Doctor Who 2.13 – Doomsday

Since I’ve praised Shaun Dingwall so much in his previous appearances, I really needed to give him one last shot at the blog photo, front and center where he deserves. Dingwall does not steal the story this time like he did in “Father’s Day” and the “Age of Steel” story; between the Dalek-Cybermen trash-talk scene and Billie Piper’s amazingly sad goodbye, not even this great actor could walk away with the episode. But the first meeting between “our” Jackie and “the other” Pete is nevertheless a real highlight of the story. I love how Noel Clarke, David Tennant, and Billie Piper are positioned well behind Dingwall and Camille Coduri, looking for all the world like they’re just getting out of their way.

“Doomsday” is magnificent. All three of the two-parters in the second series do an amazing job with fulfilling all the promise of the setup in their conclusions. I absolutely love this adventure. I think that in retrospect it set a bad precedent for what I call “apocalyptic” companion departures, with too many characters yet to come that the Doctor can never, ever, ever meet again, but Rose got a great sendoff that’s rarely been equaled. And that little bitchfest between our two alien menaces is one of my all-time favorite Who moments. We paused the episode for a minute there for everybody to have a chance to quit laughing.

The kid absolutely loved it, of course. The revelation that there are millions more Daleks locked in that bigger-on-the-inside Time Lord prison ship had him on his feet with his jaw on the floor. I’ve been questioning him all day whether he’s absolutely sure the Daleks and the Cybermen wouldn’t get along. I noticed that his eyebrows raised when the Cybermen proposed an alliance. Of course the Daleks shoot that idea down. They don’t make friends and they’re not afraid to ask anybody to step outside.

Doctor Who 2.12 – Army of Ghosts

In 2006, Doctor Who would air in the UK on Saturdays and a friend of mine, a dear fellow who’s since passed away, would download a copy from a file-sharing site a day or two later. We’d then get a gang together to watch the episode at our old house on Thursday nights because that was when it was most convenient. A day or two after “Fear Her” aired, I got a message from a pal in the UK on the 2000 AD forum. Knowing that I hate spoilers, he did me the favor of dropping me a line to tell me to not watch the “Next Time” trailer at the end of “Fear Her.” I did as requested. When we watched “Fear Her” that Thursday, I paused the DVD and passed the remote to somebody else while I went upstairs.

Because the BBC spoils lots of surprises – they sort of have to when they film on location and bring identifiable monster costumes or cast recognizable actors for outdoor shots – everybody knew that the Cybermen would be back. After all, director Graeme Harper had filmed all sorts of material with the Cybermen in broad daylight, as the publicity and paparazzi photos had shown, and the previous adventure with them all took place in one evening. So everybody knew that this would be a Cybermen story, but what nobody knew until that “Next Time” trailer is that the Daleks would be back as well. And the trailer doesn’t reveal it, it just half-assedly gives it away by casually including the unmistakable look and sound of a Dalek death ray in one shot as if by accident.

I am so glad that I skipped it that Thursday in 2006, because apart from one bit where David Tennant, forgetting how he’d reprimanded himself for “correctamundo,” acts like a goofball saying that he ain’t afraid of no ghosts, this episode is completely wonderful and ends with one of the all-time great cliffhangers, which I totally did not see coming. The kid loved it as well and said that it was even better than “the one with Queen Victoria and the werewolf!” He didn’t even pretend that the Cybermen annoyed him this time around. Then when the Daleks showed up in the final seconds, he was on his feet, roaring, and saying pretty much everything you can imagine an eight year-old would say about having the two big baddies finally showing up in the same story. I asked whether he thinks that they’ll get along. “No! Absolutely not! They’re going to HATE each other!”

Well, Cybermen don’t understand how to hate, but I take his point. I’m resisting the temptation to jump ahead and watch that brilliant bit of trash-talking in the second episode. I can wait ’til tonight. I think.

