Tuesday, 31 May 2011

On The Outside It Looked Like An Old Fashioned Police Box

Original Transmission: 23rd June 2009 on Radio 4

Presented by Mark Gatiss

Premise: Mark Gatiss was a child of the 1970s, growing up when Doctor Who aired once and then was forgotten about. Except for the publication of a televised adventure, there was no way to relive these stories, leading to there incredibly fame. Gatiss looks back at the series of novelisations in this thirty-minute radio documentary.

Review: With a ridiculously long title, this was an affectionate look at a series that clearly means so much to presenter Gatiss (who no-doubt idolised author Terrance Dicks as a child). Sadly Gatiss’ love for the novels was buried under a heavily written monologue, but he tried to make his craze known. Probably the best part of this documentary is that Mark got to interview Dicks himself and tell him what Dicks meant to him at in his youth.

A few Who stars are interviewed along the way, although not nearly enough nor was enough length given for a worthwhile in-depth look at how these stars truly felt about some of the work that has been undertaken by them or for their characters through the novels. I enjoyed hearing what pretty much everyone had to say; Chris Achilleos revealed a funny story about something demanded by Jon Pertwee and there was a strong reaction from Anneke Wills (Polly). Due to this being aired in 2009, we get RTD himself ‘bigging’ up the Target franchise from his own childhood memories.

The show was weighted down from far too many excerpts from the recently released audio adaptations of the novelisations, although it did give a look into whose readings are the best to get. Basically I learnt to stay away from any read by Phillip Hinchcliffe. To sum this adventure up, it definitely could’ve done with more of Gatiss’ own presentation rather than a script and an hour to get through all the material the Target series managed to achieve. Also, the directing of interviews wasn’t brilliant, at one point Terrance Dicks began speaking, said two words and was interrupted with a voice-over telling us who he was, before returning to his thoughts, giving me a feeling of how messy the production values.
That old fashioned police box (on the outside)

The Invisible Enemy (Part Two)

Originally Broadcast 8th October 1977
Written by: Bob Baker and Dave Martin

In a nutshell: Leela has to take an infected Doctor to a space hospital to treat him, but more infectants arrive with them, wanting the Doctor’s helpless body.

Review: I pick up this episode with a rather obvious ‘get-out’ clause from the previous part but there’s a rather unusual voice-over by Tom Baker and a fantastically chilling “I’m fighting for my mind” line from the Doctor. I’m not sure what kind of virus this is, making you attack your friends and giving you temporary green fur for hands and around your eyes. Not exactly my worst nightmare for a nucleus attack but that’s neither here nor there.

I love how Lowe has to wear huge great disco glasses to cover hide the fact he’s infected, maybe this is the future version of wearing a scarf to hide a vampire bite? Back to the story and Leela has managed to follow the Doctor’s desperate coordinates, taking him to a huge ‘hospital in space’ where the receptionist wears strange green plastic for clothes and a shuttlecock for a hat.

Here’s K-9’s first appearance! He makes some fancy sci-fi noises I don’t think he ever makes beyond this story and John Leeson’s voice work isn’t quite as professional as it becomes once he’s a recurring character, which feels nice and somehow suits the part. I love Frederick Jaeger as Professor Marius, he puts on a fun voice, you can see he treats this as a children’s show but performs his role with a great respect for the material at the same time, not sending it up at all. Marius and K-9 provide a brilliant double-act, you can see how it wasn’t instantly planned for K-9 to become a companion and he works very well when he isn’t put into that category.

Back to Leela who’s wondering around Hospital department 4X with a laser gun, I’m not sure how she hasn’t had that confiscated by security. She finds the Doctor, but is stopped by K-9 where there’s some funny interaction between the two characters. Watching this episode in hindsight of what happens between K-9 and the Doctor, I find myself seeing a lot of the Doctor in Marius’ character, another nice touch added to this episode. A warning arrives as they’ve lost Lowe in the eye department, if that isn’t irony I don’t know what is.

K-9 makes his debut alongside the wonderful Frederick Jaeger
Some good direction is given to this episode; I like the camera placement in the scenes with Lowe and co. marching through the hospital, which is paired with some catchy ‘bad guys marching’ music. I’m only halfway into part two but this episode must’ve been a hard one to direct for Derrick Goodwin, as there’s already an insane amount of model work needed. And now there’s some Styrofoam bits of the wall spread everywhere.

K-9 and the Doctor seem to have gotten on instantly as one asks the other about cloning procedures. It’s up to Leela to protect the duo now as the infected team from Titan are trying to force their way to the Doctor’s hospital room. Leela’s great as a companion as she’s not afraid to kill, although for a savage warrior she surprisingly doesn’t manage to kill anybody, leaving it down to K-9 who uses his laser-nose for the first time!

The plots moving a lot here as the Professor clones the Doctor and Leela, it’s great how this doesn’t feel like the main point of the plot, being explained away very quickly. An entire story could’ve focused on the cloning part of the story but B. Baker and Martin avoid doing this, focusing instead on the already set-up plot strands.

Cleverly, the Doctor is out of action so we’re given another Doctor to follow, so our lead hasn’t dropped out of the show. Cliffhanger time strikes now as the cloned copies of the Doctor and Leela are shrunk down and implanted into the main Doctor’s diseased body!

Tomorrow: The Invisible Enemy, Part Three!

