Doctor Who 8.6 – The Caretaker

“The Caretaker” has a few clever little similarities with season five’s “The Lodger” – Gareth Roberts had written that and he co-wrote this with Steven Moffat – but this one’s mainly about Danny meeting the Doctor and learning about Clara’s time away from Earth. Actually, what it’s mainly about is the Doctor being an almost unbearable jerk. I think sometimes we like this a lot because the Doctor often gets to be far more bad-tempered and angry we’re allowed to. Sometimes, like Pertwee’s Doctor in his first two seasons especially, our hero gets to bellow at everybody who gets in his way.

But this time out, it’s really entertaining to see the Doctor be so incredibly narrow-minded and prejudiced and then get hauled up on it. Danny shoves back harder than the Doctor does. He goes straight for our hero’s “aristocratic” accent, and the instant he susses that the Doctor has a hate-on for soldiers, he starts saluting and calling him “sir.” So yeah, there’s a fun story about an odd-looking and unlikely robot threat, but I like this one because I like seeing the Doctor figure he can get away with being a superior jerk and learn the rough way that this time he was wrong.

The Sarah Jane Adventures 5.5-6 – The Man Who Never Was (parts one and two)

So of course this series came to an end far sooner than planned, but at least we can say that they went out with a very good one. Gareth Roberts’ “The Man Who Never Was” features the awesome Peter Bowles in a small role as one of Sarah Jane’s former editors, and does a brilliant job of subverting the audience’s expectations. The story’s built around yet another must-have consumer good, echoing back to the Bubble Shock drink of the very first story, and Clyde is quite naturally expecting everybody in the neighborhood to start walking up the street like zombies as soon as the mystery baddie switches on whatever malevolent machine is in play.

But beautifully, it’s nothing like that at all. The fad-du-jour is a small laptop called a Serfboard, and it’s not an alien superweapon. It’s basic human junk. It’s the least impressive laptop money can buy, and Clyde and Rani – in a wonderful tip of the hat to fandom, Luke has started calling them “Clani” – even realize that the model they’ve got to test for alien tech comes with one whole free byte of storage space. The all-too human inventor of this expensive paperweight is, however, planning to use alien slaves and their hologram technology to hypnotize humanity into buying it in record numbers. I loved all the Clani stuff – Luke will not stop calling them that – and our son laughed himself silly when Luke and Sky take the reins and start driving the hologram of the American inventor. Unfortunately, Sky’s only experience with how Americans might talk comes from watching Toy Story.

Since the show ended, I have often wondered why Steven Moffat never gave the series a proper sendoff in an episode of Doctor Who. I mean, assuming that Sarah Jane passed away at the same time that Elisabeth Sladen did – and, as it turned out, there was no reason whatever to make that assumption – that would have meant that there’d been an alien supercomputer hanging out in an attic on Bannerman Road since 2011, for starters.

But earlier this year, writer Russell T. Davies, who, with the use of names like “Jackals of the Backwards Clock,” proved that he has lost none of his amazing talent to string words together better than anybody else, penned a little thirteen-minute story set in 2020, at and just after Sarah Jane’s funeral. With a narrator and seven surprise performers sending in their contributions from home studios, “Farewell, Sarah Jane” premiered this past April on YouTube as a delightful, albeit heartbreaking, little piece of lockdown content. I’d held off watching it until tonight, so that our son would be caught up and the family could see it together. I confess to a tear or two.

But the really incredible news from “Farewell, Sarah Jane” is that Nyssa is living on Earth and Luke has passed K9 to a new owner. Seriously! Russell, you’re a genius! Well, we knew that already, but I love this!!

Doctor Who 6.12 – Closing Time

Longtime readers know that I’m an old school Who geek, and I’ve enjoyed a whole heck of a lot of time spent debating and discussing such pressing issues as UNIT dating and how old the Doctor might really be. So Gareth Roberts’ “Closing Time” tickles me in one wonderful regard. The season began with “The Impossible Astronaut” revealing that the Doctor we saw die was two hundred years older than when Amy and Rory last saw him. So there you have it: assuming he wasn’t lying again, two hundred years pass for the Doctor since the previous episode.

I love this, and I love all the fun speculation about what the Doctor did for two centuries, other than go on dates with River and appear in Laurel and Hardy films. He calls this his farewell tour, and I choose to believe that for a chunk of it, he did one better than his little check-ins on old companions (as seen in “The End of Time” and expanded upon in “Death of the Doctor”) and he went to see everybody. He went everywhere and visited everybody he possibly could, from making sure that the Tribe of Gum had enough fire to ensuring that the Tivolian fellow we met in the last story got back home to see his planet invaded properly, and somewhere in between, he paid for the finest accommodations at a nursing home for his old friend Alistair.

