Who's in the House?
Well, well. Welcome back after a frantic October. Somehow the month of October always catches me slightly off guard. (Yes, yes…I know that October happens every year and there’ll be another one along in ten and a half months’ time, but that’s not my point.) October is traditionally my busiest month for writing.
For the past few years, I’ve been running the Shocktober event and that involves a lot of watching, fact checking and writing. October is also the month that we have to get the December edition of Starburst ready for printing. Weirdly, in between watching some Stephen King movies (and I didn’t get to all the ones I’d planned) I was also watching some xmas stuff that I could write up for the magazine. But hey, seeing the magazine on sale and holding the fresh copy in my fevered little hands, it was all well worth it.
On top of that, my old faithful desktop finally gave up its increasingly tenuous hold on life early on November after fifteen years, two hard drives, numerous upgrades and two operating systems. It’s with no sense of pride that I announce that this is the first blog to be written on my brand spankin’ new laptop and an all singing, all dancing Windows 8.1 setup.
Of course, then it’s a matter of finding a suitable spot to jump in and start writing again after taking a couple of weeks out. Actually, that’s not as easy as you’d think. Luckily for me, THE biggest geek event of the year just happened this weekend. It was Doctor Who’s fiftieth anniversary.
Let me get my one teeny bit of negativity out of the way first. Yes, the BBC are proud to announce that it’s the longest running sci-fi show on TV. We’ve heard that over and over – as the BBC selectively forget that they purposely sabotaged the show in the mid eighties by changing its time slot and slashing its budget and then, with the exception on an ill fated TV movie, they left it off the air for the best part of twenty years until its triumphant return in 2005.
Well, okay, with THAT now off my chest, I can continue.
In all honest, I’d regard myself as more of a casual Doctor Who fan. I tend not to try and throw my two cents worth in by submitting or pitching Starburst articles on the show. There are a great many more talented writers with a hell of a lot more knowledge about the Whoniverse than I who do all that a hell of a lot better with a hell of a lot more insight than I ever could. My memories of the show date back to William Hartnell’s era right at the very beginning. Growing up in the sixties in the UK you’d be hard pressed not to know about the Daleks and the Cybermen. I didn’t watch each and every episode as I grew up, but I’d make a more concerted effort if either of those two were in the story line. I think the Doctor I paid the closest attention to was probably Jon Pertwee. However, it’s since the series came back in 2005 that I’ve become a more avid viewer, though I like to revisit key episodes on DVD.
As far as I’m concerned, the fiftieth anniversary celebrations began all the way back in early March when I attended the Sci-Fi Weekender and attended a panel with Frazer Hines who played Jamie, the longest running companion and Peter Davidson, the fifth Doctor. It was a good, informative and warmly funny panel. Up until the time we attended the interview with the legendary Brian Blessed, (who informed us that he was, at one time in the running for the role) it was the high point of the entire weekend. And incidentally – throughout that weekend, I have never, in all my 53 years been surrounded by so many people dressed as various incarnations of the Time Lord.
I think there were some gaps in the whole Doctor Who mythology that bothered me, because they needed inking in a little better. Things that were vague and needed elaboration. One of them was the Doctor Who TV movie of the nineties. Paul McGann made a great Doctor in that, but sadly it was a one-off as the BBC and NBC-Universal just couldn’t find an audience. Personally, I thought it was too British for the American audience and too American for the British viewers. Maybe that’s an oversimplification, but that’s my view.
When Doctor Who reappeared on our screens in the mid noughties, Christopher Eccleston played the role and in that opening episode, we get the impression that he has only just regenerated. Presumably from McGann who sadly only managed the one appearance. (I’m not counting the audio adventures featuring McGann in this as I’ve never really bothered with them, as I said I’m a casual fan)
It’s also dropped like a huge nuclear bombshell that the Doctor is now the last of his race, the rest all perished in the last great time war with the Daleks. But again, that was a war we never saw. (Yep, it was the battle of Wolf 359 from Star Trek: The Next Generation all over again. Often mentioned, but never seen.)
Ingeniously, my issue with McGann’s Doctor was addressed in a mini webisode featuring Paul McGann IN the time war. It was during the time was that McGann regenerated into the John Hurt incarnation that we saw at the end of the last regular episode. (And here’s a point – my hat well and truly is off to the BBC for keeping the fact that they had cast an Oscar winning actor in Doctor Who, had filmed his debut and had kept it a total secret in these days of internet leaks of just about every facet of information possible. It’s not often I say this but the amount of “surprises” I’ve seen during the anniversary weekend has led me to believe that if there’s one thing the British entertainment industry does better than the Americans, it’s keeping spoilers off the internet. (Having said that, there are spoilers later in this article, but I’m not posting any warnings because it was broadcast all over the globe last night (Saturday November 23) so I’m assuming that anybody who wanted to see this already has, by now. )
Where was I? Oh yes – the last episode that was just stunning because the Doctor (Matt Smith) faced somebody he didn’t want to, and we saw a hunched figure who turned to face him and the caption read “Introducing John Hurt as The Doctor”. A “holy shit” moment of ever there was one.
