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DOCTOR WHO (2005 – PRESENT) – MY FAVOURITE EPISODES

DOCTOR WHO (2005 – PRESENT) – MY FAVOURITE EPISODES by PAUL LAIGHT

With SEASON NINE upon us and in appreciation of Doctor Who, from circa 2005, I look back in admiration at the last 10 years of the Doctor in his new inceptions.  I’ve picked some of my favourite episodes incorporating TWO episodes from each of the eight prior seasons!  So here goes: GERONIMO!

**SPOILERS DARLING**

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 Eccleston’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.  In this thrilling episode the emotional barriers come down between Rose and the Doctor as they dance together amidst the horrors of World War II.


EPISODE 2.4 – THE GIRL IN THE FIREPLACE – Writer – Steven Moffat

What if the Doctor fell in love?  This incredible episode asks that question and others with a mind-bending yet romantic intertwining of the Timelord and Madame De Pompadour.  3000 years in the future Rose, Mickey and the Doctor finding a floating space vessel with temporal windows to the past. 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 Sophia Myles and David Tennant is electric.

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 Doctor.  It’s full of action and emotion as the Doctor and Rose bid a sad goodbye. Russell T. Davies’ strength as a writer was making the science fiction seem very real and imbue the fantastical with real emotional kick.

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.  It’s a wonderful concept and 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) 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.

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. Blink introduced the terrifying Weeping Angels so don’t BLINK or they’re on you like the taxman and they’ll drain your life just as quick. The episode is Doctor-light with Carey Mulligan playing haunted Sally Sparrow, and while the writing and structure are tricky, Moffat really pulls all the strings together on this one.

EPISODE 4.7 – THE UNICORN AND THE WASP – Writer:  Gareth Roberts

There are probably way better episodes but I chose this light and fluffy one 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 Moffatt

This two-parter began with the episode equally brilliant Silence in the Library which set up a thrilling plot and 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 and a strange dream world which Donna gets sucked into.  It was this surreal Bunuelian nightmare place which stayed with me as Donna gets married, has children and then loses them all in a matter of moments.

EPISODE 4.15 – THE PLANET OF THE DEAD – Writers: Russell T. Davies and Gareth Roberts

Okay, so I’ve had to cheat here.  I’ve added another episode because Season 4 was extended by a series of specials. The Planet of the Dead as it was another fun episode full of verve, pace and great images including a bus stranded in the space desert. I love 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 pathos of Stolen Earth/Journey’s End.

EPISODE 5.10 – VINCENT AND THE DOCTOR – Writer:  Richard Curtis

The 5th season of the rebooted genesis veered from Davies’ strong science fictional, yet plausible, arcs to something more akin to science fantasy under Steven Moffat.  However, my favourite episode of the whole season was one, which while rewriting history in a most memorable way, had at its heart a very warm, tragic and human story.  Vincent and The Doctor was about depression, art, failure, creative perception and did what we all would hope to do with time-travel: right the injustices of the past. At the heart of the story is Vincent Van Gogh and the artist’s battle with his demons, both literally and symbolically.  The monster of course is depression and the writer Richard Curtis handles the subject deftly and gives Vincent an incredibly emotional denouement.

EPISODE 5.11 – THE LODGER – Writer:  Gareth Roberts

Season 5 was brimming with imagination and great science fiction involving the “cracks in the Universe” which worked paradoxically but still created SO many questions. Thus, The Lodger was a welcome moment in the season when The Doctor – with Amy ‘chilling’ on the TARDIS – came into the lives of Craig (James Corden) and Sophie (Daisy Haggard). The Doctor had a big impact on Craig’s life playing accidental matchmaker while utilising Matt Smith’s great comedy timing. Throw in a nefarious alien presence to deal with and you have a wonderful episode that is a lot of fun.

