Who Review: Listen

Alone in the TARDIS, the Doctor muses on the possibility that we are never alone. Even when we think we’re the only one in the room, there is an unseen presence that we can sometimes detect if we listen. From his research of recorded dreams he thinks he has identified one dream that everyone has: there’s someone under the bed, and when they put their feet to the floor, they feel someone grab their ankle. Even the Doctor has had that dream. His curiosity gets the better of him and he sets out to discover whether there really is something hiding in the shadows. Meanwhile, Clara is trying to have a date with Danny Pink, but an already disastrous evening gets even worse when the Doctor ropes her into his experiment…

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen the episode. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

This was an unusual story in that the Doctor’s adversary was unseen, and perhaps even non-existent. Indeed, this was not a danger the Doctor walked into, but one the Doctor sought. The only tangible appearance of the “monster in the shadows” was the figure on Rupert Pink’s bed covered in his blanket. Whether or not the figure was a child playing a prank, or something more sinister, is never answered. And as for the Doctor’s own experience of the entity under the bed, it turns out that was actually Clara! So in terms of traditional Doctor Who “good versus evil” stories, this was an oddity, and I think that explains why the audience appreciation index for the episode was lower than usual. Most people like definable threats and definite victories; here the threat was questionable, and there was no victory as such. Many of the questions asked at the beginning remained unanswered. This episode seemed to leave a lot of people feeling wrong-footed, and I completely understand that.

Yet, on the other hand, I also completely understand the almost unanimous praise the episode scored with the critics. Some even went so far as to call it the best episode of Doctor Who ever, though most were a little more reserved (“best since ‘The Eleventh Hour'” or “best Steven Moffat story”). It was a clever script, full of thought-provoking ideas and imaginative concepts. There was also some good character development for both Clara and Danny, moving their story arc along in a way that was both entertaining and surprising. And Capaldi’s Doctor continues to draw from the darker aspects of the Time Lord’s psyche. His fascination with fear and the way he uses Clara to further his study shows his disconnect with humanity, though the way he talks to young Rupert reminds us that the gentler aspects are still there.

Of course, the unanswered questions about monsters under the bed are nothing compared to the unanswered questions about the Doctor and Danny Pink! One of this episode’s objectives was to shed a bit more light onto Danny. I believe he is scheduled to join the TARDIS crew in a few episodes, so it’s as well we get to know him. When Clara discovers the toy soldier among Orson Pink’s possessions, we think we understand how Danny and Orson fit into Clara’s story: Orson’s a descendent of Danny and Clara. But then Clara gives the soldier to the child Doctor hiding under his bedcovers in the barn on Gallifrey. How does that work? How did the soldier get from the Doctor to the children’s home? If it weren’t for that toy soldier, the Danny/Orson Pink story would be simple: Danny and Clara get together, Danny becomes a TARDIS companion, and that legacy of time travel continues down to his future offspring. But that toy soldier forges a link between the Doctor and Danny. It could be as straight-forward as the Doctor visiting the home sometime in the past and leaving the soldier in the box for Danny to find. But if it has any significance at all, you know it won’t be that simple. Some are suggesting Danny is the Master, and given that the Doctor and the Master were childhood friends, there’s a link that could explain how the soldier got from the Doctor to Danny–though I’m not 100% convinced of it yet.

To sum up, this was an excellent story, though very non-traditional which perhaps leaves the Whovian viewer feeling a little disconcerted. I don’t consider it to be Moffat’s best ever, but it’s certainly the first since he took over from RTD to achieve anywhere near the genius of his earlier episodes.

What did you think of the episode? How do you think the toy soldier got from the Doctor to Danny? And what about the story’s ambiguous resolution? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Who Review: Robot of Sherwood

The Doctor invites Clara to pick a time and place to visit. To his surprise, she wants to meet Robin Hood. The Doctor laughs off her suggestion saying that Robin Hood is just a legend; he doesn’t exist. Nevertheless, Clara insists and the Doctor relents. Arriving in Sherwood Forest c. 1190 AD, the Doctor is greeted by an arrow shot by a man in green claiming to be Robin Hood. This Robin then introduces the Doctor and Clara to his band of outlaws: Friar Tuck, Little John, and so on. The Doctor is determined to demonstrate they can’t actually be Robin and his Merry Men, but the strange machinations of the Sheriff of Nottingham take priority. It seems he has an army of robots, and his designs stretch a little beyond controlling this little patch of medieval England…

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen the episode. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

Mark Gatiss, veteran New Series writer and Steven Moffat’s “Sherlock” partner-in-crime, wrote this fun romp that is, he admits, a bit of an homage to the Mel Brooks movie “Robin Hood: Men in Tights.” So, yes, there’s a healthy dose of humor, but the story isn’t without its darker side. The Sheriff is ruthless and merciless, as is evident from the way he treats the villagers. There are some good fight sequences, starting with Robin and the Doctor (armed only with a spoon), but progressing on to the battles with the robots, and finally Robin’s high-wire encounter with the Sheriff. These were well directed and in the vain of classic sword fights where the opponents heckle each other in the midst of combat. The Doctor’s snarky skepticism is, I think, a change from 10 and 11, and harkens back a little more to the First Doctor. We’ve come to know a Doctor who is open-minded and willing to stand corrected if things aren’t quite what he thought them to be at first. Twelve remains a Hood-denier almost until the end of the episode, when he leaves Robin a gift that appears to show a concession. However, I must admit to feeling some of the Doctor’s reluctance to believe this is really Robin Hood–but more on that in a moment.

