yeah! I remember screaming that out whilst we watched! Bloody get on with it!

Do you think they come across as a bit stupid when they don’t kill the Doctor when they have the opportunity?

That’s the sign of a good villain, though. Its classic. They always have the good guy in their clutches and never quite get around to finishing him off.

That’s why its quite funny when they actually do do it in The Stolen Earth its quite surprising because its practically an accident.

The Daleks are a bit like my old dog when he eventually caught the rabbit. When he finally got him he didn’t know what to do next!

When that Dalek does shoot the Doctor he spares us from a soppy moment as well. It’s a double coup.

Oh yeah! That endless road that he runs down! Don’t get me started on that. All I can say is DON’T PROMISE AND NOT DELIVER! If you are going to regenerate, get on with it! Don’t beam yourself into a hand! Oh look what you’ve done. I’ve become a screaming Doctor Who fan!

Is the Doctor a big fat failiure in this? Because he says he’s going to going to get the Dalek technology off the Empire State Building and he doesn’t. He says he’s going to help the Daleks out and most of them blow up. And he says he’s going t help the human Daleks and they all die.

You mean all twelve of them? What happened to the other thousand?

They all died as well. Remember when they all fell down dead…that’s’ what happened to all the others that were in the sewers all over New York.

I’m not buying it. So you are telling me there are thousands of bodies lying around in the sewers? Yeah the Doctor is a bit rubbish. But then to be fair he’s trying to navigate a rubbish plot. He’s got no choice. Even Martha points out ‘I can’t help but notice that the Dalekanium is still attached to the roof…’ Yeah thanks, Martha. What have you been doing?

She killed all the pig people!

Kudos on the killing Martha. But don’t use silly electric poles next time.

Is it getting a bit old that one Dalek always survives? Or is it like the Master when you know he will always be back at some point?

Well it is a big old universe and they have been in the past and the present and the future so it would be pretty hard to wipe them all out. No matter how many times they tells us they have been.

Wrap it up then…

The set up was good but they wimped out with the second half. Either make the Daleks something different or don’t. Don’t try it and say actually we’d rather not.

Dead End of  the Daleks?

Pretty much. Don’t make the Daleks human. This isn’t Star Trek. One of the best things about Doctor Who is that the monsters are just evil. They are indiscriminately evil and kill and that’s scary. Dr Zoidberg wasn’t scary. I didn’t like it. I’ll give it two and a half – not as low as a two because it did look good. Pretty much every episode of Doctor Who now has a certain level of competence but after the first part…this could have been a lot better. And the Doctor was too hysterical. No two stars.

** out of *****

The Lazarus Experiment

The Doctor dumps Martha back home. Is that fair?

Not really, I suppose but he did only promise her one trip. And another one. One to the past and one to the future. It didn’t occur to him to offer her an extended trip because he still has issues about Rose. It wasn’t unfair more than it was a bit thoughtless.

Its just circumstances really because had he met her before Rose that might be having a gay old time about now. Anyway, we’re back in contemporary London after a few trips away –

Old Russell T can’t help but head back here, can he?

And I spotted one of your favourite old timers in this…

I love Dolly!

And Mavis! She didn’t have a particularly big part in this though.

She was eaten.

Was she eaten?

Possibly absorbed?

Had the life sucked out of her?

It was pretty unpleasant anyway.

Do you think she made a good double act with Mark Gatiss?

He turns up in everything these days, doesn’t he?

Why do you keep answering questions with questions? Or rather ignoring my questions and thinking up ones of your own?

I don’t mind that he’s in everything – he’s very good. He was great in Sherlock.

I give up.

I think I’m avoiding your questions because I don’t really have an opinion about this episode…and I’ve only just seen it! It was neither here nor there. A lot of it was there to introduce more of Mr Saxon –

Did you like the way they handled that?

Yeah. Its been kind of drip fed until now – the tank in The Runaway Bride, the poster in the first episode with the Judoon and here we learn that he is funding research into scientific equipment.

This episode is basically a massive prelude to The Sound of Drums, isn’t it? You think this research is all about making people younger when in fact the Master wants it to be able to make the Doctor older.

Its quite clever when you see the season as a whole but as an episode in its own right it was just a bit…meh. The stuff with Martha’s mum was quite good but I find her a bit irrational. She’s a bit too unlikable in how she approaches the Doctor. It feels like that’s all there is to her character, that she is angry all the time. There’s no reason for her to be so suspicious of the Doctor because it has only been a couple of days. I mean bleedin’ Jackie lost Rose and she never behaved quite this badly. She started harping on about ‘leaving us for that man…’ but they were all bloody rowing at the time. I would have left them for the Doctor too if my family behaved liked that! Besides its not like Martha is a little kid any more and can’t make her own decisions. Sorry rant over.

This episode does ground Martha a bit more though. And gives her some more family background.

Tish is an odd one, don’t you think? She keeps getting all these random jobs to shoehorn her into stories.

Didn’t you think it was a bit odd when she found Lazarus repulsive when he was older and then fancied the arse off him when he was younger? I thought that was quite unbelievable.

Well I think the idea is that Lazarus is supposed to be boy band material when he comes out of the machine but they cast Mark Gatiss in the part so that part got a bit lost.

Maybe if it had been somebody like Tom Ellis who turns up in Last of the Time Lords?

Oh yeah, he’s a hottie. That would have made a lot more sense.

Don’t you think Mark Gatiss gave a good performance?

He was fine. Look, this was reasonably well written and had a great cast and the effects were nice…it ticked all the right boxes. But I don’t know of it was what they were discussing or the fact that most of it was just running around but there wasn’t really anything to get your teeth in to. It was just sort of there. I certainly wouldn’t choose to put this one on again.

Did you like the coda in the church at the end. You got two conclusions for your buck!

It was quite exciting but I don’t entirely understand what the Doctor did. If it was so bad that the monster fell to his death whey didn’t their eardrums explode? It was pretty average, though. A two and half out of five.

Mid season, mid scoring episode?

It was better than the second half of the Dalek one but not by much. It feels like this season is coasting a bit.

Just think it gets like that around the middle of the seasons?

What was the middle of last year?

The Idiots Lantern.

Oh dear. What’s the middle of next season?

The Unicorn and the Wasp.

Aha! See! They get it right in the Catherine Tate season! Love that one! With the new series it almost feels like there is a buzz at the beginning of the season with the latest companion or Doctor and then it ramps up at the end of the season as everything comes together but the middle section just sort of cruises along…

Well we’ll see. You’ve got some good stuff coming up yet.

**and a half out of *****


Do you think setting a story in real time is a dramatic storytelling device?

A ticking clock does create drama. There’s a deadline and in this instance they were all going to die if they didn’t make it to the deadline. You couldn’t do it like this every week…that’s why 24 got a bit boring after a few years because they had pulled off all the tricks they were going to.

I don’t think they’ve done it since in Doctor Who. Possibly Midnight is the closest which is nearly told in real time…or at least has one long 25 minute sequence in the middle of the episode. Do you think it must have been a nightmare to get the timings right? Obviously they would have filmed this over a couple of weeks but have to piece it together as though it is taking place over 42 minutes.

It would take some skill because they would have to make sure every scene is a certain length so it timed exactly 42 minutes. Because you know there is some anal person out there watching when this first went out watching a ticking clock to make sure that it is spot on. With 24 it was great to start of with but because the ticking clock device became the norm it felt a bit gimmicky and boring after a while. This was the opposite of that, they’ve never tried to tell a story like this in Doctor Who before so it felt quite fresh.

You said in The Impossible Planet review that they had made a fair stab at bringing a grimy, dirty setting to life but you thought it was better in this one.

You remember that from back then?

I forget nothing to do with Doctor Who. Do you stand by that statement?

It felt like a real place. They had gone to some effort to really make the actors look dirty and hot…plus I liked the fact that you could hear them clanking across the metal floors. I think this was a better setting, definitely.

Did it remind you of the episode of Voyager on the Malon freighter (Juggernaut)?

Oh yeah. Yeah, but I think this one looked better. I remembered quite a lot about this before you put it on whereas I don’t remember a thing about the Voyager episode – except that it was a dirty spaceship.

Says a lot really.

What did they do then – make the actors run up and down a lot to get them all sweaty?

No they smeared them with baby oil.

Ugh. Really? That’s gross.

There was another guest star of the week in this one, Michelle Collins.

I thought she was really good. For a former Eastenders actress.

They are still actresses, you know. She’s done more than just Eastenders. Sometimes I think that Albert Square is where aspiring young actors cut their teeth and grizzled old has been wind up to keep in work. It’s the bit in the middle – when you’re actually famous where they struggle to find anyone good.

I did think Michelle Collins was good in this although the characters themselves were a bit all over the shop. They didn’t seem especially well organised for space travellers. They were running about and being useless until the Doctor came along and sorted them all out and gave them instructions. Heaven knows what would have happened if he hadn’t turned up. They knew how to get the engines back  online but they were just sort of hanging about. I don’t think it would do any harm if the Doctor was surprised every now and again, for the people to turn around and say you’re not needed here.