EPISODE 6.3 – THE DOCTOR’S WIFE – Writer:  Neil Gaiman

This is the season where Steven Moffat really made things VERY with paradox upon paradox as the Doctor faced an existential crisis being given the knowledge of his own death and also knowing his mysterious assassin. Standing alone from the big story arc was the episode The Doctor’s Wife. It was an immediate hit for me with a wonderful concept, beautiful effects and stunning cast including Suranne Jones as a physical incarnation of the TARDIS.  The whole show is about the lovely relationship between Idris (TARDIS personified) and Matt Smith’s frantic Doctor as they exchange banter while constructing a makeshift TARDIS from the scraps lying around.  Jones is amazing as Idris and there is great chemistry between her and Smith as they race to save Amy and Rory from the murderous computer ‘House’.

EPISODE 6.10 – THE GIRL WHO WAITED – Writer:  Tom McCrae

In The Girl Who Waited Amy Pond becomes trapped on Chen7 in a timeline that splits her character into younger and older versions of herself.  So, when the Doctor and Rory attempt to save her trapped soul they overshoot by 36 years and find a bitter, rabid Amy now characterized as an ass-kicking-Sarah-Connor-survivalist-type who refuses to save her younger self.  It’s a heart-wrenching episode which Karen Gillen owns; giving two great performances. The relationship between Rory and Amy hangs heavy in the air as there is papable sense of loss to the core of The Girl Who Waited. 

EPISODE 7.1 – ASYLUM OF THE DALEKS – Writer: Steven Moffat

Season 7 opener Asylum of the Daleks is an absolute cracker as the Doctor, Amy and Rory are “summoned” by the Daleks to venture into the Dalek “nut-house” and save them from a bunch of crazy rogue Daleks threatening their very existence. Oooh, what a switcheroo; the Doctor SAVING the Daleks!  Jenna Coleman’s appearance was a fine touch and her lightness in performance was a fine counter-point to the heavy nature of the insane Dalek asylum. The subplot of Rory and Amy’s marriage difficulties, the crazy Daleks and the sadness in the final reveal really added to the drama and pulled at the heartstrings. This episode breathed further life into the Daleks as one, if not the greatest, of the Doctor’s greatest foes.

EPISODE 7.5 – ANGELS TAKE MANHATTAN – Writer: Steven Moffat

Angels Take Manhattan was so heart-wrenching as Matt Smith excels in a very dramatic show against old foes the Weeping Angels! The opening of the episode begins in a film noir style story and is framed like a detective novel as Moffat delivers a meta-fictional structure combined with a spooky haunted hotel story.  It’s full of grand twists and turns which pull the viewer from past to present and back again.  Moffat ratchets up the scares by introducing us to new version of the ‘Angels’ like little buggers the Weeping Cherubs. And get this:  the STATUE OF LIBERTY is a WEEPING ANGEL!  Incredible!  Saying goodbye to a companion is always tough but Amy and Rory went out in great style and are still out there somewhere.

EPISODE 8.8 – MUMMY ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS – Writer: Jamie Mathieson

Capaldi was brilliant as I thought he would be and I loved one of his opening gambits to Clara:  “Am I a good man?”  Moffat developed this character subtext very well notably in the episode Listen, where not much occurred on the page yet in the murky margins and shadows there was impressive suspense and terror.  However, I loved the awesomely titled Mummy on the Orient Express as it crammed so many great things into the 45 minutes running time.  The Doctor and Clara are on one last voyage before going their separate ways yet a vicious Mummy (AKA The Foretold) is killing passengers who only have 66 seconds to live once he targets his victim.  It’s great fun and kind of scary and as the Doctor cracks the case he shares some fine one-liners and banter with a terrific cast including Frank Skinner and David Bamber.

EPISODE 8.11 – DARK WATER – Writer: Steven Moffat

This episode is pitch black darkness personified as the Doctor and Clara end up in the Nethersphere, where they finally get to meet the enigmatic Missy who had popped up throughout the season. Death casts a looming shadow and even I had my pillow over my face when I heard the screams of the dead cry: “Don’t cremate me!” in one harrowing scene.  By the time the Cybermen are marching down St Paul’s (in tribute to The Invasion from 1968) steps I was gripped. The performances are superb from Jenna Coleman, Peter Capaldi and the Mistress herself Michelle Gomez, who demonstrates a gleeful mania to great effect.  A superb episode with no kids in to ruin it and thankfully the Hollyoaks style romance is replaced by a morbid bleakness.