Doctor Who 2.10 – Love & Monsters

“Love & Monsters” is an episode that I saw a lot of people spitting bricks about when it was first shown. There were people who absolutely hated this one. Surprisingly, to me, anyway, our son didn’t care for it, either. He did enjoy the Scooby Doo tribute with the corridor scene at the beginning of the show, and he liked the flashbacks to the three previous alien incidents in contemporary England (seen in “Rose,” “Aliens of London,” and “The Christmas Invasion“), but the scene where Jackie Tyler comes on to Elton had him cringing in embarrassment. At the end, he said that he didn’t like it because the Doctor was hardly in it, which I can understand, and because all of Elton’s video diaries have these little white “frames” around the picture, which I said was a bit silly.

We talked beforehand about how today’s episode might be an example of an unreliable narrator. I gave him a few examples of how most television and film is made without a narrator, with the events presented as true. He offered up Kolchak: The Night Stalker as having a narrator, and I said that we can probably trust Carl, because he’s determined to get the truth out at whatever the cost. I’m not certain we can completely trust Elton’s account of these events. The Scooby Doo hallway bit at the beginning is evidence that Elton might be making some of these things up. I read an interesting theory that Victor Kennedy and the Absorbaloff never existed at all, but Elton’s relationship with Ursula didn’t work out and he told this story to make the breakup hurt less, because she got the friends and LINDA continued without him. (Why else, in “Time Crash,” would the Fifth Doctor even know about “that LINDA lot” if they were only around for about three months in 2006?)

There’s one part of me that pretends to think that the fade to black right after the shot pictured above, after Elton’s last memory of his mother, is where the truth actually ends. The continuation, with the Doctor calling to him to fetch a spade and the revelation that Ursula is still alive as a pavement slab, is not true. That revelation had a lot of fans completely furious in 2006, that Doctor Who had a cheap joke that implied oral sex with a chunk of granite.

As for me, I’ve always liked the story despite the dopey and tasteless ending. I wish that it had gone differently: it would have been a million times better if the Absorbaloff melted and freed all four of its victims. I’m not saying that Doctor Who needed to keep revisiting these five funny little humans, but I liked them, and I like to believe that they spent the second half of the 2000s watching the skies. Now that I think about it, I like that fan theory more and more, whether or not Elton was part of the gang. I also like a tremendously neat thing that I read at Wikipedia when going over the production of this story. One of the earlier script drafts had explained that Elton’s mother, who died in the 1970s, was not a victim of some kind of elemental shade that this Doctor had recently tracked, but was instead a victim of the plastic flowers that the Master distributed way back in “Terror of the Autons.” I really wish they’d have done that.

“Love & Monsters” lends itself to so much more analysis and discussion than I typically indulge here at our blog. There’s the whole business about LINDA being a parable for fandom that has to deal with superfans storming in and making everything not fun for everybody, and you can certainly read a lot about that elsewhere, if you’re inclined. I think it’s a fine piece of television with a terrific lead performance by Marc Warren as Elton, with some fine support by Shirley Henderson as Ursula. Maybe it’s not for everybody, and LINDA’s love and happiness and exuberant performances of ELO songs shouldn’t have been interrupted by either Kennedy or death, but I think it’s still charming and huggable. Plus, the way that the villain explains that Raxacoricofallapatorius has a twin planet called Clom is the funniest thing ever.

Doctor Who 2.6 – The Age of Steel

“That was awesome, but ONLY because the Cybermen were totally destroyed in a totally awesome way.” That’s our son’s verdict, still loving to hate the Cybermen.

“The Age of Steel” is the all-action finale to the story, taking place in one evening with what must have been weeks of night filming in Cardiff. Graeme Harper was brought on to direct this adventure. He’d previously directed the stories “The Caves of Androzani” and “Revelation of the Daleks” in 1984-85, making him the only director from the original run to work on the revival. Harper had a reputation, then, as being one of the most dynamic and exciting directors working at the BBC. But since British television had moved away from videotape and the frequently static recorded-as-live productions, Harper’s work here, while still very thrilling and fun to watch, isn’t quite as thunderously different from the surrounding stories as it was in Colin Baker’s day. The difference between “Timelash” and “Revelation of the Daleks” is obvious even with the sound down. This story looks every bit as good as “The Girl in the Fireplace.”

