Doctor Who Series 3, BBC1

by | Jun 30, 2007 | All, Reviews

Doctor Who: Last Of The Time Lords, BBC1, Saturday 30 June 2007

Did we like it?

A fantastic finale enhanced by John Simm and Freema Agyeman’s brilliant starring roles, but marred by some gaping plot holes and Martha’s apparent departure.

What was good about it?

• With the Doctor literally relegated much of the time to firstly an old codger crawling out of his cage after being woken by some rowdy louts at Glastonbury and then a wizened, frowning Gollum trapped in a birdcage, it was left to John Simm’s Master to carry much of the episode – something he managed as easily as one of Hannibal’s elephants giving a ride to a feather with global wanderlust.

• In every scene, the Master was resembled a variegated mass of black clouds sweeping across the screen – whether mocking the Doctor or Martha’s family or savouring his rule of planet Earth, he was magnetic. The main danger was that he’d become so charismatic, with his Mr McKay-esque physical tics, that you wanted him to defeat the Doctor, a wish dispelled once the equally superb David Tennant resumed the Doctor’s proper place in things.

• The Master’s charisma was such that you could easily extrapolate his reasoning to what first appeared to be some gaping flaws in the plot. Why, for instance, did he persist in keeping Martha’s family on his soaring space craft in spite of the fact that they would most likely try to kill him? It was only when the Master seemed to enjoy dashing their dreams of assassinating him that it became apparent that the Master’s low boredom threshold impelled him to keep them as servants for the thrill of the anticipation at their inept efforts at rebellion, and quelling any such insolence.

• The relationship between the Doctor and Master was crucial to the moving denouement in which the Doctor, through his own selfishness and fear of isolation, pleaded for clemency. The Doctor had earlier outwitted the Master by claiming that he knew him too well and that he would never kill himself; something the Master apparently achieved when the Doctor condemned his nemesis to an eternity jailed in the Tardis (although the Master has escaped from more hazardous situations than that before – running out of regenerations, a collapsing reality), and so perhaps it was the grief that blinded him to the Master’s escape plan, which involved his ostensible permanent demise. It also gave the Master a triumph of sorts.

• It also made it believable that despite his awful treatment of her, the Master’s wife Lucy would shoot him dead in order to effect an escape plan that was only disclosed when she picked up her ‘dead’ husband’s ring from beside the funeral pyre the Doctor had erected. We could have done without the Ming the Merciless ‘I’m not dead really’ sinister cackle though. It’s also a shame that John Simm won’t be back.

• The dilemma of Jack’s immortality was neatly rounded up when it was revealed he was the Face of Boe. This also raised the spectre that the child the Face of Boe was seen giving birth to in a Chris Eccleston episode could be the Doctor’s fabled son; or rather it would if Doctor Who merged with EastEnders.

• If this was to be Freema Agyeman’s final performance as Martha, then she certainly departed on a high as she trekked across the globe like a modern-day missionary bringing the word of the Doctor to all the damned denizens of the world. While her valedictory with the Doctor was radiantly written there was a definite fault with her falling in love with the Doctor from the moment she met him. This meant that a year away from him enabled her to become attracted to another (Dr Tom), and also to realise that her adoration would never be reciprocated.

• The gentle pastiche of one of the most terrifying scenes that youngsters can be exposed to – the Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang – as the Master coaxed Martha out from her sanctuary in a grimy Essex street.

• Speculation about the next series. With the Daleks out of ideas and units, it’s probable their creator Davros will be back; returning foes could include the Sea Devils/Silurians, while hopefully avoiding a preachy ecological narrative; David Tennant’s favourites the Zygons in what will probably be his last series; but hopefully avoiding the Sontarons as we’re tired of teeming armies of millions of identical aliens to make it easier for the special effects team.

What was bad about it?

• Revealing Jack to be the Face of Boe has pretty much crippled the new series of Torchwood as it removes any possibility of his immortality being dispelled and also gives Jack a definite time and place of death – which isn’t 21st century Cardiff.

• This is the third series finale in a row which has been about an invasion of Earth (not to mention both Christmas specials and sundry other episodes), and now most of the Doctor’s absolute classic enemies have had a go this device will pretty soon become dull. Human Nature, this series’ shining diamond amongst a treasure trove of polished gems and the odd piece of tarnished quartz, proved that a story doesn’t have to involve global peril to be great. Human Nature also showed, thankfully, that the revival doesn’t have to rely solely on foes from the past.

• The apocalyptic nature of the Master’s invasion of Earth and the fact that this episode picked up the action one year on from last week, also revealed that the Master’s plot would ultimately be resolved by turning back time so that it never really occurred. This was obvious because firstly, the Earth sequences on Doctor Who run largely parallel to reality; but more importantly, such was the devastation inflicted upon the world – Japan was reduced to cinders and New York destroyed – meant that the world would be too unstable and too scarred for next year’s series, in which the Doctor flourishes as a mostly anonymous salvation of humanity.

• For those reasons, restricting the story in the modern day instead of using the time travel at their disposal means that the world cannot be significantly altered unlike in series one when whole continents were pummelled to dust by the Dalek onslaught.

• The Toclofane were unveiled as little more than Cyber-children compacted into little irate spheres instead of metal humanoids; even the captured Toclofane’s declaration that they killed because they enjoy it did little do distinguish them from yet another cyborg enemy alongside the Cybermen and Daleks. They also sounded like Xen from Blake’s 7 annoying kid brother.

