DOCTOR WHO: A SPACE (AND TIME) ODYSSEY – PART THREE
**CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS**
Suddenly the Doctor was very, very young; almost a child in vision and attitude as played by the tall-stick-insecty-excitable-Tigger that was Matt Smith. My brain exploded. I was used to the Doctor being an elder statesman and of course this shifted somewhat with Eccleston and Tennant, however, they seemed older. These were actors who had done Shakespeare (I think) and looked like they’d lived. Not Matt Smith. He was an unknown. He looked like he had just left school and was on a gap year to India or a kibbutz. He was posh. His Doctor wore a bow-tie! A bow-tie! Never fear though because Matt Smith made the role his own over 4 years, a multitude of brain-twisting episodes and seven specials. His strengths were his physicality, mania, fun and playfulness and there was a lot of Patrick Troughton in his performance; playing the fool before revealing a devilish plan by wrong-footing the villain and audience.
EPISODE 5.10 – VINCENT AND THE DOCTOR – Writer: Richard Curtis
Steven Moffat had written some amazing Doctor Who episodes so it made sense he would take over the production running reigns. The 5th season of the rebooted genesis veered from Davies’ strong science fictional, yet plausible, arcs to something more akin to science fantasy under Moffat. Quite frankly, I found some of the plot twists utterly barmy but still very much loved many of the episodes. Indeed, The Eleventh Hour was a fantastic introduction to Matt Smith and his feisty companion Amy Pond. Plus, the finale involving the Pandorica opening and subsequent Big Bang were impressive works of television.
However, my favourite episode of the whole season was one, which while rewriting history in a most memorable way, had at its heart a very warm, tragic and human story. Vincent and The Doctor was about depression, art, failure, creative perception and did what we all would hope to do with time-travel: right the injustices of the past. At the heart of the story is the Doctor and Amy’s meeting with Vincent Van Gogh and the artist’s battle with his demons, both literally and symbolically. The monster of course is depression and the writer Richard Curtis handles the subject deftly and gives Vincent an incredibly emotional denouement to the artists’ life; something denied him in reality.
EPISODE 5.10 – THE LODGER – Writer: Gareth Roberts
This season was brimming with imagination and great science fiction and the story arc involving the “cracks in the Universe” worked paradoxically but still created SO many unanswered questions. Moffatt asked us to take a massive leap of faith and his ambition and vision was to be applauded; but with the fantasy, complex structural conceits occurring at such it was sometimes tough to keep up on first watch.
Thus, The Lodger was a welcome moment in the season when The Doctor – with Amy ‘chilling’ on the TARDIS – came into the lives of Craig (James Corden) and Sophie (Daisy Haggard). The Doctor had a big impact on Craig’s life playing accidental matchmaker, impressing his mates with his football skills and his boss at work. Utilising Matt Smith’s great comedy timing and buddy-buddy act with the excellent Corden, The Lodger relies not just on laughs and but emotion too. Throw in a nefarious alien presence to deal with and you have a wonderful episode that is a lot of fun.
Here are my favourite episodes of SEASON SIX
EPISODE 6.3 – THE DOCTOR’S WIFE – Writer: Neil Gaiman
This is the season where Steven Moffat really made things VERY complicated with all manner of twisty, turny, space operatic plots delivered at a whizz-bang pace that at times left me dazed and confused. It was paradox upon paradox as the Doctor faces an existential crisis being given the knowledge of his own death and also knowing his mysterious assassin. Also, thrown into the mix is Amy’s pregnancy, a weird eye-patched villainess as well as horrific memory-melding monsters called THE SILENCE. Moreover, enigmatic River Song pops up all over the place just to confuse the viewer further! These stories encapsulated within: The Impossible Astronaut, Day of the Moon, A Good Man Goes to War, Let’s Kill Hitler, The Wedding of River Song etc. are all great and full of wonderful ideas and I think in time will be considered classic Doctor Who. However, they don’t quite make my list.
The Doctor’s Wife was an immediate and cracking hit for me with a wonderful concept, beautiful effects and stunning cast including Suranne Jones as a physical incarnation of the TARDIS. Doctor, Rory and Amy pass through a rift which means the TARDIS ends up in a weird isolated place run by a nasty sentient being called HOUSE. In HAL-like fashion, House (voiced by Michael Sheen) steals the TARDIS along with Rory and Amy on board and it is left to the Doctor and an odd, sparkly female being called Idris to save the day. It’s a lovely relationship between Idris (the TARDIS personified) and Matt Smith’s frantic Doctor as they exchange flirtatious banter while constructing a makeshift TARDIS from the scraps lying around the amidst the crumbling tip that is the place on which they are trapped. Suranne Jones is amazing and beautiful as Idris and there is great chemistry between her and Smith as they race to save Amy and Rory from the murderous HOUSE.