So, the months since the last episode turned into week, and the weeks into days. There were announcements that the BBC had brought back some familiar faces for the anniversary special and that there was to be a one-off drama about the series’ first few years. But they kept soooooo much back from the press. Having had my appetite well and truly whetted by the webisodes and the possibility of actually seeing some of that great time war, I could hardly wait – but first there was
Dr Who: An Adventure in Space and Time
This aired on Thursday November 21 and showed the story of how the series was brought to the screen fifty years ago, just after Grandstand, the BBC’s afternoon-long sports coverage. The casting on this was absolutely dead on. It really was as if clones had been cast, especially David Bradley as William Hartnell. (It’s incredible to think that this is the same actor who played the Hogwarts caretaker in the Harry potter films.) Bradly really nails the role, his delivery as Hartnell in this film is faultless. Every familiar mannerism is in place. I’ve seen early Who episodes on DVD and have often smiled at William Hartnell blowing his lines, little realising that the real tragedy of the situation was that Hartnell was gravely ill at the time and there was neither time nor money for re-takes of scenes. In fact, in this drama, it was mentioned that having more than four edits in a single half hour show was pushing it.
An incredible job was done of recreating the sets of the sixties, especially the TARDIS interior, the early Daleks, the first Cybermen. It was all there, down to the painted canvas interior “wall” of one side of the TARDIS. It also carried an emotional message, showing Hartnell reluctant to give up his claim to fame after years of playing tough-guy roles as his health problems overtook his ability to perform properly, eventually leading to Patrick Troughton taking the part. (I didn’t care much for the actor playing Troughton in a brief scene. The mannerisms and voice were fine, but the guy just didn’t look like Troughton.) In the final scene as Hartnell prepares to give his final speech in the role, he looks over the TARDIS console and sees Matt Smith in character on the other side, silently, they acknowledge each other. It was a surprise scene that I’m sure will polarise fans for years – but it nearly brought a tear to even my cynical eye.
Some call it “November 23, 2013” some call it simply “Saturday” but there’s no doubt that it really was….
The Day of the Doctor
Anticipation was high, would the BBC deliver, or was it going to be a disappointing vanity show?
From the opening (the classic monochrome opening from 1963) there was no doubt at all that we were in for a treat. Characters from the show’s history were ingeniously woven in to the story. It allowed current incumbent Matt Smith to be reunited with UNIT as an answer is sought to the puzzle of why figures from landscape paintings have suddenly disappeared from those works of art.
It brought us The War Doctor (John Hurt) who we see blasting the words “No More” into a wall during a catastrophic attack on a Gallifreyan city by the Daleks. We saw the Daleks inflict total slaughter of anything that moved, but we also saw on hit with an explosive that caused the inner tentacle mutant to go flying out, which must’ve looked incredible in one of the 3D cinema screenings. We saw previous incumbent David Tennant, and were finally provided with an answer to a question we’ve had since the second season of his tenure – why does Queen Elizabeth I want him arrested on sight? (Well, he married her and then ran away. After mistaking her for a Zygon, when in fact the shape changing Zygon had actually assumed the identity of a horse.)
It brought us references to “Bad Wolf” (Billie Piper) this time as the personification of the conscience of a genocidal weapon that had achieved sentience. This is the one weapon that will bring about the end of the time war, but it will destroy both sides. It’s the weapon with which the War Doctor became the last time lord, but at the price of his peace of mind, as he’s haunted by his decision.
Ultimately we have three Doctors who decide to share the responsibility for universal Armageddon, until they realise there there’s another way. They can use the energy from every incarnation’s TARDIS to make Gallifrey simply disappear and the Dalek forces on each side will be shooting at each other, so that problem takes care of itself. I used the word ingenious and I meant it, as we see every Doctor past, present AND one from the future at their control panels, thus encompassing all Doctor Who history in one scene.
So, Gallifrey hasn’t fallen. It was saved. Is this the “magic reset” button that I tend to loathe so much when it’s used because writers have written themselves into a corner???
The answer is given by the biggest surprise of all, and how they kept THIS from the rabid Whovians out there – I will never know, but I’m sure glad they did. Fourth Doctor and famous holdout from the 20th anniversary special Tom Baker makes an in-character appearance as the mysterious curator who explains it all to Matt Smith.
Yes… a bit, and no. Gallifrey IS still in existence . They saved it but it rematerialized somewhere else and it’s lost.
As soon as they leave each other’s company each in their own TARDIS (actually, what IS the plural of TARDIS, is it TARDISES or TARDII?) none of them will remember what happened, so Hurt will never remember seeing Rose Tyler in the future, Smith won’t remember being told he’s going to his death in the upcoming Christmas day special – and I guess that they won’t recall not destroying Gallifrey either…or have I got that wrong. (It was a lot to take in.)
So in essence what the BBC have done in a tight 80 minutes or so is they’ve celebrated the show’s rich history, they’ve pulled some amazing fan pleasing moments, such as the interplay between the Doctors both comically as they mock each other and compare sonic screwdrivers (“It’s a screwdriver – what’re you going to do, build a cabinet?”) and emotionally as the two newer Doctors are willing to use the genocide weapon WITH the War Doctor so he doesn’t bear the responsibility alone. We actually saw the time war, they’ve shown us the regeneration of Hurt into Eccleston AND they have given the show an entirely new direction and story arc to explore, thus ensuring its future.
Yep, the Doctor is definitely STILL in the house.
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