Like in Midnight when he tried being smart and they all turned on him?

Yeah, like that. He had that coming for a long time. Don’t you think it was quite nice then when he was telling everybody that he was going to save the day and being a bit smug and the sun creature attacked him. He was the one in danger.

Yeah that was nice. Mind you it shouldn’t ever get to the stage where your main character is so smug that you want bad things to happen to him. Something has gone a bit awry if you do.

We popped back to see Francine again this week.

She’s a bit of a miserable bitch, isn’t she? All she ever does is complain and grumble…even if it isn’t about the Doctor. I did like that we were reminded about election day and the wire tapping, that was all a bit intriguing. I think that was all a bit better than in the last one.

Do you think this season is making its arc more obvious than in previous years?

Oh definitely. It really feels as thought this is leading up to something big now. Its not a random line like Bad Wolf or an organisation mentioned in passing like Torchwood. We’re actually seeing a story take place away from the Doctor. I like that.

At this point we don’t even know who Mr Saxon is.

No but considering its election day and he has guards and wire tapping equipment at his disposal you assume he is somebody important.

Do you think they managed to sustain the pace in this episode?

Well there was no time to hang about because they were in danger for the entire 42 minutes. That was the idea. I think they kept the energy levels up really well. The fact that a clock was ticking mean you couldn’t have people doing nothing.

There aren’t many shows that don’t have any quieter moments to catch your breath.

That did work in this ones favour though because it felt like it flew by. The pace worked in its favour.

They totally change the pace next week. It’s a much slower, more thoughtful character piece.

But again that’s a two parter. You have the time to tell a slower story. Had that one been smooshed into one episode it would have been a lot faster. I would say that this is possibly the only episode that we have seen so far that wouldn’t have worked better as a two parter to flesh it out. By its very nature it had to be one 42 minute episode.

Do you think the director managed to create an atmosphere of danger?

Yes, especially when Martha was tossed out of the nearest airlock. They couldn’t hear each other. It was really noticeable because there was no noise, it was just completely silent. In Doctor Who characters often take all the space travel for granted but that felt as though Martha was really in trouble. I thought it was very effective. It was as if she was going to die. And she was going ‘he’ll save us’ but slowly the realisation was coming over her face. She performed that how bit really well.

Do you think she is a good actress? I know I’ve asked you this before but the problem people have with Freema Agyeman is that she is very enthusiastic but they don’t think she is a very good actress.

I prefer her to Rose but then I don’t know if that’s down to the character or the actress. Probably both. Remember when she was going ‘author author!’ in the Shakespeare one…that was funny and this was really dramatic. Who says she can’t act? I think she has range.

Do you think when he invites her to join that it feels like she has finally turned a corner?

She’s not so much of a hanger on anymore, yeah.

He told her that in the last one. Oh I suppose this is where he gave her the key. He made it official. She did throw herself into this one without waiting to be asked. I honestly don’t see peoples problem with her…she got right on with it this week rather than moping around after the Doctor.

Did you think that the characters were well drawn?

I don’t think they needed to be for this plot. Next weeks episode needed good strong characters because that’s basically what its all about. This one was about running about and killings and scary suns. You were given enough information about the characters that you needed but it wasn’t exceptional. More adequate for the story. One character that got on my nerves was the girl near the beginning who was holding a tool in her hand when the man was coming towards her. Any sensible person would reach out and smack him with it. The other bit that bugged was at the end when Martha was supposed to be freezing the Doctor. ‘I can save you!’ Turn the machine on! ‘I have faith in you…’ Turn the fricking machine on!

Let’s see if you were paying attention this week? Why was this sun killing people?

Because they scooped the surface for cheap fuel! Aha! Didn’t think I would get that one. I told you, I’m usually good with plots. Its only when I’m bored that the details don’t go in. The Doctor accuses them of not scanning for lifeforms but why would you do that? It’s a sun! I know the universe is a big place and everything is possible…but checking out something as hot as a sun for lifeforms would not be my first instinct. In our terms we wouldn’t scan a glass of water for lifeforms before we drunk it. Maybe we should? Maybe there’s a lifeform in there waiting to turn is into zombies like that later Doctor Who.

You said you wanted different kinds of aliens in the show. Well a sentient sun is certainly very different.

Yeah it was a nice change from the norm. There was a lot of tension in this one and the atmosphere was good. I remember enjoying it when it was first on and I enjoyed it again this time round.

You definitely enjoyed the music because I heard you singing along at some points.

Was I? I didn’t think I noticed music very much. Maybe they use it quite a lot this series.

I think they do. It was the bit that went do-de-do-de-do-de-do-de-do-de-do-de dum dum DUM DUM!

I think that must be in trailers or something. With music I think I would notice it if it was crappy so I often take it as a sign that was good that I didn’t notice it.

But then you did notice it when it went quiet. That’s quite telling.

I think I get used to it being there as something in the background and then it becomes very apparent when its not there.

Music that’s more noticeable when it stops! I really notice music.

Yeah but then you really notice all other things like camera angles and stuff that us normal Earth people don’t think about when we are just enjoying a story.

How rude. Did you like that Martha got a little kiss at the end?

Awww yeah, that was nice. It couldn’t really go anywhere though, could it? She couldn’t stay with him.

That’s what Mel did.


She stayed on a spaceship with a bit of rough. Sabalom Glitz!

Yeah but not for Sabalom Glitz!

I don’t know…

Ugh! Really? That pot bellied fella? Oh Mel you could have done better.

Sum up 42…

A good atmospheric episode. A nice grimy setting. Tension. I’m going to give it a four because on top of all this it was a good looking episode.

**** out of *****

Did you think it was a smart idea to have the Doctor trapped in the body of a human?

Well it certainly hasn’t been done before to my knowledge and it certainly changes the dynamic because Martha is now the person that everyone is turning to. I understand why they had to do it. They had to come up with an explanation with how the Master is a human in the next few episodes and it also explains why the Doctor doesn’t know that he isn’t the last of the Time Lords. He said before that he would know if there was another Time Lord around. He would feel it. It’s a bit like last years episode with Amy when they had that stupid with those things…what were they called?

Give me a little more to work with here…

Those people.

The Flesh?

Yeah. They had to write that episode in to explain how Amy wasn’t Amy otherwise the twist wouldn’t have made any sense.

This does have that secondary purpose but do you also think it is a strong story in its own right?

love the setting.

The story is taken from one of the novels, don’t you know?

Yeah you only told me about a hundred times in the lead up to its transmission. I felt I had read the novel you had told me so many times.

This is written by Paul Cornell who wrote your other favourite Father’s Day.

Oh my.

Do you think this is a bit better than that?

This is a lot better than Father’s Day. I love the setting as I said and the feeling of the episode. Its one of those Doctor Who stories that really takes you back in time. The language and the morality.

Did you like the very casual racism against Martha that they included?

Yes I thought that was very good. I liked how they never shied away from the fact that that happened back then and brought right into the faces of the kids watching by having the companion suffering from it. A couple of the lines were quite harsh. But that’s good. Kids need to be shown that to behave that way isn’t right and my only complaint is I’m not sure that they did enough to show that what he said was wrong.

I know that you like Jessica Stevenson/Hynes. Tell me why.

She’s such a funny actress. She has real presence and she isn’t afraid to make herself look stupid to get a laugh.

Is this the first time you have seen her do a straight role?

I’ve seen her do other roles which were primarily serious but had a comic edge to them like the film Confetti and the series 2012.

Do you think she made a convincing romantic foil for the Doctor?

Oh definitely, didn’t you? I thought she was excellent. I’ve never seen her quite this serious before in a part but that impressed me so much more. She didn’t have the jokes to fall back on and she still had a real presence. In order make this work she had to have chemistry with David Tennant and watching them together was great. They really complimented each other. I bet as soon as the director said cut that they were all pissing themselves laughing at having to be so deathly serious all the time. You can feel that they are enjoying making this.

Do you think Joan would have made a good companion?

I was about to say no, not as a 1913 character but actually it would perhaps be nice to see the world through eyes of someone from the past who has certain expectations of behaviour and decorum.

Like the Torchwood episode where they brought people forward from the 40s?

Possibly…I couldn’t possibly comment on Torchwood. The idea I think should be that if you have someone from this era as a companion then you shouldn’t modernise them, they should either influence the contemporary characters or at least make some kind of commentary on how we behave.

You are desperate for us to return to the pre-war etiquette, aren’t you?

Oh it would be lovely. No jeans around your ankles. Kids seen and not heard. Everybody minding their ps and qs. No text talk. Take me back there now.

You must have been in your element in Human Nature then.

Oh it was lovely. Walking in the fields, strolling through town having civil conversations, taking a lady to a dance. I would fit in very well here.

Paul McGann turned up in the Doctor’s journal. Does that mean he is an official Doctor? Do you consider him to be an official Doctor?

