Category Archives: TV

A Conversational Journey through New Who – 2010 Christmas Special – A Christmas Carol

David is coming to New Who for the first time, having loved Classic Who as a kid. Tehani is a recent convert, and ploughed through Seasons 1 to 7 (so far) in just a few weeks after becoming addicted thanks to Matt Smith – she’s rewatching to keep up with David! Tansy is the expert in the team, with a history in Doctor Who fandom that goes WAY back, and a passion for Doctor Who that inspires us all.

We are working our way through New Who, using season openers and closers, and Hugo shortlisted episodes, and sometimes a couple of extra episodes we love as our blogging points. Just for fun!

Tansy and Tehani love this season so much we’re making David do more work – we’re changing up our usual plan and reviewing each episode, in sets of two.

Tansy and Tehani love this season so much we’re making David do more work – we’re changing up our usual plan and reviewing each episode, in sets of two.

Merry Christmas to all our readers!

“A Christmas Carol”, 2010 Christmas Special

A Christmas CarolThe Doctor – Matt Smith
Amy Pond – Karen Gillan
Rory Williams – Arthur Darvill
Kazran/Elliot Sardick – Michael Gambon 
Abigail – Katherine Jenkins
Young Kazran – Laurence Belcher
Adult Kazran – Danny Horn

DAVID:
A very interesting Christmas special, as Doctor Who riffs on Dickens. I actually think this is one of the best Christmas specials so far, and certainly the one that takes itself the most seriously (I say this because “End of Time” doesn’t really feel like a Christmas special to me, aside from the original broadcast date which I of course missed). Yes, there are lots of a nice little moments of humour, but this has far more meat to it than the others. It’s very self contained, too, and you can imagine watching this with family members who had never seen Doctor Who, and not having to explain very much – the only vital starting point being that he is a time traveller, which is rather self evident. Because of that It reminded me a little of “The Girl in the Fireplace”, a story that shares some of the same themes – the idea of the Doctor ducking in and out of someone’s life and the way time passes differently from different perspectives.

TANSY:
It’s a great Christmas special – RTD launched the crazy fake snow tradition for the show and I do enjoy his various slightly cynical takes on what constitutes Christmas telly (a grand British tradition that we don’t have here in Australia where the idea of a flagship drama premiering a new episode on Christmas Day is basically unheard of) but I like the Moffat specials more. They feel a lot more genuinely Christmassy and less self conscious. And I do have a soft spot for Victoriana.

More importantly, this is a gorgeously designed alien planet! One of my favourites, in fact. I like all the little worldbuilding details like the flying fish and the way it all feels a bit like it’s an underwater kingdom, with all the tech and architecture resembling old world diving helmets and portholes.

TEHANI:
Very steampunkish! A lot to love, and following a theme of bloody fantastic set pieces for the season!

TANSY:
I even like the flying sharks. Because, how can you not?

TEHANI:
I love flying sharks. Really really want to get me one of these…

DAVID:
We’re helped by a great cast here. For a start, the three incarnations of Kazran are perfectly cast, and each actor puts in a wonderfully convincing performance. It was a bit distracting for the first ten minutes as I tried to work out where I had seen Michael Gambon before, and I may have yelled “Dumbledore!” at the television. I’m curious as to what the reaction to the casting of Katherine Jenkins was, whether to was similar to Kylie Minogue or James Cordern, as I am not sure what her level of fame is. However, whatever preconceptions there might been I thought she was wonderful in this, and she managed to invest Abigail’s character with not only a real sense of joy, but a sense of impending tragedy. It did leave me one question though; given their travels with the Doctor should we classify Abigail and Kazran as companions?

TANSY:
Depends on how you classify companions! There’s a new semi-companion status that really only exists in New Who, which is when characters are guest stars and take the companion role for a single Special – if Christina De Souza is a companion then Abigail and Kazran certainly are! But yes, they are quite solidly part of his life for a long time, they take multiple jaunts in the TARDIS, and it’s interesting how much he basically treats them as Amy and Rory.

(Katherine Jenkins apparently = terribly famous opera singer. I do like the way that they folded her musical talents into the story though I am left with a sense that no one was really expecting her to act in this episode and her part was written accordingly).

TEHANI:
Apparently they didn’t expect her to say yes to the role! And one of the songs is an original for the show…

TANSY:
Yes, the ‘silence will fall’ Christmas carol. As if we didn’t already know those words were quite important for the show’s future…

CarriageDAVID:
This episode does raise an interesting ethical question, though. As much as it was a lot of fun, and it’s impossible to doubt the genuine affection they held for each other, the Doctor essentially manipulates Kazran into caring for him. He doesn’t just change a pivotal event in Kazran’s life, or remove a tragedy that changed who he should have been, he systematically rewrites Kazran’s memories to make the Doctor a central part of his life and it did make a me little uneasy. There is no doubt this is a redemption story, just like Dickens’ Christmas Carol, and Kazran needs to arrive at a point where he makes the right moral choices to fulfill the narrative. But, the difference between Scrooge and Kazran is that Scrooge is shown the error of his ways, realises how nasty he has been and resolves to change, but is still the same person, while Kazran is actually a different person than the original. I don’t know, perhaps I am overthinking it. Or, should we read it that all the Doctor does is reveal memories that Kazran has repressed but were there all along? This time travel stuff is confusing!

TEHANI:
I think it’s pretty clear the Doctor is rewriting Kazran’s past, and while I don’t disagree with your reading of it as a bit uncomfortable, I want to prefer the more positive reading (giving Kazran a chance to be a better man – which is why the Doctor did it, after seeing Kazran not hit the boy).

TANSY:
I agree Tehani that the Doctor only bothered at all because he saw a hint that Kazran was not irredeemable.

This use of time travel as a clever, “benign” weapon (with problematic consent/free will implications) is something that the Doctor has largely not used throughout his history, and that many fans (including a younger Steven Moffat) have evidently craved. This era has given us many examples and will give us many more! The classic example is Moffat’s first piece of Doctor Who television, the Comic Relief skit “The Curse of Fatal Death” in which the Doctor and the Master keep going back in time and bribing the architect to put more and more specific traps into the building to attack each other.

TEHANI:
I wonder what this says about us as a society these days, if it’s a trope only really used in the modern era?

Give me a the child, and the man will be mine.TANSY:
Also, just as “Blink” was based on one of Moffat’s rare Doctor Who short stories, “What I did on my holidays by Sally Sparrow,” I believe this “A Christmas Carol”, as well as quite obviously riffing on the actual A Christmas Carol story, borrows quite heavily from another of his Moffat’s short stories, “Continuity Errors”, in which the Seventh Doctor faces off against a particularly stubborn librarian, and keeps ducking back in time to change aspects of her life in order to make her more amenable to lending him the vitally important book he needs. It’s told from the point of view of the librarian, and shows her memory of reality actually changing as he disappears and re-enters her life.

It’s creepy and manipulative but it’s important to note that the Doctor IS often creepy and manipulative. Sure, he does it in a ‘good’ cause, but his ethics are quite changeable depending on circumstance. The playing with time thing feels like a specifically Moffat thing, but it’s not out of character for the Doctor.

TEHANI:
And it’s only because the character is played by such damnably charismatic actors that we fail to call out that creepy manipulativeness more often!

TANSY:
Yeah, baby. I call this the Tennant Clause. It is kind of funny though that while the Doctor goes to all this trouble to build himself up as someone for Kazran to trust and believe in (which is actually as much the point of the exercise as making him a better person) it’s the wild card of bringing Abigail along that has the most dramatic effect. As usual the Doctor is pretty dense when it comes to the courting habits of Ladieez and Gentlemen.

Abigail’s role is somewhat passive – she’s often treated like a prop rather than a person, and Kazran’s romance with her feels like it’s 90% about him. I would have liked to see more of her input in those annual Christmas dates rather than the idea that she’s being unwrapped from the ice like a parcel every year. And of course the idea of a fatal illness that’s predictable to the point of a death date is a bit on the laughable side. But considering that this is largely based on a Charles Dickens story, we’re lucky to get any speaking roles for women at all, and Abigail is a million times more interesting than Scrooge’s lost love in the original, so I’m not going to complain too loudly.

TEHANI:
Hmmm, though that was a product of its time which means New Who should not have the same problems – Kazran could potentially have been a girl…

doctor-who-christmas-carol-6DAVID:
Like all Moffat’s episodes, the dialogue is wonderful throughout. When you give actors of this calibre something to work with the result is wonderful, hilarious when it is meant to be funny and moving when it is meant to be serious. There are some great throw away lines, too, that manage to stick with you for ages – I have no doubt there were plenty of people checking their cupboards for face spiders long after Christmas had been replaced by Easter eggs in the stores!

But, there is one line in particular that managed to stand out above the others.

“Nobody important? Blimey, that’s amazing. Do you know, in 900 years of time and space, I’ve never met anyone who wasn’t important before.”

To me, that sums up the heart of Doctor Who in a few simple words.

TANSY:
Plus SINGING TO SAVE THE DAY. Why doesn’t this happen in Doctor Who more often? If I don’t get a Peter Capaldi Christmas musical episode at some point in the next four years I’m going to be very upset.

TEHANI:
PETER CAPALDI SINGS?! Has there ever BEEN a full musical Doctor Who episode?! If Buffy and Grey’s Anatomy can do it…

Previous Episodes
“Rose”, S01E01
“Dalek”, S01E06
“Father’s Day”, S01E08
“The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances”, S01E09/10
“Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways”, S01E12/13
Season One Report Card – David, Tansy, Tehani
“The Christmas Invasion”, 2005 Christmas Special
“New Earth”, S02E01
“School Reunion”, S02E03
“The Girl in the Fireplace”, S02E04
“Rise of the Cybermen/Age of Steel”, S02E05/06
“Army of Ghosts/Doomsday”, S02E12/13
Season Two Report Card – David, Tansy, Tehani
“Smith and Jones”, S03E01
“The Shakespeare Code/Gridlock”, S03E02/03″
“Human Nature/Family of Blood”. S03E08/09″
“Blink”. S03E10″
“Utopia/The Sound of Drums/Last of the Timelords”, S03E12/13/14
Classic Who Conversation podcast – Spearhead from Space (1970)
Season Three Report CardDavid, Tansy, Tehani
Classic Who Conversation podcast – Genesis of the Daleks (1975)
“Partners in Crime”, S04E01
The Sontaran Stratagem/The Poison Sky, S04E0708
“Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead, S04E0910
Turn Left, S0411
The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End,S04E1213
Season Four Report Card – David, Tansy, Tehani
The Next Doctor / Planet of the Dead / The Waters of Mars
End of Time
The Eleventh Hour. S0501
The Beast Below/Victory of the Daleks,S050203
The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone,S05E0405
The Vampires of Venice/Amy’s Choice,S050607
The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood,S050809
Vincent and the Doctor/The Lodger,S05E10/11
The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang,S05E12/13

A Conversational Journey through New Who – S05E12/13 – The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang

David is coming to New Who for the first time, having loved Classic Who as a kid. Tehani is a recent convert, and ploughed through Seasons 1 to 7 (so far) in just a few weeks after becoming addicted thanks to Matt Smith – she’s rewatching to keep up with David! Tansy is the expert in the team, with a history in Doctor Who fandom that goes WAY back, and a passion for Doctor Who that inspires us all.

We are working our way through New Who, using season openers and closers, and Hugo shortlisted episodes, and sometimes a couple of extra episodes we love as our blogging points. Just for fun!

Tansy and Tehani love this season so much we’re making David do more work – we’re changing up our usual plan and reviewing each episode, in sets of two.

Tansy and Tehani love this season so much we’re making David do more work – we’re changing up our usual plan and reviewing each episode, in sets of two.

“The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang”
Season five, episodes twelve and thirteen
The Doctor – Matt Smith
Amy Pond – Karen Gillan
Rory Williams – Arthur Darvill
River Song – Alex Kingston

THE PANDORICA OPENS

Never get involved ina  land war in AsiaTANSY:
I always forget quite how much I love “The Pandorica Opens” until I’m watching it. The ‘cold open’ piece before the credits is especially wonderful. It’s fascinating how quickly this new mode and tone of Doctor Who has established itself in only a few months, so that the season finale is able to rely on nostalgia about the Eleventh Doctor and the friends he has made along the way.

TEHANI:
It’s quite amazing how much is packed into that beginning, and how lovely it is to revisit old friends in such a way. And they feel like old friends, even though we’ve really only just met them!

DAVID:
The whole setup of this episode is wonderfully done, not only do we get a refresher on some of the key players of the season, we barely have time to draw breath. River is wonderful, and we see her as this real James Bond type figure, absolutely dashing and fearless. And the reveal of the cliff face and the message was hilarious – It is certainly one way to get someone to return your calls!

TANSY:
The River Song of these episodes is my favourite. This is the point at which we start seeing the Doctor respond to her overtures (if not entirely crossing over into romance on his side) by being genuinely intrigued (rather than just annoyed) by this woman who knows him so well that she will deface one of the wonders of the universe just to get his attention – and of course set up a colossal scam which establishes her as Cleopatra, and him as Caesar. My favourite River quote of this episode (and there are many): “I hate wizards in fairy tales. They always turn out to be him.”

TEHANI:
I love that line. And River too. I also love in these episodes that the Doctor by now just completely expects River to be able to do the things she can, and believes her and works with her, without a blink.

TANSY:
Romans, romans romans! Is it any wonder that it’s this episode specifically that I feel so attached to?

TEHANI:
It’s terribly surprising, given your background… :)

TANSY:
The use of the Roman army in this story just makes my heart sing, and I appreciate especially that as the trap closes in around them, and the Doctor is overwhelmed by the sheer number of aliens fleets in the sky who are personal enemies of his, it’s the Roman army he sings the praises of. This of course leads to a fabulous reveal in the build up to the cliffhanger (people talk a LOT about the cliffhanger from “The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances” but I think this one is the best use of the form in New Who because of the way it’s set up all through the first episode) that the Romans are Autons – and specifically that Rory, our Rory, who has mysteriously returned as a Roman centurion, is made of plastic.

DAVID:
I loved the way that so many of of the historical foes of the Doctor were name checked in the fleet, but I was disappointed that we didn’t get to see more of them. I would love a modern episode featuring the Draconians, they are one of the more intriguing species we’ve come across.

TEHANI:
Picture me looking blankly at you…

DAVID:
As much as I enjoyed the Doctor’s speech as he stood on the altar, I think that they need to be a bit careful that the whole “Remember who I am?” type thing doesn’t just become a get- out-of-jail-free card. Yes the Doctor is pretty awesome, but he is not omnipotent or invulnerable and some of the best stories have been about how he has triumphed against much more powerful foes who have no reason be scared of him. The whole scaring his enemies works as a great scene here, and worked even more with the Atraxi, but I think it could soon get old.

TEHANI:
Oh David, I’m so very sorry. Perhaps maybe you might not want to watch Season 7…

DAVID:
I guess it shows one of the big shifts in the portrayal of the Doctor from Classic to New Who, where he was once relatively insignificant to now being perhaps the most important being in the Universe. There is probably an essay (or a few) in examining how that might be connected to the changed status of the show – from niche to one of the hottest spec fic properties on the planet.

TEHANI:
Go forth and WRITE this thing!

800px-ThePandoricaOpensThis is the beauty of rewatching – I really didn’t understand the first time what was going on. Didn’t catch the Nestene references (and would have gone over my head anyway, I think). This time, though, it made a lot more sense, which was a nice surprise! I think sometimes you need to listen really really carefully to put some things together (and having someone give you the historical references is useful too!). Didn’t stop me loving the episodes first time though – I just like them even more now they make a bit more sense.

DAVID:
I’ve been really surprised about how heavily the Nestenes have featured in New Who. I certainly wouldn’t have picked them to be the first cab off the rank when it came to picking a monster for “Rose”. Saying that, they have generally worked well, and they were particularly effective in this story. Rory’s struggles to overcome his “programming” and his devastation at killing Amy are very poignant.

TANSY:
I think the Nestene/Autons work well as a monster reflecting contemporary issues/iconography – and until plastic becomes irrelevant, they will always represent modernity! The real surprise is how little we saw of them in the old days, as their original appearances in the two Pertwee stories were fabulous, and then never again. They would have been really cool in the Peter Davison era – imagine Tegan facing down killer mannequins. Or Ace blowing them up during the McCoy years!

TEHANI:
I love Tegan…

TANSY:
I love that you love Tegan.

The scene in which Rory and the Doctor meet again and the Doctor just carries on, not realising the significance of Rory’s presence, is one of my favourite Matt Smith and Arthur Darvill scenes of all time. I liked early Rory a lot, especially in “Vampires of Venice”, but this is the point at which the actor and the character levels up, and he has developed his dry, sarcastic responses to the Doctor so nicely while still being utterly vulnerable and earnest.

TEHANI:
Yay for more Rory, and more River!

CybersquidDAVID:
I’m generally not a huge fan of moral relativism, but it was a great concept to see the Doctor’s enemies banding together not through some evil plan, but to try and save the Universe from him. You could understand why for them he might actually be the Bad Guy, and a threat to their existence. After all, he does have a spotty track record!

I have to admit, I did pick the Doctor as the likely contents of the Pandorica from the very start, it wasn’t that subtle. It reminded me of one of the Eighth Doctor Adventures called ”Alien Bodies”…though I won’t spoil it for anyone who hasn’t read it.

The AllianceTHE BIG BANG

TANSY:
This two-parter has an amazing cliffhanger, all the more amazing because the peril at the end of “The Pandorica Opens” isn’t resolved in a single line or moment, but takes a large part of the second episode to resolve. It’s wonderful to see Caitlin Blackwood back as little Amelia in this alternate version of reality where the stars don’t exist, and the museum scenes leading up to the scene of Amy in the Pandorica (including freeze dried Daleks) are full of tension.