The story ends with Mickey choosing to remain on the parallel world and help the authorities shut down any of Lumic’s remaining Cyber-factories. I like how the story wrong-foots the audience, because while it telegraphs Mickey’s unhappiness, there’s also a scene where they split up – “above, between, below” like “The Five Doctors” – and it practically screams “Mickey isn’t coming back.”

The only part of this story that raises a question with me is the quickie reference to Torchwood in part one. Why is there a Torchwood in this universe? Did a Doctor show up in 1879 and piss off this world’s Victoria, too?

Doctor Who 2.5 – Rise of the Cybermen

I enjoyed this more than I remembered. The kid jumping up in mock frustration / annoyance when the word “Cybermen” appeared in the title helped. I still think they should have swapped episode titles with the next one. Obviously the BBC’s ongoing policy of spoiling as much as possible meant that everybody in 2006 knew that the Cybermen were coming back in this one. Might’ve been nice to see how he put all the pieces together before the big reveal at the end.

So this is the big parallel universe two-parter, with all the attendant silliness and coincidence that comes from parallel universe stories, and in this universe, the Cybermen evolved on Earth rather than Mondas. Their creator is portrayed by Roger Lloyd-Pack, whose lengthy career I almost entirely missed. I still think of him as that young fellow from Spyder’s Web in 1972 and his dad Charles was the old guy. Now they’re both gone. Shaun Dingwall is back as the Pete Tyler of the other Earth, and he’s once again magical. And there’s one of my favorite Rose scenes from her two seasons, when she decides to try patching up her parents’ marriage, forgetting that the Pete and Jackie of this world are not her parents, and doesn’t so much get put in her place as shoved there, hard.

But best of all is Noel Clarke who gets to play both Mickey and his gun-toting doppelganger, Ricky, and Mickey has the common sense not to try to explain to the much angrier fellow on this world who he actually is. Clarke is so often used as the comedy foil that it’s wonderful to see him get to do some different things, and do them so incredibly well. Again, you have to swallow the same silly coincidences that happen anytime a sci-fi show does a parallel world story – they couldn’t have landed in Sydney or Buenos Aires or someplace where there aren’t any Tylers or Smiths, of course – but it gives Clarke a real chance to shine.

And of course there are Cybermen. Our son has a wonderful love/hate relationship with the Cybermen and feigns exasperation with them. It’s the Daleks that he really likes, he insists, and loudly brags that it would only take five Daleks to destroy all these Cybermen. Stick around for another three weeks, won’t you, readers?

Doctor Who: Children in Need Special Scene + 2.0 – The Christmas Invasion

Our son told us that the big rocky ship commanded by the blood-voodoo space alien Sycorax “looked like a failed bioelectric experiment with the technology of the future controlled by cavemen!” And I should probably end this post here, because I’m not going to better that.

But for posterity, tonight we watched David Tennant’s first hour as Doctor Who from December 2005, preceded by the “just regenerated” scene in the TARDIS that was shown for the Children in Need charity a few weeks earlier. It brought back Penelope Wilton as Prime Minister Harriet Jones, only for the Doctor to change history and bring her tenure as PM to an abrupt end with six carefully chosen words. Yeah, I know, if only. Marie made sure to point that out to our son, because it’ll come back to bite our hero in the rear someday soon.

It’s been quite a while since I’ve sat down to watch any of Tennant’s episodes. I’ve always enjoyed just how laid-back and likeable his Doctor can be when he isn’t being manic.

Doctor Who 1.13 – The Parting of the Ways

For my money, Christopher Eccleston has the absolute best batting average of any of the Doctors. Just 13 episodes – 10 stories – and not a turkey among them. His weakest hour, “The Long Game,” is guilty of nothing worse than being a little forgettable, and even that one had Simon Pegg in it. I kind of like the idea that there was one Doctor with an incredibly short life. There’s a tendency in Who fandom, with all the spinoff novels and comics and audio adventures, to make sure that every Doctor lived for decades and decades, with far, far more stories than we ever saw on TV, but I like having one who only had a few months. Makes up for the eleventh living for all those centuries on Trenzalore. The ninth was the one who died.

