Reviewed: Doctor Who – The Complete History Issue 5

This is probably the only volume of The Complete History to include the word ‘goolies,’ but hey, it’s Doctor Who, so you never know.

Matt Smith’s tenure as the Eleventh Doctor takes up the most books of this collection – a fact I’m very, very pleased about – so I knew we wouldn’t have to wait long before we got our first HC dedicated to his stories. We start off with Series 7: Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, A Town Called Mercy, and The Power of Three, to be exact.

It was a glorious time to be a fan because after a long wait, we had five shiny new episodes to plough through, leading up to a new companion and the much-anticipated 50th anniversary. It all seems so very long ago, but paradoxically (and entirely appropriately, given this is Doctor Who we’re talking about) just yesterday.

It was also around this time that my frustration began. Not with the series, no, but with fandom.

I was concerned about the rise of negativity. I even wrote an article about it, which split readers into three groups: those who agreed with me, those who didn’t but explained their reasons and seemed just, and the third party whose comments consisted largely of swearing, calling each other trolls, and generally having “I’m not negative, Doctor Who is just bad now, everything sucks, Moffat must go, death to fun” sentiments.

And this hardback, too, gives you just the first glimmer of that negativity, with the Broadcast section for A Town Called Mercy noting how one viewer on Points of View said that the show as going downhill “due to the failure of the writers to innovate”, while The Daily Telegraph went with the heading “Is it just me, or is the latest series of Doctor Who a bit rubbish?”

A Town Called Mercy - 11th Eleventh Doctor Matt Smith Amy Rory Pond

(After poring over this book, learning about the effort all parties go to in order to ensure the show is as good as it possibly can be, it’s a bit outrageous to read any criticism that essentially accuses the production team of having a laissez-faire attitude. Nothing is above criticism, but how dare people insinuate that the team simply don’t care as much anymore?! See, this is what riles me. No one sets out to make bad television, and I think that sentiments drives the DWC.)

The same negativity cannot be extended to this issue of The Complete History, which keeps up the solid start the partwork had. Those first four were originally released on the test period, so they had to be top-notch. Issue 5 is just as exceptional.

It seemed an odd choice, grouping these three episodes together in one book: surely leaving Asylum of the Daleks and The Angels Take Manhattan hanging into other volumes is a little strange? Amy and Rory’s final on-screen adventure is tonally very different to The Snowmen, even if the former informs the latter greatly. Equally, The Power of Three was the last one Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill filmed, so why not pair that and Angels as one?

This does, however, demonstrate how productions can contrast so substantially.

Chris Chibnall (incorrectly called “Chris Chinball” in one pull-out quote; nobody’s finest hour) wrote the stories that bookend this HC, and their progression couldn’t be more different: Dinosaurs on a Spaceship was complete in a couple of drafts, whereas The Power of Three was… well, massacred.

The production team were so pleased with the first draft of Dinosaurs that they asked Chris to write a second story (which bodes very well for Chibnall’s showrunning). That much is common knowledge anyway. This book reveals that he had a further script for Series 7B, including Clara, in the works, but he had to abandon it so he could write The Power of Three and develop Broadchurch.

Power of Three 11th Eleventh Matt Smith

This meant that The Power of Three was written in stages: one script would only go so far as a certain scene; the next would further it slightly; and the next even more so. Then when it got to Production and Post-Production, it was butchered. Chopped and changed and bits added in and parts taken away – the whole thing was restructured.

It seems we lost some really good dialogue, but also some filler too.

Some of the plot holes are smoothed out by the deleted content, but the Shakri remain pretty elusive. It’d be nice to have the species revisited, but I doubt it. In fact, so much was cut that brief reshoots were needed. It must’ve come as a bit of a surprise to the cast when they saw it on transmission. That opening voiceover, for instance, didn’t exist until much later in the process, remaining one of the last things Karen recorded before leaving the regular role.

Yep, this is quite a sad issue. These are the last days of the Ponds, their last scene filmed (apart from Gillan’s brief return in The Time of the Doctor) being when they stepped into the TARDIS at the episode’s conclusion.

Nonetheless, this remains a joy to read. The whole volume is interesting and presented beautifully. We get such scope in these episodes that each section looks so radically different.