TEHANI:
Yet another fantastic set for the show. Actually, some great sets for both episodes, what with the Romans and Stonehenge and all!

TANSY:
I like that the ‘damselling’ of Amy from the end of the last episode only takes up about five minutes or less of the narrative, and that she’s central to the action in this story for most of the episode. I don’t mind a bit of equal opportunity damselling, and given how much Rory has been damselled in this season, five minutes of Amy here and there is okay by me. For balance, you understand.

The image of her sitting in that Pandorica is so powerful.

DAVID:
I loved the scenes in the museum. The Dalek statues looked great, and really conveyed the idea that all the things we were familiar with had passed into myth or been lost in the fog of antiquity. Combined with the idea that stars had become the domain of dreamers (though I was confused whether it was accepted that there had been stars at one point), all these things pointed to a universe that had suddenly become far smaller, and was merely a remnant of what once was.

Rock the DalekTANSY:
My favourite quote from this episode (and there are lots of good ones, many of which have been immortalised in song) is the Doctor’s ‘Come along Ponds’ when he sees big and little Amy together. It’s interesting how epic this story feels considering it has such a small cast for most of the action scenes, just our core four characters running around an empty museum with one Dalek. But the tension is constant, and no sooner are Amy and Rory back together again than everything else is on the line. River is again wonderfully strong in this story, with the hints of that dark edge to her as the Dalek looks her up and starts begging mercy. Wonderful stuff!

DAVID:
For me, the most powerful part of this episode is where Amy is watching the museum video about the mysterious centurion. The idea that Rory has spent almost 2000 thousand years guarding her is simply beautiful, and these two have to be one of the greatest romances in sci fi. There are obviously some dysfunctional elements to their relationship, but overall I find it much more healthy and meaningful than the vast majority if portrayals of love that we see in the media. It actually quite reminds me of Zoe and Wash from Firefly – even down to the faux triangle.

TANSY:
I agree! Amy’s come a long way in this season, from not wanting to admit she has a boyfriend and running away on the eve of her wedding, to embracing Rory as a fellow crew member in the TARDIS, and losing him, and now him coming back to her in such a spectacular way. The wedding at the end is most definitely earned.

TEHANI:
And meeting her family, which of course we only had the aunt of before – while we don’t see them in the same way we see Rose, Martha and Donna’s families of the previous seasons, I love that we do get them established as characters in this episode, not just background set pieces.

TANSY:
I will admit I was pretty over the whole weddings-in-Doctor-Who motif after the RTD era, but I really enjoy this scene in “The Big Bang”. Finally, after seeing Amy isolated and hurting and abandoned for most of the season (and so prickly/defensive before that), we find her happy and surrounded by a real family and friends. Her relationship with Rory, and their happiness, is such a world away from the crackly, hesitant pre-wedding Amy we originally got to know. Though it should be noted, Rory hasn’t changed at all! His effusive call to Amy and their relationship there is very reminiscent of how he called her on his stag night, unaware that she was a lot less sure of their impending marriage than he was.

TEHANI:
Wait, doesn’t she call HIM this time? Which I thought was sweet. Also, when he says “Yes” because he’s scared of her? V. cute.

TANSY:
Yeah, Rory knows his place when it comes to Amy, and while this is played for laughs and quite an old fashioned trope, it suits them both very well.

You’re right that she calls him! And that goes to show that she is an entirely different Amy. How can she not be different, with memories of being raised in a loving family overwriting the Amy who didn’t trust anyone not to abandon her? She is still very much herself in personality, but when it comes to her relationship – yes, this is a different woman. That she is confident and clever enough to stand up in front of everyone she knows and summon her imaginary friend back into existence is one of the character’s most powerful moments and I love everything about it – her performance, her demanding tone, and her reaction to the Doctor turning up in his beautiful suit to dance at her wedding. Like a giraffe.

DAVID:
I did feel a bit bad for Rory, though. Yet again he is upstaged and pushed to one side!

Hello?While Rory could easily be perceived as a “weak” character, I think that this is completely off the mark. One of the things that I admire so much about him is the fact that he is confident enough in who he is and in his love for Amy that he can continue to display such equanamity through everything. Some men would be threatened by having such a strong partner, and wouldn’t be able to handle it, but Rory really does possess such a quiet strength that is reflected in his lack of ego (though, of course, we do see some moments where even he struggles). I think it is a great inversion of the tired trope of the colourful, larger than life male and the supportive, in the background female that we see so often in fictional relationships.

Saying all that, the wedding is lovely and it is the perfect emotional payoff for the wonderful love story we have seen over the course of not just the doubleheader, but the whole season. There are two little throwaway lines that sum up the rightness of this wedding perfectly. One is that the Doctor calls Rory the “boy who waited”, and it is only right the he and the “girl who waited” are now together.

The other is this great exchange:

DOCTOR: Amelia, from now on I shall be leaving the kissing duties to the brand new Mister Pond.
RORY: No, I’m not Mister Pond. That’s not how it works.
DOCTOR: Yeah, it is.
RORY: Yeah, it is.

Yes, that is how it works here!

AwwwwwTANSY:
I like Rory’s general lack of jealousy (except under extreme provocation) because he does trust Amy and he’s confident in their relationship. Also he seems quite pleased to see the Doctor – I like the line “How did we forget the Doctor?” and the way that the Doctor is now no longer presented as a threat to their relationship, but a genuine friend to them both. Love triangle = resolved. Friendship continues. Nice.

TEHANI:
I need to mention the music – I really liked the music in this season, and in these two episodes it’s particularly striking. There have been times I’ve felt it gets in the way of the story, but not here.

TANSY:
I think it’s worth noting that we’ve had the same composer for the entire run of New Who, but he keeps bringing new styles in. It’s particularly striking how distinct the musical style is between the RTD & Moffat era, though it’s the same guy doing it. It feels like he threw everything out at The Eleventh Doctor and started from scratch.

David, I have to ask. The bit with Matt Smith’s jacket, when he goes back through his own timeline. Did you see it coming? Had you spotted the ‘continuity error’? Because there was a major fan discussion that year about whether the jacket was just a jacket, and only a few die-hard paranoiacs actually pushed the theory that it meant something. After this story, of course, EVERY tiny detail of the show, especially anything that looks like a continuity error or a dialogue screw up, has been scrutinised to a ridiculous degree.

Nice Fez! Nice Mop!TEHANI:
Wait, do *I* know about the jacket??

TANSY:
Well, in “Flesh and Stone” when Amy’s abandoned in the forest and can’t open her eyes, the Doctor after being quite careless with her feelings comes back to her suddenly & is really loving and sympathetic and happens to be wearing his jacket again when he had taken it off in that story. He comforts her and tells her to remember what he told her when she was a child. And in “The Big Bang”, we discover it’s because that was him having gone back in time, intersecting with that story from a different direction.

But when we were first watching “Flesh and Stone”, it was a slightly odd moment and a possible continuity error! Because of the jacket.

TEHANI:
Ohhhhh… Nope, didn’t get it at the time at all!

DAVID:
Haha I feel very unperceptive now. I didn’t notice the jacket until it was pointed out. And, it is not like continuity errors are unknown in TV shows! I guess it goes to show that just because you are paranoid doesn’t mean that there is never going to be some hidden conspiracy – after all, even a stopped clock is right twice a day (I thought I’d sneak in a Tegan reference of my own…).

TANSY:
Ha, it’s true! I’m pretty sure I didn’t notice it either first time around, it’s one of those things that being surrounded by fan discussion & podcasts will do for you, though when you watch it again you will certainly notice the shift in tone and the way that the Doctor is so much more kind and nurturing towards Amy.

Buddies!TEHANI:
“The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang” double was the Hugo winner for the 2010 Awards, beating out “Vincent and the Doctor” and “A Christmas Carol” (as well as the fan-vid “F*ck me, Ray Bradbury” and our own Shaun Tan’s short film The Lost Thing, which won an OSCAR instead!). Do we think the win was deserved?

TANSY:
I definitely think that it deserved the win from a Doctor Who point of view – the only episodes I would put in contention with it are not on that list, as I’d suggest “The Eleventh Hour” as well, and maybe “The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone” or “The Lodger”. I like that the Hugo results reflected the delight of Who fans about finally getting such a good two part series finale – I think only “Army of Ghosts/Doomsday” can match it as far as quality goes, and that one did far less to pull together the plot of an entire series. I like to think that voting for the series finale is kind of like voting for the whole spectacular season, because this season is the most cohesive of all New Who (and it could certainly be argued, all Doctor Who ever).

DAVID:
Given the other episodes that were nominated I have to agree with Tansy and say that it probably deserved to win from a Doctor Who POV, though I wouldn’t have howled with outrage if “A Christmas Carol” had won either. I am not sure that “Vincent and the Doctor” deserved to be on there as opposed to ones Tansy mentions – I loved “the Lodger”, and thought the Angels ones were excellent.

“F*ck me, Ray Bradbury” was one of those things that was cleverly done and went viral at the time, but I don’t think it is the sort of thing that you’d look back on five years later and say it deserved a Hugo (of course, you could say that about a few things). As for The Lost Thing, I am going to hang my head in shame as I admit I haven’t seen it! So, I can’t comment on whether it deserved to win over the Who double.

TANSY:
You live in Melbourne! You could go to the exhibition at ACMI and watch it there! (sorry, digression. Carry on.)

CreepyDAVID:
I think that New Who has actually been very good at creating cohesive story arcs across whole seasons. The Bad Wolf stuff was peppered right throughout that season, and was obviously thoroughly planned. The only arcs that spring to mind in Classic Who, at least off the top of my head, are the “Key to Time” and the “Trial of a Time Lord” episodes. There is no doubt that New Who is more sophisticated in this regard.

TANSY:
Yes, and maybe the first Tom Baker season with the ‘we are wandering without the TARDIS’ theme, and the ‘Seventh Doctor is being mysterious about Ace’ material, but they simply were not usually organised enough to do such a thing. It’s something that I think is more likely to happen when the producer is also the head writer on the show, a feature of New and definitely not Classic Who, though there were some notable partnerships between producer and script editor. Story arcs were less necessary because it was an episodic show and also because the format already had self-contained stories made up of several episodes. I’d argue that we need story arc more now, not just because audiences expect a higher emotional connection to their SF drama, but also because the seasons are mostly standalone single episodes, and need something to pull them together in lieu of the old ‘story’ format.

TEHANI:
I think it’s a good point you made, about voting for the season as a whole. And everything you said there. It’s a fabulous season!

TANSY:
I do think that Shaun Tan’s The Lost Thing was also pretty damn worthy of a Hugo that year. I suspect he wouldn’t swap his Oscar with Steven Moffat’s Hugo, though…

Previous Episodes
“Rose”, S01E01
“Dalek”, S01E06
“Father’s Day”, S01E08
“The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances”, S01E09/10
“Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways”, S01E12/13
Season One Report Card – David, Tansy, Tehani
“The Christmas Invasion”, 2005 Christmas Special
“New Earth”, S02E01
“School Reunion”, S02E03
“The Girl in the Fireplace”, S02E04
“Rise of the Cybermen/Age of Steel”, S02E05/06
“Army of Ghosts/Doomsday”, S02E12/13
Season Two Report Card – David, Tansy, Tehani
“Smith and Jones”, S03E01
“The Shakespeare Code/Gridlock”, S03E02/03″
“Human Nature/Family of Blood”. S03E08/09″
“Blink”. S03E10″
“Utopia/The Sound of Drums/Last of the Timelords”, S03E12/13/14
Classic Who Conversation podcast – Spearhead from Space (1970)
Season Three Report CardDavid, Tansy, Tehani
Classic Who Conversation podcast – Genesis of the Daleks (1975)
“Partners in Crime”, S04E01
The Sontaran Stratagem/The Poison Sky, S04E0708
“Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead, S04E0910
Turn Left, S0411
The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End,S04E1213
Season Four Report Card – David, Tansy, Tehani
The Next Doctor / Planet of the Dead / The Waters of Mars
End of Time
The Eleventh Hour. S0501
The Beast Below/Victory of the Daleks,S050203
The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone,S05E0405
The Vampires of Venice/Amy’s Choice,S050607
The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood,S050809
Vincent and the Doctor/The Lodger”,S05E10/11

A Conversational Journey through New Who – S05E10/11 – Vincent and The Doctor/The Lodger

David is coming to New Who for the first time, having loved Classic Who as a kid. Tehani is a recent convert, and ploughed through Seasons 1 to 7 (so far) in just a few weeks after becoming addicted thanks to Matt Smith – she’s rewatching to keep up with David! Tansy is the expert in the team, with a history in Doctor Who fandom that goes WAY back, and a passion for Doctor Who that inspires us all.

We are working our way through New Who, using season openers and closers, and Hugo shortlisted episodes, and sometimes a couple of extra episodes we love as our blogging points. Just for fun!

Tansy and Tehani love this season so much we’re making David do more work – we’re changing up our usual plan and reviewing each episode, in sets of two.

Tansy and Tehani love this season so much we’re making David do more work – we’re changing up our usual plan and reviewing each episode, in sets of two.

VINCENT AND THE DOCTOR
“Vincent and the Doctor”
Season five, episode ten
The Doctor – Matt Smith
Amy Pond – Karen Gillan
Tony Curran – Vincent Van Gogh
Bill Nighy – Doctor Black
Painting

TEHANI:
This is one of my very favourite stories so far. It always ALWAYS makes me cry (sometimes in different places), and I adore it for so many reasons, the guest actors Tony Curran and Bill Nighy being two of them.

TANSY:
I have an innate fondness for this story because of what it did for my daughter. Raeli must have been six or so when she watched it. I hesitated over showing it to her at first because of the darker themes of suicide and depression, but she took to it beautifully, allowing us to have a conversation about mental illness that was very important.

She also fell in love with Vincent’s artwork through this story. I sent her outside at a party once to play with chalks on the concrete and she recreated about four different Van Gogh paintings. With the Doctor Who twist on each, of course. It was a beautiful realisation, and her interest in art progressed from there – I later found her a gorgeous picture book called Vincent’s Colours which pairs lines from his letters to his brother with images of the paintings he is discussing.

TEHANI:
That is lovely Tansy – I think there is a great capacity for this sort of thing in Doctor Who, and when you consider its origins as an educational program, maybe we shouldn’t be surprised! Personally, I have a Doctor Who Van Gogh coffee cup which is just beautiful.

I thought the mental illness aspect was sensitively handled, and it was, for me at least, a believable portrayal. I have seen criticism about the ending, with people unable to understand why Van Gogh would still have committed suicide even knowing the legacy he leaves on the world, but I don’t have that problem. It’s horribly sad, but I also think it’s something that happens when people are gripped by such devastating depression.

TANSY:

I think anyone who can’t understand that ending is pretty naive about how mental illness works!

This story is held up often as one of those great ‘introduction’ stories that stands alone (like “Blink”) and appeals greatly to people with no Doctor Who knowledge, but I also want to comment on how beautifully it contributes to the season arc. Instead of a vague, hinty type of arc like Bad Wolf or Vote Saxon where the significance is only revealed in the finale, this season is paced beautifully with shifts and character developments every few episodes. So it’s broken up into The Amy Adventures, The Amy and Rory Adventures, and here the After Rory Adventures, in which Amy is grieving her loss without remembering it. The friendship she develops with Vincent, which starts out as her usual surface ‘flirting without meaning it’ but becomes much deeper, is really a special thing to watch and the scene in which he asks why she is crying is perfect. Also the bit with the sunflowers always makes me smile.

Sunflowers

DAVID:
I really did enjoy this story, but I have to admit that it didn’t live up to my lofty expectations. When I saw the name of Richard Curtis I was incredibly excited because I have never seen anything he was involved in that I didn’t love and that didn’t move me (combine him and Hugh Grant and I am a mess!) and when Bill Nighy turned up it looked even more promising.

But, I found this to be a very uneven episode. There were some genuinely beautiful moments, and some heart wrenchingly sad ones, but also some parts that just fell a little flat. Fortunately, there is enough gold in here to tip the balance, and the last section is particularly emotional. Bill Nighy is brilliant as he delivers his speech describing Vincent’s achievements and it is hard not to be deeply moved by the raw emotion on display (even if the claim that Van Gogh is the greatest artist in history is extremely contentious). And then Amy’s realisation of the inevitably and weight of history, and her grief at the fact that they couldn’t save Vincent – I really felt for her.

TANSY:
Regardless of the writing aspect of the story, the visual design is extraordinary – the way that the characters actually move through so many set pieces which look like Van Gogh’s paintings and are often shot at specific angles (like the scene in Vincent’s bedroom). The street outside the bar, as well.

DAVID:
Not to mention the Who versions of his paintings! No wonder I have seen them on t-shirts and desktop backgrounds, they are amazing. I agree completely, Tansy, the whole episode is suffused with the look and feel of Van Gogh’s art.

Starry TardisTEHANI:
It’s a gorgeous episode in so many ways, visually and in terms of heart as well; heartwrenching, funny, sad and even a little bit scary. It was actually one of the Hugo Award nominees for 2010, and though it lost out to the season finale, it definitely deserved to be there.

