What I thought of Doctor Who:Shada

The Tom Baker era of Doctor Who is for many of a certain age, their era of Doctor Who, and it was always a tragedy that the last Douglas Adams story, Shada, was never completed due to a strike. Various attempts over the years have attempted to recreate it as best as possible with varying levels of success but the new 2017 recreation/completion mixed with original unbroadcast footage is as probably as close as we’ll get.

This would have been Adams final story for Who as at this point the Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was just taking off and it really is built round Adams writing a love letter to his time at university in Cambridge. In fact much of the action takes place in a professor’s room not to mention that the action is on the whole, far more intellectual than modern Who’s more action/adventure style. This isn’t perfect, and the script has holes in it that you’d think would have been picked up had their not been the strike but the joy of watching Tom Baker in his pomp, aided by a glorious Lalla Ward (who I hope provides Jodie Whitaker with inspiration) in an adventure together most of us haven’t seen is simply wonderful, not to mention nostalgic.

As for the plot, it is something that adds greatly to Time Lord lore (Shada is the Time Lords prison planet) but on the whole the story suffers from being planned as a 6-parter. It gets a bit flabby in places, and a clever pun gets overused. There’s also the issue of poor monster henchmen and the aforementioned holes in the plot leaves holes at crucial points.When it does work it simply is a thing of genius. Baker and Ward are clearly loving the dialogue which is clever without being smug, or totally outwith of most people’s ability to understand. Adams is having fun here, and the scene where Baker’s Doctor convinces a ship’s computer that he’s actually dead is just pure Adams. There’s also a running joke where poor K9 is frequently treated with contempt which mirrors much of what the production team thought at the time.

Shada is an interesting experiment. The animation doesn’t quite work, but suspend your belief enough and it does the job in giving us an unfinished Douglas Adams work.The extras are a delight, and as for the new scene filmed with Baker? That’s a delight and nicely links forward/back to Doctor Who’s 50th anniversary special. Overall Shada is a joyful piece of nostalgia and a celebration of what made Tom Baker’s time as the Doctor so incredibly special.

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Happy 53rd birthday Doctor Who

Back in 1999 Doctor Who was long dead on television. It was the preserve of people’s nostalgic memories of when Saturday night telly was something golden and glorious, not to mention it was the life of the hardcore fan. On this, the 53rd birthday of the programme’s first broadcast, here’s a glorious sketch from BBC2’s Doctor Who night from 1999 featuring a then more or less unknown Mark Gatiss, a vaguely known David Walliams and Peter Davison…

Happy birthday to Doctor Who and all us old fans who’ve kept the thing going since we were old enough to buy a Target novelisation with a Chris Achilleos cover…

And the new Doctor Who is…

Well, the men’s Wimbledon final is over and the new Doctor to replace Peter Capaldi is not Roger Federer, the new men’s champion, but is instead Jodie Whittaker, the first female Doctor and right now across the planet there are people’s heads doing this…

So well done to her and at this point I predict two things. There will be right wing leaning people who will cry and whine that this is ‘political correctness’. That basically, the Doctor having a vagina is unrealistic and is a sign of the decline of civilisation.

The second is that someone, somewhere on the left will have a blog/Tweet by the end of today saying ‘why wasn’t the new Doctor black?’ and decrying white privilege. If I gambled I’d bet big money on that by midnight, or in fact, the next ten minutes…

A word of appreciation for John Hurt

John Hurt has passed away, and the world is a wee bit darker today. I’m not going to go on as there’s better than me doing tributes for the man, but this is a little tour through what Hurt meant to me.

I first saw him as a kid in the superb I, Claudius, and I think at that point he became an actor who I deeply admired and over the years from there even as a young lad often unable to get into see his films I tried to keep up with his work but the man was prolific. It was however Alien that cemented Hurt in my mind forever in a scene that’s a classic in horror cinema.

From there Hurt seemed to pop up everywhere from the splendid Elephant Man, to even taking the piss out if his death in Alien in Mel Brooks Spaceballs.

Hurt dabbled with science fiction often his role as Winston Smith in 1984 is for me, utterly perfect, and although he ended up doing stuff like Harry Potter and Doctor Who, this just showed how astonishingly a versatile actor he was.

So cheerio to John Hurt, we quite literally will never see another like him again.

Steven Moffat has left Doctor Who and we might be demanding him back….

