Doctor Who: Mummy on the Orient Express (2014)

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Hello. I’m so pleased to finally see you. I’m the Doctor and I will be your victim this evening. Are you my mummy?”

One might get the impression that all I do each and every day is sit around watching British science fiction, but let’s get real here – I waste time with a lot of other stuff too! Pro Wrestling! TV! And Anime! All kidding aside, I wanted to start this review out talking about my love for space trains, you heard me right – trains all flying around in space for some reason or another. I chalk this all up to my love for the visionary Japanese manga creator Leiji Matsumoto and his epic series of space opera works including one called Galaxy Express 999. Originally written in the late 70’s, Three-Nine introduced me to a fantastical world where space travel was made more comfortable by echoing the past and looking back at the golden age of travel. Of course Mr. Matsumoto’s works also contemplated what is really meant to be human, and what it means to be loved in a universe where people seem to be abandoning such concepts. It was a little more than just the concept of the space trains I went for. I’m not going to lie though, I cheered on the inside when I saw the trailer for this episode.

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I’m not writing here about Galaxy Express 999 specifically, but I wanted to briefly point out a few thematic similarities between it and a few episodes of Doctor Who, chiefly Voyage of the Damned and Mummy on the Orient Express. If you like these episodes, you might seek the show out on Hulu. My love for the similar material has made me love these episodes quite a bit, despite the fact that I know for sure VotD was pretty unpopular with most fans. That’s how I am though, if I feel inspired by certain things in an episode, I love them no matter what, case and point was my adoration for Rings of Akhaten. I think it all goes back to that feeling of comfort in keeping things simple. Perhaps, that’s a world I’d love to live in: just as modern but somehow not as plastic and disposable….comfortable. Many folks may be scared of the dreaded mechanization and inhumanity of our present technological progress, dressing it up like older more simpler times may be the way to go. That’s at least what Leiji Matsumoto saw, and coincidentally what it seems a few Doctor Who episodes echo.

It has been a few weeks since the complete meltdown by Clara directed towards The Doctor. She has come to realize that she doesn’t actually hate him, and that she wants to travel one last time with him – “The Last Hurrah!” if you will. They arrive sometime in the future aboard a space train that has been modeled after the legendary Orient Express, with many of its passengers in period outfits. The Doctor quips that “There were many trains to take the name Orient Express, but only one in space.” It seems that they have arrived right after a mysterious death, perhaps even murder, in which an older lady claimed she was being attacked by “a mummy”, as in Egyptian dead person style mummy. After The Doctor does some research, he discovers that there seems to be a pattern with these mummy attacks – everyone claims to be chased by a mummy, and they die exactly 66 seconds later after a flash of light. This also seems to correlate to a myth that another passenger, Prof. Moorhouse, reiterates about the legend of a supernatural being called the Foretold.

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Suspicious of the ships computer system, Gus (voiced by John Sessions) and the fact that multiple people on the train seem to know a bit too much about the Foretold, The Doctor puts together that the train ride must not be a coincidence and that they have been brought there deliberately to solve the mystery. Suddenly everyone realizes that they have been duped by someone who is allowing Gus to force all of the various scientists, doctors, and engineers aboard to figure it out or die trying. Much to her fury, The Doctor even confesses to Clara that the mysterious figure that brought him to the Orient Express “even phoned the TARDIS once”. Astute fans might recall a line from The Big Bang, in which The Eleventh Doctor, answering the TARDIS phone, replies “an Egyptian goddess loose on the Orient Express, in space? A bunch more people die, and eventually The Doctor figures it all out.

I noticed last week that The Doctor seemed to be outright channeling Tom Baker a few times, and it seems like this has been kept going for this episode. The most blatant use of this is the discovery that The Doctor now keeps Jelly Babies, the candy that The Fourth Doctor always carried around, in a silver cigarette case.

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It is later explained that our nefarious mummy is actually an ancient warrior that has somehow been kept alive long past it’s own expiration. This is due to a faulty life support system that basically doomed the poor soul to warp around absorbing life force to keep fighting the long forgotten war that it was still fighting. In some ways, this almost makes The Foretold a creature not unlike a rogue cyberman – desperately trying to do what it can to survive in an almost mindless manner. The Foretold was pretty scary for a mummy considering we’ve all been around various mummy stories for upwards of 80-100 years. Usually these mindless beasts are nothing more than cursed specters that attack anyone in sight but are easy to foil. The Foretold, however, can teleport, change it’s dimensional phase to only appear to certain people, and ruthlessly kill just about anyone in under a minute. A far cry from the one Abbott and Costello fought. On a side note: I am glad that, upon the realization that The Foretold was actually a soldier, The Doctor didn’t slip into another anti-military rant as those are starting to get a bit forced.

Thankfully this episode doesn’t end with a gigantic fight between Clara and The Doctor, as she finally seems to be certain that he is a good man – manipulative perhaps, but good at his core. She did promise her now boyfriend Danny Pink that she was done with her travels, so I can see some more Doctor vs Danny drama coming up. Since we’re past the halfway point, and it’s rumored that Jenna Coleman isn’t going to be on the show much after the Christmas special, I want to see a few episodes where there isn’t tons of tension between the characters. I always hated most of the Peter Davison era because characters like Tegan and Adric were constantly at his throat, and I really do not want a return to that tone.

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What can I say? Show me a space train, and I’ll enjoy the hell out of it. Yeah, the mummy was a bit silly in space, and we didn’t find out who the real villain was (hopefully it’s shown later) but it was a solid episode nonetheless. I really enjoyed the atmosphere, the majority of the side-characters, and even that cool version of Queen’s Don’t stop me Now sung by pop singer Foxes. This was another almost legitimately scary episode, and the body count may prove that this was potentially a bit much for some kids. I’m glad the show is getting creepier, as the horror episodes are some of my favorites.

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Doctor Who: Kill The Moon (2014)

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Oh, well you’re just going to have to shoot us, then. Shoot the little girl first. Yes, she doesn’t wanna stand there watch us getting shot, does she? She’d be terrified. Girl first, then her teacher, and then me. You’ll have to spend a lot of time shooting me because I will keep on regenerating. In fact, I’m not entirely sure if I won’t keep on regenerating forever.”

My apologies for being so behind on these reviews! My plan was to watch and review each of these on Sunday, but boy did that get away from me. Nonetheless, let’s get down to business. Season eight of Doctor Who continues to be pretty awesome, and while there have been a few merely average episodes this season, I’d say it has been the most consistent season since Matt Smith’s season five. So far, my favorite story has been Listen, which was a total surprise to me because I didn’t expect to enjoy it much. So, why am I mentioning this during my review of Kill The Moon? It’s because I didn’t think I’d enjoy Kill The Moon prior to the moment I started actually watching it. I thought something like: “Not only does it have a silly title, but what could the premise possibly be?” and “that child actor is in this…uh oh!” I should do this prior to everything I watch, because BOY was a mistaken.

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Our episode begins with Clara speaking on behalf of Courtney Woods, the girl from the previous episode – The Caretaker, attempting to rejoin The Doctor within the Tardis, or to at least clean up the horrible mess she made when she was last there. The Doctor decides to take them up on the offer and go on a “field trip of sorts”. This trip lands them on a one-way suicide mission to The Moon via a re-purposed space shuttle filled to the brim with nuclear warheads. It seems that in 2049 tides got out of hand killing much of the Earth’s population. Not sure what was really going on, the earth somehow decided that it was a great idea to nuke the moon for a chance at survival. It is discovered that the moon is actually a huge egg that is about to hatch, and the moral implications of killing a huge “space baby” for no reason other than fear upsets Clara quite a bit. The Doctor is willing to let this transpire, but he wants no involvement in the decision – leaving it up to Clara, Courtney and The captain of the mission to figure out the fate of the moon – and possibly humanity.

The “monster of the week” for this episode is actually pretty horrifying and should play on anyone with any sort of arachnophobia. There are some truly unsettling things on the moon like the deaths of multiple supporting characters and web-covered corpses strewn about for quick jumps. I’d imagine that this is an episode that would freak little kids out pretty bad, because I recall being horrified by the titular hand in The Hand of Fear, and that was a cheap special effect in comparison to these guys. Not only are the “Spider-germs” pretty menacing in appearance, but their brutality is so inhumane that it’s unsettling. It was sort of silly that they were fought off using Windex and flashlights (it’s revealed that they are evolved bacteria essentially), but I guess other films have done stuff like that to critical success, so I’ll try not to be too cynical.

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Thankfully my fears about Ellis George reprising her role as Courtney Woods were not realized. I’m not going to say that she blew me away with her acting ability, or that she was the highlight of the episode, but she at least kept from annoying me. Sometimes it’s the small things that count! Child actors usually get placed in shows like this as the “moody genius kid” or “sassy street-wise kid” and become almost insufferable ten minutes into their first appearance. Courtney is no Wesley Crusher or Adric thankfully, as she doesn’t simply exist to be sassy and spout one-liners or try to make other characters look dumb.

We once again are faced with the question as to whether The Doctor is a good man or not, and this seems like the ultimate iteration of this ongoing theme. Channeling his inner Seventh Doctor, The Doctor seemingly ends up abandoning everyone in order to force them to choose whether or not to blow up the moon. This is sort of similar to that time Sylvester McCoy‘ Doc treated Ace like garbage to get her to loose faith in him in order to defeat the monster in The Curse of Fenric. Peter Capaldi is once again very awesome, and usually straddles the line between being hilarious and terrifying at the drop of a hat.

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Clara once again yells at the Doctor in this story, and while I like the character development I hope this begins to be the end of this theme. The Doctor is a jerk, yes, but we have seen him warming in the last few episodes to a degree that I just want them to be friends now.

I did get sort of irritated when I ventured online to gauge what the general fan consensus to this episode was like. Most seemed to enjoy it, but a loud minority seemed determined to hate it because of the scientific implausibility of the the whole thing. Sure, it’s weird that the moon was revealed to be a giant space egg, but it’s not like Doctor Who is particularly “hard” on the scale of what sort of science fiction it is, it’s always been more of a space opera. But there I was, knee-deep in annoying comments saying “the classic series was ONLY grounded in science!!”. This is laughable, because I can immediately think of TONS of older episodes with laughable science. Hell, my favorite Hartnell episode, The Dalek Invasion of Earth, centers on the premise that the Daleks have somehow made it to Earth because Earth is the only planet with a magnetic core. What followed was a plan that involved hollowing the earth out and flying it around like a spaceship. So any notion that, prior to 2005, Doctor Who was in a similar vein to something like Gravity is, quite frankly, laughable.

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This episode is pretty notable for how amazing it looks, considering I’ve seen big budget films that do a worse job of conveying the lunar surface than this. The episode was under the helm of two newcomers to the show, as it was written by Peter Harness and directed by Paul Wilmshurst. They are both formerly BAFTA nominated industry veterans, so it seems like a great choice to bring them both on board. Many lunar shots were filmed around a volcanic area in Lanzarote, Spain, which seems like a great stand-in for the actual lunar surface. It’s at least a far cry from the “rock quarry” planets we get used to in many science fiction TV shows.

The story is also pretty intelligently written, seeing that it seems to be a commentary on our penchant to kill anything we don’t like, issues with funding for space travel, and to a lesser degree – abortion. These are all pretty mature themes for a show like this, and I felt that it was handled in such a way that adults can see these sorts of things, and kids will just enjoy the monsters. In the episode, The Doctor reveals that because of the brief re-interest in what happened with the Moon, humanity would be rekindled to travel to the stars, helping them to spread across the universe, and then assures Lundvik that she will now have a real space program to lead. With constant set-backs to manned space travel as of late, I can see Lundvik’s space travels in a very similar vein to how it is now – we don’t travel out of wonder or discovery, but because of the opposite. It’s a pretty epic ending to a Doctor Who episode, and makes me wish a similar thing would happen in real life – minus the apocalyptic tsunamis of course.

