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So that was the weekend that was. It’s worth sharing some thoughts on what I watched:
Expectations Determines Response: I contacted two people immediately after the show to get their feedback on it. Both of them expressed disappointment. Digging deeper into their response, it was clear they had certain expectations for this episode. Part of these expectations came from the size of hype leading up to the main event. This hype was not helped by the outstanding minisode Night of the Doctor. With the stakes so high, the special had to go above and beyond to at least meet the hype. Exciting as it was, the episode did not meet those lofty expectations for those two people.
For me, conversely, I was only too aware of the hype in the days running up to the event, but had switched my expectations lower because of it. As a result I was pleased with what I watched. It met the basic requirements for me, and it even lived up to some of the things Steven Moffat suggested.
The Plot Was Not That Complicated: Moffat scripts and story-arcs have been accused in the past of being too complex for the audience. I read some people level that criticism at this episode. That was a misguided criticism. It worked as I looked to summarise the plot.
Zygons attempt to invade earth again in the present and in duplicating Elizabeth I where the Tenth Doctor is getting himself in romantic trouble with the Queen. The danger however also triggers a letter from the Queen picked up by the Eleventh Doctor who receives a summons from UNIT to investigate the matter. This connects with a portrait of the last day of the Time War where the War Doctor is about to end it all, the only way he knows how.
The Three Doctors meet up in Elizabethan England as the War Doctor works out how he’ll end up and the two latter Doctors come face to face with something and someone they’ve sought to hide. In resolving the Zygon effort in the past and the present, it reinforces the belief for the War Doctor that he must still carry out his dreaded task. His later selves also reach the same conclusion and are about to join him, when Clara appeals to her Doctor’s very title. This triggers an idea that the Doctor has been considering for hundreds of years, and it clicks with his younger selves and so they make an audacious bid to radically adjust their own time-line, by altering the close of the Time War.
This was a relatively straightforward plot to follow. At least to me.
The Doctors Were Brilliant: Great credit must go to Matt Smith, David Tennant and John Hurt for putting in excellent performances as the main character. Two things help make a programme enjoyable, the story and the performances. The story was done well and the performances really were of the highest standard for the series. Their differences as Doctors was highlighted well. Hurt’s War Doctor was already set, it’s as though we knew what he was like for ages, even though it’s the first time he’s performed.
There was something in the younger Doctor being the most mature and the oldest appearing the least, when in actuality behind the frivolity and playfulness there was still a level of weariness affecting the Eleventh Doctor. The episode was meant to be about the Doctor and it worked a treat largely because their portrayals were nailed on.
The Feel Was Special … But: The quality of the programme by its production values ensured I was not watching a regular series episode of Dr. Who. Great effort has been put into the quality of the episodes over the series, and the recently completed series endeavoured to give it a feature-film feel. This one went even beyong those standards to make it feel special.
Yet it didn’t quite feel epic. The scope of the script was large. The implications of the storyline were large. The set-pieces were large in places. Larger than normal – but not epic.
That’s not a bad thing necessarily, unless you demanded epic, in which case you could feel a tiny bit let down. Only a tiny bit.
It Has Set Up Doctor Who For The Future: I am not fussed by the happy ending to the episode. Some prefer the more melancholic tragic series endings we’ve come across in time past. This, however, is a special. This is a special set-up to give the programme a boost for the future. It meets this expectation then exceeds it. The programme was not going to struggle for story ideas, and story-arcs to consider. What this episode did, however, was change the game in a large way by leaving questions that other writers and head-producers can answer at their leisure. Questions like:
What are the consequences of the change to the Time War for the Doctor?
What are the consequences for Gallifrey and Time Lords?
What are the consequences for the Daleks?
How will that impact the rest of the universe?
Confirmation of the John Hurt Doctor as a legitimate part of the lineage also drastically changes things. The question of the 13th incarnation now for certain has to be resolved in some way with the Peter Capaldi Doctor.
Leaving the programme with these questions and issues set for the next few seasons with ample room and time to develop more issues gives much hope for the future of Dr. Who.
C. L. J. Dryden
If I haven’t mentioned it yet, my timing has been somewhat suspect on a few things. I really got into supporting Liverpool Football Club just when they stopped winning League titles. I also got into having AC Milan as my Italian team and then they decided not to be that good anymore.
So it should come as no surprise that I started getting into Dr. Who in the early 1990’s. I have vague recollections of bumping into the occasional Sylvester McCoy episode during an advert of Coronation Street. I recall the odd occasion coming across it in Peter Davison’s era. There might have been maybe one or two times I saw a programme with that Colin Baker fella in it. Yet these were not occasions when I would stop and pay attention to what the programme was about.