TANSY:
Also, anyone who has issues with the whole invisible giant chicken monster should definitely check out the corresponding episode of The Ood Cast which has a brilliant sketch about the ramifications of leaving a giant invisible monster corpse in a small country church … and of course a fabulous re-rendering of Don McClean’s ‘Vincent.’ [http://theoodcast.com/s02e14/#.Un7lWetSbEU]

Nighy
THE LODGER
“Vincent and the Doctor”
Season five, episode eleven
The Doctor – Matt Smith
Amy Pond – Karen Gillan
James Corden – Craig Owens

The LodgerTANSY:
It’s really odd rewatching this one now because I have just finished listening to the audiobook of James Cordern’s autobiography. His work in Doctor Who is only briefly referenced but I do feel I now have a greater sense of just how famous he was in the UK when he was cast in this episode, and why his presence caused almost as much trepidation and alarm among British fans as Billie Piper (the pop star!) and Kylie (the POP STAR).

Still, no one need have worried! Craig is a brilliant character, and Cordern plays him with so much heart. In fact, this story is all heart. Heart and football. It’s a wonderful showcase for Matt Smith’s Doctor, showing off his alienness and his humanity, and his capacity for friendship. While the Craig-Doctor friendship is the emotional core of the story, and tends to attract a lot of fan love, I don’t see nearly enough credit given to Daisy Haggard as Sophie, who works beautifully off both actors – the Debbie Reynolds to their Kelly-and-O’Connor! (I’ll leave you to figure out which one is Gene Kelly and which is Donald O’Connor).

DAVID:
This is hands down my favourite episode of the season, which is quite an achievement given how much I enjoyed the Angels two parter. This episode is just so much FUN! But, there is also a real emotional core to it. Funnily enough, if you sat me down with no prior knowledge and shown me this and “Vincent and the Doctor” and asked me which one Richard Curtis had written I wouldn’t have hesitated in picking this one.

CordernIt’s interesting you mention the trepidation surrounding Cordern’s casting, Tansy. One of the interesting effects of watching New Who so long after it actually aired is that I have been oblivious to a lot of the things people watching it at the time have experienced, whether waiting so long between episodes or the discussion of the latest rumours and news. As an example, the first I knew of Kylie being in a particular episode was when I watched it and thought, “Hang on – she looks familiar!”

So, I went into this episode with no preconceptions about who I was going to see and how they might play their role. I just sat back and enjoyed! Cordern is perfect in this, but he has an excellent foil in Haggard, who is exactly right for this and, as you say, plays perfect of both Cordern and Smith, who is also quite magnificent.

TEHANI:
I’m with you, David – I felt like I’d seen “Craig” somewhere before when I first watched the episode, but didn’t know anything else about him – happens to me a LOT with Doctor Who guest stars!

TANSY:
He’s also now the voice of Little Charley Bear, which may be more familiar to any parents reading this post…

Fun fact, this story by Gareth Roberts is adapted from an earlier comic strip in which the Tenth Doctor moves in with Mickey. Yes, really! The football stuff (which many assumed was put in due to Smith’s history as a professional footballer in his youth) was an integral part of the original story, and the gag in which Matt Smith tries to use Craig’s toothbrush as a weapon is an inversion of the original joke – where Mickey picks up what he thinks is his own electric toothbrush and accidentally sonics all his teeth out.

TEHANI:
*snort* I love your little pieces of Doctor Who production trivia :)

BFFsTANSY:
I do feel this is a near-perfect Doctor Who story as well as a near-perfect Eleventh Doctor story – my only quibble comes from an authorial blind spot. I don’t find all of the house’s attempts to lure its victims in is remotely credible – in the case of both of the first two victims, the situation seems  straight out of a horror movie. I especially don’t believe that a woman on her own would go into a strange house if she heard a man calling for help without more information – women are simply too attuned to potential dangers. If it was more explicit that the voice was coming from someone very old or a child (as when Sophie is lured up – the only convincing one of these scenes!) then I would find it much easier to believe.

TEHANI:
Agree! You might call triple-zero (or whatever the number is in the UK), but actually go into a house like that? Nuh-uh.

DAVID:
Of course, that is pretty much par for the course with any horror movie ever made, and still not as stupid as the behaviour of the characters in The Walking Dead!

This episode presents a master class in getting your audience to invest in a character. Within five minutes we know everything we need to know about Craig, and we are on his side. Little touches like the way in which he holds Sophie’s keys flesh Craig out more than slabs of dialogue ever could. And, this is one of the few episodes where I was made to feel genuinely concerned about what was going to happen to the characters, I really wanted a happy ending for everyone involved and I was honestly worried that Sophie wasn’t going to survive!

Action ShotTEHANI:
A fairly Amy-lite episode, and her part of the story was very peripheral to what was going on. I agree with what you said before about Sophie’s role, Tansy, but this one was definitely all about the “bromance” in terms of the main players.

TANSY:
It’s lovely seeing the Eleventh Doctor build a friendship from scratch, and the way he drives Craig crazy, creates so many problems for him, and then solves what’s wrong with his life. It really is the essence of bromance – that is, a story about platonic male friendship that is given the same narrative attention that a male-female romance usually gets. The Eleventh Doctor is actually totally channelling Katharine Hepburn from Bringing Up Baby – he’s the madcap chaotic one who breezes into Craig’s life and takes it apart piece by piece.

TEHANI:
I’m a fan of the soccer scene…

TANSY:
OMG the soccer! It’s so charming and also moves forward the characterisation AND the plot of the story. A great scene. I know a lot of people (including me) assumed this was written in specifically because of Matt Smith’s brief history as a pro footballer, but the pub league bit was always in the story from the original comic.

GooooaallllDAVID:
A fair bit of New Who has been about the Doctor’s relationships with female characters, romantic or otherwise, so it is fascinating to see the Doctor learning how to be a bro! It’s definitely a different dynamic than with Mickey, or even Rory, and it’s a whole lot of fun. Perhaps part of that difference comes from the fact that, instead of them coming into the Doctor’s life, this is the Doctor becoming part of Craig’s. I did feel sorry for Craig a few times during the episode, because the Doctor does hog the limelight, but ultimately the Doctor learns as much from Craig as he does from the Doctor – and it is obviously that he does care for Craig’s well being.

TANSY:
I like that Craig is envious of the Doctor, but the Doctor himself displays absolutely no jealousy or even awareness that he might be a romantic threat to Craig and Sophie. It’s a far cry from Nine and Ten’s outright competitiveness with other young men and even implied sexual jealousy around Mickey, Adam, Jack etc. I love the innocence of Eleven, and how he can cause trouble and conflict simply by existing.

Craig’s constant outrage at the Doctor’s weirdness being accepted and embraced by others is quite a fascinating character trait.

DAVID:
Would it be fair to say that this episode has the most Doctor flesh since “Spearhead from Space”?

TANSY:
And no tattoo! Sad. But yes, I appreciate being able to add another Doctorish shower scene to the canon!

Doctor FleshDAVID:
One of the things that I am not a huge fan of, but that you just have to deal with when watching New Who, is that when it comes to the Doctor’s gadgets it is definitely very soft science fiction. The sonic screwdriver may as well be a magic wand, and there a lot of things just thrown together without even paying lip service to any sort of science behind them. But, if you can’t just roll with that you are probably watching the wrong show!

TEHANI:
I like to roll with it :) I might be starting to get a bit picky about some of the handwavium, but you know what? That part of the fun!

TANSY:
I agree with you, David, but it never bothers me. I’m not really a fan of technobabble for the sake of it, and most of the ‘lip service’ science of the Classic Show was rubbish any way. Let us never forget the megabyte modem.

Overall this is a clever story and it’s very nice to see the Doctor playing with characters other than his regular companion. Given how many episodes in this season provide Karen Gillan some fantastic material, I think it’s fine to give Amy a break, and helps refresh us before we leap into the finale.

Having said that, rewatching this story after Season 6 brings a whole new light to Amy’s slight subplot. What exactly is going on in that TARDIS, and could there be someone there we don’t see/remember tossing the TARDIS around like that?

TEHANI:
You mean, something rather quiet? :) We’ll have to wait and see!

TrioPrevious Episodes

“Rose”, S01E01
“Dalek”, S01E06
“Father’s Day”, S01E08
“The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances”, S01E09/10
“Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways”, S01E12/13
Season One Report Card – David, Tansy, Tehani
“The Christmas Invasion”, 2005 Christmas Special
“New Earth”, S02E01
“School Reunion”, S02E03
“The Girl in the Fireplace”, S02E04
“Rise of the Cybermen/Age of Steel”, S02E05/06
“Army of Ghosts/Doomsday”, S02E12/13
Season Two Report Card – David, Tansy, Tehani
“Smith and Jones”, S03E01
“The Shakespeare Code/Gridlock”, S03E02/03″
“Human Nature/Family of Blood”. S03E08/09″
“Blink”. S03E10″
“Utopia/The Sound of Drums/Last of the Timelords”, S03E12/13/14
Classic Who Conversation podcast – Spearhead from Space (1970)
Season Three Report CardDavid, Tansy, Tehani
Classic Who Conversation podcast – Genesis of the Daleks (1975)
“Partners in Crime”, S04E01
The Sontaran Stratagem/The Poison Sky, S04E0708
“Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead, S04E0910
Turn Left, S0411
The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End,S04E1213
Season Four Report Card – David, Tansy, Tehani
The Next Doctor / Planet of the Dead / The Waters of Mars
End of Time
The Eleventh Hour. S0501
The Beast Below/Victory of the Daleks,S050203
The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone,S05E0405
The Vampires of Venice/Amy’s Choice,S050809
The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood.S051011

A Conversational Journey through New Who – S05E08/09 – The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood

David is coming to New Who for the first time, having loved Classic Who as a kid. Tehani is a recent convert, and ploughed through Seasons 1 to 7 (so far) in just a few weeks after becoming addicted thanks to Matt Smith – she’s rewatching to keep up with David! Tansy is the expert in the team, with a history in Doctor Who fandom that goes WAY back, and a passion for Doctor Who that inspires us all.

We are working our way through New Who, using season openers and closers, and Hugo shortlisted episodes, and sometimes a couple of extra episodes we love as our blogging points. Just for fun!

Tansy and Tehani love this season so much we’re making David do more work – we’re changing up our usual plan and reviewing each episode, in sets of two.

Tansy and Tehani love this season so much we’re making David do more work – we’re changing up our usual plan and reviewing each episode, in sets of two.

“The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood”
Season five, episodes eight and nine
The Doctor – Matt Smith
Amy Pond – Karen Gillan
Rory Williams – Arthur Darvill

TEHANI:
Well, I’d completely forgotten what this one was about until Tansy nudged me violently. And so I dove into rewatching with quiet joy, which I can’t talk at all about because of David (hurry up and CATCH UP!) :)

Looking back, I can’t quite tell why I would have forgotten it, because there’s some great stuff here. I have a feeling I confused it in my head with “The Rebel Flesh/The Almost People” from season six, which is silly because I like this loads better…

The Hungry EarthTANSY:
This two parter, and “Cold Blood” in particular, is my least favourite part of the season. There’s a lot to like here – and I do like many aspects, particularly the return and redesign of the Silurians, a lot of the dialogue, and the chilling bookend of Amy and Rory waving to themselves, and then Amy alone after Rory has disappeared. Acting highlights include Meera Syal as Nasreen Chaudry (blatantly auditioning for a run in the TARDIS) and the lovely Stephen Moore as the Silurian leader. Not to mention Neve McIntosh playing two distinct characters excellently beneath what could be quite unforgiving prosthetics.

However…

The character of Ambrose is a big problem for me, largely because she is written and played so harshly that she is a) deeply unlikeable and b) consistently stupid. In fact, there is a term for her role in this story – the stupid ball – which means she is forced by the script to act in a stupid way, in order to make the plot work.

This might be less grating to me if it wasn’t for the fact that the other glaring problem of the story to me is also gendered. I quite like the idea of the military caste of the Silurians being represented by the women and the science/thinky caste being men, BUT what we get in the script is the female Silurians being violent and irrational and the male Silurians being calm, sensible and charming.

TEHANI:
Darn it Tansy, I was so busy being impressed by the way the Silurian society worked I didn’t consider all that…

WarriorsTANSY:
This combined with the violent and irrational Ambrose representing humans is … a bit icky to me. Even worse, the Doctor notes and condemns the irrational violence of Ambrose and the female Silurians, but embraces Dr Malokeh as a brother in science and generally finds him adorable despite the fact that Dr Malokeh has basically been quietly and gently torturing humans in the name of science.

TEHANI:
But not the children! :)

TANSY:
The whole thing leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

TEHANI:
I’m not sure the men looked completely rosy though. Tony does suggest he’d betray humanity if Alaya cures him, and he also suggests dissecting her for defence purposes…

DAVID:
When I was making notes about this story, I wrote:

“Don’t forget Malokeh was dissecting humans!”

Admittedly I spelt his name wrong, but the point remains. He had been dissecting prisoners and, as Tansy points out, he basically gets a free pass from the Doctor.

DissectionTEHANI:
I agree that the Doctor gives him a free pass, but he also gives Ambrose a free pass, despite the fact her actions led to such a terrible outcome (for Rory at least, if not necessarily the Silurians, because I kind of think there was no way almost-present-day society would have accepted them – we can’t even accept each other :( ). He wasn’t nearly so angry at her as I expected, given what happened.

TANSY:
He’s pretty scathing, I thought, and the scene at the end he appears quite contemptuous towards her, making it clear that her job is to make up for what she did by helping her son on his quest to “get humans ready” for the Silurians. So she doesn’t even get to redeem herself directly, either, only through her child!

DAVID:
Something I found interesting about this episode, though, was the many parallels between this story and the first appearance of the Silurians. You have the more moderate leader trying to rein in the younger hot head, the blinkered viewpoints of some of the key humans, the Doctor desperately trying to keep the peace, an accidental death derailing the best efforts of those trying to find common ground between the two species – and, of course, the Doctor enraged by humanity giving into its worst instincts and making his displeasure very clear. Obviously they invert some of the situations, but there are a lot of similarities.

SilurianTANSY:
Yes, I quite like that part. The actual shape of the story I don’t mind at all – even the mining set has a bit of the Pertwee vibe about it. And I haven’t forgotten that the Doctor being patronising about humans and violence and exhibiting double standards depending on how much he likes you is also a carry over from the Classic series.

Likewise, the Silurians here are given a much more complex and inclusive society than the rather dull men in rubber suits from the old days.

TEHANI:
See, I have no idea what you’re talking about! I figured Silurians had appeared in the classic series, because it’s specifically discussed, but I’ve been tricked like that before!

DAVID:
I didn’t really understand the complete redesign of the Silurians, though I do think they looked good, I would have preferred to see an update of the classic design. I did like the subtle dig at the dodgy dating of the species, though!

TEHANI:
I loved the prosthetics! Fantastic makeup and design, that’s for sure.

TANSY:
And a brilliant portrayal by Neve McIntosh as the female Silurians which, cough, will have far greater and more awesome ramifications.

TrappedTEHANI:
Indeed… :) I thought Amy and Rory were both excellent in this too – Amy once more charging into danger and poking her fingers in where she probably shouldn’t, and Rory being completely the “best of humanity” the Doctor is aiming for.

TANSY:
Yep, shame they killed Rory off at this point, he had real potential as a great companion. The scene in the TARDIS with Amy trying and failing to save his memory is one of the most genuinely emotionally excellent moments of Doctor Who. Chilling stuff.

TEHANI:
Yes, a shame Rory is completely dead and gone now. Very sad. But it is absolutely a great scene, agreed.

DAVID:
I thought the scenes where you can see the couple in the distance, and then the changes, particularly effective.

TEHANI:
But completely sad, right? Cos Rory’s dead, don’t you know? I just watched a bunch of Classic Who and it’s quite amazing how quickly they get over the loss of a companion – wonder how quickly Amy and the Doctor will move on…

Trio

Previous Episodes

“Rose”, S01E01
“Dalek”, S01E06
“Father’s Day”, S01E08
“The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances”, S01E09/10
“Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways”, S01E12/13
Season One Report Card – David, Tansy, Tehani
“The Christmas Invasion”, 2005 Christmas Special
“New Earth”, S02E01
“School Reunion”, S02E03
“The Girl in the Fireplace”, S02E04
“Rise of the Cybermen/Age of Steel”, S02E05/06
“Army of Ghosts/Doomsday”, S02E12/13
Season Two Report Card – David, Tansy, Tehani
“Smith and Jones”, S03E01
“The Shakespeare Code/Gridlock”, S03E02/03″
“Human Nature/Family of Blood”. S03E08/09″
“Blink”. S03E10″
“Utopia/The Sound of Drums/Last of the Timelords”, S03E12/13/14
Classic Who Conversation podcast – Spearhead from Space (1970)
Season Three Report CardDavid, Tansy, Tehani
Classic Who Conversation podcast – Genesis of the Daleks (1975)
“Partners in Crime”, S04E01
The Sontaran Stratagem/The Poison Sky, S04E0708
“Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead, S04E0910
Turn Left, S0411
The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End,S04E1213
Season Four Report Card – David, Tansy, Tehani
The Next Doctor / Planet of the Dead / The Waters of Mars
End of Time
The Eleventh Hour. S0501
The Beast Below/Victory of the Daleks,S050203
The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone,S05E0405
The Vampires of Venice/Amy’s Choice,S050809

 

A Conversational Journey through New Who – S05E06/07 – The Vampires of Venice/Amy’s Choice

David is coming to New Who for the first time, having loved Classic Who as a kid. Tehani is a recent convert, and ploughed through Seasons 1 to 7 (so far) in just a few weeks after becoming addicted thanks to Matt Smith – she’s rewatching to keep up with David! Tansy is the expert in the team, with a history in Doctor Who fandom that goes WAY back, and a passion for Doctor Who that inspires us all.

We are working our way through New Who, using season openers and closers, and Hugo shortlisted episodes, and sometimes a couple of extra episodes we love as our blogging points. Just for fun!