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As you can see, I really enjoyed Kill the Moon. I think it’s another one of those episodes, like Listen, that seemed like it was going to be a totally different thing than what it ended up being, and it’s this playfulness with the format of the show that has made me love season 8. In fact, the few times I thought an episode was sort of lame, was when they followed older conventions to a fault. I loved all of the throwbacks to Tom Baker, especially small partial quotes that he was notable for like “Earth isn’t my home” and his use of a Yo-yo as a scientific experiment. The next episode looks amazing,so I’lll end my review here, and hopefully I’ll get caught up before this run of episodes stops!

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Doctor Who: The Caretaker (2014)

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The Russell T. Davies era of Doctor Who was largely characterized by merging the sci-fi tropes of the classic show with a more modern soap opera veneer that seemingly originated from a handful of Joss Whedon-penned shows i.e. Buffy. What this usually meant is that most episodes veered into the realm of the common soap opera more times than not, and anything other than the tension between the characters played “second fiddle” when it was all over. Gareth Roberts seems to be harkening back to these times with his new episode, The Caretaker, a fact that is no surprise since he worked with Davies for years on both Doctor Who and The Sarah Jane Adventures. So let’s take a trip back in time for a retro episode of “new-Who” if there ever could be such a thing!

The Caretaker is more of a character piece that follows The Doctor’s apparent intrusion into the personal life of his companion, Clara. At first the viewer is almost led to believe that he is doing this simply to spy on her love life, but thankfully it seems that he does actually have business there. It seems that there has been alien activity near the school, and it’s nothing small – our villain is a monster dubbed a Skovox Blitzer and The Doctor states that it’s powerful enough to destroy the entire planet. Using Coal Hill as as staging post, he has taken on the guise of a part-time caretaker (for us US fans, that’s basically a janitor / maintenance man), once again dusting of his alias “John Smith”.

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The first half of this episode really reminded me of the season two episode School Reunion for a few reasons other than simply the setting. This was why I compared this to a Davies-era episode in the grand scheme of things. This changes pretty abruptly, however, as we start to see the real purpose for this episode – The Doctor being a jerk to Danny Pink. With his sudden hatred of soldiers, it was no wonder that The Doctor wasn’t going to get along with Danny, and this almost seems worse than the abrasive Ninth Doc/Mickey relationship.

Not only is The Doctor under the assumption that Danny is in some way unable to think for himself (he can only take orders you know) he seems to see him as a buffoon despite his actual intelligence. Take, for instance, the many times where Danny is referred to as “coach” despite every correction that he is in fact a math teacher. It’s like The Doctor has a multitude of awful prejudices against soldiers and he’s jealously applying them to Danny because he’s jealous of Danny keeping Clara away from himself 24/7. Then again, It’s funny that The Doctor was perfectly happy to have been under the impression that Clara’s new main squeeze was a bow-tied Shakespeare teacher, so it really is just the soldier thing putting him off.

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These interactions between the two were hard to watch, mainly because it’s hard to see the main character of a show come across so abrasive and borderline unlikable. It’s especially off-putting because The Doctor has never been like this – considering he was pretty close to people like Yates, Benton, The Brigadier, and even The Brig’s daughter. Now it’s as if he’s been hanging out with flower children and conspiracy nuts for the past hundred years. Thankfully Danny isn’t “the new Mickey” and dished it right back at his attacker, accusing him of being a typical elitist military officer, something that seems to infuriate The Doctor.

I wasn’t a huge fan of the villain this week since it was basically just a plot device to allow for Danny and The Doctor to engage in verbal fisticuffs. The Skovox Blitzer itself looked cool in the trailers until one realizes that it’s a puppet on crab legs. after the awesomeness of The Teller last episode, I was hoping for more to be honest. This episode did thankfully have the return of everyone’s favorite evil Mary Poppins with Missy, now sporting a companion of sorts named Seb. They have taken the whole Heaven/Promised Land thing to the next level having a waiting room that could be seen as a modern interpretation of “The pearly Gates” of Biblical lore. I seriously cannot wait until we find out what her actual plan is pretty soon.

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There was a surprise in that we got another new companion this week, and no it wasn’t Danny (grr!). It was that “class clown” disruptive girl we keep seeing peppered into each episode being a jerk to Clara. Courtney stumbles on The Doctor messing with his Tardis, and basically ends up conning her way into traveling with him. This of course causes her to puke and whine about the whole ordeal. Now, I’m not a fan at all of child actors in Doctor Who, and Courtney is no different. If she becomes a “main character” of some sort she better grow as a character and not just be there to make wise cracks because that will get OLD very quickly.

In conclusion, this was probably the weakest episode so far in a VERY good season. Gareth Roberts is pretty hit or miss for me – when he’s good, he’s really good like in his books or The Lodger, but when he’s bad he’s pretty atrocious like Planet of the Dead. This is somewhere in the middle of those examples, which is disappointing. I still love Capaldi as The Doctor, Clara is being better than ever, and Courtney was passable so it wasn’t all bad. I say this because I sometimes come across as hating an episode when I only found it average. Now if Danny ever gets to travel in The Tardis, I’ll be a very happy man!

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Doctor Who: Time Heist (2014)

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“This is a recorded message. I am the Architect. Your last memory is of receiving a contact from an unknown agency – me. Everything since has been erased from your minds. Now pay close attention to this briefing. This is the Bank of Karabraxos, the most secure bank in the galaxy; a fortress for the super-rich. If you can afford your own star system, this is where you keep it. No one sets foot on the planet without protocols. All movement is monitored, all air consumption regulated. DNA is authenticated at every stage. Intruders will be incinerated.”

Stephen Thompson’s last foray into Doctor Who writing was last year’s somewhat lackluster Journey to the Centre of the Tardis, an episode that I didn’t hate, but characterized as “well done from an atmosphere and effects standpoint, but [a failure] with the writing.” Thompson seems like a decent enough writer, considering his work on Sherlock, but I feel that he gets too trapped in the mindset of finding a theme for each episode he does. So far, his track record with Doctor Who involves a pirate episode with The Curse of the Black Spot, his aforementioned Jules Verne pastiche, and now an Ocean’s Eleven episode. “Theme episodes” work sometimes, but often fall flat as the writer tries to shoehorn all of the characteristic tropes into one episode. It’s fun to have the occasional homage, but constant ones make the show seems like a parody of other shows.

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The episode follows another routine day in the life of The Doctor and Clara until they get a phone call on the Tardis phone. The scene suddenly jumps to an entirely different room with a handful of strangers as they watch videos explaining that they have all willfully erased their memories for some reason. They discover a briefcase left by a mystery person simply named “The Architect”, only hearing his digitally altered voice. The briefcase contains plans to rob the impregnable vaults of the Bank of Karabraxos for some reason. While The Doctor usually doesn’t do things like rob banks, whatever his reasons, this seems important. The group takes items from the case designed to aid them in their caper, and head to the bank. They have no memories of why they are doing it, or who sent them, but it seems like the right thing to do under the circumstances.

The supporting cast was very decent in this episode including those “strangers” I spoke of. It appears that “The Architect” has enlisted two specialists with what could be considered “powers” to aid The Doctor. Psi, played by Jonathan Bailey, has a computer enhanced brain like something out of a 80’s cyberpunk story, and Saibra, played by Pippa Bennett-Warner, can shape shift into another being by simply touching them. They, of course, have their own motivations for the robbery, and it seems that everyone involved is in this to get something VERY important.

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I really liked seeing Keeley Hawes as Ms. Delphox, the ruthless chief of bank security, since I have enjoyed her in many shows in the past. I was one of those folks, that when comparing the two, actually loved Ashes to Ashes better than its predecessor Life on Mars, the former having starred Hawes in the leading role. She is almost like a “Bond Villain” in Time Heist, down to the silly part where she explains all of her motivations, then leaves the room so that The Doctor and company can escape her clutches. All she needed was a big interrogation laser, well, I guess she had “The Teller”.

This week’s “monster” was pretty awesome and somewhat different to the sort of monsters we’re used to seeing in Doctor Who. “The Teller” is a psychic creature, said to be the last of his kind, that uses psychic abilities to determine motive in anyone it comes across. If anyone has even so much as a thought about a way to defraud the Bank of Karabraxos, the terrifying hammer-headed beast will turn their mind to “soup”, which is every bit as gruesome as it sounds. From the first moments that we see “The Teller” accompanied by handlers, a straight jacket, and crunchy guitar riff, you can tell The Doctor is going to have trouble this week.

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Time Heist is sort of jarring in that it uses the literary technique of the “unreliable narrator” in that we don’t get much explanation as to what is happening and are somewhat misled until the end of the episode. The way The Architect’s plan plays itself out reminds me of some of the sillier stuff from those “Bill and Ted” movies where they set things up with time travel to aid in the present. In Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey, for instance, the titular characters went through and “set up” convenient Deus-Ex-Machina type things to get them out of sticky situations – like hidden guns and the like. In Doctor Who, we see characters seemingly die, then come back later at the “nick of time” as if it’s all according to one big plan.

Time Heist is better than Journey to the Centre of the Tardis and The Curse of the Black Spot in that Stephen Thompson went a bit more abstract than the usual “theme episode”. This episode is by no means a classic, and has silly logic, but it was entertaining none-the-less. Keeley Hawes and “The Teller” were highlights for me, and I honestly hope we get to see both make a return at some point, although I’m not holding my breath.

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Doctor Who: Listen (2014)

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For me, there has never been an episode as deceiving, and surprising, as Listen. At first, I was under the impression that this was going to be a straight-forward horror episode, in a similar vein to last year’s Hide. This was “egged on” by a trailer that reveled in the creepy aspects of the episode, leaving no question to me exactly what we were going to be getting. I like these sorts of episodes a bit, but usually find them to be somewhat worse than other episodes due to the tendency to overdo the explanation for whatever supernatural creature they “seem” to be fighting. That’s not a ghost! It’s merely a time traveler trapped in a parallel dimension! That’s not a vampire! That’s an alien from the deepest outer-reaches of space! You get the idea. Then I watched the episode and everything changed. While the beginning segment of the episode was a straight forward “creep out” exercise by Steven Moffat, what followed was quite possibly some of his most clever writing since Blink.

I’m going to do far more of a recap than usual, because this is not an episode that simply needs a one paragraph blurb to get the point across. In fact, I have no idea how to express the plot of this other than actually analyzing it, and you will soon see why.

Question. Why is there no such thing as perfect hiding? Answer! How would you know? Logically, if evolution were to prefect a creature whose primary skill were to hide from view – how could you know it existed? It could be with us every second and we would never know. How would you detect it, even sense it… except in those moments when, for no clear reason, you choose to speak aloud? What would such a creature want? What would it do? Well? What would you do?

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Listen opens with the long-awaited date between Danny Pink and Clara Oswald that was hinted at few episodes ago. As one can imagine, this does not go well at all, and both parties end up awkwardly offending each other in probably the worst way possible. Clara once again mentions something that offhandedly seems to be a reference to Danny’s buried past, and he lashes out at her – ruining the date. Disheartened, Clara goes to the Tardis to meet a Doctor that seems to have been left alone to ponder something for far too long.

It seems he has become completely consumed with the idea that every living being has a constant companion, an entity that is with us at all times, watching us, experiencing all we experience. Being a bit into western esotericism, this almost seemed to hint at an old Platonic theory of the eidolon, a “shadow being” that we all have that may or may not be our actual suppressed personality or essence. This isn’t actually referenced in the episode whatsoever, but I was all ready for the possibility that they were going for that and I got excited (LOL). The Doctor’s “theory” is that everyone seems to have the same dream at some point in their lives, a dream in which a hand grabs them from under the bed at night. He asserts that this was no dream, but this entity trying to communicate with us. Clara initially dismisses this wholesale, but agrees to return to her childhood so they can investigate.

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There is a blunder in the Tardis navigation circuits (WHAT!? That never happens!), and instead of visiting Clara’s childhood, they seem to visit a young Rupert Pink, a boy that it is assumed to be none other than Danny. Of course, The Doctor has yet to officially meet Mr. Pink, so he seemingly does not know the significance. Rupert is terrified of a monster under his bed, making him a prime candidate to test The Doctor’s theory. As they discuss the situation, and odd apparition rises from under Rupert’s bed sheets, leading The Doctor to have them turn away from it, ignoring it. While this could be a monster, it also could have merely been another child keen to play a prank on Rupert.

