The Ghost Monument

Warning:  This episode contains spoilers for Episode 2 of Series 11, The Ghost Monument.  If you have not seen this episode yet, come back when you’ve seen it!

Oh by the way, welcome to what I presume is your first alien planet.  Don’t touch anything!

Thirteenth Doctor

ruins

Synopsis

The Doctor and her new friends try to stay alive in a hostile alien environment, whilst trying to solve the mystery of Desolation.

Writer: Chris Chibnall (7th episode written)

Director: Mark Tonderai (1st episode directed)

Cast: Jodie Whittaker (The Doctor), Bradley Walsh (Graham O’Brien), Tosin Cole (Ryan Sinclair), Mandip Gill (Yasmin Khan), Shaun Dooley (Epzo), Susan Lynch (Angstrom), Art Malik (Ilin), Ian Gelder (Remnants (voice)

Behind the Scenes

  • This is the first episode to feature the new credits sequence, as well as the new iteration of the theme “in situ”, arranged by Segun Akinola.  The new visuals hark back to the howl around seen in the opening titles during the Hartnell and Troughton eras.
  • Speaking of the credits, they are the first not to feature the face of the lead actor since The Snowmen
  • This episode was shot in South Africa, along with the following episode, Rosa.
  • Yas refers to a green police box in Sheffield.

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  • The Doctor performs Venusian Aikido on Epzo.  This martial art was mainly used by the Third Doctor, and the Doctor here alludes to it being taught to her by Venusian nuns.

Review

So, we kind of got a Hitchhiker’s Guide resolution to that cliffhanger from last week.  The Thirteenth Doctor’s second episode sees the Doctor and her new “best friends” thrown into the final stage of an epic competition, seeking a mysterious ‘Ghost Monument,’ with the last surviving competitors.  The second of the episode looks fantastically cinematic, with the new cameras being put to good use – the last series also looked fantastic, but this new visual look makes the show look the best it ever has.  I must address the elephant in the room here too – the opening visuals are fantastic and match the new theme tune beautifully.  There is something otherworldly about the new score, and the corresponding visuals are unsettling.

Landscape

I’ll address the biggest problem with the episode first.  Chris Chibnall is known for his strong characterisation, occasionally coming at the expense of plot, with one of the most notable examples of this coming in The Power of Three, and similarly here, the conclusion to the episode feels very rushed.  I liked the idea of the story, but the focus on characterisation really does damage this as a story, especially as the majority of it feels like a retread of what we saw last week – the difficult relationship between Graham and Ryan.  Yaz again does seem to draw the short straw, but we do learn more about her family and home life – family does really seem to be a key part of this series.  Epzo and Angstrom are participating in the Rally to save their families, as the prize is safety for their families, who are on a planet being systematically cleansed, and although Shaun Dooley and Susan Lynch give good performances, I don’t feel their characters were really fully rounded.  The scene between Graham and Ryan in the boat, discussing grieving for Grace, is beautifully played, however, and it didn’t have too much of an impact on my engagement with the story, in fact, it might be the strongest part, addressing issues regarding men discussing their feelings and toxic masculinity.  My only disappointment is that Ilan is completely shouted down at the conclusion in allowing both Angstrom and Epzo to win so quickly.

On to my more positive thoughts about this story.  I really like the new Doctor and we do get more of a handle of this incarnation here.  We do get to see her have a proper rage at Epzo and get to see her deal with some proper sci-fi jargon.  She is still most similar to David Tennant, especially in her hatred towards guns.  I feel that Jodie Whittaker is a great Doctor already and I want to see a lot more of her.  Despite the fact that in press releases, people have said that the series won’t be delving into the Doctor’s past, the mention of the ‘Timeless Child’ by the Remnants definitely hints that we will be delving into the Doctor’s past.  She definitely possesses one of the necessary characteristics for any Doctor, as she is an engaging screen presence and has the heart of steel that we have come to associate with the Doctor since the revival, as well as being supportive and encouraging to her new companions.  The moment that the TARDIS appears at the conclusion is fantastic, especially when she apologises for not having a key, and the door opens.  So many introductions to the TARDIS focus on the companion’s reactions, so switching it to the Doctor’s here is lovely.

I really need you right now.  My beautiful Ghost Monument.  I’ve missed you!

Thirteenth Doctor

Something I was pleasantly surprised by in this episode was Ryan.  I wasn’t terribly enamoured with him in The Woman Who Fell To Earth, but here we see that he can be a fantastic companion.  There are obviously issues relating to his grandmother’s death that he does not want to speak about, which can be seen in his headstrong approach, charging out to take out the SniperBots, inspired by his time playing Call of Duty, but this is also played for laughs when they stand back up.  Yaz and Graham have very little to do in this episode though, and I am a bit concerned that Bradley Walsh’s Graham is basically there to express disbelief at everything he sees or experiences.  I really hope that he and Yaz get more to do in the coming weeks.

tardis team

I really like the fact that we’re getting some more background for the Stenza race too, who we encountered for the first time ever last week in The Woman Who Fell to Earth.  Here we see that they have used the planet of Desolation and their scientists to create weapons to use in war, and have used the planet as their testing ground, which has resulted in the inhabitants being wiped out.  The Remnants have a characteristic of many classic Doctor Who villains in that they are easy to replicate and are quite menacing – they nearly finish off Epzo and are clearly effective adversaries, being able to pull memories from the Doctor’s head before their eventual demise.  The SniperBots are a rather more generic adversary, but they are also quite effective here.

