River Song was fond of saying ‘spoilers!’ and this most certainly applies to this post in which I muse on the new Doctor/Clara combo that has been gracing our screens over the past couple of months. If you have been living under a rock for weeks or have recorded the series to watch in one big Snicker’s session then please desist and cast your eyes to other morsels on my blog.
Clara (the lovely Jenna-Louise Coleman) first appears as the ‘soufflé girl’ who was aboard a ship that crash landed in Episode 1 of Series 7 Asylum of the Daleks and was converted into a Dalek. It is a great episode (because it was full of all the types of Daleks you could possibly want) but I recall alarm bells ringing in my head that if Oswin Oswald (as she was known then) was to become another companion for the Doctor then she needed to reign in the spritely flippancy of her character as it was too much like the already (and increasingly) annoying Amy Pond. I remember saying to Siggy after the well written episode that she could have made a good companion, and that was obviously in the thoughts of the great intelligence that is the production team as she came back in the Christmas Day special.
Before that we had to endure Dinosaurs on a Spaceship (Dr Who does Jurassic Park), A Town Called Mercy (Dr Who does Westworld), The Power of Three (anti-Apple devices take over the world) and the protracted, and some would say overdue, writing-out of Amy and Rory in The Angels Take Manhattan. I am not a big fan of the Angels (although I will admit to liking the first episode that they appeared in, I think there are plenty of other monsters worth re-using from the extensive menagerie).
The Christmas Day special was a breath of fresh air and involved the appearance of semi-regulars Madame Vastra (sexy? Lizard woman), Jenny Flint (cockney sidekick and lover?) and Strax who gets some of the best lines in the episodes he appears in (in much the same way as the dwarf Gimli does in Lord of the Rings) – ‘shall I destroy it?’ being my favourite of the series finale when referring to the ‘scar’ in the Doctor’s grave. Having already monsterised Father Christmas, Christmas Trees and turned the Star of Bethlehem into a giant spaceship it was no great surprise to find that snow and The Snowmen were up next to be the bad guys.
The episode was full of great images and dialogue and opened the doors to the ‘who is Clara?’ question which permeates through the rest of the series up to the conclusion in The Name of the Doctor aired yesterday. In Victorian London Clara is a barmaid by night and children’s governess (think Mary Poppins without the singing) by day, the Doctor is in self-imposed exile after the death of Amy and Rory. The snow is actually an evil alien life force called the Great Intelligence and to cut a long story short Clara pretty much sacrifices herself to save the day. The Doctor is intrigued and feeling guilty enough to go off and try and find Clara, who he is convinced is still alive.
Another version of Clara is to be found in The Bells of Saint John the first episode to be broadcast in 2013. This a rather silly affair featuring a motorbike ride up the side of the Shard (anyone seen Ultraviolet?) and the Great Intelligence trying to use Wi-Fi (in a brazen regurgitation of the Cybermen’s Bluetooth headset episodes a few years ago). For me the highlight was the fact that the TARDIS looked really cool and had a garage somewhere inside.
In The Rings of Akhaten Clara is pretty much confirmed as the Doctor’s new travelling companion and we get to see her back story which revolves around a leaf. It reminded me somewhat of the episode in which Rose saves her father from being run over. The special effects provide really fantastic eye-candy, let down somewhat by the clunkiest of Return of the Jedi speeder bikes which looked like an oversized K9 torso with handlebars. On the whole I thought the episode lacked a decent ending despite the excellent alien market scenes (like the troll market in Hellboy 2), space scenery and set design. Clara saves the Doctor again.
Cold War on the other hand was magnificent. As soon as the name Mark Gatiss appeared as the writer I knew we were in for a treat. He seems to be on exactly the same wavelength as me in terms of what is expected of a Dr Who episode. The setting is a Russian submarine and the timeframe is 1983. A scientist has a specimen aboard which he has carved out the ice (The Thing, Captain American etc. etc.) which turns out to be an Ice Warrior from Mars. Coincidentally I saw a Tom Baker DVD in Tesco’s that morning featuring the same bad guys, coincidence? In what feels like a mixture of Alien and Iron Man the Ice Warrior takes off his armour and skulks about the submarine bumping off the crew. The suited Warrior looks the mutt’s nuts and the unsuited Warrior is suitably creepy with long tendril like fingers. Quality B-Movie stuff!
Hide features Dougray Scott as a kind of retired James Bond character lurking about in his own haunted version of Skyfall with a physic side-kick who has the hots for him. Unrequited or separated love is the theme of the episode as it transpires that the ghost is in fact a marooned time traveller in a pocket universe (someone told me they’ve been featured in Star trek before now) being chased by an alien pining for a mate. The mate as it turns out is also lurking in Professor Palmer’s mansion. It’s a bit of a strange mixture but actually works out quite well as for once there is a sub-plot with a satisfying arc.
Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS was the episode I had been waiting for ever since the franchise was rebooted. ‘Please, please, please,’ I would beg the television, ‘do an episode completely inside the rooms of the TARDIS!’ Yay, finally it happened. Okay the story was a little clunky, but I was so satisfied that it had finally happened that I forgive any shortcomings in the script. Clara had a ‘too short skirt’ on and we had a glimpse of IKEA’s lighting department in the year 3000 (not much has changed, but we live underwater…) We also get a reference to the Doctor’s true name as Clara finds the library and has time for a quick flick through a history book while being chased by a crusty zombie (Dead Space style) future-self. Nice also to hear the alarm bell of the TARDIS which I remember sent shivers down my spine as a child – when you hear that bell you know that shit is going to kick off.
Mark Gatiss was back in the writers chair for The Crimson Horror and we see the return of triple-trouble in the form of Madame Vastra, Jenny and Strax investigating the bodies that have been killed by an ancient red poison. The Doctor is chained up and held as a pet by the blind daughter of the evil old crone in charge of the Bourneville-esque factory come village, although she is actually being controlled by an alien leech called Mr Sweet who is attached to her body (very Babylon 5). Jenny has a quick go at being Black Widow, Strax gets some good lines, the Doctor gets to make like a zombie for a bit, but all in all the episode was a bit of a disappointment. Although there is a nice bit of set up for the next episode when the kids Clara is looking after back in modern day Blighty blackmail her into getting a ride in the TARDIS.
Nightmare in Silver was written by Neil Gaiman. I am an enormous fan of his books, films and graphic novels and was previously blown away by his TARDIS-as-a-woman episode The Doctor’s Wife. Featuring Warwick Davis as a diminutive emperor hiding in a defunct theme park infested with electronic insects this episode was really enjoyable despite the obvious ‘put the kids in peril’ plot point. The cybermen had undergone some upgrades since we last saw them on screen and unlike the picture on this post (adapted from a photo I took at a mediocre Doctor Who day at Snibston Discovery Museum and Country Park) looked a little more ‘classic’ and menacing somehow. The Doctor playing chess with his cyber-half to decide the fate of the humans was typical (enjoyable) Gaiman despite Matt Smith’s performance coming up short of the classic Andy Serkis Gollum versus Sméagol conversations in LOTR.
Please don’t misunderstand that last comment. I really rate Matt Smith as the Doctor ever since his first appearance – he is strangely old-looking for a young actor and at times it seems like there really is a wizened Wizard of time struggling inside the new body. The fez and bowtie are genius and he does angry very well without being too theatrical (which at times I think let David Tennant down… and don’t get me started on Chris Ecclestone…). Saying that it would be great to see them together in some kind of Three Doctors episode in the future – there are rumblings, we’ll see. Perhaps if I beg the television enough?
In the final episode of the series we still don’t get to hear The Name of the Doctor, but frankly I don’t think we ever will, isn’t that the whole point now of why the show is called Doctor Who? Instead it is uttered by River Song to open the doors of the grave of the Doctor. The Great Intelligence is back and jumps into the scar tissue in time that is at the centre of the Doctor’s giant TARDIS grave to mess up all his previous incarnations. We get to see some nicely presented incarnations including Will Hartnell, Tom Baker, Sylvester McCoy and John Pertwee and a fuzzy Clara popping up in their timeframes. As soon as Richard E Grant jumps into the scar it seemed obvious that Jenna-Louise Coleman would follow. The real surprise at the end is John Hurt as a future incarnation of the Doctor; spoiled in some respects by the intrusive text overlay breaking the suspension of disbelief, reminding you it’s just a TV show, and pointing out exactly who he is and the character he is playing like we’re a bunch of morons: ‘Introducing John Hurt as the Doctor.’ Come on…
But still… roll on November, hopefully with some strong writing and well-constructed bad guys it will be worth the wait. Please, please, please no more Cybermen, no more Daleks, and definitely no more Angels, just for a series, and please, please, please a ‘multiple Doctor’ episode (with the appearance of Hurt I want at least a 4 doctor episode, but wouldn’t it be great to get Sylvester McCoy back in – he proved his acting chops in The Hobbit and it wasn’t his acting ability that let the show down last time – it was pretty much everything else!). Also it’s worth mentioning the scientist chap on the submarine in the Cold War episode, actor David Bradley, is playing Will Hartnell in a BBC2 drama about the creation of the show and it would be great to have him appear as the original Doctor.
Having a quick look around the internet it does appear that there will be a Dr Who 50th Anniversary Special starring Matt Smith alongside David Tennant, Billie Piper and John Hurt. So my prayers have been answered already in a way, although Tennant’s character might be the human version of the Doctor that ended up with Rose in the parallel world (which seems likely given that Billie is in the episode).