An interesting thing happens here when both Clara and The Doctor seem to “create” Danny Pink by imprinting values and future information on him. Clara suggests he let a toy soldier stand guard for him, which he enjoys the idea of. He’s always been into soldiers, and names one of his toys “Soldier Dan”. Since he hates his real name, we can see this as when he chooses “Danny” as his new alias. Before wiping his mind of their meeting, The Doctor encourages Rupert to see his fear as a “superpower,” because adrenaline will empower him to overcome obstacles and foes. He seems adamant of this, as if he knows something he isn’t telling anyone else. Rupert slips into a deep sleep with his new life as the heroic “Soldier Dan” firmly implanted into his mind.

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This is where the episode veers off into a place where I had no idea it would go. The Doctor and Clara decide to go back to her “date”, mere minutes after she storms off, in order to set things right with Danny. The Doctor isn’t so keen on this, but seems okay as long as he can ponder his theory more. The date still goes poorly, this time with Danny storming out after she accidentally calls him “Rupert”. He assumes that she is making fun of him in some way, and is hurt. A man in an orange spacesuit steps into the diner, and assuming it’s The Doctor, Clara follows him angrily. The man removes his mask to reveal a much older Danny Pink!

The Doctor identifies this man as Orson Pink, one of Earth’s first time travelers, having originally come from over one-hundred years in Clara’s future. The Doctor found him stranded at the end of the universe, where he was on the verge of death and fearing that an entity was trying to kill him. The Doctor theorizes that this is the very same “companion entity” that he was looking for earlier, and that it may be trying to kill Orson since he is the only remaining life in the Universe.

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Orson decided to become a time traveler when he was a child due to things that happened in his upbringing. It is revealed that one of Orson’s great-grandparents told him stories about time travel and that Orson possesses the small toy soldier given to Rupert earlier in the episode. He gives it back saying that she is worthy of his family heirloom. Something happens and our crew attempts to escape the entity and end up in an odd location as the cloister bell rings, a telltale sign of enormous danger.

Clara finds herself in a rickety barn with a crying child in it. She is forced to hide under the bed when two people enter and try and coax the child out of the room. They are concerned that his constant fear of the dark is going to make him a poor soldier, and that he will never become a TIME LORD at his current state. Horrified at what she has heard, Clara accidentally grabs the child’s leg from under the bed.

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It is at this time that she realizes that she has met none other than The Doctor himself as a young boy, and she is the “companion entity” that he is fearful of. She tells him that he is dreaming, and that he needs to channel his fear into something good, a similar idea that The Doctor told a young Rupert Pink. This barn is none other than the rickety old barn seen in “Day of the Doctor”, so it can be assumed that they are somehow on Gallifrey. Clara tells the Doctor that they need to leave without question, and that he isn’t to know where they just were.

Listen is the perfect set-up for a Moffat-style monster that ends up being a GIANT red herring. He excels at creating conceptual monsters that embody some sort of primal fear that we all share, and in this case it was taken to the ultimate conclusion. For half of the episode, I was on the edge of my seat waiting for the reveal on the constant companion and why it seems to be terrorizing The Doctor so much. Realizing that this monster is none other than a misunderstanding from The Doctor, and that he is secretly “scared of the dark” is pretty awesome. In fact, knowing what is going on makes a second viewing that much better.

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To be honest,  When I thought this was a straightforward monster episode I felt that the beginning was weird and oddly paced. The episode seemed to be almost nonsensically put together on a narrative standpoint and concentrated on Clara’s date way too much. It’s only half-way through when I realized that the monster isn’t the main point of the episode, and the date is a study of what makes Danny Pink tick, and why the Doctor acts the way he does. We basically end up searching the negative space of the episode, looking for clues that help us know about the monster (much like The Doctor) and are left speechless when we find out that there is no monster.

We are left assuming that The Doctor has basically made an immense leap of logic that seems somewhat uncharacteristic for himself, and has veered somewhat into the realm of the conspiracy theorist. I’m not going to say that this fact makes The Twelfth Doctor crazy, but his motivation here seems to be that of someone that is utterly horrified by something, but can’t get past the most likely reason for feeling the way he does. He literally cannot come out and say that he’s scared and show any weakness; being so used to carrying the universe on his shoulders, he has somehow internalized it into this “superpower” he tells Danny about.

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As a complete package, it all comes together in such a gratifying way that I haven’t felt since the 50th anniversary special. In a way, this is the current show’s Edge of Destruction, an episode from “classic Who” that seemed weird, oddly paced, and yet immensely gratifying once you realized what was happening.

If anything, this season has proven to be much more about character building than the previous few, and I for one am very happy about that. While I hope that we don’t see too much more of The Doctor’s past, it was cool seeing him as a child. Writers always run the risk of spoiling the mystery of characters like The Doctor by showing their “origin stories” (see X-Men’s Wolverine) but seeing him before he became who he is was awesome. Clara has really imprinted herself on The Doctor much more than anyone else has, she really is “The Constant Companion.”

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Doctor Who: Robot of Sherwood (2014)

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“No castles, no damsels in distress, no such thing as Robin Hood!”
Here we are at that very moment in just about every season of Doctor Who, post-2005, where The Doctor asks his companion what they would like to see in order to “show off” his time traveling capabilities. Clara, knowing that The Doctor would write the whole thing off as nonsense, decides that she would love to meet the fabled outlaw hero, Robin Hood. Robin Hood is one of those “historical figures” that always makes things hard in shows dealing with time travel because nobody actually knows if he existed or not.

Much in the same way that folks have been searching for the “real King Arthur” for centuries, Robin Hood has been assumed to be probable, but most-likely a myth. This ordeal is played up as a main plot point for this episode from the get-go as The Doctor does not believe that they will actually meet anyone, and when faced with someone that meets the Robin Hood description, basically assumes he’s a charlatan, robot, hologram, shapeshifter etc.

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Mark Gatiss decided to pen this script in a farcical way that I know most hard-line fans hate. Just go to any review site and look up episodes like Love and Monsters, The Crimson Horror, or even The Gunfighters – the episodes that are less than serious are very dividing, some will love them, and others will absolutely hate them. Take a character such as Strax, for instance, I love the guy, but the general “fandom” of Doctor Who, if podcasts can be believed, HATE him.

This silly tone of near-comedy in Robot of Sherwood is directly at odds with the previous two episodes and how dark they actually were. This may be my biggest complaint with this episode as it almost doesn’t feel like it “fits” with the previous two. It’s almost like a leftover Tennant or Smith script slightly changed for Capaldi. That isn’t to say it’s bad or anything, but I’ll explain what I liked and didn’t like.

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The highlight of this episode, for me at least, was the banter between Robin Hood (as played by Tom Riley) and The Doctor. Since he’s convinced that Robin is in some way false, The Doctor is not willing to give him any slack on anything he does. Every quip, bit of banter, or boisterous laugh that he exhales is met with derision and anger. Here is an example of one such exchange:

Robin Hood: Whatever it is, you bony rascal, I’m afraid I’m must relieve you of it.

The Doctor: It’s my property. That’s what it is.

Robin Hood: Don’t you know all property is theft to Robin Hood?

The Doctor: You can’t be serious.

Robin Hood: I am many things, sir, but I am never that. Robin Hood laughs in the face of all! Ah ha ha ha haaaa!

The Doctor: Do people ever punch you in the face when you do that?

Robin Hood: Not as yet!

The Doctor: Lucky I’m here then, isn’t it?”

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This becomes the most humorous in the often re-created archery contest scene where Robin Hood sneaks in with a disguise calling himself “Tom the Tinker”. The worn out scene where Robin splits an arrow with another arrow plays out like it has in just about every adaptation of the story, then it gets sillier. The Doctor, irritated by the smug arrogance of Mr. Hood, uses his archery skills to split these two arrows a third time, Robin counters with another, and so on, until The Doctor just blows up the entire target with his Sonic Screwdriver.

Tom Riley basically uses every contemporary Robin Hood trope used since Errol Flynn donned the green tights to create one of the most irritating heroes of all time. He’s so boisterous and arrogant that he’s essentially Lord Flashheart from the Blackadder series. He’s one of those characters that the hero of our story despises, but everyone else thinks he awesome at everything he does.

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It will come as no surprise that the villain in this episode is none other than the Sheriff of Nottingham himself, as played by Ben Miller channeling his best Roger Delgado impression. I actually liked him in the role, even though he really didn’t challenge anything at all. He’s just as much of a bastard as one would expect, and has an army of alien robots at his side to do his dirty work. Alien robots? Did I forget to mention that Sherwood Castle is discovered to be some sort of crashed spaceship, and in classic Doctor Who fashion, these aliens have tricked the Sheriff into helping them hoard gold to fix said spaceship? It’s pretty silly, but it works.

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It’s in the actual plot of this episode that I have some problems. Much in the same way that Gatiss wrote a plotline into Victory of the Daleks wherein our heroes convinced a robot that he wasn’t a robot to stop a bomb from exploding, this episode involves the “bad-guy” space ship not having enough gold to escape The Earth’s atmosphere (it’s engine uses gold somehow), and Robin Hood shooting gold into the ship to make it fly away then explode. It’s cool when you see it, but as one thinks about what they just saw, it falls apart. If it wasn’t for the fact that this episode doesn’t take itself seriously I’d be concerned that Mark Gatiss rarely knows how to finish most of the scripts he has written. I really like Mark Gatiss episodes, but he needs to smooth some rough corners if he is ever going to take the reins from Steven Moffat like everyone assumes.

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No Missy appearance this week, but the thread binding it all together was that the robots crashed on Earth while searching for “The Promised Land”, which viewers might remember was the reason the clockwork droids ended up on Earth in Deep Breath….curiouser and curiouser…

All in all, this was a fun episode. Most of it made no sense under scrutiny, but as a farce it did it’s job. It does a good job of poking fun at the Robin Hood mythos and showing that most of our myths we hold as a society are probably based in some truth from the past. The Doctor starts the episode out, set in his ways, very closed-minded, then realizes that he doesn’t always have all of the answers. Join me again next week as we take a look at an episode sure to make me scared of my bed in addition to the dark, angel statues, and kids wearing gas masks.

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Doctor Who: Into The Dalek (2014)

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“This is Clara. Not my assistant, she’s ah, some other word. […] Yeah. My carer. She cares so I don’t have to.”

At first glance, Into The Dalek could be seen as an homage to 2005’s Dalek in many ways. The episode centers around a military confiscation of a wounded Dalek, The Doctor being brought in to examine it, and it’s eventual rampage through a base. Luckily, this similarity isn’t the case for the most part as Into The Dalek goes off into it’s own direction almost immediately, and is a whole different affair than the Rob Shearman classic.

Rather than existing as a tired “base under siege” story, we get something that harkens back to 1966’s Fantastic Voyage, a film where a crew of scientists shrink themselves down and enter a human body; except this time it ain’t no human! Inventive things like this are my favorite sort of Dalek stories, as we’ve seen all of the Dalek tropes hundreds of times each to a point where nothing is new. I’ll hand it to Steven Moffat, after this and Asylum of the Daleks, he can sure write a solid Dalek epiosde.

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After accidentally ditching Clara in Glasgow during a “coffee run” The Doctor finds himself in the middle of a war between one of his oldest foes, The Daleks, and a human outpost. He ends up on the bridge of a haggard military ship with a new secret weapon – a captured Dalek. Bound in chains, this Dalek (or “Rusty” as The Doctor dubs him) seems different. Sure it’s a genocidal killing machine hell-bent on universal domination, but this one seems to hate one thing more than any other – his own race. If only the crew of the Aristotle, a former hospital ship locked into battle with the Dalek Empire, can figure out what makes the heretical “Rusty” tick, perhaps they can end the war for good. With this in mind, they do what any reasonable military squad would do – shrink themselves down and adventure into the beast itself!