Tansy and Tehani love this season so much we’re making David do more work – we’re changing up our usual plan and reviewing each episode, in sets of two.

Tansy and Tehani love this season so much we’re making David do more work – we’re changing up our usual plan and reviewing each episode, in sets of two.

“The Vampires of Venice”
Season five, episode six
The Doctor – Matt Smith
Amy Pond – Karen Gillan
Rory Williams – Arthur Darvill

Cast ShotTEHANI:
For me, this is one of the weaker episodes of the season. The writing touch is really obvious when you’ve just watched a bunch of Steven Moffat penned stories. I’m not usually one to look at the writing/directing combinations, but this season was interesting – the first five episodes were written mostly by Moffat, and directed by one of two directors. This is the first story not to have one of those three hands involved, and I think it shows. That said, director Jonny Campbell then goes on to do one of my favourite episodes ever, in “Vincent”! So, do I blame the writer? But Toby Whithouse also penned “School Reunion”! Maybe that’s part of the problem – a little too same-ish? Mostly I think it falls down for me in the dialogue and the strange juxtaposition between attempted humour that falls flat, and a very dark (at times) Doctor, which while definitely warranted in terms of the plot, rubs wrongly in the way it’s put together.

TANSY:
Heh I really like this one. It feels like more of a guilty pleasure than say, the Angels two-parter or some of the later episodes. Very high quality this season generally! But the combination of the gorgeous scenery and the banter makes it one that I will happily rewatch, over and over.

TEHANI:
Oh there’s stuff I like, but yeah, more I don’t, I think.

DAVID:
I actually thought the aliens were almost incidental to this episode. The real story is the interactions between the Doctor, Rory and Amy and they were the bits that I enjoyed the most!

Saying that, it is a lovely looking episode, and the historical backdrop was very well done. And, there are some great performances, most notably Lucian Msamati and Helen McCrory, who are both superb.

Lucian Msamati

TANSY:
Croatia is very pretty. I find it amusing that they had to go there to find something that looked like Venice, because Venice itself is too damned modern these days. They managed to capture the feel of Renaissance Venice, though, and I appreciated the dig at Casanova, and the Doctor not wanting to meet him again – Casanova will ALWAYS be David Tennant, for me.

Anyone noticed by now how many monsters in this season have some kind of scary teeth? This is indeed the scary pointy teeth season. I do in fact recall fan speculation that ‘scary pointy teeth’ was the Bad Wolf of this season. Fandom cracks me up.

TEHANI:
I did like the lush costuming (although the girls’ nightgowns were a bit of a cheap cheat!) and the lighting in this was lovely! Helen McCrory as Signora Calvierri was a highlight of the episode as well.

TANSY:
Her scenes with Matt Smith were electric.
Helen McCrory

TEHANI:
There seemed to be quite a few loose threads and hand wavey bits – if the perception filter operated as the Doctor described, then how did Signora Calvierri know when it wasn’t working? And it doesn’t make sense that the filter still worked when not attached to her, or that her “children” wouldn’t recognise her when she went into the water, despite the justifying line from Francesco earlier. What happened to the fire in the sky when Rory was fighting the fish boy? And WHY did sunlight explode him?! And what happened to the tidal wave? And boy howdy, doesn’t the Doctor get over the death of the species quickly? Another point where the balance of the episode is off.

DAVID:
I haven’t been keeping count, but the Doctor has wiped out a few species since we started this series, hasn’t he? Interesting to compare that to “Genesis of the Daleks” where Four refused to wipe out the Daleks…

TANSY:
Tehani, if you keep poking holes like that, the ship’s going to sink! To me the filter was quite clearly some kind of mechanical device in this one (the static when hers glitched suggested that) but it’s a brand new kind of handwavium that we’re going to see a lot of in this era, so mostly I just roll with it.

TEHANI:
You’re very good with the handwavium!

TANSY:
It is my superpower.

I definitely agree that the Doctor gets over the death of the species too quickly – though I was more put off by the deaths of the two human characters, the father and daughter, who are the innocents caught up in it. The fact that they both die horribly in what is otherwise painted as a romp is a bit odd, especially as it continues to be a romp after they’re gone.

TEHANI:
Yes, I think this clash of tone is part of why it leaves me a bit cold. Lots of death, lots of playing for laughs…

DAVID:
Well, the father did have a traditional Doctor Who heroic death!
Speak No Evil

TEHANI:
Can’t say too much, and of course this passed me by entirely first time around, but I think this is the first mention of the Silence, Tansy?

TANSY:
Silence will fall! Or … is it Silents will fall?

I actually think that the lady from Broadchurch let that one drop back in “The Eleventh Hour” when she was being Prisoner Zero. But yes, this is the time where it becomes quite clear that it’s a THING we should be paying attention to.

TEHANI:
*snort* Oh, the way you reference actors…

There seems to be an effort in this episode to force flirtation on the Doctor. I don’t think it works, because it kind of comes out of nowhere, a bit like Amy jumping him at the end of “Flesh and Stone” is a bit weird, given how well she and River have bonded. Not sure what the writer hoped to achieve with it.

TANSY:
I don’t know about forced – it is the first time we see the Eleventh Doctor flirt, and it’s pretty clear by now that however the Doctor feels, Matt Smith enjoys the flirting. I liked seeing the chemistry in his scenes with Helen McCrory – they bounce beautifully off each other, and it feels like a coming together of equals. It reminds me a bit of great Master stories, where the fact that the Master is the villain doesn’t matter quite so much as the fact that he and the Doctor have more in common than anyone else.

TEHANI:
It’s interesting how you say “Matt Smith enjoys the flirting” because during this rewatch, I’m seeing more and more of the actor overriding the role – a little Tom Baker-ish? As in, it’s not fundamentally bad, because he’s so adorable and we love him, but it’s not necessarily how the Doctor would behave?

TANSY:
Ah but the Doctor is so informed by whomever is playing him, it’s hard to draw that line!

I do like that when the Doctor gets into flirting (and this is very much the incarnation where he experiments in that regard) he mostly does so quite inappropriately. Because, you know, he’s been busy for the last 900 years and this is a New Thing for him. So he hasn’t figured out not to do it with the monsters…

DAVID:
Funnily enough, I got almost the opposite impression. I thought that Signora Calvierri thought that her and the Doctor were equals, and that the loss of their species put them on common ground, without really understanding that the Doctor was on a whole different level. The scene on the roof in “The Eleventh Hour” was a great reminder that the Doctor is not someone to be trifled with and the Universe is littered with those who had misunderstood who he was and underestimated him. That was her mistake, and led to her downfall.

Stag Night

TANSY:
This is the first time we’ve seen Rory for a while, and I think the whole storyline between him and Amy is one of the reasons I like this one so much. The fact that the Doctor responds to Amy kissing him by trying to fix things with Rory is quite interesting, as is the fact that he has finally figured out one important thing about humans: the one who travels with him will lose connections to her family and loved ones back home, coming to depend on him too much. It’s quite nice to see him trying something new as a way of admitting how much he stuffed up in the past, not just with Rose but with Martha and Donna too. He doesn’t want a companion who never wants to leave him because that always ends badly – so he’s setting Amy up with an escape route.

This is also the first story that really gives Rory something to get his teeth into, and Arthur Darvill puts a lot into it. The difference between he and Amy is shown at every point, and there are hints here of the way Mickey was tested/treated as a second class companion (this is the same writer who had Mickey point out he was the Tin Dog) but the humour is more gentle, and it doesn’t tip over into cruelty. Rory also stands up for himself more, and his sense of humour and self-deprecating wit helps to make the character feel very likeable already.

TEHANI:
I went in first time around prepared not to like Rory very much (cos REASONS) but he is wonderful. Combination of getting good scripts I think and the way Darvill plays the role.

DAVID:
This is another example of how much the Doctor has grown since the start of New Who. You have no idea how much happier I am with a Doctor who makes the right moral choice in this situation. I think that there is a lot to be taken from contrasting the Eleven-Amy-Rory situation with Nine-Rose-Mickey.

With Nine, we had a Doctor so insecure and in need of validation that he very much set himself up in competition with Mickey, who really had no way of competing at all. Almost everything Nine did, whether showing Rose the wonders of the Universe or putting Mickey down at every opportunity, seemed designed to ensure that Rose fell for him.

In this story, it seems to me that the Doctor is going out of his way to try and include Rory as if to ensure that Amy doesn’t forget who she has left behind. It’s rather cute that the Doctor is obviously a bit baffled by human interactions, and it is a lot of fun watching him trying to provide what he sees as the essentials for romance! The scene at the bachelor party was hilarious.

TANSY:
We are being shown that the Doctor is just as much at sea when it comes to making friends as he is with any kind of romantic negotiation. People are confusing!

vampire brides

DAVID:
I do agree that he is trying to ensure that Amy has something to fall back on when the inevitable parting of ways occurs, but I also think that he is aware of the damage he has done, first by abandoning Amy for so many years (because even though no real time passed for him, it was an abandonment that has shaped who she is) and then by sweeping in and sweeping her away. This is the Doctor doing his best to repair that damage.

TANSY
I often cite this episode as an example of the unconventional gender dynamics between Rory and Amy – that he’s the nurturing healer and she’s the bold, adventurous one. When they hear a scream, his first instinct is to run away and hers is to run towards the trouble.

TEHANI:
Oh, that is so true! Shows their characters perfectly!

TANSY:
But they both get to be brave ultimately, and we do see them working together as a team which is one of those important ways to get a believable romance across on film.

The decision to make the Doctor rather than Rory the third wheel was a clever one, and ensures that everyone complaining Rory was just Mickey Mark II could STFU. It makes the Doctor so much more likeable that he comes to appreciate Rory as a person distinct from Amy.

DAVID:
Have I mentioned how much I love Amy and Rory as companions? Rory is already one of my favourite companions of all time, and Amy is not far behind. Self deprecating was a great term to apply to Rory, Tansy, and there is something so intrinsically likeable about him. I have said in the past that my favourite dynamic is the Doctor and a female and male companion, and for some reason this one reminds me of my favourite combination ever – Four, Sarah Jane and Harry Sullivan.

In fact, there is something Harry-esque about Rory. I don’t know whether it is that self deprecating wit, their easy going nature or simply the sense of innate decency they both exude, but they do seem to have a lot in common.

TANSY:
A lot of fans get tied into knots about Amy’s willingness to cheat on Rory, which is I guess understandable, but I think it’s important to note that for Rory himself it’s not kissing the Doctor that is as much of a problem (after all he has to be used to that from her kissogram days) it’s the fact that she LEFT him and what that says about their relationship. He was looking forward to marrying her and she was trying to postpone it by running away the night before – that shows a major problem in their relationship and this is the beginning of the two of them working that out. The Doctor is giving them an opportunity to deal with a few therapy issues before going back to real life, and that turns out to be a very good thing for all of them – despite what is to come.

Ahem, and yes, Rory doesn’t actually know about the part where Amy propositioned the Doctor but either way, her behaviour was a symptom of something that is actually (hooray) going to be addressed.

Brilliant

“Amy’s Choice”
Season five, episode seven
The Doctor – Matt Smith
Amy Pond – Karen Gillan
Rory Williams – Arthur Darvill

TEHANI:
Now wasn’t THIS interesting to rewatch, from a more “educated” Doctor Who fan perspective! The thing I took away most from the episode was how self-critical it was – some of the Dream Lord’s dialogue could have come straight from the mouths of those critiquing the series. For example:

Dream Lord: “Friends”. Is that the right word for the people you acquire? Friends are people you stay in touch with. Your friends never see you again one they’ve grown up. The old man prefers the company of the young, does he not?

Harsh! And given it’s actually the Doctor’s own subconscious…

TANSY:
Hahaha yes, this one is totally different on rewatching. I think the Doctor’s line “there’s only one person who hates me as much as you” is pretty telling.

Toby Jones gives a fantastic performance – this is the closest thing we get to a Master for the Eleventh Doctor, and it’s very, very effective. I appreciate the layered storyline, and the final whammy that both realities are fake.

But there’s also some rather deep psychological stuff in here, such as the fantasy village which is not the life Rory wants (the idea that he would want to become a doctor is beyond insulting, actually, given that being a nurse is NOT a second best career, it’s a distinctly different profession) but the life that the Doctor THINKS Rory and ultimately Amy will want once they leave him.

Which means the ponytail is the Doctor’s fault.

TEHANI:
Well, his fashion sense IS rather questionable…

DAVID:
My first thought on that line was that it was the Master, but only for a second. I actually was more convinced that it was the Valeyard (which, of course, it kind of was if you want to get technical haha). Toby Jones was excellent in this, just the right mix of awkward and oily and dangerous.

The Dream Lord shows us that the Doctor is actually very self aware, whether he allows those thoughts to surface or not. The past few seasons have been a voyage of self discovery for him, and we’ve seen that he is actually learning, whether it is here or when he is trying to repair Amy and Rory’s relationship. Of course, these fantasies show that he doesn’t always completely *get* humans!

Dream Lord

TANSY:
Something I found particularly interesting was Amy’s pregnancy – this is the only time ever in the entire history of Doctor Who that we’ve ever been shown even the possibility of a companion being knocked up despite the number of weddings that punctuate the RTD era – Donna’s pretendy children in the Library (MOFFAT AGAIN) is the only other case, and of course we found out eventually in The Sarah Jane Adventures that Jo Grant and Clifford Jones had a whole brood, but … it did feel odd to me.

TEHANI:
Ha, I just watched that episode with the kids!

DAVID:
But that is fairly typical of most fiction, surely? The wedding or the culmination of all the URST is seen as the finale of romantic subplot, rather than the beginning of a new chapter. You don’t always see what the “happily ever after” actually entails. That’s why I love stories that are about “what happens next”.

TEHANI:
There’s a whole genre of stories growing around the “after the happy ever” these days – as a culture we’re no longer satisfied with marriage being the end, it seems!

TANSY:
The Happy Ever After Is The End thing is absolutely true for a lot of romantic fiction and for movies, but not generally in the case of television drama – ‘family’ viewing in particularly usually means stories about families, including babies and kids. The surprise of Amy’s pregnancy (and pregnancy as a recurring motif in this era) only serves to point out how odd has been the lack of actual children (as opposed to adult women playing teenage girls who miraculously became adult the second a man showed interest in them) in the show for the first 46 years.

Don’t get me wrong, I love a pregnant heroine (though I could have done without all the boat jokes) but the character was so young at this point – 21? 22? it did feel like a weird narrative assumption, that this was what lay in her immediate future (though again, the Doctor’s dream, not hers). It was fascinating to see how Amy dealt with it, though, and I liked how much she stayed in character despite imminent motherhood.

Park Bench

TEHANI:
Isn’t it supposedly five years later? So Amy would be 24-ish…

DAVID:
Well, for the Doctor there probably wouldn’t appear to be much difference between a 21-22yold and a 31-32yold, or even a 41-42yold! Thinking about that, it explains a few things….

TANSY:
This is the man who felt it was appropriate to abandon various 16 year old girls across various times and places as soon as they got themselves a love interest so … yes, we can’t assume he knows anything about anything!

When old people attack

TEHANI:
Ooh look, Rory died! That could be interesting later on…

TANSY:
Shhh there’s no way that could be foreshadowing anything.

DAVID:
So subtle. :-P

TANSY:
Before we wind up I think perhaps worth calling attention to the title – only the second time that a companion’s name has appeared in one. A lot of people (including let’s face it, the Doctor) misread “Amy’s Choice” being about Amy choosing between Rory and the Doctor, but it’s not that at all. It’s about her choosing whether or not she really wants to be married to Rory.

And she does. She doesn’t necessarily want this marriage, this bizarrely boring future that the Doctor has so cack-handedly summoned out of his subconscious, but this is the point at which she decides completely that despite wanting adventures and everything the Doctor has to offer, and despite her severe abandonment issues and lack of trust of people, she really loves Rory and doesn’t want to lose him.

Once again, this is hugely different to the Rose/Mickey dynamic, where it’s pretty clear that seeing the universe has opened Rose’s eyes to the fact that their relationship wasn’t doing much for her, and that even if the Doctor and the TARDIS were not an option, she would not go back to her previous life choices as a default.

Amy, on the other hand, is greedy. She wants it all. Her TARDIS, her boys, love and the universe. She chooses Rory, but that doesn’t mean giving everything else up because Rory is actually too awesome to pressure her into going home before she’s ready.

Awww

DAVID:
Speaking of titles, there is a hint of irony in the fact that we had an episode called “The Runaway Bride”, which wasn’t actually about a bride trying to run away from her wedding!

I never saw Amy running away from the wedding as her running away from Rory, I always took it as her running away from what she thought marriage would mean. It seemed to me that she thought it meant the end of her independence, and being trapped in a life without adventure. One of the realisations she arrives at in this story is that she can have both – adventures AND marriage, and that, as Tansy alludes to, Rory doesn’t want to trap her. He seems quite content with the fact that Amy is a free spirit, in fact it is a big part of what he loves about her, and therefore has no desire to see that taken away from her.

TEHANI:
Just one more reason to love Rory…

TANSY:
I think that’s very true, and it’s clear that she takes Rory’s acceptance for granted, too. Amy is a bit thoughtless here in her early 20s and he clearly enables that – their relationship has revolved around Amy leading the way and Rory tagging along agreeing with her, and it mostly works for them though it was bound to lead to problems sooner or later.

It wouldn’t shock me at all if (and this is a detail never revealed to us) it was Amy who proposed and set the whole wedding thing in train in the first place, and only later began to freak out as the whole thing became a bit too real.