A particular favourite is A Town Called Mercy. I love that episode, and the section devoted to it in The Complete History is equally as solid. The benefit of this issue’s stunning photography is that you get to see the locales and characters in so much detail.

The Gunslinger, especially, can be appreciated better. While there’s not a wealth of images of him, the ones big enough to study show a lot of intricacy and attention. I never realised his fingertips were metal, for instance. Honestly, it’s a gorgeous-looking episode, and the Gunslinger’s the cherry on top.

As ever, this is an illuminating read, so here are a few things I learnt:

  • Rupert Graves left school at the age of 15 and ran away to join the circus. No, really.
  • The end of Dinosaurs on a Spaceship changed quite a bit; originally, Nefertiti was to have sacrificed herself on Solomon’s ship.
  • It’s widely known that the area in Almeria, Spain, called Mini Hollywood, which doubled for Mercy, was built in 1965 for the film, For a Few Dollars More, and its subsequent sequels. But it came as a surprise to find out that the site was then purchased by some of the movie’s extras so they could run it as a tourist attraction… and to get further work in Westerns filmed there. Canny thinking!
  • The scene in which the Doctor is called out of the Sheriff’s office by townsfolk and told to “take a walk” was inspired by a similar one in To Kill a Mockingbird.
  • Matt Smith adlibbed the Eleventh Doctor’s catchphrase, “Geronimo” when the Cube is about to open.

Dinosaurs on a Spaceship 11th Eleventh Doctor Matt Smith Amy Rory

The book also clears up that business with the Rory leaving the phone charger in Henry VIII’s bedroom, which prompted fans to speculate that A Town Called Mercy happened during The Power of Three. I won’t spoil it for you.

Profiles this time cover Rupert Graves, Ben Browder, and Jemma Redgrave; each is as thorough as ever, with a favourite being Rupert’s – but only because he comes from the town I live in. Still, it’s a surprise that there isn’t a biography for Mark Williams, aka Rory’s Dad, Brian. Redgrave, for instance, stars in numerous episodes, but these are the only two in which Brian appears, so his exclusion is strange.

I guess that’s my only gripe with this volume… which says a lot about how pleasing this partwork is proving to be.

I’d been looking forward to this first Matt Smith era issue, and it hasn’t let me down one bit.

NEXT: ROBOT, THE ARK IN SPACE, AND THE SONTARAN EXPERIMENT.

Want to subscribe? Head over to the Doctor Who: The Complete History site – and don’t forget about the premium subscription offer too!

(Originally appeared on Kasterborous Dec’ 2015.)

  • Dr. Moo

    I love A Town Called Mercy, easily in my all-time top twenty and Matt Smith top three. As for the other two, Dinosaurs on a Spaceship has a lot going for it but suffers from some weird tonal shifts while the awkwardness involved in writing The Power Of Three does show in how rushed it is in places (especially the end) but it has a lot of nice ideas in there and some brilliant bits for Matt to show off.
    Those two episodes are easily Chibs’s best efforts on Doctor Who so far, but this makes me a bit nervous about his time as showrunner. While episodes like these two are serviceable enough for a recurring writer, the showrunner really should be better than that in the tone and pace of his episodes. Still decent enough episodes and proof that he’s got better over time when compared to the horrendous 42 and the overly-long and slow The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood. Hopefully this trend in increased quality will continue when he gets hold of the 12th Doctor in series ten (it’s a safe assumption that he’ll be contributing to that season).

    • TimeChaser

      42 is where you and I must disagree, Moo, because I love that one. 😛

      • Dr. Moo

        42? Nah! Utter rubbish. Stupid monster, stupid real time gimmick, stupid decisions by the supporting characters and don’t get me started on the pup quiz bit! Not to mention Tennant at his hammiest (which is saying something in a world where New Earth exists). At least the director Graeme Harper finds some interesting things to do with it and the Saxon story arc progresses nicely. That’s about it though.
        Glad to see you like it at least; it’s good to know that someone does!

        • TimeChaser

          I thought the idea of the sentient star was actually a nice touch. It’s something you’d see more out of Arthur C. Clarke of Asimov. Actually, I think Frank Herbert used the concept in The Dosadi Experiment.