EPISODE 6.10 – THE GIRL WHO WAITED – Writer: Tom McCrae
This is what time-travel films and TV shows are all about for me: presenting complicated paradoxical timelines where individuals eventually face different versions of themselves and must deal with a moral dilemma. It’s occurred to the Doctor many times before in the classic older and the newer series but in The Girl Who Waited it was Amy Pond who becomes trapped on Chen7 in a timeline that splits her character into younger and older versions of herself. So, when the Doctor and Rory attempt to save her trapped soul they overshoot by 36 years and find a bitter, rabid Amy now characterised as an ass-kicking-Sarah-Connor-survivalist-type who refuses to save her younger self. It’s a heart-wrenching episode which can be considered Doctor-lite, however, Karen Gillen owns it; giving two great performances. The relationship between Rory and Amy hangs heavy in the air as there is papable sense of loss to the core of The Girl Who Waited.
Here are my favourite episodes of SEASON SEVEN
EPISODE 7.1 – ASYLUM OF THE DALEKS – Writer: Steven Moffat
This season wasn’t as mind-blowing in terms of the over-complex story arc as Season SIX, but it still tested the grey cells and by the time we got to the excellent-almost-made-this-list-season-finale The Name of the Doctor plausibility was on the creative rack screaming for mercy; in a good way. The season traversed the loss of not one, but TWO companions in Amy and Rory, and introduced Clara Oswin Oswald in her various incarnations. One may argue the whole Clara-in-the-Doctor’s-timeline arc was quite baffling and needn’t be so insane but I enjoyed the mystery of the “Impossible Girl”; and it was great to see all the old Doctors again.
Anyway, the season opener Asylum of the Daleks is an absolute cracker as the Doctor, Amy and Rory are “summoned” by the Daleks to venture into the Dalek “nut-house” and save them from a bunch of crazy rogue Daleks threatening their very existence. Oooh, what a switcheroo; the Doctor SAVING the Daleks! The production values of Doctor Who just got bigger and better as the seasons progressed and with an Army of Daleks and the planet Skaro on show here the special effects teams were producing TV work of the highest order in shiny, shiny high-definition. Arguably, though the writer(s) could have dug the season into a narrative hole in relation to what comes after but Jenna Coleman’s appearance was a fine touch and her lightness in performance was a fine counter-point to the heavy nature of the insane Dalek asylum. The subplot of Rory and Amy’s marriage difficulties, the crazy Daleks and the sadness in the final reveal really added to the drama and pulled at the heartstrings. This episode breathed further life into the Daleks as one, if not the greatest, of the Doctor’s greatest foes.
EPISODE 7.5 – ANGELS TAKE MANHATTAN – Writer: Steven Moffat
Angels Take Manhattan wins out over episodes I loved like: Cold War, Hide and The Snowmen, because it is just so heart-wrenching. Matt Smith excels in a very dramatic show which finds the Doctor lose Amy and Rory to old foes the Weeping Angels! The opening of the episode begins in a film noir style story and is framed like a detective novel as Moffat delivers a meta-fictional structure combined with a spooky haunted hotel story. It’s full of grand twists and turns which pull the viewer from past to present and back again. Moffat ratchets up the scares by introducing us to new version of the ‘Angels’ like little buggers the Weeping Cherubs. And get this: the STATUE OF LIBERTY is a WEEPING ANGEL! Incredible! Saying goodbye to a companion is always tough but Amy and Rory went out in great style and are still out there somewhere.
Malcolm Tucker as Doctor Who? Say that again: Malcolm Tucker as Doctor Who? Yes! This is where the whole-huge-behemoth-new-Doctor-Who-binge-catch-up began for me. Peter Capaldi is a great actor and has been in many fine shows, not least the iconic-Machiavellian-sweary-political-demon in the awesome Thick of It. So, when it was announced he would replace Smith the younger, I was back into the Whoniverse like the proverbial rat up a drainpipe. This would be, in my mind, the return to an older, darker Doctor spitting out words of wisdom and barbs to his companions while shooting venomous looks and ire at his villains. The season kind of was like that and kind of wasn’t. I think Capaldi is a fine, fine Doctor and probably would have been better in the previous era as his visage and ability is probably more suited to age of Troughton, Pertwee and Baker. But, overall, he brought a real depth and dark sarcasm to the series which leavened out the more ridiculous and fluffy aspects of the show; the slushy romance and kids basically.