I thought it interesting Gatiss and Moffat would take on a Who-meets-Hood story. Usually, the Doctor’s encounters with historical figures have been rooted in solid fact. There really was a Marco Polo, a Richard I, an H. G. Wells, a Queen Victoria, a Winston Churchill, and so on. I can only think of two other occasions where a Who story has involved the legendary, or near-mythical. The first was a First Doctor story called “The Myth Makers” where the Doctor, Stephen, and Vicki land in Ancient Greece and get embroiled in the Trojan War, helping the Greeks to construct the infamous Trojan Horse. The second was the Seventh Doctor story “Battlefield,” where Morgaine comes to visit, and the Doctor and Ace encounter Excalibur, and find Arthur’s body. I must say, though, I came away from this Robin Hood story still uncertain of how much of the Hood legend was introduced by the Doctor and Clara… or, indeed, if the Doctor may have been right to be skeptical all along…

Which brings me to curious plot points. There’s something about this story that felt to me like it was setting us up for something later. The fact that all the Robin Hood story elements just happened to be there as expected, including the traditional attire, and even Robin pining for his Maid Marian–it just all seemed too on-point, like it was a set-up. Maybe Clara’s memories of the Robin Hood legend were being used by someone to draw them into a bigger plan. Then there’s the ship fueled by gold. Whenever gold is a plot point in Doctor Who, I think Cybermen. In the classic series, Cybermen had a strong aversion to gold. The Cybermen in “Nightmare in Silver” received an upgrade patch to overcome this, but maybe we’re dealing with Cybermen who don’t have that patch? This wouldn’t be the first time the Cybermen have used humans to handle gold for them (see “Revenge of the Cybermen”). And the fact of the Sheriff being a cyborg…? The last curious and subtle point is the Doctor’s doodlings on the blackboard during the pre-title sequence. I have no idea what that’s about, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s significant. Maybe the Doctor knows something’s afoot and he’s playing along…?

Shortly before the episode was broadcast, the BBC announced that a portion of the episode involving the beheading of “a character” had been cut in light of the recent terrorist executions of American journalists. Subsequent to the episode airing, a couple of websites published the missing portion as it was in the script, and others summarized what happened. In short, during Robin and the Sheriff’s climactic fight, the Sheriff knocks Robin to the ground and puts his sword to Robin’s neck. The Doctor throws a tapestry over the Sheriff and Robin decapitates him. Just as they begin to celebrate, the Sheriff’s head rolls out from the tapestry and begins to talk, explaining that the robots’ spaceship had landed on him, and they saved his life by making him into a cyborg. The Sheriff’s body grabs Clara, Robin throws the Sheriff’s head back to his body, they reunite, and the fight continues as broadcast. I can understand the reasoning behind the cut, but, as others have pointed out, this scene helps makes sense of the rest of the story: the Sheriff’s reference to being the first of a new “half-man half-machine” race, the fact his hand could grab the edge of the vat of molten gold despite his body being dead, and, of course, the title of the story–“Robot of Sherwood,” not “Robots of Sherwood.” As you might expect, Whovians are split as to whether the cut really mattered, and some even feel the story was better without this scene. As yet, no-one has said which version will make it to DVD/Blu-Ray.

What did you think? Do you agree with my plot-point theories? Do you have any to add? Did you notice the edit? Are you glad, indifferent, or annoyed that the BBC cut that sequence? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Who Review: Into the Dalek

As IntoTheDalekI said last week, it’s not fair to judge a new Doctor by his first story. “Deep Breath” gave us a good introduction to Number Twelve, but this past Saturday’s adventure was the one to watch. And what better test of a new regeneration than to pit the Time Lord against his oldest foe: The Daleks? Journey Blue’s space shuttle is under attack by Daleks, but the Doctor’s intervention saves her. The Doctor returns her to the command ship Aristotle where he is called upon to help with their latest patient: a battle-scarred Dalek that seems to have turned good. Meanwhile, at Coal Hill School, Clara meets a new colleague, Maths teacher Danny Pink, an ex-soldier who fought in Afghanistan. Not long after inviting him for a drink, Clara runs into the Doctor who asks for her help. He takes her back to the Aristotle with him where they are recruited for a dangerous mission: to go inside the Dalek and find out why it’s being so well-behaved. The Doctor, Clara, and a some of the Aristotle crew are miniaturized and sent down the Dalek eyepiece to figure out what’s going on…

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen the episode. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

As the first “real” story for the Twelfth Doctor, this hit all the right notes. This is a Doctor who is confident in his abilities, even if he’s not so confident about his motives (“Am I a good man?”). There are elements of the story that rehash old Who ideas, the big one being the “Dalek-turned-good,” though in the past this has been due to some form of Dalek-human cross-contamination (see “Evil of the Daleks,” and “Dalek”). There were also elements of the story reminiscent of 1977’s “The Invisible Enemy,” where the Doctor and Leela are duplicated and miniaturized to go inside the Doctor and hunt out an evil infection. But there were also some good original elements, not least of which was the whole idea of traveling inside a Dalek.

