Saturday, 31 August 2013

Doctor Who (The Complete Specials)

Apparently neither David Tennant or Doctor Who showrunner Russell T Davies had intended to do any episodes of the show past 2008. However, the BBC weren't at all keen on this idea because that would mean that Doctor Who, one of their most popular shows, would be on hiatus for the whole of 2009 (Steven Moffat's first series of the show wouldn't be due until 2010). Therefore the BBC asked RTD to do another full-length series but neither he or Tennant wanted to commit to this. They both wanted to move on and do different things. In the end a compromise was reached. Once series four had wrapped up, RTD would write a few "one-off" 60 minute length episodes that would act as a bridge between series four and five. The filming of these episodes was designed to fit in around David Tennant's Hamlet schedule and Tennant also agreed to star in an episode of The Sarah Jane Adventures. These Doctor Who episodes are often called the 2009 specials but two of the episodes weren't actually aired in that year.

The special episodes that were aired between 2008 and 2010 are called The Next Doctor, Planet of the Dead, The Waters of Mars and The End of Time. In these special episodes the Doctor doesn't have a companion and travels by himself. It's not quite clear why the Doctor refuses to take a companion on during these episodes. I'd like to think that it's because he's still upset about what happened to Donna Noble during the Journey's End finale of series four but it's not explained. However, the Doctor does meet people during these special episodes and some Whovians even count these people as one-off companions. The Doctor meets Jackson Lake in The Next Doctor, Lady Christina de Souza in Planet of the Dead, Adelaide Brook in The Waters of Mars and Donna's grandfather Wilfred Mott in The End of Time. To be honest I don't really get why these characters are classed as companions. Surely if you're going to down that road then, by definition, pretty much anyone that the Doctor meets in a Doctor Who episode and assists him should be classed as a companion? Of the various people that the Doctor meets in these special episodes the only one that I would actually consider a companion is Wilf but even this is debatable.

Before I talk about these special episodes in more depth I feel I should give my rank of the series from the RTD era. My favourite series from the RTD era is series four. Then it's series three, then it's series one, then it's series two and then it's these specials. Yep, these specials rank as the worst period of the RTD era and Doctor Who in general ever since it came back to TV. Apart from The Waters of Mars, which is genuinely brilliant, all of these special episodes are really poor. The Next Doctor and Planet of the Dead both start off quite promisingly but turn out to have boring storylines and characters that we just can't care about. These episodes aren't car-crash TV but they're very average and forgettable. The End of Time is a hugely disappointing story as well and is a very sad end to David Tennant's run as the Doctor. David Tennant is an amazing actor and he made for a wonderful Doctor. Even though he didn't always the material he deserved he still gave consistently brilliant performances and was always entertaining to watch. However, even though I dislike most of the episodes, I'd still say that "The Complete Specials" boxset is worth buying. David Tennant is always great, The Waters of Mars is a fantastic episode and, even though I dislike The End of Time itself, I do love Matt Smith's introduction scene and the fact that the episode features Wilf. He's still my favourite relative of a companion and I love Bernard Cribbins' acting in the role. Anyway, here are my reviews for the individual episodes.

1. The Next Doctor (written by Russell T Davies).

The Next Doctor was shown on Christmas Day 2008. In this episode the Doctor travels to Victorian London and finds himself in the year 1851. The Doctor then meets a man called Jackson Lake who calls himself the Doctor (David Morrissey). Jackson has a very Doctor-ish outfit, mentions having a sonic screwdriver and TARDIS, and has even got a female companion called Rosita (Velile Tshabalalaas). The trio then finds themselves having to stop the Cybermen and the evil Miss Hartigan (Dervla Kirwan) from taking over the city.

At the time this episode was aired it hadn't yet been announced that Matt Smith would be taking over David Tennant's role and there was a lot of speculation on who the next Doctor would be. RTD decided to take full advantage of this by writing an episode in which the Doctor would meet a possible future version of himself. This would generate a lot of publicity because people might actually think that they were going to be watching the future Doctor before the current Doctor had even left the show. However once you actually watch this episode it's pretty clear almost right from the start that Jackson isn't really the Doctor, and it's dropped altogether about 20 minutes in. Also, The Next Doctor is a really boring episode. The story is boring, Jackson and Rosita are boring, and the Cybermen aren't remotely scary. Also, the Cybershades look awful! And finally, why is Miss Hartigan evil? What's her motivation for teaming up with the Cybermen? The Next Doctor is easily my least favourite out of the 2008-10 specials and is my least Doctor Who Christmas episode as well.