Here are my favourite episodes of SEASON EIGHT
EPISODE 8.8 – MUMMY ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS – Writer: Jamie Mathieson
I struggled big time picking two out because I enjoyed most of the episodes of this season. Many of them had moments of greatness in them but they also had some elements which I personally didn’t like such as: over-reliance on Danny and Clara’s Hollyoaks romance. Having said that there were some memorable concepts, baddies and nods to film genres including: heist movies; earth-saving trees; hatching moons; a Dinosaur in ye olde London; half-faced clockwork Victorians; chilling 2D Boneless; the mysterious Missy; the Doctor as a child; an analysis of a Dalek’s soul; Robin Hood and a shrinking TARDIS!
Capaldi was brilliant as I thought he would be and I loved one of his opening gambits to Clara: “Am I a good man?” Then, just then, I thought we are really going to take a deep look at WHO the Doctor really is! Indeed, the army of writers led by Moffat developed this character subtext very well notably in the episode Listen, where not much occurred on the page yet in the murky margins and shadows there was impressive suspense and terror. However, my first choice is the awesomely titled Mummy on the Orient Express and this crammed so many great things into the 45 minutes running time. The Doctor and Clara are on one last voyage before going their separate ways yet a vicious Mummy (AKA The Foretold) is killing passengers who only have 66 seconds to live once he targets his victim. It’s great fun and kind of scary and as the Doctor cracks the case he shares some fine one-liners and banter with a terrific cast including Frank Skinner and David Bamber. Brilliant script too.
EPISODE 8.11 – DARK WATER – Writer: Steven Moffat
This episode is pitch black darkness personified. It opens with Danny Pink’s death, before moving onto a tricky scene where Clara fails to get to the Doctor to change this event. Yet, the Doctor rewards Clara’s desperate attempt to trick him by saying they are “going to hell”. Thus, they attempt to track Danny’s spirit and end up in the NETHERSPHERE or “Promised Land” where they finally get to meet the enigmatic Missy who had popped up at the end of quite a few episodes throughout the season.
Death casts a looming shadow over this episode and even I had my pillow over my face when I heard the screams of the dead cry: “Don’t cremate me!” in one particularly harrowing scene. Further, we also get to delve into Danny’s backstory such as that of the child he killed when serving in the army which, along with Clara’s grief, added texture to the theme of mortality within the show. By the time the Cybermen are marching down St Paul’s (in tribute to The Invasion from 1968) steps I was gripped. The performances are superb from Jenna Coleman, Peter Capaldi and the Mistress herself Michelle Gomez, who demonstrates a gleeful mania to great effect. A superb episode with thankfully no kids to ruin it and one which the second part Death in Heaven had to go some to match.
SPECIAL MENTION: THE DAY OF THE DOCTOR – 50TH ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL
I’ll round up this run through of the Whoniverse with a special mention of The Day of the Doctor, which was the closest we’d get to a new Doctor Who movie. It was a spectacular piece of writing by Steven Moffat and a brilliant story which rewrote the whole Doctor Who narrative. It brought THREE Doctors (Matt Smith, David Tennant and John Hurt’s War Doctor) into a mixture of high concept sci-fi and operatic drama which soared in tribute to fifty years of the Timelord. The chemistry between the Doctors was a joy (and Tom Baker popped in at the end too) as they go back to the Time War era and review the decision to destroy Gallifrey and the end the war with the nefarious Daleks. This was a Doctor Who production of the highest order and it demonstrates the power and prowess of the show that it was shown simultaneously in 94 countries hitting the Guinness Book of Records for largest ever live simulcast!
Finally, in doing this piece I have read a lot of critical, blog and online forum reviews during my research I have realised Doctor Who is MORE than a TV show. It’s a huge cult with fans all over the world who are as passionate about the show as people are about religion or their chosen football team. If I’m honest the old show I watched as a child holds so many great memories but nostalgia can be a cruel guide so it could be easy to dismiss the new show “because it’s not as good as when I was a kid!”. But, the reboot has on the whole. has been brilliant too. I may not like everything about it but it still retains that magical quality I experienced as an earthly child growing up on a high-rise estate in South London.