This Doctor is certainly not the sympathetic Time Lord of last year. When Clara refers to herself as his “caretaker,” he interprets that to mean “she cares so I don’t have to.” On the lips of Doctor #10, that would have been delivered with a smile. With Doctor #12, you believe it. And then he sacrifices one of the crew, who was admittedly as good as dead, so they could track the Dalek’s antibodies that were attacking them. Again, not something that Doctors 10 and 11 would have done without much moral anguish. Indeed, there’s a lot of the 9th Doctor about Capaldi’s incarnation. Echoes of the way he played judge and jury with Cassandra (“The End of the World”), and is ready to destroy the last Dalek (“Dalek”). But the Ninth Doctor had just come from the Time War, and over the course of the season developed compassion (thanks largely to Rose Tyler). The Twelfth has lost a lot of those soft edges, and I don’t know we’ve been told why. I’m not complaining; I think it’s a good direction for the character and the show. But in terms of the Doctor’s story, other than unpredictable DNA, what’s driving this harder character? Maybe we’ll find out… unless we’re supposed to know, in which case if you have any hints for me…!

Also new to the show (at least from Season 7), is the fact that the companion is no longer a resident of the TARDIS. Clara has a life outside the big blue box, and the Doctor drops in on her from time to time to take her on adventures. I get that this is a fresh take on the Doctor-companion relationship… but I don’t like it. It makes no sense. Traveling companion means traveling companion. The companion has a room in the TARDIS. Occasionally they check in with the companion’s home, but never to stay long. With all of time and space at his disposal, under the current arrangement, the Doctor could dump Clara, pick up Jamie McCrimmon again, have a couple of seasons’ worth of adventures, and then drop back in on Clara, or Amy, or Adric, or anyone else. At least when the companions lived in the TARDIS, you knew why the Doctor kept traveling with them. Especially with this Doctor, if Clara annoyed him, he could take off and she’d never see him again.

I understand we’re going to see a lot more of Danny Pink in the future. Given his back story (ex-soldier with confidence issues), I’m sure we’re in for some juicy confrontations with the Doctor.

I enjoyed this episode. It was a good story (I believe the first co-writer credit of the New Series: Phil Ford (“The Waters of Mars”) and Steven Moffat*), without much to fault in terms of acting, effects, etc. This is shaping up to be a good season! Let’s hope the next episode, “Robot of Sherwood,” continues the trend.

What did you think? I’m sure there are tons of things about the episode I didn’t mention that deserve mentioning. Please add your voice to the comments!

* Though, as Russell T. Davies has admitted in his book THE WRITER’S TALE, many of the episodes written under his watch were at least polished, if not re-written by Davies. The only exception to this was Steven Moffat’s scripts which he thought were perfect as they were.

Who Review: Deep Breath

The Doctor and Clara land in Victorian London, bringing a dinosaur with them. Still suffering the after-effects of his recent regeneration, the Doctor seems harsher, more severe, and… Scottish. Clara is bewildered and wary of the Doctor’s new persona. Then the dinosaur spontaneously explodes, and it seems this is only the latest in a series of spontaneous combustions. People have been mysteriously exploding for a while, and an explanation eludes the local law enforcement. The Doctor and Clara, along with the Paternoster Gang (Madame Vastra, Jenny, and Strax) take the case, but with an erratic and curmudgeonly Doctor on their hands, things are not going to go smoothly for his friends.

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen the episode. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

Show-runner Steven Moffat promised us an explosive start to the Twelfth Doctor’s era, and he certainly delivered on that. By Mr. Moffat’s standards the story was a bit light-weight, and he even re-used monsters from one of his previous stories (see “The Girl in the Fireplace” from Season 2). But the main purpose of this episode was to introduce the new Doctor, so I think we can overlook shortcomings in the plot. Capaldi was magnificent and totally owned the role from the first moment he stuck his head out of the TARDIS and told Strax to “Shush!” And I like the direction we’re going with him. He is not Clara’s boyfriend, and, indeed, seemed to have difficulty distinguishing her from a Sontaran. They are about the same height, after all! This new Doctor walks with confidence and treats the “pudding brained” inhabitants of Earth with a bit of aloofness. It’s as if he suddenly remembered he’s from Gallifrey, and while he walks among us, he’s not one of us. Some fans might be a little uncomfortable with that, but I think it’s about time the Doctor operated on his own agenda instead of being manipulated by his companions.