Monday, 30 May 2011

VFX: The Story Of The BBC Visual Effects Department

Written by Mat Irvine and Mike Tucker

Published by BBC Books, 2010.

Review: This book details the forty-nine year history of the BBC’s Visual Effects Department, giving the reader an overview of the department as well as detailing the standard techniques used. The introduction is very interesting at times, but the techniques section gets quite boring, as a lot of the information included is standard and usually well-known to the readers of such a specialist book. My recommendation is to jump ahead to the main crux of the book, returning to read these sections later on.

VFX: Cover art

The bulk of this book is under the title of ‘Showcase’, where our authors have picked out fifty shows taken on by the VFX department over the course of almost fifty years. The shows are incredibly diverse from ‘Doctor Who’ (classic and new) and ‘Blake’s 7’ to ‘The Goodies’ and ‘Horizon’, each story gives you a view into the fantastic world of visual effects. Obviously some passages are better than others, usually the ones I wasn’t expecting to be great were the ones I was gripped on.

What this book is brilliant at, is making me want to watch fifty years worth of BBC television, especially now I know some of the tricks behind it. ‘Five Children And It’ looks fantastic, as does ‘The Chronicles Of Narnia’, (which I remember some of from my childhood), even non-fiction shows such as ‘Horizon’ and ‘Arena’. It’s clear the people working for this department cared about every shows they worked on, putting in a ridiculous amount of work on over two thousand shows.

One of the biggest problems with this book is that there’s no way it can be long enough to go into the detail it needs to. This ‘coffee-table’ book already clocks in at almost 250 pages but it could easily be twice as many pages and just as interesting. Even without adding in more shows, giving just two pages to some programmes is a crime that sadly can’t be rectified.

I already hold the work of Barry Letts in high esteem, but this book carries a lot of his work, making me want to hunt out many more television programmes he directed or produced. In this book alone we get CSO looks at ‘Alice In Wonderland’, ‘Moonbase 3’ and ‘The Invisible Man’.

Sadly there’s very little on Letts’ ‘Doctor Who’ work, the entire section for this show being somewhat of a disappointment. Jon Pertwee is spelt ‘John Pertwee’ at one point and the writers also make the grievous error of stating the TARDIS exterior has never changed.

The technical blurbs can get heavy handed at times and finding the order of the pictures is sometimes hard to work out, but overall this is a brilliant book, very interesting at most times and gives me a new found respect for the BBC’s Visual Effect Department. This book does go to prove how underated their work has always been, especially by the BBC themselves, let alone certain unnamed directors relying on the VFX for their own success.

Whilst still remaining a ‘specialist’ book, this carries an interest for fans of Doctor Who or just television in general. Once you’ve read it, you’ll understand the workings of television in a whole new way, appreciating it a lot more.

Authors Mike Tucker & Mat Irvine pose with a Dalek

The Invisible Enemy (Part One)

Originally Broadcast 1st October 1977

Written by: Bob Baker and Dave Martin

In a nutshell: Moments before answering a distress call on Titan, the TARDIS is infiltrated and the Doctor infected by the nucleus of a space virus.

Review: Some good old VFX model work opens up this episode as a small shuttle speeds through an asteroid field. It all looks quite convincing until we reach the inside of the ship where some dodgy astronaut suits make an appearance. It’s hard to get into review mode here as the story, whilst a bit dull and full of irritating sound effects has gripped me already. The shuttle is seen to be trapped in some electrical field followed by a chillingly delivered message from the communicator; “contact has been made”.

Now we find the Doctor entering the control room of the TARDIS with Leela and some fantastic dialogue between the two about the appearance, Leela having only seen the number one control room before. Tom Baker delivers every line in the most alienated way, in just a two-minute scene he proves that he was the perfect casting for this role and why he’s seen by many as the definitive.

A frightened Leela picks at the fourth Doctor's scarf

Back to the shuttle and the model work matched with some CSO makes the whole thing look a tad dated, but the set, whilst not the bet, looks fairly convincing for the budget restraints. The story takes a big turn as the three ‘humans’ from the shuttle turn out to be infected with green decorations! Writers Baker and Martin are just giving exposition now as a refuelling station is taken over. I find myself still intrigued but I can’t help myself just waiting around for the Doctor to make a second appearance and steal some more of his show.

A mention has to be given to Louise Jameson as Leela as she tries to write her name on a blackboard whilst wearing the Doctor’s hat, she next appears troubled and pulling on the Doctor’s scarf, she gives a wonderfully child-like attitude to the character. I’m not entirely sure how a distress message takes thirty minutes to get to a time machine but I’m sure it’s nothing to worry about. Whilst that’s nothing to fret about, something has made ‘contact’ with the Doctor despite him being in the safety of the TARDIS!

The story is giving me something to worry about as the audience, how can something break into the TARDIS, infect the Doctor? It’s certainly something scary as is the writing and performance given for the Doctor, making it quite clear something is wrong but neither we nor Leela know what.

'Contact has been made!'

As the Doctor exits the TARDIS in comic fashion, there’s a stereotypical “Doctor, look!” as the body count rises. The Doctor is quite harsh to Leela here, calling her a savage; it’s left me unsure as to whether it’s the Doctor or the infestation that’s talking. Tom Baker, like Troughton before him, can change emotion in an instant, being funny for a second then deadly serious, but now there’s none of that as the glitter-eyed baddies have taken control of him!