Not really no. To me he’s more of a guest actor. He’s no more the Doctor than Rowan Atkinson was in that comedy sketch. They probably had the same amount of screen time.

Doesn’t him turning up in that book, which is actually part of the series, canonise him?

I guess so. If he actually turns up in the series 50th anniversary then I’ll give you this one.

This story really pushed Martha’s unrequited love for the Doctor to the front of the line. Did you think it was okay in this one because he is human?

I think it was necessary. Clearly they have already decided to go down this route so whether it was a good idea or not is a moot point. They either see it through and rally look into or they ignore it. And the second approach would be silly. I think this might have been the point where Martha slowly comes to terms with the fact that it is never going to be her. No matter what state the Doctor is in. Sometimes you need a slap around the face to wake you up from a daydream and I think that she does that here. Even when the Doctor had the opportunity to love her, he still doesn’t love her. Which is gutting but a lesson to learn for her to move on. Which she does at the end of the series. Its quite nicely done actually when you break it all down.

Normally all this unrequited Doctor/companion romance stuff really bothers you.

Yeah its weird because it didn’t here. Maybe it was how it was written. It was less that she was losing the man that she loved and more that she was losing the Doctor.

Do you think it was good that they didn’t make Jessica Hynes’ character entirely sympathetic?

It was far more realistic because of it. She was a part of this era and so wasn’t used to seeing coloured people in close relationships with their masters or people barging through doors unannounced. It just wasn’t how it was done back then. Martha should know her place because she is a servant. Going back in time should be like when you go into somebody’s house. You are expected to behave in a certain way and you should meet those expectations. Its no different going back in time.

Did you think Harry Lloyd made a good villain?

I love Harry Lloyd.

And that the Family were good villains?

They were creepy. That sniffing. I really liked that scarecrows too because they took something that was scary from the time and animated it rather than giving it a contemporary twist. Like all that bollocks about the Daleks turning people into pigs. What the hell was all that about? The Family were good because it was all about the acting rather than effects. And they had some pretty good actors in those roles. Especially Harry Lloyd.

In his book Paul Cornell really stresses the wartime setting and here he mentions images of mud and wire. Do you think the echoes of the upcoming war added a little depth to the episode?

Its great because if kids are watching who don’t know about the First World War then they will ask their parents questions. I seem to remember its even more prominent in the second episode.

Actually that’s true. They mentioned the Crimean War in this episode and you looked that up on your phone. 

I like to learn about things.

Sydney Newman is probably punching the air in the heavens right now.


Because he wanted Doctor Who to educate people. I thought it was quite chilling when they were educating young children to kill. All this talk of having a ‘just war to fight…’

It really showed up the hypocrisy of warfare at the time when the kid said that all the Africans had were spears and we had giant machine guns.

But teaching the kids to machine gun people to death? How barbaric.

You can’t judge it by the standards of today. This is why you can’t be a companion, honey. You would be going around history condemning everybody.

Maybe they knew war was on the horizon at that point and they were just trying to get the kids ready.

The First World War started because of the assassination of a Serbian, I think. I think it was some kind of domino effect that led to War.

Do you prefer David Tennant in this role or as the Doctor?

(Long pause…)

Okay the fact that he has just done a year and half as the Doctor and one episode as John Smith and you are stuck for an answer shows that he is definitely doing something right here!

He fits in very well in this era. He plays that part really well. He’s not over the top, did you notice? None of that shouting and going on about being an Immortal Time Lord or some such bollocks. I really liked how the Doctor or John Smith or whatever you want to call him…I like the way he was guilty of racism too. That bit where he thinks Martha can’t tell the difference between reading a story and real life. Oh…that reminds me of the bit where Martha goes out the door and knocks and comes in again. She was really funny in that bit.

Its quite a prominent role for her, isn’t it?

It has to be. She’s the only one that can save him.

Would you say that Martha is well established at this point as Rose’s replacement.

Oh much, much better than Rose. Far more pro-active. Far less self interested. Rose would have had to have been the love interest which would have been gross and if she wasn’t…then God help poor Joan! It would have been absolutely awful watching her give evils to Joan for three quarters of an hour. She would have been like she was in School Reunion when Sarah Jane turned up. A spoilt brat and a half. Very teenagery, sulky and moody…it would have been dreadful. At least Martha can take a mature stance on the situation. Imagine Rose trying to fit in this period and trying to talk posh? It would be mutton dressed as lamb!

But I’m not even sure that Donna would fit in in this one either because the whole emotional lynchpin is that three way relationship between the Doctor, Martha and Joan.

It is tailored to Martha, yes. Although Donna did fit in rather well in the Agatha Christie one. She can manage upper class when she wants to. Or at least upper middle.

They are very different tones though. The Unicorn and the Wasp is very comedic and Donna is perfect for that. What about the cliffhanger? That’s quite understated for Doctor being about two people in the Doctor’s life rather than his life being threatened or the world ending.

‘Maid or matron…your choice!’ Oh Harry Lloyd is so good. It’s a great crossroad in the story because he has just been told that he is a Time Lord from another planet and now he has to choice one life or the other. Not in himself but in the two women in his life. Does he keep his companion as the Doctor? Or does he keep his lover as John Smith? There’s more going on here than a human Dalek with willies hanging off his head stepping out of its shell. What’s great is that there is every possibility given what has happened in this episode that he might choose to let Martha die. And that’s really tense.

Sum up Human Nature…

A good two parter that came along when it was needed, a great setting and with some really interesting characters. Its Doctor Who for adults. Did you say this was written by the same bloke as Father’s Day? That was Doctor Who for retards. Look at what he has learnt since then?

****half out of *****

The Family of Blood

What are your initial thoughts?

I thought it was a very good episode with a lot of action and a great pace. I don’t like slow dull stuff so this was right up my street.

Are you referring to the old series?

No, don’t put words in my mouth. I can watch the old series just fine. I don’t think the pace of some of those old ones is that slow. When you get episodes of series and they have a lot of filler episodes – the old 26 episode Star Trek seasons or some shows that are an hour and half per episode and they full of padding.

Do you like the length of a Doctor Who season then? 13 episodes?

Yeah, its like Dexter. It gets to the point quickly, it moves fast. I hate those stories that they shove in that just aren’t about anything. Doctor Who isn’t entirely blameless in that respect – that dreadful one at the Olympics for example. But this one moved fast, was about something interesting and was setting up stuff for later in the series too.

Do you think David Tennant did a good job in a different role?


Do you think he’s a good actor?

I’ve not actually seen him in anything else.


Oh yeah.


Oh yeah.

Harry Potter.

Harry Potter?

Yeah, wasn’t he a villain in one of the films?

Briefly, I think. I remember him in those other programmes…or rather I remember the image of him in them but his role in Doctor Who is the one that springs to mind when I think of him. It dominates.

Do you think this sort of experiment is worth doing?

What shaking it up a bit? Giving him something different to do? I guess so but it depends on who you are trying to appeal to.

I remember when Tennant was playing Cassandra you weren’t very keen.

No, but then we hadn’t had the chance to get to know him as the Doctor to yet. It was a bit early then for him to start acting like somebody else.

Well this should be very appealing to you because all you seemed to go on about after the first part was the etiquette and –

How proper everybody talks!

Well quite, but that’s terrible grammar.

That aside I just like how correct, how precise people are with their diction and their manners. I would go back to that time in a heartbeat. But only if I had money. I wouldn’t want to be poor in this time because poverty was so much worse back then. People always say they were born in the wrong time and they would like to go back to the ‘olden days’ but it was only wonderful if you had money. People aren’t affluent now but poor means a very different thing then than it does now. There is a lot more support now.

We’re totally off topic.

Oh yeah. It was good pacy episode. I enjoyed it a lot. I especially liked the lead villain.

What, Harry Lloyd?

Yeah, he really stood out I thought. I find him quite versatile. He was quite different in Robin Hood and Game of Thrones. Some actors play the same characters over and over again no matter what they are in.

Jennifer Anniston?

There could be an argument in that.

As good as Freema Agyeman is in this…

She’s always the same person. I mean I know she is supposed to be the same person but she’s playing a completely different aspect of Martha here. Martha as a servant. But she just plays her as the Martha we always see.

Whereas Jessica Stephenson…

Oh she was brilliant. See, there’s an actress proving she can do new things. And didn’t she speak properly?

Do you think she was a likable character? Because she was quite miserable a lot of the time.

I don’t think that’s a very fair assessment because her character was going through a lot and it reminded her of when she lost her first husband. She was becoming more aware that she was going to lose this man that she was falling in love with. That’s harsh. I’d hope you would be miserable if you thought you were going to lose me.

Ahem. Do you think that played out quite well? That he had to make the choice to leave her and she was going to be alone again?

It was understandable because she knew that doing so would save a lot of people.

Do you think that Doctor Who is a more character based show now in that respect? Putting the people to the forefront sometimes even before the plots?