Steven Moffat, the lead writer and ‘showrunner’ (horrible Americanism)  of Doctor Who is leaving after series 10 of the new series next year. This should be a good thing as the programme is suffering from some truly terrible scripts plus there’s an instance by Moffat ro make things needlessly complicated for anyone just wanting to tune into a bit of Saturday night telly to have seen 53 years worth of episodes to get not just tiny wee things as a nod to the fans, but big major plot points.

Although Moffat has done some fantastic episodes his time in charge has been self-indulgent and it’s wasted one good actor in Matt Smith (who should have had more classic stories) and is still wasting a superb actor in the shape of Peter Capaldi. Moffat needed someone to curb him, and to be fair, his last series did feel better in terms of stories but yet again what let him down was his self-indulgence not to mention the avoidance of killing off Clara which was were her story arc was heading and would have made dramatic sense. Instead we got a pandering continuation for a character not to mention the threat of yet another return.

Tearing up the expected rules of drama is fine if you’re going to do something interesting with it, but Moffat’s done little interesting and there’s good reason why the episodes he wrote last series were the least interesting because he’d ran out of anything interesting to actually say. But Moffat did help bring the programme an international popularity as the BBC realised they could market the hell out of it outwith the UK, so he’s also guaranteed a cash-cow for the BBC at a time when the Tories are squeezing the corporation hard for budget cuts.

So he’s going. Good luck to him. I just hope he’ll have a good replacement with a good track record in writing some great plots and dialogue…..

Oh.

Fuck,

Chris Chibnall is taking over…..

 

Steven, I was a wee bit too harsh!! Please stay! We’ll be better together!

The Doctor Who finale was Steven Moffat’s big bag of shite for us all

Spoilers await for the latest episodes of Doctor Who. You’ve been warned.

 

In Crisis on Infinite Earths, the first huge DC Comics crossover series from 1985, writer Marv Wolfman was told to kill off the Barry Allen version of the Flash as a huge statement that DC were not mucking about in regards changing everything. So Wolfman gave Barry Allen an heroic death saving the entire universe from the evil bad guy, but he left an opening in that death should anyone at any point want to bring Barry back and it’d also provide new motivation for Barry Allen.

Wolfman’s idea was that Barry could be plucked from his timestream in the fraction of a second before he ran himself to death, and he’d live on having adventures, fighting crime, being part of the Justice League, etc, but all the time Barry would know that he’d have to return to face his death at some point so he’d make every second count in whatever time he had before going off to die. This way would have kept Barry’s sacrifice intact and created a new motivation for his heroism.

If anyone reading this was watching Hell Bent, the last episode of Series 9 of the returned Doctor Who last night you’ll realise right away that producer and head writer Steven Moffat used virtually that same idea to return the character of Clara back to life a fortnight after everyone thought her dead and gone in an episode that cheapens the previous episodes, and not just that, it means that in future if Moffat writes a major character or companion’s death, we’re not going to trust it. So frankly, why the fuck should we emotionally invest in anything Moffat writes at all from now on if something like Clara’s death can be so easily reversed?

Her death was the logical end of her story arc. She’s been cocky, selfish, stubborn and in thinking she’s as smart as the Doctor, she did something that doomed her to facing death and she did so calmly and heroically. She got a good death scene and we, the viewer were invested in that so even if you didn’t especially care for the Clara character (she was at times exceptionally annoying/badly written and acted) this was an amazing scene because it was great. A companion died because they thought they were the Doctor and the Doctor stood back knowing he could do nothing, then after being essentially put through billions of years of torture by the Time Lords turns up on Gallifrey to enact revenge and justice upon Rassilon and the High Council for their part in the Time War.

Everything up to there is great. There’s some nice little scenes of the Doctor mingling with ordinary Gallifreians that tell a lot mainly because of Peter Capaldi acting his balls off as he has done throughout this series. Then from about 20-25 minutes into Hell Bent it turns to crap as the Time War/Rassilon plot is wrapped up far, far too quickly (it’s a few lines of dialogue in passing) for something that’s been built up since the programme came back a decade ago.

