How many days ’till Christmas? What’s that, how many hours?! Oh, it’s imminent, isn’t it? Really, really imminent. Yes, I know you come to this site to escape mundane things like that, but there’s a reason I mention it. 2013 gave Doctor Who fans so many gifts we were like children on Christmas morning: sugar high, a bit crazy, trying to play with everything at once. So I thought I’d review the Anniversary presents in festive mode, so everyone can join in. You all know the tune; sing up:
“On the 50th Anniversary The Doctor gave to me:
12 Lords a-Leaping
10 Getting Married
9 BBC Channels
7 Seconds Delay
6 Continents Record
Five(ish) Doctors Reboot
2 Brian Coxes
and a year we will never forget.”
12 Lords a-Leaping
12 Time Lords leaping into action: “Geronimo!”; “Allons-y!”; “Oh, for God’s sake!”
Yes, I know they’re all the same Time Lord, but if they can break the rules, so can I.
12 iconic blue boxes spinning into orbit around doomed Gallifrey, 12 Doctors working together in one joyous moment, to avoid deploying that one fateful Moment. Okay, a bit of a cheek swapping ‘Gallifrey Falls’ for ‘Gallifrey ducks’ but who cares? Okay, 9 of the Doctors were archive footage, but up there larger than life and just as magnificent. We whooped and hollered; tops of heads fell off as grins met round the back. All our Christmasses come at once. All 12 of them.
‘No sir; all thirteen.’
The audience gasped, held its breath, then Wham! The Capaldi eyebrows filled the screen, and we screamed. Yes, I know ‘they are mighty eyebrows indeed,’ and in some cinemas they were 50 feet across, but screaming? Like I said; a bit crazy. You had to be there.
Sir, sir, please sir?
Yes, what is it, Dawkins?
Sir; I’ve found Gallifrey!
Gallifrey, sir – last month, Moffat from 3B said he’d lost it down the back of the sofa in the common room, but no one could find it?
Ah yes; I vaguely remember.
We looked everywhere, sir, but you know that giant crack in the back of the gym wall?
I’ve told you boys not to go near it, Dawkins. It has been cracked but stable since that business with the Scarecrows and I won’t have anyone messing with it now.
Yes sir, but that new boy, Chibnall, stuck his finger in it, sort of by accident, sir. And it turns out Gallifrey was behind there all the time! What do we do, sir?
Tell Chibnall to pull his finger out, and stay away from the gym wall Dawkins; you know the rules.
(sotto voice) Never tell me the rules. Out loud: But sir; there’s a sound coming out of it, a sort of message. In secret code, sir.
Now you’re just being silly Dawkins.
What can I say about The Time of the Doctor? A turkey. Or a Christmas Cracker? Despite all the festive tropes, as Christmassy as Doomsday.
A disappointing gift; however well-presented it’s full of gimmicky bits that don’t quite fit together, there are no batteries, and one of the pieces has been substituted last minute.
The turkey scenes are the least endurable. Using the TARDIS to cook the family Christmas Dinner is demeaning, the ‘Swedish’ invisible sight gag is derisible (though Sheila Reid as Gran is a joy, both in humour and later pathos). It all feels like killing time far more than the Eleventh Doctor’s hundreds of years on Trenzalore which go by in a blink (cue Angels’ entry in the Moff hit parade). Time that could more usefully have been deployed on, say, some actual drama, some characters in the town of Christmas we want to save, the Doctor working out how to solve the dilemma. Oh, but that would ruin the plot. Er…
The Christmas cracker scene with an ancient Doctor and Clara’s gentle grip was beautiful, and true to their relationship more even than Clara’s fierce grip on the TARDIS through the vortex. The Doctor defeating all his enemies – including a Monoid – is enormous fun. As a Punch and Judy Show.
Otherwise, Time is a victim of Moffat’s overreaching ambition. He chooses to cram in more than was possible or desirable: Christmas, the Ultimate regeneration/rewriting Who lore, and unnecessary filling of plot holes. With Swiss cheese. It answers questions no one was really asking, ties up ends that weren’t all that loose, and is as bloated with unnecessary tidbits as stomachs on Christmas afternoon. And still manages to drag.