DAVID:
I don’t think her epiphany comes solely from the events of this episode, though. In the previous story she meets another married woman who certainly hasn’t let marriage cramp her style – River Song! I don’t think you can discount the impression River made on Amy.

It would be interesting for people with a better grasp of the topic than I do to examine Amy’s storyline in light of the debate about whether modern women can have it all (whatever society’s idea of what “it all” is), and how the changing nature and desires of the companions reflects a changing society.

Frozen Star

TANSY:
There has certainly been a lot feminist debate about Amy Pond and her character arc – I think there are elements of her story which are incredibly positive and others which are a bit more wince-inducing (and not everyone agrees which elements are which). But at this point, it’s a very powerful story about a woman who starts to take control of her life despite being whisked away in the TARDIS – and that’s not something we’ve really seen before, even in New Who. In the RTD years, life in the TARDIS was so romanticised that the prior lives of the companions were seen as complete drudgery in comparison … and most of the positive changes that they bring to their lives after the TARDIS happen off screen.

I think it’s interesting to see how different things are now in the Moffat era – that Amy and the Doctor (and now Rory) are constantly negotiating this odd relationship of theirs, pushing and pulling against each other to create a kind of “TARDIS-life balance”. Despite Amy being a child when she first met the Doctor, and the potential uncomfortable power imbalance from  that, the whole thing feels to me like a more equal relationship than any we’ve seen in Doctor Who for a while.

Previous Episodes

“Rose”, S01E01
“Dalek”, S01E06
“Father’s Day”, S01E08
“The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances”, S01E09/10
“Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways”, S01E12/13
Season One Report Card – David, Tansy, Tehani
“The Christmas Invasion”, 2005 Christmas Special
“New Earth”, S02E01
“School Reunion”, S02E03
“The Girl in the Fireplace”, S02E04
“Rise of the Cybermen/Age of Steel”, S02E05/06
“Army of Ghosts/Doomsday”, S02E12/13
Season Two Report Card – David, Tansy, Tehani
“Smith and Jones”, S03E01
“The Shakespeare Code/Gridlock”, S03E02/03″
“Human Nature/Family of Blood”. S03E08/09″
“Blink”. S03E10″
“Utopia/The Sound of Drums/Last of the Timelords”, S03E12/13/14
Classic Who Conversation podcast – Spearhead from Space (1970)
Season Three Report CardDavid, Tansy, Tehani
Classic Who Conversation podcast – Genesis of the Daleks (1975)
“Partners in Crime”, S04E01
The Sontaran Stratagem/The Poison Sky, S04E0708
“Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead, S04E0910
Turn Left, S0411
The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End,S04E1213
Season Four Report Card – David, Tansy, Tehani
The Next Doctor / Planet of the Dead / The Waters of Mars
End of Time
The Eleventh Hour. S0501
The Beast Below/Victory of the Daleks,S050203
The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone,S05E0405

A Conversational Journey through New Who – S05E04/05 – The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone

David is coming to New Who for the first time, having loved Classic Who as a kid. Tehani is a recent convert, and ploughed through Seasons 1 to 7 (so far) in just a few weeks after becoming addicted thanks to Matt Smith – she’s rewatching to keep up with David! Tansy is the expert in the team, with a history in Doctor Who fandom that goes WAY back, and a passion for Doctor Who that inspires us all.

We are working our way through New Who, using season openers and closers, and Hugo shortlisted episodes, and sometimes a couple of extra episodes we love as our blogging points. Just for fun!

Tansy and Tehani love this season so much we’re making David do more work – we’re changing up our usual plan and reviewing each episode, in sets of two.

“The Time of Angels / Flesh and Stone”
Season five, episodes four and five
The Doctor – Matt Smith
Amy Pond – Karen Gillan
River Song – Alex Kingston

TEHANI:
I find myself really struggling with what to say about this two-parter. So much of what is to come in the future of the show has roots here!

TANSY:
Spoilers, sweetie!

TEHANI:
But River! When I first watched these, of course I had no idea about the events of “Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead”, so River was this brand new character who apparently had a huge history with the Doctor and I was just learning about it. In light of later events (of which we shall not speak), the relationship between Amy and River in this story is FASCINATING, and her easy manner with the Doctor, the TARDIS, the past and future, well, it’s just marvellous, particularly this time around. That said, River Song’s timeline completely bewilders me. The first bit with the diary seems to imply River and the Doctor have had some intervening adventures offscreen. But then that’s later debunked! So confusing!

TANSY:
Best not to think about it, really. I think it’s great that you came in with this as your first River story – after all, we were told only in the previous story that the Doctor has also been friends with Churchill for ages. You don’t always have to have seen those adventures. One of the best things about Doctor Who (and something new people often don’t believe or understand) is that the massive weight of 50 years of continuity actually hardly matters. It’s always about new adventures, new self-contained stories – and we’re never going to see absolutely everything the Doctor gets up to.

Song, River Song.

TEHANI:
I think I’ve mentioned this before, but I often assume that anytime we meet characters it seems the Doctor has a history with, I just assume there have actually BEEN adventures with them in Classic Who – works really well for newbies! :)

DAVID:
There have been lots of characters introduced in the show’s history who are meant to have extensive histories with the Doctor, even a companion IIRC! So, the idea of off screen adventures doesn’t faze me at all. And, with River Song there is the advantage that they don’t even have to have happened yet.

TANSY:
One of the things I like best about Amy and River in this story is that they are in no way jealous of each other’s relationship with the Doctor – Amy has given the impression that she fancies the Doctor a bit (and of course by the end of this story that has been ratcheted up to ‘quite a bit) but she’s fascinated by this other woman and what she might represent. The fact that she “might” be the Doctor’s wife (first time that thought has been vocalised on the show) is something she is amused by.

DAVID:
I much preferred the dynamic between River Song and Amy than some of the others we’ve seen. I think a big part of this is the fact that Amy looks at River and sees something she wants for herself, a life filled with adventure and travel, and someone who is very capable and good at what she does. I did get the impression that Amy didn’t feel particularly challenged by her career path. And, perhaps most importantly, she sees someone whose life hasn’t ended the day she got married.

So, perhaps it is that when she looks at River she doesn’t see a competitor, but a role model.

TANSY:
That’s a wonderful interpretation, I like it a lot. You’re absolutely right that Amy hasn’t figured out yet what she wants from life – travelling with the Doctor is about searching for that. And while Rose got caught up in the Doctor himself, I do feel that Amy’s attachment at this point is as much about where he can take her as it is to her “raggedy man” himself.

On the beach

TEHANI:
So, Moffat just makes up “canon” to suit himself when the story requires it, right? ‘Cos there’s stuff happens here that seems to conflict with other stuff in other stories? Or is that just me showing my newbie status? :)

TANSY:
Show me your ‘broken canon’ and I will explain it!

But yes, of course he just makes it up as he goes along, he’s a writer. That’s what we do. It’s why I have no time for people fussing about the whole ‘the Doctor only has 12 regenerations and then he’s toast’ malarkey. What will happen is, we’ll get to that point, and then a writer will MAKE SOMETHING UP TO FIX IT.

Sadly of course that didn’t work for Donna. But there’s still time. I have a theory about how that’s more possible for Doctor 12’s era than Doctor 11’s but will save that until David is caught up.

TEHANI:
That totally works for Donna if you read the wonderful fanfics! Like this one, which I still adore :)

DAVID:
There is no way that the 12 regenerations limit is going to stop the BBC from continuing, and I can think of several ways to get around it – and, if I can, someone like Moffat or Cornell can definitely manage!

TEHANI:
Personally, I thought they had already done that in … um, but not yet, sorry David!

*changes subject quickly* I sincerely love the cave of statues set – it’s brilliant!

TANSY:
Gorgeous, as is the forest-on-a-spaceship concept as realised, and the beach shots as well. Add to that the very stylised opening sequence for River Song and the clever museum scene and this is honestly one of the best looking Doctor Who stories of all time.

DAVID:
This season really has taken the visuals up a notch, and this episode is no exception. There is so much eye candy, from the waterfall to the caverns full of angels, it looks amazing.

Girl talk

TEHANI:
Have to say it: Father Octavian = Ser Jorah Mormont! #geekcrossover

TANSY:
I KNOW RIGHT? It was the other way around for me because I came to Game of Thrones late, but I have a disturbing feeling that I like the character of Jorah way more than I should, simply because he is Father Octavian. Who is a really excellent supporting character in this. But of course that’s all mixed up with how I always get him confused with the comedian Bob Franklin…

DAVID:
Haha yes, I may have squeed a little.

Father Octavian was my favourite character in this. I thought that he could have very easily been a caricature, but instead was a complex and nuanced character. I liked how uncompromising he was, and how he refused to be overawed by the Doctor. But, he wasn’t one of those unthinking, bull headed military types that seem to crop in so many TV shows, who are unable to listen to or consider other viewpoints. But Iain Glen could bring dignity and gravitas to any role – what a voice.

TEHANI:
Some really great guests already this season, that’s for sure.

Yes, Khaleesi!

DAVID:
The militant Church of the future was a fascinating concept and I would love to see them again. I’ve found it interesting that Christianity has featured a few times in New Who’s portrayal of the future, though I am not sure the writers have really thought about the ramifications of that, other than that it makes a fun plot device. And the line when we learn that Bob is a Sacred Name – hilarious!

TANSY:
It’s interesting, isn’t it, considering how often Christianity (or religion generally) is just quietly “forgotten” about in so much futuristic science fiction, as if it could have disappeared completely from history despite being so integral to humanity’s recent past – in this case it certainly adds another dimension to what could otherwise be just random troops, Aliens style.

Bible Bashers!

TEHANI:
I had not forgotten how bloody terrifying Amy alone in the forest was – I think I was more scared this viewing, and for goodness sake, I know what happens! The Weeping Angels really are the scariest darn monsters, especially in this episode, when they’re actually killing people, not just stealing their time.

TANSY: I like that this story isn’t just “Blink 2: the Revenge”; they are doing something quite different with the Angels. And on such a larger scale. The scene in which Amy watches the video of the angel is a fantastic piece in its own right, and the fact that the story revolves around her having to keep her eyes closed (rather than not blinking) is quite devastating.

(there’s a thing in this that I desperately want to talk about and I won’t but you know the thing right, Tehani? The thing in the forest? It does make this one an especially good rewatching episode)

Walking blind

TEHANI:
Yes, the thing! (sorry David…) :)

I’m using this rewatch to take much more notice of the resolution of episodes, and to look for pointers to overall arcs. I’m really rubbish at seeing this stuff normally, getting all caught up in the viewing, so trying to put my “critical viewer” hat on. Not sure it will be maintained, in the face of Matt Smith awesome, though…

DAVID:
While I really enjoyed “Blink”, I actually thought this two parter was superior. It’s already been mentioned, but the scene where Amy is trapped with the TV screens is as good as anything I have seen in any horror movie for years, while my flesh was creeping when the Doctor was talking with Dead Bob.

Bringing back something as popular as the Angels could have been a terrible mistake, it is hard to recapture the same magic, but by inverting their threat and ramping up the stakes Moffatt has taken them to the next level in this story.

Don't blink!

TEHANI:
I love them both for different reasons, I think. “Blink” is something a bit special, and stands out as a Doctor-lite episode, but this is packed with all sorts of other good things…

And I’m back to River – I just love her, and the interaction with the Doctor, but I still can’t fathom the timeline. Is there a gif for that?

TANSY:
There’s a map somewhere.

TEHANI:
Oh, there’s this! (David, DON’T CLICK THAT!) – it’s out of date now though… :)

TANSY:
At this point, from David’s point of view, it’s easy – this is before the Library for her, and after the Library for him. She’s still technically imprisoned in the Stormcage at this point, but is obviously earning her freedom one good deed at a time. Note what she’s wearing, though, you will see it again…

TEHANI:
More zingy Moffat dialogue in this one – I’m starting to think the dialogue might be my very favouritest thing about this season…

Amy: Explain. Who is that and how did she do that museum thing?
The Doctor: It’s a long story and I don’t know most of it. Off we go.

The Doctor: I can run away from anything I like. Time is not the boss of me.

The Doctor: Didn’t anyone ever tell you? There’s one thing you never put in a trap—if you’re smart, if you value your continued existence, if you have any plans about seeing tomorrow—there’s one thing you never ever put in a trap … Me.

River: There’s a plan?
The Doctor: I don’t know yet. I haven’t finished talking.

TANSY
Moffatt’s dialogue is the best thing about all Moffatt’s writing ever. Which is why it’s quite good he went into telly, I suppose. Remind me to lend you my Press Gang DVDs some time … and I’d love to see a fanvid which compares the various Mighty Speeches we get from Matt Smith’s Doctor with the Mighty Rants Jack Davenport gets to utter in Coupling. His are mostly about things like pillows, girls being stupid, and putting the toilet seat down, but I’m sure there’s some sort of crossover potential there…

Speaking of the ‘one thing you don’t put in a trap’ line – the cliffhanger and resolution of this two parter is one of the best of all New Who even if you have to be paying very close attention to the screen to figure out what has happened. It’s certainly up there with ‘Go To Your Room’ in “The Doctor Dances”, another Moffatt script. I do feel he handles two parters (especially the second part) much better than RTD did.

The terrible trio

TEHANI:
Yes, especially the second part, completely agree.

TANSY:
Before we finish we should totally look at the final sequence, in which Amy and the Doctor return to her room and she comes on to him. Thoughts?

(I will admit right now that my original response to this scene was to burst out laughing – but I’ve given its ramifications a lot of more serious thought since then).

TEHANI:
Laughter here too, yes, but then as you say, further consideration leading to different conclusions. And again, in light of what comes later, it changes the perspective again, I think.

DAVID:
As I think everybody is aware, I was a bit uncomfortable with some of the romantic elements we have seen, especially with Nine, and found some of the Doctor’s moral choices … questionable at best. So, I was actually a bit relieved by his reaction here. It’s another example of the growth we have seen in the Doctor since we first encountered the guilt ridden, traumatised survivor of the Time War. Here, he seems more startled than anything else.

It’s hard to decide what to think about Amy’s actions here, she is obviously have a terrible case of wedding jitters and being swept off your feet by your childhood hero, travelling around the universe and nearly being possessed by one of the most dangerous creatures in cosmos wouldn’t make for an uncluttered mind. So, it is unsurprising that all those things add up and express themselves in throwing herself at the Doctor. But, I can’t help but think of poor, devoted Rory waiting back at home.

Angels in the forest

TANSY:
Oh yes, poor old Rory. Amy gets a lot of stick for her Doctorlust in this season, but I think the important thing to note is – SHE’S TWENTY ONE. People make dumb decisions at this age, and she’s someone who has more confusion and trust issues in her background than most.

The more you learn about Amy, the more understandable it is that she does not in fact entirely believe that anyone would love her the way Rory does. What is happening right now is classic ‘testing’ how far she can go before he gives up and leaves her. It’s not nice or pretty but it is quite realistic, as is the long fallout from what she has done – and of course, running away into space the night before her wedding is part of that too.

I find Amy’s flaws quite refreshing, especially as she does have to deal with the relationship fallout that comes from her choices.

DAVID:
Upon reflection, I think that her actions are far more about a physical reaction to the events of the story than born of any real romantic feelings for the Doctor. At the risk of sounding crass, it seems far more of a “let’s get it on” than a “let’s settle down forever”. Not that I think it makes it okay, but that they are two *very* different motivations.

TANSY:
Another concern that many have raised (which made me uncomfortable about how funny I personally found this scene) is that Amy is ignoring some pretty serious consent issues – physically accosting the Doctor multiple times despite him clearly saying ‘no’ and not being interested. It is not something we would EVER see a male character do to a female character without the writer being aware they were doing something wrong – in television these days, anyway. It’s a slapstick scene that takes its comedy, like many Moffat scenes which raise feminist hackles, from a very old fashioned premise which is that a hot woman throwing herself at a bloke who isn’t interested is inherently funny.

(My excuse for finding it hilarious the first time is simply that I was raised on Carry On… movies, you can’t always shake that stuff off)

DAVID:
Now that is a very interesting point indeed. Shows how much we are conditioned to view things a certain way. I would have been very unhappy, angry even,had the roles had been reversed, but I have to confess I didn’t even blink an eye at that. I will have to think about why that would be the case.

TEHANI:
And like you, Tansy, it’s not something that crossed my mind at first. Our friend Mondy often talks about how he is always having his eyes opened to things by his podcast co-host Kirstyn, and by other media like Galactic Suburbia, and I’m a bit the same – a few years ago, I would have been oblivious as well. Growing up means things aren’t always as easy as they used to be, but I hope it makes me a more aware person!

DAVID:
There is not a “like” button on this, so I’ll just say I’ll second that!

TANSY:
Having the DVD I now always watch the version of this episode with the extra scene in the TARDIS after the kiss, which I highly recommend – it’s a fun, friendly scene which shows Amy challenging the Doctor’s supposed lack of interest in having sexy female companions around and also shows that she wasn’t actually all that invested in having sex with him. The next adventure is just as enticing…

TEHANI:
Darn it Tansy, WHY IS THERE ALL THIS CONTENT I HAVEN’T SEEN?!