So, I actually came into Dr. Who by reading some of the novels (from the classic era, very few New Adventures) in my local library. I discovered later that these were novelisations of episodes. I can’t remember the novels now, because the interest into the novels soon turned to interest in non-fiction descriptions of the programme, especially from a writer called Peter Haining.
It was fun getting insight on the actors and the different focus the programme had from the 1960’s til the time it was taken off the screen. This is where I came across the fact that I was very late in getting into it as it had been taken off the screens. I mean, it was unlikely it would ever come on the screen again.
Even in those pre-Internet days – and I didn’t have access to video recorders – it was still fascinating reading about this intriguing character. First there was a grumpy old man, then an impish, mischievous accidental meddler, followed by an action-hero of the mature variety. From there he was a wide-grinning curly-haired joker followed by a soft and vulnerable cricketing type, before a larger brash well-meaning bounder gave way to a mercurial truly mysterious man who was Time Lord.
Good stories, but a far more captivating central character. On the one hand he wasn’t a very deep character, on the other hand he certainly was complex. I preferred him all the more when it was emphasised his alien nature.
By 1996 with news of a TV movie potentially re-launching the television series, I was as excited as any fan. Finally after nine years of being off screen where I turned from someone who couldn’t care less to someone very much interested in the character, here I was going to get a taste of it for real.
I do remember being taken with the novelty of having the Doctor on the television and actually seeing him regenerate. That carried my interest for the rest of the episode. What has also got to be said though, was I wasn’t surprised when nothing else happened from there.
Thankfully, it wasn’t long after that when the Internet era came along (for me), and I could subscribe to certain web-sites and get reviews on episodes. Honestly, in the latter 90’s and early 00’s my interest in the character waned whilst my time was taken up with other things. I’d occasionally read this or that about him, but I wasn’t a die-hard fan who had to get everything Dr. Who related.
When 2005 came around and I came across the programme, it was a good time for me. I recall watching that first episode called Rose with my brother when he lived in Guildford. Someone recently said that if you watch the last Sylvester McCoy episode and then this episode you can tell it’s the same programme. Sure some of the basic standards had risen, but I can see the point.
What I love about the programme from that time in the early 90’s is what was maintained in the new series. That was a commitment to portraying a fascinating central character. I don’t think Eccleston did enough in the only season to place himself as a very good Doctor, but evidently he did enough to keep the programme on the air and pave the way for Tennant and Smith to excel.
They have indeed excelled thanks to the supervision of very good television writer-producers like Russell T. Davies and Steven Moffat. I keep watching it because it still tells a good story. It still has an intriguing central character.
Unique characteristics like the regeneration thing and the diversity of personalities that have makes the one renegade Time Lord worth me watching. The stories that it tells even from perspectives I disagree with also show the power that something that is ‘entertainment’ can subtly convey to those who watch it. A programme like Doctor Who is permission to explore such a range of creative expressions it far outstrips any of its rivals on television. The loyal fandom is also something that is compelling and the ability to hear different views on both old and new Doctor could keep me entertained for hours and hours.
The bottom line about why I like it is this – I like a good story. In its ups and downs the television programme that started in November 1963 told and continues to tell a good story. I hope it continues to do so for years to come.
C. L. J. Dryden
This is the final part of a three part series considering the role of the companions in the hit sci-fi programme Dr. Who as it celebrates its 50th anniversary. You can see my views on the companion in the first three Doctors by clicking here. Then go on to see what my views were on those that were with the Doctor from Leela through to Martha Jones by clicking here.
The outstanding companion of New Who is Donna. The relationship between her and the Tenth Doctor struck all the right notes. The comedy, the drama, all made the tragedy of how it ended for her all the more touching. It worked. Of all the companions, she was the one that you wanted to keep travelling most with the Doctor – though it’s a sign of good timing and scripting when you can see one depart where you wanted to see more.
Lots can be said about Amy Pond, but she was a strong companion who evidently grew as she travelled with the Doctor. The dynamic really worked, because it was no longer a love triangle when Rory came on board the TARDIS. Sure there were vestiges of it that seeped over from the end of series five to the beginning of series six, but by The Angels Take Manhattan, everything was as it should have been.
I loved Rory as a companion. He worked far better than Mickey did in his brief excursions. Like Amy we got to see the evolution of Rory in the role and saw the effects of time travel on how he behaved, from a wimp of nurse, to a stronger sort who could look after himself and his wife when it came to tough decision-making. I’d say Rory is the best male companion in the TARDIS since Jamie with the Second Doctor. To be fair, though, Rory doesn’t face that much competition when you consider how nondescript the likes of Adric, Turlough and Mickey turned out to be.