sniperbots

Contrary to my assertion that we wouldn’t be seeing the TARDIS until the end of the series, the police box does make an appearance at the end, as I alluded to above.  I really like the new TARDIS, especially the new ‘porch’ at the front, which makes it seem more magical, reminiscent of the wardrobe in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe.  The interior is also beautifully designed, and I like the orange colour scheme although I’m not certain about the pillars although I’m sure that they will grow on me.  I’m just happy to be seeing the TARDIS sooner than expected and hope that this means that we can get some interesting new stories and some potentially more complicated plots.

Walking up to the TARDIS

Verdict: Backed up by some fantastic landscapes of South Africa doubling as an alien planet, The Ghost Monument is a solid episode in this series, despite what can be seen as a simplistic A to B plot and a rushed conclusion. 7/10

Best Moment: The Doctor entering her new TARDIS for the first time.

Best Quote

Oh…You’ve redecorated.  I really like it!

Thirteenth Doctor

What did you think of The Ghost Monument?  Let me know in the comments below!

 

 

 

The Woman Who Fell To Earth

Warning: This review contains spoilers. If you have not yet seen the opening episode of series 11, The Woman Who Fell To Earth, come back after catching up!

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I’m with him! We don’t get aliens in Sheffield!

Karl

Synopsis

In Sheffield, three individuals are about to have their lives changed forever. A mysterious stranger crashes to Earth, unable to remember her own name. Can she be trusted? And will she be able to stop the strange events happening across the city?

Writer: Chris Chibnall (6th episode written)
Director: Jamie Childs (1st episode directed)

Cast: Jodie Whittaker (The Doctor), Bradley Walsh (Graham O’Brien), Tosin Cole (Ryan Sinclair), Mandip Gill (Yasmin Khan), Sharon D. Clarke (Grace O’Brien), Philip Abiodun (Dean), Hazel Atherton (Sissy Roberts), Jonny Dixon (Karl), Asif Khan (Ramesh Sundur), Asha Kingsley (Sonia), Stephen MacKenna (Dennis), Janine Mellor (Janey), Samuel Oatley (T’zim Sha/”Tim Shaw”), Amit Shah (Rahul), James Thackeray (Andy), Everal Walsh (Gabriel)

Behind the Scenes

  • As well as being the first episode to feature a female Doctor, similarly to The Eleventh Hour, this episode features a major overhaul of several features of the series, such as the logo, a new variation of the theme and logo.
  • Jodie Whittaker was announced as the Doctor on the 16th July 2017, with the announcement being broadcast after the Wimbledon Singles final.
  • The TARDIS does not feature in this story at all, making it the tenth not to see the Police Box make an appearance. The most recent episode before this was The Lie of the Land, and it joins episodes such as Midnight, Genesis of the Daleks and The Silurians.
  • This is the second episode not to feature opening credits after Sleep No More.
  • This is the first non-special episode to be broadcast on a day other than a Saturday since Survival.

Preamble

Chris Chibnall’s writing for Doctor Who has had quite a lot of scrutiny since he was announced as the new showrunner and he, like most writers for the show, has a number of supporters and detractors. Personally, I find Chibnall’s earlier work on the show and on Torchwood to be average to good. His stories don’t tend to be my absolute favourites of a particular series, however, he is quite adept at writing for Doctor Who. My personal favourite episode he has written for the show (so far) has been Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, which is a good fun romp, with honourable mentions going to The Power of Three, which is good up until the rushed conclusion, and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, the opener for series two of Torchwood.

Review

The best opening episodes of Doctor Who feel like a breath of fresh air, and one of the most wonderful things about The Woman Who Fell to Earth is that it completely fits that description. The visual appearance of the show is beautiful, there’s new theme music (although we have to wait until the end to hear it in its full majesty) and there’s a new Doctor in town. Oh, and the Doctor’s a woman now.

blow torch

Speaking of the new Doctor, Jodie Whittaker gives a strong debut performance as the titular Time Lord, with a performance more akin to David Tennant or Matt Smith than Christopher Eccleston or Peter Capaldi, delivering a more scatty performance than her immediate predecessor. Her final confrontation with Tim Shaw towards the end of the episode is great, and I particularly like the fact that she still wants to resolve the issue peacefully, but she still has a backup just in case, which I found to be reminiscent of The Christmas Invasion, although she is horrified by Karl killing the creature. Her entrance is quite low key, which I also quite liked, with it being punctuated by a brief burst of the new theme, and the fact that she is without her TARDIS and sonic screwdriver makes her feel more vulnerable. At times, she does flip between serious and eccentric as the story allows, but her post-regenerative trauma is quite short-lived, so we should hopefully find more out about the type of Doctor she will be as she stabilises. All in all, I feel that it is a promising start for Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor!

I am the Doctor, sorting out fair play throughout the universe!