I don’t know. Sometimes it does just feel like a run-around. And other times it is all about character. It’s quite a nice mix but I think you have to have that mix otherwise a show gets a little stale one way or the other. Look at Stargate Universe…we gave up so early on because it was just character. Character, character, character…it was so boring because nothing ever seemed to happen. You cannot accuse Doctor Who of nothing happening.

Do you remember there was that one episode of Stargate Atlantis where they were just trying to find water?

And everybody was expressing their feelings about it. Stop sitting around whining about I and get on with finding it.

Was this quite a good mix of action and character then?

I would say so. First you had them attacking the school. It even started off with the Doctor having to choose between the two women which was quite exciting. The bit at the school was really tense because you could see how distraught those kids were at thought that they were going to have start killing people. The realisation was hat this was no longer fun, they weren’t sitting in a class learning how to shoot a gun but this was playing out for real in front of them.

That was really well done, wasn’t it?

Very good, but they didn’t drive it home too much that war is bad. There was always a character there saying that it was honourable too. The message wasn’t war is bad, it was war is scary. And that’s a good message. They didn’t tell you either, they showed you and that is so much better than a lecture.

Do you think that is scary for children to watch? Kids crying at the thought of having to kill people.

Maybe. It’s probably about as near to it as this show could get. But you do get computer games that glamorise killing so much so this was a nice change from that. To show kids that what they are doing in those games is taking a life. What else was there? Oh yeah, they started blowing up the town as well. There were explosions in the distance. And then the Doctor blew up their ship. So it was full of action but there was lots of character stuff as well. There was the central dilemma that John Smith had to give up his life, that he had to die. And they made no secret of that – they made it very clear that he was going to die.

That’s quite heavy as well.

But it was a good mix. It wasn’t so much science fiction but then it’s the sort of show that can take a break from that every now and again.

Did you like the way they showed you before John Smith sacrificed himself the life that he could have had with Joan?

That made me so sad. It really felt like he had something to lose. It made the decision harder. When he came back he was colder, which I guess was to distinguish between the two characters. He was like ‘just come with me’ like her loss didn’t matter.

Did you like the statement she made? That if he hadn’t have come there then nobody would have died.

Actually I found that a little unfair. That’s like everything in life. You make decisions and hope for the best. It’s not his fault that so many people died because the baddies were so ruthless. Everybody makes choices but you can’t be held responsible for other peoples actions. She was hurting, though.

Martha got lots to do this week. Running around trying to sort it all out, facing up to the villains.

At many points she took centre stage, yes.

In the write up of the first episode you said that you quite liked the unrequited romance angle for the first time because for the first time there was the possibility that the Doctor could be with her and he still chose not to.

Did I say that?

Yep, you’re surprisingly thoughtful when you want to be.

As much as I like Martha and the actress I’m not sure how…sophisticated the character or the actress is. She was good in this role and she had lots to do but I’m uncertain about the depth of character that Freema Agyeman can play. Martha had to play a very different role but I don’t know if the actress did. As I think about it more she’s a good character and actress but she’s just Martha. The new companion managed to be a barmaid and in the flick of a switch you could believe that she was a governess. I don’t think Martha has that in her, to take on different roles.

So you’re criticising Martha for being Martha even though you like the character?

I’m not explaining myself properly. Think about Donna. In the next season Donna had to play a mum and a wife in one episode and she’s totally different from the Donna we know and love. This was Martha’s chance to do that sort of thing and I think she just came across as Martha. Am I making any sense?

I think so.

It’s like Billie Piper. You can do whatever you want with her character but she’s still common as shit. Donna and the new companion showed that they could be different people in the flick of a switch.

Then doesn’t that show an inconsistency of character?

No it shows more range, both from the character and from the actresses.

There’s still a few more Martha’s to go yet. And next year she’s a completely different person where she’s tougher and a member of UNIT.

Maybe, but I still think she’s essentially exactly the same person and she’s being played in exactly the same way. No matter how much they pretend that she has grown up.

We’ll have to wait and see.

But I do want to say again that I do like the character and the actress. I don’t think she’s bad, she’s just less flexible than some of the others.

Did you like how the emphasised the war theme at the end with the cut to battle and then Martha pinning a poppy on the Doctor’s lapel?

I like that stuff for what it represents but I’m not entirely sure if the story needed it.

One of the remits of the original series of Doctor Who was to educate children and it does here. There’s a little but of history explained to us and the message is to respect these people who faced those horrors and went out to fight for us.

It was good stuff and that message is a vital one. My only complaint is that it wasn’t part of the main story.

It wasn’t connected to the narrative do you mean?

Yeah. It was a nice additional bonus.

But then I suppose it does show that the characters have lives outside of the story. The Doctor goes and life continues. They’ve got legs.

What did you think about the fate of the Family?

That was really bleak, wasn’t it? It showed a really dark side of the Doctor. He is completely without mercy. He’s no longer John Smith by choice but they forced that decision on him. They ruined his other life and they ruined Joan’s life and they killed lots of people too. He was punishing them, which is something you don’t see him do very often. I don’t think they could show him like that every week otherwise he wouldn’t be the hero anymore. But as a one off it was really good. This was a really strong episode. It deserves another four and a half.

What holds it back from perfection?

There was only a few niggles. Usually when we talk about things afterwards I notice more things that I didn’t like but this one has reminded of lots of things I did. I could happily sit and watch this two parter again at another time.

Do you think Paul Cornell has improved since the days of writing Father’s Day?

Well it couldn’t get any worse, could it?

****half out of *****


Do you subscribe to the idea that gender creates different qualities in television programmes?

I’m sorry I don’t know what you’re talking about.

To this point this is the only Doctor Who episode in the new series to be directed by a woman…and it’s also one of the, if not the, most popular episode.

But that could be down the writing too. It is written by a woman too? If that was the case then I think you may have an argument.

It’s written by Steven Moffatt.

It’s very well written. Personally I think this one of the best episodes they ever did. Back when it was first on. And now.

You think the fans got it right this time then?

They like it too?

In the last big Doctor Who Magazine poll it came second out of all of the Doctor Who stories.


Caves of Androzani came first.

The one where he died?


This one is just great though. It moves well, there is no point where it isn’t interesting or that it stagnates. It leaves you continually asking all the way through what is going on and it concludes it satisfactorily.

You think he explains everything then? Because this is very complicated stuff.

He explains it so that an adult can understand exactly what happens. He opens with a mystery, which progresses and then it all comes together so that doesn’t feel like a quick two minute wrap up like so many Doctor Whos.

Go on then explain it to me.

It’s a back to front episode, isn’t it? You start off halfway through the story where she is at the house…actually I don’t know why she is at the house at the beginning. That rather shoots down my idea that everything is explained. But that’s halfway through the narrative because there she gets to see the memo from the Doctor and then her friend joins her there and she gets the letter from her in the past…and then the end of the episode is the beginning of the story where she gives the Doctor all the information he needs so that he can put the extras on the DVD. It’s really clever. The structure of the episode is exactly how he describes it on the DVD…it doesn’t go from start to finish in order –

Non-linear is the term you are looking for.

Smart ass. Timey wimey is better.

Do you think the Angels are a good threat?

They’re one of the best threats really, aren’t they? It’s not something you can kill and it’s not something you can stop and it’s a really novel idea that nobody has done before.

Do you think they are the most successful monster that the New Series has offered us?

Definitely. For a start they are first seen after they have already beaten the Doctor and not many monsters can claim that. I have to say though that I find each of the subsequent stories with the Angels aren’t as good.

Do they only suffer because they aren’t as good as this one?

Probably, because this one is so good they would have to be super duper good to be better. And they aren’t. I’ll have to rewatch them though.

They were certainly popular enough to bring back though.

On the strength of this story I’m not surprised. Of Doctor Who monsters I can only think of the Daleks, the Cybermen, the Yeti, the Ice Warriors and the Sontarans that have had that quick of a turnaround. And that’s some pretty hefty company.

I wonder how he came up with the idea.

Do you like the idea of ‘don’t blink…’

Yeah because it’s a menace that comes from the dark and that is always scary.

It’s weird because it is such a low budget idea that they could have pulled this off in the classic series if only somebody had thought it up…

Although it requires really good editing and I don’t know if they would have cut it fast enough. They might have been the slowest moving Weeping Angels ever. You might have seen somebody on screen pushing it…

Like the hand holding down Sutekh’s chair?


Never mind.

It would be like that time on holiday when we were in the Forbidden Garden in York and you made me film you being menaced by a statue in the woods…

Oh yeah, I thought we had edited that together really tightly!

It was the slowest Angel attack ever! Your reaction shots were the funniest thing I have ever seen. We should dig that out again.

It didn’t feature the Doctor much so did you think that the characters fill that void well?

Brilliant, I thought they were perfect for the story. But I felt that you saw enough of the Doctor and Martha and the TARDIS for it to still feel like Doctor Who. The whole point of the story wasn’t just to stop the Weeping Angels but to rescue the Doctor and Martha so you always had a vested interest in it as a Doctor Who story.

Were they quite likable characters?


Is that it?

What more do you want?