Without the Christmas wrappings, there could have been a strong story here of what it means to be trapped on a knife edge, keeping the peace at ultimate cost (when you reach out to both sides, you end up crucified in the middle). Sadly, as we don’t get to know anyone we could care about, and the Doctor is never seen trying to figure things out against the clock, there’s no dramatic tension. The Eleventh Doctor ages slowly to death but we all knew Peter Capaldi had been cast, so again, there was nothing at stake. The appearance of the crack itself works; the question doesn’t. Why a question at all? If Clara can talk to them, why did the Doctor not try a conversation? Knowing him as they do, they would expect a stalemate: the only cell which can hold the Doctor is one he chooses to stay in, to prevent something worse (for those of you who enjoy chess, the Doctor is pinned here). But it only took him 400 years to figure out an alternative to the Moment; surely he could have broken a siege in less time? Aging to death is arguably a new way for the Doctor to regenerate, but the same motivation as so many before; saving everyone, someone, or just anyone.
The melancholy shadow of his death means any attempt at humour feels brittle, forced – the aforementioned nakedness, the truth field’s involuntary confessions, the comedy Sontarans. The Tenth Doctor had a farewell with all his old friends; the Eleventh gets all the enemies, though of all the cameos, only the Silents pay off – spooky with Clara, believable as a peace-keeping force.
Talking of returning characters, whether Alex Kingston was unavailable, necessitating a rewrite and rushed creation of Tasha Lem (‘Mel’ backwards) I don’t know, but she would have been so much more powerful, more chemistry with Matt, more humour, and as we are already more invested in her character, more drama as she fights the Dalek implant; more authenticity to her line about E-numbers, and his about ‘psychopath,’ more likelihood of she and the Doctor keeping the peace together. When he declares that whole ‘church’ is pointless, I’d have to agree. Brady is good but her Sean Penn resemblance doesn’t manage to import that Blade Runner vibe that might have worked.
In granting the Doctor more life, The Time of the Doctor ensures the show can go on, indefinitely, but we expected that. What we didn’t expect was the possible redemption of Gallifrey: in line with the better elements of its population shown in Day of, they sacrifice their own immediate ends for the sake of others, so might be worth finding, eventually. Since 2005, the Doctor had been a wanderer in the 4th dimension because he couldn’t go home, not because he wanted adventure. Now he’s free again to wander by choice, or go home, if he wants to. Moff doing what the Doctor(s) did in Day, re-writing history so it’s exactly the same as it was before.
Whatever Time‘s faults, Matt Smith is wonderful throughout, stronger here than even his flawless debut; buzzing with energy at the start, teaching kids the drunken giraffe, making us feel his history and relationship with a prop we’d never seen before, convincingly ancient, melding fact and fiction in treasuring the fanmail pictures from children who love him, even getting one last grandstanding character-defining speech – ‘never tell me the rules.’
We may try to forget Time of, but we will always remember when the Doctor was Matt. Bow ties were cool.
10 Getting Married
So, how many times has the Doctor been married, that we know of? In Gaiman’s The Doctor’s Wife, they stole each other and ran away, so I’d call it an elopement not a marriage. But that still leaves River, and Susan’s Grandmother or Father. And now Good Queen Bess. Though it was sort-of an accident, as he thought he was talking to a Zygon, which is no excuse. He has a poor track record with marriage, and a dreadful habit of meeting his wives in the wrong order. In The Shakespeare Code, he hadn’t met Queen Elizabeth I. But she had met him, and was out for his head. In The End of Time, the Tenth Doctor brags that she’s no longer The Virgin Queen. In the 50th anniversary special, we find out why. Given the marriage takes place after meeting his future self, in the adventure he therefore forgets before returning to End of Time, that quip must refer to the premarital fling. Naughty Doctor. Good job they didn’t have kids though; Time Lord in the Royal Blood would have played havoc with the werewolf. Was it humour-with-purpose (to tease both fans and critics of that Doctor’s lover-boy reputation), tying up loose ends from past stories, or just ‘cringeworthy’ as judged by my 15-yr-old Godson?
As well as number Ten, we get ten numbers: 1716231163. I would ask ‘how many of you use this as a security code?’ but that would kind of nullify any ‘security’ aspect of it. But if you do, I’m sure YANA.
9 BBC Channels
Actually there were at least 9, and these are just the main UK ones. All year the BBC was putting something on, somewhere, even on its ‘highbrow’ channels. The BBC wasn’t letting anyone forget the show in the gap between 7b and Doctor Who Day. Our Christmas stockings were stuffed with DVD extras. So more like Easter Eggs then, some of which were hollow, cheap confections melted down and rehashed from previous years.