• The way the Doctor manipulated the worldwide faith in him as the whole population chanted his name. “I’ve had a whole year to tune myself in to the psychic network and integrate with its matrices,” the Doctor crowed. While the idea of using the Archangel telephone network scrumptiously hoisted the Master by his own petard, the fact that no clue had been laid earlier in the script made this appear a tool of convenience as if nothing else could be squeezed in and so they sought to pull the wool over the viewers’ eyes with the sort of techno-babble hogwash not seen since Jon Pertwee’s Doctor used to “reverse the polarity of the neutron flow” every week.

• The Doctor followed that up with a victorious sneer: “One thing you can’t do is stop them thinking!” This proves nothing other than the Master’s Archangel network wasn’t as beguiling as he imagined as you can look into the eyes of some folk who obsessively uses their mobile phone and peer into a thoughtless void controlled by corporate strategists and ad ‘people’.

Doctor Who: The Sound of Drums, BBC1, Saturday 23 June 2007

Did we like it?

Much plot was sacrificed in favour of screentime and dialogue for John Simm’s Master but, given how he illuminated each scene with radioactive relish, it was perhaps a judicious call.

What was good about it?

• John Simm as the Master achieved that which David Tennant has accomplished equally as well as the Doctor, especially in this series, of aligning his quirkiness and eccentricity with a genuine sense of alien behaviour.

• If he was human then his elastic gurning just before he executed the cabinet after his accession to the office of Prime Minister, or when he greeted the American president with an act straight out of the bargain basement of Oxbridge revues would have hampered his credibility as a villain of unimaginable evil.

• Yet not only did his antics colour the Master in with all shades of vibrant oranges, purples and pinks but it also added potency when he confronted the President, his cabinet and the Doctor. But with the Doctor, there was also ad added depth of defunct comradeship, and the Doctor’s efforts to parley were met with vicious retribution which tore out of the Master his naked depravity.

• It’s an odd coincidence that the Master was yet another charismatic anti-hero bastard on TV over the weekend alongside James Nesbitt’s Hyde and James Purefoy’s Mark Antony – each of them committing acts of wilful amoral malice yet compelling the audience to revel in their wickedness.

• The Master’s best bits were when he gave an enthusiastic thumbs-up to his lethally gassed deputy as he writhed in agony; opening and shutting the door on the screams of doomed nosey journalist Vivienne Rook alternating between her high-pitched death rattle and absolute silence with an expression oscillating on his face resembling an insincere game show host between agony and exultation; and just after he’d introduced Martha to her relatives on board the Valiant, the Master made a sarcastic weepy face to mockingly mimic Martha’s mum.

• It was also fortunate that it was broadcast in the week of Gordon Brown’s accession to the throne of British politics, but instead Doctor Who presented a premier who desired to kill his subjects with little alien ball bearings rather than the sonorous tedium of his passionless monotone.

• The Toclofane, the spherical aliens allied to the Master, while not classic aliens fulfilled the role perfectly as their juvenile voices lulled the public and politicians into complacency over the potential nature of their threat.

• What also fascinates is the exact nature of the Toclofane. The Doctor in his omniscience claimed it is “a made-up name”, and there are six billion of them – about the same number of people on Earth. Are they compacted Cybermen rescued from the Void? Are they the soulless electronic identities of everyone who has signed up to the Master’s masterful mobile phone network? And who is exactly pursuing them?

• While Rose’s humdrum family and friends frequently lending a hand to save the Earth stretched the plausibility, Martha’s family were skilfully woven into the plot. Forewarned of the Doctor and Martha’s companionship the Master used her family to set traps for the Doctor so he could exploit her concern for her family which logically leads on to him exploiting the weakness of the Doctor’s compassion for her.

• The way in which the US president took charge of the meeting with the Toclofane before he was vaporised on the Master’s orders was quite evidently a dig at every sci-fi film in which Americans characterise the Earth and are often their salvation. His death also made the Master even more likeable as he ordered the Toclofane to kill him after becoming nauseated by his dogmatic imperialism after he assured the Toclofane, “I will accept mastery over you if that is God’s will.”

• The Tom Baker Doctor reference when the Master offered his wife Lucy a jelly baby.

• The Doctor’s memories of Gallifrey and the Master’s descent into diabolical madness, which provided a distinct calm in the frenetic pace.

• The first correct use of the word ‘decimate’ on British television in living memory.

What was bad about it?

• Perhaps it is because of time constraints or the focus on establishing the evil of the Master, but the Master’s plot for world dominion seemed a little dull and prosaic by his previous standards. It lacked the imagination, for instance, of the Daemons or the Mind of Fear, while was also subservient to the intellectual zenith of Logopolis.

• In fact, the bare basics of the story – the Doctor and his companions reduced to fugitives in London before improbably infiltrating the base of their enemy – was disturbingly close to the initial Cybermen story from the last series. As was the global hypnotism of the population through a mobile phone network.

• The burgeoning use of psychobabble and jargon, which is then not explained. This week we had ‘untempered schism’ and ‘paradox machine’; Russell T Davies may enjoy bewildering the audience with this oblique terminology but it’s becoming a little tiresome.

• The theme tune to the world’s destruction was a cheap, tinny techno track, although as this was a world enslaved by their mobile phones the Earth’s populace probably bowed down to get what they deserved.

Doctor Who: Utopia, BBC1, Saturday 16 June 2007

Did we like it?

Another fantastic episode as many of the loose ends from throughout the series were tied up culminating in the rebirth of the Doctor’s true nemesis – the Master.

What was good about it?

• Whereas last series whenever David Tennant would grin, it was often a dumb Disney caricature of a grin that sought to add even more superficiality to some whacky idea, this series, and most pertinently in this episode, it almost adopted a somewhat malevolent life of its own.