The current incumbent, Clara, has had it tough. She has had to follow a really strong companion team, in a somewhat disjointed season and a significant mystery behind her character. I think, to her credit, she’s had some really strong stories to appear in – like Hide, Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS, Nightmare in Silver and The Name of the Doctor. She’s bright chirpy and a match for the Doctor in not following the stereotypical route in the TARDIS. It will be intriguing seeing how she ends up, and what her dynamic will be with the Twelfth Doctor.
The likes of Captain Jack and River Song are different types of companion. They may have been on the odd adventure with the Doctor, but they were hardly companions. This is just like I wouldn’t call Jackie, Rose’s Mum, a companion although she was on the TARDIS in the finale of series 4.
In this brief jaunt over the companions things that appear obvious to me are the following:
- The more companions on the TARDIS the harder it is for any one of them to stand out.
- The best combinations tend to be the Doctor with one companion.
- The challenge remains to write a decent male companion to the Doctor who is connected directly to him, not through another companion.
Strong companions are those who still ask the Doctor the key questions, but in a way that brings out a good relationship with the Doctor, without it becoming ‘complicated’.
The Twelfth Doctor offers a chance to return to a different dynamic of relations between the Doctor and the companion. It need not be the love-interest thing anymore. It could revert to some of the strengths of the Seventh Doctor’s one with Ace. It’s a great writing and acting challenge for whoever gets to take it on.
I’m not endeared to the ‘he must not travel alone’ ethos that has been the standard for New Who. If the Doctor needs humans to do what’s right, it detracts from the mystery of his alien nature – he should be fine on his own. Having said that, I hope, however, that companions for the future make travelling with the Doctor the dangerous, exhilarating and personally fulfilling adventure it can be at its best.
C. L. J. Dryden
This is part two of the three-part series looking at those who have travelled with the Time Lord as we celebrate 50 years of the Doctor. See the first part by clicking the link.
Where last we left off we considered one of the best Doctor-companion partnerships in the entire run, namely that between the Fourth Doctor and Sarah-Jane Smith.
After that, I watched how the Fourth Doctor engaged and left all his companions and he was rather brusque and brisk in getting rid of them. He was fairly lacking in sentiment, whether it was his ‘savage’ in Leela, or his intellectual equivalent in Romana. Indeed of all the Doctors, the Fourth appeared the best equipped not to need a companion.
The Fifth one, however, was certainly designed to need all the assistance he could get, so it was fitting that his TARDIS would be full of companions. It’s just unfortunate that most of them were fairly average. Tegan – annoying. Adric – errrr … why? Nyssa was alright, but because she was in a big group she hardly stood out. The thinking behind Turlough as a companion was dead on arrival because once we got over his homicidal mission, he was of little real interest.
There’s a lot to be said about the Sixth Doctor’s run. You can criticise the outfit, you can criticise the stories and you can criticise how his stint ended. One thing I actually think did work was the evolution of his relationship with Peri. Their odd couple into essential pals routine worked a treat and showed that a Doctor could have a female companion and not need to make it anything other than a friendship. This is something that was almost lost on the new era of the Doctor’s companions until Donna.
Mel was not as bad as some want to make out. But she was bad. So we move swiftly to the final companion of the old series – Ace. The Seventh Doctor-Ace relationship is up there with the best. That mentoring thing and the Doctor seemingly knowing more than he showed almost manipulating Ace into things, was superb storytelling over multiple serials. It’s a real shame the television series never had the chance to show how that relationship ended up.
Not much to say about the movie version – not enough time to feel invested in the Eighth Doctor’s companions.
When the series was re-launched in 2005 there was something different about the role of the companion. Indeed like no companion before, the series focussed more on Rose than anything else. In as much as I appreciate the importance of the companion, it is a problem to me when the series revolves around them.
I am happy for Billie Piper that she proved herself as an actress of worth in the role. However for the first four series of the new Who to be dominated by her in one shape or other, showed a different direction that did not endear itself to me. The romantic thing between her and the Tenth Doctor was annoying to me.
Martha, though, was just something else. To be the rebound companion and to script her as having a crush on the Doctor irritated me no end. I felt that element of the story arc with her involved was tedious and detracted from whatever positive things she did do as the companion.
Coming very soon is the concluding part of this companion piece to the Doctor outlining some important ingredients of what makes a decent companion.
C. L. J. Dryden
Here begins the start of a three part series looking at the importance of the role of the companion in Dr. Who.
Dr. Who is about lots of things – the TARDIS, the villains, the different worlds, the adventures and of course the Doctor. The set-up, especially in the latest run of the programme, has someone equally as important as the lead guy to help us with the story – the companion.