1. BBC 1 was invaded:
- Shortened Proms concert screened a few weeks after its premier on BBC Radio 3.
- The Live ‘Next Doctor announcement’ ‘Event TV’ half-hour, on the flagship channel. Ridiculously over-hyped nonsense, but that nervous twitching of fingers was classic Capaldi. Was it spontaneous or scripted? Who knows?
- Trails and teasers, and ident hacks.
- The 50th even infiltrated the news – Tom Baker leaning on his walking stick, alien and unpredictable, running rings around an interviewer hopelessly out of his depth.
- Then, the Day. The Global Event. How wonderful was it that the anniversary actually fell on a Saturday, so we could have That Moment, 16 minutes past 5, the 23rd November, 2013?
2. BBC 2:
- The Culture Show: You, Me and Doctor Who – see below.
- An Adventure in Space and Time, also see below.
- The Science of Doctor Who – also see below.
3. BBC 3:
- Feb 2013 – two years after its cancellation – Doctor Who Confidential was voted best BBC3 programme.
- The Ultimate Guide: slick editing, irritating muzak, attention span of a stunned herring. Entertaining enough if you like Tartrazine, boybands, and pink. Otherwise, it’s lightweight with occasionally excruciating narration.
- The Greatest Monsters and Villains Weekend. Well, maybe the most popular. Or am I just being elitist?
- Plus the After Party. Don’t see below, unless you want your brain to melt out of your ears in embarrassment.
- 12 again … Who and Sarah Jane Adventures actors recount their youthful first memories of the show.
5. Radio 1:
- Time Lord Rock, or Trock if you must.
6. Radio 2:
- Who is the Doctor?
- The Blagger’s Guide to Doctor Who.
- Graham Norton live from the conv- sorry; Celebration in London. If you were there, what are your memories of the 3-day event?
7. Radio 3:
- Doctor Who at the Proms – including a lovely section on Delia and the Workshop.
8. Radio 4:
- The Reunion. Yes, even Britain’s serious ‘grown ups’ talk radio channel joined the party. Like a First Doctor con panel, but with fewer laughs.
9. Radio 4 Extra:
- Who Made Who? A 3-hour proper documentary, excellent partner to An Adventure in Space and Time.
- Radio 4 Extra knows Big Finish well, so its anniversary set of stories were well-chosen classics.
On top of those dedicated specials, Who guested in other shows – not just the obvious ones like Blue Peter, Graham Norton, Pointless Celebrities, and Children in Need. It was the proverbial good time that was had by all, as shameless as Captain Jack.
I tried to look at BBC America’s Tales from the TARDIS, The Doctors Revisited, BBC Cymru’s strangely low-key Moffat interview, and then realised I’d need a TARDIS to review the BBC abroad, let alone all the other channels that take BBC programmes, thus saving them from the chop (2013 gave us 2 rediscovered episodes – hooray for Nigeria)! What coverage did you enjoy in Nigeria? In Mexico? Tasmania? Ukraine?
Surprise presents can be the best. Sometimes you receive a present so unexpected and overwhelming that you don’t know what to do with it. A great aunt you didn’t even know you had dies and leaves you her estate in the country. Out of the blue.
So there I am, Thursday 14th November 2013, early afternoon, innocently browsing YouTube for any news of the upcoming Day of the Doctor Special; interviews, trailers, anything. My eye catches a title ‘Night of the Doctor’ – what’s that? Click. 6 minutes 49 seconds later, click repeat. 6 minutes 49 seconds later, click repeat. Did anyone else watch it five times in a row? I had some memories of the 1996 TV Movie; a bit saccharine, a bit brash, a bit Americanised. McGann had been the best bit about it, but it wasn’t quite the Real McCoy. So who on Karn was this Eighth Doctor? The naff wig replaced by dishevelled locks, the perfectly fitting trainers replaced by well-worn leather and badly-tied laces, striding onto the set like he owned the place. Dissing the Sisters, demanding knitting, and knocking Smith, Tennant, and Hurt into a cocked fez. Who was this man? I had to know. I followed the trail of crumbs, downloaded Storm Warning, and began my slide into Big Finish Dependency. Before I knew it, I was mainlining box sets, and prey to any dealer with a special offer up his sleeve. The Great Aunt’s estate is wonderful, but takes a lot of upkeep.