I mean if this was a pilot for a TV series do you think these characters would be strong enough to continue?

That’s tough to say because this wasn’t a pilot episode for a series. Why are you always so obsessed with what might have been? They certainly entertained me for 45 minutes.

Do you have any favourite moments?

I liked all of it, really. It was a good mystery and had me hooked all the way through. The typical Doctor Who episode is that you start of with a baddie or he meets a baddie who does baddie things and then the Doctor stops the baddie. That’s basically the structure of a Doctor Who episode.

If you’re being cynical it is.

No, honestly. I bet if we went back across all the episodes we have watched that would be the case. That’s how it works. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing. But this one was different in the case that there was a good mystery right from the beginning and one that ran all the way through.

You have often criticised standalone episodes that aren’t contributing to the larger arc storyline throughout the year. And this one didn’t.

No, but then if the story is good enough they can get away with it. You’ve got the thread of Mr Saxon running through most of the episodes of this season.

That wasn’t mentioned here, was it? I felt as though it could have been.

That’s true. Just a poster or something.

Did you notice the accent slips of the Detective Shipton?

Only when you pointed them out. If you are focusing on that rather than the story then the writer has done something wrong. Sometimes I wonder why you focus so much on the mistakes and don’t just enjoy something. I will say that he didn’t seem like a policeman much.

I think he’s supposed to hip and cool, a normal person.

You say that like you know how to be any of those things?

Meow! Did you think that bit at the end where the Doctor and Sally meet felt like it could be a companion introduction scene? Do you think she could have been a good companion?

She was very headstrong and likable and she’s played by a great actress so she could have been a good companion, I think.

Given what you said about Freema Agyeman last week do you think the actress is versatile enough to play the part long term?

I don’t understand why you’re asking me this. It didn’t happen. I thought we were supposed to be discussing what did happen?

Because a lot of fans think that not having Sally Sparrow as a companion was missing a trick?

Missing a trick? Donna’s up next and she’s the best companion ever! I thought Sally Sparrow was a great character and she was strong enough to hold up this entire episode on her own so if you’re asking if I think she could have been in more episodes as the same character I would say yes, definitely.

What do you think was the scariest moment?

Well, it wasn’t as scary today because I knew what was coming but I remember when I first watched it I hide behind a cushion at the end bit with the Angels.

You shat yourself.

It was the moment when they said ‘you’re not looking anymore’ ‘neither are you…’ that got me. It still makes me flinch when that Angel gets right in his face.

I never thought there would be an episode of Doctor Who that would genuinely give you the creeps. Oh, I’ve just remembered a Sarah Jane episode did too once.

Which one was that?

In the haunted house with Floella Benjamin.

Oh you know I don’t like things coming at me in the dark. That was really well done for kids telly.

Kids telly or not you turned that off and waited to watch the rest until I got home! Any funny moments in this?

I liked it when he said ‘I’ve got that on a T-shirt.’ He was such a geek.

Did you think that was a fair depiction of a geek?

Oh definitely because it was quite affectionately done. All that stuff about discussing it on forums. He could have been talking about you! ‘I think it was a political statement’ – when it was actually about nothing! That’s what all you nutty fans do! Go digging and digging foe subtext when actually it is just a fun TV series! I have to say I loved the bit where the old man died and he said ‘I have until the rain stops.’ That was such a sad moment. And the letter Sally received from her friend saying that she had had a good life. Moffat pulls that trick off again when Amy and Rory leave and it got me blubbing again.

Do you like the idea of a monster that doesn’t kill you but sends you back in time? It’s a bit different, isn’t it?

It is, but I’m not sure if I entirely understand it. I mean once you have been sent back in time your heart is still beating, you are still exerting energy and still creating memories so I don’t get what energy the Angels steal from you by sending you back in time.

Your potential life.

But they haven’t stolen your life. Just your life in the future. You are still enjoying that life in the past.

Oh I don’t know.

You brought it up!

Well if I knew you were going to go all logical on my ass.

That’s why you love me. I don’t entirely understand it but for once I’m not really bothered that I don’t understand it because the story was so good. It distracted me from asking questions.

You would be in your element if you were sent back in time.

As long as I had money.

Back to the 20s. To the time of Unicorn and the Wasp. Tooting your horn along the country lanes. Eating cream teas.

Oh stop, it sounds divine.

Go on then sum this one up.

I think it might be my favourite episode ever.

More than Unicorn and the Wasp?

Ooh that’s a toughie. We’ll have to see later.

More than any of the new Moffat ones that you like with that hideous wench Amy?

I like Amy! Don’t blame me because you have no taste! Okay its my favourite episode so far. I thought the villains were great and so was the whole story. I really don’t have any complaints.

What do you give it?

Six stars!

You can’t give six?

Of course I can!

You can’t! Then you’ll break the rating system and life as we know it will come to a standstill.

Six out of five!

You’re one of those freaks that says 200% Per cent meaning ‘out of one hundred.’

Six out of five!

It will be the only thing I ever give six out five to.

****** out of *****

What were your overall feelings about this one?

I liked it. I did like this one. I thought it was good.

How succinct.

I try my best. I did think there was going to be a continuity goof – sorry, not so much a goof but a stupid idea – that a trillion years in the future and we still look exactly the same. I had a right old rant about that for a minute and you got cross –

I had to pause the episode to remonstrate with you.

You got cross because you like this episode and I was daring to criticize despite the fact that I told you going into this thing that I wasn’t going to be influenced by you.

It wasn’t because I like the episode, it was because you were doing that tone that you do.

What tone?

That ‘No…no…no…’ tone that you use when you discuss social media and think you are better than everybody else for not relying on it.

However, getting back on track, they covered that in quick line about evolving into downloads or something like that so I was happy. I still find it a little peculiar that we can evolve out of this shape and back into it but okay. At least it was explained.

When was the cavemen around?

And you correct me on my grammar? Umm…a 100,000 years ago or more. But going back far enough we were chimps – if you are believe in Darwinism – and the Earth hasn’t been around for a trillion years so I don’t think you can make that comparison. Why does Russell T Davies take this show so far into the future? Five billion was bad enough but three trillion? What next? A hundred godrizzilion? And we’ve still wearing jeans that allow Jack to hang to the right?

Wasn’t it like five billion and one, or something? Is the one a little wink to say he knows it’s a ridiculous leap into the future?

But at least in that one there weren’t people dressed up from the local GAP. There were big heads and cat people and other aliens. It felt like it could be the future. This feral lot can be found hanging around McDonalds in town.

You said earlier in the series that you had a problem with the watch in Human Nature.

I did, I thought it was there just so it could be used later on –

You have to admit, though, that they used that well in Human Nature.

I think I did say so at the time. However when the watch turned up in this episode it was a complete surprise. I wasn’t expecting it but I knew what it meant so I felt that was a good bit of plotting earlier in the year.

Do you think that is good for those who have been loyal and watched the whole series. Are they being rewarded?

If you were a clever enough person you might be able to piece it together before the watch was revealed. When the Face of Boe said ‘you are not alone’ and then we are introduced to this dotty old man who seems to recognise the Doctor and the TARDIS.

Do you know enough about Doctor Who to know that the return of the Master is a big deal?

Have I been indoctrinated enough by you do you mean? Of course I do. I like the Master. The first one with Jon Pertwee was great. I guess to someone who isn’t in the know they would just think a villain is a villain. He’s scary enough in this for it not to matter whether you know or not.

When Emma watched this she texted me and asked ‘Who the hell is the Master?’ She was really disappointed that it was someone from the long past rather than the recent past. I told her to watch the Confidential which would explain everything.

But you shouldn’t have to watch a documentary to understand what is going on in the episode.

Yeah but to be fair they do explain everything about the Master in the next episode. It’s the danger you have with any long running show and you bring a character back who hasn’t been around for a while. Anyone who has only just turned up will be left scratching their heads as to their significance.

It is good that they explain who he is in the next one. Although you have to hope that nobody decided not to switch on because they thought they would be left out of the party. It was quite a well disguised twist, I thought.

I didn’t know when it came on, d’you remember? This episode aired on my birthday and I had remained spoiler free this season and I was literally hopping about like I needed a piss at the end of the episode. Best birthday present ever. Did you like Derek Jacobi?

I didn’t know who he was until then.

Tell me you’re joking?


That shocks me to my very core.

I swear I had never heard of him before. But he was very good, especially when he went evil. He managed to do that thing of being all cute and innocent one minute and then sinister the next. He did that really well. Mind you the make up people helped him too – I swear he had contacts in after he turned bad!

What about the little you saw of John Simm?

Again I’ve never seen him in anything before?

Not Life on Mars?

I never watched it. You did, but I missed that one. It was hard to judge on just a few minutes but I liked him. I liked how eccentric he was, like the Doctor. He’ll be good contrasted against David Tennant because they are quite similar.

Do you think then if it hadn’t been David Tennant, if it had been Christopher Eccleston, they would have chosen somebody a bit moodier and darker? Perhaps even Jacobi would have played the larger role?