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So far, Peter Capaldi is doing an awesome job portraying everyone’s favorite space hobo, and the main selling point for me is a return to his more emotionally distant state. He gets chastised many times for being a bit too callous when faced with the deaths of seemingly unimportant characters, showing that to him the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few – a direct callback to the Hartnell era. At one point, a soldier causes a flood of Dalek “antibodies” to swarm the party, the Doctor tosses a device to him and urges him to swallow it as fast as he can. When he does the Dalek spheres immediately kill him. When everyone gets mad, the Doctor has to acknowledge that the man was already dead, and The Doctor bought everyone else time. This is a far cry from the Tennant-era teary-eyed doctor apologizing every time something went wrong.

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The “carer” quote that I placed above is a good nod at this newly re-discovered saltiness, and Clara seems to be there to keep The Doctor from being a self-absorbed jerk to everyone. When he says that Clara “is his carer” I don’t see it as simply wanting to do whatever he wants with no regard to others, Clara is there to ground him. Instead of existing as a convenient Deus Ex Machina as with her previous season, she has evolved into something more.

Her character development has accelerated in these last two episodes, and she’s finally shaping up to be something special. While Capaldi definitely has a “fatherly” vibe to himself, I wouldn’t say that he acts as her father figure. In many ways, I’d even suggest that he’s almost more childlike that he was in previous incarnations.

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The Doctor once again brings us to one of the themes this year, his questioning whether he’s a “good man” or not. While Deep Breath reveled in his moral ambiguity and questions of unscrupulous things he may or may not have done, this episode is a bit more weary. In many ways it reminds me of season one’s Ninth Doctor trying to recover from all of the bad things he thought he did in the time war, but instead of survivor guilt he seems to be saddled with the feeling that he’s always doing bad things and hurting people.

Since he recently undid the thing that ultimately made him feel the worst (the destruction of his people) and lived 900 years in a wonderland where he was beloved by many (The Town of Christmas) one would wonder why he isn’t a bit happier. Could he be worried that’s he’s going down the same path that so many of his former Timelord acquaintances went down? Could we see a return to the sheer arrogance of The Doctor we saw in Waters of Mars?

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On a slight side-note: Capaldi also gets all of the best lines in the episode, my personal favorite being a quip regarding the “shrinking machine”: “Fantastic idea for a movie. Terrible idea for a proctologist.”

This episode sees the inclusion of a character that I hope becomes the second companion this year – Danny Pink as played by Samuel Anderson. It’s immediately apparent that Pink is going to be Clara’s love interest this season, seeing as The Doctor is now off the table. A former soldier with a dark past, Pink could be the sort of action man that I’ve been wanting since John Barrowman left the show years ago. Danny Pink’s secret obviously involves his accidental killing of a civilian or something similar, as we see hints that he didn’t come back in one piece after his fighting.

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With the Doctor’s assertion that “he hates soldiers”, I can see there will be some sort of sparks flying this year. While I liked Rory during the Eleventh Doctor era, he was usually emasculated for comic relief ala Mickey Smith a lot of the time. Since The Doctor shouldn’t have that whole jealous love-triangle thing going on, I hope they can get on as friends. Strong male companions are about as rare as strong female characters in about every other show, and I hope this season puts an end to that!

I refrained from discussing another supporting cast member in my last review aside from a tiny sentence, but here we go – Who is Missy!? Michelle Gomez plays this new character that, while not specifically shown to be evil, comes across like a dark Mary Poppins. So far, she has plucked two characters from certain doom (at the hands or suggestion of The Doctor) and taken them to a place called “Heaven”. I have no idea what her motive is at this point, but it’s fun speculating on who she is. Everything is pointing to her being a fellow renegade Timelordess, but the real question is – who? Could she be the Rani? The Master (Mistress)?, or a totally new character? For right now all I can say is that she’s creepy, and I hope we see more of her this season.

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Before we close out today’s review, I’d like to touch on the direction of this episode. Ben Wheatley seems like one of the many Doctor Who directors that can really make an episode look far more polished than other similar shows. His use of blue-lighting, slow motion for action sequences, and pyrotechnics really made this feel like a movie in certain places. Hopefully Mr. Wheatley does more work for the show, as both episodes so far have looked great.

My only real quibble is that the sound mixer has once again allowed the soundtrack to overcome some of the dialog in certain scenes, a problem that has been plaguing the show for years. I blame the fact that everyone is expected to have huge home theater systems in 2014, and those of this that do not are simply out of luck.

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All in all, this was another solid episode – nothing classic by any means, but another fine example of what the show can offer. I was happy to see some familiar faces in there, like Michael Smiley from Spaced and The World’s End, showing that this show has some of the best supporting casts out there. I can’t wait to see Danny Pink in action, and hope The Doctor treats him better than other male companions as of late, we don’t need another Mickey! Here’s to the next episode Robot of Sherwood, and to more of this solid season!

Doctor Who: Deep Breath (2014)

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“Look at the eyebrows! These are attack eyebrows! You could take bottle tops off with these! They’re cross, crosser than the rest of my face. They’re independently cross. They probably want to cede from my face and set up their own independent state of eyebrows!”

 

It’s been a long eight months since the newly-born Twelfth Doctor mused about his new kidneys. Eight months where I had to recover from what was most likely a Doctor Who overload during the 50th anniversary celebrations. So here we are, summer 2014, and I don’t know about you guys – but I’m glad my favorite TV show is back! I’m especially glad that the recent trend of having short seasons, split seasons, and other things that generally make me (and a lot of other fans) feel like we’re getting ripped off has ended. We’re in for a full, uninterrupted , 13 episode season this time around, and I couldn’t be happier.

The story of Deep Breath takes us back to Victorian England where everyone is amazed, and somewhat terrified, by the presence of a real-life Tyrannosaurus Rex in the middle of London. The Paternoster Gang (Strax, Jenny, and Vastra) are about to get to their crime fighting on, when a familiar blue police box is expelled from the maw of the mighty beast. Faced with a giant monster on the loose, a possible serial killer, spontaneous human combustions, and a version of The Doctor who isn’t really feeling like himself, it looks pretty bleak for our heroes.

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Being the first episode of a new series, and the introductory episode for a new Doctor, I was actually surprised at the way Deep Breath unfolded on our screens. The episode opens with the aforementioned T-Rex attack, something that is typical “premiere episode” fare. A lot of times, we have had season openers that go crazy with special effects and spectacle to gear us up for the rest of the season, much in the same way US television pilot episodes are a bit more “flashy” than the rest of the show. This episode starts that way, but slowly evolves into somewhat of a character piece that we usually do not see until around mid-season. I bet this slower pace put off some fans, but I personally found it a bit refreshing. My main concern with a lot of current Doctor Who is that the episodes sometimes feel constrained by the timeslot, running time, and a general lack of “breathing room”. With an episode title like “Deep Breath”, this breathing room seems built into the DNA of the episode itself.

Clara is given room to really show her personality, which is amazing because her story-arc in season seven had the potential to doom her as some sort of a gimmick-companion if she never matured past it. It’s almost like Steven Moffat listened to some of the criticism he has been given of late, regarding his writing of female characters, and gave them most of an episode to shine. The Paternoster Gang is given quite a bit of screen time, with Vastra and Jenny’s relationship dynamic getting aired out a little more than usual.

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This did come across sort of silly at times because a lot of it seems to be both of them constantly re-affirming to the audience that they were in fact married, just in case the subtlety of a lesbian inter-species marriage was too ambiguous for the audience to comprehend. I can just imagine some guy sitting in front of his TV completely baffled and exclaiming “wait, so these two women are MARRIED!!! what what WHAT!” That aside, I really enjoyed seeing this interaction between the two of them. Strax is basically there as comic relief like usual, and although he does the same jokes in every episode he is in, I love them each time.

Most importantly, this episode showed us the usual overly-manic side to The Doctor that always makes these introductions a bit unpredictable. His “regeneration sickness” played out much in the same way that the Sixth Doctor’s did in his first outing. Well, minus that whole “trying to kill the companion” business. There are moments where one really wonders if The Doctor is about to turn evil or something, but I think that’s because we’re so used to the more touchy-feely, less-alien versions of the doctor since 2005. Capaldi’s Doctor, once he mellows out, is definitely a throwback to a previous time with the moral ambiguity of Hartnell’s First Doctor and a dash of Fourth Doctor showing through the most.

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Hartnell had those moments where he was hardly what anyone would call a “good guy” a stark contrast to the recent “Space jesus” archetype that David Tennant’s Doctor especially had. One can recall the often referenced incident from the first serial where he was about to crush a caveman’s skull with a boulder simply because he was slowing the party down. This anti-hero tendency is revisited here in spades. Capaldi’s Doctor has a moment where is is left with a conundrum: in order to defeat his foes he has to either A) commit an act of murder or B) convince the villain that he has nothing to live for an “off” himself. Both are horrible choices, and The Doctor lays out the fact that he’s “hardwired” not to preform option A, but will do anything to protect Earth if he needs to.

When the deed actually happens, it happens off camera, with us only seeing the aftermath. The question ends up being: “did he do it?!” This hammers home the “theme” from the trailers, that went out earlier this summer, where The Doctor was asking the audience whether he was a good man or not, somehow I think this will pop up more this season. All-in-all Capaldi has already hit it out of the park for me, because a combination of Hartnell and Baker just happens to be a combination of my long-time favorite versions of the character.

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The Doctor had some great interaction with Clara this time around, and to me it almost seems like Clara and Twelve will “work” the best together, better than Clara and Eleven. One scene in particular involved the dynamic duo meeting in an Italian restaurant that hides a horrible secret. Clara is angry at The Doctor because he left her “high and dry” and seemingly went into great lengths to come up with a contrived puzzle for her to solve to find him. The Doctor says that the person that did the puzzle was an egotistical power hungry lunatic, which Clara takes as an apology, but it soon becomes clear that he is under the impression that she placed the ad, and is actually talking about her! There is also a joke in the scene where he tries to lie about where he got his new coat, one that reeks of all manner of horrible gutter smells that a typical Victorian homeless man would have. He almost makes it seem like he stole it from someone as he sheepishly answers her questions.

The all-important villain to this episode is somewhat surprising to me, because it marks the return of a “monster” that I felt was surely just a one-off, in the clockwork service droids last seen in The Girl in the Fireplace. That previous episode showed the droids actively looking for parts to repair their ship after the S.S. Madame du Pompadour was damaged. In desperation, they eventually killed the entire crew and used human flesh for the repairs, then went even more “crazy”. Somehow they got it in their clockwork noggins that the actual brain of their ship’s namesake would repair their ship. Deep Breath shows an even more dangerous version of these droids that seemingly survived “crashing” on mesozoic Earth after yet another failed voyage of a 51st century time ship, this time the S.S. Marie Antoinette.

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The droids have spent millions of years repairing themselves to the point that they have created their own religion and have lost all sight of their original purpose. The “leader” of this group speaks of “The Promised Land”, but seems confused as to what that actually means and how he is to attain his goal to go there, seemingly his plan is to simply survive by killing innocent people until it just shows up. Basically they have become “reverse-Cybermen” in that they are trying to keep themselves alive by grafting human parts onto their original machine bodies. The Doctor makes an apt remark about a hypothetical broom where one might replace the handle, then later replace the broom’s head. He questions whether this is in fact the original broom at all, in reference the the constant replaced parts used by these droids.

I really enjoyed Deep Breath, and although it had an odd pacing and seemed a bit “talky” it was one of the better opening episodes since the show came back. I honestly wish they would just make the episodes an hour long even though the U.S. Market would flip out due to our stupid 42 minute run-time rules. My only real complaint with the episode is that the initial set-up involving the Paternoster Gang investigating cases of spontaneous human combustion was overshadowed by the T-Rex attack so much that it made the whole thing seem tacked on. I’m not sure if it’s because the subject matter is fairly disturbing for a family audience, or that the episode was already pretty long, but it simply felt like a loose end. Next week, we have a new Dalek episode to look forward to, so check back soon to see what I though of Into the Dalek.

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P.S. “Missy” better be The Rani, I know she probably isn’t but having another renegade Timelord would be AWESOME!!