Thirteenth Doctor

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With the number of changes that have taken place to the show, the plot is small in comparison – the fate of the whole world isn’t at risk just yet, but if the Doctor doesn’t intervene, it could be – and the main crux of the plot revolves around saving one life. This allows us to focus on the relationships between the new companions, as well as the ill-fated Sharon D. Clarke’s Grace, and for the most part, these characters feel really lived in. If I had to pick out one flaw in this element is that I feel that Yasmin isn’t as developed as I would like and she doesn’t have a lot to do beyond the first half of the episode, with the focus understandably shifting more towards Ryan and Graham towards the episode’s close. Grace is a great character too, and I’m a little upset that she died in the course of the episode as I’d have liked to have seen more of her. All of the new companions have dissatisfaction in their lives when we first meet them; Ryan is struggling with his dyspraxia, Graham desperately wants a bond with this step-grandson, Ryan, and Yaz is looking for more interesting work with the police force. Graham is perhaps the most likeable, and definitely the most grounded and cynical of the three, reminding us of things like the DNA bombs, but I’m really excited about this new TARDIS team.

As for the villain of the piece, I like “Tim Shaw”. His design, both in full armour and without the helmet is distinctly creepy, and the fear factor is definitely helped by some competent direction by Jamie Childs, and the episode being mostly set at night. The idea of the species taking a tooth of their victims is also really sinister – I’ve seen the villain being labelled as the Predator meets the Tooth Fairy online! The design of the Data Core is also really good, although initially, I compared it to the Scribble Monsters from Fear Her. The idea of “Tim Shaw” cheating seems to irritate and annoy the Doctor even more and make her all the more determined to defeat the would-be leader of the Stenza, which I really like.

I’m just going to make a brief mention of the new theme music, composed by Segun Akinola, which is more reminiscent of the classic era theme than the orchestrated versions that we have seen since the revival. It’s quite good, and I feel that I will warm to it more as the series progresses. The incidental music is good too.

The end of the episode is certainly intriguing, and I like the idea of the three companions being brought along by the Doctor unwillingly. I’m intrigued to see how they get out of their perilous situation that the end of this episode finds them in, and despite mentions of no overarching plot through the series, I think the hunt for the TARDIS will take them through until episode 10.

Verdict: A good debut for Whittaker’s Thirteenth Doctor, and a new dawn for the show. Counting down the minutes until the Ghost Machine. 8/10

Best Moment: The entrance of the Doctor on the train. Delightfully underplayed!

Best Quote

Right now, I’m a stranger to myself. There’s echoes of who I was and a sort of call towards who I am, and I just have to hold my nerve and trust all of my new instincts.

Thirteenth Doctor

Into the Dalek

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Don’t be lasagne.

Twelfth Doctor

Writer: Steven Moffat (23rd story) and Phil Ford (2nd story written)

Director: Ben Wheatley (2nd story directed)

Cast: Peter Capaldi (The Doctor), Jenna Coleman (Clara Oswald), Zawe Ashton (Journey Blue), Michael Smiley (Colonel Morgan Blue), Samuel Anderson (Danny Pink), Laura Dos Santos (Gretchen), Ben Crompton (Ross), Bradley Ford (Fleming), Michelle Morris (School Secretary), Nigel Betts (Mr Armitage), Ellis George (Courtney Woods), Barnaby Edwards (Dalek), Nicholas Briggs (Voice of the Daleks), Michelle Gomez (Missy)

Synopsis

The Doctor and Clara journey into the most dangerous place in the universe – inside a Dalek!  The Doctor will find the limits of his compassion being tested as he ponders whether or not he is a good man, and more importantly, can there ever be a good Dalek?

Behind the Scenes

  • This is the first episode since Nightmare in Silver not to feature another incarnation of the Doctor, and the first since The End of Time Part One not to feature Matt Smith.
  • Due to availability issues, and as with Deep Breath, the scene with Missy and Gretchen was directed by Rachel Talalay, the director of the finale.
  • In perhaps the best bit of behind the scenes news, Peter Capaldi came to set on his day off for the day that the destruction of the Daleks was being filmed.
  • The idea of travelling inside a Dalek was originally conceived by Steven Moffat when coming up with concepts for a Doctor Who video game.

Review

Peter Capaldi’s second episode as the Doctor sees him go face to face with his long term nemesis, the Daleks, and sees ultimately the impact of the Battle of Trenzalore on this incarnation of the Daleks.  I am very fond of this episode, which obviously pays homage to Fantastic Voyage.

You are a good Dalek.

Rusty

This story is one of the best new series episodes to feature the Daleks, and does something relatively new with them.  This is not the first time since 2005 where we have seen Daleks seeing the truth about their race, as we have seen this in Evolution of the Daleks and Journey’s End, however, this is the first time that we see this create in effect a good Dalek.  The new Doctor’s stubbornness to accept that there can be such a thing as a good Dalek leads him to want to prove that this is impossible, and he does not really care how many lives are sacrificed to prove that he is right.  This may be due to the amount of time that the Doctor spent defending Trenzalore in The Time of the Doctor, but when he is called out for this, and when he sees the effects of his hatred when Rusty starts destroying the Daleks, he is horrified.

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She’s my carer.  She cares so I don’t have to.