          You and I diverge somewhat on Tennant. Yes, he could be irritating at times, but I put that down more to Davies’ influence than the actor himself, although granted he could be loud at times when it would have been better to play it soft. That’s one thing Matt was very good at that puts him in my Top 3.

          • Edward Delingford

            Matt Smith even outside Who is an actor full of nuance and inventiveness. Compare any Tennant shouty gurning teeth gritting big speech to any Smith one. Matt brings in pathos and regret and subtlety and draws you in. Tennant justs SHOUTS even louder. Obviously the poor writing and characterisation under RTD and his monomaniacal obsession about Saint Wose of the Powell Estate puts a dead hand over Tennant’s doctor but directors from series 2 onward failed to rein in Tennant’s acting tics and excesses. If this had been done, it could have been addressed before he became too big to take direction. By series 4 and the Specials, with both RTD’s and Tennant’s egos out of control, Ten simply becomes a string of acting tics – gritted teeth, eye popping, hero pose, hair ruffling, yelling every word.

            For a drama teacher, both Matt and Peter are like walking text books. There is a delicacy of understanding, a use of the body and voice working together subtlely, awareness of other cast in their acting space and real intelligence in every performance and you still find new things every time. (Heaven Sent, Time of the Doctor and Listen all reveal new things in Peter’s and Matt’s extraordinary performances). Tennant is simply one loud smug note bulldozing the script. Tennant is a perfectly adequate actor hopelessly out of his depth in most of Doctor Who who was done no favours by writers and directors genuflecting to his inexplicable popularity, rather than writing to his limited acting strengths and reinforcing his greatest weaknesses.

          • TimeChaser

            As much as I’ve tried to champion and defend Tennant… in the end, I’m afraid I have to agree with you. His performance in many instances does leave a lot to be desired. I won’t say he’s terrible 100% of the time. He can get it right on occasion, but he does have a nasty tendency to be over-the-top when more subtlety would be better. He’d still be in my Top 10, but among the lower tier.

            I remember once, in the year before we finally got Nu Who on TV over here, after a new episode aired I would always trawl through fan fiction and read pieces people would write inspired by the new episodes. I read one inspired by The Idiot’s Lantern, when the Doctor discovered the Wire had taken Rose’s face. Most of it was what his thoughts might have been during the scene, but mixed with some of the episode dialogue. When it got to his line “There is no power on this Earth that can stop me,” I imagined him saying it with quiet menace. When I finally saw the episode and heard him shouting it… I was very disappointed.

          • Edward Delingford

            We’ve been spoiled in new Who by having so many really strong actors. While Tennant has a pleasing personality, unfortunately he does not have the skills to be a lead actor and is very much the odd one out from the line of actors from Paul McGann to Peter Capaldi. Who exposed his shortcomings but he was also let down by truly dire writing at times, lack of tight direction and wildly inconsistent characterisation. Tennant would have made a fine companion or gurst star and he is not totally untalented, rather he has a very limited range and an inability to get any genuine emotion across. As soon as there is strong drama he simply shouts. Compare this to the total command which Peter, Matt or even Chris have in their He is good as a light comedian though. I think because of his nice guy image, people have been reluctant to criticise his portrayal and he has escaped the scrutiny which the other leads have had and not really been pressed about his many failures on the show. The End of Time is not simply dreadful writing, Tennant must share some blame for a simpering and unbalanced performance. Calling out his poor acting doesn’t mean he is a bad person or a poor ambassador for the show, but it is also not fair that he continually gets a free pass for his shortcomings ascan actor.

          • bar

            Midnight stands out becasue it was precisely NOT the usual RTD overblown stuff, a tight, ensemble theatre piece where RTD saved all his ego/ire for the Daily Mail Monster.
            I think the point you make about Matt or Peter – or Pat T, as I’ve been watching a lot of recently – that they can do quiet, subtle, underplayed menace is vital to the Doctor. You can hear it in Paul McGann’s voice, it gurgles uner Tom’s often, and is a permanent note of Sylv. It helps remind us the Doctor is an alien. Nice, human David T just isn’t.