Seriously though, Night of is one of Moffat’s greatest hits. Short stories take particular writing skills; economy, precision, flair. In 6 mins 49 seconds, he gives us comedy and tragedy, drama, character, and some pretty nifty continWHOity. No more ‘mind the gap;’ classic meets Nu in one magical middle-8 bridge.
Whenever someone says ‘Moff can’t write women’, remember Cass; brave, resourceful, self-confident, strong moral core, one of those ‘best companions we never had.’ Remember Ohila, authoritative but anxious, powerful but desperate, sad but relentless in doing what had to be done. Together the perfect balance for this force-of-nature Doctor at the end of the line. Like the Tenth, he acknowledges his lost companions, rages against the dying of the light, but finally accepts the inevitable. He drops the chalice, then he drops the mic. Could anyone follow that, except Sir John Hurt?
A quick note about the other prequel, The Last Day. Whereas Night of dripped significance in fact and fiction continwhoity terms, Last Day was more expendable. The new recruit was clearly wearing a red shirt even if we never got to see it. It’s a glimpse into the Time War with a kiss to the past – the only episode with no Doctor or companion since Mission to the Unknown. It represents the ordinary people who get mowed down in war. In all the anniversary festivities, it’s good to remember there’s a real evil too; corners of the universe have bred the most terrible things.
7 Seconds Delay
Talking of terrible things… the Aftermath– uh, After Party. Sometimes you receive presents that are unwanted, embarrassing, just wrong. That embarrassing delay between hosts in a studio on one continent and whichever boyband it was on another continent sums up everything that was wrong with the 50th year. They tried to put everything into it, whether relevant/informed/competent or not, wasted the excellent resources they had to hand (big group of former companions – sitting there – like ghosts at the feast), and dropped a few absolute clangers. Though the Ice Warriors dancing on ice with Alpha Centauri was hilarious.*
Everyone was tired, and some were zombie-like after the high. I can’t remember much else about it, and don’t particularly want to. Those of us who had our own post-viewing parties had a better time, honestly. What were you doing, and who were you with? Did you eat marshmallow Adipose, and fish custard?
* I may have nodded off and dreamt that bit.
6 Continent Record
Live simulcast across 6 continents, 94 countries, over 1,500 cinemas worldwide. Over half a million tickets. 80 million fans. Yes, the simulcast is the best known record-breaker, but what about the rest? The most watched drama for the whole of 2013, highest rated AI, and, of all programmes, second only to Top Gear on iPlayer. What else? The most Doctors ever collected, the loudest simulsquee, the highest grossing Christmas merch …
Five(ish) Doctors Reboot
‘As we pause here at the Oval, John Smith is approaching his maiden half century.
He’s played magnificently, though nearly edged one to slip in his third over. In the last over before tea, we enjoyed a short but spirited stand from night watchman McGann, so Smith should make his 50 in the next session.
While we break for the interval, let’s take a look at the county matches. Over to you, Jonathan.’
‘Thanks Brian. Well, we’ve had a shock here at Cardiff. Moffat was alternating his two fast bowlers Tennant and Smith, with devastating spin from Hurt. Suddenly veteran bowler, Davison scampers in with an unexpected googly and clean bowls the opposition, stumps flying everywhere; glorious form there.’
This was the sort of present hand-made for you by someone who knows you really well and knows exactly what will delight you. From a friend so close they’re family. Who isn’t just a show; it’s a family, and The Five Doctors was the family at play, not for the Meeja’s sake, but their own, and ‘For the Fans.’ Like the best of smaller conventions, much more than any behind the scenes special, it broke down the walls between fans, stars, creators, and crew. (Howzat!) They weren’t so much making fun of fans and each other as of themselves. Played with a straight face, self-deprecating, witty and daft; as British as tea, cricket, and Doctor Who.
I particularly enjoyed Georgia Moffett’s contribution, Tennant thinking there was something he should have asked her about, Davison’s line ‘This is not some flash-in-the-pan $500 million picture; this is IMPORTANT!,’ the ident pic of Peter Jackson on Sylv’s phone, the three critiquing the new console room, and the credits that have Colin B’s daughters next to Peter Jackson and Sir Ian McKellen. It all says so beautifully that stars are fans too, and no one’s too grand and dignified to play. What was your favourite moment?