• Perhaps it was to echo an affinity between the Doctor and the Master, once his soul had been restored, but at the very beginning, after the Tardis had spun to the very end of the Universe, when he portentously repeated “We should go back”. He then gulped before the grin flooded across his face illuminating his devilish curiosity, and he rushed out to inspect the world they had landed on.

• And the man-to-man confessional between the Doctor and Jack as the latter manfully used his immortality to help launch the Noah’s Ark rocket to the stars during which the Doctor let loose his grin once more as Jack conceded he rather enjoyed his endless existence as he was constantly inspired by acts of selfless altruism amongst humans.

• The reintroduction of Captain Jack Harkness was ostensibly to bolster the Doctor’s allies in the way of action men, but Jack also unleashes the very best excesses of Russell T Davies’ glistening dialogue as if his character is little more than a mouthpiece in a trenchcoat.

• “You abandoned me!” protested Jack. “Did I?” said the Doctor coldly, with a Johnny Rotten-esque sneer. “Busy life. Moving on.” This was just one instance of how Jack/Davies’ verbal virtuosity enables the Doctor and Martha to spark off him.

• A few years ago when discussing which of the Doctor’s old foes would be returning, Russell T Davies appeared a little reluctant to resurrect the Master because he was unsure he could attract an actor good enough to play him. Well, he managed to get two.

• Sir Derek Jacobi was stunning as the jittery genius Professor Yana, which, like the Doctor in Human Nature, was just an unwitting disguise for the true persona of the Master. At times he was bumbling and querulous, while at others he was serenely erudite. Of course his benevolence was a rather dramatic simple ruse to make his psychological metamorphosis into the Master even more menacing, which was beautifully encapsulated when he turned around and his once compassionate pupils were now twin pits of swirling malice.

• John Simm’s cameo only offered a brief insight into his interpretation of the Master, but, as with Doctors, he appeared deliciously distinct from Jacobi’s embittered old man as he whopped and hollered like an excited American, suffering from post-regenerative ecstasy. Also great was the way in which the Master easily countered the Doctor’s efforts to prevent his hijack of the Tardis, which should mean an absorbing showdown in what is in effect the first three-part story since the renaissance.

• Chantho, the insectoid assistant of Professor Yana who sacrificed herself to try and stop the Master’s plans.

• Freema Ageyman also impressed again as Martha, especially in the scene where she was repulsed by the hand the Doctor lost in the Christmas 2005 episode which had been preserved by Jack in a jar. Initially her revulsion was genuine, but she soon exaggerated it once the Doctor started to pay her more attention as she was feeling neglected after Jack’s return.

• The echoes from Doctor Who’s past such as Yana’s sartorial similarity to William Hartnell’s Doctor and the way he jerkily moved his hands like a spooked mouse; the story of the very last of humankind heading for some fabled Utopia harked back to the Tom Baker Underworld story; while the more obvious one was the snatch of dialogue of Roger Delgado’s Master from The Daemons (thanks to UK Gold for that one).

What was bad about it?

• With the Master stealing the Tardis and travelling back to 2007 London, it appeared the Doctor was marooned in a dying Universe as a bunch of savages tried to breach the laboratory in which they were trapped. Sadly, the egress had already been signposted in big neon lights as the Doctor and Jack chatted about how they traversed time. And it will be Jack’s vortex manipulator that enables them to follow the Master as Martha recognised his voice as Harry Saxon, the next prime minister of Great Britain.

• The slight Scooby Doo nature of the chase as the Doctor et al were pursued by a ravenous horde of cannibalistic Futurekind. They only seemed to have about a five metre start on their hunters yet this gap had grown to such an extent that they were able to have a conference with the gate guard about their dental records before the Futurekind caught up.

• One hundred trillion years into the future and humanity are still using machine guns that went out of date around the same time as Rambo 2?

• Chantho’s chat with Martha in which Martha coaxed her into not starting each sentence with “Chan” and ending them with “Tho” was the cynical ploy of making the viewers care about a peripheral character so their imminent death carries more emotional weight. There’s nothing wrong with such a device in itself, but this was awkwardly bolted on solely for that purpose.

• Hopefully Captain Jack will somehow become bereft of his immortality as while it was judiciously used in Utopia, it will cause problems in the last episodes of this series and the next series of Torchwood.

Doctor Who: Blink, BBC1, Saturday 9 June 2007

Did we like it?

With a typically inventive script by Steven Moffat, this series’ ‘one in which the Doctor hardly appears’ was much, much better than Love & Monsters yet still had some plot holes so large that they would make the notorious time rift in Cardiff (see Torchwood) seem like a tear in a gnat’s wing.

What was good about it?

• Carey Mulligan as the protagonist Sally Sparrow. We’re sure it was intentional to make her seem like the Doctor were he a) female and b) a callow youth not yet graduated from the Time Lord academy. And this made her fresh, engaging and intelligent thus enabling her to carry what was an enormously complex story (made more complex by the fact that some of it was too complex to explain), but her scalding of the Doctor when he refrained from elucidating the situation – “I’m clever and I’m listening so don’t patronise me” – was a joy to behold.

• Finlay Robertson as Sally’s Shaggy-esque sidekick Larry, who we’ve just about now forgiven for being the most annoying of Jamie Oliver’s annoying mates in those Sainsbury’s adverts.

• Despite being as improbable as the Second Coming, the Weeping Angels were fantastic villains, if utterly superficial. Sometimes Doctor Who’s greatest monsters have been inspired by crossbreeding the physical make-up of a pepperpot and the philosophy of Adolf Hitler in the Daleks; the voice of Trevor McDonald and the emotional fluidity of Girls Aloud in the Cybermen; but the Weeping Angels seemed to have been visually inspired by the sleeve of Joy Division’s Love Will Tear Us Apart.