SPECIAL MENTION: THE DAY OF THE DOCTOR – 50TH ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL

I’ll round up this run through with a special mention of The Day of the Doctor, which was the closest we’d get to a new Doctor Who movie.  It was a spectacular piece of writing by Steven Moffat and a brilliant story which rewrote the whole Doctor Who narrative. It brought THREE Doctors (Matt Smith, David Tennant and John Hurt’s War Doctor) into a mixture of high concept sci-fi and operatic drama which soared in tribute to fifty years of the Timelord. The chemistry between the Doctors was a joy (and Tom Baker popped in at the end too) as they go back to the Time War era and review the decision to destroy Gallifrey and the end the war with the nefarious Daleks. This was a Doctor Who production of the highest order and it demonstrates the power and prowess of the show that it was shown simultaneously in 94 countries hitting the Guinness Book of Records for largest ever live simulcast!

EPILOGUE

I have realised Doctor Who is MORE than a TV show.  It’s a huge cult with fans all over the world who are as passionate about the show as people are about religion or their chosen football team.  If I’m honest the old show I watched as a child holds so many great memories but nostalgia can be a cruel guide so it could be easy to dismiss the new show “because it’s not as good as when I was a kid!” But, “new” DOCTOR WHO has on the whole has been brilliant too.  I may not like everything about it but it still retains that magical quality I experienced as an earthly child growing up on a high-rise estate in South London.

DOCTOR WHO: A SPACE (AND TIME) ODYSSEY – PART THREE by PAUL LAIGHT

DOCTOR WHO: A SPACE (AND TIME) ODYSSEY – PART THREE

**CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS**

MATT SMITH

Suddenly the Doctor was very, very young; almost a child in vision and attitude as played by the tall-stick-insecty-excitable-Tigger that was Matt Smith.   My brain exploded.  I was used to the Doctor being an elder statesman and of course this shifted somewhat with Eccleston and Tennant, however, they seemed older. These were actors who had done Shakespeare (I think) and looked like they’d lived. Not Matt Smith. He was an unknown. He looked like he had just left school and was on a gap year to India or a kibbutz. He was posh. His Doctor wore a bow-tie!  A bow-tie!  Never fear though because Matt Smith made the role his own over 4 years, a multitude of brain-twisting episodes and seven specials.  His strengths were his physicality, mania, fun and playfulness and there was a lot of Patrick Troughton in his performance; playing the fool before revealing a devilish plan by wrong-footing the villain and audience.

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Here are my favourite episodes of SEASON FIVE.

EPISODE 5.10 – VINCENT AND THE DOCTOR – Writer:  Richard Curtis

Steven Moffat had written some amazing Doctor Who episodes so it made sense he would take over the production running reigns.  The 5th season of the rebooted genesis veered from Davies’ strong science fictional, yet plausible, arcs to something more akin to science fantasy under Moffat.  Quite frankly, I found some of the plot twists utterly barmy but still very much loved many of the episodes. Indeed, The Eleventh Hour was a fantastic introduction to Matt Smith and his feisty companion Amy Pond. Plus, the finale involving the Pandorica opening and subsequent Big Bang were impressive works of television.

However, my favourite episode of the whole season was one, which while rewriting history in a most memorable way, had at its heart a very warm, tragic and human story.  Vincent and The Doctor was about depression, art, failure, creative perception and did what we all would hope to do with time-travel: right the injustices of the past. At the heart of the story is the Doctor and Amy’s meeting with Vincent Van Gogh and the artist’s battle with his demons, both literally and symbolically.  The monster of course is depression and the writer Richard Curtis handles the subject deftly and gives Vincent an incredibly emotional denouement to the artists’ life; something denied him in reality.