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Doctor Who: Rose (2005)

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It’s been a funny few weeks in Doctor Who fandom! First we had some long-awaited trailers finally hit the airwaves, then the “leaks” happened. It seems somebody figured out how to access BBC worldwide servers in Florida, and discovered scripts and a few “screener” episodes left unsecured. Don’t worry folks, I don’t plan on downloading the leaked Peter Capaldi episodes, much less writing about them, mainly because they aren’t full episodes and have no special effects (or so I’ve heard). There was one time where my willpower wasn’t as strong, and I immediately remember what the Doctor Who community was going through almost NINE years ago (it doesn’t seem like that long ago). Take a walk down memory lane with me, as we discuss Rose, as the first in a series of “backlog reviews” to fill in my review catalog.

Way back in 2004, I joined a now defunct Doctor Who message board to fulfill a nostalgia trip I was having. As a small child, I absolutely LOVED Doctor Who. It ran on my local PBS station late at night, and I always looked forward to staying up late with my mom and watching one of the most exciting TV shows I had ever seen at the time. This eventually faded, as PBS stopped airing the show around 1990 and Star Trek: The Next Generation became “my thing”. It wasn’t until college when I started seeing tapes of various episodes coming into my college retail job, that I thought “hey, I miss that show!”. I started renting DVDs and joined this message board to see if the show was still continuing in some way. I had no idea that there were audio dramas, comics, books, and all the other material that populated the “wilderness years”. Then I learned it was coming back!

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Flash forward to 2005, and I find myself downloading a “leaked” copy of Rose on Bittorrent. As I recall, I excitedly woke my (now) wife up at some alarming time like 8:00 am on a Saturday (I’m a night owl) and basically forced her to watch it with me. I had secretly found out about it the night before, and wanted to surprise her. It was like Christmas morning for a small child, I simply could not wait any longer to dig into my presents. The leak of Rose, The very first Christopher Eccleston episode of the show, was one of those things that I suspect everyone on that forum did secretly, then pretended they did not online. I have no regrets for doing it as I ended up getting even more excited for the show’s return, and downloaded all the rest of the episodes. This was before the show was airing in America, before it was one of the more popular nerdy fandoms over here.

With Doctor Who coming back, there was a lot of pressure on the show to perform. Not too far from 2005, the whole idea of the show was something of a laughing stock after it was unceremoniously divorced from the BBC airwaves. Rose had two things that it absolutely HAD to get right for the show to succeed. Firstly, it had to introduce a new sidekick character, a person we would be viewing the show through. He/She had to be good enough to attract the old fans back to the show, and attempt to gain new fans – namely the criminally overlooked female market. Some might say that such a character isn’t wholly necessary, but I disagree. The Doctor NEEDS someone to talk with, teach, learn from etc. Secondly, and more importantly, Rose had to re-introduce the concept of The Doctor himself to a whole new generation of TV viewers, many of which were probably not even alive when the show was yanked off the air in the late 1980’s!

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Rose is essentially a second part of a two-parter that we do not see the beginning of. When we join up with Rose herself, she is going about her typical day at a retail clothing store, only to find something strange going on. She notices an army of walking plastic mannequins in the stores basement, and is almost attacked if it wasn’t for the appearance of a strange man calling himself “The Doctor”. It seems that something bad is going on regarding the window shop dummies, and he needs to blow something up on the roof to stop them. Rose escapes just in time, only to see life explode right in front of her eyes, as The Doctor presumably destroys her workplace. From here on, Rose is left with what we can see is an unsatisfying life. Her boyfriend would rather be at the pub watching a game than spending time with her, and her mother is somewhat classless and controlling. Rose perhaps puts it best herself: “I’ve got no A-Levels, no job, no future…” The only bit of excitement left is attempting to figure out exactly who this “Doctor” is, and why he’s doing the things he’s doing.

As a character, Rose is fairly atypical for the female lead in Doctor Who (up to that time) , and in many ways she isn’t all that similar to those that came before her. Both are from lower-class upbringings, and both have the “street smarts” that some of the other, more refined companions may have lacked. That isn’t to say all previous companions were the often-stereotyped “screaming girl that gets in trouble/twists her ankle”, but he large majority ended up that way. Unlike Ace, Leela, or even The Brigadier, she isn’t a warrior by any means, but she’s determined and brave. She feels like she has nothing to live for, so being with The Doctor is her escape.

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I recall being less than enthusiastic about Billie Piper‘s casting, as she was presented to me as “The UK’s answer to Britney Spears” according to various message boards and magazines. To me, she sounds like any other 90’s pop singer that was trying to copy the popular vibe of the Spice Girls and failed at it. She reeked of “stunt casting” and that sort of thing never usually works out very well here in America. Many TV shows make a habit out of jamming popular singers into cameo roles that they have no business taking part in, Justin Bieber comes to mind for one of the more egregious examples. At least for me, this fear was put to rest pretty early on in Rose, as I felt the character was something refreshing to the show, and Piper was doing an adequate, if not pretty good job portraying the character.

Rose is joined by a few characters that aren’t really companions, (at least not yet) but exist to keep her grounded on Earth in some capacity. Not only does this give The Doctor and Rose a group of recurring characters to work with, but it helps explain why his adventures had a tendency towards taking place in London rather than the other nearly infinite amount of places he could have been traveling. One will immediately look back to Jon Pertwee‘s tenure on the show for an older example of this, but in the case of the 2005 series of the show, I can only assume that budgetary limitations were the main reason behind this. In the case of Rose, these characters are a bit different from agents of a military organization that The Doctor is working for, because it’s Rose’s own family we get to see a lot of. Camille Coduri plays Jackie Tyler, Rose’s own mother, and Noel Clarke plays her somewhat estranged boyfriend Mickey.

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There isn’t really a whole lot of big special effect showcases in this episode to write home about, and the few instances of computer generated effects or creature make-up we do see is somewhat average at best. Things like the Auton costumes (the aforementioned mannequins) are hard to be wowed over because it’s just a guy in a mask walking like he’s made of plastic. The Nestene consciousness is a blob of CGI in a pool, and things like a fake Mickey that pop up are decent, but not great. Later episodes in this season have amazing special effects, so it seems the production staff kept it reigned in a bit for this first outing.

The only issue that I have always had with Rose is it’s tendency towards childish slapstick. Being ever so close to the eighth season of the show as of this writing, looking back at this first season is sort of jarring. Once David Tennant really got a few seasons in the can, and especially with Matt Smith, the show itself took a far more serious turn. That isn’t to say this season is “fluffy”, it’s just a bit weird in tone. One can see that Russell T. Davis was attempting to play all of his cards to see what stuck, and that means we get some “kiddy stuff” occasionally.

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One scene in particular is pretty rough, and it’s an infamous one involving Mickey being eaten by a sentient trashcan. It seems the Autons place a possessed garbage bin at the front lines in their battle with The Doctor, and it decides to eat Rose’s boyfriend to gather intel. This already sounds dumb on paper, but it gets worse when the whole thing is punctuated by a cartoonish “burping sound” once Mickey enters the bin. Luckily, the second half of this season finds a better balance between comedy and drama.

Earlier I compared Rose to a Jon Pertwee episode, and there are many reasons I get this vibe and keep making such comparisons. First and foremost, this episode stars the villainous Autons. The Autons are a race of living plastic creatures, last seen in a few Pertwee episodes and most notably his very first serial Spearhead from Space. I think the Autons worked better in the 70’s as a commentary on commercialism, but it’s cool seeing them once again so many years later.

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Rose is basically nothing more than an average episode of Doctor Who, but it is elevated quite a bit, as it is arguably the most important “average episode” produced since An Unearthly Child. I don’t actually like using this episode to introduce folks to the show due to it’s all over the place tone, and almost embarrassing trash can scene, but it still holds a warm place in my heart. I will always remember waking up early, only to watch a pirated copy of a leaked episode of the show, as stupid as that sounds. I have a better memory of this than other things that folks are expected to remember vividly, things like watching Star Wars for the first time. Nine years on, Rose is still one of my favorite episodes of this new series.

Notice how I didn’t even mention Chris Eccleston’s portrayal as The Doctor? Check back next time, and I’ll chime in when I’m talking about The End of the World!

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Doctor Who Finally Gets That FULL Series 8 Trailer We’ve Been Waiting For

Doctor Who – The Time of the Doctor (2013) Christmas Special

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Doctor Who Christmas specials, like many other special Christmas-themed television episodes, are usually fairly “fluffy” and hold little substance in the grand scheme of things. TV execs usually assume that many will only have the TV on in the background if they have it on at all, and anything complex is unwanted. Thankfully this mindset has been fading away recently, leading to some halfway decent Christmas programming.

I grew tired of narrow Christmas themed episodes a few years ago in Doctor Who when The Doctor, The Widow, and The Wardrobe bored me to tears. I will take my hat off to Steven Moffat for blessing us with two consecutive years of solid holiday specials (Last year’s The Snowmen, and now this), thus wiping the blandness of the 2011 special from my mind. What makes The Time of the Doctor so good is that it’s not just a typical “here’s a huge guest star!” affair like previous Holiday episodes, it’s a fairly subdued regeneration episode with only a dash of Christmas theme in place. That isn’t to say it lacks spectacle, but they got most of that out of their systems with The Day of The Doctor.

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The Doctor has found himself amongst thousands of spacecrafts all locked onto a “distress call” of sorts. This “space beacon” is being broadcast across all time and space, and seems to be untranslatable. His curiosity gets the best of him, and he attempts to force his way onto a few of the ships to get some answers as to what the signal is all about. After humorously boarding both a Dalek craft and a Cybership, he ends up picking up Clara and visiting an old friend at “church” to get answers. This church is the Church of the Papal Mainframe, a gigantic space church headed by Mother Superious Tasha Lem, someone The Doctor seems to be fairly intimate with. The church has locked the planet where the signal can be traced from, and horror of all horrors, the planet is coming up as “Gallifrey” on all sensors. The Doctor Volunteers to go to the surface and investigate, not realizing that the longest chapter in his life is about to begin.

Of course, we eventually find out that this mysterious planet is in fact Trenzalore, the place where the Doctor is said to die, and he realizes what has been put in place. Somehow the Time Lords themselves are behind the crack in time we saw back in series 5, and want to use it to escape their existence outside of reality. Apparently The Doctor has to simply utter his name (The distress call was “Doctor Who?!”), and they will be released back into the rest of the universe, but that comes at a price. If they do appear the Daleks will surely re-ignite the “Time War”, and drive all reality into madness. The Church locks down the planet and the siege of all sieges begins, they call themselves “The Silence” and impose a rule that The Doctor can never utter “The oldest question in the universe” or they will blow Trenzalore out of existence. The Doctor stays on Trenzalore in a “Town called Christmas” for over 900 years, that’s right after this episode The Doctor is now over 2000 YEARS OLD!

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This battle between multiple races, The Silence/Church of the Papal Mainframe, and the citizens of Christmas is barely shown on screen, and we only see brief glimpses hundreds of years apart. This almost Tolkien-esque choice of not relying on the actual battles of this war, and simply the fallout of such a conflict is a pretty jarring choice and a brave one by Moffat, as many were probably expecting something more along the lines of “a war to end all wars”. I actually commend Mr. Moffat for this because I tire of the ridiculous season ending spectaculars we used to get in the Davies era. After the Earth got towed around the galaxy by the TARDIS, and there was a giant Cyberman in Victorian England, his M.O. Seemed to be “how am I going to top that this year?” Thankfully, it’s mostly left to our imaginations in this episode.

Steven Moffat has been criticized in the past for leaving large plot holes in episodes and generally not fleshing out all of his ideas. I have been of the opinion that he would eventually conclude all the loose plot threads from the previous episodes involving the “crack in time”, the Silence, the exploding TARDIS etc. I’m under absolutely no impression that he expertly planned out the entire plot, or that he knew when Matt Smith would leave, but I feel that he probably grew tired of fans complaining all the time about things he felt were sufficiently wrapped up, and wanted The Time of the Doctor to be the big red bow atop the gift box that was Matt Smith’s reign as our favorite time hobo. And that’s what we get with this episode, a clean slate going into the eighth season. The baggage of missing regenerations has been cleared up, the regeneration limit has been tackled, holdovers from the Russell T. Davies era have been sorted out, and his own plot holes have been vanquished for the most part.