4’s Reappearance. Sort of
The gift you dreamt of, but didn’t dare hope for. There’s a lovely quiet, contemplative moment towards the end of The Day of The Doctor. The battle’s been won, the multiple genocide miraculously averted, the farewells over. The other Doctors have gone back to their own times, and Clara has left him a little space to himself, letting his healing take root. The Eleventh Doctor muses on his possible future: ‘I could be the Great Curator.’
Suddenly, behind him, out of shot, comes That Voice, and the audience gasps in stunned, heart-stopping anticipation; an extraordinary un-noise as the cinema holds its breath: It’s not John Guilor, not even John Culshaw. Could it be? Could it possibly – be – genuine? The camera pans round and there he is; very old, very kind, still odd, still alien, still and always The Doctor. The definite article you might say. In 6 continents, 94 countries, thousands of cinemas and millions of homes, fandom erupts. We were no longer high; we were in orbit. It’s a good job we could all re-view it soon after, as the noise drowned out the next few lines.
3 dimensions, big screen. Not just a huge present, but a past and a future as well – 2 biggest squee moments in our cinema were Tom Baker and Peter Capaldi…
There had been Doctor Who films before, the debatable canonicity of Cushing aside, but nothing like this. Screened LIVE, simultaneously, all round the world. Think of the organisation required, and take a moment to thank all the behind-the-scenes people who gave us this wonderful gift.
A large, oak-panelled room, chandeliers, leather armchairs, a decanter of port on a table. A man with curly, prematurely-greying hair (through stress of being showrunner Steven Moffat), is hunched over the table playing with two small action figures. Faith Penhale, co-producer by default as head of BBC Wales, is watching him bemused. A high-up BBC Exec sweeps in, an Aide at his heels. They sit.
BBC Executive: So Mr Moffett–
Aide: That’s Moffat, Sir.
BBC Exec: But I thought you said his real name was Moffett?
Aide: No sir, that’s the other fellow who came in last week, with the portly gentleman and the funny little Scotsman, wanting a role in the 50th anniversary. This is Mr Moffat, who’s writing the story.
BBC Exec: Ah yes, the story. So Mr Moffat, what we want is something Exceptional. Something wonderful and amazing, something to show off the BBC’s flagship programme, to celebrate how the BBC has kept it alive for all these years!
Moff: What, the BBC who killed it in the 1980s?
Faith [stage whisper to Moff]: Shhh Steven, play nicely – we need them on our side.
Aide: It has to be followable for new people drawn in by all the hype. And it has to be seriously marketable overseas.
BBC Exec: Indeed, so the plot has to be simple enough for people in the Colonies to follow. Even the Americans. Oh, and they love British things, so lots of views of Britain: Tower Bridge, Parliament, St Paul’s, The National Gallery, Canary Wharf —
Faith [interrupts]: There’s more to Britain than London.
BBC Exec: Is there? I’m afraid I don’t get out much these days.
Aide: Talking of drawing people in, we need a big name.
BBC Exec: Yes, someone with global recognition and gravitas; have you asked Sir Alec Guinness?
Aide: He’s dead.
BBC Exec: Is he? I’m afraid I don’t get out much these days.
Faith: We’ve got Sir John Hurt.
BBC Exec: Sir John Hurt! Splendid! [Beat] Who’s Sir John Hurt?
Aide: He won an Oscar for Joseph Merrick in The Elephant Man.
BBC Exec: Ah yes; excellent chap. Bit odd-looking, but it’s Science Fiction so I don’t suppose anyone will notice.
A young woman bursts through the door. She is wearing converse trainers, loud check trousers, an eye-wateringly colourful coat, a very, very long scarf, a stick of celery, and a fez. She waves a placard which reads: ‘WHO’S TREMEDOUS FANDOM!’
Fan: I represent Who’s Tremendous Fandom, and we demand a voice!
BBC Exec: I couldn’t have put it better myself, Nigel.
Fan: We want a multi-Doctor story! Lots of Doctors, lots of companions, recent ones and Classic too! And the Brigadier!
Moff: So do I.
Fan: And we want lots of monsters! There has to be Daleks! And a great classic monster as well, and lots of references to things that only fans will truly appreciate.
Moff: So do I.
Fan: And we want lots of fantastic SFX, and explosions, and spectacular stunts! Clara on a motorbike. Ten on a horse. And a helicopter!