• The way the Angels played a deadly game of What’s The Time Mr Wolf with their prospective victims meant that they were transformed literally in the blink of an eye from elegiac icons of religious worship to evil-eyed harpies.

• Thinking about the convolutions of time travel made us nauseous with delight that such complicated theories were being tackled on a Saturday night, while on ITV1 a likeable young man was being callously bled of all his emotional currency by the bloodsucking Simon Cowell and the bloodless Piers Morgan. If, and we need to take a deep breath here, after she was sent back to 1920 Kathy had not written a note to Sally to be delivered at that exact moment by her grandson, Kathy would have not been separated from Sally and therefore she wouldn’t have been sent into the past by the Weeping Angel who stalked her. Even the Doctor was reduced to vainly clarifying this with some gibberish about “timey-wimey”.

• Children around the country will, for about the next month, regard statues with the same horrified suspicion that we once had for trees after watching Evil Dead II.

• The Doctor’s ruthlessness, seen last week in his punishment of the Family of Blood, was again in evidence. When copper Billy Shipton was sent back to 1969 to the same time period as the Doctor had been exiled, the Doctor press-ganged Billy into helping in his plot to defeat the Weeping Angels by continuing to live in 1969 and ultimately to implant Sally’s future DVDs with a secret message for her. But the Doctor is what, 923 years old? So the 38 years from 1969 until 2007 would have been little more than a blink of the eye for him. He therefore could have eked out an existence before recovering the Tardis and returning to 1969 to save Martha and Billy. But he didn’t.

What was bad about it?

• While the Weeping Angels were visually magnificent they were about as conceptually credible as the Loch Ness Monster. When Sally was retrieving the Tardis key from an Angel the others in the room had more than enough time to attack her, as the Doctor said “they are faster than you would believe”.

• While the Doctor’s précis of them was wreathed in sci-fi mumbo-jumbo: “Fascinating race the Weeping Angels. You die in the past and they consume all the moments you could have had. They live off potential energy.”

• Also, if the Angels can’t look at one another how do they reproduce? And the inability to interact socially must leave them in a permanent state of suicidal despair.

• What’s more, a race of beings that gets frozen to the spot if they so much as look at one another are unlikely to have evolved eyes – some other sense would be enhanced to compensate.

• And the silliness of their existence was explained away in the way that this Doctor explains away anything that is too silly to exist – just as he did with the Racnoss and the The Beast – by claiming they have been around since the inception of the Universe and therefore out of his sphere of otherwise omniscient knowledge.

• If Sally passed on the dossier detailing everything about the Weeping Angels adventure to the Doctor in his ‘past’, then wouldn’t he be forewarned of the dangers of the Angels and effectively have to submit himself and Martha to be propelled back to 1969, else “two-thirds of the Universe” would be destroyed? But as Sally greeted him happily in her future and his past, he will probably have known everything was going to work out well in the end anyhow.

Doctor Who: The Family Of Blood, BBC1, Saturday 2 June 2007

Did we like it?

Perhaps the best episode since Doctor Who was regenerated in 2005, which was odd as the ‘Doctor’ only actually appeared for about five minutes at the end – but even this was devastating.

What was good about it?

• John Smith’s dilemma of whether or not to turn back into the Doctor to save everyone from the Family of Blood – the temptation to remain as he was and aspire to live out his days with a loving family rather than return to his role as an alienated alien saviour of the planet Earth – was drama of the highest quality. The choice of John Smith soon became the core of the story and the Family of Blood were relegated to the sidelines such was the beguiling nature of John’s quandary.

• David Tennant expertly made John Smith like the Doctor, but also unlike the Doctor. When even Nurse Redfearn convinced him he was really a Timelord, he turned to Martha and said exasperatedly, “What am I then? A story?” And later on he rages at Martha, “What exactly do you do for [the Doctor]?”, before he reveals he is now so immersed in John Smith he regards Martha as his “executioner”. And when it’s revealed that John Smith has ‘died’, it really does feel as if a much-loved character has indeed died, which is a marvellous testament to Tennant and the rest of the cast, not to mention the script and direction.

• The point that John Smith sacrificed himself to help prevent death and destruction also had evident parallels with the running theme of World War One, and the choice that soldiers faced when deliberating whether or not to volunteer.

• The Family of Blood, for their part, were (or are) the best original foes cooked up in this new incarnation (but even they appeared first in a novel). Much of their menace came from a superb performance from Harry Lloyd as the deliciously malevolent Son of Mine/Baines as pursued the Doctor with an amoral relish that is the preserve of the very best villains – what made him creepy was the way he paralysed half his face with an evil lopsided smirk and the way in which he spoke in a hypnotic staccato bark. And we were quite thankful that our wish that the Family of Blood were killed-off was granted – agreed a couple of them might struggle to return from the horrid punishments to which the Doctor condemned them, but it’s quite possible we’ll be seeing Son of Mine in a future episode.

• And the Doctor’s ruthless streak, which only ever sporadically bubbles to the top of his character such as when he wanted to execute what he thought was the last Dalek, offered a lucid facet of his moral make-up as he sentenced the Family of Blood to a imaginative variety of fates such as being trapped in a collapsing star, imprisoned in the reflection of every mirror and, most fittingly, as a scarecrow.

• Freema Ageyeman was once more brilliant as Martha, as she acted as nursemaid to the Doctor’s consciousness while bristling with jealousy over his love for Nurse Redfearn. (Jessica Hynes).