2. Planet of the Dead (written by Russell T Davies and Gareth Roberts).

Planet of the Dead was shown on Easter Sunday 2009. In this episode a young, modern-day catburgler called Lady Christina de Souza (Michelle Ryan) steals a gold chalice that once belonged to King Æthelstan from a London museum. She narrowly escapes from the police by jumping on a bus. The Doctor, who is tracking a wormhole, gets on the same bus. The bus then passes through the wormhole and soon everyone on board finds themselves on a desert planet called San Helios. The Doctor must then get everyone on the bus back to Earth before stingray-like aliens can travel through the wormhole and destroy the planet.

Planet of the Dead was partly filmed on location in Dubai and has got some great visuals. It's nice that they mention Easter in this episode and Tennant is as great as usual. However, this episode still leaves much to be desired. My main gripe with it is probably Lady Christina's character. I think the audience is actually supposed to like her character but I personally can't. Yes Christina is clever, self-confident and assertive but she also comes across as really smug. She's actually amused when her lover gets caught by the police and she's also a thief. RTD and Gareth Roberts try to draw a parallel between Christina and the Doctor by reminding the audience that the Doctor stole the TARDIS but there's still a difference. The Doctor took the TARDIS and used it to help people. Christina steals simply because she can and because she thinks it's fun. She's hardly a Robin Hood figure. It really doesn't help matters that Michelle Ryan has such little chemistry with David Tennant either. As you can probably imagine I was really pleased when the Doctor turned down her request to become a companion at the end! Another character that I really dislike in this story is the UNIT officer Malcom. His character is basically a pisstake of Doctor Who fans, he's like Larry from Blink only without the charm. I'm putting this down to Lee Evans' very OTT acting which I find embarrassing to watch. The other passengers on the bus are all uninteresting and unmemorable and the storyline for this episode isn't very interesting either. Planet of the Dead is only marginally better than The Next Doctor and is a very average episode.

3. The Waters of Mars (written by Russell T Davies and Phil Ford).

The Waters of Mars was shown in November 2009. In this episode the Doctor goes to visit Mars in the year 2059 and then comes across Bowie Base One. This is Earth's first colony on the planet. The colony is being led by a woman called Adelaide Brook (Lindsay Duncan). Adelaide is unaware that she will play a pivotal role in Earth's history. Adelaide's crew then find themselves under attack by an evil, malevolent force and this places the Doctor in a difficult position. Adelaide and her crew are supposed to die; it's a fixed point in time. The Doctor shouldn't save these people no matter how much he might want to. However, the Doctor eventually decides to ignore this and pays a terrible price.

Oh, why couldn't all of the 2008-10 specials have been of the same level of quality as The Waters of Mars?! I love this episode! It's brilliant! RTD co-wrote this episode with Phil Ford who wrote quite a few episodes for The Sarah Jane Adventures. The Waters of Mars is definitely one of my favourite Doctor Who episodes and in my opinion it's the best episode that RTD ever wrote for the show. Yes, I like it even more than Midnight although that episode is a close second of course. Again, The Waters of Mars is brilliant. Yes it's another base-under-siege story and has therefore got some strong similarities with The Impossible Planet/The Satan's Pit and 42 - but in my opinion it's better than either of those stories. The Waters of Mars is brilliantly tense and suspenseful. Even though this episode is 60 minutes long it's perfectly paced and the time just flies by when you're watching it. The Flood are fantastic villains and are genuinely scary and creepy-looking. Also, whilst most of the secondary characters aren't that well-developed or interesting, Adelaide is a great character. Although I found Jackson Lake boring and Christina de Souza unlikeable, Adelaide is a character that I could actually care about and respect. Adelaide is well-rounded, she has a backstory, and she gets a character arc. Lindsay Duncan does an excellent job playing her as well.

Another reason why I love The Waters of Mars so much is because of David Tennant's acting. Tennant is magnificent in this episode. It's my favourite performance from him after his performance in Human Nature/Family of Blood. In this episode his Doctor goes from being a conflicted observer to a driven man of action to the "Time Lord Victorious" to a nervous wreck. Basically, the Doctor eventually decides that since he's the only Time Lord left in the universe that this means he doesn't have to keep to the restrictions that the Time Lords placed on interfering with history. The Waters of Mars is the perfect companion-piece to The Fires of Pompeii from series four (another episode that I really love). The Doctor even mentions Pompeii to Adelaide at one point. In The Fires of Pompeii the Doctor and Donna were both really torn as to whether they should stop the volcanic eruption and even though they made the right decision it was still a very difficult decision for both of them. But in The Waters of Mars the Doctor hasn't got a companion around to reason with him and his reasons for wanting to save Adelaide and her crew aren't entirely selfless. The Doctor completely loses it in this episode and gives into his dark and arrogant side. The Doctor's got a mad gleam in his eyes when he goes back to rescue Adelaide and her crew and his "Time Lord Victorious" speech is absolutely chilling. It sounds exactly like the sort of thing that the Master would say. It's really not surprising then that Adelaide is clearly disturbed by the Doctor's actions. She doesn't see the Doctor as her saviour. She sees him as an arrogant egomaniac and kills herself so history can remain intact. Adelaide still dies but this time her death is the Doctor's fault. The Doctor then realises that he's gone too far and is horrified.