Maybe. But Doctor Who villains have always been quite funny, that’s why they work. You’re scared of them and they make you laugh. It’s the whole package. I liked the line ‘You think I’m going to stand around and tell you my plans’ because that’s what they used to do!

Very self aware. Very Buffy. And yet in the next one he does tell them his plan! What about being on an alien planet? Something you have asked for a long time…

Yeah. Not alien enough. It was a quarry. That’s not alien.

They went to the effort to visit another world and you’re still having a moan?

They went to the effort of calling it an alien planet and it was a quarry. I bet the old Doctor Who fans loved this story, didn’t they? I want to see a proper alien planet!

Wait until next season.

Captain Jack was back and that was nice. I like that he can keep popping back. A few too many flirting scenes though. It was boring after the first one.

You laughed at the one with the alien – Chan’tho.

Yeah I’ll give you that one. But it isn’t really funny anymore. I don’t know why we need these references to sex.

Wait until Moffatt takes over.

Nobody is that sexual, all of the time.

Did you like David Tennant in this one. I notice you didn’t say anything during the scene where he was talking to Jack through the door.

That was his best scene all season I would say. Somebody has put him on a leash and he is really acting. I don’t mind it when he is manic but you can’t really call that acting. It’s just shouting.

Don’t mock it. Brian Blessed has made a career out of that.


I despair with you.

But Tennant was great in this. He hasn’t lost his touch. I think Tennant gets better as he goes along. I really like him with Donna. Whereas I think Matt Smith started well but got worse as he went along.

Spoilers. We haven’t got there yet.

Sorry. I do think his performance depends upon the strength of his companions. It’s interesting that as Martha has gotten better this series, David Tennant has too. Especially in the one where he was human. But with Catherine Tate, he was always good. They were so good together.

Do you think Martha has settled in then?

Yes, for the most part. She’s a proper Doctor Who companion now with none of this ‘I’m taking you home’ bollocks. Although she is still mooning a bit over him.


‘Good old Rose…’

But they do go on about her a lot. Was she that memorable?

They have to though, because they were all together when Jack last left the Doctor. And he thought she was dead. It makes sense in the story. It’s not just there for no reason.

Did you like the whole idea of Utopia?

It’s quite depressing that we are all stuck on this starless planet at war with primitives. So it makes sense that you would dream of something better and then if somebody held out a hand you would take it. I wonder what it’s all about. Do we find out? I can’t remember…

I’m not saying a word.

Plus I guess this goes against the theory that space will contract at the end of time because there is something out there drawing them off the planet. It’s not that the universe is getting smaller, it’s just a massive waste of space.

Oh I see. Utopia – the massive waste of space.

Haha. Yeah. If that’s all that is beyond this planet then it is a massive waste of space!

Maybe the Vashta Nerada have eaten everything. You’ve already mentioned it but did you think this felt like more of an old school Doctor Who adventure? Quarries, primitives, a big rocket, the reveal of the Master…and there isn’t much slushy stuff.

I guess you have to ask Russell T Davies what his idea was for this episode. Whether it was all about capturing the feel of the old series? It certainly felt modern enough for me. I like that we are far in the future and the next episode jumps straight back into now.

You think the idea was to do a traditional Doctor Who story set in the future and then a really modern day adventure next?

It does show the different possibilities of the series.

And it’s interesting that all the things that Davies criticized in the early seasons – not being able to realise alien worlds, the clichés of primitives in Doctor Who, being worried about bringing back too many elements of the past – should all turn up in one episode.

This one is for the fans then. But I enjoyed it too. I thought it was a clever way to tie Doctor Who and Torchwood together. I’m guessing Doctor Who has the bigger audience?


Then this might encourage Doctor Who fans to give Torchwood a try. If I’m right this was set after the first series of Torchwood?


Oh that was terrible. Thank goodness this wasn’t tempting people to watch that bunch of episodes. Oh and I liked the alien woman! A proper alien that talks and looks completely different. What were those mandibles about?

For picking up food?

She drinks her own booby juice. Yum.

My last question is…sum up Tegan Jovanka.


Just because.

It’ll just make me irritable. Wait…she wasn’t in this was she? Did I miss something?

Yeah. How could you miss it?

Tegan ‘take me to Heathrow!’ Jovanka was in this?


Oh you! She’s a bloody miserable character and I get the impression that the actress is as well.

She’s been quite ill lately before you go too far…

I have every sympathy for anyone who is ill in whatever form…but that doesn’t change the fact that her character is shit! Her character was pointless. They were all pointless from that era. Oh wait, not Nyssa. She was quite sweet if a little dull. Adric was the worst though. I can’t even watch that era. I have to go to bed if you put it on because they irritate me so much. How is she ill.

I don’t know the situation now but she has had cancer.

That’s awful. Of course I have sympathy for that. How dreadful.

Sum up this story…

A good start to a three part arc, I thought.

Although technically you shouldn’t know that this is a three part arc at this point.

It had a good pace. It was so fast at the end I could barely keep up. I loved the moment at the end where Martha said ‘I know that voice’ in amongst the panic. That sets up the explanation in the next story and starts to explain who this Saxon person has been in this whole series. I give this one a four out of five. A solid four out of five. This half of the series is turning out to be really good.

**** out of *****

 LATEST UPDATE: The Sound of Drums

What did you think about the idea of the Master being Prime Minister?

It was a good angle, I thought. It’s not something that has been done before with a Doctor Who baddie.

What about the Slitheen in Downing Street?

It’s obviously not been done with a popular Doctor Who baddie before. There have been lots of clever hints throughout the season about Mr Saxon and after Bad Wolf I think people are bit more clued in to look out for this sort of thing. I think by this point Russell T Davies is deliberately hiding clues in plain sight because he knows people are on the hunt for hints. It feels more dominant this year though, it feels as though it has been vital parts of episodes rather than just mentions like Bad Wolf and Torchwood.

Do you think they pulled it off quite well then? The whole idea of the Doctor and Martha’s skip around the universe being, in a way, irrelevant because all they had to do was stayed where they were in Smith and Jones for a few more days and this would have happened anyway.

Yeah but the journey is where they pull together all the information about how the Master got from A to B…and the discovery of the Master in the first place. If they hadn’t had gone to Utopia he would never have opened the watch and found out who he was and none of this would have happened in the first place. He wouldn’t have been able to take the TARDIS back to Earth and set himself up as Prime Minister. Pre-destination thingamajig. Plus it really sells the idea that the Doctor has a time machine if they’ve only been gone for four days and yet they have been through everything that has happened in this whole series.

It’s so neat you could write a thesis on it.

I think I just did.

What did you think of John Simm as the Master.

I thought he was really good. You can’t predict what he is going to do. He’s silly but in the way that kids are when you don’t know what way they are going to jump. Like a demented overgrown child. Quite creepy actually. Let me guess…the old school fans don’t like him? He isn’t serious enough.

Meh…most of the people I have spoken to prefer Derek Jacobi in the last one.

I bet the kids loved this Master and I bet they were scared of him. He’s like them, but insane.  It had to be somebody more energetic to counterpoint Tennant. A slow, bumbling Master next to Tennant would have felt all wrong. Simm was more dynamic than that. Get with the times, old school Doctor Who fans. There’s a new audience for the show now and it has to be faster and slicker and energised to keep the modern day audience watching…you can’t have stories over 12 episodes these days, people jut wont hang around watching for that long anymore.

Well you say that but this three part story is the equivalent of an old six parter in Doctor Who, length wise at least.

But it is a lot faster, the pace is much quicker than those old Doctor Who’s. I’m not saying that the old ones are rubbish because I have enjoyed a lot of them but I do think that some Doctor who fans object too much to the fact that it is being made today rather than back when they fell in love with it. It is being made for today’s audience.

It could even be said to have revolutionised today’s family audience because there simply wasn’t shows like this on TV before Doctor Who came on for the whole family to watch.

One thing I didn’t like in this that they have built up throughout the entire David Tennant era is the whole business of why Jack can’t just shoot the Master because he is the Doctor’s problem. Bullshit it is your problem, that’s just rubbish. That means everybody that the Master kills – and I know you are going to mention the fact that this all gets looped back –


Oh shush – but he does kill 10 percent of the population of the Earth and that is absolutely the Doctor’s fault for taking that responsibility to stop him and failing to do it. He’s directly responsible for all those deaths because he didn’t let Jack take him out when he wanted to. The Doctor needs to up his game in the new series. There might have been this namby pamby ‘I must let the bad guy get away so we can meet again’ idea in the old series but the bad guys in the new series mean business and have to be stopped any way they can be.

You’re sanctioning the assassination of the Master?

It’s what happens…

Spoilers! Did you like the way Russell T Davies pulled in all the continuity of the attacks on contemporary Earth into one speech – the spaceship over London, the Christmas star – so it was one developing narrative?

Yeah that was quite clever. It means these things aren’t happening and people are just forgetting about them like they used to. I always thought the Moffatt era was more arc related but actually the Russell T Davies stuff is turning out to be quite interlinked. Certainly more than I thought it was at the time.