EPISODE 5.10 – THE LODGER – Writer:  Gareth Roberts

This season was brimming with imagination and great science fiction and the story arc involving the “cracks in the Universe” worked paradoxically but still created SO many unanswered questions. Moffatt asked us to take a massive leap of faith and his ambition and vision was to be applauded; but with the fantasy, complex structural conceits occurring at such it was sometimes tough to keep up on first watch.

Thus, The Lodger was a welcome moment in the season when The Doctor – with Amy ‘chilling’ on the TARDIS – came into the lives of Craig (James Corden) and Sophie (Daisy Haggard). The Doctor had a big impact on Craig’s life playing accidental matchmaker, impressing his mates with his football skills and his boss at work. Utilising Matt Smith’s great comedy timing and buddy-buddy act with the excellent Corden, The Lodger relies not just on laughs and but emotion too. Throw in a nefarious alien presence to deal with and you have a wonderful episode that is a lot of fun.

Here are my favourite episodes of SEASON SIX 

EPISODE 6.3 – THE DOCTOR’S WIFE – Writer:  Neil Gaiman

This is the season where Steven Moffat really made things VERY complicated with all manner of twisty, turny, space operatic plots delivered at a whizz-bang pace that at times left me dazed and confused.  It was paradox upon paradox as the Doctor faces an existential crisis being given the knowledge of his own death and also knowing his mysterious assassin. Also, thrown into the mix is Amy’s pregnancy, a weird eye-patched villainess  as well as horrific memory-melding monsters called THE SILENCE. Moreover, enigmatic River Song pops up all over the place just to confuse the viewer further!  These stories encapsulated within:  The Impossible Astronaut, Day of the Moon, A Good Man Goes to War, Let’s Kill Hitler, The Wedding of River Song etc. are all great and full of wonderful ideas and I think in time will be considered classic Doctor Who. However, they don’t quite make my list.

The Doctor’s Wife was an immediate and cracking hit for me with a wonderful concept, beautiful effects and stunning cast including Suranne Jones as a physical incarnation of the TARDIS.  Doctor, Rory and Amy pass through a rift which means the TARDIS ends up in a weird isolated place run by a nasty sentient being called HOUSE.  In HAL-like fashion, House (voiced by Michael Sheen) steals the TARDIS along with Rory and Amy on board and it is left to the Doctor and an odd, sparkly female being called Idris to save the day.  It’s a lovely relationship between Idris (the TARDIS personified) and Matt Smith’s frantic Doctor as they exchange flirtatious banter while constructing a makeshift TARDIS from the scraps lying around the amidst the crumbling tip that is the place on which they are trapped.  Suranne Jones is amazing and beautiful as Idris and there is great chemistry between her and Smith as they race to save Amy and Rory from the murderous HOUSE.

EPISODE 6.10 – THE GIRL WHO WAITED – Writer:  Tom McCrae

This is what time-travel films and TV shows are all about for me: presenting complicated paradoxical timelines where individuals eventually face different versions of themselves and must deal with a moral dilemma.  It’s occurred to the Doctor many times before in the classic older and the newer series but in The Girl Who Waited it was Amy Pond who becomes trapped on Chen7 in a timeline that splits her character into younger and older versions of herself.  So, when the Doctor and Rory attempt to save her trapped soul they overshoot by 36 years and find a bitter, rabid Amy now characterised as an ass-kicking-Sarah-Connor-survivalist-type who refuses to save her younger self.  It’s a heart-wrenching episode which can be considered Doctor-lite, however, Karen Gillen owns it; giving two great performances. The relationship between Rory and Amy hangs heavy in the air as there is papable sense of loss to the core of The Girl Who Waited. 