Twelfth Doctor

We also see the introduction of an important character in Danny Pink, another teacher with Clara at Coal Hill School.  The scenes between Clara and Danny are very reminiscent of a previous Moffat series, Coupling, which is a definite strong element in this story.  Although he does not encounter the Doctor here, we can tell that there will be issues when the two do eventually meet, as we get other soldiers here in the shape of Michael Smiley’s Colonel Morgan Blue and Zawe Ashton’s Journey Blue, who the Doctor is not in favour of.  Journey Blue even gets rejected as a companion due to the fact that this particular incarnation of the Doctor has such an adversion to soldiers.  When it comes to Danny, we do get a couple of weird moments, such as the headmaster calling him a “lady killer” and the student asking oddly specific questions about Danny’s military time, which are really weird out of context.

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We do get development in the relationship between Clara and the Doctor here though, as prior to this series, Clara had no real character development.  With this new and unstable Doctor, Clara is needed to keep him grounded and Jenna Coleman performs the part well here.  Peter Capaldi also puts in a strong performance and the fact that it is the most intriguing episode to feature the Daleks potentially since Dalek, really serves to make it memorable.

Verdict: One of the strongest episodes to feature the Daleks since the revival.  8/10

Best Moment: When Rusty turns on the invading Daleks on the station.

Best Quote: 

It’s smaller on the outside.

Yeah, it’s a bit more impressive when you go the other way.

Journey Blue and the Twelfth Doctor

 

 

The Ark in Space

ark in space

Homo Sapiens.  What an inventive, incredible species.  It’s only a few million years since they crawled out of the mud and learnt to walk.  Puny defenceless bipeds.  They’ve survived flood, famine and plague.  They’ve survived cosmic wars and holocausts.  And now, here they are, out among the stars, waiting to begin a new life.  Ready to outsit eternity.  They’re indomitable.

Fourth Doctor

Writer: Robert Holmes (7th story written)

Director: Rodney Bennett (1st story directed)

Parts: 4

Cast: Tom Baker (The Doctor), Elisabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane Smith), Ian Marter (Harry Sullivan), Wendy Williams (Vira), Kenton Moore (Noah), Richardson Morgan (Rogin), John Gregg (Lycett), Christopher Master (Libri), Stuart Fell and Nick Hobbs (The Wirrn), Gladys Spencer (High Minister’s Voice) Peter Tuddenham (Voices on Nerva)

Synopsis

The TARDIS lands on a space station orbiting the Earth in the distant future.  They find thousands of humans in cryogenic sleep, and their space station has been invaded by the Wirrn, a parasitic insect race, who threaten the future of mankind.

Behind the Scenes

The Ark in Space had quite a difficult conception and could have ended up being quite different to the finished article.  Originally, the idea of a story being set on a space station was given to both Christopher Langley and John Lucarotti; Langley had never written for the show before, and Lucarotti had previously written for William Hartnell, and his original drafts even included separate names for the four parts of the episode, a practice which had stopped after The Gunfighters.  Langley’s premise was rejected and Lucarotti’s ran into practical difficulties, as the writer lived on a boat in the Meditteranean at the time and the Corsican postal service were on strike, making it infeasible for Holmes to work with him to get the story to the screen.  Several elements of Lucarotti’s story are similar to the finished article, with Lucarotti’s premise featuring an ark, as well as humans who had overslept and aliens infiltrating the station whilst they slept.  However, Robert Holmes had to carry out a page one rewrite, abandoning all but the central premise, and so he was the credited writer, but despite this, Lucarotti was paid for the work he had done one the story.

This story is held in high regard by many individuals who have worked on the revived series of Doctor Who.  Showrunners Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat have both sung its praises, with Davies labelling it the best story of the ‘classic’ era and Moffat stating that it is his favourite story of Tom Baker’s time on the show.  Peter Capaldi lists it amongst his favourite stories from his childhood, whilst Dalek operator and Big Finish director Barnaby Edwards said that he was “petrified of the Wirrn.”  To cap off this praise, Tom Baker has stated that this was his favourite of all the stories he worked on, which is saying something, as he played the role for seven years.  Part Two of the story was the fifth most viewed programme in the week it was broadcast, the highest charting episode of Doctor Who until Voyage of the Damned, finally proving that Kylie Minogue is more popular than the Wirrn.

This story is notable for introducing the Nerva Beacon, which would be the lynchpin of Tom Baker’s first season and the sets would be reused in Revenge of the Cybermen.  It was produced at the same time as The Sontaran Experiment, as Ark in Space was entirely set based, whilst Sontaran Experiment was entirely shot on location, as a cost-saving measure by Philip Hinchcliffe.

Review

Despite a difficult conception, The Ark in Space is correctly regarded as a classic in terms of Doctor Who.  I am going to start with what may be seen as the biggest problem with the story first, the Wirrn and their appearance.

So, the bubble wrap aliens. Despite the fact that it is clearly bubble wrap around Noah’s hand and Kenton Moore’s personal disappointment about how the transformation actually appeared on screen, the obvious cheap prosthetic effect doesn’t really bother me that much.  Maybe it’s my own phobia relating to insects, but I feel that the Wirrn are potentially one of the better classic era villains, and especially one of the best ones that only appear once.  Moore’s performance when he stares at his hand as the transformation begins really sells it to me, and I know from the behind the scenes documentary that he was hoping for more visual stimulation from the prosthetic, but that scene really stands out.  The idea behind the parasitic Wirrn, and the fact that they devour the host and absorb their memories to a hive mind is quite a horrifying and effective idea.  The adult Wirrn are also fantastically creepy and quite unsettling in how they move.