The only down-side to the story (IMO) was that it overplayed the “he may look old on the outside but he’s still the same inside” line. The scene with Vastra and Clara that ends with Clara asking when Vastra removed the veil was probably the best encapsulation of the idea. And that’s where they should have left it. But no. We have to have a call from the Eleventh Doctor to reassure Clara everything’s okay and he’s still the same person. Please! If the reaction from the recent World Tour is anything to go by, Whovians the world over have accepted Capaldi as the new Doctor despite his grey hair. Yes, this was a major shock for Clara, but fandom moved on from Matt Smith six months ago. Half an hour into the story, Clara should have moved on too.

To sum up, a good episode and a promising start to Peter Capaldi’s Doctor. The first episode post-regeneration is not always the best to gauge what a Doctor’s going to be like (e.g., “Castrovalva,” “The Twin Dilemma,” “Time and the Rani”…). This coming Saturday we’ll see Twelve face his arch-enemies the Daleks for the first time. That’ll be worth watching for sure!

What did you think of the episode? The new Doctor? Do you agree they over-did it with the whole “he’s still the same inside even if he’s wrinkly on the outside” bit? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Doctor Who Returns…

Less than a week to go until Season 8 of Doctor Who (that’s Season 34 if you count from the very beginning)! This coming Saturday we’ll see Peter Capaldi make his debut as the Twelfth Doctor. Of course, those who have attended World Premier events have already seen the episode. My brother, for example, was at the premier in Cardiff a few weeks ago, and he assures me the story is awesome and Capaldi is even awesomer. It seems the TARDIS is in safe hands. Should my brother be reading, feel free to elaborate on this assessment in the comments!

Rumors are circulating that this will be Jenna Coleman’s last season (she plays Clara, the Doctor’s companion). Tabloid stories suggest she will be bowing out at Christmas. Naturally, we take such rumors with a pinch of salt until confirmed, but to be honest, a lot of these kinds of stories tend to lean toward truth. I wouldn’t be surprised if Jenna wants to move on to other things. Doctor Who is such an international phenomenon, it can only promote the careers of its leading actors. Part of Matt Smith’s reasons for moving on was the huge attention he was getting as a result of Who. And I’m sure we’ll soon see current show-runner Steven Moffat step down as bigger opportunities tempt him away. We’ll see about that.

Here’s the list of episode titles for this season, as reported in Doctor Who Magazine:

  • Deep Breath by Steven Moffat
  • Into the Dalek by Phil Ford and Steven Moffat
  • Robot of Sherwood by Mark Gatiss
  • Listen by Steven Moffat
  • Time Heist by Stephen Thompson and Steven Moffat
  • The Caretaker by Gareth Roberts and Steven Moffat
  • Kill the Moon by Peter Harness
  • Mummy on the Orient Express by Jamie Mathieson
  • Flatline by Jaime Mathieson
  • The Forest of the Night by Frank Cottrell Boyce
  • Dark Water  by Steven Moffat
  • Death in Heaven by Steven Moffat

This will be a full 13-episode season, so it’s possible one of these is the title to a two-parter. We know the finale is a two-parter, so maybe it’ll be “Death in Heaven Part 1″ and “Death in Heaven Part 2,” or perhaps the title for episode 13 has yet to be revealed…?

UPDATE: The BBC Blog released the above list, and they indicate that “Dark Water” and “Death in Heaven” are episodes 11 and 12, the two-part finale. This means there are only 12 episodes this season, one shorter than usual. What’s up with that? I don’t know. Perhaps things will become clearer as the year progresses…

“Deep Breath” will be broadcast on Saturday, August 23rd at 7:50 pm on BBC1 (simulcast in Australia on ABC1 on Sunday, August 24th), and at 8:15 pm (ET) on BBC America.

Finally, there will be a new title sequence for the new Doctor. It seems Steven Moffat came across a fan-made sequence on YouTube and liked it so much, he contacted the creator and asked him to collaborate with BBC Wales on the official sequence. Here’s Billy Hanshaw’s original version:

We’ll see the final official version on Saturday.

Are you looking forward to the new season of Doctor Who?

Who Review: The Time of the Doctor

A mysterious, untranslatable message is being broadcast from an unknown planet around which some of the Doctor’s most fearsome enemies have gathered. Upon further investigation, it appears to be coming from a crack in the fabric of the universe left over from Series Five (“The Eleventh Hour” – “The Big Bang”), located in a town called Christmas. With help from his cyberman-head side-kick, Handles, The Doctor determines the message originates from the Time Lords in their pocket universe. He is then able to translate the message, and it’s a very old question: Doctor Who? All the Doctor has to do is answer that question, and the Time Lords will return to that planet. When that happens, the fleets of ships surrounding the planet will then attack, renewing the Time War. When the Doctor learns the real name of the planet, the true horror of the situation hits home. With the planet under siege, the Doctor decides to stay and fend off insurgent attacks, and try to negotiate peace. But the centuries are passing, and the Doctor is at the end of his regeneration cycle. Facing certain death, how can he save the planet, the universe, and himself from what seems inevitable…?