No, that decade worth of plot, character development and story is ditched so the Doctor gets the Time Lords to pull Clara out of her timestream a moment before her death so she can help him find out who or what the hybrid (this series ongoing plot) is, but in reality the Doctor has gotten the Time Lords (who are now Rassilon free and look to the Doctor not just as a war hero that saved them all, but as a leader) to do this for him so he can bring Clara back to life, and it’s these scenes the writing collapses. The Doctor ends up shooting a Time Lord in a scene that’s stupefyingly  callous because this is something he’d never, ever do. Sure, there’s a line saying that ‘death is like man flu for Time Lords’ which is nonsense as the programme has made it clear that they feel every part of their death, and it ticks off another regeneration which brings them nearer to death.

But to Moffat, Clara is the most important thing here. The Doctor can go against 52 years of characterisation and act like an arsehole to save one life that’s lost because of that person’s hubris. Moffat looked like he’d carved out a good arc for Clara, given her a death which lets her leave with some dignity and this would give the Doctor the motivation to face the Time Lords and bang! There’s a decade worth of story ended in a decent way.

Instead Clara isn’t just alive still, but after some utter gubbins ends up with her own Tardis in the company of the immortal Me, the character played by Masie Williams. There’s some more gubbins that involves the Doctor forgetting the arseholery he’s done (but he’s still done it anyhow) and getting back to being the Doctor, but Clara and Me are whizzing round all of time and space in their own Tardis. Clara lives and she can have her own spin off because in the land of Steven Moffat, logical character arcs and character development goes out the window when it comes to a character who seems like his own avatar in the programme.

What’s really tragic is that this series has been on the whole, excellent. The focus on two part stories has allowed for some good storytelling, and the undersea base story, and the Zygon story stand out especially as some of the best stories since the programme came back in 2005. Also Peter Capaldi has hit his stride in terms of being the Doctor. He’s holding this programme together with some seriously good performances which considering at times he’s given some rubbish to speak, is a feat and a half.

Ultimately though allowing Clara to live, and to happily flash round round the universe in her own Tardis, cheats the audience and in the programme diminishes death as a serious dramatic threat for a future companion. In short, it’s a steaming big bag of shite that makes Clara The Most Important Companion Ever, and makes the next person smaller in scale because they’ll never be Clara and that’s quite depressing.

What I thought of Doctor Who: Last Christmas

The Doctor Who Christmas specials are now an essential part of the BBC Christmas Day programming not just because it gets a huge audience, but because there’s so much shite on normally that even a crap special is better than the latest revamp of whatever programme the BBC have decided to bring back from the dead. These Christmas specials are generally all over the place in terms of quality. Some are great fun, some are just appalling. This falls more into the badlands between both grounds while nicking from Alien, Inception and a large chunk of Alan Moore’s Superman story, For The Man Who Has Everything; a story that features an alien life form that attaches itself to Superman and gives him a perfect life in a dream just like the ‘Dream Crabs’ in this episode that attaches themselves to people and gives them perfect dreams before they die.

supermanannual11for-the-man-who-has-everything

This episode picks up after the end of the last series where the Doctor and Clara and split up with the Doctor thinking Clara had gone to have a life with the presumed resurrected Danny Pink (she hadn’t, he was dead and she was lying) and that Clara thinking the Doctor had gone to stay with his people after he rediscovered Gallifrey (he hadn’t, he was lying) so the pair split on less than honest terms. At the very end of the final episode of last series, the Doctor was interrupted by Santa Claus on the Tardis and this episode starts right on from that as Clara is awoken by Santa emptying his sack into her chimney before the Doctor arrives to whisk her to the North Pole and a base populated by scientists in a pretty typical Doctor Who type of set.

At the base there are four survivors of an attack by alien ‘Dream Crabs’ that have taken four of their colleagues by attaching themselves onto their faces and here’s from here where the Doctor and Clara arrive to get to the bottom of what’s going on. From here the story falls into Alan Moore territory via Christopher Nolan’s Inception, and some of it is very good, some of it is appalling and much of what makes it appalling is Nick Frost’s Santa Claus which is so clearly telegraphed as a dream that Frost may as well have ‘LOOK I’M A DREAM’ on his costume throughout the entire episode.