• Hynes herself was also brilliant as the heartbroken nurse who rejected the chance to travel with the Doctor and genuinely mourned the passing of John Smith just as if he had died. Her grief was exacerbated by the Doctor’s obvious physical resemblance to her beloved, and she had to force herself to exile the Doctor by coercing herself into anger that he had brought death to her world, an anger that scarcely concealed her confused adoration of him.

• The scarecrow assault on the school in which the straw effigies were repelled by a phalanx of weeping teenagers who were having their first traumatic taste of the horrors of war – which had heavy allusions to the perceived glory of serving king and country that would see many of them doomed in the imminent carnage of World War One.

• The paean to the bravery of such soldiers was also handled sensitively, and without any cloying sentimentality, as Latimer and Hutchinson were seen avoiding a German shell with their name on it thanks to the Doctor. And later Latimer was seen at a memorial service in the present day while the Doctor and Martha looked on from afar.

What was bad about it?

• The future of John Smith if he had elected to stay as he was and not revert back to the Doctor had one huge gaping plot hole. As John cradled his firstborn, traipsed gaily through the meadows with his wife and children and at the age of about 90 happily expired, there was one thing missing – it assumed that the Family of Blood somehow failed to find him, and ultimately kill him. They had destroyed almost every other building in the vicinity and so would surely have tracked him down before they expired, thus making the glimpse of the promised future little more than a idyllic delusion. But such was the intensity and verve of David Tennant’s performance and the beauty of the script, this was a minor minus point.

• With the shift of focus almost entirely on to John Smith’s decision to become the Doctor (or not), the other plot strand suffered a little as the Doctor vanquished the Family of Blood by blowing up their spaceship through falling over like Norman Wisdom while surreptitiously flicking switches, causing the vessel to blow-up

Doctor Who: Human Nature, BBC1, Saturday 26 May 2007

Did we like it?

It was only about halfway through, after being utterly absorbed by the storyline, that we fully appreciated how brilliant it was.

What was good about it?

• The idea of metamorphosing the Doctor into a completely different character, and species, in order to escape the clutches of the Family of Blood was a masterly innovation. David Tennant switched from the slightly unhinged erudite mania of the Doctor to a more conservative, bumbling, tongue-tied schoolmaster; yet sporadically evidence of his real incarnation would puncture the surface.

• This was compounded by using echoes not just from this Doctor’s incarnation, but through traits of his previous selves – the alias of John Smith was popularised by Jon Pertwee, while his expertise with a cricket ball was redolent of Peter Davison. But some very un-Doctor like traits were also apparent such as when he blithely consented to one of the pupils to give a beating to the distracted puny Latimer.

• The changes, of course, impelled Martha’s adoration for the Doctor into turmoil especially when he developed a romance with the school nurse (Jessica Hynes).

• Perhaps because we know so little about them The Family of Blood are one of the most promising ‘new’ foes the Doctor has faced in the TV series. Their ruthless malevolence has obvious echoes of the Daleks, but their motivation and methods mark them out as worthy successors to the pantheon of Who villains (a pantheon relinquished by the Cybermen after their appalling performance in the last series). We just hope they aren’t annihilated like so many of the villains in this new Who series have been as if the writers believe the viewers will be disappointed with a denouement that settles for anything less than absolute genocide.

• The odd manner in which the Family of Blood sniff at Latimer as if to suggest there is more than one Timelord seeking sanctuary at the school.

• While the scarecrows owe an obvious debt to zombie films for the way they shamble across the landscape providing an ingenious PG-acceptable alternative to corpses dripping with melting flesh, they are central to this story resembling the classic Pertwee tale The Daemons in the way in which a quaint ultra-English setting is subverted by an alien presence. And, much like the Daemons, this little kink in reality has the effect of making the atmosphere a whole lot weirder than a visit to an alien planet.

• We also enjoyed the abstruse but classic reference to Fritz Lang’s M in the little girl with the balloon who is brutally murdered to provide a human body for one of the Family to possess. And the way the possessed humans did that little Princess Diana-like jerk of the head.

What was bad about it?

• When the two toffs made a racist remark towards Martha, this wasn’t so much to give a flavour of less tolerant times as to earmark two characters who would definitely die. Indeed, when Baines was killed by one of the Family of Blood there almost seemed a pious relish in his demise as though his murder by an intergalactic evil was far less of a crime than his bigoted quip. The other toff will no doubt be dispatched in part two, but it would have been far edgier for such a remark to have been made by John Smith to emphasis that such intolerance was not restricted to idiots like the two toffs, rather it was actually a pervading social ill and to also demonstrate how far the Doctor’s disguise is from his true character.

• When John Smith, Martha and the other villagers congregated in the village hall for a dance, it was inevitable what would follow – they would be surrounded by mindless automatons and one of them would be killed to show just how dastardly the aliens really were. We’ve seen it before with the Cybermen last series and the animated Santas at Christmas.

Doctor Who: 42, BBC1, Saturday 19 May 2007

Did we like it?

This very good tale about the Doctor and Martha’s efforts to save a stricken space craft from falling into a star didn’t have a single ounce of fat on it – and while this did mean a thrilling adventure, it also meant the sacrifice of peripheral characters to care about.

What was good about it?

• David Tennant’s Doctor manages to be flippant, humorous, compassionate, determined and selfless without ever straying from his core character into caricature; even his screaming was typical of the Doctor after he was infected by the star.

• As soon as the Doctor and Martha arrived on the spaceship they were greeted as saviours rather than devious interlopers; something also seen in The Impossible Planet last series. Contrast this with the old Doctor Who were the Doctor used to spend the first hour importuning his noble intentions.