Here are my favourite episodes of SEASON SEVEN

EPISODE 7.1 – ASYLUM OF THE DALEKS – Writer: Steven Moffat

This season wasn’t as mind-blowing in terms of the over-complex story arc as Season SIX, but it still tested the grey cells and by the time we got to the excellent-almost-made-this-list-season-finale The Name of the Doctor plausibility was on the creative rack screaming for mercy; in a good way.  The season traversed the loss of not one, but TWO companions in Amy and Rory, and introduced Clara Oswin Oswald in her various incarnations. One may argue the whole Clara-in-the-Doctor’s-timeline arc was quite baffling and needn’t be so insane but I enjoyed the mystery of the “Impossible Girl”; and it was great to see all the old Doctors again.

Anyway, the season opener Asylum of the Daleks is an absolute cracker as the Doctor, Amy and Rory are “summoned” by the Daleks to venture into the Dalek “nut-house” and save them from a bunch of crazy rogue Daleks threatening their very existence. Oooh, what a switcheroo; the Doctor SAVING the Daleks!  The production values of Doctor Who just got bigger and better as the seasons progressed and with an Army of Daleks and the planet Skaro on show here the special effects teams were producing TV work of the highest order in shiny, shiny high-definition. Arguably, though the writer(s) could have dug the season into a narrative hole in relation to what comes after but Jenna Coleman’s appearance was a fine touch and her lightness in performance was a fine counter-point to the heavy nature of the insane Dalek asylum. The subplot of Rory and Amy’s marriage difficulties, the crazy Daleks and the sadness in the final reveal really added to the drama and pulled at the heartstrings. This episode breathed further life into the Daleks as one, if not the greatest, of the Doctor’s greatest foes.

EPISODE 7.5 – ANGELS TAKE MANHATTAN – Writer: Steven Moffat

Angels Take Manhattan wins out over episodes I loved like:  Cold War, Hide and The Snowmen, because it is just so heart-wrenching.  Matt Smith excels in a very dramatic show which finds the Doctor lose Amy and Rory to old foes the Weeping Angels! The opening of the episode begins in a film noir style story and is framed like a detective novel as Moffat delivers a meta-fictional structure combined with a spooky haunted hotel story.  It’s full of grand twists and turns which pull the viewer from past to present and back again.  Moffat ratchets up the scares by introducing us to new version of the ‘Angels’ like little buggers the Weeping Cherubs. And get this:  the STATUE OF LIBERTY is a WEEPING ANGEL!  Incredible!  Saying goodbye to a companion is always tough but Amy and Rory went out in great style and are still out there somewhere.

 

PETER CAPALDI

Malcolm Tucker as Doctor Who?  Say that again:  Malcolm Tucker as Doctor Who?  Yes!  This is where the whole-huge-behemoth-new-Doctor-Who-binge-catch-up began for me.  Peter Capaldi is a great actor and has been in many fine shows, not least the iconic-Machiavellian-sweary-political-demon in the awesome Thick of It.  So, when it was announced he would replace Smith the younger, I was back into the Whoniverse like the proverbial rat up a drainpipe. This would be, in my mind, the return to an older, darker Doctor spitting out words of wisdom and barbs to his companions while shooting venomous looks and ire at his villains.  The season kind of was like that and kind of wasn’t.  I think Capaldi is a fine, fine Doctor and probably would have been better in the previous era as his visage and ability is probably more suited to age of Troughton, Pertwee and Baker. But, overall, he brought a real depth and dark sarcasm to the series which leavened out the more ridiculous and fluffy aspects of the show; the slushy romance and kids basically.

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Here are my favourite episodes of SEASON EIGHT


EPISODE 8.8 – MUMMY ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS – Writer: Jamie Mathieson

I struggled big time picking two out because I enjoyed most of the episodes of this season. Many of them had moments of greatness in them but they also had some elements which I personally didn’t like such as: over-reliance on Danny and Clara’s Hollyoaks romance.  Having said that there were some memorable concepts, baddies and nods to film genres including: heist movies; earth-saving trees; hatching moons; a Dinosaur in ye olde London; half-faced clockwork Victorians; chilling 2D Boneless; the mysterious Missy; the Doctor as a child; an analysis of a Dalek’s soul; Robin Hood and a shrinking TARDIS!

