DOCTOR WHO: A SPACE (AND TIME) ODYSSEY – PART TWO
**CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS**
It was so important to get the casting right for the new Doctor Who. They could have gone for someone more comedic but in casting serious stage and screen actor Eccleston I think they got it spot on.
Famous for his dramatic roles in: Let Him Have It (1991), Shallow Grave (1994), Jude (1996), Our Friends in the North (1996), 28 Weeks Later (2002) and many more; he brought a depth and earthy humanity to the Gallifreyan. He also brought a certain pathos, danger and aggression which gave meat to the drama and grounded us in a believable reality despite facing foes such as the Autons, Slitheen, Reapers, plus old favourites the Daleks and Cybermen.
Billie Piper’s working class shop girl Rose Tyler was a wonderful companion to Eccleston’s Doctor. Despite, on occasions, seeming to reign in the darker edges it was a cracking shame he only did 13 episodes.
Here are my favourite two episodes of SEASON ONE.
EPISODE 1.6 – DALEK – Writer: Robert Shearman
This episode found the Doctor and Rose going underground in Utah, 2012. There, a megalomaniac collector, Van Statten, has all manner of alien artefacts including a Dalek that is being experimented on. This was a very gripping episode and one where Ecclestone’s dramatic muscles were really flexed. I loved the fact the Dalek was defeated having been ‘infected’ with humanity. It also had a great bit of dialogue when the Doctor is told: “You would have made a good Dalek!”
EPISODE 1.9 – THE DOCTOR DANCES – Writer: Steven Moffat
This episode concluded what began with The Empty Child. I loved the wartime setting and the gas-masked creatures really sent chills down the spine. The subtext of war children hung heavy over the episode and in their own way both Rose and the Doctor are orphans. The episode introduced dashing space and time con-artist Captain Jack Harkness and, while not a fan of John Barrowman, the character added intergalactic pizazz to the show. In this thrilling episode the emotional barriers come down between Rose and the Doctor too as they dance together during a touching moment amidst the horrors of World War II.
So the legend goes a young child by the name of David McDonald once proclaimed his intention to become an actor because of his love of Doctor Who. His parents scoffed at this suggestion. But flash-forward through time and that dream became a reality.
Having appeared on stage and screen, even sharing a scene with Eccleston in Jude (1996), the now-monikered David Tennant would become a Time Lord! Arguably, Tennant is probably the perfect Doctor Who: funny, serious, crazy, good-looking, smart, tricksy, great hair, honest and at times slightly scary.
While Eccleston was excellent with the drama he sometimes struggled with the one-liners but Tennant encompassed all the emotions taking the baton from his predecessor and running riot with some incredible performances in many, many great episodes.
Here are my favourite two episodes of SEASON TWO.
EPISODE 2.4 – THE GIRL IN THE FIREPLACE – Writer – Steven Moffat
What would happen if the Doctor fell in love? This incredible episode asks that question and others with a mind-bending yet very romantic intertwining of the Timelord and Sophia Myles hot French historical figure Madame De Pompadour. 3000 years in the future Rose, Mickey and the Doctor find a floating space vessel with temporal windows to the past. The Clockwork Android crew on the spaceship require De Pompadour’s brain to save their ship but the Doctor comes to the rescue on horseback! Yes there’s a horse on a spaceship in this one too plus: humour, romance, action and under-the-bed-frights. The pace zings along and the chemistry between Myles and Tennant is electric. This is great because it collapses the historical with imaginative sci-fi concepts and a very touching love story.
EPISODE 2.13 – DOOMSDAY – Writer: Russell T. Davies
And so it came to pass Rose and the Doctor part in the most spectacular of ways, amidst a war on Earth between Cybermen and Daleks. Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) was a brilliant companion both sparky and brave and loyal until the end sacrificing herself to save the man she loves; the Doctor. It’s a great episode full of action and emotion as the Doctors’ greatest enemies’ face-off on Earth and as the Doctor and Rose’ bid a sad goodbye, Rose’s familial backstories dovetail with great effect as she is reunited with her mother and ‘dead’ father in a parallel universe from which she cannot return. Russell T. Davies’ strength as a writer was making the science fiction seem very real and imbue the fantastical with real emotional kick. Tennant just rocks in the episode too!