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Matt Smith does a fine job in this episode, and really conveys the sadness of a man seemingly “trapped” on a planet that needs his help for nearly 1000 years. As one would imagine, he buys into his own mythology, and yet hides himself away in a similar manner to the way we saw him post Amy and Rory departure. His only real companion for a large portion of this time is a re-purposed Cyberman head named “Handles” that harkens back to the days of K-9 and Tom Baker in the TARDIS. Their banter is pretty hilarious, and it really makes me wish that handles would have been around longer. It’s sort of like the Tom Hanks film Castaway and the relationship between Hanks’s character and “Wilson” only “Handles” is somewhat sentient.

As the Doctor gets older and older (handled with old age makeup) he becomes more unhinged, lonely, and prepared for death. He begins to embody the “old man”mentality that we’ve always seen him covey, albeit with a young body. I will miss Smith in the role, but feel he is leaving at the correct time. I’d rather wonder what another Smith-helmed season could have brought, instead of hoping he leaves ala David Tennant during his final “season” on long-form specials.

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My only few gripes involve the actual regeneration scene. What I assumed to be the “final moments” of the Matt Smith Doctor involved a release of regeneration energy so massive that he was able to project it towards Dalek ships, destroying the entire fleet. Suddenly, The Doctor was engulfed in a massive explosion that made the one from The End of Time look weak. Had Clara found a comatose Peter Capaldi Doctor laying in rubble, or something similar, it would have been something different. What we actually got was somewhat similar to the last one, almost down to the dialog in play. For some reason, the writers added in a scene where Smith “got younger” before the actual regeneration took place and met a hallucination Amy in the TARDIS. I get the sentimentality involved, and it was awesome to see Karen Gillan, but an episode that prides itself in “fixing confusing plot holes” sure added some baggage in the mix at the end.

I also feel that the script downplayed the regeneration limit more than I figured it would. I definitely didn’t want to see more “I don’t want to go!” Emo Doctor fan-girl bait, but the actual realization that the end was nigh seemed to neither bother Clara or The Doctor very much. Clara did plead with the crack in the wall for Time Lords to help him somehow, someway, which resulted in a new regeneration set being magically granted to The Doctor, but it was like it never crossed her mind that he could have ceased to exist essentially. Thankfully, the new regenerations either re-wrote time or pushed his final resting place from The Name of The Doctor further in the future, and perhaps it will only become an issue in another 50 years!

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I enjoyed The Time of the Doctor quite a bit, especially for it’s refreshing take on the holiday special template. The humor was well-placed like the “nude scenes” and interactions with “Handles”, and the drama was great when it needed to be there. I thought the end was sort of off-kilter, but it didn’t ruin Capaldi’s first scene any more than loud Murray Gold music did (for the record, not much). While I think this special was inferior to 2012’s The Snowmen, it’s still in the upper tier of Christmas specials all around. Here’s to season eight, good Lord it’s going to be yet another LONG wait!

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Doctor Who: The Last Day (2013)

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After the incredibly awesome mini-episode The Night of the Doctor, I was pretty stoked to see yet another mini-episode a few days later. Sadly, this four minutes of material lacks almost all of the impact that TNOTD had and barely comes across as well as those one-minute cellphone prequels they did for series 2. I’m only writing about it because I feel like I should be a “completionist” since I’ve been tackling all of the other 50th anniversary material. This was intended as a prequel to the actual special, but it almost seems more like a DVD special feature.

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The Last Day tells the story of a Gallifreyan soldier that has been enlisted into the Arcadian branch of their military. As viewers, we see the unfolding story through the eyes of this soldier, a fact that almost immediately makes this seem like a “cut-scene” from a modern “first person shooter” videogame. We are told that Arcadia is the “safest place on Gallifrey” and that nothing has ever gone through both of the oddly-named “sky trenches” we saw in The Day of the Doctor.

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Our soldier goes through the agony of having a psychic head-cam bolted into his skull: first the actual pain, then multiple hallucinations of the instructor talking to the newbie seemingly dying. The instructor goes through great pains to explain away these “hallucinations” as an after effect of the camera itself, and not any sort of premonitions. Our soldier is taken to a large gun battery and briefly participates in some target practice. He is told to be on the look out for a Dalek, because “only one would destroy the city”. Seconds later millions of our old armored squid-guys fill the sky, and massacre all of the soldiers.

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It’s good to see a bit more of the Gallifreyan military, since anything about their society outside of their high-ranking elite is fairly vague in the TV and books. This was essentially an introduction to the ground soldiers we saw in The Day of The Doctor, and it did well in that regard. Sadly the script isn’t great, the acting is bland, and it feels rather cheap to be quite honest. I didn’t hate it by any means, but it The Last Day seems fairly unnecessary. I would have rather enjoyed four more minutes of Paul McGann, and that’s all there is to it.

Check Out These Shiny New “Time of The Doctor” Promo Images

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Leaked Video of The Day of the Doctor “Mini-Sodes” Before the Feature

As I posted last week, the theatrical release of The Day of The Doctor included two featurettes involving Strax and the “three doctors”. I was saddened to learn that these were not on the DVD / Blu-Ray evidently, but someone has “leaked them to Youtube for us!

Hope Strax doesn’t find out!!

Also, if you missed my 50th Anniversary coverage, here you go:

 

 

An Adventure in Space and Time (2013)

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I was pretty happy when the BBC announced this “docudrama” of the creation of Doctor Who. I mean, I was blown away by all the 50th anniversary programs we got this year, but this was just the icing on the cake for me. Mark Gatiss had his work cut out for him in organizing a film that not only told this “origin story” of the long-lived television show, but did it in such a way that it wasn’t geared solely to the most hardcore of hardcore fans. As the opening card states “you can’t rewrite history, not one line…”, so things had to be altered somewhat for dramatic effect, but it seems like everything in this was within the realm of reality. It’s for this reason, the BBC couldn’t have got a better Doctor Who ambassador than Gatiss to make the program

Mark Gatiss first proposed something similar to An Adventure in Space and Time ten years ago, it was to commemorate the 40th anniversary, or so he thought. BBC higher ups flat out rejected the idea, implying that there was zero interest in reviving the show, and such a drama would be a niche program that the masses would not enjoy. This was still “the wilderness years”, a time when fans had basically settled in the fact that their beloved show would never be back. And so, time passed. In 2005 Doctor Who did come back, and ended up being one of the biggest things BBC could ever dream of. Personally, I’m glad this got made now, and not in 2002. Everything would have ended on the bitter notion that the show was over and we were looking back into one of TV’s most beloved ghosts of the past. By waiting, they were able to really treat everything like how it should be treated – a celebration.

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The story of An Adventure in Space and Time is essentially split into two halves that blend together. The first is the story of Verity Lambert, a hard working woman in a “boys club” trying to progress her career in the 1960’s. Lambert was hired by the BBC Head of Drama, Sydney Newman, to create a show based around an idea for a time traveling history program. She was partnered with Waris Hussein, an Indian “art film” director, and thrown out to get things right. They were both inexperienced, and handicapped from the start in the eyes of many at the BBC due to race and gender, but they made it work. After a few false starts, they were able to persuade veteran character actor William Hartnell to take the title role. Then it happened, the show’s second serial, The Daleks, exploded and catapulted Doctor Who into popularity.

The other half is the story of William Hartnell’s role as The Doctor, how it changed his life, and how he didn’t want to give it up. Hartnell was type-cast as “crusty” soldiers in war movies almost exclusively, and this was making him feel unappreciated. He is portrayed as lacking self-esteem, and harboring anger issues due to his career taking a wrong turn. We see his home life being a tad “rough around the edges” as he treats his own family, wife and granddaughter, pretty poorly. Little by little, the role warms his heart, and changes his life. Then just as quickly as it happened, his poor health rips the job away from him.

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David Bradley is one of those character actors that always stood in the background of many films that I enjoyed. I always noticed him, but he was never on my “top actor” list. He’s show up in something, like Hot Fuzz for instance, and I’d think “oh hey, that’s Argus Filch!”. Recently, I’ve been really noticing how great this guy is. I think it was when my wife and I started watching The World Without End, and his role of Brother Joseph stood out. He was a villain of sorts, actually quite a horrendous character, but he did such a good job at it. I was excited to see him get this gig playing William Hartnell, and was pretty confident that he’d do okay, but boy was I surprised when he did GREAT. Whenever an actor provides a performance that makes me have teary eyes, like Bradley does towards the end of the film, he’s doing something right. If he doesn’t at least get some sort of nomination at the BAFTA awards something is wrong.

Aside from David Bradley, the casting in An Adventure in Space and Time is amazing. Brian Cox (The actor, not the scientist) does a fine job with his interpretation of Sydney Newman. The loud, boisterous, and almost eccentric Newman is complete with goofy catchphrases and a dark side that show this man saw himself as “the life of the party” and cool, just as long as you didn’t make him mad. Jessica Raine, who fans might remember in the Doctor Who episode Hide, was another outstanding choice, this time for Verity Lambert. While she understates the “piss and vinegar” that Lambert was known for, I feel Raine did an amazing performance. Sacha Dhawan portrays Waris Hussein, and did such a fine job being subtle with much of the man’s life. Hussein was Indian and homosexual in a land where neither was tolerated. Some actors may have played up either trait into the land of stereotypes, but Dhawan did not.

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Eagle-eyed viewers will notice that there were quite a few nods the the past within the show. Classic Doctor Who actors like William Russell, Carole Ann Ford, Jean Marsh, and Anneke Wills all appeared in short cameos throughout the film. Other people like Toby Hadoke and Nick Briggs also appear, and will be recognizable by longtime fans. These “Easter eggs” are combined with shot for shot remakes of a handful of scenes from various 60’s episodes, and I loved playing “spot the episode”. My favorites were the recreation of the ill-fated “pilot episode”, The Dalek Invasion of Earth scenes and the Cybermen, shown eating and smoking cigarettes in a menacing way.

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I was only disappointed with one thing in An Adventure in Space and Time, and sadly it was one thing I was pretty excited about. Reece Shearsmith was cast as Patrick Troughton (The second Doctor), and although he only appears for a few moments, his portrayal as Troughton was disappointing to me. Being an impressionist, Shearsmith mimicked Troughton’s voice and mannerisms pretty well, but it fell flat. I’d rather he played his own version of Troughton, like Bradley with Hartnell, because his impression seemed hollow for some reason.

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Earlier I talked about a moment that made my emotions get away with me, well more like two moments. One was a scene involving William Hartnell at home after he was “fired” from the show due to his ailing health. Bradley pumped so much emotion into a relatively simple scene involving Hartnell “breaking down” in front of his bathroom mirror that it was almost hard to watch. With Bradley bawling and saying “I don’t want to go!” one could easily get lost in his performance. The other moment, one that fans were are on, involves Hartnell filming his final scene. At one point he looks up to the empty TARDIS and sees a “future vision” of Matt Smith in the role leaning on the TARDIS console. With a knowing smile, the audience gets the symbolism that this “regeneration” has created a way for the show to go on, and it will live on without Hartnell. I think some people took the scene too literally, and a glance at the internet showed more than a few people asking “Did the Doctor visit William Hartnell?” and other indications of a point well missed.

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An Adventure in Space and Time was amazing, and I may have even liked it more than The Day of the Doctor. I’m one of the weird cases in that I grew up a fan of Tom Baker Doctor Who from PBS, but grew attached to William Hartnell episodes in particular. I wasn’t even alive in the sixties, so it’s not like I have nostalgia for the time period, so I can’t put my finger on why I loved this so much. I think I just feel like many overlook the First Doctor, and William Hartnell in particular. He may have had his personal demons, but this respect he has been getting lately is amazing. In closing, I will state it once again, this needs BAFTA nominations – Gattis for screenplay, and Bradley for Acting.