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Another strong element of this episode is the dynamic between the three lead actors, Tom Baker, Elisabeth Sladen and Ian Marter.  The episode greatly benefits from the fact that the first part of the story could be described as a three-hander, although Sarah Jane does spend most of that unconscious, so it is a good chance to see the relationship between Harry and the Doctor develop a little more.  In the course of the first part, we see Harry blamed for them ending up on the Nerva Beacon and the Doctor goes from believing Harry to be an imbecile to be “improving”, although being the Doctor, of course, this is entirely due to his influence.  This story does contain some really lovely moments with this TARDIS team, with scenes like the Doctor “encouraging” Sarah Jane through the ventilation shafts really highlighting this.

The use of language in this episode is really interesting, and the use of the old-fashioned Harry to highlight it is really interesting.  The humans in suspended animation use much more advanced language than Harry which serves to highlight the development and evolution of the humans, and the use of Harry’s more old-fashioned sensibilities serve to highlight this.  Initially, in the first drafts of the script, this was much more pronounced and is more toned down in the finished show, however, this also is used to emphasise the differences between Harry and Sarah and the Nerva Beacon humans like Vira.

I cannot review this story without talking for a moment about Roger Murray-Leach, the designer of many sets in Classic Who.  Here they stand out to create a fantastic atmosphere that almost makes you believe that they are on a real space station.  The sets evoke a feeling of a cold and clinical environment, which helps with the general feelings of horror, especially with the cryogenic pods giving a horrible sense of claustrophobia. The fact that the sets were obviously constructed on a shoestring budget makes this all the more effective: mirrors were used to create the impression that the cryogenic chamber was much larger than it really was, and good direction helps the corridor set to be differentiated from other areas of the spaceship.

This story really feels more like a debut for the Fourth Doctor’s era than the preceding story, Robot, with it’s smaller cast and obvious themes of possession and horror story staples, it is definitely a precursor to things to come under Philip Hinchcliffe’s time as producer.  It also helps that the story leads directly into the following one, capturing the viewer’s imagination as to what the Doctor, Harry and Sarah Jane will find when they return to Earth.  Tom Baker’s performance as the Doctor, where he is completely unpredictable from moment to moment, also helps to keep the viewer engaged and he obviously took to the role like a duck to water.

harry doctor sarah

Verdict:  Thanks to strong horror influences, a creepy alien and good performances from the main and guest casts, this story kicks the Fourth Doctor’s era into life.  10/10

Best Moment: When Noah is looking at his hand and obviously beginning to lose control of his own body at the end of Part 3.  It is a really chilling scene.

Best Quote

Shame about the scarf.  Madam Nostradamus knitted for me.  Witty little knitter.

Fourth Doctor

 

The Beast Below

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Writer: Steven Moffat

Director: Andrew Gunn

Cast: Matt Smith (Eleventh Doctor), Karen Gillan (Amy Pond), Sophie Okonedo (Liz 10), Terence Hardiman (Hawthorne), Hannah Sharp (Mandy), Alfie Field (Timmy), Christopher Good (Morgan), David Ajala (Peter), Catrin Richards (Poem Girl), Jonathan Battersby (Winder), Chris Porter (Voice of Smilers/Winder), Ian McNeice (Winston Churchill)

In bed above we’re deep asleep, while greater love lies further deep. This dream must end, the world must know – we all depend on the beast below.

Amy Pond

Synopsis

The Doctor takes Amy to the 29th Century, where they find all of the UK’s citizens (apart from the Scottish) onboard Starship UK, searching for a new home after the Earth has been roasted by solar flares.

However, they find something amiss.  The citizens are ignoring crying children and are afraid of sinister Smilers.  As the Doctor and Amy investigate, it becomes increasingly clear that the Doctor will have to make an impossible decision.  No matter what he chooses, death is the only outcome.

Behind the Scenes

Similarly to Series Three, this story follows immediately on from the end of The Eleventh Hour (via the minisode, Meanwhile in the TARDIS 1), and leads into the following story, Victory of the Daleks.

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Sophie Okonedo previously played Alison Cheney, the companion of an alternative Ninth Doctor, known commonly as the Shalka Doctor and played by Richard E. Grant, in Scream of the Shalka, a webcast published on the Doctor Who website in 2003.

This episode also marks the first mention of the promise that the Doctor made to himself when choosing his name:

Never cruel or cowardly.  Never give up, never give in.

Review

The Beast Below has a tough act to follow as it falls immediately after one of the strongest and most confident new Doctor debut episodes in the show’s history.  It mostly manages to deliver a strong episode, however, does fall down when it comes to a rushed and anti-climactic conclusion, but has plenty of strong dialogue, creepy villains and great performances from Matt Smith, Karen Gillan and Sophie Okonedo.  And despite the chameleon circuit having been broken for who knows how long, the TARDIS gets some scenery it doesn’t look out of place in!

Speaking of the central performances, I want to focus in on Matt Smith’s performance as the Doctor.  Here we see the differentiation between Smith and his predecessor, as Smith shows us a much more alien portrayal of the Doctor, as evidenced by a more evident disdain for elements of humanity, closer to Eccleston:

Nobody HUMAN has anything to say to me today!