Here are my favourite episodes of SEASON THREE.
EPISODE 3.8 – HUMAN NATURE – Writer: Paul Cornell
In this stunning episode we get Tennant’s Doctor BUT he isn’t the Doctor; he’s actually a teacher called John Smith hiding from aliens so deep under cover he doesn’t know his real identity. It’s a wonderful concept and much fun is had by Tennant in his performance while the episode brims with dramatic irony as Mr Smith has weird deja vu of a life he believes he has lived only in his dreams. Martha (Freema Agyeman) had a tough role following Billie Piper but she excels here and the story – set in 1913 on the eve of war – doesn’t shy away from critiquing the racial and class politics of the day. There’s a lovely Remains of the Day subplot as the Mr Smith/Doctor falls for Jessica Hynes’ matron just as the Family of Blood come to call. Again, wartime is used to fine effect and of course the real Doctor comes back just in the nick of time to save the day.
EPISODE 3.10 – BLINK – Writer Steven Moffat
What makes a classic Doctor Who episode? Is it the story and the action and the science fiction and the laughs? Yes, of course! But what REALLY makes is a great monster: a seemingly undefeatable foe that tests the Doctor and his companion to the limit of their powers. Daleks, Cybermen, Sontarans, The Master, The Autons, Ice Warriors etc. were awesome but Blink introduced the terrifying WEEPING ANGELS. I shiver with fear at the thought of these seemingly harmless statues which move when you are not looking at them. So, don’t BLINK or they’re on you like the taxman for non-declaration of earnings; and they’ll drain your life just as quick. This is a blinding Doctor-light episode and contains a lovely Carey Mulligan playing Sally Sparrow. The writing and structure are tricky yet superb and while the Doctor and Martha mainly appear via obscure video messages Moffat really pulls all the strings together on this one.
EPISODE 4.7 – THE UNICORN AND THE WASP – Writer: Gareth Roberts
Most of the episodes I have chosen so far have been quite heavy. Indeed, I almost chose The Fires Of Pompeii over this one as it had a terrific moral dilemma at its heart with Catherine Tate’s warm-hearted Donna attempting to change the paths of history at the destruction of Pompeii. However, I chose this light and fluffy episode over it because I’m a sucker for Agatha Christie murder mysteries. It skilfully throws Christie’s actual 3-day disappearance in with a monstrous wasp, a cunning jewel thief and a wicked murder plot. The Doctor and Donna play detective in a ripping yarn which features an early appearance from Oscar nominee Felicity Jones.
EPISODE 4.10 – THE FOREST OF THE DEAD – Writer: Steven Moffat
This two-parter began with the episode equally brilliant Silence in the Library which set up a thrilling plot involving the first appearance of the enigmatic ‘companion’ that is River Song (Alex Kingston). It also established the nasty microscopic dust-mite Vashta Nerada i.e. “the shadows that melt the flesh”. Moffat once again conjures up a mind-bending plot which jumps from a 51st Century Library — that has somehow become a humanity vacuum — and a strange dream world which Donna gets sucked into. It was this surreal and somewhat Bunuelian nightmare place which stayed with me as Donna gets married, has children and then loses them all in a matter of moments. As the Vashta Nerada kill off River’s space crew one by one the Doctor must save Donna and the Library! Does he do it? Spoilers, darling!
Okay, so I’ve had to cheat here. I’ve added another episode because as Season 4 was extended by a series of specials which would see the handover from Davies to Moffatt as showrunner and the eventual passing of the TARDIS from Tennant to Matt Smith.
EPISODE 4.15 – THE PLANET OF THE DEAD – Writers: Russell T. Davies and Gareth Roberts
Planet of the Dead was the first Doctor Who episode to be filmed in high definition and was another fun episode full of verve and pace. I liked the fact the Doctor was companion-lite in The Next Doctor, Waters of Mars and this exciting segment. It was full of great images including a bus stranded in the desert with echoes of Flight of the Phoenix and in the guise of foxy Michelle Ryan we had more than a nod to the videogame character Lara Croft. I love Doctor episodes when they’re in the far flung netherworlds of space and this was a lovely light bit of sci-fi fluffery before the imperious drama and pathos of Stolen Earth/Journey’s End.