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The Science of Doctor Who – With Professor Brian Cox (2013)

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When all of the numerous Doctor Who specials were aired this past week, there was one that really surprised me – The Science of Doctor Who – With Professor Brian Cox. These sorts of specials come out in America all the time, especially on cable channels wanting a ratings boost during a blockbuster film release weekend. I’ve seen history shows that capitalized on 300, The Da Vinci Code, Star Trek, and basically any other genre film that has a large fan base. It seems Doctor Who has entered the fray with it’s own science program starring Brian Cox. American fans may remember Mr. Cox from many shows aired on The Science Channel including Wonders of the Solar System and Wonders of the Universe. He’s also on a few episode’s of Stephen Fry’s Q.I. (shown on Hulu in the U.S.) and one Doctor Who episode, The Power of Three, in a cameo of sorts. Cox can essentially be seen as the successor to David Attenborough and Patrick Moore, both prominent UK based science presenters.

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The main attraction for fans of the show, rather than all that pesky learning that could happen, is that there are a handful of “skits” peppered into the show involving Brian Cox having an adventure with The Doctor in the TARDIS. This all occurred because Professor Cox accidentally entered the time traveling police box in his way to his dressing room. The Doctor decided to “show him up” by showing off some real “wonders of science”. Had Brian Cox been a trained actor, these could have been amazing, but without that, they are merely decent. Cox seems sort of wooden throughout.

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There were of course celebrity guests involved, a fact that always makes me cringe with these sorts of things. Charles Dance, Richard Bacon, Rufus Hound, John Culshaw, and Christian Jessen lent their talents as scientific assistants to Professor Cox as he explained a handful of topics. These included how the Eye of Harmony could actually be possible, how time travel could potentially work, alien contact, and a handful of other topics related to Doctor Who. I’m not too familiar with any of these guests aside from Charles Dance, so their relevance was lost on me a bit as an American. A few of the sections were pretty cool, including an explanation on how the hourglass shaped space-time universe works. Others were seemingly disjointed, like a section where Brian Cox began explaining time travel via diagrams on a blackboard, only to alter course into an entirely different subject, then return much later on.

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While The Science of Doctor Who – With Professor Brian Cox was essentially a sneaky science program piggybacking on the 50th anniversary hysteria, that isn’t to say it’s not a good program. Cox does a fine job of teaching concepts from physics and astronomy in such a way that even kids can understand it and apply it to how they see the universe. Perhaps the only downside was the faux-“chumminess” between Cox and his celebrity guests, most of which seem to be less than enthusiastically involved, Professor Cox included. Brian Cox has done a great job helping “normal people” understand psychics, but I feel someone like Neil Degrasse Tyson or Bill Nye hold more “nerd credibility” and energy than Cox. I like my science guys either fun or “trippy” like Carl Sagan so to me Cox sometimes comes off as smarmy and a bit pretentious, and I would have hoped he would lighten up a bit for what was ostensibly a family program.

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Doctor Who: The Day of the Doctor (2013) 50th Anniversary Special

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Be warned, there are spoilers below:

This has been a real hard weekend for me because I had to wait until 10:00 Monday night to watch The Day of the Doctor while most everyone else saw it over 48 hours ago. This was because my wife and I scored some tickets at a (relatively) close theater in order to watch the special in 3-D on the big screen. We almost missed our chance because the original 7:30 showing sold out in a few days, leading the company to create a second showing. This wasn’t just an isolated case either, my area (the greater Kansas City area) had around 6-7 theaters that were ALL sold out.

The reason I was initially slow at getting tickets was that I stupidly underestimated the popularity of the show in 2013. This is of course because I recall being one of the few people that had ever heard of the show back in 2005-6, and assumed I could roll in late and still get tickets. Back then, I was basically mocked for liking “a show nobody has heard of” from a few people that shall remain nameless (You know who you are!). I’m so happy that Doctor Who seems to have such a large dedicated fanbase here in The States today. I should have known that younger folks enjoyed it, as you often see tons of cosplayers at anime and comic conventions in the area. Thanks to AMC and their events company for opening a second showing, that was a great thing for the fans (and AMC’s cash tills!).

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When we got there, a huge line suddenly appeared about 60 to 90 minutes before the showing, and I have never seen so many fezzes in one place in all my life. There were cosplayers of a few Doctors (mostly Matt Smith) including someone rocking an awesome First Doctor costume. We were there super early, and chatted up some of the other people in line. We got to hear some pretty good theories and even some pretty ridiculous ones from everyone, but all in all it was a great crowd.

I figured I’d go into the general theater experience, since people may want to know what was different, and how the crowds were. Any UK readers will be happy to know that we seem to have got the full experience over here as well. When we were finally seated, the usual asinine movie trivia on the screen was replaced by Doctor Who trivia. In many instances you could hear people in the audience participating, and it was cool seeing some of the younger fans, or at least newer fans, gasping at some of the answers. One in particular was a question like “which of these rock bands appeared in the 1960’s episode, The Chase?” When it was revealed to be The Beatles, you could hear a sudden enthusiastic murmur, where one could tell that minds had been blown.

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There was a funny moment where there was a ridiculously long pause before the 3D “reel” was switched on (I’m aware they do it with hard drives now), and about 25 sonic screwdrivers suddenly appeared from fans, young and old, attempting to fix the problem. This atmosphere was awesome to behold. I’ve been to midnight releases and special events in the past, and the most you’d ever see might be the odd clapping at the end of the film. These fans let out many “squees” during the episode itself, and I’ll later post what got the biggest reaction. You could tell that many saw this as a “once in a lifetime” experience. Everyone was excited, energetic, and happy.

Before the show, we did get treated to two short intro videos that I’d assume were not on the TV broadcast. One involved everyone’s favorite Sontaran warrior Strax briefing the audience on general theater rules. He apparently brought his own clone batch to the theater and wanted to make sure there would be no trouble from us “flesh creatures”. He reminded us not to use our cellphones, and showed what happened to the last guy he caught with one. He walks by a man trapped in restraints on a wall behind him. Accused of sending spy messages to his field commander, this man was not in good shape after Strax got done with him. Another complaint was “talking during the film” which was illustrated as having a similar punishment. Strax did approve of our cultures obsession with torturing “small corn creatures” until the exploded, then eating their fluffy bodies. He remarked how the “tiny screams” of the popcorn made him happy. The audience seemed to love Strax, and this vignette.

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The second mini-episode, if you could call it that, was one of Matt Smith and David Tennant (in character) hyping up the crowd. It opened with Smith’s Doctor in a white room congratulating the fans on making it to this “100th anniversary special, in amazing 12-D” someone came out and reminded him that this was only the 50th anniversary, and he seemed bummed. Apparently 12-D is something to behold, and mere 3-D is quite boring. The Doctor assumes it has something to do with budget cuts and apologizes. We get some banter from Smith and Tennant in the form of instructions on how to use the 3-D glasses and a special warning that Matt’s chin “could be unnerving” in 3-D. Eventually they both ask “wait wasn’t there supposed to be a third dimension” as John Hurt appears facing the other direction. You could have heard a pin drop in the audience after the initial GASP of shock on seeing “The War Doctor.”

There was also a “making of” featurette after the credits, narrated by Colin Baker, it was really good, but wasn’t anything earth-shattering.

NOTE: Before I talk about the actual episode, I’d love to hear if anyone else had similar theater experiences, feel free to drop a comment! Man, I’ve written quite a bit already for not actually talking about the episode!

Right from the opening seconds of The Day of the Doctor I knew I was in for a treat. Instead of the new opening title sequence that we got used to seeing throughout series seven, the episode opens with the original 1963 opening titles. The camera pans over the shadow of a policeman, and a sign that reads “I.M. Foreman, 76 Totter’s Lane” advertising a local scrap merchant. For those that do not know, it’s basically a remake of the very first scene of the very first episode, An Unearthly Child! To completely drive it home, we even see that Clara has some sort of teaching position at Coal Hill School, yet another callback – that was the school Susan attended, and Ian and Barbara taught at. According to a sign inside Ian Chesterton has even been promoted to a governorship in the school! At this point, I knew that this episode was going to be an “Easter egg hunt” for little tidbits that look back at the show’s past.

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Before I get to far into this, I’ll mention the 3D. I’m generally not a huge fan of 3D in movies because it often distracts from the film. I loved Avatar, Coraline, and Tron 2, but those are exceptions that used the effects well. Usually studios have a tendency to abuse the effect and make films nearly unwatchable. I’d say The Day of the Doctor uses it pretty well for the most part. Some scenes seem overdone like the helicopter scene and others use the effects to add depth to the picture. Sort of like having the picture be “bigger on the inside” :P I’d say it wasn’t necessary to see this in 3D, but it helped the theater experience immensely.

Right from the very beginning, one can see that The Day of the Doctor seems to have a noticeable budget increase over it’s normal TV brethren. It looks expensive (but not flashy), important, and movie-like, if that makes any sense. Just the way the opening titles are presented, the Tardis being airlifted to Trafalgar Square via helicopter, seems like the opening of something like a James Bond film. I think seeing this in a theater was a great decision on my part, because you can tell it was designed for it.

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The story follows The Eleventh Doctor as he is summoned to The Tower of London by U.N.I.T.’s very own Kate Stewart. She has special instructions from Elizabeth I of England, to have The Doctor check out a secret stash of Timelord art. It appears that Timelords create moments of time preserved in stasis that take the form of “3-D pictures” in frames. It seems many “paintings”in this gallery have been smashed from the inside, implying that something has escaped the pictures themselves. With this we are shown a painting called either ”No More” or “The Fall of Gallifrey” that depicts the final day of the Great Time War. This was the very day that The Doctor’s unmentionable past incarnation “The War Doctor” (John Hurt) ended the time war.

I loved this scene because the “Time War” has been so vague in the past, that seeing the Dalek invasion of Gallifrey’s “second city” Arcadia was awesome. It is at this point that we see “The War Doctor” steal a devastating super-weapon from the Timelord armory, one that has the power to annihilate entire galaxies.

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This weapon, called “The Moment” is classified as a “Galaxy Eater” and was locked away because it gained sentience and could not be controlled. With this weapon, “The War Doctor” heads to a desert and plans his ultimate sin against his own people. Suddenly a manifestation of “The Moment” appears, looking exactly like Rose Tyler, and rips holes in space and time in order to show “The War Doctor” his own future. This causes cracks to appear near The Eleventh Doctor and “War Doctor” causing them all to end up in Elizabethan England, the exact place where “The Tenth Doctor” is trying to stop a Zygon invasion. This is where everyone puts it all together and realizes that The Zygons are the ones that escaped the paintings using Time Lord Technology.

Once the threat is eliminated in a peaceful manner, “The War Doctor” goes off to activate “The Moment” as he believes his ultimate sacrifice causes peaceful things to happen such as the end of this Zygon invasion. He is headed off by Ten and Eleven, and they all discuss the situation. All incarnations after “The War Doctor” hated what happened, and blamed this forgotten incarnation for all sorts of bad things. They decide to help him not be alone in his decision, to lessen his burden. That is until Clara’s tears inspire a new choice: not killing everyone on Gallifrey. Eleven proposes that they could conceivably lock the entire planet of Gallifrey away, much like those paintings, and only make it appear that it was destroyed.

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This following scene is one of the best scenes in all of Doctor Who in my opinion, and involves a co-operative effort by these three Doctors to save their planet. The Arcadian leadership seems less than thrilled to find out that they have been targeted by three versions of one man they really can’t stand, and are even more annoyed when they find out “All twelve of them are here”. This cuts to a scene where you see twelve TARDISes heading into battle, and footage of EVERY SINGLE DOCTOR helping out. This was of course stock footage pulled from old episodes like the trick used in The Name of The Doctor, but it was still awesome. I nearly teared up at this point, probably because I had something in my eye, but held it back like the badass dude that I am. I was shocked when one of the Gallifreyan higher-ups said “No, Sir all thirteen”, since I had no idea that Peter Capaldi was going to make a “teaser” appearance in this. I have no idea how the internet kept this quiet, and I thank all of you.

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The Doctors Thirteen saved the day (hopefully) and went their separate ways. Happy in the fact that he did the right thing, “The War Doctor” starts regenerating from all the stress he had and we briefly see a glimpse of Doctor number Nine. It sucks that Christopher Eccleston didn’t want to help with the anniversary, but I’m glad we have finally seen all of the regenerations now.