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen the episode. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

It seems that coming into this story, writer (and show-runner) Steven Moffat had a couple of objectives: tie up some loose story-ends from Matt Smith’s era, and send the Eleventh Doctor off with a bang. I think he certainly delivered on both of these, giving us a story that may be somewhat satisfying from a “grand story-arc” perspective (though I still want to know how the Doctor rescued Clara from his time stream), but falls a little flat, I think, in the “great story” department. Don’t get me wrong–I enjoyed the episode, and all involved put forth stellar performances (particularly Matt Smith–one of his best, I think). However, after the triumph of “The Day of the Doctor,” my expectations for a magnificent closing to the anniversary year were high. From that perspective, I was disappointed. But, as I said, I still enjoyed it, and it was, overall, a good story.

Some specifics I liked: Handles! With Clara not on the TARDIS 24/7 (a new development with the companions I’m not sure I like), the Doctor makes himself a companion out of a cyberman head. The interaction between them is wonderful, and Handles’ passing is possibly the saddest part of the whole episode–even more than the Eleventh Doctor’s parting speech! I also liked the Doctor’s explanation of why he’s at the end of his regeneration cycle. Perhaps those who didn’t get Moffat’s explanation are still confused, but as someone who already understood the idea, I found it to be a nice, succinct summing up of the situation. Matt’s performance as an old man was very good also. Some may have felt the middle part, where we see the Doctor living in Christmas, defending the town, and getting older, to drag a bit. Maybe it did, but I didn’t think it slowed the pace enough to make me lose interest.

Some specifics I didn’t like: The whole “naked” thing at the beginning. Sorry, but to me that’s just uncomfortable–perhaps some shock/smile value, but it doesn’t serve a purpose. Likewise the sultry scenes between the Doctor and Tasha Lem were a bit over the top and unnecessary. I can handle the idea that the Doctor has had “involvement” with people in the past (Madame de Pompadour, Elizabeth I, etc.), but Moffat likes to inject way too much lust into these kinds of scenes, and it’s just not necessary. I don’t even think it’s funny. It’s just… uncomfortable. Especially given that it’s the Doctor.

As for Peter Capaldi’s first scene as the Doctor… really not much to go on. And you can never truly assess what a Doctor will be like on their initial post-regeneration scene. The wild, amnesiac character is probably only temporary. Yes, he may crash the TARDIS, but that seems standard for new Doctors (the 10th and 11th Doctors both started out crashing the TARDIS). I daresay, once he recovers, that’s when his new persona will start to shine. But Capaldi looked convincing and at home in the part already. There was that look of mania, but also that twinkle. It’ll be interesting to see what he becomes. The first hint of that will be when the BBC releases pictures of him in his new outfit, which should happen within the next month or so.

My predictions for the coming season? First, it will be different–a reboot of sorts. Moffat has indicated as much, but with a new Doctor, that’s inevitable. Also, given the Doctor’s new big story arc (the hunt for Gallifrey), there’s a new purpose and direction for the show. This is all good, and I look forward to seeing how it plays out. I’ll also go out on a limb and say that Jenna Coleman will be in this series, but it’ll be her last. And I wouldn’t be surprised if we start hearing murmurs about Steven Moffat moving on to bigger things. When you get a new Doctor on board, it’s not uncommon for these kinds of changes to happen. Now that Moffat has made Doctor Who the international success it is, I’m sure he’s getting some high-profile, big-money offers, and he won’t want to be saying “no” much longer, otherwise, as Jon Pertwee feared, they may stop asking. As for Jenna, Who has no doubt boosted her young career, so I’m sure she’s not short of offers either. While she may enjoy Who, she developed a relationship with Matt Smith that may be hard to replicate with Peter Capaldi. I’m not saying they won’t get along, but it’ll be different, and that may be enough to make her consider some of those other offers.

So, there are my thoughts. What did you think? Do you have any predictions for the coming year in Who?

Who Review: The Day of the Doctor

The 50th Anniversary Special opens with Clara working as a teacher in the same Coal Hill school that Susan, the Doctor’s granddaughter, attended in the very first episode in 1963. Of course, this is 2013, so the school has changed. But it seems Clara’s life goes on, albeit with the occasional calls from the Doctor. A note after class summons her to the TARDIS, which is then transported to UNIT headquarters, where Kate Stewart, daughter of Brigadier Leithbridge-Stewart, hands the Doctor a note from Queen Elizabeth I directing him to a secret vault containing Time Lord three-dimensional art. The glass on these paintings has been broken from the inside, and people are missing from them. It seems the shape-shifting Zygons have found a way to use these paintings as a way to enter Earth…

Meanwhile, at the Fall of Arcadia, on the last day of the Time War, the War Doctor is on the verge of making that fateful decision to destroy both the Time Lords and the Daleks. The device he has stolen for this purpose is unique. Not only is it an instrument of devastating mass destruction, but it has sentience, and can stand in judgement of the person using it. As the Doctor prepares to activate the device, its sentience appears to him in the form of his future companion, Rose Tyler. “Rose” opens a rift in time and allows the Doctor to see his future selves, so he might know how his decision will affect the man he is to become…