Oh, there are a few more things to love about The Waters of Mars as well. The episode is dedicated to Barry Letts, who was the executive producer of the show during the Jon Pertwee era. The Ice Warriors get a mention in it (since The Flood were imprisoned by them). There's a David Bowie reference as well : )

4-5. The End of Time, Parts One and Two (written by Russell T Davies)

This two-parter episode was shown on different dates. The first episode was shown on Christmas Day 2009 and the second episode was shown on New Year's Day 2010. The story begins with the Doctor meeting the Ood and being told that his enemy, The Master, will be making a return. This then cuts to modern-day Earth where a cult that is loyal to the Master is making an attempt to resurrect him. The Master's wife Lucy attempts to sabotage the process but it only results in the Master gaining superhuman strength and intense hunger. The Master then embarks on a quest to give every human in the world his DNA. This would create a "master race" where everyone looks and thinks like the Master. As the Doctor goes looking for the Master he once again meets Donna's grandfather Wilf, who becomes his companion for the duration of the story. Meanwhile, the Time Lords, who are being led by Rassilon (Timothy Dalton), are trying to make a return into the universe. At the end of the story the 10th Doctor regenerates into the 11th (Matt Smith).

So, not only is The End of Time RTD's final episode as the Doctor Who showrunner it's also the final episode of the David Tennant era. Does this story give David Tennant the send off he deserved? Nope! There's some rubbish dialogue in places and the plot of this story is very poor. The Master's evil scheme to take over the body of everyone on the planet is weird and bizarre; if he's intent on creating a new Gallifrey then won't the lack of females be a problem? The whole Hungry Master thing is ridiculous and why exactly does the Master have blonde hair and stubble? John Simm's acting as the Master is still very OTT and I don't think the Master should have come back for this story anyway. As far as I'm concerned RTD should have simply made Rassilon the sole villain of The End of Time. The return of the Time Lords should be a really big deal and the main focus of the story but, because The End of Time also features the Master and is the 10th Doctor's final episode, the Time Lords are completely wasted and overshadowed. It's also a shame because getting Timothy Dalton in to play Rassilon is a genuinely impressive casting coup for Doctor Who but he's given very little screentime. However, my biggest problems with The End of Time are its final scenes.

After the Doctor saves Wilf's life by absorbing the radiation that would have killed him, the Doctor then decides to visit all of his old companions from the RTD era before he regenerates. We then get scenes where the Doctor visits Rose, Mickey and Martha, Sarah Jane and her son, Donna and her family, and Captain Jack and Alonso from Voyage of the Damned (in a horrible Mos Eisley from Star Wars tribute). He even visits the granddaughter of Nurse Joan Redfern (from Human Nature/Family of Blood). All of these scenes are completely unnecessary! Firstly, because the Doctor already saw most of these people in The Stolen Earth/Journey's End and that was quite a recent story. Secondly, because the Doctor still retains all of the same memories and experiences of his previous selves so there would be nothing to stop him from visiting them again after he regenerates. Sarah Jane still got to meet the 10th and 11th Doctors after she stopped travelling with the 4th! And thirdly, how does the Doctor find the time to see all of these people?! These scenes take up almost 20 minutes of screentime! Why does it take so long for Ten to regenerate?! If you watch any of the other Doctors regenerating it's all very quick and sudden. It happens within just a few minutes. Having the 10th Doctor on screen for so long just feels like padding to keep the episode going on for as long as possible. Another reason why I hate the Doctor visiting all of these companions is because we now find out that Martha and Mickey have got married! What?! When did that happen?! Since when did they get together?! Martha was engaged to a man called Tom Milligan back in series four! He was played by the gorgeous Tom Ellis! Whatever happened to Martha's fiancé?! Why would Martha and Mickey even get together?! What have they got in common?! Is it because they're both black?! *rolls eyes*