Getting the companion right in any adventure series is something that has to be measured just right. Make them too sycophantic and it ruins the piece and they are somewhat redundant as our eyes and ears into the story. Make them too strong and you question why they become a companion to the main person.
Unlike Sherlock Holmes, where the character of Watson is a good constant, Dr. Who is far too sprawling – walking in eternity as he does – to just have the one companion. So inevitably over the course of the 50 years he’s been on television and the 11 incarnations he’s experienced (John Hurt is not The Doctor, he is The Warrior), quite a number of folks have had a stint asking him to explain narrative points for our benefit.
On reflection of my viewing experience of watching Dr. Who both the classic and the new episodes. Getting the companion right, really is a fine art. The Hartnell companions after Barbara and Ian are much of a muchness. The combination of Troughton and Hines as the Second Doctor and Jamie was a great partnership, and whoever travelled with them reinforced the great combination.
Pertwee’s companions were interesting, three women of differing intelligence and spikiness. You could argue Jo Grant was a stereotypical perspective of a Dr. Who companion namely being pretty to look at and sufficiently lacking in intellect to require her to ask the right questions on behalf of the audience. Yet there were clear elements of Jo being someone who grew as she knew. She was not a bimbo at all, and it’s a shame that she’s sometimes viewed as rather two-dimensional.
The quintessential companion to the Doctor who has had the chance to span both classic and new series is Sarah-Jane Smith. Her dynamic with Pertwee was good, but it remains with Tom Baker that the ideal combination of the clever Doctor and the companion who could bring him down a peg or two came in. I think the role of a journalist was good in making her feisty, fearless and as curious as her friend – and like Jamie and the Second Doctor, they came across as good friends. Not Doctor and his assistant.
Find out more about my views on the companions of the Doctor in the second part of this companion piece series.
C. L. J. Dryden
I was absolutely gobsmacked when I saw it. I’m not that engrossed in fandom to pay attention to all the rumours about what will happen. I had no idea that this would happen, so the surprise worked for me.
It was a delight to get another televisual episode of Paul McGann as the 8th Doctor and Moffat’s script more than did him justice. It shows just how much you can say in 8 minutes, and if they were clever, they could get a lot more conveyed in making more little minisodes like this one.
What makes it a treat for a Dr. Who fan like myself is how it weaves together so many strands of the show’s history – Karn, Time War, Regeneration, etc. It combines elements of action, tragedy, humour, intrigue and mystery.
Excellent all round performances, and I’m a big fan of the regeneration itself and the lines of how the universe doesn’t need a Doctor, “Make me a warrior now … Physician heal thyself”. Superbly done.
McGann is the first romantic Doctor. (Davison, the closest previous Doctor that could be argued as a romantic Doctor, was not a romantic, he was a soft, vulnerable, easily perplexed anti-Tom Baker Doctor, heroic despite, rather than because). It is fitting that he should be the one who can no longer escape the implications of the war, and so must turn from the caring bedside manner Doctor, to the Warrior.
I have yet to read a negative review of the mini episode, which has got to be something, seeing as though fans are not always receptive to what the BBC presents.
The last post I’ve done on the Doctor reflected a fairly underwhelming approach to the anniversary. This episode did something more than anything else to genuinely look forward to the big show on 23/11/13 with a bit more expectation.
Such has been my excitement about the big show after this, and especially after a recent survey, I’m somewhat inspired to write a little bit more of how I’ve enjoyed the programme. So before the big show, expect some more writing that’s Doctor-related.
C. L. J. Dryden
There are now just 10 days until the 50th Anniversary special of Dr. Who pops up on our screens.
There’s no other way of saying it – it is a big deal for Dr. Who fans. It’s a big deal for television history, as few programmes make it to such an age.
To be honest, I’ve done what I can to keep my hopes down. Not having all the living Doctors feature in the episode is a disappointment. A lot of the build-up to the celebration has been somewhat underwhelming. The announcement of programmes to come on the BBC has been rather ‘meh’. In fact when I saw what BBC America were doing in the week of the event, I was properly cheesed off that yet again the fans across the pond appear to be getting all the good stuff, whilst we’re left with documentaries about the ‘science’ of a television fiction hero.
The trailers they have shown in recent weeks, have done much to at least let me know the BBC are not side-shuffling the event.
The first one with the combination of characters old and new was cool. The ones broadcast this weekend just gone were interesting too. I don’t watch them and think, ‘wow, this is huge it must be special’. I do watch them and think ‘this is cool, something different for the Doctors to face, should be interesting’. That is significantly better than nothing.
Plus at least after the episode we don’t have to wait so long for the next episode. And what an important episode THAT will be when we come across the regeneration from 11 to 12.
All fun and frolics for Dr. Who fans.
C. L. J. Dryden