• Except for the contemplation when Martha and Riley were jettisoned in an escape pod, the action was relentless. Almost as soon as the Tardis had materialised the engine was vandalised and the doors to the auxiliary engines were locked by the infected Korwin, who then transformed into a murderous emissary of the star, raped of its essence by the crew to be used as fuel.

• And as the star was the ‘villain’ that converted and controlled two of the crew to carry out its revenge, absolutely no time was wasted on a villain’s exposition – it was simply a case of “burn with me” followed by a soot stain where a supporting character once stood (although it was very nice of both of them to back up against a wall to frame a starker silhouette of their demise).

• The most powerful scene of the episode was when Martha’s escape pod was floating away from the Doctor’s anguished face on a course that would take it into the heart of the angry star. Bracketed by the furious action about it, the silence as he helplessly watched her float away was beautifully realised.

What was bad about it?

• When infected, why did the crew members feel compelled to dress up in sub-Darth Vader masks?

• In such a frenetic episode, originality was never going to be a prime directive thus the influences were rather nakedly waggled in the faces of the viewers; influences that ranged from the obvious Aliens and The Thing to the episode of Doctor Who two weeks previously in which a human was infected by an ‘alien’ entity and set about killing everything that moved.

• Because all the blubber had been stripped from the script like a forlorn humpback being butchered by Japanese whalers, the characters were so thin they could have been squeezed under a locked door. The medic and technician were horribly despatched in scenes where there was more admiration for the nature of their deaths – vaporisation – than sorrow. And the survivors seemed to share a similar apathy as the epilogue saw a few jokes, and even a kiss between Martha and Riley, as if their crewmates had been minor details in a Saturday night sci-fi drama serial killed off early on with little or no mourning.

• While conservationism is an admirable trait and cause, inserting such complex ideas into such a frantic Doctor Who episode smacked of tokenism. Through the Doctor, the star wailed: “Humans! You grab whatever’s nearest and bleed it dry!” But who was to assume the star was so morally beatific? Any planets orbiting the star would most likely be ‘alive’ too, yet the star had kept them on a gravitational leash for billions of years like an over-protective parent.

• The randomness of the countdown clock. “Impact in seven-fifty-eight”; “Impact in three-forty-three”; “Impact in two-seventeen”, the times broadcast were utterly arbitrary.

Doctor Who: The Lazarus Experiment, BBC1, Saturday 5 May 2007

Did we like it?

While perhaps the weakest episode of the third series, it nevertheless did feature a decent chase and was again concluded by a moment of inspiration from the Doctor.

What was good about it?

• Mark Gatiss as the mad scientist Dr Lazarus whose yearning to be young was thwarted when his machine also awakened within him some dormant DNA that sporadically transformed him into the ugliest manifestation of humanity since Jordan was last on our TV screens. But Gatiss made Lazarus likeable, despite his selfishness, and his death wasn’t a triumph for the Doctor, it was more akin to putting to sleep an animal made dangerous through no fault of its own.

• The CGI-generated monster was well-realised as it thrashed about in Lazarus’s opulent laboratory killing off Mavis from Corrie, a posh woman who was insolent to the Doctor and a couple of paramedics.

• Martha’s family were much less irritating than Rose’s, with Reggie Yates performing well as Martha’s brother, while her mother is shaping up to be a deadlier foe for the Doctor than the Cybermen were last series after her mind was poisoned against him by the mysterious Mr Saxon.

• And talking of Mr Saxon, was that really him whispering in Mrs Jones’s ear as we’re pretty sure that John Simm had grabbed that role. Of course, there is a logical explanation of how this could come about…

What was bad about it?

• After about half-an-hour the episode seemed all over as Lazarus seemed to have been killed and the Doctor and Martha’s family were engaging in typical end-of-episode banter. But Lazarus wasn’t dead, so it meant about another 10 minutes of chasing around aimlessly.

• At one point, we were totting up ideas snatched from other sci-fi stories – The Fly for the near-magical chamber which causes a human to mutate, the way the monster scurried along the corridors was very reminiscent of Aliens, while using the cathedral bell to zap Lazarus as the monster reminded us of a Strontium Dog story in 2000AD in which a killer android was disintegrated after it sought refuge in a bell tower.

Doctor Who: Evolution Of The Daleks, BBC1, Saturday 28 April 2007

Did we like it?

The Daleks are turning into the sci-fi equivalent of Wile E Coyote, with the Doctor as the pesky Roadrunner, after their diabolic plans to conquer the Earth were once more foiled through a combination of their ambition exceeding their means and the Timelord’s ingenuity.

What was good about it?

• The Daleks turned against their leader Sec after he became a human/Dalek hybrid. This was a fantastic development as it meant that Daleks can continue to terrify generations of children with a mechanised voice of pure hate rather than the slippery, nauseating tones of a slick Lothario ordering some wine in a restaurant to get his quick-fix date drunk enough so she will be susceptible to his tuneless serenading of her at closing time.

• And the Dalek philosophy was reliably reinforced after Solomon’s poignant plea for understanding and benevolence was met with the inevitable “exterminate”.

• Once more the Doctor triumphed through his inventiveness and not through brute force – a trait that makes it superior to its rather tiresome trans-Atlantic peers.

What was bad about it?

• Last week, we referred to the fact that the Daleks, for BBC budgetary reasons, rarely made it beyond the local sewers in their efforts to invade the Earth. And that’s about as far as they got again as the human Daleks (a direct clone of the Robomen from the Dalek Invasion of Earth film in the 60s) were infiltrated by the Doctor’s DNA.