After the scenes of the Doctor visiting his companions we then get his final scene and I hate that as well. Earlier on in The End of Time there's a scene between the Doctor and Wilf where we learn that the Doctor knows that he's moving towards his regeneration. He's very unhappy about this because he doesn't want to "die". The Doctor never comes to terms with this either. When he's finally about to regenerate the Doctor utters the words "I don't want to go" and has even got tears in his eyes. This has got absolutely nothing in common with the 9th Doctor's attitude towards his regeneration! Christopher Eccleston's Doctor embraced the fact that he was about to regenerate and went out with a sense of pride. He even had a smile on his face! The 9th Doctor still likes who he is but he embraces the fact that he'll have a new appearance, a new outfit and a new personality. This is because whilst those aspects of himself might change he'll still be the same person that he was before. This makes his regeneration easier for the audience to handle. However, the 10th Doctor goes out crying and whimpering and looking like a self-pitying fool! His regeneration scene makes him look like a complete wimp! I don't want to see the 10th Doctor going out like this! I want him to go out with a bang! I want to see him go out in a blaze of glory! I want David Tennant to get the exit that he deserves! Why couldn't "Allons-y!" have been the 10th Doctor's final word?! In fact it's completely out of character for the 10th Doctor to be going out like this! The other Doctors might not have gone out with smiles on their faces like Nine did but at least they all accepted that their regeneration was inevitable and that they had to go. So why is Ten acting like this?! He's not even dying! Not really! He'll still have all of the same memories and he'll still be the same man in all of the essential details. It's also very telling because if you watch the Doctor Who Confidential episode for The End of Time you'll see that David Tennant looks really uncomfortable about delivering his final line in the behind-the-scenes footage. He doesn't look happy about saying it all. Apparently the Doctor was even supposed to completely break down but Tennant persuaded them not to. Well done David Tennant, well done! I think Tennant knew that that line was RTD speaking and not the Doctor. Another reason why I hate the 10th Doctor's final line so much is because it alienated so many fans. A regeneration isn't something that kids should be getting depressed about. They shouldn't be unhappy about the current Doctor leaving, they should be getting excited about seeing the new one. But because the 10th Doctor's regeneration was presented as being a sad thing it rubbed a lot of the die-hard David Tennant fans up the wrong way. It made them hate Matt Smith's Doctor because David Tennant's Doctor didn't want to go. The 10th Doctor's final line even led to daft rumours that David Tennant's tears were genuine and that he was being forced out of the role. Argh! I hate The End of Time and I hate Ten's regeneration scene! David Tennant was an amazing Doctor and he deserves so much better than this! One of the reasons why I'm so excited about David Tennant coming back for Doctor Who's 50th anniversary is because I really don't want his regeneration scene to remain my last memory of his Doctor.

The only scene that I really, truly love in The End of Time is Matt Smith's introduction scene which was actually written by Steven Moffat (although he was uncredited for it). I reckon far more fans would love this scene too if David Tennant's last scene hadn't been so depressing. Matt Smith is brilliant as the Doctor already in his first scene. With no companion around to bounce off of, Smith manages to keep the scene entertaining all by himself and he has an insane amount of energy and enthusiasm as he comments on his new appearance. He's relieved that he's got the right amount of arms, legs and eyes, etc. He's relieved when he finds out that he's still a man. He's disappointed that he's still not ginger... and it's only then that he realises that the TARDIS is crashing. And this Doctor is over the moon about it! He's like "Oh yeah?! Bring it on then!" I love this scene so much because it's got what the rest of The End of Time lacked! Humour! After a truly depressing two hour episode Steven Moffat and Matt Smith are able to turn this completely on its head and make me feel happy again! I can't wait to review the Steven Moffat series of Doctor Who and I adore Matt Smith's Doctor : D

1 comment:

Manette said...

Wow. I was really surprised at how... boring all of these specials were, except for Waters of Mars. So sad that David Tennant's brilliant run as the Doctor had to end like this! The Next Doctor had David Morrissey and a Victorian setting so parts of it were really nice to watch, but the Cybermen are some of my least favourite Doctor Who monsters (btw I also think the Daleks are incredibly dull and I imagine most Whovians would like to fry me for saying that...) Planet of the Dead was just very, very annoying from start to finish, in my opinion. I seriously couldn't stand Lady Christina and Malcolm – if I was ever to make a list of least favourite Doctor Who characters, those two would be battling for the top spot. The only good bit is "I'm just gonna go into the police box and arrest myself" :D You already mentioned all the reasons why Waters of Mars was great, so I'm just going to say I like Lindsay Duncan in basically everything she does. And sadly, the last of these underwhelming specials made me absolutely cringe most of the time. I disliked all the Master bits and, just like you, wondered why the Tenth Doctor's departure was made such a huge deal. You might have thought the man was actually dying! Why does he have to make a melodramatic farewell round when he's still going to remember all these people after he regenerates, and he can always see them again and say "Hi, I'm the Doctor, this is what I look like nowadays."

Ah, what a rant. But, to end this in a positive note, I'm really looking forward to getting started with the fifth season, I already have the DVD box :) So many more Moffat-written episodes! And judging by the little bits of Matt Smith's Doctor that I've seen, I think I'm going to enjoy watching him too.