Moff: So do I.
Faith [buries her head in her hands murmuring]: ‘Who’s paying for this?’
Fan: And we want K9!
Moff: …..… [Cicadas chirping]
There’s a sound of heavy boots running through corridors towards the room, Security bursts through the door.
Fan: And we want it screened simultaneously, all around the world, on the big screen, in 3D!!!
Moff: So do I.
Moff: I promise.
Fan swoons to the floor, and is carried away by Security.
BBC Exec. So Mr Moffat, can you guarantee us all that?
Moff: Well, I will tr –
Faith [interrupts]: Can you guarantee us the money?
BBC Exec [looks anxious]: It’s not that ea –
Aide [interrupts]: Remember the sales to the colonies, sir.
BBC Exec: Ah yes. [Does calculation in head, and relaxes.] I guarantee the money. On my word.
They all get up and shake hands. Faith and Moff leave, picking up the ‘Who’s Tremendous Fandom’ placard on the way out.
Outside the door:
Faith: So, no pressure then?
Moff: Piece of cake.
Moffat achieved so much against impossible expectations, so there are bound to be weaker spots, like the fact that the Daleks are spectacular, brilliantly-directed, 3D wallpaper. Just backdrop. We don’t have the Doctor engaging with any particular spokes-Daleks. Mostly he/they merely observe in a projected reality. Likewise the Zygons; the ones we hear speaking are mostly delivering infodump while pretending to be humans. We don’t know them well enough to sympathise with their plight, let alone their proposed solution. Perhaps an echo of the current migration crisis, which Harness developed so well in Series 9, partly thanks to Ingrid Oliver’s Osgood, the name itself a bit of fan-service to The Daemons. When the real Osgood hands the inhaler to the Zygon in the Black Archive, it represents more than an olive branch; perfect example of inter-species cooperation.
Talking of branches, there are two bits of 3D that worked so beautifully. That branch – you know the one, just after the ‘basically just a rabbit’ scene and just before the Tenth Doctor finds the two Queen Besses. It bends out towards us so we instinctively duck, the moss almost tangible at our fingertips. As an artist, I can picture it in 3D, 6 years later. And talking of art, the central picture is superb, the whole 3D art technique both plot and shining example of the viewing medium. Which came first, doing it in 3D art, or about 3D art? Which other bits – pardon the pun – stood out for you?
3D and 3 Doctors: Hurt, Tennant, and Smith.
The baddies are mere background, the Doctor’s dilemma with himself is the real drama here, the story with beginning, middle, and end. But not necessarily in that order. From debut to regeneration in one story, Hurt has to sell this, which he does brilliantly, growing from battle-weary loner ashamed to call himself Doctor, to being at peace, welcomed back into the fold. Grumpy but warm, delivering put-downs with style, and moments of Doctorish energy and enthusiasm. He gets to have the idea ‘there is another way’ to get into the Archive via the stasis cube, an idea the Eleventh Doctor later adopts to save Gallifrey. Fewer minutes on screen than even the Eighth Doctor and he became some fans’ favourite overnight, but bowed out with little fuss. There hasn’t been a regeneration so upstaged since Nicola Bryant’s cleavage. Talking of hot companions, Hurt sparkles with Bad Wolf Billie, who was mesmeric as Not Rose; funny but with the depth required to play a bit of alien super-AI. ‘Well; I do my best.’
Comedy was important; there would be some watching who had never seen the show (I know – weird, isn’t it?), so all that big lore stuff had to be handled with a light enough touch. Osgood is a brilliant fan figure, played carefully not just for laughs. There’s terrific chemistry and timing between Smith and Tennant, and bouncing off ‘straight man’ Hurt. The Tenth’s having fun, but honouring the momentousness of the occasion. To my taste, his one-story companion Joanna Page is not regal enough, and played entirely for comedy, so feels a bit throwaway given their relationship is central to the timey-wimey plot. On that point, I can follow the fez time-loop no trouble, but can someone please explain for me, in words of one syllable as I appear to be thick on this point, how does Queen Bess have ‘Gallifrey Falls No More’ in the first place, and why is it her ‘credentials’? Why does Clara walk past it in the Black Archive without noticing? Maybe McGuffins always work that way.