Tom Baker’s performance when under the control of the nucleus is very robotic and quite poor by Tom’s standards, how this fools Leela, even for a second, is a far stretch for anybodies imagination. But poor Leela has already been called a savage and a reject in twenty minutes, now she’s left with the task of saving the Doctor with no clue as to how and on a planet where everybody has been taken over! And what’s worse, the Doctor’s about to shoot her in the back!

Tomorrow: The Invisible Enemy, Part Two!

Sunday, 29 May 2011

'The Beginning' and the future

I've now finished reviewing what I class as the initial 'trilogy' of linked stories from Doctor Who. These stories are all available on DVD as part of 2006's 'The Beginning' boxed set (3discs) which has some great extra features on it, including a documentary about the start of the show as well as a condensed 30-minute reconstruction of the fourth serial 'Marco Polo' (which missing from the archives).

From now I'm going to open up the world of Who and pick stories at random as well as trying to give coverage to reviewing the latest series. My blog will look a bit different as well as the review layout being very slightly changed as I begin a special look at the Doctor's metal mutt, K-9.

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog and I hope you continue to do so!

1x13 The Brink Of Disaster

“Can it be possible then, that this is the end?”

Broadcast Date: 15th February 1964

Picking straight up from the last episode, it’s Ian strangling the Doctor! Some of the poorest acting, directing and editing of the series gives us the solving of the cliffhanger here. Ian lets out a wail and falls unconscious, as Susan previously did (last episode). The story is beginning to verge on confusion, but repetitive points from the companions (such as a pain in the back of the neck) keeps the audience thinking about the plot, another clever device from Whitaker.

There is a great sense of continuity between this serial and the previous two, this part relying a lot on ‘An Unearthly Child’, the further I travel into this episode, the more complicated it becomes for the average viewer, this is definitely not a starting point for anybody, but for those who have seen the previous ten instalments it is fantastic. This is also the episode where the Doctor can jump from one mood to another instantaneously, a trait that makes the character who he is in today’s series.

Hartnell is constantly making error after error, this two parter could be a drinking game for ‘count the Hartnellisms’, but these really don’t get in the way of his brilliant performance throughout the fifty minute serial.
The level of threat becomes enormous, something I certainly never expected from a small, somewhat unloved serial, and it becomes absolutely brilliant. I find myself loving every little bit of this episode, the characters especially. The plot is clever, each character gets their own plot development to work out and the Doctor discovers his ship is alive.

That darn Gallfreyan workmanship again!
Such a clever plot device is having the ship warning the crew and it’s made all the better by the fact this episode almost never came to pass, yet sets up one of the biggest parts of the Doctor Who mythology. Now we get the Doctor confiding in Ian, telling us there’s only five minutes of life left. I enjoy seeing the two confer, keeping secrets from the girls in order to protect them. “Will you face [the end] with me?” is a wonderfully worried line from the Doctor himself.

Another poor, distracting, explosion occurs but this gives way to one of the most powerful performances in Doctor Who’s long history. The Doctor has to give a monologue about where they are and what is happening, which he does without fault or error, making it even more brilliant. Everything upto this point is just dazzling and I almost love the fact all this trouble has been caused by a spring under the fast return switch not working. This has often been criticised yet I love the simplicity of it, although I’m not sure about ‘Fast return’ written in black felt pen above the button, probably just there for old Billy Hartnell’s sake, bless him. 

A trusted Barbara is a happy Barbara
Whitaker has surprisingly given six minutes at the end of the episode after the danger has passed for the characters to wind down. A great change of pace in comparison to the majority of other Doctor Who stories, but it’s obviously needed here, as the Doctor has to make peace with Ian and, more importantly, Barbara. Some terrible scenes for the two of them (but wonderful for the audience) tore them apart and it isn’t easy to repair that, but all is solved by the Doctor having to adapt to his companions rather than his stubborn nature, apologising to Barbara.

Another time pass and a final beautiful scene between the Doctor and Barbara concludes one of the best Doctor Who serials with the first Doctor and brings a close to the first ‘trilogy’ of stories the show has to offer it’s audience. But the journey is just beginning…

1x12 The Edge Of Destruction

“There’s something here, inside the ship.”

Broadcast Date: 8th February 1964

This two-part story almost never came about. The producers had two episodes to fill in order to make up their initial run of thirteen episodes. The two choices were either stretch ‘The Daleks’ from seven parts to nine, a seemingly impossible feat.
The only other alternative was to write a two part ‘filler’ using only the readily available TARDIS sets and the four characters. It came down to script editor David Whitaker to fill the fifty minutes and this is what he gave us…

A bit of poor editing starts off this two-part story for Doctor Who. Something sets the TARDIS into turmoil, our companions crashing down to the floor. The poor editing comes in here as we jump to the four unconscious time travellers, although Whitaker sets the scene brilliantly in less than two minutes.

A dazed Hartnell in 'The Edge Of Destruction'
There’s a strange, noticeable lack of music, creating the atmosphere as Barbara and Susan wake up first. The dialogue showing something is wrong with our cast, they are not acting or talking in the character-tone I’ve come to expect over the last ten episodes. Upon waking up, William Russell examines the body of the Doctor in a scary and strange, almost robotic like performance.