TANSY:
DVD box sets, this is all I am saying…

Angels crowding in
Previous Episodes

“Rose”, S01E01
“Dalek”, S01E06
“Father’s Day”, S01E08
“The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances”, S01E09/10
“Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways”, S01E12/13
Season One Report Card – David, Tansy, Tehani
“The Christmas Invasion”, 2005 Christmas Special
“New Earth”, S02E01
“School Reunion”, S02E03
“The Girl in the Fireplace”, S02E04
“Rise of the Cybermen/Age of Steel”, S02E05/06
“Army of Ghosts/Doomsday”, S02E12/13
Season Two Report Card – David, Tansy, Tehani
“Smith and Jones”, S03E01
“The Shakespeare Code/Gridlock”, S03E02/03″
“Human Nature/Family of Blood”. S03E08/09″
“Blink”. S03E10″
“Utopia/The Sound of Drums/Last of the Timelords”, S03E12/13/14
Classic Who Conversation podcast – Spearhead from Space (1970)
Season Three Report CardDavid, Tansy, Tehani
Classic Who Conversation podcast – Genesis of the Daleks (1975)
“Partners in Crime”, S04E01
The Sontaran Stratagem/The Poison Sky, S04E0708
“Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead, S04E0910
Turn Left, S0411
The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End,S04E1213
Season Four Report Card – David, Tansy, Tehani
The Next Doctor / Planet of the Dead / The Waters of Mars
End of Time
The Eleventh Hour. S0501
The Beast Below/Victory of the Daleks

A Conversational Journey through New Who – S05E02/03 – The Beast Below/Victory of the Daleks

David is coming to New Who for the first time, having loved Classic Who as a kid. Tehani is a recent convert, and ploughed through Seasons 1 to 7 (so far) in just a few weeks after becoming addicted thanks to Matt Smith – she’s rewatching to keep up with David! Tansy is the expert in the team, with a history in Doctor Who fandom that goes WAY back, and a passion for Doctor Who that inspires us all.

We are working our way through New Who, using season openers and closers, and Hugo shortlisted episodes, and sometimes a couple of extra episodes we love as our blogging points. Just for fun! 

Tansy and Tehani love this season so much we’re making David do more work – we’re changing up our usual plan and reviewing each episode, in sets of two.

“The Beast Below”
Season five, episode two
The Doctor – Matt Smith
Amy Pond – Karen Gillan

The Beast Below

TANSY:
This is one of those favourite stories of mine that I tend to forget because of so many other favourites in this season – one of the things I especially love is the set up. The whole concept of a Starship UK, and the way a whole culture tries to recreate its past on a moving ship is fascinating to me, and all the little details of it make the place feel real – even if it is based on a lie.

DAVID:
The fact that there is something not quite right with Starship UK is evident right from the start, I love the way that it is the children who are aware of it and have built their own little rules to navigate it safely. The Smilers are delightfully creepy, too.

TANSY:
The Smilers are the reason Raeli can’t rewatch this episode! It has a real Stephen King vibe at the beginning, all sinister fairground motifs and children being aware of dangers while adults are blithely oblivious (or pretending to be so – not sure which is scarier)

Smiler

DAVID:
What a fibber the Doctor is!

“An important thing. In fact, Thing One. We are observers only. That’s the one rule I’ve always stuck to in all my travels. I never get involved in the affairs of other peoples or planets.”

How he said that with a straight face, I have no idea.

TANSY:
I love that they set up through the narrative both that he is lying but also perhaps that he genuinely is fooling himself? The Doctor needs a certain degree of pomposity and it’s good that Amy is being shown this early on that it’s her job to question his grandiose statements about the universe.

(Thing One of course maps beautifully on to River Song’s Rule One but we’re not quite there yet)

DAVID:
One of the things we have seen over and over in Doctor Who is a very British future. While many other science fiction shows have a US slant, or even a sort of homogenised United Nations feel, we have seen lots of British influences and I for one love it!

TANSY:
I hope we run into Starship Scotland someday. But I agree, the gratuitous BRITISHNESS of the future is almost parodic here but it also is a lovely nod towards the history of Doctor Who and the various futures we have been shown since 1963.

Starship UK

TEHANI:
The parallels between the Star Whale and the Doctor are made overt in this – I suppose if we consider Eleven as a jumping on point for people, reiterating some of the things long-time watchers know (last of his race, alone, kind) are important. I remember them being so for me. And isn’t it interesting to see the differences in reactions between Nine, Ten and Eleven when asked about the Time Lords?

TANSY:
It’s less raw for him now, perhaps? And of course, this time around he’s had a chance to see what would happen if they came back…

DAVID:
It’s a good point that you make about the Doctor’s differing reactions when asked about the Time Lords, Tehani. I wouldn’t say he is at peace, but there is an air of quiet resignation, almost acceptance, when he talks about them that is in stark contrast to Nine especially. We’ve been on a journey with the Doctor, and there is no doubt that he is in a different place than we started.

There is also a nice little tease here when Amy asks him if he is a parent. Tansy is probably better placed to comment on this, but we’ve never really clarified all that much about the Doctor’s family, though there has been all sorts of conjecture. But, if Susan is his granddaughter (and that is a big if), then it stands to reason that the Doctor is also a father. Interesting.

StarWhale

TANSY:
As was pointed out to me recently on the Verity podcast, of course back in the 60’s no one would have questioned this at all – why would the Doctor NOT be Susan’s grandfather if he said he was? I think it was only later fandom in 80s, so secure in the Doctor’s identity as someone who was in no way sexual, who decided otherwise.

New Who, along with making the Doctor more aware of human notions of sexuality, has also already identified him as a dad back in “Fear Her” – though like being a grandfather, that could be an honorary title.

TEHANI:
Has the Doctor always been so angry at humanity for the terrible things they do? Amy cops the brunt of his anger, even though Liz 10 is really a more appropriate target! Listening to Splendid Chaps the other day and they mention it in relation to the Seventh Doctor, which is interesting to me (I’ve seen so little Classic Who I remember, and almost none outside of the Tom Baker era). Nine and Ten both showed this at various times – how far back does it go?

TANSY:
He’s quite mean to Amy in this one, which is an element I really don’t like – very harsh on her in a way reminiscent of Eccleston with Mickey or Adam. The Doctor is hot and cold about humans, honestly. Sometimes he’s supremely scathing and other times he loves them to bits. It’s an unhealthy relationship really! Hartnell despised most people but not humanity specifically – Pertwee had some definite anti-human moments, notably when the Brigadier was blowing things up as with the Silurians. Tom Baker praised humans for being ‘indomitable’ in one story and yet sneered at them in others. Like the Doctor being ‘non-violent’ there’s so many exceptions that it’s practically a rule.

DAVID:
It’s interesting that the thing that he gets angriest about (other than the imprisonment of the Star Whale, of course) is something he does to his companions, and those around him, all the time! There have been plenty of times that the Doctor has decided what others need to know, with varying results. Ace in “The Curse of Fenric” is an extreme example, but there are plenty of others.

I do think he was overly harsh, but he did have a point. For all Amy knew, the Star Whale might have simply shrugged off the whole city before even realising it!

TANSY:
Ha yes, she gets away with her random behaviour purely because she is lucky. But then the Doctor does that all the time – gets (mostly) good results from random life choices.

The City

TEHANI:
This episode is as much about establishing Amy’s character (impulsive, observant, curious, caring) as it is about new viewers learning about the Doctor. She seems to have an almost instinctive understanding of how the Doctor works – she’s been travelling with him approximately five minutes, but she already knows him well enough to know that he will not be happy about the Star Whale situation…

TANSY:
I love that she solves it by seeing an option that he doesn’t – and saves him from doing something terrible. And the scene of them being swallowed by the whale is quite funny and entertaining – possibly one of the grossest Doctor-companion bonding moments of all time.

DAVID:
That’s spot on, Tehani. Straight away we discover the sort of companion Amy is going to be, that she is filled with a sense of wonder, but refuses to be overawed by anything, including the Doctor. I don’t think the multiple mentions of her Scottish heritage are coincidental, she is being deliberately painted as independent minded, and unwilling simply to take answers at face value.

TANSY:
It’s interesting that we are now seeing a tradition where companions are pretty much auditioned for the role over their first few stories, as if there’s some kind of probationary period – or an exam they might (like Adam) fail terribly. There’s always the possibility that the Doctor might fail them and dump them home at any minute – and while it is more realistic to show the companion developing the skills needed to travel with the Doctor over a number of stories, there is a power dynamic to it that is a bit uncomfortable. More so here than in “The End of the World”, say, or “Gridlock”, but I do think it’s an element they could back away from.

I especially don’t like the Doctor’s quickness to condemn Amy in this story because frankly, after the events of “The Eleventh Hour”, why can’t we see him failing to live up to HER expectations which must be massively over-inflated after all these years?

TEHANI:
Yes, considering how much he has to live up to in Amy’s eyes, and how much she’s already been let down by him, it’s a bit rich!

TANSY:
Something I found fascinating about this season (because of course having kids who love the merch) is that the toy manufacturers picked out elements that they thought would be important and iconic ahead of time, and made the toys accordingly with some very mixed results. The Smilers in this one were evidently supposed to catch on, because they turned up in the Character Options not-Lego and I think got an action figure too. The priesty bloke in this also turned up on some of the merchandise – and yet the toy people didn’t realise that Liz10 was the OBVIOUSLY most visually interesting character in the episode?

Liz10

TEHANI:
Oh, I didn’t know that! I’m not much into the merch (the bits I have so far are TOTALLY PRACTICAL!) so it’s not something I’d notice. But that’s what happens when they don’t let people like us make such decision. :-)

TANSY:
Liz10 springs off the page, a fascinating character, so complex and flawed with a hell of a backstory. I love how she starts out like a Cockney space mercenary like Han Solo, and yet reverts to her more refined Queen persona – and that she has been working out the mystery all along, just as the Doctor does, only she’s done it dozens of times over.

Fun fact, Sophie Okonedo (Liz10) was the companion in “The Scream of the Shalka”, a webcast audio/animation written by Paul Cornell which was intended to relaunch Doctor Who in 2003 before the actual show was recommissioned and buried the project. Richard E Grant played the Ninth Doctor in it, and Derek Jacobi was the Master. It’s coming out on DVD imminently!

TEHANI:
That IS a fun fact! And I think that might have just come out – sounds cool!

DAVID:
Liz10 is the standout character in this for me. You may not agree with her moral choices, but there is something tragically regal about the way she has taken on the burden of responsibility for her subjects, in a way parallelling how the Star Whale carries the city.

While I absolutely loathe the Elizabeth I running gag, I do like the way that the Doctor and the Royal Family have a history, and the the idea that they are very aware of who he is and what he does.

Liz10

TEHANI:
The one liners zing in this episode! Some of my favourites:

“Help us, Doctor, you’re our only hope.”
–Liz 10.
How very Star Wars!

“It’s always a big day tomorrow. We’ve got a time machine. I skip the little ones.”
–The Doctor

TANSY:
I can’t go past “I’m the bloody queen.”

Oh and if like David and Tehani you didn’t watch these episodes via DVD, do go hunting for the extra scenes from this season–- one of them is a prelude to Amy floating in space and it’s wonderful, adding more warmth to the Eleven-Amy friendship. The other comes immediately after “Flesh and Stone” so don’t watch it quite yet…

“Victory of the Daleks”
Season five, episode three
The Doctor – Matt Smith
Amy Pond – Karen Gillan

Victory of the DaleksTEHANI:
The Nazi = Dalek parallel is once again at the forefront of this episode. And oh look! Yet more Daleks (they’re never really gone…). It’s a Gatiss-penned episode, and I am starting to think that he is big on spectacle, but not so much on the plot/making of sense thing – just me?

TANSY:
This is one that desperately needed another 5-10 minutes, I think, there are so many good scenes in it, but it doesn’t quite hang together. New Who is *so* fast-paced these days, and Moffat Who seems to be even faster and snappier and more packed with words than RTD Who – there are times when it just tries to push too much in.

Having said that there is a lot to like about this episode that I think often gets forgotten in a sea of fannish loathing. I like all the Churchill-in-the-bunker stuff, especially the odd friendship between Churchill and the Doctor which has obviously been going on for some time (he calls him dear!), and I will forgive a lot for that jammy dodger scene.

DAVID:
I am starting to think that I am too easily pleased! I rather liked this episode, I thought it provided a nice little twist on the whole Nazi/Dalek comparisons, and oh boy did it have a nice bit of spectacle! It doesn’t get much more exciting that Spitfires in space attacking a Dalek spaceship. If this had been a movie that alone would have been worth the price of admission.

Never have so many...

TEHANI:
Is this the first time we see Moffat use the Doctor (and Amy) to defeat evil with the power of love?

TANSY:
Yes, yes it is. If you don’t count “The Beast Below” which is more the ability to defeat evil with the power of spotting that a monster is capable of love and kindness…

DAVID:
While it was a bit of stretch to have the bomb disarmed by Bracewell’s belief in his humanity, I found that sequence quite moving and a perfect contrast to the inhumanity of the Daleks.

TANSY:
I really like Bracewell, and how much humanity is packed into his few scenes. We haven’t had enough of the Doctor playing with mad scientists in recent years and I love the way that Bracewell is so very certain that he created the “Ironsides.”

Dalek BlueprintTEHANI:
I’m not sure what “conventional fan wisdom” says, but I’m not a fan of the new Dalek design – they just don’t seem scary in those bright colours!

TANSY:
Ohhh sweetie, fandom hated those Daleks with a fiery vengeance. I didn’t mind the colours myself, but detested the new shape. Even the OPERATORS hated them – you’d think that they would give them more room, but instead they just provided more bulk to move around, so they were less useful.

Moffat said afterwards that the whole ‘new paradigm’ was the pitch he used to get the BBC to let them build more Dalek models, because they had hardly any left by the time he took over. A reboot meant lots of publicity, lots of merchandise (see how often the new Daleks are placed so you can’t see the fact that they have the wrong silhouette from side on) and the kids mostly liked them.

However, and I am TOTALLY going to spoil David here, because I don’t want him to suffer as we did, the new Daleks never looked as bad again as they did in this one. And the old Daleks never went away – from now on we’ll always get a fun cocktail of both.

DAVID:
They were a bit garish! I can’t say I was a big fan of them, either.

Game piece

TANSY:
I do, however, like the whole concept of the Ironside Daleks, and of Churchill inadvertently signing up the Daleks to help him fight Nazis. The plot is actually really clever, and leads to the brilliant scene of Matt Smith’s Doctor trying to get the humble tea-serving Ironside to admit it’s an evil war machine. Unfortunately, and this is where the story lets it down, he succeeds. A longer and more involved plot would have allowed this tension to be drawn out a bit, especially with the benefit of a companion who can’t corroborate the Doctor’s insistence that the Daleks are not to be trusted.

However, having said that, I just described the plot of “The Power of the Daleks”, the very first Patrick Troughton story. And, well, “Dalek” a bit, too.

You have to admit, though, there is not much in the world that is more awesome than a Dalek carrying a teatray.

Victory of the Daleks

DAVID
I liked how they weaved in some real quotes from Churchill to give some credence to the idea that he would have seized upon any weapon to defeat the Nazis. It is easy to forget how desperate Britain’s position was at that point in the war, and there is no doubt Churchill would have felt an incredible temptation to use the Dalek technology, and it makes the Doctor’s decision to destroy it all completely justified.

This is where the whole Dalek/Nazi thing can get a little dicey though. The writers need to communicate that in the Doctor Who universe the Daleks are in fact worse than the Nazis, as hard as that is to get the mind around. But, how do you do that without minimising an unspeakably terrible part of our real history and using that suffering as a plot device? I can definitely understand why some people are quite uncomfortable with the Nazi/Dalek parallels.

TANSY:
That’s a really good point, and I think it’s too complex an idea to deal with sensitively in this story – we don’t actually see Daleks do much that’s bad, so it’s all Doctorly rhetoric as far as Amy and the other humans are concerned, and very easy to come off as trite. I suspect Daleks are best kept away from humanity for a while and given the huge drawcard of them as characters it would be nice to see them saved for some massive futuristic space battles instead of serving to remind us yet again of what used to be a subtle and discreet metaphor for the ultimate evil.

Having said that, an important detail we could easily miss: Amy does not know what a Dalek is. Despite the fact that humans from her era would have seen them semi-regularly on the evening news (and indeed Blue Peter). What could this mean?

DAVID:
I can already see them building towards a season finale, throwing around clues like we saw with all the Bad Wolf foreshadowing. This is going to be fun!

Crack of Doom?Previous Episodes

“Rose”, S01E01
“Dalek”, S01E06
“Father’s Day”, S01E08
“The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances”, S01E09/10
“Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways”, S01E12/13
Season One Report Card – DavidTansyTehani
“The Christmas Invasion”, 2005 Christmas Special
“New Earth”, S02E01
“School Reunion”, S02E03
“The Girl in the Fireplace”, S02E04
“Rise of the Cybermen/Age of Steel”, S02E05/06
“Army of Ghosts/Doomsday”, S02E12/13
Season Two Report Card – David, Tansy, Tehani
“Smith and Jones”, S03E01
“The Shakespeare Code/Gridlock”, S03E02/03″
“Human Nature/Family of Blood”. S03E08/09″
“Blink”. S03E10″
“Utopia/The Sound of Drums/Last of the Timelords”, S03E12/13/14
Classic Who Conversation podcast – Spearhead from Space (1970)
Season Three Report CardDavid, Tansy, Tehani
Classic Who Conversation podcast – Genesis of the Daleks (1975)
“Partners in Crime”, S04E01
The Sontaran Stratagem/The Poison Sky, S04E0708
“Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead, S04E0910
Turn Left, S0411
The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End,S04E1213
Season Four Report Card – David, Tansy, Tehani
The Next Doctor / Planet of the Dead / The Waters of Mars
End of Time
The Eleventh Hour. S0501

A Conversational Journey through New Who – The Eleventh Hour S05E01

David is coming to New Who for the first time, having loved Classic Who as a kid. Tehani is a recent convert, and ploughed through Seasons 1 to 6 (so far) in just a few weeks after becoming addicted thanks to Matt Smith – she’s rewatching to keep up with David! Tansy is the expert in the team, with a history in Doctor Who fandom that goes WAY back, and a passion for Doctor Who that inspires us all.