• There is no need to keep pushing the Daleks to the verge of extinction. Why not have a happy army of Daleks oppressing huge swathes of the Universe who can be pitted against the Doctor in future series’ instead of this myopic policy of reducing them in number further and further. The only upside to this is that Davros will probably be back in the near future.

Doctor Who: Daleks In Manhattan, BBC1, Saturday 21 April 2007

Did we like it?

As the fourth Dalek story in two-and-a-half series’, it was crucial that some innovation was injected into the story – and the fact that they sought to ‘evolve’ to survive and thrive was perfectly apt for a third series that continues to improve with each episode.

What was good about it?

• The Daleks were as incorrigibly merciless as ever, but this time Dalek Sec ‘sacrificed’ himself to merge with a New York gangster to create a Dalek/human hybrid to exploit human survivalist skills and Dalek megalomania. This meant a ‘behind the sofa’ moment when Sec opened up his metal body casing to reveal his true form – imagine a giant squid crossed with a flabby Jonathan Ross – and ‘swallowed’ the unfortunate gangster whole.

• An excellent supporting cast, primarily Hugh Quarshie as the resolute Solomon and Miranda Raison (getting more action sequences as a shrill chorus girl in 45 minutes than she has in two series of Spooks) as the lovestruck Tallulah, even if her accent did at times wander off to the mid-Atlantic if left unattended.

• The embarrassment of those late-80s episodes when both the Cybermen and the Daleks would launch their plans for world domination from a confined sewer in docklands London was partially erased as the Daleks again employed sewers, this time in New York, but their base of operations at least had some grandiosity being located at the pinnacle of the Empire State Buidling.

What was bad about it?

• The Daleks seem to be a little confused. They were once near-identical to humans as the Kaleds, but rejected that form as limiting. However, they now seem to want to revert back to human form because of the way humans have spread throughout the galaxy. Yet the Dalek who was reflecting on humanity’s ubiquity forgets that in about 200 years from that moment, the Daleks are pretty much able to invade the Earth in a blink of an eye.

Doctor Who: Gridlock, BBC1, Saturday 14 April 2007

Did we like it?

Another astonishingly brilliant story, told with the contrasting but addictive mix of economical dialogue, frenetic death-defying action and uplifting moments of tranquil reflection.

What was good about it?

• The continued development of the relationship between the Doctor and the very impressive Martha. At the start of the episode. the Doctor lied about the beauty of Gallifrey, talking about it as if it still existed and its beautiful sunsets. But after the Face of Boe and the Doctor talked about being the last of their races, Martha demanded to know why he had lied to her.

• And in the classic Doctor Who scenario of splitting up Doctor and assistant, Martha emerged stronger after she took charge of her kidnappers after their vehicle was assaulted by the Makra (huge crab-like aliens), deducing that the monsters must be detecting their vessel by sound alone she ordered them to turn off the engines.

• This episode employed the sci-fi staple of taking a modern day problem – in this case traffic congestion and overcrowded decaying cities where the underclass forlornly dream of ascending to the social elite while drowning in illegal drugs – and extrapolate it to ludicrous but wonderfully imaginative levels. The traffic was lined up one behind the other, and some of the vehicles had been there for 24 years – but they were going nowhere as all the exits to the supposed utopia of New New York’s surface had been sealed to prevent a virus stemming from one of the emotion drugs had killed everyone.

• Ardal O’Hanlon as Brannigan the feline humanoid who we had feared would be merely stunt-casting, yet he was superbly conceived and represented the initial scepticism of the New New Yorkers to the Doctor, but ended up worshipping him as he opened up the roof of the eternal ring road and allowed them to escape.

• Russell T Davies mischievously and delightfully subverting a family show with allusions to bestiality (Brannigan and his human wife’s kittens); scatology (Martha eating a rusk that was ‘recycled human waste’); and lesbianism (the two old ladies who had been on the road for 24 years). But it was all done so seamlessly and with the assumption that such bigotry, technology or evolution, in the Brannigans’ case, made it all seem so normal.

• The mournful hymn that was played to the entrapped drivers each day was both stirring and tragic, as their communal misery in their shared suffering made them stronger but at the same time the elegiac tune did resemble something that would be played at a parade in an authoritarian state.

• The poignant death of the Face of Boe, who gave the last breaths of his five billion-year-life to save the people trapped underground in their vehicles.

What was bad about it?

• The Face of Boe’s grandstand revelation was that the Doctor “is not alone”, and not the last of his race. But given that first the Daleks and then the Cybermen have returned it was never going to be a shock for the Doctor’s own personal nemesis to make a come back. The only thing that remains unresolved is if he’s going to be sporting a black goatee beard and have a weapon that shrinks people who get in his way.

• The Doctor acting like the Daily Mail militia in his aggressive vilification of the three vendors selling drugs to the human zombies who hadn’t yet chosen to lose themselves on the never ending ring road. Yes, they were acting immorally in peddling stick-on patches that would rot the mind and ambitions of all who took them, but the vendors themselves seemed to be struggling to make a living given the grimy state of their shops and their dishevelled appearances.

Doctor Who: The Shakespeare Code, BBC1, Saturday 7 April 2007

Did we like it even more than episode one?

Yes, the script was skilful and efficient enough to overcome the bane of cramming an episode into 45 minutes, and Martha Jones continues to be an absolute delight.

What was good about it?

• As the Doctor visited 18th century England, who better to act as an impromptu companion than William Shakespeare (the excellent Dean Lennox Kelly)? He also happened to be in the unwitting thrall of three aliens who had taken the guise of witches.

• And it was the use of an easily recognisable historical figures and classic stock villainesses that ensured the tale wasn’t bogged down by laborious introductions. In fact, the perception of Shakespeare was enhanced with Kelly playing him as a precious celebrity who revelled in the adulation of the audience but who wearied at the constant attention of his fans when relaxing afterwards.