The War Doctor and the Eleventh Doctor are thrown into Elizabethan England, where they meet the Tenth Doctor, Queen Elizabeth I, and the Zygon invaders. However, as Clara and Kate discover, the Zygon threat is not only in Elizabethan England; Zygons have managed to use the paintings to enter UNIT headquarters, where they plan to access UNIT’s most secret vault and exploit the deadly weaponry there to achieve their deadly goals…

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen the episode. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

In my review of the previous episode, The Name of the Doctor, I speculated that the Doctor and Clara being trapped in the Doctor’s time line was the setup for the Anniversary Special. How better to feature Doctor Who history, than having the Doctor and Clara wandering the Doctor’s past trying to escape? Clearly this wasn’t Steven Moffat’s intention. The episode starts with us assuming they managed to escape. Perhaps the Doctor rescuing Clara at the end of “The Name of the Doctor” was all we needed to know. It certainly seems that the purpose of “The Name of the Doctor” was to introduce us to the War Doctor, and to Trenzalore. The former was important to this episode, and the latter will be important at Christmas (according to the trailer we saw…). In other words, it seems that as much as Moffat wanted this episode to be a huge nod toward Doctor Who’s past, he has his sights fixed firmly on Doctor Who’s future. While I understand and appreciate this, the fact that how the Doctor and Clara got back from the Doctor’s time stream was never resolved, bothered me and still does. Jumping into the Doctor’s time stream is no small matter, and much was made of how doing such a thing would tear a person to shreds. I would have liked at least some explanation of how they got out. However, I’m willing to wait and see if this is addressed at Christmas. Maybe the consequences will be what triggers the regeneration…?

The rest of the episode was, in my opinion, wonderful, with a good, strong story, and excellent performances by all involved. Moffat must have been feeling the pressure to create an episode worthy of the moment, and I think he delivered. I liked the way the three Doctors’ stories intersected, the way the three personalities interacted with each other, and the way the final solution for the War Doctor’s dilemma came about through trying to resolve the Zygon threat.

As you might expect, I have some favorite moments (as I’m sure we all do). Mine include the Tenth Doctor using the “I see you’ve redecorated” line, used by the Second Doctor in “The Three Doctors,” the appearance of Peter Capaldi (at least his eyes and hands), the inclusion of a War Doctor-to-Ninth Doctor regeneration (albeit without Christopher Eccleston, which would have made that more-than-awesome), and Tom Baker’s cameo at the end.

Over the last few days, Steven Moffat has made some comments that have turned a few heads. Most notably, he has indicated that both the Eighth’s regeneration into the War Doctor, AND the Tenth Doctor’s aborted regeneration at the end of “The Stolen Earth” in season 4, count as regenerations. This means that the Eleventh Doctor is the Doctor’s last. Two questions that naturally come to mind are: 1) Does that mean we have to re-number the Doctors from the Ninth on? and 2) If the Doctor only has twelve regenerations (and hence 13 lives), how can Matt Smith regenerate into Peter Capaldi?

I think 1) is easy to answer, mostly because Moffat has explained it. To the Doctor, he’s just “the Doctor”–he doesn’t think of himself in terms of a number count (though, since his life depends on it, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s keeping count). As explained in “The Name of the Doctor,” that name, “the Doctor” is not his real name; it’s a name he gave himself. The John-Hurt-Doctor, or “the War Doctor” did what he did (i.e., destroying Gallifrey, the Time Lords, etc.), “not in the name of the Doctor.” So, he was the same person, but not “the Doctor.” Perhaps a way to explain it is like this. We don’t know the Doctor’s real name, but let’s call him John Smith. This Time Lord called John Smith adopted the name “the Doctor,” and for Eight of his lives, he acted under that name. When Eight regenerated, he took a different name, so John Smith number nine was NOT “the Doctor.” He reclaimed that name for life number ten, making John Smith #10 Doctor #9. John Smith #11 (Doctor #10) used up two regeneration cycles: one when he was shot by the Dalek, and one when he soaked up all that radiation at the end of “The End of Time, Part 2.” So Doctor #10 used up John Smith #11 and John Smith #12. This means, Doctor #11 is actually John Smith #13, leaving us with the crisis he will face at the end of the Christmas episode, since Time Lords can only have 13 incarnations. Got it?

As for 2), my guess is that since the Time Lords still exist, they could grant the Doctor a new cycle of regenerations, which they might do as a reward for saving them from the Time War. How that will come about, I’m not sure. Originally, I thought Peter Capaldi would be John Smith #13, and he would spend the next few seasons searching for Gallifrey, and end his time bringing back the Time Lords and receiving his reward. If, however, Matt Smith is John Smith #13, this means the return of Gallifrey would have to happen at Christmas. But the trailers for Christmas take us back to Trenzalore… so I’m not as sure now as I was on Saturday! It’ll be interesting to see how Moffat gets out of this, but one thing’s for certain: the Doctor will be back. There will be a resolution. Peter Capaldi will be taking over, somehow, and the show will go on.