Susan never ceases to amaze in how irritating she can become but she does get some good lines now that the Doctor is temporarily out of the way. Only she knows the TARDIS so revealing lines about the doors being open has to be said by her. Carole Ann Ford overacts almost everything, however, getting hyper over every line of dialogue she gets. This fast becomes a bore but I’m happy as she’s now knocked out, Ian taking her out of the room.

Ten minutes in now and still I’ve heard no music being scored over the film. There have only been a few minor sound effects too, as Ian works the food machine. Now comes one of Who’s scariest moments, which it got into a lot of trouble over at the time of broadcast. Susan, awake now, attacks Ian with a pair of scissors. The complaints soared in over this scene, children easily being able to gain access to household appliances to imitate Susan (although why you’d want to imitate her I don’t know).

The Doctor’s finally awake and the script takes another turn as the character begins to turn on Barbara (and later Ian). It’s really a clever plot and would only work this early on into the series run. Each character is turned against each other, all four of them untrusting at this time in their travels.

'Crazy Su' attatcked Ian in a famously 'scary' scene
I think Whitaker is the unsung hero in the creation of Doctor Who, as producer Verity Lambert and creator Sydney Newman are the well known faces, yet Whitaker creates this brilliant piece of character-writing in such a small amount of time. Everybody gives ‘An Unearthly Child’ and ‘The Daleks’ as the stories that created the legacy but this story goes unnoticed more often than not, which is a real shame. All the performances (even some of Carole Ann Fords) are fantastic, as is the directing and writing.

But back to the story and eighteen minutes in, Hartnell gets what is possibly my favourite performance of his era, it really steps up a gear as he accuses Barbara and Ian of sabotaging the ship. Jacqueline Hill gets some really angry interaction with him, I always love it when these two characters are left to confront each other, there’s another fantastic scene of this in ‘The Aztecs’ later this series. Just based on this episode, I instantly prefer it over either of the previous stories, as it gets to the point instantly without having to plod out over various parts.

Admittedly the editing falls apart on this episode as we get a bad overlong zoom in on Chesterton’s face near the end of the story. The fade in and outs feel a bit out of place in some scenes, as does the first piece of music I hear, at the very end of the episode, creating the weekly cliffhanger as somebody is strangling the Doctor!

Thursday, 26 May 2011

1x11 The Rescue

“Only one race can survive.”

Broadcast Date: 1st February 1964

As I begin playing ‘The Rescue’ I’m excited, less so for the episode, more so for the fact I’ll be on another story soon. Despite this having some fantastic episodes, it’s some real poor and dragged out parts to it as well. Speaking of which, this episode opens up in the tunnels, with Adric-a-like still waiting to kick the bucket. Finally he goes and now we can leave this location behind us forever!

It’s taken enough time to get there, but the Daleks plan is really menacing and Hartnell’s performance is even better. He really hammers home how evil this plan truly is, giving what I consider a famous Who line “this senseless, evil, killing”. Hartnell has been the strongest piece throughout all eleven episodes. I’m not saying the other TARDIS crewmembers are bad actors at all, but Hartnell is consistently brilliant at whatever emotion he has to perform.

We’ve made it through the tunnels now, seen a dodgy stock photo and my Hartnell look-a-like is back! Hooray! But on a more serious note, the Thals are going into war in a low-budget ‘last march of the Ents’ moment.

The Doctor and Susan now chained to the walls in the Dalek city, there’s a shocking twist in the Doctor’s reasoning with the Daleks. Why does he reveal his time machine to them? It makes the level of threat rise so much higher with just a few lines of speech.

The Thals have finally begun invading the city, but there’s not a whole lot of action, I’m more engrossed in the scenes involving the Doctor begging the Daleks as it’s much more interesting as a character piece and I can’t get enough of Hartnell’s acting skills at a time like this. A poor plot device is used upon returning to Ian’s party, in the disguise of a Dalek radio announcement, but there’s some good performances all round. I wonder if these actors ever thought they’d need heavy-door-acting in their career. The sound effects are slowly grating but its only a minor aggravation. A Dalek countdown is more annoying!

Trapped! But it'll all be over soon...
I’ve never noticed before how Ian Chesterton has a run similar to James Bonds from ‘You Only Live Twice’ as he approaches the Dalek control room. I love Barbara throwing a rock at a Dalek, that’s awesome! The direction is put to good use here to show how powerful the Daleks are in a fight, but this is soon wasted as they are overturned by Thals. The struggle does feel a bit easy, although it wasn’t that badly shot. It could’ve done with a bit more screen time, especially as this episode under-runs by a couple minutes in comparison to the previous instalments.

Some reflective thoughts from the Doctor and a comment about him being a pioneer of his own people, this episode is fast approaching an end. A happy ending is had by all, except a rather unexpected bout of love between Barbara and Ganatus (where did that come from?) and everybody is safe and sound in the TARDIS again. Well, safe until the ship is thrown into turmoil…

'The Daleks' DVD Cover art, 2006
‘The Daleks’ is the second Doctor Who serial, comprising seven episodes. Like ‘An Unearthly Child’ it is available in 2006’s ‘The Beginning’ box set. There’s only one special feature of note, a seventeen-minute feature on the origin of the Daleks, including a great interview with Sydney Newman, the shows creator.

6x2 Day Of The Moon

“My naughty friend here is going to kill the first three of you to attack, plus him behind, so you maybe you want to draw lots or have a quiz.”