• The witches, meanwhile, introduced themselves by luring an unsuspecting lute player into their lair after one had transformed herself into a fair maiden. Once entrapped, he was torn to shreds quite graphically for a 7pm slot (but we’re not complaining). Soon after that they were using effigies to control Shakespeare (and causing meddling officials to drown in the street by dunking their effigy in a bucket of water), cackling loudly and extravagantly, looking ugly and flying off on broomsticks.

• The witches were thankfully despatched with ingenuity as Shakespeare improvised poetry to dispel the portal that the witches had opened, through coercing him to write words that could open a gateway to their entombed brethren and loose them on the Earth. As Shakespeare struggled with the last line, Martha suggested a spell from Harry Potter, and soon the witches were sucked into oblivion. “Good old JK,” yelped the Doctor.

• Coincidentally, about 20 minutes later on Sky Movies on the Harry Potter premiere, Harry and his gang walked into a tent that was bigger on the inside than on the outside, and David Tennant co-starred (although we gave up soon after as the picture kept freezing).

• Freema Agyeman as Martha Jones was even more impressive that her debut, whether exhibiting flattery at the attentions of Shakspeare, acting with Rose’s naivety in speaking in ye olde English in an endearing attempt to fit in with 18th century argot or trying to despatch one of the witches, or wittily exchanging banter the Doctor in the street or lying on the bed, she was a magnetic screen presence.

What was bad about it?

• Along with the Unquiet Dead in series one, The Girl in the Fireplace, The Satan Pit and Doomsday in series two and the Runaway Bride Christmas special, the plot device of needing to shut/open a portal is being slightly overused.

Doctor Who: Smith And Jones, BBC1, Saturday 31 March 2007

Did we like it?

A fabulously compact, captivating start to the new series, which smoothly enveloped new companion Martha Jones into the Doctor’s world through a breakneck episode full of menacing monsters and trademark techno-babble.

What was good about it?

• First things first, the whole episode was set up to introduce Freema Agyeman as Martha Jones, who was both superbly characterised and acted. Evidently, Martha needed to be distinct from Rose in character, through her guarded pragmatism, and her intelligence, but she was also warm and caring as shown by her mediation between her bickering family.

• In fact, she evoked memories of both Sarah Jane Smith from the Tom Baker era with the Doctor and his companion enjoying a close, but platonic relationship, and from the Leela/Tom Baker era where the time-travelling duo were on more of an intellectual par. She also seems unimpressed with his credentials. “I’m a Time Lord,” the Doctor said. “Not pompous at all, then,” Martha retorted. And even found time to tease him after he comes back and offers her a trip as a thank-you for her help, “You travelled all the way across the Universe to ask me on a date!”

• In the last series, David Tennant’s eccentricities (most notably the Ghostbusters moment in the TARDIS) began to grate, but they seem now to be more subtle and mannered such as his wink to Martha as she checked his heart and found that he had two of them.

• The plasmavor who was being hunted by the intergalactic police force the Judoon, was slightly comical in the form of a little old lady, but managed to exude enough menace to make it a believable and worthy foe the Doctor. The Judoon were marvellously realised, too, as hulking bipedal rhinoceroses who served to be outwitted by both the cunning plasmavor and the Doctor.

• One the main faults of the Doctor Who revival has been the brevity of the stories often being crammed into 45 minutes. But Smith And Jones, much like Tooth & Claw and Father’s Day, was tightly scripted and directed so the that frenetic action (the Doctor and Martha fleeing the Judoon) and scenes of reflection (Martha realising the hospital was on the Moon) had time to breathe and never felt rushed.

• The Doctor’s omnipotent sonic screwdriver breaking as he and Martha despatched one of the Plasmavor’s henchmen. This meant that he had to use his trademark ingenuity to defeat the Plasmavor rather than the screwdriver, which was becoming a bit tedious towards the end of the last series. He surrendered himself and hoaxed the plasmavor into sucking his blood, knowing that when the cumbersomely rigid Judoon scanned her again they would discover she was an alien (from his blood) and execute her.

What was bad about it?

• As a device for introducing Martha, her haphazard family was a wonderful ploy as it showed how she was the pivot for all their disputes and arguments. The roles were also acted well and clearly defined, but we hope the Doctor doesn’t become as bogged down in drab domesticity as he did with Rose, which reached its nadir when her mother and late father just happened to be among the social elite in the Cybermen’s dimension.

• When the plasmavor was giving a villain’s exposition of her dastardly plans, she revealed that her manipulation of the hospital’s scanners would set off an explosion that would kill everything in 250,000 miles. This would mean that everyone on the side of the Earth facing the Moon at that time would be annihilated. But it was enervatingly unnecessary to imperil the Earth’s inhabitants as we already cared about the people in the hospital, about the naïve junior doctor who anxiously dealt with the Judoon, about Martha’s nervous colleague, about the oxygen-starved patients slumped in the corridors.

• It was enough that everyone in the hospital was at risk of death without having to make it a facsimile of a dumb US sci-fi epic (e.g. Independence Day), in which the cash-soaked producers demand that the plot appeals to the numbed, low-com-denom consumer who can only care about and comprehend danger and death on a global scale.

Luke Knowles

Luke Knowles


Editor of the website and host of the podcast. A general TV obsessive. I've been running the site since 2008 and you can usually find me in front of the TV. My Favourite show of all time is Breaking Bad with Cracker coming a close second. I feel so passionately that television can change the world and I'm doing my little bit by running this site. You're Welcome!


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