His sudden outburst here really crosses a line from fury into something terrifying, and the way he goes back to almost speaking normally to He also demonstrates perfectly the enthusiasm of the Doctor when they first spot Starship UK, when he forgets about Amy dangling outside the TARDIS.  Karen Gillan is very good here too, performing her role as a fish out of water well and her chemistry with Smith is great, and Sophie Okonedo as Liz 10 is great, aided by a script that features some great lines.

Liz 10

I’m the bloody Queen, mate, and basically I rule.

Liz 10

The episode hinges on the central conceit of people choosing to forget the secret behind Starship UK: that the occupants of Starship UK are complicit in the torture of an innocent creature for their own gain, with anyone who chooses to protest fed to the Star Whale.  The Doctor takes great pleasure in stating that the system is essentially “democracy in action”.  What we see here is essentially democratic dystopia, with the Queen’s government keeping the truth from the reigning monarch.  I’d imagine this would be much easier to do currently than with the gun-toting Liz 10 we see here – perhaps losing Scotland drove her over the edge?

The Smilers are also quite creepy, although never really explained what their function is, except sending people down to the Beast for protesting.  They don’t really ascend to the level of Weeping Angels or Vashta Nerada, despite how visually striking they look.  The origin of them is not really explained, but their resurrection moment after Liz 10 shoots them is the spookiest thing they do.  We are told that the populace of Starship UK are afraid of them, hence why their booths are so clean, however, we’re never really shown enough of them to convince us as to why.

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Additionally, the story does suffer towards the climax as the story doesn’t really have any consequences.  The fact that the Star Whale doesn’t leave and the human race doesn’t suffer any ill effect from their mistreatment of the generous creature robs a story with interesting ideas of a meaningful conclusion and damages the episode as a whole.  In addition, despite people being fed to the Beast, no one has died at the end of the story.

Verdict: A good story with intriguing ideas and strong central performances, however, the lack of a meaningful conclusion lets it down.  7/10

Best Moment: The part where the Doctor and Amy are talking in the TARDIS, then we realise the Doctor’s left to comfort the crying child, whilst Amy thinks she’s still talking to him.

Best Quote: 

What if you were really old, and really kind and lonely, your whole race gone.  What couldn’t you do then?  If you were that old, and that kind, and the very last of your kind, you couldn’t just stand there and watch children cry.

Amy Pond

 

 

 

 

(Doctor Who and) The Silurians

silurians 5

Writer: Malcolm Hulke (3rd story written)

Director: Timothy Combe (1st story directed)

Parts: 7

Cast: Jon Pertwee (Third Doctor), Caroline John (Liz Shaw), Nicholas Courtney (Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart), Fulton Mackay (Dr Quinn), Norman Jones (Major Baker), Peter Miles (Dr Lawrence), Thomasine Heiner (Miss Dawson), Ian Cunningham (Dr Meredith), Ray Branigan (Roberts), John Newman (Spencer), Bill Matthews (Davis), Paul Darrow (Captain Hawkins), Nancie Jackson (Doris Squire), Gordon Richardson (Squire), Peter Halliday (Silurian Voices), Geoffrey Palmer (Masters), Richard Steele (Sergeant Hart), Ian Talbot (Travis), Dave Carter (Old Silurian), Nigel Johns (Young Silurian), Harry Swift (Private Robins), Pat Gorman (Silurian Scientist), Alan Mason (Corporal Nutting), Derek Pollitt (Private Wright), Brendan Barry (Hospital Doctor), Pat Gorman, Paul Barton, Simon Cain, John Churchill & Dave Carter (Silurians)

Synopsis

The former rulers of Earth have awoken and are causing power drains on a nuclear testing facility at Wenley Moor, so The Doctor and Liz go to investigate with U.N.I.T.  However, what they find will put the Doctor and the Brigadier’s relationship under considerable strain.

Behind the Scenes

This story is the only one televised to feature the prefix of “Doctor Who and…”, which had been included on production notes since the programme’s inception in 1963.  The commonly agreed upon reasoning for this was that, due to the director, Timothy Combe, having never directed a story before, he instructed the art department to include it.  There was no producer to correct the error before broadcast, as the incoming producer, Barry Letts, was still committed to another programme, and his predecessors, Derrick Sherwin and Peter Bryant, left the show at the end of the preceding story, Spearhead From Space.  Script editor Terrance Dicks was therefore in charge of production, and this error slipped through the net, and in future, the production paperwork omitted the prefix to prevent the error occurring again.

Additionally, this story is still technically “missing”, as the master tapes were wiped by the BBC.  Fortuitously, it was also recorded in several other formats, and so survives to this day.

Bessie

This serial is notable for several debuts, both off and on camera.  On camera, this is the first appearance of the Doctor’s canary-yellow Edwardian roadster, part of the Doctor’s agreement with the Brigadier to work for U.N.I.T during his exile on Earth, and the Silurians, who went on to reappear in Warriors From the Deep, and returned to the revived show in the Chris Chibnall penned The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood.  Although we are not given a date for The Silurians, it was broadcast in 1970, and they go into hibernation for fifty years, whilst Chibnall’s two-parter is set in 2020.  Behind the camera, this marks a debut for colour separation overlay, a precursor to blue screen, and videotape recording.