So of course the kid loved it to pieces, especially when the Anne Droid disintegrated three Daleks. He really liked the Emperor, and we had to discuss whether the “immortal god” version could move anywhere or whether it’s part of the ship. We’ll never know for sure, but my vote’s for having the Emperor be completely stationary, but able to manipulate things with those arms underneath its tank. That makes for thematic similarity with the original Emperor from “The Evil of the Daleks” back in 1967, and so I showed him some pictures to see what I mean, since the only surviving episode from that serial doesn’t have the Emperor in it. He respectfully disagrees and thinks that this Emperor stomped around its ship on its three big “legs.”

Our kid might have been only the second person to ever watch “The Parting of the Ways” who didn’t know it was going to end with a regeneration. I did know one fellow who understood that the thirteen episodes were in the can and then Eccleston quit, so the ending was a huge surprise. It was a beautifully written and acted scene before the visuals took over – I really don’t like the star-volcano special effects of modern regenerations – but I’m afraid that this blog’s oldest recurring gag came roaring back. No, our son didn’t recognize David Tennant.

Not only that, but when we watched the Randall & Hopkirk adventure “Drop Dead” literally two weeks ago, I paused the show with Tennant onscreen, told our son that of course I didn’t expect him to recognize this actor as Crowley from Good Omens, but told him to remember his face because we’d be seeing a lot more of him in the future. The blasted kid doesn’t even remember that I paused the episode to tell him that.

We’ll return Doctor Who to the shelf for a break, but we’ll look at series two in mid-December. Stay tuned!

Doctor Who 1.8 – Father’s Day

“Father’s Day” is the first of surprisingly few TV episodes of Doctor Who written by Paul Cornell. He’d written several incredibly entertaining Who novels for Virgin and the BBC, but he only contributed two stories to the television series. I wonder why.

Anyway, this is a really effective story that retains its power to leave otherwise hard-hearted grownups drying their eyes and choking back sobs. Our son, however, was so completely fascinated by what was happening with time in this story, including the driver caught in a time loop, eternally trying to run over Rose’s father one day in November 1987, and the strange beasts that entered reality as a result of history changing, that he didn’t have any tears to spare. He likened the monsters to “white blood cells,” which seems kind of right.

I think there are two really powerful reasons this story works so well and is so darn effective in making audiences bite their lips. First, I will occasionally grumble that Murray Gold’s music can get both bombastic and intrusive from time to time, but when he was on fire, he was perfect. “Father’s Day” might be his best score in ten series.

Second, Shaun Dingwall plays Rose’s father, and his is one of the best guest performances in the program’s history. He does more silently in this episode than everybody else does speaking. That’s not to dismiss anybody else’s performances – Camille Coduri darn near steals the whole episode when 1987-Jackie, hitting really close to home, chews out her no-good so-and-so “Del Boy” of a husband – but watching Dingwall as his character figures out what has happened, and that Rose is lying to him about his future, is just breathtaking.

Doctor Who 1.5 – World War Three

There’s a long tradition in sci-fi and horror of the truth being covered up and a false story given to the public. I’ve always been completely fascinated by what these stories might be, which is why just about my favorite special feature ever made for DVD is a 45-minute documentary added to The Blair Witch Project, a film that I almost certainly love more than you do, that incorporates fake local news reports about the missing students and some 16mm clips from a cheesy 1971 TV series called Mystic Occurrences. I just eat up this kind of stuff.

So when Doctor Who came back in 2005, the BBC went to town and created “in-universe” websites to support the show. You could visit Conspiracy Clyde’s site shown in episode one, and a site that Mickey created that took up the flame, and even UNIT’s site, with the all-access password the Doctor used in this episode: buffalo. At the end of the episode, Mickey is reading the Evening Standard with its big headline, “ALIEN HOAX.” I want to read that article.