Capaldi was brilliant as I thought he would be and I loved one of his opening gambits to Clara:  “Am I a good man?”  Then, just then, I thought we are really going to take a deep look at WHO the Doctor really is!  Indeed, the army of writers led by Moffat developed this character subtext very well notably in the episode Listen, where not much occurred on the page yet in the murky margins and shadows there was impressive suspense and terror.  However, my first choice is the awesomely titled Mummy on the Orient Express and this crammed so many great things into the 45 minutes running time.  The Doctor and Clara are on one last voyage before going their separate ways yet a vicious Mummy (AKA The Foretold) is killing passengers who only have 66 seconds to live once he targets his victim.  It’s great fun and kind of scary and as the Doctor cracks the case he shares some fine one-liners and banter with  a terrific cast including Frank Skinner and David Bamber.  Brilliant script too.

EPISODE 8.11 – DARK WATER – Writer: Steven Moffat

This episode is pitch black darkness personified.  It opens with Danny Pink’s death, before moving onto a tricky scene where Clara fails to get to the Doctor to change this event.  Yet, the Doctor rewards Clara’s desperate attempt to trick him by saying they are “going to hell”.  Thus, they attempt to track Danny’s spirit and end up in the NETHERSPHERE or “Promised Land” where they finally get to meet the enigmatic Missy who had popped up at the end of quite a few episodes throughout the season.

Death casts a looming shadow over this episode and even I had my pillow over my face when I heard the screams of the dead cry: “Don’t cremate me!” in one particularly harrowing scene.  Further, we also get to delve into Danny’s backstory such as that of the child he killed when serving in the army which, along with Clara’s grief, added texture to the theme of mortality within the show.  By the time the Cybermen are marching down St Paul’s (in tribute to The Invasion from 1968) steps I was gripped. The performances are superb from Jenna Coleman, Peter Capaldi and the Mistress herself Michelle Gomez, who demonstrates a gleeful mania to great effect.  A superb episode with thankfully no kids to ruin it and one which the second part Death in Heaven had to go some to match.

SPECIAL MENTION: THE DAY OF THE DOCTOR – 50TH ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL

I’ll round up this run through of the Whoniverse with a special mention of The Day of the Doctor, which was the closest we’d get to a new Doctor Who movie.  It was a spectacular piece of writing by Steven Moffat and a brilliant story which rewrote the whole Doctor Who narrative. It brought THREE Doctors (Matt Smith, David Tennant and John Hurt’s War Doctor) into a mixture of high concept sci-fi and operatic drama which soared in tribute to fifty years of the Timelord. The chemistry between the Doctors was a joy (and Tom Baker popped in at the end too) as they go back to the Time War era and review the decision to destroy Gallifrey and the end the war with the nefarious Daleks. This was a Doctor Who production of the highest order and it demonstrates the power and prowess of the show that it was shown simultaneously in 94 countries hitting the Guinness Book of Records for largest ever live simulcast!

Finally, in doing this piece I have read a lot of critical, blog and online forum reviews during my research I have realised Doctor Who is MORE than a TV show.  It’s a huge cult with fans all over the world who are as passionate about the show as people are about religion or their chosen football team.  If I’m honest the old show I watched as a child holds so many great memories but nostalgia can be a cruel guide so it could be easy to dismiss the new show “because it’s not as good as when I was a kid!”. But, the reboot has on the whole. has been brilliant too.  I may not like everything about it but it still retains that magical quality I experienced as an earthly child growing up on a high-rise estate in South London.

DOCTOR WHO: A SPACE (AND TIME) ODYSSEY – PART TWO by PAUL LAIGHT

DOCTOR WHO: A SPACE (AND TIME) ODYSSEY – PART TWO

**CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS**


CHRISTOPHER ECCLESTON

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!”

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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.

 

DAVID TENNANT

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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.