So somehow these monsters are attacking people randomly across the planet as the Doctor discovers they’re all dying as these aliens are sucking out people’s brains as they’re attached to people’s faces, but these people are stuck in a dream within a dream within a dream and on and on, so that what is ‘real’ becomes hard to work out. It is a little bit too obviously Nolan but through the filter of BBC family television so it ends up a bit neutered, but even so, it’s still so obviously lifted from Christopher Nolan (who himself lifted the idea from things like Little Nemo in Slumberland, another thing writer Stephen Moffat uses for inspiration here with Clara being Nemo) along with all the other bits of ‘inspiration’ that becomes so obvious that Moffat has a character referencing the fact the Dream Crabs look like Facehuggers from Alien. I think Moffat sat there looking like a cat that’d just learned to shite in the litter tray after throwing these references in but the problem is that the story gets clogged down in them and doesn’t flow. Especially as it’s Christmas Day and a large number of people watching it are expecting a decent adventure story which is what the Russell T. Davies specials were, even if some of those were also not very good.

It’s not that Last Christmas is terrible, it’s not, but it’s not especially good either. As said, it falls into a badlands between both mainly because the tone is all over the place. One minutes it’s all jolly and Christmassy, the next it’s being all meta about where it’s drawn it’s influences, the next it’s descended into a bad CBBC programme and on and on. Moffat doesn’t decide on a tone and stick with it, but instead makes a soup with chunky bits that look like they shouldn’t be floating in it, He doesn’t know whether to make it a light episode, or one that’s grim, or one that’s uplifting, so he just welds it all together and ties it up in his influences in the hope most people are too stuffed and/or pissed to notice that it really doesn’t work. It’s a distracting enough bit of telly but the main problem with Last Christmas is that it’s all so very boring and you don’t make a Doctor Who Christmas special boring as people will switch off, or judging by a quick look on social media, they’ll watch it and think it’s just shite.

There is one moment that made me think that perhaps this could be a fantastic episode. It’s the scene where the Doctor realises that the Dream Crabs can go through time, so goes to rescue Clara but discovers 62 years have passed for her so she’s now an old woman essentially waiting to die after a life where she’s lived it to the full even though the Doctor has left her behind. It’d have been a great dramatic exit for Clara and a reminder for the Doctor of humanity’s transience so the Doctor could have been put back in touch with his compassion which would have nicely developed the Capaldi Doctor on. Instead Moffat pulls the rug out from under us and this scene is a dream within a dream which means Clara is still young and still travelling with the Doctor, even though her story has hit a nice dramatic ending that gives her a close, and tells the audience that even the Doctor can suffer loss. Nope, it’s all back to normal as if nothing happened. Lies and deceit is forgotten about as the Doctor and Clara go off to have adventures next series.

Now before anyone says ‘aye, but it’s Christmas, you can’t kill off or get rid of a companion on the Christmas Day episode when everyone is full of booze and meat?”, they’ve done it before. There’s still hordes of 30-40 somethings traumatised by the death of Kylie Minogue.

Moffat chooses the easy route. The safe route. After the last series which on the whole was excellent that makes it all so disappointing as I know this could have been better but the whole thing seems like an idea they firmed up in the pub one lunch rather than make it something that is going to stand out in years to come, because really, few are going to remember this episode in years to come. In fact apart from Moffat’s first Christmas special, his Christmas episodes have been patchy to terrible.

This isn’t to say that I think Moffat’s time in charge is over as the last series showed that perhaps that was a wee bit premature but his time should be coming to an end as the audience needs a new voice in charge, and hopefully the BBC are smart and don’t make the next ‘showrunner’ (terrible American expression) a fan, but instead someone interested in making the best programme they can rather than pander to their own fan fantasies. Peter Capaldi is shaping up to be an excellent Doctor but it’s depressing to think that he’s going to be stuck in this occasionally infantile fantasy landscape Moffat seems to enjoy. We’ve had the programme since it returned be a soap opera, a 2000AD influenced SF/adventure, horror, a romance, then into the Moffat era it becomes this Harry Potter type fantasy which although Moffat does dive outside of that, it’s stuck in this odd middle class fantasy which although is different from RTD’s more working class based drama, is still odd and somewhat tiresome now. I hope Moffat does move on after the next series so we can see a new person in charge.

Last Christmas isn’t a great hour of telly. It has moments but overall it suffered from being too dull, let alone too mired in showing off it’s influences. All we need on a Christmas special is a good, well told story that holds the attention for 60 minutes while the turkey works its way through people’s colons. Throw in some action, some adventure and some fun and bingo you’ve got a Christmas special as opposed to Nick Frost mugging his way through an episode in a Santa suit.

We now have to wait eight months til the next series and indeed, the tenth anniversary of the programme returning in 2005. I hope it’s a good one…..