Peter Miles, Paul Darrow and Geoffrey Palmer make their first appearances in Doctor Who in this serial, going on to reappear numerous times in different roles, whilst Norman Jones had previously appeared in The Abominable Snowmen opposite Patrick Troughton and would go on to appear in The Masque of Mandragora opposite Tom Baker.  Fulton Mackay, best known for his role in Ronnie Barker penned sitcom, Porridge, also appears in this story.  Despite never reappearing in the programme, Mackay was considered to replace Jon Pertwee in 1974. There are cameos for Terrance Dicks, Barry Letts and, most notably, Trevor Ray in the scenes at Marylebone Station.

The Silurians is also one of only nine stories to date not to feature the TARDIS in any way, and at the time of broadcast, just the second not to have the famous blue police box appear.

Review

Despite having a complete runtime of around two and a half hours, The Silurians feels much shorter, thanks to strong central and guest performances and a gripping story.  The main heart of the story is the friction between the Doctor and the Brigadier, new colleagues as of the end of the last story, and this tension combined with the climax serve to deliver a truly great episode.

silurians 1

Due to the length of time in which Malcolm Hulke has to tell the story, the story has time to breathe and allows us to see the difficulties in the Doctor and the Brigadier’s working relationship, before introducing the central antagonists of the story.  This allows for several great scenes featuring just Pertwee and Courtney sparring, the free-spirited Doctor’s reluctance to conform to the needs of the establishment fully seen early on.  One of my particular favourite scenes comes in part one, where the Doctor is frustrated that the Brigadier is not taking his concerns about events at Wenley Moor seriously, leading the following exchange:

Brigadier: Then I suggest you discover something I can’t dismiss.

The Doctor: You’re not exactly a little Sherlock Holmes yourself, are you?

The lights dim and the air conditioning goes off.

The Doctor: What the devil’s that?

Brigadier: It’s another power failure.  Come on, Doctor Watson.

Despite this, there are still signs of mutual respect between the two men, such as when the Brigadier tells Dr. Lawrence that the Doctor is qualified to do “almost anything”.  Part of the Doctor’s frustration must come from the fact that he is no longer free to come and go as he pleases, and he is now utterly reliant on the Brigadier and U.N.I.T.

Silurians

The strength of this part of the story means that we don’t need to have a full glimpse of the titular creatures until the end of Part 3.  We get the sighting of the dinosaur at end of Part One, when the Doctor goes into the caves on his own, and various glimpses and point of view shots from the wounded Silurian, especially effective at the end of part two, where they sneak up behind Liz.  When the story allows us that first full glimpse of the Silurian, the story continues to escalate towards its climax: Lawrence calls in the government in the shape of the Permanent Under Secretary, Masters, and disagreements between those who favour attacking the Silurians head on and those who want to attempt to ensure peace, namely the Doctor and Liz.  The Silurians show themselves to be quite a threat to the human race, especially with the virus that they unleash towards the end of the story, and the scenes shown in London of the victims almost look like something out of a horror story.

What has been created here by Hulke and the production team is a multi-layered and morally ambiguous story.  I find it easy to see where both the Doctor and the Brigadier are coming from: rather than fighting with this re-animated previous occupier of Earth, we should look to seek peace and share the Earth with them, as both races have an equal claim.  However, the Brigadier’s viewpoint is understandable – the Silurians possess dangerous technology and there is no guarantee that peace between the two races would succeed.  We see the Silurian Elder who the Doctor discusses peace with killed by the younger Silurians.  To Hulke’s credit, the Brigadier remains a sympathetic character, who is seen to be under multiple pressures, from both Dr Lawrence and from Masters, which leads him to eventually ordering the destruction of the Silurian base at the end of the story.

silurians7

There are also themes that tap into the contemporary concerns of the adults who were watching, such as the Cold War, nuclear technology and an increasing distrust of politicians and scientists.  Fulton Mackay’s Dr Quinn and Peter Miles’ Dr Lawrence embody distrust of public servants, who were seen to be looking to further their own concerns.  Quinn is looking to utilise the Silurian technology to further his own career, whilst Lawrence refuses to take the threat of the Silurians seriously and refuses to allow the closing down of the Wenley Moor plant because of the damage it will do to his reputation.  Even when he is dying from the Silurian virus, he is still furious at the Brigadier for ruining his work at Wenley Moor.  Meanwhile, Geoffrey Palmer’s Masters, who unlike in later Pertwee stories, does not turn out to be a disguise for the Master, reflects a changing attitude towards the establishment following scandals such as the Profumo Affair in 1963, thanks in part to a rise in scrutiny of politicians by the media and satire as a medium.

The final scene of the story is also perfectly done – we don’t see the Doctor’s immediate anger at the Brigadier addressed, which will remain to have an impact on the relationship between the Doctor and the Brigadier for the remainder of the Third Doctor’s life, and perhaps for the Doctor’s continuing distrust of the military to this day.

Verdict: The Silurians is rightfully seen as a classic story in Doctor Who history.  The relationship between the Doctor and the Brigadier is sufficiently expanded and it shows how well the Earth-based Doctor can work. 10/10

Best Moment: The end scene, with a broken down Bessie and the Doctor seeing that the Brigadier has blown up the Silurian base.