But he chose to end the farewell tour visiting Craig and Sophie and their new baby Stormageddon, Dark Lord of All, in Colchester, 2011, where some Cybermen have woken up underneath a department store, and are being much more creepy than stompy. James Corden is back, although sadly Daisy Haggard was mostly unavailable due to another job so she only has a couple of short scenes. Lynda Baron, who had been an Eternal pirate queen back in 1983’s “Enlightenment”, has a small role in this story.

The kid almost completely loved it, and I think this must have been the highlight of the season for him. There’s an epilogue with River Song and the Silence that had him scowling, but he laughed and smiled all the way to that point. I don’t recall the last time he enjoyed an adventure with the Cybermen this much. I think he’s softening on them. He actually asked for more Cybermen action figures for Christmas, figuring he needs to beef up his army of those since he has enough Daleks. Don’t tell him, but he’s getting at least two.

The Sarah Jane Adventures 4.7-8 – The Empty Planet (parts one and two)

“The Empty Planet” reminds me of a very good episode of The New Avengers called “Sleeper”, especially in the way it amazes me how they filmed it and made sure all the streets were clear of people and cars. There’s even a repeat of the gag in “Sleeper” where Purdey avoids some bad guys by pretending to be a mannequin, only here it’s Clyde avoiding a big robot.

Our son enjoyed it very much. It’s a great mystery story where Rani and Clyde have to work out where everybody else on the planet has gone except for them and a thirteen year-old kid called Gavin. I also liked how the writer, Gareth Roberts, tossed in a couple of Smiths references with a “son and heir” and some bloody awful poetry. Must’ve been listening to The Queen is Dead a lot that year.

Doctor Who 5.11 – The Lodger

Why do I love series five so much despite two utterly awful stories? Because even the simple comedy installments are just huggably wonderful. Gareth Roberts wrote “The Lodger” after I guess you’d say piloting the idea in a terrific comic strip for Doctor Who Magazine three years earlier. That time, the Tenth Doctor moves in with Micky for a few days and makes him miserable. This time, he takes an extra room with a fellow named Craig. Craig and Sophie are too shy to move from awkward friendship into dating, so Craig’s pretty miserable anyway, but somehow the Doctor’s attempts to act like a normal “bloke” just to end up being practically perfect in every way threaten to ruin everything. It is hilarious. James Corden and Daisy Haggard are too cute for words and the show is full of moments that are sweet or knowing or completely surprising.

The kid loved it, but he ended up loving what came next even more. Afterward, I told him how Matt Smith came to the US to do some promotional business for The Crown two years ago and starred with James Corden and Terry Crews in a great comedy bit for The Late Late Show called “Lizzie and the Duke”. Usually it’s Who that gets the kid coming up with fan theories, but three minutes of that and he was speculating whether our heroes could blow up the Tower of London as well as the Los Angeles Federal Building, and how it would happen. Clearly CBS missed a trick not ordering a full season.

The Sarah Jane Adventures 3.5-6 – The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith (parts one and two)

You know, the kid just does not like bad guys as much as I do. The third and final duel between Sarah Jane and the Trickster had him grumbling even more than usual – after the lights were turned on, happily – about his antics, with the interesting caveat that he just doesn’t think the Trickster is all that much of a villain. He says that the Trickster doesn’t really do anything villainous, he just lets people make the decision to stay alive instead of dying. We parents protested that changing the future can be pretty amazingly evil. This time, in the guise of an angel, he saves the life of a man named Peter Dalton and plays matchmaker, because a happily married Sarah Jane won’t go saving the planet all the time.

And see, I think this is remarkably and delightfully evil, because the Trickster can only ever be defeated by people agreeing to die. Victory over him demands sacrifice, every time. How wretched is that? He’s a great, great villain, and happily, as I discussed when I was talking about the Replicators in Stargate the other day, the law of diminishing returns never sets in for him. Gareth Roberts used him three times and he’s been retired, which is good. One more appearance would be too many. At least he gets to have that standoff with the Doctor he threatened when we met him.