          • Edward Delingford

            That’s why I think he would have been better as a companion. Tennant comes across as very empathetic, he’s good at light comedy and with a few tweaks his spiv fast talking ladies’s man persona as 10 could have made a fun companion in the same way good old bumbling Harry was. I could see 4 or 12 taking the mick out of him and rolling their eyes as he keeps trying to chat up every attractive alien they encounter. I’d happily watch that. 10 simply is too human and all of the attempts to appear quirky and alien just come off as forced.

          • Dr. Moo

            Now that 10’s on Big Finish the thought of him encountering 6 – two polar opposite Doctors – is too tantalising to bear. I want them to meet just to see what 6 would make of 10!

          • Dr. Moo

            Defend Tennant all you want, he deserves a defence. While he can get hammy and shouty from time to time, he’s usually rather good.

            He’s not a one note actor, two or three notes maybe, but mostly they’re notes he plays well so who cares? Just watch his performance as John Smith in Human Nature/The Family of Blood to see how good he truly can be.

        • Edward Delingford

          It’s a shocker and I actually quite like series 3. When Tennant’s grotesque overacting isn’t the worst thing in an episode, it’s gotta be really bad. The concept is ok but Chibnall completely fails to give us any tension which is the entire point of framing an episode around a ticking clock. While this and Tennant’s usual shouty grandstanding kill the episode stone dead, add in the moronic pub quiz, the complete lack of chemistry between any of the actors, the stupidy stupid sentient sun, use of catchphrase – Burn with Me in lieu of strong dialogue and characters doing random stupid things you would expect to see in a teenage slasher haunted house film and you have a dull episode with nothing to say and only acting as filler. None of the crew have distinct characters. Compare this to Last Christmas or Kill the Moon or Into the Dalek where there are individuals who pop and are memorable. This – just shades of grey. The writing is so lazy and generic that not even Graeme Harper’s direction can save this sorry mess.

      • Philip

        I love 42 as well! I only rewatched it Friday and I can’t understand why anyone wouldn’t like it. Tennant is shouty in it, but I think it works there; less so than in Daleks in Manhattan/ Evolution of the Daleks, for instance. Seeing the Doctor screaming in pain, genuinely scared, and threatening Martha is really chilling. But then I like Series 3 as a whole. Not so much the finale, but I pretty much like the rest. I think it’s my favourite Tennant series because even though I love Donna, Martha’s still a strong companion, and gets a run of enjoyable serials.

    • Edward Delingford

      I take heart that Chibbers is talking about using the writers’ room technique. Despite his complete lack of self awareness about how utterly s****, ill conceived and unwanted Broadchurch 2 (and 3) was/are, I think he is aware of his limitations as a writer. Hopefully Peter stays around too so Chibbers can concentrate on keeping BBC management onside and getting the best writing talent on board knowing that he has an actor who can do absolutely anything asked of him. I do feel sorry for him having to follow Moffat at his imperious series 9 form and goodness knows how magnificent his last series is going to be but with Peter on board, half his work is done.

  • TimeChaser

    Dinosaurs on a Spaceship: Love it. Wasn’t sure it would be any good at first, but I think it works, at least for the most part. The “gang” thing seems just a way to pad out the good guy cast since otherwise there aren’t enough rolls to go around, but I adore the addition of Rory’s dad. The best family character to be seen since Wilf. And Solomon is finally a classic baddie (not enough of those in Nu Who).

    A Town Called Mercy: Again, love it. Doctor Who has tackled the Wild West so few times, and this was a good one. Ben Browder guest starring as the sheriff tickled me especially, as a Farscape fan. I think some details of the Doctor’s plan to confuse the Cyborg at the end were left on the cutting room floor, unfortunately, but overall a great episode.

    The Power of Three: Had a lot of potential, but it wound up being a confused mess. Best thing going for it was the introduction of Kate Stuart to Doctor Who proper, making her canon now. The stuff at the end with the Tally… uh, what was all that about? I didn’t understand any of it? And did the Doctor wind up just leaving a bunch of abducted people on that ship to get blown up? Were they dead already or still alive? Another case where 45 minutes is sometimes just not enough time to explore all your ideas in such a dense episode.