We are working our way through New Who, using season openers and closers, and Hugo shortlisted episodes, and sometimes a couple of extra episodes we love as our blogging points. Just for fun!

“The Eleventh Hour” – S5E01
The Doctor – Matt Smith
Amy Pond – Karen Gillan
Amelia Pond – Caitlin Blackwood
Rory Williams – Arthur Darvill

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DAVID:
After four seasons of reviews, I finally got to encounter Eleven!  I’ve tried to stay clear of spoilers, but people really have talked up Matt Smith and to be honest I expected to be a bit disappointed after having my expectations set so high. Plus, I loved David Tennant, so it was always going to be tough for a new Doctor to measure up. And, this is really petty and irrational, but there is part of me that struggles with the idea of an actor who is younger than me playing the Doctor – it just doesn’t seem right!  So, sitting down to watch this I didn’t have high hopes.

But, I am happy to have been comprehensively proved wrong. Not only is this a very strong episode in its own right (Which I am sure will discuss later in the review), it also serves as a wonderful introduction to a new Doctor and a new Companion. I was a bit dubious when I saw the new title sequence, but fortunately it was all uphill from there!

TANSY:
You’re not alone, David! I remember well the waves of fannish skepticism around Matt Smith’s casting, not least because of his age. They lasted until about ten seconds into “The Eleventh Hour,” I believe.

*

TEHANI:
And here I am, back at what was, for me, the beginning. “The Eleventh Hour” was where I started – I wanted to watch the Neil Gaiman episode (season six) but thought it would be a bit silly trying to jump on there. So I decided to start with the beginning of Matt Smith’s era, and this episode. It sure worked its magic on me, because as you know, I’m now a massive fangirl! I’ve seen this ep a bunch of times now, and it’s still shiny and lovely – adore Matt Smith, adore Amelia, and Amy and Rory aren’t bad either!

TANSY:
Oh I didn’t know that, I thought you watched the Neil Gaiman episode first! I think this is one of the best jumping on points of the show, up there with “Spearhead From Space” and “Rose”.

TEHANI:
I can delay gratification, see! :) I agree, I think it’s a great starting point for people wanting to test the waters (very hookable indeed – I’m living proof!).

DAVID:
In the past, I’ve found that a lot of the attempts at humour have seem a bit forced, or gone too far towards slapstick and fat jokes, but there are some genuine laugh out loud moments in this episode. In fact, the whole thing is sparkling, lots of great dialogue and action. I missed the writer’s name at the start but I wasn’t surprised to discover it was Moffatt, it had him all over it.

I particularly enjoyed the sequence at the start. Caitlin Blackwood is the perfect foil for the madness of Matt Smith, and the way she doesn’t even blink an eye at his outrageous behaviour is a delight. The food scene is hilarious (though him not liking bacon nearly pushed the suspension of disbelief too hard!), but there is just the right mix of seriousness. His quote about how her being scared of the crack in the wall must mean it was something *really* scary was a perfect illustration of the perceptive mind beneath the clown and said volumes about both his character, and hers. Great writing.

TANSY:
“The Eleventh Hour” is one of my favourite stories of all time – I think one of the best opening stories for a Doctor and a companion ever. And after having to nudge and coax my kids for some of the later Tennant seasons, I didn’t have to nag them at all to put on this DVD. Little Jemima thinks the earth orbits around Amy Pond, and while Raeli is more of a Ten/Rose girl, she has a soft spot for any story with Young Amelia.

I agree with you David that the opening scene with Caitlin Blackwood (who by the way is the cousin of Karen Gillan, her older counterpart) is brilliant, setting up the Doctor as funny and serious and odd and all the good Doctor things. I adored Tennant before he got the part and so was easily won by him, and Christopher Eccleston had me at “Run,” but I love how much of this story and the first ten minutes in particular is about the Doctor as a person, how alien and how human he is.

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TEHANI:
Had no idea she’s Karen’s cousin! That’s cool :)

TANSY:
My heart breaks for Amelia, every single time she sits on that suitcase.

TEHANI:
Every single time. Right there with ya.

It’s hard to judge how much of what makes this story work so well is Moffatt’s writing and how much is Matt Smith’s portrayal of the Doctor. He inhabits the role so instantly, it’s impossible not to immediately go along for the ride. Watching it this time, I was interested to see how many Tennant-esque tics he uses – of course, as far as I was concerned when I FIRST watched it, that was just Matt Smith’s Doctor, but now I can see how much he riffed off Tennant. But I think it’s a clever use of the style, just enough to remind long time viewers that yes, he IS the same character, and yes we WILL learn to adore him too!

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TANSY:
I also feel like the look of the show has leaped ahead somehow – there is some gorgeous, arty direction in this story, particularly the use of reds and TARDIS-blue in the first few scenes, but somehow everything just looks shinier. It’s impressive that Murray Gold, now pretty much the only ‘name’ member of the production crew who has been there since “Rose” in 2005, manages to make the music sound completely different to anything we’ve had in the show so far. A whole new palette for a whole new Doctor…

DAVID:
The special effects are excellent throughout this episode, especially the sequence at the start with the TARDIS flying over the city and the Doctor hanging on for dear life. While the SFX at the start of the new run were a radical change from the Classic series, this is another leap again and just shows how times have changed and how accessible good effects now are.

TEHANI:
I loved the music in this episode! There have been episodes where the score jars or even overwhelms the story, but it’s perfect in this.

I’m pretty fond of the steampunkish aesthetic of the newly regenerated TARDIS – heavens, I’m turning into one of those fans who has OPINIONS on the TARDIS console!

TANSY:
This one is my favourite of the New Who TARDIS console rooms. I like the tactile nature of it, and the way Smith interacts with the bits. There’s a coziness to this one that I feel is more ‘classic’ than the more grand, austere 9-10 console. Also the orange just makes me think about Axons.

It looks pretty slick on the outside now too! The old girl has had a revamp inside and out.

DAVID:
While I quite like the look of the TARDIS in this episode, I have to admit that I still feel the occasional yearning for the classic white design!

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TANSY:
We also get some interesting additions to TARDIS canon in this one – it’s the first time we ‘see’ and hear about the details of the internal decor being rearranged, and it’s fascinating the way that this is tied into the Doctor’s trauma and his regeneration. In the past, changes were mostly not mentioned at all, or in the case of say The Five Doctors, discreetly referred to after the fact.

The idea that the TARDIS can actually grow/make a sonic screwdriver is pretty fascinating, and gives a whole new perspective to that time the Doctor gave K9 away to Leela and then found himself a new ready made duplicate in the cupboard!

So, grown up Amy. What do you think of her in her first outing?

TEHANI:
I had no idea how to take Amy when I first watched this and it took me a while to warm up to her. This time around, I really really liked her from the word go. And interestingly, it’s not just because I now have a history with her. This time, I really noticed how hurt she had been by the Doctor’s absence, and how much that had affected her entire life. And even though she still jumped at each opportunity to go travelling with him, I think this time I saw her really thinking about what she was leaving behind when she eventually left. Although I think she was a bit blase about his assurances of being back by the next day – given his track record, it seemed fairly naive!

DAVID:
I liked her from the moment she hit him with the cricket bat! My first impressions are really positive, and I am looking forward to seeing exactly what sort of companion she becomes. I always find it interesting when the show explores the ramifications of the Doctor’s actions beyond the end of an episode, as in the “Face of Evil”. One of the strengths of New Who has been examining the impact an encounter with the Doctor has one people, and how ex Companions often struggle to go on with their life. We get the Reader’s Digest version here, in the space of fifteen minutes (or less!) it becomes pretty obvious how much that brief encounter with the Doctor has shaped Amelia’s whole life. Not just in the drawings, but in the way she seems unsettled and distrustful. The Doctor can be pretty cavalier about these things, but to his credit he seems to realise exactly how much he has hurt her.

The revelation that she is not a real police officer was played pretty well, I thought, and added an interesting layer to her character, without being too creepy. As we discover her job, it only adds to the sense of someone who is dissatisfied with her life and doesn’t quite know what she is meant to be. I say that not because of the nature of her job, but her obvious embarrassment about it.

Happily, she seems like she is going to be much more than a damsel in distress, and certainly holds her own in the witty banter stakes. It will be interesting to see what the dynamic is going to be like over the course of the season. I have to admit to being a little concerned about what is going to happen with her wedding, and poor Rory!

TEHANI:
Oh, you’re in for SUCH a ride…!

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DAVID:
So, on to the rest of the episode! Another example of Moffat’s unerring ability to build tension, subtly and effortlessly. From the crack in the wall to the revelation of the prison, there is a sense of something not right about the house. Each oddity, like the unnoticeable door (“dim”, as Stephen King would put it) builds the unease. And, Moffat certainly has a knack for creating creepy monsters! It wasn’t so much the real form of Prisoner Zero that got to me, it was serviceable but not exceptional. It was the “human” form, or its disguise, that really disturbed me. The way the talking was out of sync with the mouths, and the juxtaposition of human features with alien was something that stayed with me long after the episode.

TEHANI:
Moffat’s got the whole “take something ordinary and make it super scary” thing down…

TANSY:
I like the way that the Prisoner Zero snake thing and the whole stressful countdown is used every step of the way to show us what kind of people Amy and the Doctor are, building their characters. We learn that Amy is bold and reckless and untrusting – and also that she stands up for herself. I adore the bit where she shuts his tie in the car door, and the poor old gentleman asks her so politely for his car back. You get the impression she has been terrorising this village since she was eight.

TEHANI:
I love love LOVED the Mrs Angelo and Jeff byplay – the way the Doctor just bursts into the house and expects them to believe everything he says, and do the impossible. And it’s gorgeous that they all recognise him as Amy’s “raggedy man” – he really did leave a mark on her!

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TANSY:
I also like the fact that everyone around Amy has heard of the Doctor because she’s been banging on about him since she was a child – they’ve all seen the artwork and heard the stories. One of my favourite Rory lines of all time is when he says ‘you made me dress up as him!’ It does suggest that while Amy has this massive loss in her life – the empty hole left by her absent parents and so on – she has had a village community around her who cares and pays attention. It’s a nice balance against the idea that she spent her whole childhood biting psychiatrists and suffering her aunt.

DAVID:
Yes, I loved the real sense of exasperated affection that the village had for Amy. You could tell that they had adopted her as their own daughter, albeit a rather wayward one. And the way that they recognised the Doctor and didn’t even bat an eyelid, but just treated it as somehting that had only been a matter of time and was straightway filed under Amy shenanigans – brilliant!

TEHANI:
On this rewatch, Rory was just brilliant from the first. On my original viewing, I didn’t realise he would be important – with the backward looking perspective, I love how much of his character is revealed in this episode. He’s introverted and shy, but clearly devoted to Amy, actually rather good at his job, and funny as all get out.

TANSY:
All true but at the same time – he plays Rory so YOUNG which is lovely because it gives him lots of space to grow into.

DAVID:
I can already see that Rory is going to be one of the characters you root for and hope has a happy ending. He seemed so devoted to Amy and willing to put up with anything to be close to her, even if it means playing second fiddle to what he must have deep down thought was an imaginary friend. I do worry though that it won’t be an easy road for him; it’s a bit of trope, the steady dependable guy who is around all the time competing with the flashy, worldly guy who ducks in and out of someone’s life and you can see that someone can easily get hurt here.

While that is a little Bridget Jones’ Diary, Rory reminded me more than anything of Tim in the British version of the Office (more so than Jim in the US version), with the whole hangdog resignation about him.

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TEHANI:
The shooing off the aliens scene is awesome. For me, coming new to the series with this episode, I reckon this is what really hooked me. I had no idea what had gone before, in either Classic or New Who, but that speech by Eleven, couple with the lovely flash through of all the Doctors, well, I was in.

TANSY:
Well I have all that baggage going for me! But it’s SUCH a powerful scene, with the music and the images, and him choosing his costume all at once. Matt Smith is going to (spoilers, sorry David) give a LOT of great speeches during his tenure, with appropriate pomp and ceremony, but it’s hard to go past the significance of this one.

DAVID:
The rooftop scene is amazing, and was the perfect contrast to the hyperactive, funny Doctor of earlier in the episode. It is vitally important that we get to see both sides of his character, and he reminds me of Seven in particular in the way he can be an amicable clown, but can turn on the big bad Doctor who the monsters are afraid of when the situation calls for it. Quite often throughout the show we see the Doctor through the viewpoint of humans, and he is taken just a very clever, but otherwise human, character. I do enjoy the moments we see that he is, in fact, a player on a cosmic scale and that the Earth is very lucky indeed that he has a peculiar fondness for it.

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TANSY:
Comparing him to previous Doctors – Christopher Eccleston quite literally hit the ground running, while David Tennant spent half his first episode asleep, building up to a reveal of what kind of Doctor he would be in the last moments of The Christmas Invasion (and, it could be argued, that reveal wasn’t entirely accurate). I think Matt Smith splits the difference here, giving us a Doctor who is very active even before he properly finds his feet.

I can’t criticise this story. It’s honestly one of my most beloved pieces of Doctor Who of all time. And oh, if you spend any amount of time around kid Doctor Who fans, the whole fish fingers and custard thing has become so RIDICULOUSLY iconic that it’s giving Tom Baker’s scarf and jelly babies a run for their money.

TEHANI:
There’s ain’t nothing to criticise. It was my gateway drug and I’m still hooked!

DAVID:
Like some of Moffat’s other work, this would be the perfect episode to show someone with no familiarity with Doctor Who whatsoever. It’s clever, it’s funny, it’s creepy – and had some beautiful emotional moments. It’s hard to believe that the season can get any better, but if it maintains this level of quality then I can’t wait!

TANSY:
For me, this season isn’t just about the new shiny direction that the show had taken (in all senses of the word) but also it marks the time that I started becoming aware of trock (Time Lord Rock!) and the Ood Cast, a brilliant podcast (that started their proper song and dance, comedy skits version of themselves with this season) which means that nearly every episode from now on has multiple musical accompaniments in my head.

So here’s a musical number for The Eleventh Hour: Chameleon Circuit’s Still Not Ginger

Previous Episodes

“Rose”, S01E01
“Dalek”, S01E06
“Father’s Day”, S01E08
“The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances”, S01E09/10
“Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways”, S01E12/13
Season One Report Card – DavidTansyTehani
“The Christmas Invasion”, 2005 Christmas Special
“New Earth”, S02E01
“School Reunion”, S02E03
“The Girl in the Fireplace”, S02E04
“Rise of the Cybermen/Age of Steel”, S02E05/06
“Army of Ghosts/Doomsday”, S02E12/13
Season Two Report Card – David, Tansy, Tehani
“Smith and Jones”, S03E01
“The Shakespeare Code/Gridlock”, S03E02/03″
“Human Nature/Family of Blood”. S03E08/09″
“Blink”. S03E10″
“Utopia/The Sound of Drums/Last of the Timelords”, S03E12/13/14
Classic Who Conversation podcast – Spearhead from Space (1970)
Season Three Report CardDavid, Tansy, Tehani
Classic Who Conversation podcast – Genesis of the Daleks (1975)
“Partners in Crime”, S04E01
The Sontaran Stratagem/The Poison Sky, S04E0708
“Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead, S04E0910
Turn Left, S0411
The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End,S04E1213
Season Four Report Card – David, Tansy, Tehani
The Next Doctor / Planet of the Dead / The Waters of Mars
End of Time

A Conversational Journey through New Who – End of Time

David is coming to New Who for the first time, having loved Classic Who as a kid. Tehani is a recent convert, and ploughed through Seasons 1 to 6 (so far) in just a few weeks after becoming addicted thanks to Matt Smith – she’s rewatching to keep up with David! Tansy is the expert in the team, with a history in Doctor Who fandom that goes WAY back, and a passion for Doctor Who that inspires us all.

We are working our way through New Who, using season openers and closers, and Hugo shortlisted episodes, and sometimes a couple of extra episodes we love as our blogging points. Just for fun!

THE END OF TIME

The Doctor: David Tennant
Wilf: Bernard Cribbins
The Master: John Simm
Rassilon: Timothy Dalton
The Woman Who Is Not Confirmed In Any Way As The Doctor’s Mother: Claire Bloom
Donna: Catherine Tate
Rose: Billie Piper
Martha: Freema Agyeman
Mickey: Noel Clarke
Jack Harkness: John Barrowman
Sarah Jane: Elisabeth Sladen

TEHANI:
*sniff* I had been determined not to become a Tennant fangirl, but I admit it, he really won me over, particularly in Season Four, and coming to the end of his run is a bit sad. I mainlined so much of him when I first watched these that I found myself adopting Tennant-esque speech patterns and idiosyncrasies (“What? What?!”), which could be rather embarrassing.

That said, I’m afraid so much of this story leaves me a bit cold after multiple watchings, and some of it REALLY doesn’t make sense! There’s a lot to like about it, but there are some absolutely bizarre elements as well. I don’t think it helps that it has come of the back of some really cinematic episodes in the specials, but feels somehow smaller again – maybe just me?

TANSY:
I agree that very little of this story makes sense, or bears any kind of critical viewing. Having said that, I’m a million times more fond of it than any of the other Specials. I can’t explain why! I think perhaps because it has more emotional resonance than the rest of them put together, and possibly I am still deeply affected by how damn exciting it was to watch the first episode pretty close to live (within 24 hours of it screening!) – so many interesting questions, revelations and set pieces in that first episode, even if OK VERY FEW OF THEM are paid off in any way, or followed up on.