Oh, yeah, the Doctor’s in this! Bizarrely, because of the complex filming schedules of the Who shows back when they were making three of them, this was actually made after David Tennant’s last Who installments. The Doctor gets to run around with the kids and K9 in a situation that is remarkably like Sapphire & Steel‘s final case, trapped in a lost, repeating second in a building with nothing outside it. They have a completely grand second part to the story with Tennant doing all his running around and shouting and Doctor things while Sarah Jane and Peter get to have the emotional showdown with the baddie. Peter’s last words, if you have a heart, will break it.

Also, for those of you who really like the Tenth Doctor, I’m pretty sure you can slot Panini’s terrific collection The Crimson Hand just perfectly in between “Planet of the Dead” and this story. It’s been a while since I read that; I should dust it off again soon. Wow, it just struck me that we’ll reach the end of Tennant’s run before September. Time flies.

Anyway, all the Doctor stuff is terrific fun, and it makes for a great balance, because he doesn’t dominate the story. The emotional core is happening elsewhere, a second away, in another room. I love it to pieces, without reservation. Anybody who binges Tennant’s run as the Doctor who doesn’t detour here to enjoy this is seriously missing out.

Doctor Who 4.15 – Planet of the Dead

The kid absolutely loved “Planet of the Dead,” a one-off episode first shown in April 2009. It was co-written by Russell T. Davies and Gareth Roberts, and shares a similarity or two with an earlier Who novel by Roberts called The Highest Science. When that rumor started buzzing, there was some speculation that the TV show was finally going to give us an appearance by the Chelonians, an incredibly fun race of war-loving turtle creatures. Eleven years later, we still don’t have any Chelonians, but we did get some fly creatures called Tritovores and a gigantic swarm of flying metal stingrays, so the kid was in heaven. He absolutely went nuts with excitement, and says this is one of his all-time favorite stories.

Joining the Doctor this time, it’s Michelle Ryan as a rich girl thrill-seeker called Lady Christina. Captain Erisa Magambo, who we met in the parallel timeline of “Turn Left”, is also here in the company of comedian Lee Evans as UNIT’s hero-worshiping scientific adviser. I’m sorry to be an old fogey, but I like UNIT best when people are telling the Doctor to see here, he really has gone too far this time instead of saluting him and saying “I love you” repeatedly. So the UNIT stuff is, frankly, utterly awful, but Lady Christina and the Tritovores and the five passengers stuck in a bus on a desert planet are incredibly watchable and entertaining. I don’t know why I’ve never returned to rewatch this episode before. It’s mostly great fun, and I like Lady Christina a lot.

I just looked up Michelle Ryan to see what she’s done recently and see that Big Finish have cast her in a few Lady Christina audio adventures. And sure, that’s typical of Big Finish to give every supporting character they can think of an audio spinoff of their own, but I’m telling you, if the BBC is going to insist on a year’s break in production after every run of episodes, whether or not there’s a pandemic screwing with filming, then they could do a whole lot worse than bring Ryan back for some more solo stories while we’re waiting for them to make more adventures of the Doctor.

The Sarah Jane Adventures 2.9-10 – The Temptation of Sarah Jane Smith (parts one and two)

It’s not as though every installment of Doctor Who and its spin-offs can proudly boast their originality. Never mind the frequent homages to other fiction, the show repeats itself sometimes. So you get a Peladon story that’s a whole lot like the previous one, only longer, and you get Terry Nation writing the same Dalek adventure about three times, and you get this, which is the Christopher Eccleston story “Father’s Day” again.

In its defense, the Trickster remains an interesting opponent, and the clothes in 1951 are nice. But this story doesn’t have Shaun Dingwall to carry the emotions and Sarah Jane has to be written as breathtakingly, criminally stupid to fall for this. It’s a badly-timed story anyway, coming as it does right after Clyde dealt with his abandonment issues in the previous adventure. The direction by Graeme Harper is as good as ever, but this isn’t Gareth Roberts’ best script, and it’s definitely the weakest of the three with the Trickster.

Although there is a little moment I found interesting. A year previously, some critics complained about a scene in Roberts’ “The Shakespeare Code.” Then, Martha was reluctant to leave the TARDIS in the 1600s, fearing the racism and bigotry of people in the period, but two women of color walk by in nice clothes and that settles that. The past just isn’t racist for forty-five minutes and she didn’t have to deal with anybody being ugly toward her color until “Human Nature” later in the season. Here, Rani walks into the all-white village fete and every head in the building turns, leaving her to dismiss them as quickly as she can by saying “yes, ethnic person in the 1950s,” and trying to get down to business. I like “Shakespeare Code” much better overall, but this scene feels much more honest.