The Doctor, Jack and Martha?

A good team, I thought. That Martha has found her voice, don’t you think?

Do you think they could sustain a season?

Yes, but it isn’t necessary because Martha is really coming into her own and has told the Doctor to do one. I really liked that bit because he was so awful to her earlier in this series. He deserved that. That’s her turning point, that’s why she leaves. She’s discovered that she doesn’t have to be in awe of the Doctor anymore. Her family need her more than he does.

I know it’s the next episode…


Touché….but I rather like the fact that she comes to the realisation that mooning over him is no good for her. That she can even stay and wander around after a man who loves somebody else or she can get a life.

I like it when we see her next series and she’s found herself a life.

What did you think of the Master’s wife?

She’s a bit on the edge, isn’t she? Is she enjoying herself or is he forcing her? You don’t often get characters like that in Doctor Who where you don’t really know what they are thinking. Usually everything is spelt out in black and white and it works that way. But she’s a bit distant and creepy. She’s a grown up character.

I think the term is ambiguous.

I prefer grown up. She’s unstable. She was dancing at the end when the population of the Earth was being wiped out. He’s damaged her. Plus didn’t you think that the Master looked like he was sexually enjoying the moment when the Toclafane went off to do their work. Certainly the way John Simm played it seemed that way. Like a sexual predator. I suppose the Doctor always manages to stop his schemes and he’s never been able to get away death on that scale before…oh no wait didn’t he blow up half the universe in Tom Baker’s last one?

You set my heart aflutter.

But not with the Earth though. And he knows that is the Doctor’s planet and he is forcing him to watch. There are some interesting things going on in this one.

We don’t know it yet but he is using the human race to attack the Earth, two of the Doctor’s most favourite things. He’s really trying to screw it down, isn’t he? Do you think Russell T Davies builds to a good climax?

He does know how to get the audience excited. More so than Moffatt I think. In that very shallow way that you want to want again next week. Russell T Davies has mastered how to get the audience anticipating what happens next. Although sometimes he goes a bit too big. Especially at the end of the series. Because he went so far this time the only way he could possibly end this was to reset it. There was no other to carry the show on and it still be Doctor Who. Does it lose the danger aspect then, if he has gone so far that you know that all of this destruction will be wiped away in the next one? But then the moment itself was really good. It’s a tough one. A really brave series wouldn’t rewrite it. The best shows don’t have to, they present a horror like this and use it to develop the show. But Doctor Who can only go so far.

Moffatt goes even further though by destroying the entire universe.

Yeah, but he has to reset it in the next one. He should have learnt from this. You can’t have Doctor Who without the universe. Like I said though the ending was really good and so it is only in the next one where it becomes a problem.

It’s a bit of a Catch-22. You shouldn’t do it because the ending is bound to disappoint and yet you have to do it because it is so worth doing. Tricky.

Mind you this show has a large child audience so you can’t leave the series with 20 odd million people dead.

That is grim, isn’t it? I remember Russell T Davies questioning whether they should murder at all in the first series before the show began and now he is slaughtering one tenth of the planet. Shows how far you can come in three seasons and mass popularity. The rules change. What about the Doctor ageing close to death?

Again it was all very entertaining –

You heartless git!

-         but I know he’ll be fine next week.

You know that because you’ve seen it!

Oh they weren’t going to keep somebody as good looking as David Tennant looking that old! That was never going to happen! That’s the nature of this show, he’s survived for so long that you know he’s going to be back to normal eventually. You have to accept that to watch it. It’s the new characters in each story that are expendable, they are the ones you can make us really care about and then bump them off. It was well done…it’s when you force me to analyse these stories that the question of whether it was actually as tense as they make out because we know how these things play out.

You could say that about anything though. You’ve just watched Homeland and you loved it. But you loved because you just watched it once and you didn’t really think about it. Whereas if you sat down and picked it to pieces you’d probably find that half of it didn’t make sense.

Is that the problem then with the Doctor Who universe? That you study it so far and so deep that it loses the simple ability to entertain. You’re so busy seeing how it all fits in and whether the writer has crossed every t and dotted every i that you forget to simply enjoy watching it. If we had just watched this I would have said ‘yeah, it’s really good’ but because you’re asking me to really think about the ins and outs of it then I start to realise that it doesn’t hold up as well as I thought it did. Am I harshly criticising it when I should just be enjoying it?

But its swings and roundabouts though. Sometimes you pick things apart and they are better than you thought they were.


You do have a point. Do we lessen our enjoyment of something by studying it too much? Sylvester McCoy said something similar in Doctor Who magazine once.

I never though he and I would be on the same page.

There you go. But we hardcore nuts still love it anyway. Even when it’s shit.

I give a four and a half.

That’s a really high score.

It was really good. It held me all the way through.

*****half out of *****


I stick the DVD of Mark of the Rani into the player and Simon inspects the cover. ‘Is she called the Rani or just Rani? Was she actually christened “the”?’ The story begins and Simon is unconvinced by the opening sequences. ‘What’s this, Worzel Gummidge?’ he asks also noting that he cannot understand any of the Welsh accents! I point out that it wasn’t set in Wales to which he responds ‘Of course its set in Wales, it s a mining village!’

We cut to the TARDIS console room and he is unconvinced about Peri’s contributions, ‘She has absolutely no purpose here! She might as well have been on the loo for all she adds to this scene – he could have just muttered all that exposition to himself!’ It gets worse when they leave the TARDIS and he sees the full horror of her costume, ‘What on Earth is she wearing? She looks like she should be protecting a toilet roll! If this was made now she would head straight back into the TARDIS and put on something more suitable for the scenery.’ He’s also extremely worried that Peri’s frightening cleavage might escape her tight blouse!

Simon is not exactly sure what is going on but he is disturbed that as Peri hoists up her skirts and we cut to a wet towel fight that this might be some weird 19th Century porn! The scripting of Pip’n’Jane comes under scrutiny when the Doctor says he is keeping an open mind about why the machinery was wrecked, ‘He knows where they are and he knows that machinery was wrecked in that time – there’s no deductive reasoning in these scenes its just supposition.’

‘Why was the Master a scarecrow? Are you telling me he just hung about in that field until the Doctor showed up? What was the point of that? And what’s all the marks on those guys necks?’ At least the huge marks of the Rani haven’t been missed!

Peri once again comes under scrutiny when she rather limply throws lumps of coal at the Doctor’s attackers. ‘Pathetic’ Simon sums this scene up with. He’s also not sure why the unconscious guy opens his mouth and starts chewing when the maggot is prised inside.

Finally Simon finds something he quite likes about this 80’s story. ‘The Rani kicks ass. She’s a bit real, not over the top like the Doctor and the Master and I love that she doesn’t give a shit about either of them…she just wants to get on with her work!’ Although he is having terrible difficulty trying to figure out where the Rani’s cameras are. He laughs out loud at ‘He’d get dizzy if he tried to walk in a straight line.’

It is at this point that Simon’s mum enters the room. She has found her blood pressure kit and would like to see if it still works properly. ‘Please do’ he says, ‘I’m watching Colin Baker.’ We are all shocked to discover he is 120 over 80, perfectly normal! Proof if it was need that a Pip and Jane Baker story does not raise your blood pressure.

Simon is still confused about the Rani’s name. ‘The Master walks in and just calls her Rani as if its her name but the Doctor goes ‘well, well, well…the Rani!’ Get over it, pet. Simon much prefers the Rani to the Doctor and ponders that she should have been the hero since she’s far more likable than Baker’s Doctor (who just sort of bellows all the time!).

Nicola Bryant comes under fire as she heads in to rescue the Doctor and hangs around as the three Time Lords have a loquacious bitch fight. ‘She’s so stiff and wooden, she just sort of stands there like she’s on stage!’

Episode one is over and Simon is not impressed. ‘It’s not very good is it? I have no idea why the Master is there (and what he was doing standing in a field), Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant treat the story like a stage play and over emphasise everything (they are theatrical rather than natural) and in all honesty I have no idea what is going on! Why can’t it be called the Master and the Rani show?’ Simon is still perturbed that he needed the subtitles to understand the Brummie accents! He comments that if this story was made today the Luddite riots would have been treated far more dramatically, with more exciting set pieces and drama.

We get some tea and settle down for part two. Whilst shaking his head in disbelief at Peri pushing the Doctor down the hill he wonders how on earth it manages to stay on the path for so long without crashing, managing to turn every corner with effortless skill! ‘Run Doctor run!’ screams Peri and Simon asks if someone could knock her out!

For a moment all is silent and I wonder if Simon has finally been gripped by the story. ‘Luke has a very tight package, doesn’t he?’ he comments. Groan.

Again he’s not convinced by the action and declares ‘what a fucking idiot!’ at the Doctor’s ‘peripheral vision.’ The way the scene is cut makes no sense whatsoever. They face the Rani’s mustard gas trap and he thinks it’s a shame that she didn’t use napalm to melt their faces off. ‘Why didn’t they just walk around the screen?’