Broadcast Date: 30th April 2011

The second episode in this latest series jumps three months ahead, instantly pulling me into the adventure with explosive Murray Gold music paired with budget blowing establishing shots in the Valley Of The Gods. It’s a fantastic opening but it the flashbacks detailing the ‘escape’ from episode ones cliffhanger makes the ending even more of a disappointment. But because we’ve jumped so significantly in time, it looses me into trying to work out what’s been going on since last time, which is a great thing.

The fact we have to watch the same events with all three companions is a little tedious but the location work is so good I barely notice as River Song makes another leap of faith from a skyline. The Doctor being locked in the ‘perfect prison’ smells of ‘The Pandorica Opens’, Moffat reusing his ideas again, the gap between reusing getting smaller each time. I’ve fallen in love with the scene inside the perfect prison and the effects work on the door, it’s only taken five minutes but the episode has proven fantastic already. The Doctor catching River creates more continuity work but proves River’s point about the Doctor always being there to catch her (from ‘The Time Of Angels’).

Cue opening titles and Moffat’s jumping all over the place with his timeline, creating more and more confusion. I hate this on first watch, but it makes brilliant rewatch material in order to work everything out. The initial TARDIS scene is full of more attempts to make ‘trailer lines’, emphasising speeches that aren’t always necessary such as “We’re not fighting an alien invasion, we’re leading a revolution”.

Plot points leap at the screen, far too many to mention here otherwise I’d never be finished, but one thing that isn’t picked up on is how the characters found the photo of the Silence on Amy’s mobile phone. We’re back at the children’s home now, with a creepy location and some nice direction, the post-hypnotic theme is picking up now, the line about closing in 1969 is chilling and brilliantly acted. Then we reach Amy trapped in a room with a mass of Silent’s/Silence on the roof, creating one of my favourite shots from this episode.

Focusing on the Doctor, I’m not too keen on the zoom out shot showing Apollo 11, it looks a bit tacky and feels out of place due to how its shown, but the Doctor gets some more classic Eleventh Doctor foolishness. Nixon shows up and feels really poorly written, I’ve got a huge problem with how Nixon’s portrayed in this episode, especially in contrast to the last. It feels like he’s written to be Rory, but he gets some good lines here with the Doctor. Stuart Milligan’s spitting of the letter P mixed with poor characterisation and stereotypical Presidential music irritates me though, feeling wrong in more ways than one.

"You should kill us all on sight", The Silence
Amy’s stalker in the form of what’s being labelled in fan circles as ‘The Eye-Patch Woman’ is weird and mind numbing, as are the photographs of the child contained in the room she enters. All creating more and more questions for the audience, Moffat loves doing this but I hate not knowing! The Girl/Astronaut returns with some Silents now, as another approaches Canton! It feels a bit odd that bullets aided by fast paced music can beat them. Murray Gold’s setting his best work up here, as our characters are all finally together again, barring Amy who’s succeeded in getting herself taken.

Finally the way has been paved for a beautiful, emotional scene with Rory as Arthur Darvill shines with whatever material he’s given. He can somehow act quite funny and incredibly emotional at the same time, making me think he’d actually be a good choice for role of the Doctor himself.

Speaking of the Doctor, he has his own trouble in the way of flashbacks from previous episodes, finally learning who he’s up against and the level of threat is instantly raised for the Doctor. First Amy is taken and now the Silence have revealed themselves!

More and more questions are being raised from Moffat and the Doctor as he ponders over the TARDIS-blue envelope. Sadly Rory’s returned to moping over Amy and thinking she loves the Doctor more than her own husband, a story that was done last year and has turned boring by now. I’m surprised it’s taken Doctor Who so long to do a story about the moon landing, but the ideas turned up in this scene over the Silence forwarding human technology in order to get there is fantastic. We get a lot more plot strands but no answers quickly here, with Canton recording the captured Silent speaking.

Matt Smith's finest hour
In the Silent’s base, Amy awakes to see her captives, paving the way to one of my all time favourite Matt Smith scenes. The Doctor, teamed with River and Rory invade the lair, giving out an absolutely breathtaking monologue from Smith, some fantastic flirting between the Doctor and River (such a good moment!) and some poor, overlong moments between Rory and Amy. The set up of seeing various civilians watching the moon landing is boring now, it’s been done numerous times in the Russell T Davies era and just feels like a cheap, easy way of showing events on a ‘global’ scale. That aside, this is about five minutes of absolute fun, a joy to watch.

I’ve seen a lot of criticism over the Silence being defeated too easily in comparison to how long it’s taken to set them up (leading back to 2010’s ‘The Eleventh Hour’) but personally, I think their ‘execution’ is brilliantly handled and very cleverly written, taking into account the whole post-hypnotic theme developed here. I was also shocked (and surprisingly happy) about a gunfight in the show between River and the Silence. Maybe, like the Doctor, the audience shouldn’t like it but kind of do a bit.

As Rory and Amy rekindle their love, there’s a lovely scene with the Doctor escorting River back to her Stormcage cell. The relationship has finally begun for the Doctor, as it nears its end for River. Steven Moffat has come up with a fantastic idea with this relationship and how it works, as it gets more fun for the Doctor and the audience, it gets worse and worse for River.