When first viewing the picture, replying to Kate’s offered information, Smith actually snarls ‘I know the title.’ With so much else happening, you can miss how good he is. He’s generous in letting Hurt and Tennant take over, but shines in both comedy and drama, then in incredulous joy at meeting the Curator. Hurt is an exceptional guest protagonist, and Tennant slips back into the role like he’s never been away, but it’s still Smith’s show.
Lots of little highlights:
- Moff’s meta-chutzpah placing Doctor Who in the National Gallery.
- Moff’s chutzpah using his Blink plot device again: get your enemies aiming at you from all directions and disappear so they neutralise each other.
- The new idea of invasion by time-shift.
- 2.47 million children; the darkness played out by three Doctors in a cell. Where else?
- The Black Archive with its memory filters / retcon sprinklers, and its lore-expanding Wall of Fame.
- The moment when, despite knowing they’d turned them off, half the audience checked their phone when Kate Stewart’s rang. ‘She’s got my ringtone!’
- ‘There’s a man in your memory called Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart’. Hell yes, there is.
- The Tenth geeking out at The Round Things.
- If, according to Moff in The Empty Child, red is ‘a bit camp,’ why are all the Gallifreyans wearing it?
Feel free to add you own favourites below – geek out; it’s nearly Christmas.
And then there’s the big one. The Legacy.
As a one-off celebratory movie Day of achieved its aims admirably. But there was much more at stake. The character and future of the Doctor himself.
The Moment is the Doctor– capable of mass destruction but with a powerful conscience. The Eighth Doctor chose Warrior so he could do what he had to do. The Tenth justified himself to the Master – why using the Moment was necessary compared to what Rassilon intended to do. But in merely choosing it, he had killed his idea of himself as the one who makes things better. ‘How do you use a weapon of mass-destruction when it can stand in judgment over you?’ The Doctor’s conscience, just like the Moment’s, is so pure that it punishes for monstrous intents. What if they hadn’t found another way – how dark would Capaldi have been then? How long could the show have continued with a traumatised Doctor, not ‘on the run’ from home, but with no home to go to?
In what some see as Moff’s over-confident messing with continwhoity, the anniversary reaches backwards and forwards in time (moreso in the book) to re-write all the Doctors’ history, in a way that leaves everything exactly the same.
They all ‘saved the day,’ and so always have done. They all met the Eighth’s dying words ‘physician, heal thyself,’ allowing the Doctor – AND THE SHOW – to go on healed from the choice they had been prepared to make, once more free to seek adventure and right wrongs.
Sneaky, too, that Tom’s enigmatic words make the show immortal: no future Doctor can ever regenerate into him, so there will always be the Curator beyond filmable canon. Day of, like the Curator, was taking care of the past, and of the future. On the 6th Dec 1989, Who was taken off air. 30 years later, it may be again. But thanks to Day of the Doctor, ‘it is far from being all over.’
2 Brian Coxes
Sometimes you get duplicate presents, and want to give one away. So, does anyone want a spare Brian Cox?
We’ve all had that dream, being at home or school or work, going through an ordinary door and stunned to find ourselves in the TARDIS in all its impossible (sorry; naughty word) glory, and we’re swept off as a one-time companion. You haven’t? What, you stumbled in here by mistake?
Physics Professor Brian Cox – ex-boyband member, stargazer, fan – lives out this dream at the start of The Science of Doctor Who. Matt Smith is brilliant, keeping wholly in character throughout, that nervousness waiting to see what Cox thinks of his present, that physicality round the console, the casual insults: ‘I was going for poetry; I forgot you were a physicist.’ I would have loved a proper adventure with Cox discovering sciencey stuff on the way, even going back to Faraday’s first lecture, seeing Harrison’s clock made. Sadly, those few linking bits didn’t go anywhere. The main content is like a Royal Institute Christmas Lecture – pretty good in parts, if a little slow. But those lectures work best when ordinary members of the audience – all children – take part in the experiments. Instead, it showcases famous Who fans from large and small screen, holding things, squirting things, miming slo-mo, and you can sense they feel a bit daft. It has some good bits, but fails because it doesn’t quite know what it is, and trying to do three incompatible things at once lets them all down.