At this stage he yawns and says, ‘How much longer is this?’ Never a good sign.

Simon is quite impressed by the Rani’s TARDIS claiming it is much ‘sexier’ than the Doctor’s.

‘Everyone seems to have forgotten that the TARDIS is stuck down a hole! Even me!’ The Doctor suggests Peri stays with Lord Ravensworth to see what she can do. ‘Bore them to sleep, probably!’ He’s annoyed at Colin Baker’s constant quoting of poetry saying that he is ‘always talking nonsense.’

He boggles when Luke has the biggest case of wood he has ever seen! ‘What was the point of turning him into a tree? What was the purpose of that? Never mind Peri, she’s wooden enough already!’ The Rani asks if Peri can walk without falling flat on her face: ‘No!’ screams Simon.

I tell him at this point that the show was put on hiatus after season twenty-two. ‘Hardly surprising’, he muses.

The story ends and he sits there wondering what the point of that hour and a half worth of television we have just watched was. He definitely thinks Colin Baker belongs on the stage because a TV screen is too small to contain his HUGE acting. He thought the storyline was crap, some nonsense about the Rani collecting semen like liquid and the Master cocking everything up and wonders why everybody kept going on about the meeting of geniuses if it was never actually part of the plot! He declares (having seen some of their stories before) he has never seen the sixth Doctor and Peri worse than they were here (and cites Trial of a Time Lord as a time when he really liked Baker’s Doctor). He says Colin Baker reminds him of Bruce Forsyth, every time he makes a joke he wants to staple something to his head.

I ask him for something positive and he said ‘It looks very nice. You could never tell it was 25 years old. Plus the Rani was very good, she alone kept my interest.’

An unmemorable 5/10 for Simon then and his final word on the story is ‘dull’.


Planet of Giants

I remember when I first met Simon eleven years ago all he knew about Doctor Who was ‘it’s about a blue rectangle, isn’t it?’ Alas that at the tender age of sixteen and born into the period where his formative years were during the decade and a half hiatus from TV he had never found it necessary to see what all the fuss was about. Then he fell in love with a Doctor Who fan…

Now it astonishes me how much he has picked up as a non fan, some of it must rub off from my enthusiasm, other bits he has picked up dipping into the classic series and recently on a long trip to a job interview he listed all of the Doctor’s companions in a row without hesitation! Now that’s commitment! I’m sure you’ve all been here, wracking your brains for which stories to show a non-fan to introduce them to the different eras. Tom Baker was a pretty safe bet an he loved Genesis and Talons, Colin Baker was a surprise hit in Trial of a Time Lord and he would happily watch any Jon Pertwee story because he likes the UNIT set up very much. Davison and McCoy were instantly rejected and Troughton despite so many missing stories he really took to his heart. I was really reluctant to show him any creaky, slow Hartnell stories fearing his mirth (he loves the flashier, fast paced TV of today) and yet he caught me watching The Gunfighters one afternoon as he returned from work and quickly tried to fight him for the remote to turn it off. He absolutely loved it! The music, the jokes, the rubbish accents and especially Hartnell who made him roar with laughter at his ‘I’m afraid I don’t touch alcohol but a little glass of milk and I’ll only be too delighted!’ He asked to see more first Doctor stories – he lapped up The Romans, adored the madness of The Chase and even thought The Web Planet was ‘brave like only Doctor Who can be.’ His one complaint about the era is Susan who he finds a pointless, shrieking harridan (he made me turn off The Keys of Marinus because ‘my ears are melting with all her screaming!’). So it was with mixed feelings that I put in the tape of Planet of Giants…

He compliments the theme music straight away saying it is ‘much more atmospheric than the 80’s.’ The opening TARDIS scenes are met with a stony silence, the doors opening in flight as a dramatic flourish to start the season. He notes that the Doctor looks very perturbed by these events claiming ‘he’s just upset because Susan wasn’t sucked into space!’ Simon is especially pleased that Ian and Barbara ask sensible questions, noting that they are far better foils for the Doctor than Susan or Peri (from last months Mark of the Rani). As they venture out of the TARDIS to explore this unknown place that has had such an effect on the ship he wonders ‘why don’t they ever arm themselves with a baseball bat? They just wander out in to God knows where unprotected!’ This isn’t the Cartmel era honey!

Ian and Susan encounter a giant ant and Simon admits ‘that looks pretty good, you know.’ Although the Doctor’s granddaughter continues to irritate: ‘Why is she so hysterical? She’s always screaming? Ian and Barbara walk around calmly investigating and she’s off her face all the time stressing every discovery! Its like having Colin Baker back!’

The episode continues for some time and Simon says very little. I check to see if he has fallen asleep and he notices me looking concerned. ‘I’m not making comments because this is quite good. The acting is natural, the characters hold my attention and there is a good message in there for children about the ecology of the planet.’ I point out that The Mark of the Rani had several moments that touched on the subject to which he responds ‘Did it? That was nonsense compared to this.’

‘Considering this was made 50 years ago they’ve made a remarkable job of convincing that the Doctor and friends are one inch tall. There’s a few duff elements like that obvious blow up picture but on the whole I am convinced.’ The Doctor comments on at this size it would be planes versus bees to which Simon enthuses ‘Ooh do we get to see that?’ I tell him not to get his hopes up.

Simon is unconvinced about Ian suddenly finding his friends so suddenly: ‘They are one inch tall in a massive garden, how on Earth did Ian discover the rest of them so suddenly? Probably heard Susan screeching.’

He is impressed by the appearance of the cat at the end of the episode, noting its similarities to Snowy, our tabby. He notes: ‘This is actually a genuine moment of peril! I would actually scream if I saw a cat the size of a house in front of me! I’ve seen how Snowy plays about with insects!’

As we move into episode two Simon shows no signs of fatigue at watching the story. Indeed he keeps asking questions about their situation about ten seconds before Ian and Barbara ask the exact same questions and he notes how intelligent they are! In a moment that makes him choke with laughter and he forces me to rewind to watch over and again the Doctor and co are menaced by a ‘huge leg!’ and it appears that the Doctor pushes Barbara over to make his escape! Simon notes: ‘No time for you Barbara – shove!’

He loves the drainpipe set, suggesting it really suggests their scale.

For a moment he gives Susan a breather from groaning and sighing at her and moves on to Barbara. He doesn’t understand why she won’t tell Ian that she has touched the insecticide suggesting ‘its better to be thought of as an idiot than dead!’ Barbara asks Ian if he can get the flap open much to Simon’s amusement! She does a big girlie faint in front of the fly and he is considering reassessing Barbara’s worth.

Suddenly… ‘Ian! Barbara! Can you hear me?’ Simon: ‘Oh no its Susan screaming! Run Ian and Barbara! There’s still time to get squashed before she catches up with you!’

Simon is extremely impressed with the sink set which he claims ‘wouldn’t look any better than that if it was made today.’

‘Move your fat arse, bitch!’ Simon screams at Barbara as she takes forever to climb up the plug chain and Ian gives her a heft push up the posterior!

I love his observation about the pace of the story. ‘Some people would call this slow paced and by today’s standards it is but surely the point of telling a story about one inch tall people is that would take an age to work out how to achieve the simplest of things.’ Suddenly Simon starts looking around the room and imagining he is one inch tall himself! He notes the bedside lamp bulb, the height from the bed to the floor, falling into a mug of tea – ‘its quite interesting to imagine yourself at that height. Now we know how the woodlouse feel!’

Unconvinced by their plan to use the telephone, he admits that could all use a good nap when they get back to the TARDIS!

‘Burn her skin!’ ‘Cut her hands!’ ‘Kill Susan!’ These are Simon’s three unpractical solutions to Barbara’s poisonous dilemma!

Simon is now sure that the first Doctor is an arsonist when he suggests ‘we should start a fire!’ noting that he did precisely the same thing in the Roman adventure! ‘Ooh nasty!’ he cries as the can explodes in Forrester’s face.

Whilst the story has concentrated mostly on the Doctor’s shrunken woes Simon is not sure that the story is wrapped up very efficiently. ‘I know the policeman turns up and everything but we never find out if they find the body or if the insecticide is stopped, there are lots of unanswered questions, aren’t there?’

Again Simon is full of praise for the visualisation of the story which he states has ‘very good sets, imaginatively designed to suggest the characters scale without breaking the budget.’ He suggests they have it easy these days being able to create all these environments with CGI but this takes real skill.

William Hartnell has struck up another winner it seems with Simon declaring his performance ‘funny and entertaining, he’s not as loud and theatrical as Colin Baker was in the last story, manages to calm a situation down and steal the scenes without going over the top.’

A very healthy 7.5/10 for Planet of Giants which Simon says was ‘much better than Mark of the Rani by which all stories shall now be judged! Sorry I didn’t make many comments but I was really enjoying the story!’

His last word: ‘Mark of the Rani was released on DVD before this?