(As an aside, if you enjoy Doctor Who and also eat up this kind of stuff, I highly recommend the novel Who Killed Kennedy by David Bishop, which is presented as an “in-universe” expose of UNIT, written during the days when the Third Doctor was fighting Silurians and Axons. The original novel is long out-of-print, but you can dig through a delightful e-book re-presentation of it at TSV.)

Our son approached this as he often does: recovering from a super-frightening cliffhanger by enjoying the pants off of the rest of the story. People grumbled at the time about the farting and the Nickelodeon gak and slime when one Slitheen explodes, just as they grumbled about the burping Auton in episode one, but these were of course splendid additions to the show for its younger viewers.

Doctor Who 1.4 – Aliens of London

Here’s a story that our son was enjoying quite a lot until its cliffhanger ending, which I always thought went on a bit longer than it should have, but succeeded in delivering shock after shock for him. He was entertained by the aliens tremendously when they were in their human disguises, farting and shaking their booties, because he’s eight and greatly enjoys people farting and shaking their booties. However, they then unzip their faces and reveal themselves as the series’ first new recurring alien menace: the Slitheen. And our son was frozen, wincing, and not a little freaked out. Afterward, he asked “Who knows what those crazy baby-faced aliens do with the human bodies once they’ve made a skin? Maybe they’ve had lunch!”

I also enjoyed connecting the dots to the previous two adventures and their mentions of a bad wolf. Our son suspects that the bad wolf is the Doctor, and that somebody has given him that name because he wolves down bad things. Seems a bit unlikely, but that was all he had.

A couple of new recurring faces are introduced this time. Annette Badland plays one of the Slitheen, the only one who’ll make a return appearance. Penelope Wilton is here for the first time as Harriet Jones, MP for Flydale North. Naoki Mori is introduced as Dr. Tosh Sato, and this character would later be a regular in Torchwood, which we won’t be watching for the blog. Mori co-starred with Christopher Eccleston in the biopic Lennon Naked in 2010, which I really enjoyed.

Doctor Who 1.2 – The End of the World

I don’t like the sonic screwdriver and I’m ambivalent about the psychic paper, but I just can’t help myself and I like the stupidest of the gadgets, the time-travelling cell phone. I even like that it’s slightly unreliable, just like the TARDIS itself, and when Rose phones her mother, she’s speaking to her the day before the department store blew up in the previous episode.

Zoë Wanamaker plays the villain in tonight’s episode. She provides the voice of a remarkably grotesque “bitchy trampoline” called the Lady Cassandra, who’s like the future Siouxsie and the Banshees warned us about in “Paradise Place.” (“Do you notice my eyes, are they in the right place?”) Wanamaker gets the dual trophy of being the show’s first big name guest star as well as its first villain. Plus she gets the absolute booby prize of being represented by the most pathetic piece of merchandise they ever came up with, among a huge pile of nominees. You could buy the Lady Cassandra action figure, or you could buy the “Destroyed Cassandra” action figure, which was just the empty frame left behind after she died. It’s the sort of toy you’d expect from Obvious Plant.

When it was first shown, “The End of the World” was overshadowed by the news that Christopher Eccleston had already left the part, spoiling what should have been an amazing surprise eleven weeks down the road. As I’m writing this, the actor has been doing the publicity rounds for his memoir about his father, and has been open that in 2004-05, he was fighting a losing fight with anorexia and other health issues. Having the BBC up and lie about his departure with a story about “typecasting” didn’t help.

I was completely thrilled when they announced Eccleston’s casting – I only knew him from one role, DCI Bilborough in Cracker, but enjoyed him very much – and disappointed that he left so soon. Eccleston’s opened up a lot in the last year or so, making peace with what was a much tougher situation than any of us knew, even doing conventions for the first time, though I’m sure the garbage bags full of $20s help, too. I watched a recent panel on YouTube and he seems really happy, which makes me feel good.