An Adventure in Space and Time doesn’t try to do too much; it concentrates on the start, a few characters, one of whom played by A-list guest star, Brian Cox, whose Sydney Newman is painted with exaggerated brushstrokes but fulfills the dramatic role. Jeff Rawle’s having fun, Sacha Dhawan convincing, Jessica Raine compelling, luminous. Hartnell’s granddaughter reminds us who it is for. And it’s fun spotting ‘Who Royalty’ and friends in cameo. (Who’s that inside the menoptra?*) “People coming together and sort of accidentally creating something magical, that’s the story” (says writer, Mark Gatiss). Adventure is his love-letter to Who, to its creators, alumni, and fans. It’s full of lovely gags like the smoking Cyberman and the view from inside the Dalek. It is laced with well-known quotations from canon and from oft-told convention stories, and shamelessly paced around emotional beats; nerves, crisis, magic, triumph, loss. If bits don’t make you cry, your Cyber-conversion has probably gone too far.
I love that it teases the audience from the off; the police box is not the TARDIS, and it doesn’t start in 1963. I love the conceit of using the TARDIS console as the narrative’s time-travel device. I love the swirl of the circular TV Centre echoing the Eleventh Doctor’s Time Rotor column top. I hate that in order to show how ill Hartnell was, Bradley is made to fluff the big Massacre speech – which Hartnell famously did so well, ‘fluffing’ Chatterton on purpose.
I can forgive such dramatic license because its dramatic core is done so well, the tension between two sides of the coin that makes Who so very rich. Change. Without it, the BBC would still be all old white men. Who would have died with Hartnell’s retirement, a mostly-forgotten cult. In hindsight, it’s hard to imagine that very real 1966 possibility. From one side of the coin, change is miraculous new life filled with hope and anticipation. From the other side, it is threat, grief, an uncomfortable momento mori: we are all replaceable. Much as I hated Gatiss’ crowbaring the Tenth’s ‘I don’t want to go’ into Bradley’s dialogue, I acknowledge he had a point. Fact or fiction, this show is hard to leave. Or impossible. As the irrepressible Katy Manning put it, ‘Once you’ve been kissed by this show, you are part of it forever.’
And a year we will never forget.
Because Doctor Who is part of us forever.
‘He changed the universe in which we live… got inside your head’ says Matthew Sweet in The Culture Show special, Me, You and Doctor Who. This is the erudite-looking book someone thought you’d be interested in, which when you finally get around to reading, turns out to be not quite what you expected.
Sweet hurtles through the history of the show, with people behind its early success, but focuses on its influence. He chats with MPs about the politics of Who, establishment dis-ease, the misuse of ‘progress’ and tech. He chats with writers about the mythology that helped them through childhood, with a psychologist about the deeper meaning of the evil in Who. From cardboard cut out Daleks (never meant to be seen on a screen this large and clear), to the idea their tanked-up fear and claustrophobia is a projection of our own repressed dark side. He contrasts the asexuality of the classic show with the Tenth Doctor, River Song, and Jack Harkness – and with the ‘80s parties and ‘unedifying’ behaviour of the then showrunner, which might be questioned now. He has a moment of artefact worship as he holds the original tape of the theme: ‘Is this Delia’s writing?’ he breathes, lauding magical music made without money or Moog. He celebrates the creative treasure of the ‘wilderness years,’ and hails fandom – ‘the Doctor Who convention is a strange and beautiful thing’ – as he chats to an 18-stone male Tegan.
The Culture Show looks like serious BBC2, but Sweet the devoted fan is only thinly veiled under the high-brow academic.
*In Adventure, he is concealed under a Menoptra costume. Who took over 2013 by hiding in plain sight. Anyone who has ever cosplayed knows the funny looks from passers-by, in a normal year. But the 50th wasn’t normal; as fans flocked to cinemas cosplaying 5 decades of genre-defying adventure, passers-by knew exactly WHO we were. They still thought we were weird, but weird even they were proud of, that one wonderful day.
Right at the bottom of the stocking you find all sorts of little things. Commemorative stamps, a visit by HRH the Prince of Wales, magazines, behind the scenes, a book of short stories, all sorts of Big Finish goodies, the GOOGLE Doodle game (beat 2 minutes 23; go on, you know you want to), Twitter trend highs and melted social media. Strax’s unique contribution (remember, popcorn can feel pain).
So many 2013 gifts: some consumed, forgotten, or thrown away; but so much more treasured for life. Because, as the song reminds us: ‘On the 50th anniversary, my true love gave to me:’ – it was never about the presents anyway.
NEXT: Into darkness?