Our kid, again, wasn’t very thrilled. It’s too simplistic to just say “he’s seen it all before,” but that’s a big part of it. He’s seen enough to know – from “Father’s Day,” from Star Trek, from Stargate SG-1 – that Sarah Jane should not be interfering in her past. So he shook his head and he scowled and rolled his eyes with an “oh, no” a few times. That’s three in a row that he didn’t enjoy, which I didn’t expect. Hopefully this run will end on a high note for him!

The Sarah Jane Adventures 2.5-6 – Secrets of the Stars (parts one and two)

Uh-oh. Our son offered some troubling proof that he’s going to be struggling against an anti-fun gene as he gets older. Tonight’s story posits that there was a universe before our own, with its own laws of reality that contradict what we call “physics.” Half-remembered by civilizations across the cosmos as “astrology,” this power from some old time doesn’t actually have any real influence on us, but the entities from that old time can use it, and, millions of years ago, set in motion a plan to re-enter the reality that would replace theirs. And our son called hogwash on it. He is perfectly prepared to accept, say, Daleks stealing planets and sticking them in a great big engine, but he drew the line at some other universe’s physics having any influence or power over our own physics.

So between the episodes, we had a chat about how there’s quite a lot of science fiction that deals with forces or powers or gods from the Old Time, and that he’s going to experience a heck of a lot of it if he continues watching or reading in the genre. Even if I’ve never read a word of Lovecraft, I know what Cthulu and Nyarlathotep are, on account of how Lovecraft was such an unavoidable influence. I also pointed out that this episode’s writer, Gareth Roberts, had penned a Doctor Who story in series three, “The Shakespeare Code,” and it also dealt with some very old entities messing with what we think are the laws of physics. Still, this really wasn’t one of his favorites, and he was ready to scram and rebuild an International Rescue pod he’d made with Lego just as soon as our heroes saved the day.

Doctor Who 4.7 – The Unicorn and the Wasp

Another year, another celebrity historical, although this one amuses me more than most. I’m really not a big fan of Agatha Christie, although I appreciate her, and I did genuinely enjoy the Miss Marple adaptations with Joan Hickson from the 1980s. We told our son who Christie was a couple of weeks ago; he was really more able to see the similarities with the board game Clue than anything else. When one of the characters reveals she has a revolver, after we’ve already seen a professor get killed in the library with a lead pipe, he figured he was on to something.

So anyway, it’s written by Gareth Roberts, who did the celebrity historical the previous season, and directed by the great Graeme Harper. Guest stars include Christopher Benjamin, Felicity Kendal, and Fenella Woolgar as Christie. It’s silly, ridiculous, full of in-jokes, and I think it’s wonderfully huggable. I also choose to believe that the Doctor picked up his facsimile edition paperback of Death in the Clouds from the little shop in the hospital in New New York in series two’s “New Earth.” You know it makes sense.

The Sarah Jane Adventures 1.7-8 – Whatever Happened to Sarah Jane? (parts one and two)

Blindingly brilliant. Gareth Roberts’ “Whatever Happened to Sarah Jane?” introduces us to a fabulous villain called the Trickster. The entity fades in and out of history, causing chaos and creating alternate timelines. In his first gambit, he causes thirteen year-old Sarah Jane to switch places with a friend who died in 1964. It was Andrea Yates, played by Jane Asher, who gets forty more years of life, and the house across from Maria. One day, Sarah is just gone, Luke never existed, Clyde has no idea why Maria has his number, and Maria is the only person on Earth who knows that this party-loving artist across the road is in the wrong time.

Graeme Harper directed this one. I’ve praised him several times in this blog and this is among his finest hours. The tension is unbelievable and everybody’s performances are just amazing. I’ve never said much about Joseph Millson, who plays Alan, Maria’s dad, because there’s not always room in this little blog, but he’s on fire this time. He spends part one afraid that something’s wrong with his daughter because she insists in this story about Sarah Jane, and then once Maria vanishes and only he can remember her, he’s cold fury. And I love how the soundtrack plays with our emotions with snatches of the Kinks and Sandie Shaw. There is not a better choice in all of music for this story’s tale of memory and inspiration than “Always Something There to Remind Me,” so somebody thank Bachrach and David for writing it, would you?

The kid loved it, and was about to explode with excitement in the end, although he was quick to qualify that the Slitheen story is his favorite. I correctly guessed that he would really hate the Trickster, which is a shame, because he’s going to have to put up with him a few more times. I can’t wait.