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Everything winds down and fans are treated to the cameo of all cameos – Tom Baker’s return to the show. He is introduced as “The Curator” and seems to have a bit more knowledge than he should about the Doctor, Gallifrey, and Timelords in general. This character is kept fairly vague as to his true nature, but it was pretty great seeing Tom back after all these years. Finally, there is one more shot to hammer the point home that we saw something special:

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It may have been the atmosphere, it may have been the theater experience, and it may have been the 3D, but I feel that this was the most fun I’ve ever had at the theater, and it may have been the best episode of Doctor Who I’ve ever seen. It had awesome side characters, although there were very few. Elizabeth I was cool, and I loved seeing Kate Stewart and her assistant Osgood, and hope they show up more often in the show. I love multi-Doctor stories, but generally find them somewhat confusing and borderline nonsensical. That wasn’t the case with The Day of The Doctor, it all fit together, filled in some plot holes leftover from the Davies era, and made me excited for season 8’s search for Gallifrey!.

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As Promised, here are the biggest audience reactions of the night:

  •  The first scene with David Tennant got a big “Squee” from some fangirls.
  • Seeing Billie Piper got a similar reaction.
  • A lot of big laughs in certain scenes like “The Wedding”, The Banter between Doctors, Clara opening an unlocked door etc.
  • When the fans saw 12 TARDISes in in the climax there was some cheering, then it exploded once you saw Peter Capladi say “Make that Thirteen”. I was happy because some fans are concerned female fans will reject him next year.
  • The scene with Tom Baker went over VERY well.
  • The final scene involving all 12 Doctors standing together got cheers.
  • The end credits exploded in cheers and applause.

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The Night of the Doctor (2013)

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“I’m a Doctor … but probably not the one you expected!”

One of my dream storylines for the 50th Anniversary special was a multi-Doctor story featuring the return of Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor. Despite not being a huge fan of the 1996 movie that he appeared in, I grew to love his portrayal of the character because of the fine audio adventures produced by Big Finish. While my wish did not fully come true, I did get to see the Eighth Doc bless our screens for at least one final time. The Night of the Doctor is a fine prequel to The Day of the Doctor, and answers many questions. When did Eight regenerate? What/who is John Hurt‘s character? Who fought in the time war? There are more questions left after this, but the majority of the “gaps” that have been bothering fans for a while have either been filled or at least clarified. Pretty good for less than ten minutes of content!

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The story opens with a major predicament for a space pilot named Cass. Her ship is plummeting towards the planet Karn, and it doesn’t look good. Right in the nick of time, a mysterious man calling himself “The Doctor” shows up and offers assistance, but is turned away once it is realized that he is a Timelord. You see, it’s the early days of the “Time War” and Timelords are just about as popular as a particularly grouchy Dalek. Cass accepts death rather than speaking to The Doctor, a fact that devastates him to his very core. It seems that he has tried to hide from the Time War, and take no part in the various atrocities his people are committing. Pretty soon, time runs out both Cass and The Doctor crash into the planet’s surface, and both are killed on impact.

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Suddenly, The Doctor wakes up to familiar faces. The Sisterhood of Karn, not seen since the 1970’s adventure The Brain of Morbius, have revived him, but it’s not permanent. In less than five minutes he will die, The Doctor is given the choice of either a) Dying for good or b) Kickstarting his regeneration cycle and escaping his fate. There is a catch though, The Sisterhood of Karn wants The Doctor to take charge of his people’s actions in the Time War, they want him to stop hiding and become a warrior for once. With great pain, The Doctor accepts and regenerates into “The War Doctor” via some sort of “magical potion.” He is handed a bandolier and a new face appears, that of a young John Hurt, the man we saw at the end of The Name of the Doctor.

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For his short amount of screen time, Paul McGann delights with his version of The Doctor, bringing the momentary humor that I’ve grown to love in his audio adventures, and a slice of his dark side. Another notable happening is the fact that this “episode” essentially canonizes the aforementioned audio plays, by having The Doctor mention his companions before he dies. So, at least for now, Charley Pollard, C’rizz, Lucie Miller, Tamsin Drew, and Molly O’Sullivan are “legitimate” companions. I also liked how “Eight” took his regeneration. There was no emo-tastic “I don’t wanna die” tantrum that we’ve seen recently, just a stoic, if not slightly self-loathing nature to the way it happened. The effect was even like across between the new style (gold energy from hands and feet and head) and the old style (bright white light), which, if intentional, nice a nice touch by the producers.

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This ten minutes of Youtube greatness really brightened my day last week. I had no idea this even existed until I got home from work and noticed the internet had exploded into a nerdgasm of happiness. Petitions have gone up to get McGann back for some more filming in some capacity, and I think BBC had no idea that such a response would happen. It sometimes seems like old “Eight” is forgotten in the grand scheme of things, and having him get all this attention is awesome. Here’s hoping for a Capaldi / McGann episode in the future!

 

The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot (2013)

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Fans have been speculating for quite awhile about the mysterious “project” that Peter Davison was working on for the 50th anniversary. There were tweets that went out hinting at involvement with the Day of the Doctor, there were odd pictures, and even clandestine meetings between the classic actors making media rounds. That speculation has been silenced today, as fans were treated to a hilarious romp through the lives of four guys that don’t take themselves too seriously.

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The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot follows Peter Davison as he spearheads a campaign for his, and any other classic Doctor Who actors, inclusions into the 50th anniversary special. This is of course Davison, Sylvester McCoy, and Colin Baker playing self absorbed versions of themselves that borderline on being quite pitiful. Peter is jealous of how his younger children don’t seem to respect the fact that he was in the show, and feels that he should be in it to win their affections. Other classic Doctors are just as bad as Davison. McCoy, for instance, constantly drops the fact that he was in the huge budget film The Hobbit, and is even wearing a shirt with “The Hobbit” emblazoned on it. Colin Baker sits around forcing his family to watch old episodes of Doctor Who, not realizing that everyone has grown pretty tired of it. If you are wondering where the other two actors are that the title mentions, they are definitely in there. Doctor number four is a cameo from Paul McGann, who the other three humorously resent for having tons of work all the time, and then there is Tom Baker

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The “Tom Baker” scene was so ridiculous that both my wife and I laughed so hard that we scared our cats. The three actors start arguing who should call Tom for quite a while, only to get his voice message, a quote taken directly from Dimensions in Time from 1994. He, of course, was not able to answer them because they cut to the infamous “recycled from Shada” footage of the boat scene used in the original The Five Doctors. Both things were poking fun at the way Tom used to brush off Doctor Who anniversary stuff in the past, forcing the production teams to be “creative”. There are a lot of good gags in here, but this literally left us in tears.

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The plan that the “three amigos” concoct involves storming the production studio where the special is being filmed in sneaking into camera view. Keep, in mind that this is “Plan C” after bugging Steven Moffat over the phone failed, and picketing the BBC also failed. They eventually hitch a ride with John Barrowman to Cardiff, Wales and try their best to steal the real Tardis from a Doctor Who exhibition, as Peter seems to have forgotten that it was a prop in a fictional show. They eventually settle on merely “borrowing” their old costumes and convince David Tennant to prop the door open for them. Problem is, security is after them, and time is running out. I won’t spoil how they supposedly appear in the special, but it’s pretty great.

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As you can tell, The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot has tons of cameos from Doctor Who alumni both classic and new. There are literally too many to mention, but eagle eyed viewers will notice every era of the show represented, from Carole Ann Ford (Susan) to Mathew Watterhouse (Adric). These cameos aren’t too “in your face”, and many were too esoteric for me to pick out immediately, only a trip to Wikipedia shed light on who some of the people were.

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As you can tell, this was made for the fans of the classic show primarily, and it’s a great spoof of how many fans perceive various Doctor Who actors to be in real life. Unlike some parody material, this was very well made, and most importantly pretty funny. I’d rank it right up with The Curse of Fatal Death, and may even have enjoyed it more. If you’re a classic fan, do yourself a favor and check this out. New fans may scratch their heads with some of the jokes, but there is even stuff in there for them!

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EDIT: I’ve been getting a decent amount of traffic from folks that want to watch this, so here is a link to an official source:

Watch The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot Here

(let me know if the link crashes)

Happy 50th Anniversary Doctor Who!

This weekend is very special to me, as a beloved television show from my youth has hit a milestone that very few shows have or will ever reach – Doctor Who has been on for fifty years. I’m by no means a “new fan”, but there was a time when I lost touch with the show. When I found it again, it helped me get through a rough time and also helped me connect with my wife. For this, Doctor Who isn’t just some dumb TV show that I watch – it’s something that has always been there when I need it. Even if it’s just a form of escapist fun, it’s my favorite form of escapist fun.

One of my earliest childhood memories is that of my mother and I staying up late (at least from my viewpoint) and watching Tom Baker episodes on PBS back in the mid-1980’s. I clearly remember the shocks and scares of one episode in particular, The Hand of Fear. For years I had images of an disembodied mummified hand crawling around a space station murdering people permanently etched into the deepest recesses of my mind. Even into my teens, when I assumed I would never watch the show again, I would have nostalgic thoughts about how much I loved that episode.

Cover of "Doctor Who and the Hand of Fear...

Cover of Doctor Who and the Hand of Fear

But then Doctor Who did something that many of my other forgotten childhood gems did not do, it came back into my life.

My wife (then girlfriend) reminded me of the show when we started dating in the early-mid 2000’s. She entered one of the episodes into a “bad movie” marathon that some college friends would do, andI thought”I remember that show!” For some reason, it never occurred to me that they had old episodes on VHS and DVD since at the time only big popular shows would get that treatment. I had just signed up for Netflix to keep my Father’s death off my mind, and found a treasure trove of classic Doctor Who on there.

This was 2004, and I ended up “Googling” the show only to find out that the BBC was producing “new episodes of Doctor Who” in an animated form. I thought “well that’s cool” and watched Richard E. Grant‘s (now) non-canon adventure Scream of the Shalka with excitement. I was hooked. I bought some Target books, BBC books, and other stuff on E-bay, and started ploughing through the DVDs. I signed up for a popular message-board and saw news that blew me away: The BBC was bringing it back….like for real….not a cartoon either….legit.

Scream of the Shalka

Scream of the Shalka (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Flash forward to 2005, and I find myself downloading a “leaked” copy of Rose on Bittorrent. As I recall, I excitedly woke my wife up at some alarming time like 8:00 am on a Saturday (I’m a night owl) and basically forced her to watch it with me. I had secretly found out about it the night before, and wanted to surprise her. It was like Christmas morning for a small child, I simply could not wait any longer to dig into my presents. The leak of Rose, The very first Christopher Eccleston episode of the show, was one of those things that I suspect everyone on that forum did secretly, then pretended they did not online. I have no regrets for doing it as I ended up getting even more excited for the show’s return, and downloaded all the rest of the episodes.

This was back when BBC America was essentially a home and gardening channel and had no interest in the show, The Sci-fi channel blatantly said they “would never air it” and a simulcast was practically hysterical to think about. The American Doctor Who fan of 2005 was an internet pirate by necessity. Little by little, the show got more popular. “word of mouth” spread it like wildfire, and I sometimes felt like a drug dealer with it. Word got out that I had the episodes, and ended up burning terrible VCD and CD ROM copies for people. I turned a handful of my own friends into fans, something that I never expected to do. People that had never even heard of the show were getting into it, eventually The Sci-fi channel did pick it up for one season.

Seven years have passed, and the show is one of the more popular genre shows on TV here in America. There is a new generation of fans latching onto it, and although some may not know much about the classic show, new fans are a great thing. Fifty years is a long time. Granted, there was a hiatus in there, but even then the property still consists of over 33 seasons, TV and theatrical movies, multiple spin-offs, hundreds of audio dramas, hundreds of books, and much more.

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Doctor Who (Photo credit: Doctor Who Spoilers)

My wife and I will be attending a theatrical showing of the anniversary special The Day of The Doctor in wondrous 3D on Monday, meaning that I will try to avoid the fansites and such for a few days. To tide us over, we will be watching multiple other Doctor Who related programming all weekend, most notably An Adventure in Space and Time, the awesome looking docu-drama produced by the BBC starring David Bradley. Expect me to bombard this blog with 50th anniversary posts all week!