Did you see “The Day of the Doctor”? What did you think? Let’s discuss…!

Happy Birthday, Doctor Who!!

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[Image Source: http://www.doctorwhotv.co.uk/]

On Saturday, November 23rd, 1963, at 5:16 in the afternoon (GMT), British television viewers were introduced to Doctor Who. The launch of the new series was, however, overshadowed by the assassination of U.S. President John F. Kennedy in Dallas, Texas the day before, so the first episode was repeated before the second episode the following week. The inaugural story, known to fans as “An Unearthly Child” after the title of the first episode, introduced us to the Doctor, played by William Hartnell, his granddaughter, Susan, and two of her teachers, Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright. Intrigued, and somewhat concerned by their student’s strange behavior, the teachers follow her “home” one night, and find her living in a junkyard with a crotchety old man who appears to have her trapped in an old police box. Refusing to walk away, Ian and Barbara find themselves in the TARDIS, and whisked away by the time travelers to 10,000 BC.

This first adventure was well-received. But it was the second story, featuring a race of mutant aliens called “Daleks,” that captured the imaginations of children across the country, and earned Doctor Who its place in the hearts of millions. Fifty years later, Doctor Who, the TARDIS, the Daleks, and the sonic screwdriver have become cultural icons. By the time it went on “hiatus” in 1989, it was already a British institution. Today, in 2013, with worldwide viewing figures upward of 77 million, and getting ready to simulcast a special episode in over 75 countries, Doctor Who is an international phenomenon.

So, take a seat with the world at 7:50pm GMT, 2:50pm EST, 11:50am PST, 3:50am (11/24) AWST, 6:50am (11/24) AEDT, and various other time zones in between, and celebrate with us fifty years of the best television on the planet!

PS: Check out this page to find out how to watch “The Day of the Doctor” where you live.

PPS: This might well end up being the world’s biggest drama simulcast, so be sure to watch and be a part of history!

PPPS: If you’re still confused about Doctor Who, check out this really cool infographic from HalloweenCostumes.com.

PPPPS: Check out Google today–how cool is that?!

The Hiatus: Doctor Who’s Most Prolific Period?

vlcsnap-2013-11-20-19h17m11s149As every Whovian knows, Doctor Who is chock full of paradoxes and reality-twisting concepts. It seems only fitting, then, that the 16 years between episode three of “Survival” and “Rose,” a time when Doctor Who was not on the television and, according to the BBC, “on hiatus,” turned out to be some of the most productive years for the show. Indeed, one could argue that it’s because of the hiatus that the BBC even entertained the idea of bringing the show back in 2005.

The reasons why Doctor Who was, effectively, canceled in 1989 differ depending on who you talk to. They include the fact that the ratings were slipping, the Director General of the BBC hated the show, the scripts weren’t good, it was competing against the long-running soap opera Coronation Street (and losing), and a whole myriad of other reasons. The fact is, when the Seventh Doctor and Ace walked off into the sunset, many at the BBC thought that was the last they’d seen of the old Time Lord. And many thought no-one would care, except for a few “anoraks” (i.e., spotty geeks who like that weird kind of sci-fi stuff).

What happened between 1989 and 2005, however, was something quite remarkable. First, Doctor Who Magazine, a magazine tied to the TV show, didn’t stop. People kept buying it, and so, even though there wasn’t a Doctor Who show being produced, they kept publishing. In 1991, Virgin Publishing started a series of “New Adventures” novels featuring the Seventh Doctor, and a series of “Missing Adventures” stories, featuring previous incarnations of the Time Lord.

In 1996, Who fans were delighted to see the Doctor return in a TV movie, starring Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor. This was a co-production between the BBC and Fox in the US, and was supposed to pilot a new series. Ratings in the UK were very encouraging; but not so much in the US. The series didn’t happen, but even this didn’t put an end to Doctor Who. BBC Books reclaimed the publishing license, and began producing a series of Eighth Doctor novels. They also published “Past Doctor” adventures, which meant that while the show was off the air, at least two new Doctor Who stories would be available to fans every month.

If that wasn’t enough, in 1999, a company called Big Finish started making radio plays, under license from the BBC, starring past incarnations of the Doctor, and his companions. In 2001, the Eighth Doctor joined the ranks of the audio Doctors. These adventures, both with the Eighth Doctor and other Doctors continue to this day, with CDs coming out every month. Indeed, if you combine the books and the Big Finish audios, the Eighth Doctor is by far the most prolific, and the longest-serving of all the Doctors–even though he has spent little more than an hour on our TV screens.

To get a good idea of how many Doctor Who stories have been released since 1989, check out these lists:

I haven’t mentioned the webcasts, the fan productions, the DVD range of classic stories, and all the other merchandising that went on during those 16 “dark” years. I’m convinced that when the Head of Drama approached Russell T. Davies in 2003 about bringing back Doctor Who, the fact that the show was very much alive in the consciousness of thousands, if not millions, was a big factor.