Who is she?
This will obviously lead into episode seven of this series, ‘A Good Man Goes To War’, as will the next two plot devices we get here; Amy being pregnant and a mysterious little girl who appears to be Time Lord in appearance. Personally I’m not too involved with the whole ‘Amy’s Pregnant’ storyline but the little girl is, at the very least, intriguing. But, for now, there are a few weeks stepping back from this ‘main plot’ for an adventure aboard a pirate ship and a trip outside the universe. Be back here soon for ‘The Curse Of The Black Spot’.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

1x10 The Ordeal

“Even if we do get through, we’ll never defeat the Daleks. Ganatus, we’re all going to be killed.”

Broadcast Date: 25th January 1964

As I sit down to watch episode six of ‘The Daleks’ after a short break, I’m instantly drawn in by the fact the reprieve from episode five is shot differently and here looks much more mesmerising and alien in comparison. Instantly gripping me, we then get the disappointment of more people standing around. I’d like to see Chris Barry do something differently. I wish I was still watching ‘An Unearthly Child’ purely for Waris Hussien’s direction.

I’m enjoying seeing the Doctor give out plans amongst him, Susan and the Thals. He really comes into the role of taking charge once Ian goes his separate way, giving another side to the character, one much more associated with the character today.

But now we’ve flicked back to the Daleks and their need to spread radiation before going back to seeing Barbara and co. travelling the caves. I’ve got to give it to Terry Nation, by splitting these characters he does give a much more visually appealing look to these episodes by not trapping us to one location. The design of the caves looks good, although cheap, the lighting here proves very effective.

A fantastic shot reprises last times cliffhanger.
The scene with Babs trekking through the caves is drawn out, and the effective lighting soon becomes ineffective due to the fact I’ve not seen anything else for a while. This scene feels very staged with Bill Russell calling down to Ganatus.

I know this story wasn’t initially planned to last seven episodes, but this is the time for me when it always begins to feel overlong. The scenes in the cave, despite being different, soon loose my interest and the Daleks seem to be doing nothing for the last few episodes bar standing still in a room ranting about radiation, whilst watching the Doctor Who opening titles.

There’s a camp little struggle between Antodus and Ganatus and by camp, I mean ‘how the heck is that meant to look convincing’ which only results in me finding similarities between Antodus and Adric. And I think I prefer Adric! Why did he never get to fight the Daleks?

Sidetracking aside, we’re back to watching the Doctor and Susan so I’m happy again. The Doctor’s curiosity with the Daleks and how they work is brilliant, all down to Hartnell’s performance. He’s really not had much to do in the last few episodes, but what he has done has really made me warm to him. His little mannerisms are already coming through in his dialogue but now he’s been captured by the Daleks using some nasty camera flares! Why couldn’t they just take Susan?

And oh no, we’re back in the very dragged out caves/tunnels scene. Our cast have to jump from one side of the tunnel to another, which somehow we have to watch for almost ten minutes. All this manages to achieve is loose its audience interest, especially mine. It’s all fine wanting to see Ian jump across, making the first move, but I don’t want to see it four times over. Although the scene does kill off that little Adric-like Thal, that makes me happy again.

Moving back to the good scenes, we have a scene between the Daleks, Susan and Doctor Who with some fantastic ‘showdown-like’ scripting from Terry Nation. “That’s sheer murder,” Hartnell blurts out in disgust at the metal menaces. Some fantastic dialogue in this scene, making the episode for me. The Doctor, despite his dark sides, is disgusted at these creatures, creating the rivalry that has lasted for almost fifty years. This scene is where you feel that battle begins and that is why this serial is truly worth watching and why it has become the classic it is.

Big Finish #146: Heroes Of Sontar

Written by Alan Barnes

Seven of the bravest Sontaran warriors lurk on the planet Samur, ready to sacrifice themselves for a ‘curse’ placed upon their race. The Fifth Doctor, Nyssa, Tegan and Turlough arrive on the planet, in the middle of great war on the planet between the Sontarans and a mystical presence.

Excluding the first series of Companion Chronicles and the four-year Eighth Doctor series, this is my first trek into Big Finish Doctor Who and it’s certainly an odd starting point. It’s surprisingly taken over ten years for the Sontarans to make their debut on audio, mainly because they are more visual monsters than audible, but they do work.

I didn’t have an instant love with the Sontarans, the voices took some time to get used to in comparison to either the classic or new series but half an hour in and I’d forgotten this point. I think the Sontarans did have a ‘new series’ view, carrying the irritating ‘Sontar’ chant/catchphrase that drives me up the wall. This paired with a looped piece of ‘military’ styled music and the whole thing gets very repetitive and dragged out.

The main cast perform well, but writer Alan Barnes writes them quite poorly, relying on the characters stereotypes (Turlough being a coward, Tegan being bulshy) and pushes them all to breaking point. It’s quite lazy writing at times with this, as I ended up hating Turlough more than I should hate a companion and even Tegan was getting too argumentative for her own good. Sarah Sutton’s Nyssa really shone above the other companions, being more experienced from her pre-Terminus days, carrying her own secrets which create a new level of intrigue into the TARDIS.

Despite all the negative factors I’ve laid out here, there is something strangely charming about ‘Heroes Of Sontar’, the plotline twists and turns a few times and the Sontarans are fantastic, being given character elements you’d never expect from the monsters. These elements all don’t make sense to begin with, but definitely lead up to a fun payoff.

To sum up this audio, the TARDIS crew aren’t written too well, but everything else with Alan Barnes’ script really pulls you in, creating a fun, humorous fifth Doctor adventure set between ‘Terminus’ and ‘The King’s Demons’.