Best Quote

“I’m beginning to lose confidence for the first time in my life – and that covers several thousand years.”

Third Doctor

 

 

New Earth

New Earth

Writer: Russell T Davies (9th episode)

Director: James Hawes (4th episode)

Cast: David Tennant (The Doctor), Billie Piper (Rose Tyler), Camille Coduri (Jackie Tyler), Noel Clarke (Mickey Smith), Zoe Wanamaker (Cassandra), Sean Gallagher (Chip), Dona Croll (Matron Casp), Michael Fitzgerald (Duke of Manhattan), Lucy Robinson (Fran Clovis), Andjoa Andoh (Sister Jatt), Anna Hope (Novice Hame), Struan Rodger (Face of Boe)

Synopsis

The Tenth Doctor and Rose travel to the distant future, where an order of cat nuns are able to cure all illnesses.  The Doctor must investigate their shady operations in the hospital and save Rose from his old enemy, Lady Cassandra.

Behind the Scenes

New Earth 1

This story is notable in the revived series to see the Doctor and his companion visit an alien planet – for the entirety of the first series, adventures had been set on Earth or on satellites orbiting the Earth.  The episode came about because Billie Piper had asked Russell T Davies to be in an episode where she could be funnier.

In story terms, this is a debut for New Earth, which would reappear in Gridlock in the following series.  This story is set 23 years after The End of the World, and 30 years before Gridlock.  When writing this story, Russell T Davies originally had the Face of Boe delivering his “You are not alone” message, and the Face of Boe would also have died.  However, when the production team were told that series 3 had been commissioned, Davies postponed this plot strand until the following year.  Originally the infected would have all been killed off at the end, but was influenced by an introduction written by Steven Moffat in The Shooting Scripts, good-naturedly mocking him for “(creating) interesting characters and (melting) them”.

Additionally, there seems to be a gap between this story and the preceding story, The Christmas Invasion, which could either suggest that the Doctor has been staying on the Powell Estate for a while between stories, or that the Doctor and Rose have been on other adventures in the meantime.  This is due to the fact that the seasons have obviously changed and the TARDIS has moved since the conclusion of the Christmas special.

Location-wise, the intensive care unit of the hospital was previously used in Rose as the Nestene base.  Casting wise, Andjoa Andoh would go on to play Francine Jones, Martha’s mother in series 3.

Review

New Earth zombies

David Tennant’s first fully conscious episode of Doctor Who is a mixed bag and is a bit bizarre as a series opener here.  I am going to talk about the positives as I see them before moving onto the weaker sides of the episode.

The main positive of this story is the prosthetics and make-up, especially on the cat nuns, which looks fantastic.  There are fantastic effects used here, such as on the Duke of Manhattan with Petrifold Regression, but all of the practical effects used on the patients and the infected are fantastic.  I also feel that, by and large, David Tennant’s performance in this episode is strong, especially in the scene where he finds out the truth of the hospital.  He absolutely bristles with righteous anger and rage and it is the undoubted highlight of the episode for me.  I do have a minor qualm about an element of his performance, but I’ll come onto that later.  Additionally, I feel that the story is quite well balanced, as we seem to spend an appropriate amount of time on the two elements of the plot: Cassandra and the hospital.

This is quite a flawed story, however, and really stands out as quite a bonkers plot for a first episode of the series, due to the body swapping element. Usually, a series debut will re-establish the returning characters in order to aid new viewers into the programme.  On the other hand, this story seems to assume a certain amount of knowledge of the characters. There is also a plot hole in the fact that the jumping of bodies by Cassandra seems to initially require a device, but then can just happen spontaneously.  This body swapping also contributes to another of my problems with this episode – Tennant’s acting when he’s being possessed by Cassandra.  He really hams it up and it absolutely undermines his first performance as the Doctor.  He looks really uncomfortable performing this aspect of the character and this really magnifies the issues in this story.

The test subject zombies are also a bizarre choice of villain for a Doctor Who story.  As mentioned above, the prosthetics are fantastic and the idea of getting infected by just one touch is really effective, but they don’t really fit in here.  The technique of transferring an infection through one touch is used far more effectively in a later episode, The Waters of Mars, ironically, the Tenth Doctor’s penultimate story.  Speaking of the main issue with the infected patients, I feel that one of the story’s biggest issues is the resolution.  THe magic cocktail of remedies that the Doctor and Rose/Cassandra make is a bit of a rushed job, and you can certainly tell that this wasn’t the original direction that Davies wanted the story to go in.  Although I don’t necessarily believe that Doctor Who needs to include a whole load of death, it is ultimately necessary for the stakes to remain high and for there to be any real sense of dramatic tension and believe in that week’s threat.

Verdict: A flawed second episode for David Tennant, which includes a good premise, but is let down by its execution.  Tennant’s performance is largely good, except when the body swap happens, and his charisma makes this a watchable if not entirely memorable episode. 4/10

Best Moment: The Doctor’s rage when he discovers the truth of the hospital.

Best Quote

“You were supposed to be dying.”

“There are better things to do today.  Dying can wait.”

The Tenth Doctor and the Face of Boe

What do you think?  Let me know in the comments below!