Have you read any Doctor Who original novels (i.e., not novelizations of TV stories), or heard any of the Big Finish audios? Your thoughts on these, or the hiatus? Let’s talk…!

Slightly off-topic: CNN is running a story today about Doctor Who, the fans, and the 50th anniversary. See HERE.

What’s Up Wednesday: Doctor Who Edition

This coming Saturday, Doctor Who, the longest-running sci-fi series, and the only reason for having a television, turns fifty. So there’s a distinctly Whovian turn to this week’s WUW, if you don’t mind. For those who don’t know, What’s Up Wednesday was devised by Jaime Morrow and Erin Funk as a way for reader/writer buddies to keep up with each other. Find out how to join in the WUW fun and visit other WUW participants on Jaime’s blog (Erin’s taking a blog break for a while).

What I’m Reading

I finished the Doctor Who book I was reading, and I reviewed it on Goodreads. It was a good story, but the writing left a bit to be desired. I contemplated diving into another Doctor Who book, but in the end I chose NIGHT SHIFT by Stephen King. I’ve been saying for a while that I need to write some short stories that I could submit to publications and/or competitions, which is primarily why I picked this as my next read. NIGHT SHIFT is a collection of short stories, written by King between 1970 and 1977. The first, “Jerusalem’s Lot,” appears to be a prequel to ‘SALEM’S LOT. Again, horror’s not my genre of choice, but King is an excellent writer, and I hope to pick up some tips on how to structure a good short story.

What I’m Writing

Again, work on the revisions is slow, but while my Mum’s here, that’s fine. I wrote a piece of flash fiction for the YA Buccaneers’ “Walk the Plank” challenge yesterday that was fun to do. While revisions are slow, it’s good to do things like this that stir the creative juices and remind me that I can still write.

What Inspires Me Right Now

Doctor Who. What particularly inspires me about Doctor Who is how this show that I remember watching as a child on TV in England is still going, and has become such a worldwide phenomenon. The 50th Anniversary Special is being simulcast on television stations in at least 75 countries. It’s being shown in 3D in movie theaters around the world (including this little corner of Eastern North Carolina!). And the Eleventh Doctor graces the cover of this week’s TV Guide magazine here in the States. For all the Radio Times covers the Doctor has appeared on over the years, to land a place on the US’s most prestigious listing guide just shows how far it’s come.

The amazing thing, though, is the fact that all this success is not just due the show itself (though, of course, that is a big factor–it’s an awesome show), but the incredible, loyal fandom the show has. There are people watching today who were sat in front of their TVs that Saturday night in 1963. The people who make the new, rebooted Doctor Who are among some of the biggest fans of the show, and watched it religiously as children. The Tenth Doctor, David Tennant, was (and still is) a complete Doctor Who geek, as is the actor who will become the Twelfth Doctor at Christmas, Peter Capaldi. Even the team of sound and video engineers who restore classic Doctor Who stories for DVD release are all long-time fans of the show. There is such a lot of love for this program both inside and outside the television industry, it’s breathtaking. And that’s the power of a great idea, and what can happen when great ideas capture the imagination. You see a similar kind of thing with the Harry Potter fandom, and I don’t doubt in 2047, people will be celebrating 50 years since HARRY POTTER AND THE PHILOSOPHER’S STONE was released in the UK.

You might be interested in the following list of celebrities who are fans of Doctor Who (pulled from Wikipedia)–some of these names surprised me!:

  • Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
  • The Prince of Wales
  • Mark Gatiss
  • Benedict Cumberbatch
  • Stephen Fry
  • David Duchovny
  • Tom Hanks
  • Eric McCormack
  • Simon Pegg
  • Rob Lowe
  • Anthony Stewart Head
  • Steve Martin
  • Scott Bakula
  • Noah Wyle
  • Simpsons creator Matt Groening
  • Inheritance Cycle author Christopher Paolini
  • Firefly creator Joss Whedon
  • Science fiction writer Robert J. Sawyer
  • Horror writer Stephen King
  • Graphic novelist and fantasy writer Neil Gaiman
  • Star Trek star Patrick Stewart
  • Craig Ferguson of the Late Late show
  • Author Rick Riordan
  • Director Peter Jackson
  • “Star Wars” creator George Lucas
  • Director Steven Spielberg (at least a fan of the classic series)

What Else I’ve Been Up To

This past weekend, SecondBorn turned 18. I am now the father of two adult children. I feel old. We had a fun time celebrating, though. And, of course, this Saturday, we’ll be joining with friends to watch the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Special. FirstBorn says she’ll make Dalek cupcakes, and wifey’s trying to think of an appropriate supper to fix. We’re all looking forward to that.

If you’re not a fan of Doctor Who, or have heard of it but never watched it, and you feel like you’re missing out on something… well, yes, you are. :)

What’s your week been like?

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