Cover art for "Heroes Of Sontar"

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

1x09 The Expedition

“What victory are we going to show these people when most of them have been killed, eh? A fluid link. Is this what you’re going to hold up to them and say ‘thank you very much, this is what you fought and died for’”.

Broadcast Date: 18th January 1964

After the now-obvious reprieve from last week, this episode opens with a fantastic model shot of the Skaro City followed by a very poor static shot of the Dalek’s speaking. This scene lasts a minute or two and is really badly directed and scripted, just there to recap for the audience incase their minds don’t stretch back seven days.

There’s the first of many in-jokes added here by the production team. Hartnell being poor with his lines, often got Ian Chesterton’s surname wrong, Ian puts him right here, but this isn’t the last time we’ll get to hear Hartnell muck up a character name.

This is all fun and happy, but then we’re deep into heavy dialogue as our characters face a huge moral dilemma about whether or not it’s their right to send the Thals into war with the Daleks.

I hate to say it, as I like Christopher Barry and he directed some of the most well known Doctor Who serials, but this episode is incredible with how bad the directing is. There are so many camera angles that are still and held for far too long with no character movement. Fair enough this may well have happened in other 1960s Who, especially with the cameras being used in the day, but the previous episodes never had this problem and certainly never felt like we’d been looking at our characters doing sod all for ages with no cut away shot. I’m sorry Mr Barry, but this problem carries through so much of this episode I can’t wait for some action in the plot so we don’t have to witness any more characters prit-sticked to the spot.

One of many 'static' shots from Barry

Night falls on Skaro and we get a scene with two characters that aren’t regulars. I love it when this happens as it gives us a glimpse into what this alien planet is like and how our loved TARDIS cast affect the natives by intruding on their affairs.

We learn some more affairs here, mutations in the swamps, the Daleks want to drop another atomic bomb but now I have to give a small apology to Chris Barry. A scene opens up and the camera is the Dalek’s eyestalk. This is a great little change of shot and works, but then I have to retract by apology as it returns to being poor and uninteresting direction. Oh but look, I’ve spotted a Thal at 13:50 who looks like a William Hartnell stunt double! He’s standing still though. So are the other ten Thals. Such a surprise given how I’ve moaned about this previously in the episode.

A dash of irony as the Daleks pull up a camera view of the Thals in the jungle, commenting on how the quality is poor. Glad I’m not the only person to notice this!

There’s not a lot of praise to be added to this episode. The direction is awful, the plot doesn’t go very far at all, although we do get some great speeches in the early stages of the episode. Cusick strikes gold with his sets again though, as now we’ve travelled into the swamps. Oh but now that horrible plastic Thal coat has returned.

A good use of sound effects in the jungles emerges as does a fantastic swamp creature, I’m disappointed how little it’s used as it looks so brilliant. A big sense of Britishness strikes in these scenes as Ian and Barbara try to cross the swamps; scenes like this are what make Who work. But then comes a cliffhanger that is so abrupt it feels like a letdown. The episode just stops with no warning.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

1x08 The Ambush

“They must be exterminated! Do you understand? Exterminated!”

11th January 1964

I like how time passes in these classics. For example, in this episode, it opens with the ending to episode seven (seeing the claw of a Dalek), then we get a fade out. On the other side of the fade, the four companions are wondering through the endless Skaro corridors. It looks like they’ve been going for hours. I don’t think I’ve ever had this experience in the new series, even when Tennant and Lady Christina are trekking through the desert in 2009’s ‘Planet Of The Dead’.

I love Ian trying to be a Dalek, you can tell its Russell’s voice on the voice modifier, which, I think makes the motionless voice of the Daleks that much more terrifying. Maybe this is one of the reasons they took off back in their first appearance? There are some great effects in this part. Not just sound, but visual as well. The Daleks cutting through the lift door works great, there’s not even a distraction with flares on the camera. As the Daleks fast approach breaking through the lift door, I’m in awe at Cusick’s design work yet again. I don’t know how he achieved this lift effect on his tight budget but he delivers time and time again.

We see our first Dalek casing destroyed here too, along with the Dalek’s very phallic looking weaponry. Once all our companions reach the top of the lift, I’m left stuck as to why the Daleks randomly have a large stone placed in the middle of the floor other than the reason they thought it’d be a great plot device if ever some time travellers came to visit. The look of the stone crashing down the lift shaft is a huge disappointment; all it accomplished was making me think ‘maybe this is where the budget ran dry?’

We divert from Ian and co. to see more of the story developing between the Thals and the Daleks. After all, it is their planet. The Dalek’s plan to double cross the Thals is set up, with some absolutely fantastic drum music showing the Daleks in hiding, ready to exterminate. Upon returning to the main cast, there’s a nice conflict of dialogue over what they can/should do about helping the Thals. When Ian decides to warn them, it is a bit of a comical over-the-top “It’s a trap!” line he delivers, a bit Admrial Ackbar-like.

The city of Skaro, named here for the first time
However, there are some fantastic camera shots as they edge out of hiding, ready to shoot down the Thals in cold blood, a shocking sight, which really display how dangerous these metal meanies can be.

After the action has finished, there’s some beautiful characterisation for the Doctor, as he tries to discover more about the planet Skaro (it’s named here for the first time) and fix the planet’s location. I’m not entirely sure how some of Skaro’s history is contained in normal film cans though. Maybe Skaro has a lot more in common with Earth than I expected.