DAVID:
Wow, I can see this is going to be an interesting discussion! I really enjoyed this one, and thought that, with a few exceptions which I am sure we will get to, was very strongly written throughout. And, I personally found it a lot bigger in scope than some of the other specials, and definitely thought it far more satisfying than the last Master appearance – the three part “Utopia/Sounds of Drums/Last of the Time Lords”.

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TANSY:
There are so many individual scenes in this that are delightful Doctor Who, even if it’s all stuck together with duct tape, fairy glitter and damned cheek.

The early scenes on the Ood world, for instance, are mesmerising and weird and full of possibilities … that never actually get paid off. But great scenes. Likewise, the Master’s acolytes and his wife fighting it out as to whether he will return to life, using potions and lipstick – every inch of it is ridiculous, but the performances are great, Lucy Saxon’s in particular.

I don’t have the common fan reaction of “POTIONS?” to this scene, because dude, let’s talk about the Sisterhood of Karn for a minute. Mystical claptrap has been part of Time Lord lore for a long time … though the use of a word so associated now with the Harry Potter Lexicon was a touch mismanaged. I do wonder if fan reaction would have been the same if they had used ‘philtres’ or ‘elixirs’. Meanwhile, I save my exasperation for the ‘she bears his imprint’ line and the lipstick on the tissue, because COME ON.

(Cue Time Crash and the ‘does he still have a beard?’ line that I still can’t quite believe David Tennant said out loud)
Continue reading

A Conversational Journey through New Who – The Next Doctor / Planet of the Dead / The Waters of Mars

David is coming to New Who for the first time, having loved Classic Who as a kid. Tehani is a recent convert, and ploughed through Seasons 1 to 6 (so far) in just a few weeks after becoming addicted thanks to Matt Smith – she’s rewatching to keep up with David! Tansy is the expert in the team, with a history in Doctor Who fandom that goes WAY back, and a passion for Doctor Who that inspires us all.

We are working our way through New Who, using season openers and closers, and Hugo shortlisted episodes, and sometimes a couple of extra episodes we love as our blogging points. Just for fun!

The Next Doctor / Planet of the Dead /The Waters of Mars (2010)

The Doctor: David Tennant
The Next Doctor: David Morrissey
Rosita: Velile Tshabalala
Miss Hartigan: Dervla Kirwan
Lady Christina de Souza: Michelle Ryan
Adelaide Brooke: Lindsey Duncan

TEHANI:
Well, David, we’re on the final countdown with David Tennant’s run as the Doctor. For me, getting to these episodes was bittersweet, as I had already watched all Matt Smith’s episodes and had then gone back to start with Eccleston and work my way forward to where I started. After the lovely get together of all the gang in the last two episodes of Season Four proper, and then the hideous ending that poor Donna got, these specials are a really interesting change of pace, as the Doctor flits about on his own, essentially. The way it affects him, his decision making, his self-image, all that stuff, is what makes these stand-alone episodes wholly discussion-worthy!

In some ways, having just finished watching the last episode of Season 7, I have to suggest (to Tansy, cover your eyes David!) that these specials are almost the forerunner, stylistically, to the latest season – very much episodic by nature, grand scale, almost movie-like in presentation. What do you think?

TANSY:
In presentation yes there’s a similarity, though I was not very impressed with the year of specials at the time – after four years of regular, reliable Doctor Who, it was gutting to wait so long between episodes, and for several of them (I’m looking at “Planet of the Dead” in particular) to be so disappointingly slight. I think Series 7 achieved the movie event style effect far better, probably because I like the writing and characters better.

Without a regular character (and Donna in particular) to ground him, it felt like the Tenth Doctor was far more of a distant character, moving further away from us. Maybe not a bad thing because we had to think about weaning ourselves off him?

DAVID:
He seemed to be drifting, like he had lost whatever anchor it was that held him close to humanity.

TEHANI:
Do you think that was deliberate? They had to know they were working up to Tennant leaving, after all?

TANSY:
Oh, they knew. It had been announced he was leaving well before “The Next Doctor,” and I think Matt Smith was introduced to the nation (in an actual TV special) shortly after that. In a recent Verity we described it as being like an awkward, dragged-out break up where a couple split, but keep living together until the lease on their house runs out.

TEHANI:
We start out with “The Next Doctor”, the title of which I can only imagine sent the fans into spasms at the time! Actually the Christmas special that year, I have to say I absolutely loved it! I loved that the villain was a hard as nails woman, absolutely a product of the time but not afraid to take an opportunity when she saw it. I ADORED the steampunk-ish elements of the story. I was completely enamoured with David Morrissey’s “Doctor”, and the story that went along with that. And I’m not a huge Cybermen fan, but I really did like this story.

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TANSY:
“The Next Doctor” a style over substance kind of story for me – like most of the specials. Oh so pretty, but not a huge amount to it.

TEHANI:
Pretty matters!

TANSY:
I’m not sure anyone really bought that David Morrissey was really going to be one of our Doctors but it was fascinating to speculate on who the hell he really was – a very clever central idea. A little disappointing he didn’t turn out to be the Meddling Monk in disguise, though.

I am a sucker for ‘classic Doctor Who monsters in historical storylines’, so enjoyed that aspect. And I did very much like the way that the episode kicked at the mythology of the show – looking at what makes the Doctor the Doctor by creating another one and having our Doctor pretend to be his companion. David Morrissey felt very convincing as a Doctor – I think his “Victorian gent with panache” interpretation of the role is the sort of thing we expected when the show first came back in 2005 (it also reflects the style choices made around Paul McGann’s Doctor) and because of Blackpool, Morrissey was an actor much speculated as a front runner for the role.

The two Davids worked brilliantly together – enough to make me sad that the show never really gave the ‘male companion’ thing a chance for more than a few episodes at a time … during the RTD era, anyway!

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TEHANI:
What didn’t work for me? I wasn’t really sold on Rosita – I think I appreciated what they tried to do with her, but sadly, she just didn’t get fleshed out enough to do the character justice. And the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man-style robot creature stomping across the landscape made me laugh, rather than perhaps a more appropriate reaction!

TANSY:
Well, it is a Christmas special. Important to remember these are all designed to be watched after everyone’s been eating and drinking too much all day. Speaking of which, the big gosh wow moment was the time stamp which showed us images of all the previous Doctors – we’d only seen them physically represented on screen in the sketches in The Journal of Impossible Things back in “Human Nature/The Family of Blood”, so this was a big deal.

DAVID:
It’s funny you mention about it being a Christmas special, because for the first ten minutes or so I couldn’t get my head around this episode, then I realised that it was *meant* to be a little over the top and something clicked. I enjoyed it much more after that!

I was trying to work out why David Morrissey looked so familiar, and then I realised he is the Governor from The Walking Dead! That was a surreal moment. But, I really enjoyed his character, and I’d be happy if they brought him back to play Twelve – Astra style (though I am aware that won’t happen)! Rosita was an excellent Companion, and I enjoyed their dynamic. It was also interesting seeing the Doctor get to see what things must look from the outside.

TANSY:
Oh and Dervla Kirwan is brilliant in this, especially the scene with The Red Dress, but it’s a shame her character makes no sense at all. Almost everything she says is so bizarrely scripted, it’s hard to believe that the same person wrote those lovely Doctor-Doctor scenes.

TEHANI:
Oh yes, I liked her a lot!

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DAVID:
I agree that Hartigan made absolutely no sense as a character. We don’t get any real sense of what her motivations are, what she wants, she could have been replaced by any stock villain with no impact on the episode at all (other than losing a brilliant actor). I assume that she was trying break free of a patriarchal society, but that was barely realised. They could have done so much more with her but she left me cold.

I liked the steampunk vibe of this episode, too. But, one area where they shouldn’t have gone that way was with the giant robot. It looked pretty awesome, but didn’t really fit in with the Cyberman style. Speaking of the Cybermen, I take it these were the “real” Cybermen, not the Earth 2 version? I liked the transparent brain case, a very nice touch. And, the Cybershades were a good addition, too.

TANSY:
I think they’re actually Earth 2 Cybermen because they have the Cybus logo. And the Doctor witters on at one point about them falling through a crack in the universes. So no real ones yet, sorry. Hang in there! Also, the transparent brain case looks awesome in not-Lego form. Raeli has one.

DAVID:
*sigh* Oh well, I will keep waiting. Though, was that a semi-spoiler, Tansy?!

TANSY:
Just because I said ‘yet’ doesn’t mean we’re not still waiting! You know there hasn’t been another Cyberman story since, right?

(Phew, I think I got away with that one)

TEHANI:
This “don’t spoil David” thing is getting harder! Hurry up and catch up!

DAVID:
One of the things I have found interesting is the legitimisation of the Eighth Doctor. For a while I got the feeling people were trying to forget the movie ever happened, but with the Eighth Doctor Adventures, he is definitely well embedded in canon. Showing him here, amongst all the others, reinforces that. And, how many memories did the parade of Doctors Past that bring back? Though, I was hoping they might do a Brain of Morbius and show some future incarnations!

TANSY:
The faces in Brain of Morbius are NOT future incarnations, they are Morbius’ other selves, right? (at least, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it) It would be kind of hilarious if, in ten years time, episodes like this were re-edited, Lucas-style, to include future faces of the Doctor. Can you imagine the fan explosions if that happened?

TEHANI:
I have no idea what the two of you are talking about. So I’ll move on…

I’m a bit ambivalent about “Planet of the Dead”. On one hand I absolutely adored capable, confident, slightly criminal Christina and would happily have seen her travel with the Doctor for a while. I also really enjoyed Lee Evans’ performance as Malcolm, and seeing UNIT again. On the other hand, the plot was just a bit slight, for me.

TANSY:
I seriously hated Christina, which is so rare for me with a companion or companion type. It started out as mild dislike but honestly it gets worse every time I watch this one. The whole ‘cat-burglar with a heart’ thing is such an old-fashioned style of character type and we learn so little about her to move her beyond the stereotype. The posh accent and cavalier attitude towards everyone around her doesn’t do her any favours. I honestly don’t see why she earned her happy ending, and would have thought much better of the Doctor if he had let her be arrested for her crimes (COS CRIMES) and then met her when she emerged from prison years later, handing over the keys to the flying bus then.

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Planet of the Dead 60s style – http://www.colinbrockhurst.co.uk/

TEHANI:
I know you’re right, morally and logically (and actually, I really wish we DID know more about her and her life and journey, which is kind of why I would watch more of her) … but I still loved her :)

TANSY:
Back in 1989 the plan was for the next post-Ace character to be a posh catburglar girl, with the production crew wanting someone like Catherine Zeta-Jones or Julia Sawahla to play her. So the idea has been around for a very long time … but I don’t think it works in the 21st century. Maybe if they’d set the story in the 1960s?

DAVID:
They really could have just called her Catwoman, couldn’t they? But, they did have great chemistry! My favourite “companion” in this was actually Malcolm! I thought he was hilarious – very Frank Spencer!

TEHANI:
YES! Frank Spencer, exactly!

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DAVID:
I didn’t mind this episode at all, I liked the idea of creatures that had evolved into predators moving from world to world. We talked earlier about the idea of an ecosystem of time, well this an ecosystem on a interplanetary scale. And, I always enjoy non humanoid, hideous aliens that don’t turn out to be the bad guys.

TANSY:
I will admit that the aliens were quite good in this, and the filming looked spectacular. But it is, sadly, my least favourite Doctor Who story involving a bus.

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TEHANI:
“The Waters of Mars” is the episode which won the Hugo in 2010 (all three of these Specials were nominated), and I think it’s probably well-deserved. The dramatic tension of the plot and excellent performances by all guest actors make it an all around fantastic episode that I continue to enjoy re-watching. That said, the ending MAKES NO SENSE TO ME! Please, someone explain how the heck this could still work?!

TANSY:
The ending of “The Waters of Mars” doesn’t work. It’s ridiculous – an insult of an ending. The ultimate tacked on (it was a last minute script change) gratuitous death because it turns the whole story into one big narrative mess.

TEHANI:
I’M SO GLAD YOU SAID THAT!

TANSY:
And it’s such a shame because otherwise “The Waters of Mars” is a fascinating, well made story. A very well scripted base-under-siege story which looks actively at the Doctor’s responsibility when it comes to meeting famous people in history. The cast is brilliant, especially our own Peter O’Brien (love him, love him always, ever since The Flying Doctors) sporting his Aussie accent loud and proud, and the marvellous Lindsay Duncan as Adelaide Brooke. (does anyone remember when there was a fan theory that the water theme for female companion/characters was significant because River, Brooke, Pond? Hilarious). The scene in which the Doctor tells Adelaide about her granddaughter’s destiny is one of the best bits of Doctor Who of all time – a marvellous Doctory moment.

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DAVID:
What an amazing cast! Peter O’Brien is instantly recognisable, and adds a nice sense of history between him and the Captain, and has that air of capability about him, but the real star here is Lindsay Duncan. What an incredible performance, and what a great character. If we had written the report card after the specials she would have been my pick, by far.

And no, I avoided fan theories like the plague! lol

TANSY:
The situation where the Doctor has to LET people die because it’s a famous point in history, and then he decides to save them anyway … that’s such a perfect Doctor Who set up. Seeing the Doctor walk away from the base knowing they are all going to die … and then turning back because he’s the Doctor and he has to try and save them anyway. PERFECT DOCTOR WHO.

Likewise, him being drunk on his own power for breaking all the laws of time is a great moment, and should have been the note on which the story ended. It would have led far better into the finale. Adelaide bringing him ‘down to earth’ with her suicide simply spoils the effect as well as making NO SENSE AT ALL. It feels like it was there to hurt the Doctor and the viewers, regardless of what it did to the story.

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If she was going to kill herself to save the future, why on earth have her do it inside the house where her family would find her, thereby affecting the timeline? If they’d shown that her gun dematerialised bodies at least that would work, but they didn’t. And what about the cute kids who ran off hand in hand, what changes have they wrought to the timeline by surviving? The co-writers wrote themselves into a corner and then failed to climb out again. Such a waste of an otherwise excellent production.

TEHANI:
I know! It made no sense, and otherwise, that story was so darn good. I’ve watched this one a bunch of times now, and each time I think, ‘maybe now I’ll figure out how it worked’, and each time I get to the end and go, ‘what the heck?’ I’ll stop trying to understand now!

DAVID:
It’s interesting you say that, because to me it made perfect sense. Even though the Doctor has always played a little fast and loose with the laws of Time, he has always operated within certain boundaries, both voluntarily because it is the right thing to do, and in an involuntary fashion, because Time protects itself and generally acts to bring things reasonably close to how they were meant to be, even if there are slight variations.

The idea of a Doctor who not only doesn’t feel any moral constraints to not go around changing Time, but actually has nothing stopping him from doing so, is a pretty scary one. Logically, where would it stop? I thought the idea of the ending, whether it was executed well or not, is that there are still consequences if you play with Time, even for the Doctor. Whether it was Adelaide showing a greater degree of wisdom of the Doctor and sacrificing herself to do what she saw as the right thing, or Time itself forcing the lines of history back on track, it shows that the Doctor is not God and above every law of the universe – moral or scientific.

TEHANI:
No, see I got that that’s what they were TRYING for, but it still doesn’t make any sense, for the reasons Tansy says above. It’s not the same as dying in an unknown way on a far off planet, not by any stretch…

DAVID:
But, that’s the thing – that’s how she was meant to die, but the Doctor interfered. Adelaide was willing to do what needed to be done, even if the Doctor wasn’t. It may not have been the same, but in the end it had the same effect and the timeline was preserved. However, I may just be giving the writers WAY too much credit!

Of course, there is something problematic about a strong woman character being killed off to motivate the male lead. Isn’t that the definition of fridging?

SteffiFlooded

TANSY:
Yes it is absolutely. And I do think you’re giving the writers too much credit, David! They evidently intended to do what you suggest, but I think they wasted the opportunity with a dodgy dismount.

This one is the only Doctor Who of the RTD era which I categorically will not let my daughter watch (she has also self-selected not to watch “Blink”). The combination of the horror imagery, the lingering and I think indulgently violent deaths during the evacuation, and then Brooke’s suicide makes the whole thing entirely inappropriate for family viewing as far as I’m concerned. The prosthetics look astounding but they are so creepy! A very adult piece of science fiction, in the end, which feels disappointingly less like Doctor Who than I want it to.

TEHANI:
I think that’s absolutely a fair assessment. And with that, I think we’re ready to move on … to the end of Tennant’s reign as Doctor *sniff*

Previous Episodes

“Rose”, S01E01
“Dalek”, S01E06
“Father’s Day”, S01E08
“The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances”, S01E09/10
“Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways”, S01E12/13
Season One Report Card – DavidTansyTehani
“The Christmas Invasion”, 2005 Christmas Special
“New Earth”, S02E01
“School Reunion”, S02E03
“The Girl in the Fireplace”, S02E04
“Rise of the Cybermen/Age of Steel”, S02E05/06
“Army of Ghosts/Doomsday”, S02E12/13
Season Two Report Card – David, Tansy, Tehani
“Smith and Jones”, S03E01
“The Shakespeare Code/Gridlock”, S03E02/03″
“Human Nature/Family of Blood”. S03E08/09″
“Blink”. S03E10″
“Utopia/The Sound of Drums/Last of the Timelords”, S03E12/13/14
Classic Who Conversation podcast – Spearhead from Space (1970)
Season Three Report CardDavid, Tansy, Tehani
Classic Who Conversation podcast – Genesis of the Daleks (1975)
“Partners in Crime”, S04E01
The Sontaran Stratagem/The Poison Sky, S04E0708
“Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead, S04E0910
Turn Left, S0411
The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End,S04E1213
Season Four Report Card – David, Tansy, Tehani