Just under twenty minutes into the episode, there is Nation’s best, most expert, piece of dialogue I’ve ever heard. Where Ian is given his ideas about who or what the Daleks were, and their “dislike for the unlike”. There are a few minutes of Ian taking charge of the dialogue and it’s mostly really powerful stuff as we learn more about both the Thals and the Daleks.

I love how the Doctor’s logic of not interfering is transmitting itself onto Ian and Barbara, but then just as the team are about to leave the planet, we get a well shot but poor cliffhanger, which is obviously just there to give us another three episodes of Daleks to go.

Friday, 20 May 2011

32/6x1 The Impossible Astronaut

“Don’t play games with me, don’t ever, ever think you’re capable of that.”

Broadcast Date: 23rd April 2011

My first New-Who review begins the latest series of the show and kicks off in style! We get a nice little reintroduction to the show’s flexibility, it’s fun and it’s characters. As the Doctor gradually makes it into more clothes, we see the Ponds settled back into normal life. My favourite Murray Gold score plays over River Song escaping again and a stunning helicopter shot of America.

As soon as our characters are on screen together the writing is just brilliant, you can tell Steven Moffat cares for these characters and has so much fun scripting them. The Doctor feels different somehow; giving life defining speeches and sharing diaries with River, there’s something odd going on with him. Disappointment strikes as Alex Kingston’s name isn’t burned into the time vortex opening credits, but this is made up for with some great location shots.

Amy spotting the Silence feels forced, like Moffat needs to give us a future link here, all it achieves for me is to feel out of place. The Doctor’s dialogue really feels like he knows what’s about to happen as he gives warnings to his companions. And then the Doctor dies!!! The directing on this is, for want of a better word, rubbish. The whole thing didn’t feel right, the acting was spectacular, but the way it was shot was nothing new, making it lose a lot of it’s emotional value.

Goodbye Leadworth...
After a spot of arson, we return to the cafĂ© for another fantastic scene, my favourite of this episode. We get that music and a reappearance from the Doctor, this time aged a little younger. Personally I love how we’re finally invited into one of River Song’s ‘spoilers’ and get to take this adventure with her as it happens. I think Moffat’s defining feature on these scripts is his memorable ‘trailer’ lines; there are so many effective lines in just fifteen minutes.

Inside the TARDIS now and I’m happy that Amy hasn’t just gotten over the death, as the audience haven’t. River and Rory seem to accept it quite easily, but it’s right and true that Amy should never get over this. She’s got such a deeper connection to the Doctor than most companions ever have. It’s good to see some scenes with the three companions minus the Doctor, as it feels different and fresh. I really like the interaction between Amy and River here and, later, between Rory and River.

The ‘confrontation’ scene in the console room is amazing, I love the Doctor when he doesn’t know all the answers, he verges on spiteful, especially toward River. He’s unbelieving to all his companions and it puts the Doctor in a very rare situation. Some stereotypical writing during our first scenes with Canton Everett Delaware III, which is very disappointing, but then the Doctor ends up in the White House! How has this not been done before?

"My life in your hands, Amelia Pond"
The Doctor acting discreet is such fun, trying to be quiet and write down information at the same time. I’m not sold on Stuart Milligan as Nixon, he spits out his P words so much they feel forced, bringing me out of the story.

On the other hand of guest stars, Mark Sheppard as Canton is brilliant, I love his voice in this and his attitude toward the Doctor in the initial Oval Office scene. Matt Smith’s acting in this scene is great as well and Arthur Darvill is finally given some good lines to perform here. But Matt in the President’s chair really steals the spotlight here.

I’m not a huge fan of the Silence, especially in these first scenes of theirs. I’ve seen them getting mixed praise, most of the negative coming from their similarities to Moffat’s Weeping Angels. Design-wise, I think they are absolutely stunning. Forgetting them when you look away, however, I’m not sold on and most of the time it just feels like it’s eating up time having to explain them over and over. The open and closed mouth thing is a poor marketing aspect too, as just this week it’s been revealed a character options figure is being released of both. Why? I have no idea.

Canton follows the trail into the police box where everything turns fast paced and fun, giving him to Rory to explain all the sci-fi stuff. Some clever plot points here, with the Hamilton/Jefferson/Adams and River checking the phone lines as soon as they reach the warehouse. The Astronaut gives a poor mans Darth Vader impression and River gets some pathetically obvious lines to spoon-feed the audience such as “definitely extraterrestrial” and “it’s an abandoned warehouse of some kind”.

Promotional shot of 'The Impossible Astronaut'
Apart from some excellent scripting and performance, the fact River and Rory travel underground just feels like it goes nowhere and is there to pad out the cliffhanger a little more. The forgetting-the-silence-once-you-look-away story is getting more boring every time it happens and it continues to happen down here. Some lines about River’s past/the audience’s future keep me gripped, making me disappointed when River finally opens that locked door!

A startling revelation from River, something unknown has happened to Rory and Amy shooting at the Astronaut. I’ve got to disagree with Toby Hayne’s directing again here, as the slow motion effect really doesn’t do anything good for me and neither does Amy’s pregnant speech, as it feels so out of place. A disappointing ending, this first episode doesn’t really prove that Doctor Who is back with a bang, but it does do enough to want me to watch the next episode.

Review To Be Continued In "Day Of The Moon". Coming Soon.